From a small Stenhousemuir flat has grown a respected record label preparing to release an album featuring one of the UK’s most celebrated artists.
De-Fence was established in 2006 as an off-shoot of the renowned Fence Collective, home of folk-pop stars like King Creosote and James Yorkston, with the aim of promoting more electronic-orientated music by Scottish acts.
The label has always been a one-man operation and is run from the kitchen table of Gavin Brown, a well-kent face in the Falkirk music scene since he was first given a job by Roy Lake at Sleeves record shop in Cow Wynd.
Gavin (37), prefers a DIY approach when it comes to music and packages all De-Fence records and CDs himself. This week he has been busier than ever as he prepares to release ‘A Life in Progress’, the soundtrack to a documentary film on the celebrated artist and novelist Alasdair Gray.
The album features compositions by Glasgow-based musician Scott Twynholm, known for his film and TV scores, as well as a poetry reading by Gray himself.
It’s something of a coup for De-Fence as it is the first time such a recording of Gray has been released – although Gavin admits he was not aware of the significance when he first got involved in the project.
“I received an email from Scott Twynholm with a link to his soundtrack containing spoken word by ‘some fellow’ named Alasdair Gray,” he said. “As you can tell I wasn’t familiar with his work at the time but I did recognise his artwork from a book ‘A Life In Pictures’ that my brother has.
“After listening to Scott’s project I realised it was something original and very different from previous De-Fence releases.
“I had promised myself that after my previous De-Fence project (the 10X10 boxset) I wasn’t going to release anything for a while so I could concentrate on my own music. I had a bit of a dilemma on my hands – if I didn’t release it someone else would have for sure.
“So I listened to it many times and let a couple of close friends hear it too. They were of the same opinion, so I bit the bullet and came to an agreement with Scott about putting it out on vinyl.”
An edited version of ‘A Life in Progress’, directed by Kevin Cameron, was broadcast by BBC2 last month.
“Kevin has produced a brilliant documentary which gives us a little peek into Alasdair’s world,” added Gavin. “For anyone that knows nothing of Alasdair it’s a terrific introduction. The soundtrack fits perfectly too.”
Although he’s yet to meet Gray, the label boss is hoping he will approve of the creative efforts that have been involved in releasing the soundtrack.
“I like to make life difficult for myself and I’m pretty stubborn in that I like DIY,” he explained. “If someone is going to part with their hard-earned cash for a De-Fence release I like to make sure they get a product that has involved hard work and a human touch.
“The covers may well have ink smudges and incomplete sections – but that’s what I like about the non-commercially produced items. I ordered the record with blank labels and blank white sleeves. I’ve hand-stamped all the record labels, and silk-screen printed all the sleeves, black and silver. Each sleeve requires three separate prints, so I’ve had to print 900 times using messy inks.”
It’s a time-consuming process, and Gavin has had to delay his return to Amsterdam as a result. He’s spending time in the Dutch capital while on a sabbatical from his day job as an IT technician at Forth Valley College.
“One day I’ll learn to get help and delegate tasks,” he laughs.
Gavin could easily have chosen a very different career – his family own the long-established R. Brown & Son butchers in Stenhousemuir – but music was always his calling.
“My next door neighbour’s son, the late David Traill, bought a drum kit so I’d hear that from through the walls and eventually got to have a go,” he said.
“David then sold it to another neighbour so I’d hang out there. I basically followed this kit around so I could play more!”
Stints as a drummer for several local bands BELT and Citrus Soul followed, as well as regular gigs at The Happening club night held in the upstairs room of The Argyll bar in Falkirk.
But it was discovering the then-fledgling Fence Collective in 2001 that gave Gavin’s career a real boost. After ordering several records from the Fife-based folk label, he was invited to their annual Christmas party where he met Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote. He would go on to become a member of Anderson’s band as well as drumming for other Fence members like Johnny Lynch, aka The Pictish Trail.
“During a UK tour in the summer of 2006 Fence was really starting to take off and their workload had increased substantially, so we talked about doing an offshoot to help take the load off Kenny and Johnny who were running Fence,” said Gavin. “This was to become my project for The Fence Collective and I decided to call it De-Fence.”
But how can one man afford to run a record label?
“Running a label needn’t be expensive, but I choose to release vinyl records which are expensive to manufacture,” he explained.
“For years, I’ve worked full-time while being involved in music. My salary from employment and income from gigging have made it possible to finance the projects I release on De-Fence. It may not be ideal as both compete for my time, but it’s made things possible at least.”
‘A Life in Progress’ is released on January 26.