From making televisions and the unexciting beginnings of Petula Clark and Lonnie Doneghan to the freaked out acid folk of Paul Brett’s Sage, the story of Pye Records and its Dawn Records offshoot is a peculiar one.
Pye was a television and radio manufacturer in the Fifties but diversified into record label ownership with the acquisition of Nixa Records in 1953, and then Polygon Records in 1955. Polygon was the label set up by Petula Clark’s dad to control her material and out of the merger grew Pye Nixa Records, whose name was changed to Pye Records in 1959.
Throughout the Sixties Pye distributed early David Bowie, Donovan and The Kinks, and did very well out of British Invasion acts in 1964, putting out Pye artists on US labels. However, by the end of the decade, they felt that their competitors were stealing a march on them when Decca, EMI and Phonogram set up the progressive offshoots Deram, Harvest and Vertigo respectively.
In late 1969, Pye set up Dawn Records, their own label for blues, folk and heavy music. Every major label had a progressive label run by the man with the longest hair. Pye was very straight. Dawn was supposed to be leftfield. Somewhat ironically, the label’s biggest success over its six-year life-span was with the likeable but hardly radical Mungo Jerry.
At a time when the likes of Cream and Led Zeppelin were redefining rock with their heavy, technically sophisticated blues, Mungo Jerry had a sweet, uncomplicated jug sound. Their debut single, of course, was the good-time anthem ‘In The Summertime’. Unusually for the time, it was a double A side – with ‘Mighty Man’ also on side one – and was played at 33rpm. The whole of the B-side was one song, ‘Dust Pneumonia Blues’.
It sold an absolute stack, and the band – who went down a storm at the Hollywood Festival in Newcastle-under-Lyme the same week their single came out – were hot. The label, wanting to make hay while the sun shone, rushed through an eponymous debut LP for the Jerry, the first of half a dozen on Dawn in the next six years, almost of all of which enjoyed some decent sales.
The label also put out Donovan’s Open Road album in 1970, his first with the band of that same name. It had a rougher feel than the Mickie Most produced, silvery hits of the Sixties; the man himself called the sound “Celtic rock”. It did pretty well, but the Maryhill troubadour’s follow-up, HMS Donovan – a series of famous children’s poems (‘Jabberwocky’, ‘The Owl And The Pussycat’) to folk music – kind of bombed.
Other successful releases for Dawn records were the Brotherhood Of Man’s first album, Good Things Happening. An a cappella cover of Neil Young’s ‘After The Goldrush’ by Prelude, a charming little version that took the Gateshead trio to the number 22 on the Billboard charts and gave them a nine-week stay in the top 50 here.
Commercial success remained largely elusive for the label, but it gave several little gems to the world.
Mike Cooper, a key figure in the British acoustic blues scene of the late Sixties, released four albums on the label that show an interesting meld of blues with Southern African jazz. Check out the last of these, The Machine Gun Company With Mike Cooper, for a strange and heady mix of free jazz and folk.
Atomic Rooster, the prog group and Crazy World Of Arthur Brown offshoot, joined Dawn in 1972 and released two albums, Made In England and Nice n Greasy on the label. By this time, Vincent Crane and the boys were rocking a slightly startling funk / soul groove that didn’t always totally hit the spot, but when it worked – ‘Little Bit Of Inner Air’ and ‘Stand By Me’ on Made In England, for instance, this was right good gear.
Talking of the Crazy World of AB, the brilliant Paul Sage put out two records on the Dawn label: Jubilation Foundry and Schizophrenia. The first, released in 1971, is like a sort of potted history of Paul’s influence – Southern blues tracks, an Everly Brothers trib, some Southern rock, even some Beatles-ish sounds – and is all cracking stuff. The 1972 follow-up was even better, equal parts psychedelic rock, chugging blues and folk. Well worth a dibble.
Then there was oddly spelled Irish proggers Fruupp, who knocked out some fine albums in an obscure time signature with added flute and fairy tales. These are probably some of the best recordings on the label.
Mungo Jerry’s albums always sold pretty well – well enough for the label to also release records by Paul King-lead side-project King-Earl Boogie Band and also Paul’s solo LP Been in the Pen Too Long, which is an absolute little belter, sounding like very early, acoustic Bowie and showing that there was a lot more to this feller than washboards. Apart from the Jerry, though, there was not a massive amount of commercial or sales success for the label, and in 1975, Dawn Records ceased to be.