Interview: Olive Grove Records

jo mango

This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on Friday January 24, under the heading RECORD LABEL OLIVE GROVE ENJOYS FRUITS OF LABOUR.

There once grew a tree. Ten flimsy branches on it. So folk ecologist Jo Mango sings on When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree. There’s a burgeoning shrub on the single’s artwork which looks like an olive tree, and this is apt, because Mango is signed to Olive Grove Records – a Glasgow DIY imprint whose rootsy alt-pop kinsfolk include Randolph’s Leap, The Moth and the Mirror, Woodenbox, State Broadcasters and Call To Mind.

Contrary to Mango’s sublime woodland hymn, however, Olive Grove’s branches are anything but flimsy. They’re durable, variegated and fruitful, and they’re set to be celebrated at Oran Mor this weekend, as all of the aforesaid acts gather for a Celtic Connections showcase. The line-up celebrates the quality and promise of the label’s roster, from the vivid, whimsical chamber-pop of Randolph’s Leap, to the picturesque indie-folk of The Moth and the Mirror (featuring members of Frightened Rabbit and Admiral Fallow). It’s also a tribute to the ingenuity and hard-graft of grassroots pop activists Halina Rifai (Glasgow PodcART, TYCI) and Lloyd Meredith (Peenko), who co-founded Olive Grove in 2010.

The first group they worked with was Randolph’s Leap (who Meredith now also manages), and both identify the band as being representative of Olive Grove’s touchstones. “They had real potential,” Rifai recalls. “They had this vitality about them, we loved their Scottish indie roots thing, and Adam [Ross] is such a great lyricist.”

Legend has it that the label’s name was inspired by Snow Patrol’s An Olive Grove Facing the Sea – is there any truth in this? “When Halina and I started the label, we agreed that we’d never tell anyone where the name came from,” Meredith offers. “But everybody worked it out in about two minutes. So yes, it is,” he says with a laugh.

Yet the moniker is fitting for more than its connotations of local melodic rock. It reflects the imprint’s organic approach; its fertile musical roots and shoots; and its sense of camaraderie. Both Rifai and Meredith refer to the label as a “family”, and they all operate as such – supporting each other and sharing the workload (Vicki Cole from Randolph’s Leap designed the Olive Grove logo; “Pete from State Broadcasters recorded Randolph’s Leap’s last album,” Meredith recalls).

Their physical artefacts, too, suggest the label is a labour of love, as opposed to being financially driven (or remotely deterred by time constraints): Olive Grove’s stall at the recent Independent Label Market was bedecked with cup-cakes, button-badges, tote-bags, t-shirts, cassettes and, not least, painstakingly hand-made origami birds in cages, whose wings contained a Jo Mango download code.

The birds typified the label’s aesthetic, which is always sympathetic to, and reflective of, the artists’ songs. “Jo’s always had a real sense of nature in her work,” says Rifai. “Birds are often present, especially starlings, so I wanted to do something relevant and original, and the origami bird just seemed to fit. I think it’s as important for the label to be creative as it is the artists.”

Prepare yourself, then, for the Oran Mor showcase to have an intriguing merchandise kiosk, including, perhaps, Randolph’s Leap bobble hats and musical mugs, and the first chance to buy the debut LP from Inverness widescreen-indie troupe Call To Mind. Entitled The Winter is White, and officially due in April, their album is a milestone – it heralds the label’s first-ever vinyl release. “We finally get to put the ‘records’ into Olive Grove Records,” Meredith quips.

“Although, there is one previous Olive Grove release that exists on vinyl,” Meredith continues. “Karl from The Son(s) really wanted his album on vinyl, so he got a copy made up – actually, he got two copies done. I’ve got the other one.” The Son(s) are  famously reclusive when it comes to gigs, but while they’re conspicuous by their absence on Sunday’s bill, there is good news afoot for fans of their dark, skewed-folk genius. “Karl has recorded another album, so he might have something out this year,” Meredith says. “There’s talk of him getting a band together for that.”

Olive Grove’s branches are ever-growing, but given that Rifai and Meredith don’t make any money from their DIY-pop enterprise (any profits go straight to the artists), not to mention the music industry’s general depression, why release records in this climate? “For me it started through blogging,” Rifai offers. “I was heartbroken at seeing some of the artists we were supporting struggling to get heard. So I phoned up Lloyd one Sunday night, and asked if he wanted to start a label. He said yes immediately.

“You do sometimes question why you do it,” Rifai admits. “But then you do an album launch, or hear your artists on the radio, or do something like this Celtic Connections show, and you realise: that’s why. That’s worth absolutely everything.”

Olive Grove Records showcase, Oran Mor, Glasgow, Sunday Jan 26, doors 5pm. http://www.olivegroverecords.com

Related articles:
Jo Mango interview – The Herald, November 2012
Randolph’s Leap interview – The Herald, June 2012
Randolph’s Leap album review – The List, Feb 2012

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