Happy Birthday and Farewell, Song, By Toad
Here at Edinburgh Music Tours, we like to big up the city’s grassroots music movers and shakers and one of the scene’s most passionate advocates is Matthew Young of Song, By Toad Records. This small but mighty independent label has charted and championed some of the best sounds to emerge from Edinburgh and beyond over the last ten years, from Meursault and Sparrow & the Workshop, via Adam Stafford, David Thomas Broughton and Jonnie Common to their more recent successes with Modern Studies and Siobhan Wilson.
But plans to celebrate the label’s tenth birthday are tinged with sadness, as Matthew has recently made the decision to fold the label in order to devote all his energies to being a full-time stay-at-home dad and so the Song, by Toad birthday gig this Friday at Leith Depot, also scene of the first ever Song, By Toad show in 2008, will be its last dance.
We spoke to Matthew ahead of this final fling about his decision to bow out, the ethos of the label, the swings and roundabouts of the Edinburgh music scene and the highlights of the last ten years.
“The decision to pack it in was very sudden but the decision to start it up was quite haphazard aswell. That first Meursault album we released did so well so fast I was running a record label before I even knew what one was and now we’ve come to this point where we have to be done here it’s almost equally disorientating. It’s quite weird – I’ve just sacked myself from my own job.
“When we launched the label it was upstairs in what is now the Leith Depot but it was the Meridian back then which looked like a cross channel ferry in the 1980s and it was apparently the most dangerous pub in Edinburgh. I had no idea. I’d never put on a gig before so I had no idea if anybody was coming, and it was so exciting. It’s really nice that it’s a venue again for however long depending on whether Edinburgh council approve the demolition of that row of buildings.
“Edinburgh’s attitude to its venues is disgraceful but if you are an up-and-coming band you could go from the Depot, Sneaky Petes, Henrys [Cellar Bar] to Summerhall, though Summerhall is quite big. Maybe we are missing a few steps.
“This is part of Edinburgh’s self-image problem. We constantly do ourselves down which has a knock-on effect – people aren’t expecting it to be any good round here. You just end up with this circular, self-fulfilling prophecy of people don’t think of it as that kind of town. Everyone talks about how bad the Edinburgh music scene is and it really isn’t. There’s a lot of good stuff. You maybe have to dig a little bit deeper because it’s not as showcased but once you look it is there.
“I moved to Edinburgh at the time Withered Hand were first coming through, Found, Kid Canaveral…there was this explosion of really talented people and so the promoters formed to put them on and the labels formed to release them. I knew nothing about the music industry at all, and getting pulled into this underground DIY scene was absolutely amazing especially cos I’d just moved and I didn’t really know anyone. I started the label by accident cos I was writing a blog and before I knew it I had something on my hands that I didn’t totally have control of. but it was this wild and exciting ride.
“We’ve never had a consistent brand in terms of the kind of music we release – some of it has been abrasive and obscure and some of it has been straight up pop music. Adam Stafford did two albums of pop songs and then said ‘I want to do a double album of neo-classical machine music instrumental stuff’ – anybody in their right mind would say ‘piss off Adam, write us a top 20 hit’. But you’re not headlining Glastonbury, I’m not living in a yacht in the Caribbean, let’s do this, let’s go all in. When an artist comes to us with a crazy idea, I like to think that we’d go with it.
“One of our great strengths was that we weren’t really an organisation – I know it’s a cliché but we were really a family. The people we worked with were our friends, they were round the house all the time, we ate round the table with them, they recorded and rehearsed and sometimes performed in our back garden or living room. I had an intense, personal commitment to everybody we worked with. I think we could have gone on to achieve a lot more but I don’t have the energy to give anymore.
“But I do think we have a way of doing business which was based around love and support and friendship and loyalty. We never looked at anyone and said ‘how many records are you going to sell?’ We looked at it and said ‘do we like it? Do we like you?’ and I’m proud of that. “
Song, By Toad 10th anniversary, Leith Depot, Edinburgh, 28 Sept