Midnight Special: The Oriole Records Story 1956-1962

Artist: Various Artists
Format: 2CD
Bar-code: 5060255182215
Cat No: DAY2CD221


Oriole Records was the first British record label. It was founded in 1925 by the Levy family, who built up their business from an east London record shop, and had its own distribution system, recording studio and pressing facilities. It enjoyed a fruitful first decade of operation but lay dormant until 1950, when Morris Levy revived it. It started its rebirth by licensing from the American Mercury Records label, before turning to British acts.


Early hitmakers included the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group with the Number 5 ‘Freight Train’, featuring Nancy Whiskey on vocals, and Liverpool-born former Butlins Redcoat Russ Hamilton’s ‘We Will Make Love’, which reached Number 2 in the UK singles chart in 1957. Oriole also produced cover versions of chart hits, released on the budget Embassy Records label through Woolworths stores.


The stakes rose considerably when John Schroeder joined in December 1961. His brief was to develop Oriole, the only independent record company at the time, into a rival for major labels like EMI, whence he had come after carving a reputation as Cliff Richard producer Norrie Paramor’s songwriting sidekick. It was, he admitted, ‘Quite a daunting proposition.’


His first hits came with singer Clinton Ford, who mixed country with comedy, followed by Maureen Evans. Her ‘Like I Do’ made Number 3, sold a quarter of a million records and inspired Paramor to send Schroeder a personal note saying: Congratulations on “Like I Do”. Please leave some space in the charts for me!’


The Spotniks, an instrumental group from Sweden, introduced themselves to Oriole when their manager heard the label’s sponsored show on Radio Luxembourg. They made the Top 30 with ‘Orange Blossom Special’, promoted by an appearance in space suits on BBC-TV’s Top Of The Pops (this was in the era of the space race between America and the Soviet Union). They would follow up with an equally unlikely cover, ‘Hava Nagila’; this did even better, but the gimmick inevitably faded.


Other signings of note included Susan Singer (Helen Shapiro’s cousin) and the Dowlands, a duo produced by maverick Joe Meek in an independent deal. Jackie Trent was another discovery, a talented singer-songwriter who would eventually team personally and professionally with Tony Hatch.


Among the people who approached Oriole but didn’t make it were Jonathan King, a chart-topper a few short years later with “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’, and Galt McDermott, Canadian composer of the hit Sixties musical Hair.


Oriole and Schroeder’s place in the history books was assured when they became the first record label to bring Motown to Britain. Schroeder took label boss Berry Gordy and vice president Barney Ales to dinner at the Talk of the Town nightclub to seal the deal. He had something in common with Gordy in that they were both successful songwriters, Schroeder having penned Helen Shapiro’s first hits.


‘I knew we had a mammoth task ahead of us,’ Schroeder later explained, ‘but I also knew the sheer talent featured on this label could not help but eventually register. It was only a matter of time.’ Oriole released nineteen Motown discs in total on their black and white Oriole American label, but were stymied by the lack of domestic airplay for the music.


Schroeder had the courage to begin the operation with three singles released simultaneously in September 1962 – Mary Wells’ ‘You Beat Me To The Punch’, The Contours’ ‘Do You Love Me’ and the Marvelettes’ ‘Beechwood 4-5789’, all featured here. For two years he and his team worked on Motown’s music. But no sooner had they tasted real success with Stevie Wonder’s ‘Fingertips Part 2’, than the licensing contract expired and Motown moved on to EMI Records.


John Schroeder’s next move, in July 1963, was to thrust Oriole into the thick of domestic pop by taking a mobile recording unit to Liverpool and recording two albums of local talent entitled ‘This Is Mersey Beat Vol 1 and 2’. Many bands got their first break this way, but while Schroeder met both John Lennon and Beatles manager Brian Epstein he was inevitably beaten to the biggest names by his wealthier rivals.


Oriole ceased to exist in 1964 when American recording giant Columbia bought the company and renamed it CBS Records. The attraction was Oriole’s record pressing factory in Aston Clinton Buckinghamshire. John Schroeder had, by then, moved on to Pye Records where he would produce Status Quo and Man, among many others. He has written about his Oriole years in a book, Sex & Violins (Pen Press), which is much recommended.


Oriole worked hard to compete with the ‘big boys’, but ultimately the stakes were too high for a family firm. The music they brought to the market was, however, fascinating, and still has the capacity to entertain half a century later.

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1. Midnight Special ~ Bob Lander & The Spotnicks
2. Sherry ~ Hugo Montenegro & His Orchestra
3. Like I Do ~ Maureen Evans
4. Devil In His Heart ~ The Donays
5. Three Coins In The Sewer ~ Alan Klein
6. Do You Love Me ~ The Contours
7. Geraldine ~ Terry Dene
8. Never In A Hundred Years ~ Billy Joe Royal
9. Beechwood 4-5789 ~ The Marvelettes
10. Freight Train ~ The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group With Nancy Whiskey
11. We Will Make Love ~ Russ Hamilton
12. Little Sue ~ The Dowlands & The Soundtracks
13. Too Many Beautiful Girls (And Not Enough Time) ~ Clinton Ford
14. Volare ~ Domenico Modugno
15. The Passing Stranger ~ Lonnie Donegan
16. You Beat Me To The Punch ~ Mary Wells
17. Will You Love Me Tomorrow ~ The Raindrops
18. Rocket Man ~ The Spotnicks
19. The Big Hurt ~ Maureen Evans
20. I Saw The Light ~ The Hallelujah Skiffle Group With Clinton Ford
21. I Found Myself A Brand New Baby ~ Mike & The Modifiers
22. Pony Train ~ Titus Turner
23. Our Last Chance ~ Christine Quaite
24. Shake Sherry ~ The Contours
25. Johnny Summertime ~ Susan Singer


1. The House Of The Rising Sun ~ The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group
2. Too Young ~ Lewis Lymon & The Teenchords
3. Your Nose Is Gonna Grow ~ Christine Quaite
4. Don’t Ever Change ~ The Dowlands
5. The One Who Really Loves You ~ Jacki Trent
6. The Reprieve Of Tom Dooley ~ Russ Hamilton
7. Move Mr. Man ~ The Contours
8. Orange Blossom Special ~ The Spotnicks
9. There Goes The Lucky One ~ Jackie Lee & The Raindrops
10. The Outsider ~ Deek Rivers
11. Swing Pretty Mama ~ The Flairs
12. You Better Get In Line ~ The Contours
13. Paper Roses ~ Maureen Evans
14. Striped Purple Shirt ~ Alan Klein
15. Next Stop Paradise ~ Terry Dene
16. Old Love (Let’s Try It Again) ~ Mary Wells
17. Come Prima ~ Domenico Modugno
18. Bla Bla Cha Cha Cha ~ Titus Turner
19. Bad Boy ~ The Donays
20. Hey Mae ~ Rusty & Doug
21. Bobby’s Lovin’ Touch ~ Susan Singer
22. Someday, Someway ~ The Marvelettes
23. Not Here, Not There ~ Little Abner
24. It’s Too Bad ~ Mike & The Modifiers
25. Wedding Ring ~ Russ Hamilton