THE EXTRA MILE
- JAMIE LENMAN -
So the story goes that the ‘extra mile’ in question is the arduous distance label founder Charlie Caplowe had to travel whilst driving down to the home counties to see an impudent little band who’d refused to leave Guildford for an important meeting. That band was my old band, Reuben, and Charlie’s refusal to turn back rather than face the horrific rush-hour traffic would come to symbolise the ethic of one of the UK’s finest record companies.
The details are hazy because at the ripe old age of thirty now, these events occurred one third of my life ago. If I remember correctly, Charlie and his team at Press Counsel PR inherited us after our original press agent left the company, and did a great job of getting our first few indie singles noticed. Unfortunately, like our sonic siblings Million Dead, we looked weird and sounded weirder, and proved very difficult to sign. Ever the pragmatist, Chazmo (as he became known) decided that this was no problem – he’d simply make his own bloody label and sign us both.
It was only years later when I was running my own small record company that I realised what an incredible job Charlie and his team – who had no previous experience whatsoever of releasing records – were doing with those first few albums and singles. Both bands thrived on that support and soon the label began branching out and signing other acts.
I remember when Charlie gave us a box of Xtra Mile t shirts to sell on one of our tours – we were unconvinced at the time about a label-logo shirt but looking back I can see that from the start, he had a vision of the label as a brand. Not in the cynical, perfume-releasing way we think of it these days, but more like a family, an overarching umbrella that means when you see that logo (and it’s a great logo) on a CD, you know that it’s not about the genre or the haircuts or anything else – it’s about good music made by people with a passion and released by a label who genuinely love it. This is a very rare thing.
It would be disingenuous of me to ignore the period in which tensions began to grow between dear old XMR and my band, but grow they did, as they often do between family members, and after our second album we set out on our own. As the Reuben boys and I went about creating our own label, Hideous Records, I began to recognise that hollow look I’d sometimes seen on Chaz’s face after a week of VPL spreadsheets, and a new respect grew in me for the gang in that little office in Notting Hill. People who’ve run an indie label can tell if they ever meet another one of these haunted souls – you can see it in their eyes...the forms...oh god, the forms!
As Frank began to emerge as the Xtra Mile Kid we were kept in touch with the old label through our relationship with him, singing on eachother’s records and going on eachother’s tours. I was dimly aware in the background that Xtra Mile was slowly amassing a large catalogue of exciting acts, grasping an ever stronger foothold in the UK scene and enjoying great success. After my band and my label finally strangled eachother, I would still bump into the old team at various Frank-related incidents and our relationship grew from cordial to friendly to genuinely warm.
One key moment was when Charlie got in touch about a year after Reuben had finished to ask about putting together a rarities collection. He could of course have easily put together a very respectable collection by himself using only the recordings he already owned and not bothering with our ridiculous requests but he didn’t, and in a testament to his patience and love for all the music and musicians he’s involved with, he helped us scrape together all the other bits we wanted to include, cleared the rights for all the obscure recordings, even bought the footage of our Download set for us so we could put out the collection we’d always dreamed of. That was the icing on the cake for me, and although some critics sneered that the resulting 3-disc set was a self-indulgent mess that only family members would enjoy, I’m happy to report that the bastard sold out its initial run.
Another key moment and one that allowed me to re-connect personally with the whole team at XMR was last year, when everyone’s favourite Pete-Sutcliffe-alike sold out the bally Wembley Arena, and the label quite properly decided to celebrate with a special gig at the Camden Barfly. Out of the blue, Charlie emailed me to ask if I’d compere the event, and despite being terrified at the prospect as well as mindful that most of the audience wouldn’t have a clue who ‘that forties weirdo’ was, I was so flattered I agreed to do it. That triumph belonged as much to the label as it did to Frank, whom they’d nurtured right from the beginning in the way a proper label should nurture its artists, and to be allowed to bask in a little of that glory was incredibly generous and very humbling. I was overjoyed when I turned up at the venue to see Anthea, Dani and Dan still working for the label, still holding strong and reaping the rewards of their success, having come through the terrible effects of the London riots with a fierce determination and an even bigger roster. It’s a testament to Chaz’s running of things that he’s held on to these amazing individuals.
The idea grew in me that the record I was currently working on, more for my own satisfaction than anything else, might indeed see a wider release.
And so, about a year later when the album was finally done, I emailed Charlie to ask if he’d be interested in working on it with me and received my favourite email ever, a three-word reply - “Yes please Jamie.” We met up for an enormous burrito lunch and I explained my awkward concepts and terms (double album, half metal half folk, little to no touring, twirly moustache) and true to form, Chaz wasn’t fazed by a word of it. I hadn’t realised that my timing was quite so appropriate, what with the tenth anniversary right round the corner, and so here I find myself again, at the centre of a huge celebration, confetti and streamers falling on my head, wildly proud to be even the tiniest cog in such a wonderful machine.
At time of writing, the new album is about to come out and so far the reaction has been fantastic. I recently accompanied Charlie to a radio interview to talk about the label and, on air, he foolishly promised that if Xtra Mile were still going in another ten years he’d release another of my records.
I intend to hold him to it.
N.B You can listen to the whole podcast of the XFM session with Jamie and Charlie HERE.