With a singles compilation by Friends, a Whirlpool Guest House retrospective, a downloads-only single by Southbeach and a downloads release of 4,000,000 Telephones' French Girls just out, Lasse Paulus of German online magazine Crazewire interviewed Friends frontman and Summerhouse Records founder William Jones in February 2009.
WJ: I'm the singer, songwriter and guitarist in the pop group Friends, and I run Summerhouse Records, which releases music by my band and also Showstar, Southbeach, and several bands who are no longer still active. I've been doing this since 1986.
WJ: Yes, it's much more than a hobby. I've managed to do it through a mixture of determination, stubbornness, and sometimes success. The label has never paid my salary but it's run as a serious business – we manage it very carefully and treat it like a profit-making enterprise, and at least it makes enough money to release the next record and cover our expenses. Over the last 23 years I've seen very many labels either give up or go bankrupt, and I think it's quite an achievement still to be here.
I make a living from having my own marketing and fundraising company which works for clients mainly in the not-for-profit sector (arts organisations, charities and educational institutions). But I see the band and the label as my life's work which I'm very proud of.
WJ: It's mostly new fans now. The people who replaced their vinyl on CD mostly did that in the 1990s if they wanted to, or didn't bother, so now it's people who have heard about the music through reviews, through their friends, or sometimes who have discovered an interest in 1980s and 1990s pop and want to find some of the hidden secrets! Our first album Let's Get Away From It All has become something of a minor cult classic and it's still popular, and people still buy the early stuff as well as the recent albums.
No, it's not a revivalist or retrospective type label, it's looking forwards all the time. But we have a big catalogue of music and we want to keep it available as much as possible for people to buy and hear the older music as well as the new. In fact Southbeach on our label produces dance music, which a lot of people find surprising for Summerhouse!
We've been helped enormously by the internet and the connections people make and pass on, so our name has spread by recommendation and word of mouth.
WJ: Wow, that's quite a question as it's changed so much. To be honest, I haven't kept in touch too much with the various trends. When you've been going for more than 20 years you hear a lot of the same stuff coming back in cycles. When I was a student I used to go and see a lot of the new wave/artrock bands like Josef K and Orange Juice, and now I hear so many guitar bands sounding just like them. I'm more interested in surprising discoveries of things I missed first time round or very obscure, little-known bands. There's a bit more a trend at the moment for songwriting, and particularly female singer/songwriters. I love Lily Allen who I think is a great pop star. The first album was brilliant and what I've heard of the new one is excellent too.
WJ: Bands I really like – I loved The Chameleons, and went to see them whenever I could, both in the 1980s and when they reformed. I thought Dolly Mixture were brilliant and used to see them a lot in the early 1980s, and followed their progress since then and I love Birdie as well, which was formed by Debsey from Dolly Mixture. I think Martin Newell's music (and his poetry) is wonderful, he's a great songwriter and singer. I like a lot of older stuff too, some from when I was younger and some which I've discovered since – bands like Strawbs, Renaissance and Steely Dan I love, and Nick Drake.
WJ: So many. I can't even count them. Biggest one is U2. I just can't understand how they made it rather than The Chameleons. Better businessmen probably.
WJ: There are several bands I've discovered through being MySpace friends, like Shy Girl, Warm Morning and Birdie, who I'd love to see do well. And of course the Summerhouse bands, including Friends, Showstar and Southbeach!
WJ: I don't think it's a particularly British phenomenon, it's also very common in the USA. Sometimes of course it's for financial reasons, but at other times I think bands realise they split up too soon, or for really silly reasons, and want to try again – a bit like a relationship. In the case of Steely Dan I'm delighted, because they split up for 13 years, and came back in the 1990s, having not played live since 1974. I've seen them a few times since then and they are astonishing live, the last show in London was an amazing experience. I think these reunions work if the music is still interesting in its own right, as more than just nostalgia, and especially if they are producing new work as well. Otherwise I think it's just a trip to the past for sentimental reasons.
WJ: In the case of Friends it's not a reunion as we've never stopped playing or writing or recording! We took a long break from playing live but started again a couple of years ago. That was simply because it was so expensive for us to play live. We're playing now as much as we can.
Showstar play live a lot, particularly in Belgium and France. Southbeach is a DJ/producer and doesn't 'perform' as such.
WJ: You can get our music directly from the Summerhouse website, either as CDs or downloads, and sometimes even still as vinyl. No, we don't have German distribution, and in fact our exporter went into administration late last year, so the best route is to buy from the label, or ask shops to order from us.
Then there's also the downloads stores like iTunes where people can get our stuff. So, one way or another, it shouldn't be too difficult.