Monday 28 April 2014

Dome Records: Rising to the Top

Originally published in 2009, written by Imran Mirza

Boasting a who's who of contemporary and established soul artists, Dome Records has proven to be one of the few stable homes for a consistent quality of soul and R&B in the UK. So much so, that aside from the homegrown UK talent, including the names synonymous with British R&B (Beverley Knight, Full Flava and Don-E), Dome also houses an abundance of US acts including Eric Roberson, Conya Doss and Anthony David. Chances are, if you're a fan of contemporary soul music, you already own a handful of releases with the 'Dome' stamp printed on the back.

Dome Records was initially started in 1992 by Peter Robinson, in conjunction with EMI until the label became fully independent in 1995; and was never initially intended to be an urban label - just with the premise to, as Robinson himself would declare, "Put out quality records". He further explains, "We've always had a feeling that the vocals are what mattered and the quality of the performance ... I spent many years when I worked at major labels putting out pop records of all kinds, some of them by not very good singers, and sometimes they were very successful despite not involving very good singers, but at Dome, my orientation has always been to put out quality records with good vocalists, and not worry too much if they're selling huge quantities".

Robinson's resume' reads like a dream team of commercial soul and popular music in the 70s and 80s - after having been involved in top-tier A&R positions for RCA, Chrysalis and CBS (before CBS would go on to become Sony Music), Dome's Managing Director also found himself behind albums from artists including Five Star, Imagination, Luther Vandross, The Emotions, Earth Wind & Fire and Sharon Redd, among the countless other names and movements during this golden age of commercial and glam-filled treasures.

One of Dome's first signings was with early-90s male vocalist, Sinclair, whose debut album, 'I Want You Back', generated the hugely popular summer anthems, 'I Want You Back' and 'Cassanova', but it was after hooking up with Lulu, and releasing 'I'm Back For More', that Dome received its first taste of chart success. The album featured a duet with Bobby Womack, along with tracks with the Bee Gees, and a song originally recorded by Lulu herself, before being handed to Tina Turner, 'I Don't Wanna Fight'. The release of Beverley Knight's debut album, 'The B-Funk', in 1994 (featuring the popular single, 'Flavour of the Old School') and eventual signing of Hill St Soul marked the beginning of Dome's orientation towards urban black music, and in turn, their decision to take on American acts as well...

"Initially, we were making a virtue out of the fact we were working with British artists," explains Robinson, "But then we started to get offered a lot of American content. There never have been many British labels specialising in soul and R&B, so we were finding that increasingly we were getting offered stuff, so we picked up on a few things that Choice were heavily exposing, like Dennis Taylor, 'Enough is Enough', who we did a deal with that led on to three albums ... Things just picked up to the point where we were offered most of the decent independent soul artists, like Rahsaan Patterson, and from Rahsaan, subsequently we ended up getting involved with Eric Roberson, and Rosie Gaines."

Dome's knack of establishing these long-term relationships with their artists is something that's worked well for them on many fronts - one notable example is through their partnership with Rob Derbyshire, who formed the Birmingham-based band, Full Flava, and released 'Chinese Whispers', 'Colour of My Soul' and 'Music is Our Way of Life', which have featured guest vocals from Carleen Anderson, Alison Limerick, Chantay Savage, CeCe Penistone and, Dome's very own, Beverlei Brown, and are releases that have served the label well.  The list goes on with Eric Roberson and Rahsaan Patterson - two American, independent and contemporary soul artists, who used to be signed to major labels but currently release their music via their own labels in the US, and turn to Dome for their UK distribution.

Urban black music has always managed to stay at the forefront of what is considered popular commercial music - from prominent acts like James Brown and Marvin Gaye in the 60s and 70s, to Prince and Michael Jackson in the 80s, and the emergence of R&B vocal groups and new jack swing in the 90s, highlighted by popular names including Jodeci, Boyz II Men, Babyface and Mary J Blige. Commercial radio, marketing, record labels, etc have always targeted a teen audience including high sales expectations, with the current torch carriers, Beyonce, Rihanna and Ne-Yo, not to mention the huge commercial appeal of established hip-hop acts like Jay-Z, Kanye West and Eminem. There still has to be a home for independent artists who wish to work free from the constrictions that major labels may enforce in a bid to reach sales targets - one of the most notable inclusions to the current Dome roster are the legendary (acid-)jazz/soul group, Incognito, who were previously signed to Universal Records, and now find themselves happily housed by Dome in the UK, consistently releasing material and pulling in large numbers through live performances.

For contemporary soul music fans, it's certainly the consensus that they're supporting an under-represented genre, where artists with a wealth of talent can quite often fall by the wayside due to a lack of exposure, but the reassuring thing is that it is there, and Dome Records are certainly doing everything they can to bring it to your attention, as Peter Robinson concludes:

"Over the years, we've attracted more artists because partly, there aren't too many other people doing what we're doing, and partly, the word of mouth is very good of the way we treat our artists. It may not be possible to sell huge numbers of albums, but we've been around for a while, and we'd like to think we know a good record from a bad record. We don't go out looking for much these days, they tend to come to us ... people are coming to us, particularly from the US, because of people saying 'these guys will do a job for you', and we certainly try to do that to the best of our ability."

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