Legendary music producer, Bill Leader, is to receive a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award after Sixty years of producing some of the biggest British folk albums out there. He will collect his award at next week’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Mike Harding will no doubt be very pleased to be handing over the gong as it was Bill who produced his own 1972 album, A Lancashire Lad.
Bill cut his teeth at the Workers Music Association in 1956 where he worked as a full time employee for three years. The WMA was founded in 1936 as a political organisation to gather support from like-minded individuals against the threat fascism. The WMA began the Topic label to ‘release gramaphone records of historical and social interest’, ideal ground for a recording enthusiast like Bill Leader.
Bill began recording artists such as Margaret Barry, Rambling Jack Elliott and A L Lloyd. He recorded many in his small flat in Camden using only a Revox tape recorder. He tried to make the best of what he had and soundproofed his flat using blankets and egg boxes. As well as recording artists he also imported rare records from America (something that has kept in busy in retirement) and helped organise folk clubs.
It was in the sixties that his efforts went into hyperdrive, he produced many great debut releases including Bert Jansch (1965), The Watersons (1966) and The Young Tradition (1966). He went on to produce many other A list classics including classics such as: Mason’s Apron (1967) – The Dubliners, Mainly Norfolk (1968) – Peter Bellamy, The Lark In the Morning (1969) Dave and Toni Arthur with Barry Dransfield, Cruel Sister (1970) – Pentangle, Rosemary Lane (1971) – Bert Jansch, Prosperous (1972) – Christy Moore, Bright Phoebus (1972) – Mike and Lal Waterson, The Boys of the Lough (1973) – The Boys of the Lough, Kist O’Gold (1977) – Dick Gaughan, The Noah’s Ark Trap (1977) – Nic Jones and Gerry Rafferty (1978) – Gerry Rafferty.
He had a great love folk music and undertook many field recording trips across the British Isles which ended up on labels such as Topic, Transatlatic and Decca. In 1969 he took the decison to set up his own labels with his wife Helen: Leader and Trailer were born… “there was a lot of things that I was interested in doing that were not tradtional enough for Topic and not commercial enough for Transatlantic”. Trailer focused on revivalists and featured the first recordings of Dick Gaughan, Nic Jones, Robin and Barry Dransfield. The company was sold in 1980.
He worked at Salford University College for a while where he was head of the Audio Department, he is now retired and spends a lot of his time transferring his huge record colection onto CD. That’s not say he isn’t still in demand. More recently he was involved in The Woodbine & Ivy Band (review here) album and you can see him at the mixing desk in the image for this article.
He is a living legend on the British Folk Revival Scene and this award couldn’t be more deserving.
photo credit: Folk Police Recordings