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Gold Ship Records
Bristol, Virginia and Tennessee
By Rob Dickens
Now I have been banging on about Bristol Virginia/Tennessee a bit on this site, given my two stays there in recent years. For the purposes of this story, I do need to repeat myself a little in order to provide the proper context. So, if you are fully across the town’s importance in the music scheme of things, scroll down a couple of paragraphs. If not, please read on!
Last month I was in Bristol which is officially recognised as The Birthplace of Country Music. For it was here in 1927 where Ralph Peer, with the most advanced equipment of the day, began the recording careers of The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and others.
Another event is attributed to the town – the Burger Bar downtown is where, legend has it, Hank Williams had his final meal before his death on New Year’s Day 1953. Mike Farris, who performed here recently, called Bristol a ‘spiritual portal’ akin to the Catskill Mountains.
I was here in 2014 as part of my journey along The Crooked Road musical heritage trail. Last month I returned, settling in for a week which included the three-day Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival. The town is split by a State border right down the main thoroughfare, State Street, with Tennessee on one side and Virginia on the other which adds to the unique feel here. Buildings have been retained and State Street is awash with historic and interesting edifices. It may be a little dusty but there is a real sense of renewal here and the town has a lot of initiatives going, largely on the back of its place in music history. The relatively new Birthplace of Country Museum is one, so is the resurgence of Radio Bristol.
Gold Ship Records is yet another. Founder/owner Andrew Sergent made the romantic, as opposed to business-strategic decision, to base his operations here. Michael is a former drummer so he knows about artists challenges in today’s music business which has rapidly changed. Gold Ship started in 2013 right in the heart of downtown and is a fiercely independent label which prides itself on a being atypical. Genres covered are pretty diverse – folk, Americana, cello rock – with a small number of carefully selected and nurtured artists. Key here is the fact that the label and artists are regarded as ‘family’. As the website avows:
At gold ship we value originality and drive over all else. Our roster of artists ride the genre lines and encompass a vast range of styles.
Here our goal is to build the artists as individuals and as a family so that they have the tools they need to thrive and garner the attention they deserve.
With the years of being in the industry we understand the flaws of the past and current system.
The idea of a label being a glorified bank has been wrong. It has hindered artists growth due to debt and stopped the development of their craft.
We are not and will never be a typical record label
I got to chat with one of Gold Ship’s roster Mark Webb while I was in Bristol. Mark is young and talented and featured on my ‘Rookies on the Rise’ piece a while back. His back story is an interesting one – both parents being Ministers in his home town in Greenville South Carolina. Now Greenville is not known as a music hub of itself, but it has the advantage of close proximity to places that are – Asheville NC, Atlanta GA and Woodruff SC.
His five-song EP Home is an impressive collection of Americana and folk material with a little bit of twang. The EP was produced by Brad Phillips, with whom Webb has worked previously and their’s is a close and fruitful relationship. You can get Home by following the link below.
Now Mark has had a creative burst recently and finished a bunch of new songs, which he feels are ready to record. The songs are written and arranged and he will present them to Phillips soon with pre-production likely to be around mid-November. One to watch out for.
Mark is set to kick off Greenville’s annual three-day festival in October, Fall for Greenville! with a set on Thursday evening as he opens for the Turnpike Troubadours.
Here are some of the releases available through the Gold Ship’s website, either CD or digital:
Mark Webb – Home
Taylor Bannon – ST
The Rickshaw Roadshow – To The Crows
Luke Whittemore – Northern Town
Harper and the Bears – Theta Waves
High Kick – Normal View
Gilmore Lucassen – Moonfisher
Steve Gilbert – The Inspiring Life and Brave Final Days of Steve Gilbert
49 Winchester – ST
JGP Harper – Georgia
Andrew Sergent has got a great thing going here. A wonderfully supportive environment, mutual respect and vision between label and artist and, above all, exciting music to showcase.
Read our story on Gold Ship Records