The little label that could
“The best thing I ever did was to refuse Niall a distribution deal in 2003,” says 51-year-old Quail, who once played drums with Clock DVA and, for a while, Cabaret Voltaire. “I was with 3MV, which had surfed the wave of Brit pop and then done very well out of the Ministry of Sound and Fantasia club compilations, but subsequently made some questionable investments. It was all going a bit wrong by 2004. [3MV subsequently went under.] Had Niall got the deal he wanted in 2003, there’s a real possibility Rubyworks would have gone down with 3MV.”
Quail has decades of experience in the industry, not least alongside Alan McGee at Creation Records, home to Oasis, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub and, less successfully, The House of Love and Felt. “Alan’s thing is ‘do you get it?’ and if you ‘get it’ you’re okay with him,” says Quail. He was there when McGee released Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners’ comeback record My Beauty in 1999, a record he unconventionally promoted in make-up, stockings and a dress.
“He was trying to explore his feminine side,” says Quail. “I was at the meeting where he explained that this was how he wanted to promote the record and I think everyone realised that the game was up. It sold 48 copies in the first week. We haven’t had a situation like that at Rubyworks.”
“Gavin Friday did want to dress as the dead Michael Collins on his record,” says Aherne.
“And he did,” says Quail.
“But I don’t think it’s so shocking to people that Gavin Friday would do something like that,” says Muckian.
By 2004, Quail, who is married to an Irishwoman, had a yen to move to Dublin. He’d been impressed by Rodrigo y Gabriela and by Muckian and so he joined the new label. Its simple ethos reminds him of the eclecticism of Island Records in the 1970s. “Historically, Rubyworks has just three rules about artists,” he says. “First, they’ve got to be great live. It would be very hard to imagine a scenario where we signed a bedroom-based artist. Then they’ve got to have great songs . . . And they have to have a personality. They have to be interesting and charming in interviews.”
Muckian elaborates. “We stay away from that idea of going down one genre and specialising,” he says. “You run into trouble very quickly if you do that. If there’s a scene happening and all of a sudden a label is all about that scene and that scene moves on, you’re in trouble. If you look at Rod and Gab, they span so many different genres, from rock to classical to Spanish guitar. We treat the label a bit like that too. We’re not afraid to go work with different music.”
At the moment under the Rubyworks banner, there’s the parent label, an electric/electronic label called Model Citizen (with acts such as Fight like Apes and the Minutes), a hip hop imprint called Gotta Run (featuring the Original Rudeboys) and a newly acquired UK-based label, Ark.