Interview: Clubhouse Record’s Tristan Tipping celebrates ten years for one of the UK’s premier roots labels

Brothers Tristan and Danny Tipping set up Clubhouse Records ten years ago when Americana was considered Alt.County and plaid was still worn underneath your jacket to avoid tough questioning. That, a decade later, Clubhouse is considered one of the UK’s best roots labels that has provided the launchpad here in the UK and Europe for likes of Cale Tyson, Erin Rae, Don Gallardo alongside much-loved roots renegades, Redlands Palomino Company, is some achievement. Americana-UK catches up with Tristan to get to the nitty-gritty of what it takes to make the Clubhouse run smoothly and yet still be fun.

OK, so ten years in, that’s quite an achievement! You must be feeling pretty proud of yourselves? 
Proud? Surprised? Relieved? It’s a mixed bag! It’s been a lot of fun and we’ve been involved in a great number of projects I think we are rightly proud of and as we’ve looked back and reflected on the last decade we’ve spoken of all the people we’ve met and the friends we’ve made – so it seems like a pretty worthy endeavour right now. We’re incredibly grateful for the groups of people who support what we do so well, and we’d include the wonderful A-UK site in that.

So, take us back to the beginning, Why a record label and why one that specialises in roots/americana/ 
I’m not sure we were thinking we were actually starting a label. We had decided we needed a vehicle to release a compilation of some of the music we were discovering, and while sitting round playing music with our friend Pierre at his ‘clubhouse’ we just jumped in.

We were completely immersed in classic American roots music and alt-country at the time and it makes a lot of sense for a small independent label to have an identity and a cohesive roster. When we started to develop the project as an actual label, we often thought we’d like people to regard us as we regarded Creation in the late ’80s and early ’90s in as much as they had what we understood as a certain sound. If it was released on Creation it was probably worth taking a punt with your hard-earned Saturday job money even if you hadn’t heard it yet.

What was the first record you released? Tell us a bit more about that project and what were the thoughts behind it? 
‘Divided By A Common Language: Volume 1’ was a compilation of previously unreleased tracks from 15 UK alt-country and Americana acts – we’d found most of them through MySpace (!) and via AUK and a few of them we are still working with 10 years on. We just wanted to showcase some great music and were in the mindset of ‘How hard can it be?’. We’ve learned an awful lot since then.

Redlands Palomino Company are a band who have featured heavily on the label, how did you meet them and what made you want to release their albums? 
We’d seen them at an Empty Rooms gig promoted by Mike Trotman and I remember Danny saying, “If we sign a band it should be them”, they are an easy band to fall in love with. They were actually one of the first bands to say ‘yes’ to appearing on that compilation and once they had agreed we thought ‘this might actually happen’! Great songs, brilliant live band and the loveliest people, how could we not welcome them into the Clubhouse stable with open arms? 

Would you say they epitomise a ‘Clubhouse’ band? I’d put Case Hardin in that category too. What is it about these bands that seem to connect with the ethos of the label? 
Both strong pillars of the label over the last decade for sure! I think they have great songs in common but musically they’re different of course. Both sets of musicians are passionate about their music and we share that.

Speaking of the ethos, are there any ‘do’s and don’ts’ for Clubhouse when it comes to getting involved with an artist or a band? 
No ‘dos’ or ‘don’ts’ – we’re a small label and it’s important we all get along and share the same expectations –  other than that the only rule we’ve set is that we’ll only work with acts we love, whose records we’d buy and whose shows we’d gladly queue to see. We keep it pretty simple.

There is undoubtedly a ‘family feel’ to the label, not just in the fact yourself and Danny are twin brothers and your father also has a big part to play in the day to day workings of the label. There is a sense of camaraderie that is hard to ignore. Do you feel that too? 
Yes, we’ve worked hard to make sure it still feels like that and that it extends through our bands and to the fans and followers who are the most important members. It is like a big musical family and there’s plenty of room in the Clubhouse.

Alongside the UK acts you have released some American acts too. How did they come about and is that something that you will continue to do? 
We’re very proud to have introduced music by US acts Don Gallardo, Cale Tyson and Erin Rae to UK audiences and we love those records. We’re always listening to new music and lucky that we get to make the occasional trip to the US to see bands so there’s every chance that we’ll release more music by American artists. There’s also a still lot of great UK acts coming through of course.

Tell us a little more about the day-to-day workings of a small label like Clubhouse. It’s grown much bigger than just a labour of love and over ten years has really made a mark on the scene here in the UK. That must take a great amount of work and time, surely? How do you fit it all in? 
It does take a huge amount of time, certainly more than we originally anticipated. It really is a labour of love. We’ve slowed down a bit and we’re focusing on a handful of key releases and live projects each year to make sure everyone gets the attention they deserve. That said, some of our artists are extremely prolific so plenty planned for the next 12 months.

You’ve run the Saloon at Truck Festival for a number of years and also run Ramblin’ Roots Revue. How do you find organising festivals these days? 
It’s challenging but great fun. We really like the live side of what we do and at events like the Ramblin’ Roots Revue, which again we’re extremely proud of, we get to feel that sense of community and have the chance to meet so many of the people who have supported the label since day one, we really look forward to these opportunities.

Tell us a bit more about some of the other acts that have graced the Clubhouse roster? 
As we mentioned, first and foremost we’re fans of all the bands we’ve released. Both The Dreaming Spires albums still sound as good as the day the first time we heard them. Case Hardin are sadly no more but Pete Gow goes from strength-to-strength. The Redlands Palomino Company remain one of the best loved bands on the ‘scene’ and there’s every chance we’ll get another album out of them in 2021. The Rosellys and Luke Tuchscherer have new albums in the works and Paul McClure is a songwriting machine who’s just itching to get back out there. 

Tristan, you’ve been playing bass alongside Pete Gow on his ‘Here There Are No Sirens’ project. How has that gone? Pete seems to have really relished the opportunity to work in a solo context with strings. It really is a special project, isn’t it? 
It really is a special project and it’s been an absolute pleasure. The album has been amazing for Pete, establishing him as a solo artist after his years fronting Case Hardin, and the reactions to the live shows have been incredible. Working with the strings has been something new for all of us; it has really stretched the band and we’ve really enjoyed it. There’s lots more planned for Pete and this particular outfit; I can’t wait to get on with it.

I’m really fortunate that through Clubhouse I’ve met and got to play with some great bands and artists. Over the last couple of years we’ve played some amazing shows with Pete Gow and the Siren Strings, Paul McClure and the Local Heroes, The Raving Beauties, Austin Lucas, Luke Tuchscherer and David Banks and of course the Clubhouse All-Stars – it’s been an absolute blast.

What’s next for the label? 
We’ve got albums in the pipeline from some of our long-time collaborators and we still plan to do something special to mark the 10th anniversary, who knows, maybe we will get around to doing Volume 2 of the compilation! The Ramblin Roots Revue is back in April 2021 and they’ll be more announcements very soon.

How do you see the next twelve months given the current surreal times we are living in? 
People still want and need music, so we’ll carry on and find new ways of working until things settle down. We’re not going anywhere (literally). The miracles of modern technology mean we’ll be investigating streaming events and the like and just last night Danny and I were working across the Atlantic with Luke Tuchscherer and David Banks on some new tunes, the show must go on!

If I took you back ten years what would you have done differently? 
Loads I guess, but it’s all a learning curve and we wouldn’t be where we are without that particular journey.

And finally, give us a tip for an up and coming artists we all really need to hear?
Recently I’ve been impressed with acts right on the outside of Americana like Susto and loved the last Whitney record. I don’t know why Christian Kjellvander isn’t huge. The Blue Highways are a young band definitely worth checking out. But we’d be more interested in what the readers think we should hear? I’d love to find some alternative Wilocesque combo… whatcha’ got?

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