Of the record companies featured in RHGB’s “Great British Record Labels” series, TRIUMPH were by far the smallest, and most shortlived. Active for merely ten months, they released just fourteen singles and an EP, registering one major Top 10 hit and a couple of lower chart entries. Yet they remain perhaps the most interesting and collectable British record label of the era, due to their catalytic role in the career of indie producer Robert George ‘Joe’ Meek, the man whose initials famously prefixed their catalogue numbers. Ironically, of course, Meek didn’t produce all the label’s output, as his involvement with Triumph only lasted around six months. But when he left, he took with him the bulk of their artists plus the master tapes of a plethora of unissued recordings which had been destined for the label, the knock-on effect of which was to create an almost mythical “what might have been” aura around Triumph, which has continued to expand over the ensuing decades. This unique compilation brings these recordings together for the very first time. Disc One features the singles released during 1960, plus extracts from the I Hear A New World EP,
introduced by Meek himself; Disc Two comprises sides originally recorded for Triumph, but ultimately either left on the shelf or issued on other labels, further down the line (NB: it is not possible to tell the
Triumph story in detail here due to restrictions of space; for a fuller history, including release information, please visit our website: www.RockHistory.co.uk)
When Joe Meek stalked out of Lansdowne Studios in November 1959, following a contretemps with proprietor Denis Preston, it’s doubtful he nursed any ambitions to start a record company. His immediate target was to establish himself as a producer, having already carved out a reputation as a brilliant (if ‘difficult’) sound balance engineer, with an impressive CV of hits. But having cut off his nose to spite his face, he had to try and find another job. In the short term he freelanced a few sessions for Decca and Top Rank, but then an unexpected windfall - a substantial royalty cheque, for Tommy Steele’s recording of his ‘Put A Ring On Her Finger’ - allowed him the opportunity of considering other options. Enter Saga... Saga Films was originally set up by concert pianist Leonard Cassini, whose intention was to make a series of informational films about classical composers. He duly recorded a number of sound beds but then ran into financial difficulties, at which point he approached Major Wilfred Alonzo Banks, an entrepreneurial chartered certified accountant who’d established a reputation as a business rescue specialist. Although Banks was unable to interest anyone in the films, as they were perceived as being too highbrow, he issued their soundtracks as cut-priced LPs. And in doing so he launched Saga as the UK’s first significant budget record label, undercutting the established record companies by selling LPs at twenty-five shillings each. Within a year the catalogue had been expanded to include jazz, shows, musicals and MOR, and the label had established a powerful presence in the UK market. Indeed, it was
Saga’s success that led to Decca and Pye countering with their own Ace Of Clubs and Golden Guinea budget ranges, respectively. Meanwhile, they’d also been issuing series of EPs and singles, and word got out that under the direction of their new MD, William Barrington-Coupe, Saga were contemplating launching a new label, aimed specifically at the emergent Pop market. It was at this point they were approached by Meek, following which Triumph came together in just a matter of weeks. Although the new label was affiliated to Saga, and made use of their manufacturing and distribution facilities, it was jointly fronted by Barrington-Coupe and Meek, each of whom had a financial stake in the operation. The first releases appeared at the end of February, viz: ‘Just Too Late’ by Peter Jay & The Blue Men and ‘Magic Wheel’ by Rodd, Ken & The Cavaliers, plus the neo-legendary I Hear A New World - Part 1 EP by The Blue Men. The latter is famously just about the most collectable artefact in the entire RGM canon. A four-track sampler drawn from Joe’s ill-fated Outer Space fantasy LP - destined never to reach the record stores in his lifetime - it represented his most ambitious project to date, the work which he was convinced would make the record industry sit up and acknowledge his creative genius.Barrington -Coupe possessed an notorious flair for PR and publicity, and so Triumph’s launch was duly propelled by an avalanche of gung-ho press releases, wildly enthusiastic reviews, and a highly visible advertising campaign trumpeting messages like “The first label to produce discs exclusively for the juke-box generation”, “Records made for the Hit Parade”, etc (unfortunately, he evinced rather less flair for payin bills, and a well-known London advertising agency would end up paying for much of Triumph’s publicity).
‘Let’s Go See Gran’ma’ by Joy & Dave and ‘With This Ring’ by Yolanda appeared in March, the former becoming Triumph’s biggest seller to date. Both 45s were arranged by Charles Blackwell, and marked the debut of what would be the full, echo-drenched RGM sound. In April, the label’s profile escalated even higher following the start of their weekly Radio Luxembourg show, It’s A Triumph. Its signature tune featured their latest release, a raunchy revival of ‘Greensleeves’, titled ‘Green Jeans’, by The Fabulous Flee-Rakkers, who also backed Ricky Wayne on ‘Chick A’Roo’. ‘Green Jeans’ became Triumph’s first chart entry in mid-May (it would eventually peak at #23), being joined in the Top 50 briefly a couple of weeks later by George Chakiris’ ‘Heart Of A Teenage Girl’. But their Big One was, of course, ‘Angela Jones’, by Boy Meets Girls/Wham! heart-throb Michael Cox. Issued the last week in May, it charted the following week and began selling in such heavy quantities that Saga/Triumph’s limited resources could not cope. With demand outstripping availability, Triumph pulled out of their parent company and set up a joint distribution venture with another new independent label, Ember Records. But ultimately, not only were they unable to cope with the weight of orders for ‘Angela Jones’ (which, depending on which of the weekly Pop mag’s listings you preferred, peaked at #5, #6, or #7), much to Meek’s dismay they’d had to postpone the release of a couple of other singles, as well as his beloved I Hear A New World LP.
Joe Meek was uninterested in the day-to-day problems of running a record company, and he was deeply peeved. Moreover, he’d wholly lost confidence in his business partner and so, in timehonoured fashion, he walked, signing a consultancy deal with Top Rank and taking Triumph’s artists along with him. To Barrington-Coupe’s credit he tried to soldier on, appointing Johnny Keating head of A&R and relaunching the label in September, with releases from Don Fox, Rex & The Minors, Pat Reader and Carol Jones. But despite heavy advertising support and some surprisingly positive reviews they failed to register, as did a highly-publicised Barbara Lyon 45. Triumph’s final release was
Laura Lee’s ‘Tell Tommy I Miss Him’, which also failed to chart despite generating plenty of publicity, whereupon which they collapsed under a mountain of unpaid bills. Meanwhile, ironically, Top Rank had also gone down the tubes (they’d been taken over by EMI), which effectively meant that Meek’s new gig had lasted just a couple of weeks. He subsequently began leasing out various unreleased Triumph masters, to HMV / Pye and Decca. These, plus unreleased sides by Chris Williams & His Monsters, The Charles Blackwell Orchestra, Eve Boswell, Chick Lewis and Bryan Taylor, can be found onDisc Two.