Unveling The Vinyl: An Interview With Tom Rose Of Reveal Records

As Derby's Reveal Records looks forward to and celebrates its 15th birthday next month, founder Tom Rose recalls a profound musical memory derived from visiting a family friend's house who had older children, the eldest around 14 who owned a record player and singles. Playing Say Hello Wave Goodbye, by Soft Cell, on 7" struck him like a bolt of lightning, and Rose was instantly hooked by what seemed like something from another galaxy. All this at an impressonable eight years old.

He resumes, "I started to buy or ask for specific singles soon after that, each Birthday and Christmas, I just wanted more music, and my tastes developed quickly through 80’s synth-pop to more alternative music. I’d check out what older kids were into and just take a lot of chances on band names or artists names that sounded or looked interesting from the covers in the record shop windows. Sometimes I’d get a shock, hearing Butthole Surfers and wondering if it was even music or buying 10,000 Maniacs thinking it would be really heavy, only to find out it was extremely beautiful.

The wise fellow has worked in music since leaving school; starting in a record shop to managing it, and then taking a deep breath and bold leap to open his own in the late 90s. "By 2005 I was looking for something more creative to do alongside the store so after seeing Brooklyn artist Joan as Police Woman open for Rufus Wainwright in 2005 I contacted her online. Eventually, after selling a lot of her EP, in my store, I suggested we start a label, and she the first artist. I still manage Joan, she’s amazing and inspiring and just had a track on the new Gorillaz album," he enthuses.

It was when managing a chain of indie stores in the Midlands where the owners sold up to concentrate on their online tickets business that Tom braved it alone, and made a decision that would ultimately be fruitful. "I took over one of the premises in Derby in 99, and by 2005 we’d opened a bigger store and won trade magazine Music Week's Best U.K. Independent Retailer."

By that time, Rose realised that he needed a fresh challenge and was looking for something else to develop and keep his entrepreneurial spirit aloft. "I’d been behind the counter for more than a decade, and that’s when I started thinking about a label or licensing music from bands abroad who didn’t have a U.K. set up."

In the early days of his label, when it was only but a babe, it soon unravelled just how much there was to learn and expertise needed to develop; it was all so new to him. Rose recollects, "I just had to try and keep up, things took off fast for both the first artists Reveal signed: Joan As Police Woman and Kris Drever, travelling around and doing press, radio and organising gigs and sessions etc., whilst keeping one eye on the store."

"It felt a lot to take in, from visiting New York for the first time, taking Kris Drever around the summer festivals and radio sessions in my car, watching his career take off, seeing Joan go from playing small club shows to The Royal Festival Hall. Literally hundreds of amazing gigs."

Pre streaming, his savvy eye noticed that many impressive records could be imported from America and sold in the store that otherwise were not available in Europe. "My first idea for the label was to sign things already made but license them for the U.K. and Europe. Before I got around to that first idea, I had already met Joan and Kris, and so I just went with the flow and tried to do good work for them." Rose takes a minute to reminisce: "It’s been a great experience, and I’ve learnt so much along the way and worked in different areas of the music business eventually settling on management and indie label this last ten years or so."

Although the stores closed their doors to concentrate wholly on the label in 2007, Tom is setting up an online vinyl indie record store again, opening this December. "Who knows, maybe one day in the future we will do another physical shop. I’m still focussed mainly on the label and management work, and my business partner Lee is handling the record store set up and day-to-day."

To elevate their fifteen-year anniversary, Reveal Records is releasing a compilation named Home Is Where The Art Is, released on December 3rd, which commemorates the journey through their artists. Our vinyl fiend reveals the theory behind it. "It’s a rare chance to look back for a second and possibly introduce some great music to people, we’ve never done it before, and it’s been great revisiting all the music and sequencing it alongside new tracks. The digital version has 57 songs, and I stand by every one of them."

"It’s great songwriting, whatever the genre. There is avant-garde folk music, electronic RNB, some beautiful acoustic ballads, power pop from New York, I guess quite a lot of what Reveal have released is quite spare and melancholic. I love space in music."

Spending weeks upon weeks going through every album and EP picking out a long list, our curator could not make a firm decision and relentlessly edited and changed things around until they sat well together and exactly how he envisioned. "New music started to come in from a few of the artists, so I refined it again including new things by people like Benjamin Lazar Davis (Okkervil River), Boo Hewerdine, Parker Kindred (Jeff Buckley / Antony & The Johnsons) and Dan Whitehouse." He reckons.

If pressed Tom could never, nor want to, pick favourites for Reveal Records as we wrap up our chat, and discuss his personal preferences. "I only work with people I really like; you can’t sign everyone whose music you enjoy, so finding the good people who also make great music, that’s the magic. If you want to know my favourite artist ever (outside the label), then it’s still tough. Here are a few: Kate Bush, Prince, Talk Talk, Gza, Sonic Youth, Sade, Culture, The Byrds, Marvin Gaye, Kraftwerk, Fugazi. I’ll stop now, thanks for having me."

Article by Beverley Knight