The Little Mesters’ Recording Confederacy is a record label set up last year by local musicians Bob Saull, Jim Ghedi and Neal Heppleston as a platform for their music and the music of like-minded Sheffield musicians. Inspired by independent collectives like Fence Records, the imprint has so far put out nine releases via Bandcamp, allow people to pay what they want to download them. Next up is Jim Ghedi’s Satori, featuring contributions from Magpies, Blood Sport, Screaming Maldini, Oxo Foxo and more.

Bob Saull had plenty to say about the label ahead of its showcase at the Folk Forest at this year’s Tramlines Festival.

Why did you set up LMRC and what’s the ethos behind it?

We’ve been working together in various guises over the last few years – myself and Neal in the Purgatory Players and I also worked with Jim in Black Gold of the Sun – and we noticed that we had a sort of common ethos to the music we were making. We also felt like no-one was doing anything similar in Sheffield, so we decided to work together to cross promote each other’s music. This then grew over time, leading to more collaborations and adding new similar minded musicians that we got to know along the way. The main point I guess is doing something a bit different and experimental in a communal setting, based on improvising together and playing with new ideas. We’re all really into psychedelic music and wanted to try and bring elements of that into the music we were already making.

Why have you chosen to name yourself after Sheffield’s little mesters?

The little mesters thing actually came from someone else who used to be involved, but it sort of symbolised the DIY creative spirit of what we were trying to do. It was also a nice local link. I think we have all been inspired by the city’s spirit of difference and idiosyncrasy, as no doubt the original little mesters were. Also, more literally, some of the practice spaces we were using were in fact old little mesters’ studios.

Tell us about your label showcase at this year’s Tramlines.

We wanted an opportunity to show all of the things we were doing but in a way that would be accessible to the average passing folk fan. We toyed with doing very short sets of different songs by each of us, or an improvisational free jam, but eventually settled on doing a sort of “record club” type thing with Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief. It’s an album we’ve all loved for a long time, and was a particular influence on Black Gold of the Sun. I personally have always been interested in the fluid directions that folk music can go in, and the songs lend themselves really well to interpretation. Most of them have very few chords and are easy to remember so we can really play with them and do different things. I would hope that we have managed to strike a balance between doing something familiar to people but also keeping it interesting and forward thinking.

Why Liege & Lief? And which musicians will take part?

Liege & Lief is an album that people know a bit, but has enough scope for us to take it in our own direction. When more people stepped on board with the project we started to think of newer and more exciting ways of interpreting the songs, which has been really fun to think about. One of the most essential bits of ‘casting’ for us was who could perform Sandy Denny’s vocals. Fortunately we had worked with Roo (Oxo Foxo) before, and she’s one of very few female vocalists in Sheffield who can lift that very heavy mantle. Sandy Denny’s voice is so iconic that it had to be someone pretty special, and anyone who saw Roo perform at Tramlines last year in the Cathedral would know she is perfect for the job.

We’ve also got guest appearances from other friends of ours, including members of Captives on the Carousel and Screaming Maldini, doing an array of various different things. I don’t want to give too much away though.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming releases.

We’ve already had a few under the radar releases, including my band the Purgatory Players debut album, but the first release as a collective will be Jim Ghedi’s album Satori. It was Jim’s grand vision, but we worked together to bring it to fruition. It’s not very easy to describe, as it’s pretty weird, but there are elements of ambient avant-garde classical, African jazz, soul, spoken word and Eastern spiritualism. That makes it sound really hotch-potch but it’s actually pretty consistent thanks to Jim’s fantastic vision. Several of the songs are over ten minutes long, but I don’t think it once gets boring. A genuinely creative piece of work that I feel honored to be a part of. I guess that’s part of the remit of the label – that there are no rules. We’re definitely not looking for something that can hit the pop charts. It’s not a great business plan really, but we’re having fun.

Which other artists will you be working with and what are your long-term plans for the label?

We’ve got a few things in the pipeline. I’m really looking forward to doing a release with Devon Francis (fiveplustwo). He’s just a sublime singer with real soul and gentle but affecting songs. Should be a nice stripped back release. Jim’s also working on a collaboration with an Argentinean guitarist, and Neal’s working on another solo record. He’s released loads in the past but usually no-one ever hears them. He usually just plays them to me, but they are genuinely very interesting. If you like the kind of soundscaping that Eels and Tom Waits do, you will love it.

What formats do you plan to release on?

Due to budget constraints in the first instance it will just be online and maybe CD. We would love to do vinyl but we’re realists, and we don’t want to lose too much money. I’m not really interested in using outdated formats for the sake of a gimmick, but I do like the idea of selling interesting merchandise with download codes, like when Of Montreal released paper lanterns with download codes printed on them. I think it’s nice to give the listener something interesting and tangible that compliments the music. For now though we’re keeping it simple.

littlemestersrc.bandcamp.com

Interview by Sam Walby.