Reekus In The Years

Having lit a fire under the punk scene and introduced the world to bands as diverse as Aslan, Microdisney and The Blades, Reekus Records’ is celebrating its 30th birthday. Founder Elvera Butler explains what inspires the ongoing adventure.

For over 30 years independent Irish label Reekus has been synonymous with high quality rock’n’roll. Much like UK indies Stiff and Rough Trade, Reekus has specialised in signing talent from across the spectrum of the alternative scene. Their early discoveries included The Blades, Microdisney, Big Self and Aslan, while more recently, they’ve put out albums by Perry Blake, David Hopkins, Saville and superstars-in-the-making Sweet Jane.

A new double CD, entitled Too Late To Stop Now calabrates the label’s 30 years in business and features rarities from the Reekus vaults as well as hot tracks from newer acts. “It was supposed to come out for the 25th anniversary,” label founder, Elvera Butler laughs. “We were busy at the time and it has taken us until now to put it together.”

Reekus started almost by accident. growing out of Butler’s involvement in running gigs, while still a student at University College Cork. She established the legendary ‘Downtown Kampus’ at the Arcadia Ballroom, which – from 1977 to 1981 – was the premier live rock venue in the country. “I was the Ents officer and decided to move the gigs from the College into the Arcadia,” she recalls. “It meant we could run gigs all year round, rather than just during term.”

The venue, which held up to 1,800 fans, was an instant success, drawing huge crowds weekly to some of the biggest Irish and UK post-punk acts of the period including U2, The Undertones, XTC, UB40, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and The Only Ones.

“It quickly became the place to go in Cork,” Butler reminisces. “No matter who was playing, you’d always have a thousand people in, which was enough to make the gig viable. It was an amazingly edgy place too. UK acts were always knocked out by the reception they got. We had The Stranglers in a couple of times and they were bowled over. I was talking to Hugh Cornwell when he was here last year and he remembered it well.”

With a guaranteed audience, proper stage facilities and good soundsystem (Joe O’Herlihy, later to work with U2, was the house engineer), The Arcadia became a major venue on the touring circuit.

“The crowd in Cork were very clued in,” Butler adds. “Having a policy of not giving the audience what they thought they wanted was a good move. I remember Paul Morley from NME came over to see U2 doing a few shows around the country and he was very impressed by the crowd’s enthusiasm.”

With a policy of having only local support bands, the idea of recording some of them came about when 2fm [then Radio 2] started.

“Dublin bands could go into the RTÉ studios, make demos and get airplay on the Dave Fanning show. It was harder for Cork bands. We hit on the idea of putting out a record with a bunch of local bands. We got a mobile studio and recorded some live shows.”

A 12” vinyl mini-album, Kaught At The Kampus, featuring Microdisney, Nun Attax, Mean Features and Urban Blitz, became the first Reekus release. The rest, as the cliché runs, is music biz history. Butler: “The label just happened after that. Bands started contacting us and we did a few singles with Big Self, which got a lot of attention from the UK press – we even got ‘Single of the Week’ in Sounds magazine. We made money from the gigs which helped to finance the label. We released singles by The Blades and Some Kind Of Wonderful.”

Quality control, providing value for money and a passion for the music are key elements in the Reekus manifesto.

“For The Blades we even did picture discs and we’d do an Irish version and an English version, with different sleeves. It was quite indulgent when I think about it!”

Did she have any regrets when bands like Microdisney moved on to major labels?

“It was a natural progression. The indies were the nursery, you helped the band to develop. You couldn’t hold onto them. The Blades went to Elektra but came back to us quite quickly.”

The Arcadia gigs ceased not long after the Stardust tragedy in 1981.

“After that, our insurance policy skyrocketed and capacity was reduced. The hunger strikes in the north were also happening and all the visiting bands were cancelling Belfast. It became less viable for them to come over. The crowd dropped off a bit and the vibe wasn’t the same. The label became the main focus.”

Reekus continues to put out quality releases, with four albums currently in the works including the second one from Sweet Jane who’ve been touring in the US and Asia. The label has also been developing its publishing arm successfully and has had several placements in shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, and American Idol.

“It’s a big part of your life, so it has to be enjoyable,” Butler concludes. “I’d find it hard to sell something if I’m not enthusiastic about it. I like good songwriting. I suppose that‘s the common denominator with the label. Good songs.”

Too Late To Stop Now is out now on Reekus Records.

 

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