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Lightning Records

Lightning Records were responsible for releasing four out of the nine Bilbo singles. They also covered the transition of the groups name from Bilbo Baggins to Bilbo, back in 1978. Alan Davison was the owner of Lightning Records at the time and he was happy to take part in an interview about Lightning Records and Bilbo Baggins.

BilboMusic - Tell me about Lightning Records. Why did you set it up and when?

Alan - I started working for EMI Records in 1966 at the tender age of 5. After 11 years in a corporate company and with the demise of most of what were distribution companies, I had the idea to set up a completely independent record distribution company, which would be the best one that any one had seen previously. I left EMI in the summer of 1977 after having been General Manager of Motown Records for the previous 3 and a half years. With three other partners in tow, I found some premises in Harrow Road Harlesden in North West London. These would be perfect for the operation that I had in mind. It was made a bit easier because the warehouse was owned by one of my other partners who allowed the business to commence with a rent free period for about six months. The rest is history, because we became very successful, very quickly with the distribution side. We supplied record shops with all labels of all companies and were the number 1 one stop company in the country. After taking in many small labels which we started distributing along with all of the major record labels, the perfect answer to what we were doing was to start up our own label. Hence Lightning Records was born. We had mainly Reggae product on the label and I was responsible for having the distinction of producing the record, which at the time knocked what was the biggest selling record of all time in this country, off of the top of the charts. That record was (see if you can guess) and our record was (see if you can guess that as well). [The answers to these questions are at the bottom of the page - Mark]. Quiz over and in a nutshell you have the answer to Lightning Records, I could go on a lot more but I have not got the time at present.

I remember buying a single released by Lightning whilst looking through the record racks. It turns out that it was actually by Bilbo, but it was the artwork on the centre bit that attracted me to it. It was a picture of a silhouetted gnarled tree with lightning in the background and a logo, all very Roger Dean inspired. Who was responsible for it?

The label was designed by myself and a guy who worked for us at Lightning. He was incredibly artistic and his name is Graham Collins. He also did a fantastic cover for the rock band Samson. That was called Survivors, their first album.

Lightning Records Label
Samson's album Survivors

Earlier this morning I went to GEMM to search for records released on Lightning Records and got a huge list of music. A diverse list of musician included Basement Jaxx, The Beatles (with Tony Sheridan) and Count Basie. Would I be right (or wrong) in assuming that not all of these you are linked with?

None of the others that you mention were anything to do with Lightning Records. We had big hits with Dennis Brown / Money in my Pocket, Jet Bronx and the Forbidden / Ain't doin nothing and on our other label Scope Records we had big hits with OK Fred / Errol Dunkley, Silly Games / Janet Kaye and quite a lot of other Indy titles.

How did Bilbo Baggins come to be on the Lightning label? Tam Paton had been their manager at one point, but I guess by this time he was no longer involved. Who was there manager at the time?

I was contacted by Bilbo's manager at the time a guy by the name of Henry Spurway. Told me all about them, I met with them liked what I saw and them as individuals and decided to sign them to the label. We also had our own studio in the City and therefore could record loads of stuff which we ultimately. I became quite close to them at the time especially Brian and Colin.

You mentioned that Lightning’s product was mainly reggae. You say you meet the group before you signed them, but did you see Bilbo perform before you signed them and how did Bilbo fit in with your other acts?

Reggae was what Lightning became famous for, mainly because of the area that we were based in. We, however, did release all kinds of product if we felt that we could be successful with it. I saw Bilbo perform on many occasions, but had already made up my mind to sign them prior to this. They were unique to anything else that we had on the label and that is why I felt that they had a good chance of success.

How would you compare your marketing strategy with Bilbo over what Polydor did with them, bearing in mind that you got them into the charts and Polydor didn’t?

Our marketing strategy was different to Polydors, because we had fewer acts and could spend a lot more time on them. When you fully believe in what you have you can and will pull out all of the stops to make it happen. With Bilbo that is exactly what we did and it worked. At the time as with almost all of the major record companies, bands like Bilbo would have been a small cog in a large wheel. And unless the record was an instant hit and that usually happened by the way of airplay and gigging, you would normally have been dropped after just a few weeks of working the single. The reason was obvious in the fact that they had so many more waiting to be released. At a smaller company such as Lightning we could spend as much time as was humanly possible to carry on working the record, which is what we did.

I think “Don’t Blame It On Me” was a superb track and public missed out on not buying that in large quantities. Which was your favourite?

As far as the sales on the Bilbo product was concerned, they should have been a lot more than they were. I think that I could agree with you in what was my favourite as well as yours.

Bilbo Baggins and the Bay City Rollers shared a connection, through Tam Paton, did you see this past connection with the Bay City Rollers as a help or a hindrance?

The Bilbo / Bay City Rollers thing at the time was not a problem, as Bilbo were going to be completely different to the old image that they had. The connection was soon forgotten as it was the music that was doing the talking and not the image and precious connections.

Bilbo had a very young female orientated audience, were you (and Bilbo) hoping to keep that or were you both trying to move away from that? What sort of audience were Lightning aiming for at that stage?

The aim was to appeal to an all round audience and not just the young girl syndrome. At the time the public were waiting for something to happen both musically and image wise, from a band such as Bilbo, but strangely they just did not happen in the way that we were hoping for.

Bilbo changed their image quite a lot during 1978. Was that all the band’s idea or was there other influences?

Image wise the changes were orchestrated by WEA and ourselves at Lightning. WEA were very supportive of the band as they liked what they saw and also liked the boys. I was always in and out of their head office in Broadwick Street, letting the relevant parties concerned know all about what was happening. Those days were a constant battle to keep fighting your corner for the bands that you believed in. And as I have already stated, I still cannot understand why they were not bigger than what they were. Some days I would spend literally all day just pushing for them to get the radio play that they deserved. This by being a real pain in the arse and not shifting from the marketing / promotion office at WEA and just going on and on and on about how much more exposure this band should be getting. It was a bit like having to prostitute yourself in trying to get these guys to listen to your product. These guys being the producers at the radio stations. Still it was great fun at the time.

Did you think that success was sure to follow when 'She's Gonna Win' got so close to the top 40?

Yes, when She's Gone Win charted I really had that feeling that it was all about to happen in a big way for the boys, but alas it did not.

Any theories as to why they didn't have more commercial success?

As to why success did not follow is still a big mystery to me. I / we tried everything that could be thought of at the time, but to no avail. 1978 was a strange time music wise, as the type of records that were having the most success were all so diverse, the public just could not make up their minds as to which way to go. The majority of tracks that were topping the charts were mainly MOR orientated product and whilst trying to understand this, Bilbo were by no means MOR.

Bilbo Baggins changed there name to Bilbo during their time with Lightning. What was the reasoning behind that?

The name change was more of trying for the re-emergence of the band and the ease with which it could be said rather than anything else. The Baggins bit and from whence it came, had seemed to have outgrown itself, so 'Bilbo' as a name emerged, rather than having to change their name completely.

And finally, do you have any funny stories that you might be willing to share?

The funny stories, you had to be there to appreciate them. All I can say is that for the period that they were together and that I was associated with them, we did have endless laughs. My assistant at the time, was a girl called Sandra Brooks and when talking with Brian the other day we came up with some cracking memories. But as I have said you had to be there to appreciate them.

Thank you to Alan Davison for taking the time to answer all our questions.

The Answers to the quiz that Alan set are:

Q What was the biggest selling record of all time in this country (UK), that Alan's act for Lightning Records knocked off the chart top spot?
A Paul McCartney and Wings - Mull Of Kintyre

Q What was the record that did this?
A Althia and Donna - Up Town Top Ranking


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Page Last Updated: 4 March, 2010

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