The Dark Side of Record Labels


Last Gang’s rise and fall from Columbia Records

So, what’s the dream? Play a few gigs, sell a few T-shirts and records then get lucky, get signed, earn loads of cash and be a real rock ‘n’ roll star?

The honest truth is, unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn’t work out like that and promising Wakefield band Last Gang found out the hard way. Formed in 2006 Last Gang where widely likened to clear influences such as The Wedding Present, Buzzcocks and with subtle comparisons to The Smiths or even The Clash. It’s Unsurprising they where quickly snapped up by a Leeds local independent label, 48 Crash. After only two years playing locally, and the heavy reliance on word of mouth, Last Gang began to gain a reputable fan base that ultimately led to larger record labels starting to express a real interest.

Last Gang found themselves in the dream situation; two offers on the table from two worldwide-recognised labels 679 Records, who currently boast artists’ such as Plan B, Marina and the Diamonds and The Streets. The second was Columbia label group, a UK subsidiary label owned primarily by music giants Sony. To put it into perspective Columbia currently represent a whole host of musical heavyweights for instance, Bob Dylan, Foo Fighters and The Shins. Not only this but presently on the books of Columbia are British popular music favourites such as Rita Ora and The Vaccines.

Understandably the Yorkshire four piece decided to bide their time and consider all avenues, I met up with the bands frontman Kristian Walker, he said: “There were so many guitar bands around at the time that and we needed something that what would maybe give us the extra push we needed.” With this in mind the band made the decision to sign with Columbia knowing the financial advantage they held over 679 recordings and believing they would give them the backing they needed in terms of advertising.

For a short while, Columbia stayed true to their word, setting up UK tours with huge bands at the time, the likes of The View and Dead 60’s as well as shows with their Wakefield compatriots The Cribs. Arguably a main highlight for Last Gang whilst with Columbia was the opportunity to record their debut album: “After we signed we just needed to go record the album which we did with Stephen Street who worked with The Smiths and Blur, which was cool,” Walker continued: “Once the album was recorded we where ready to go, after a couple of tours and shows, our songs were getting played on various TV programs, we just needed to follow theses up with a single or an E.P.”

Understandably the band wanted to get tracks like ‘Youth Run the City’ and fans favourite ‘Beat of Blue’ out there, unfortunately this never happened, Columbia started dragging their feet and Last Gang fell down the pecking order behind bands such as Glasvegas and more depressingly The Ting Tings.

“We had a couple of meetings with the label to talk about ‘the big plan’, to be honest, there was no plan really just a few ideas they had probably thrown together that morning before we arrived.”

Life with Columbia became increasingly frustrating for the band, Kristian Walker believed by this point his long-standing fan base was beginning to dwindle: “Our fans from the start were getting a bit bored, they aint’ gunna wait forever for something to be released.” With this in mind the band decided to meet with Columbia advisors to discuss their situation, with leaving the company a prevalent thought: “We had a couple of meetings with the label to talk about ‘the big plan’, there was no plan really just a few ideas they had probably thrown together that morning before we arrived.”

Sadly it became very much apparent that the situation was spiraling out of control, Columbia’s attempt to use Last Gang as a guinea pig for their new direction into rock music away from its original pop induced RnB roots had failed. No sooner than Last Gang were set to announce leaving the label they were dropped months after recording their album, still yet to be released: “To be honest, it was better for us as we now didn’t have to pay back what it cost to record the album which was about £100,000 or have to pay the advance back that we got when we signed,” said Walker. Which begs the question, how can a label justify competing for the signature of a band, throw money at them and then refuse to push it?

Unfortunately this kind of story has been all too familiar in this industry over the years, but perhaps, the rise of the ‘DIY band’ today is a way of eradicating this unwritten side of the music business.  With that in mind, in the long run does it pay to publicise and advertise the fuck out of a band on Facebook in order to be a success? Last Gang achieved their short success on merit, they gained their popularity the old fashioned way. They gigged non-stop locally and worked their way up, possibly this is a thing of the past.

Last Gang didn’t split up; they amicably and gradually stopped playing. Their debut album did eventually get released although in Japan, via a relatively unknown Japanese label. Despite this, Walker still seemed upbeat, “I don’t have any regrets, its just the way things turn out, sometimes they don’t go as well as you would like, but its an experience you can learn from.

Keep an eye out for Kristian Walkers solo stuff; he’ll be looking to get into the studio early next year to record some tracks.