Survival Guide.

Leeds People - First Word

Victoria Baker Interviews Aly Gillani of First Word Records...

The city is sold to students as a party town, a place where you can go out every night and shop in exclusive boutiques everyday. The message is Leeds is a city for the image conscience and a place to be seen in. But what about independent Leeds and the people injecting creativity, heart and soul into the mix? Don'tJustSurvive is bringing you the movers and shakers of the Christian community- doing something different for the city.

First Word Records -Aly Gillani

Aly Gillani is the A&R and Label Manager at Leeds' First Word records. The label is run by Aly in Leeds and Andy H in Sheffield.

How did you come to live in Leeds?
I moved up to Leeds in 1997 to study at the University, and just never left! I spent a year as a sabbatical officer at Leeds University Union and then started working as a club promoter, before going back to Uni to do an MA and taking up a post at Bradford Uni for a couple of years. I’ve been working full time on the label (and as a DJ) for 3 years now.

How did First Word Records start up?
I was managing a band called Homecut (who just released their debut album earlier this year) and through them and being a hip hop promoter was meeting loads of incredibly talented musicians and producers. The music wasn’t getting out there and it was a natural step to take it into our own hands really. I actually barely knew Andy H when we started the business together - it’s worked out really well as we’re quite different whilst still sharing a passion for the music. We’ve now been going 5 years and are just about to release our 30th piece of music.

What has challenged you? What have been your highs and lows?

It’s challenging to do something for the love of it every day! We’re not in it for the money, although we do have to run the business with that in mind - it’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make in order to do something we’re passionate about. As we get older it does get harder though - you realise that the sacrifices you make can take their toll on family and other relationships, although I must say my wife has been massively supportive to me over the years. High points: getting ‘Album of The Week’ in the Metro Newspaper this year was amazing, our first radio play on Radio One (Trevor Nelson!) and the amazing shows we’ve done all over the world - from New York to Lithuania. We’ve met some amazing people along the way too.
Lows: selling only 35 copies of our 2nd single, having people rip you off (in one case for several thousand pounds) - more generally just sometimes wondering if you’re making any impact at all! It doesn’t last long though - there’s enough good stuff going on to get you through the hard times.

Is Leeds a good place to start a business? A good place for the creative arts/music scene?
It’s as good as anywhere - Leeds is relatively cheap to live in (compared to London / Manchester) and there are a lot of small businesses so there is plenty of support. There’s an amazing music scene in Leeds - we really are spoilt here for world-class musicians, and you get all the big names coming through regularly. The arts in general are well represented and new venues such as Seven Arts and The Carriageworks are bringing through a whole new generation of artists.

Who are your top Leeds artists?
These are my current faves, but the list changes all the time!

Corinne Bailey Rae - what can I say? Corinne was at uni with us, and to see her succeed is just brilliant. She’s been good enough to do a couple of tracks with us too, and is as genuinely down-to-earth now as she was before she became the megastar she is today.

Nightmares On Wax - DJ EASE (the man behind Nightmares) is a real inspiration for us - he operates in a similar musical world and is very giving of his time and advice. His album ‘Smokers Delight’ is a favourite of mine, and he’s a great DJ too.

Homecut - The brainchild of my good friend Testament, I’ve been with these guys for 10 years. The album ‘No Freedom Without Sacrifice’ is (in my humble opinion) a classic.

The Haggis Horns - Another First Word signing, this band are simply one of the best funk bands in the world. As a horn section they’ve played with everyone from Mark Ronson to Amy Winehouse to Jamiroquai and beyond. Their single ‘The Traveller’ was one of our big successes in the early days of the label.

Gentlemen’s Dub Club - These guys are a relatively young band, but their mind-blowing live shows are already causing a big stir in the music scene. Watch out for them in 2010.
kidkanevil / Stateless - Two in one here - kidkanevil is signed to our label and is also in a band called Stateless. kidk is a great producer, totally fearless and focussed on developing his sound.

Stateless are another great undiscovered Leeds act - they’ve had modest success but have massive potential.
Laura J Martin - Another member of our extended FW family, Laura is a foot-stomping, flute-wielding folk ninja! A really original artist and well worth checking out live.

Top Leeds venues?

The Hifi Club is my favourite - I’m now a resident DJ there and it’s just fantastic. A great mixed crowd and spot on music every night of the week (even when I’m not playing!).
Sela Bar is really nice for a more intimate Jazz show - great beers and pizza there too. The Faversham is great - I play at a night called New Bohemia there (which I founded back in 2004) and it gets some amazing bands and DJs playing there regularly.

Do you see yourself as a ‘Christian’ record label? Do musicians on your label reflect your values or who you are?
Firstly, I don’t think a business or institution can have a faith. The people in it can, but by definition I find calling anything ‘Christian’ in that way a bit divisive. Some of the people on our label are Christian, some aren’t - it doesn’t really come into decision making in that way. Naturally we wouldn’t want to have music that was misogynistic or offensive in other ways but that’s as much down to the type of people that are drawn to us as a label as anything else. I suppose we put out a conscious, positive vibe, but we probably have as much in common with people of similar political beliefs as we do with people of similar religious beliefs.

What’s the future of First Word….
Survival! It’s tough out there these days in the current economic climate. Beyond that, just more and more good music. I can’t see how we’d ever stop what we’re doing - it’s too much a part of who we are.

If you could give newcomers to the city a piece of advice what would it be?
Get involved with the city - it’s very easy to end up in a student bubble but there’s so much more out there if you scratch the surface. Having said that, the facilities for students are incredible - I get very jealous when I walk through the University these days to see all the opportunities there are. I suppose really I’d just say get stuck in!

Categories: Business, Clubbing, Entertainment, Interview, Leeds People, Music, Night Life, Focus Posted on Friday 25th September 2009 at 13:11 by admin



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