Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Neil Pounds: Selling soul from Newcastle

Neil Pounds
Neil Pounds Neil Pounds Keith Bayes (Six Nine Records) with Howard Johnson Chapter 8's Sam Burns Six Nine Records logo Anders Janssen Jimmy Sterling Howard Johnson

He started collecting rare soul vinyl as soon as he hit his teens. He went on to DJ, run soul nights and even fronted a band. But now, some 35 years after he was bitten by the soul bug, Neil Pounds – known as Poundsy to everyone - runs his own record label from up in the North East which has quickly earned a reputation for providing high-quality brand new modern soul tunes on a strictly limited edition 7” only format. With an ever growing artist roster, including new acts alongside evergreen soul music heroes like Howard Johnson, Poundsy’s Six Nine Records aim to provide the rare soul records of the future.

Ever busy Pounds took time out to talk about his journey from record collector to record label owner. “I started collecting northern soul back in 1982 when I was thirteen. I used to wag off school and hang out at a second-hand record shop and got most of my early schooling there. At the same time, I was knocking about with older kids from school who were into the rare soul scene. At the same point, the post-disco electro-boogie was going mainstream so I kinda hit onto that too. Friends of mine then started doing all-nighters. Stafford ‘Top of the World’ and others of the same ilk which played upfront sounds, old but newly discovered sixties soul and funk and super rare more up-to-date stuff. The thing that grabbed me with these places was that they played all-era stuff in the same room. It blew me away as a 14-year-old so my collecting took a turn towards the sixties, seventies and more obscure eighties stuff. Now I’m selling off most of my early collection and I never pay big for 45s anymore. I only collect new releases or post-2000 cuts these days, mainly short-run presses or small independent label items which are going cheap now but will hopefully be the collectors pieces of the future”.

Like a significant number of record collectors, Pounds turned his hand to DJ’ing, something which he has done on and off ever since although, he has always favoured putting on events rather than getting behind the decks. “The DJ’ing started when I was sixteen…doing sixties to modern soul over the years. But it’s the organisation of these events that thrill me. Although I do spots, I don’t kinda push myself to the front playing my more ‘out there’ stuff, just when I can get away with playing the music I love rather than dance floor fillers. I co-run the Freestyle Soul nights at The Garibaldi Hotel in Northampton with Greg Cooper and I also run an event in Newcastle where I live now called The Dirty Souls Soul Funk Club at The Town Wall which is strictly Modern, Funk, Boogie and Rare Soul”.

Despite having a gut feeling for quality music and what would prove to be popular, it is a huge leap from being behind the decks to owning and running a record label. Six Nine Records may have only been in existence for around a year but Pounds had dreams of such a scenario many years before, albeit with a different objective.

“I sang in a vocal and harmony group for around six years doing soul and funk covers – and I didn’t enjoy it one bit. We were shite (laughs) but some said I had a kind of ‘soulful’ voice. Something just clicked and I said that one day I’d put out my own stuff but then I forgot about it. Over time I got chatting to a few artists on social media and I was kept being asked if I could help hook them up with deals. I tried but the people I was familiar with at the time just weren’t interested in the songs because they felt they sounded too old school. It was then that my idea came back”.

Pounds then set up Six Nine, a small independent which – the artists aside – is essentially a three-man operation along with the support of a number of Soul DJ’s who dug the output the label began to put out.

“I was privy to a few details and ways to go about things as a few of my friends had their own labels. I just thought it’s now or never. I contacted Keith Bayes, a graphic designer friend from Abington, Northampton, and asked him to come in with me. I dealt with the setting up of the company and the financing while he set up the website (soon to be revamped and expanded) and he does all the graphics for the 45s. 7” is king and always will be. 12s are cool and I love LPs but 7”s are the perfect size, easy to carry and they just look right. Picture covers are a huge deal to us. Plenty of other labels put out singles in a simple disco bag and that’s cool, I’m certainly not knocking it. But I just loved the eighties mental colours of picture covers back then. We also wanted to make sure we had a big part in the packaging and look of each release. Anders Janssen does a lot of office-type work as well as dealing with the promotional aspect for us and plays an integral part. And DJs Ady Crampton, Andy Jackson, Mark Merry, David Bishop and many others supported us from the off”.

The label got off to an inauspicious start and the first 45 flopped but then Pounds got the slice of good fortune that his networking skills had demanded when eighties soul star Howard Johnson of “Keepin’ Love New” and “So Fine” fame agreed to record some new music for the label.

“I’d been talking regularly with ‘Hojo’ and I asked him if he wanted to do a couple of 45s with us. I nearly fell off my chair when he said, “Yeah Neil, why not? I kinda like the passion you have.” When I put the phone down I was trying to compose myself with a giant smile on my face (laughs). We put out a couple of singles and then I asked him to hit me with some unreleased stuff I knew he had in a lockup on reel tapes. They were eighties and kind of cool but not what I was looking for. So he said he’d got a few he did in the seventies he’d just found, but he reckoned I wouldn’t like them and the tapes were almost ruined. The first track was “Beauty”, it blew me away. He’d been sitting on it since 1975 and it was the first track he’d ever recorded as featured vocalist of Love, Unity & Virtue. He said he couldn’t believe I was interested in it (laughs) but ‘Hojo’s’ vocals were of this sweet-voiced young guy of about 19 years old. Wonderful”.

The positive buzz around the Howard Johnson releases helped to build the label’s growing reputation with up-and-coming artists, established present-day musicians and those from days gone by. Paris Ford, who played bass with BB&Q Band and worked with Evelyn Champagne King and Rick James among countless others, revamped his 20-year-old funky tune “Don’t Pass On Her” fresh for 2018. And a single by a highly individual young Chicagoan singer-songwriter Jovan Benson, with its Prince-style influences, did well and the Yuki T Groove remixed flipside “Baby I Do’” was well received. Pounds became good friends with the hot mixer from Japan after his reinterpretation of the tune and this opened more doors for Six Nine.

“T Groove had done work with Cool Million and when I’m talking with him he says that Frank Ryle mentioned he liked what we were doing and was interested in collaborating on some tracks. I wasn’t going to say no, was I?”

The end result was a recently released superb T Groove remix of Ryle’s 2016 tune “Something’s Got Me Walking On Air” which featured Kiki Kyte and Folami (Chic) on vocals. Further Frank Ryle collaborations are lined up for early next year, not least the mouth-watering prospect of a new Cool Million featuring Glenn Jones single which will also include a tune with UK Soul singer Laura Jackson on the flip. There are more exciting Six Nine releases on the horizon and more artists are now signed to the label.

“We’ll be bucking the trend from what we’ve been doing and put out an annual compilation album, a new single featuring Jay Stovall and Clare Bathe (think Machine ‘There But For The Grace Of God Go I’) plus there’s some very interesting jazz funky clouts from a new signing called Two Jazz Project, Eric Hossan from the duo hit me up via our connection with T Groove. T Groove has also remixed a new 45 for us by singer-songwriter-producer Tim Tucker, and we’ve lined up Sam Burns – ex Chapter 8 – for a couple of tunes. Sam co-wrote the Condido Lomax tune we put out earlier this year after Andy Jackson had told me Sam was back on the scene and looking to put something out in the UK. A lot of folks remember Chapter 8 because of Anita Baker, yet no major seems to wanna take a gamble with these all-so-talented artists”.

Pounds has been and will continue to be involved with the musical direction of each of the songs released on the label. Upon hearing any song submitted to him he has a pretty good idea of how the finished article should sound. “I do get involved to a certain degree and take on a directional role if it’s needed. I know what I want as regards to sound when I’m talking to each artist. With some artists, we chat about possible mixes, add-ons and additional instruments and that’s where my input kicks in. At other times it’s a case of revamping a song they’ve written and shelved and come back to with renewed interest”.

The lack of opportunities given by major record companies to major talent is the very reason why Pounds felt it was so necessary to get Six Nine Records up and running, and he made it abundantly clear as our conversation drew to a close. “The reason why we set up the label in the first place was 100% to support and put out great music by black soul and funk independent artists from the UK and America. New and old artists need a leg up or a window back in. We may offer a small press run but we push to get their music heard when the majors have just lost all direction of what constitutes great listening. We have a distribution network to give these artists a chance. Along with our own site selling direct to the public, we also sell via major distributors in the UK, France, USA and Japan, so these 45s go worldwide”.



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