Why have legendary amp makers Marshall started a record label?

The Dirty Youth at Abbey Road
Marshall signings The Dirty Youth at Abbey Road

It’s a famous story. Back in 1962, Jim Marshall built a prototype amplifier and put it on sale in his drum shop in west London. By the end of the day he had orders for another 22, and Marshall Amplification was born. It went on to provide a backline for rock’s great and good. “There’s nothing that can beat my old Marshall tube amps,” Jimi Hendrix said in 1967. “Nothing in the whole world.”

Since then, Marshall’s distinctive signature logo has become one of the most iconic brands in rock, not least because Marshall himself was determined to ensure that everything produced by the company was of the highest quality. “It’s the name that means something to me,” he said. “Because it is my name.”

In 2017 Marshall is a different beast. The company still produces those amps, that logo is as popular as it’s ever been, but it’s finding its way onto other products. The Marshall fridge is a big seller, and even includes a volume control that goes up to 11. You can buy Marshall sunglasses. And Marshall headphones. Last year the company produced their first smartphone. And now they’ve launched a record label.

You have to wonder what Jim Marshall would have made of it all.

“Jim Marshall was first and foremost a music lover (as well as being quite a drummer and singer!),” says Marshall Records Managing Director Steve Tannett, “and this latest part of the story continues his legacy of being a company that at all times tries to maintain the highest quality in everything it does.

“Marshall have been around for over 50 years, and have always been at the forefront of the rock’n’roll business with their hardware and more recently lifestyle products. When we got together with the team in Milton Keynes we all felt that as they make equipment to play instruments through and equipment to listen to that music, why not make some music to go with it?”

It makes sense. Whatever you think of the Marshall fridge, the company has always had close ties to musicians, and both Tannett and joint MD Rob Cass aren’t short of experience, either running labels or producing records (Cass was an in-house producer at Abbey Road Studios for six years and has worked with the likes of Slash, Brian May and Jack Bruce, while former Menace guitarist Tannett — readers with a fondness for early punk may remember their anti-Greater London Council rant GLC — ran Miles Copeland’s IRS record label).

“We both felt that the time was right to go back to some old fashioned A&R working with acts we love and creating a whole team spirit around the artists rather than just simply ‘licensing in’ finished masters,” says Tannett. “We are working with the bands on every level of their careers and hopefully creating long term relationships.”

Marshall Records' Rob Cass (left) and Steve Tannett

Marshall Records' Rob Cass (left) and Steve Tannett

The first band to sign to the label are The Dirty Youth, the South Wales rockers who formed in 2009 and already have a couple of album under their belt. “It all came about by fate,” says the band’s Matt Bond. “We were having a beer at Tileyard Studios with our Publishing Company to discuss new material we had been writing and were introduced to Steve and we hit it off.

“We instantly connected with Steve’s enthusiasm and attitude towards the music business and he had a good giggle at our tales from the road. Steve got home that night had a listen and researched The Dirty Youth. The following morning he called us up and asked for a meeting.”

But what can Marshall offer a band that other labels can’t?

“The support they can offer us is second to none,” says Bond. “Marshall is such a massive brand that is highly regarded amongst musicians and music lovers the world over, it carries a lot of weight. Not only can they provide us with the best amps in the world but they offer us a great team of people to help steer the ship. I think the business knowledge of the company partnered with their passion is a great combination.”

The admiration works both ways. “The band have a fantastic work ethic,” says Tannett. “They write cracking tunes and they have a drop dead gorgeous lead singer. Whats not to love? It’s been exciting to watch them working with Rob at Abbey Road. There is something in those walls that gets into the DNA of the bands and amazing things start to happen .”

So that’s where we’re at. The Dirty Youth are recording new music this month for release on Marshall Records later in the year, at which point they’ll hit the road.

And the label? They’re thinking long-term.

“We’re developing several concepts encompassing exclusive live albums from classic artists which will be recorded at our custom built venue located at the Marshall factory, and also blues and country releases,” says Tannett. “We have several new signings, and all our bands are with us because we love their music and we love them as people.”

Bond won’t disagree. “Marshall’s philosophy has always been forward thinking,” he says, “Where do they stop? The answer is they won’t, and Marshall Records is definitely the next logical step forward for Marshall.”

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Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.