Clay Pipe Music

Location: London

Est: 2010

Potted History: Like many small labels, the Clay Pipe imprint began as a practical means for founder Frances Castle to release her own music, which she records as The Hardy Tree, whose 2010’s ‘The Fields Lie Sleeping Underneath’ was its first release. Castle is one of our leading contemporary illustrators (her great-grandfather was the renowned steam-age railway destination artist Frank Sherwin) and designs all of the label’s artwork. 

Covers for the label’s first few CD-only releases were all hand-made by Castle herself, but because of the immediate high demand something had to give, so she switched to vinyl. “From an illustrator’s perspective 12-inch covers are the perfect medium to design for,” says Castle, though she also releases the occasional cassette and flexidisc, all of which are available digitally too.

Mission Statement: “The label specialises in atmospheric music with a strong theme or sense of place,” says Castle. Among others, she’s released records about the lost village of Tyneham in Dorset, Green Line buses, Hackney Marshes, forgotten London buildings, nighttime wanderings and outer space. “Around the time I started the label, I was looking at a lot of early 20th century British art,” she adds, “and there seemed to be a link with this imagery and the sort of music I was listening to. It inspired the look of the label.”

Castle fully embraces that time-worn notion of an album as something you want to play from start to finish, and is keen to emphasise how hard she works with musicians to make sure every release realises its full potential. “I hope each LP is considered a little piece of art”, she enthuses, “and that I can keep putting out vital music and stretching myself as a designer.” 

Key artists & releases: Castle has put out three LPs by Jon Brooks (Ghost Box, The Advisory Circle) and his 2012 ‘Shapwick’ outing was the first one she pressed on vinyl. Plinth’s spooky ‘Smalls Lighthouse’ is ever popular with the second pressing on foam-green wax selling out in under a week. A key development came earlier this year when she produced the first part of graphic novel, ‘Stagdale’, which came with a flexi disc and download soundtrack of her own music.

Future Plans: Keep an ear out for Vic Mars’ recently released ‘Inner Roads And Outer Paths’, an atmospheric instrumental album inspired by his youth in rural Herefordshire, and viola player Alison Cotton’s ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’, a suitably eerie soundtrack to a Muriel Spark ghost story, that was originally commissioned by Gideon Coe for his BBC 6 Music show. Releases by Gilroy Mere and Jon Brooks are also in the pipeline.

Any other business? Castle has opened a shop in her workspace, below the Gizzard analogue recording studio in Hackney Wick, east London. “I’ll be selling hard-to-find back catalogue records, signed LPs, prints and the like”, she tells us, adding she’s hoping the outlet “will be a place that fans of the label will want to come to, have a friendly cup of tea and purchase a few special things that aren’t available online.” Form an orderly queue readers…

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