In Delphian's 21st Birthday Year, Susan Nickalls talks to Delphian's Founder and MD Paul Baxter, and Label Manager Will Coates-Gibson about the Label's success, and what the future holds for the industry...

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Article published Thursday 25 February 2021,

Although this year is the 21st anniversary of Delphian Records, they won’t be cracking open the champagne any time soon. With no recordings for six months after the first lockdown last year followed by 10 recordings back to back over eight weeks, label manager Will Coates-Gibson says that they’re far too busy. ‘We’ve been putting all our focus into recording, ramping up digital distribution and pushing social media by putting a lot of muscle behind our video and photo offering. So we haven’t had a chance to think about a party.’

Set up in 2000 by producer and managing director Paul Baxter, Delphian punches well above the weight of most small independent labels. And its ability to be flexible and fast-moving has stood the company in good stead over the last 12 unpredictable months. Delphian had just finished recording The Hermes Experiment’s at Edinburgh’s Greyfriar’s Kirk when I caught up with Coates-Gibson. ‘We love recording with them as they’re a little bit different and this showcase of commissions is already attracting attention. Our video clip of double bassist Marianne Schofield playing a riff from Ayanna Witter-Johnson‘s Draw The Linewent viral within hours. It had over 5,000 views on twitter, 6,000 on Instagram and has even been rehashed by a bassist in a rock band.’

The recording took place under Covid-19 restrictions. Coates-Gibson says that fortunately the process of recording is socially distanced anyway. ‘There are just the two of us in the studio and Paul was producing in another room and speaking with the group over a talkback system. It was a nice atmosphere and the kirk, which is in the town centre, was completely silent for a change. Usually you hear a lot of tourists going past on the Harry Potter tours.’

And with no festivals on in Edinburgh last August, Baxter had the inspired idea of booking the Queen’s Hall for the whole month, explains Coates-Gibson. ‘We invited as many Edinburgh-based artists as we could and recorded eight CDs back to back. If we hadn’t have done that, there would have been no releases this year. The Queen’s Hall was delighted to get the booking, we were happy to be recording and the artists were thrilled to be working.’

One of the CDs was The Isolation Songbook for singers Helen Charlston and Michael Craddock with pianist Alexander Soares. Its launch is on 26 March, the anniversary, almost to the day, of the first lockdown. Coates-Gibson says the project perfectly captures the mood of those times. ‘We know Helen and Michael well from their involvement with The Marian Consort and they were supposed to get married last April. When they couldn’t, Helen wrote a poem for Michael to mark their postponed wedding date which she then posted on Facebook. Their friend and composer Owain Park saw it and set it to music as an ‘unwedding’ present. Helen then contacted other friends, put out a call for scores and the whole thing snowballed. The songs not only touch on their relationship but highlight the Kafkaesque absurdity of being forced to stay at home.’

Isolation Songbook

Helen Charlston | Michael Craddock | Alexander Soares

The feeling which many of us experienced in spring 2020 as, country by country, the world went into lockdown – a sense of life gone into standstill – was especially acute for musicians, deprived suddenly of both their livelihoods and the human connections that give their work meaning....

But while people were stuck indoors, one thing they couldn’t get enough of was Delphian’s deep back catalogue – hits to their website were up 360,000 percent. This included Baxter’s first recording for the label – John Kitchen’s Instruments of the Russell Collection –with 25 copies flying off the shelves, says Coates-Gibson. ‘We had a huge uptick in sales when venues first closed before the tidal wave of video content and split screen choirs was unleashed. People in need of a cultural fix started browsing through back catalogues and our new smarter and easier to navigate website helped to boost sales. And we had 2,000 people buy CDs after our 50% off deal on National Album Day last October.’

However with the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) reporting huge increases in distributor streaming during lockdown, the number of CDs Delphian sell annually is still around 1995 levels when the CD had its heyday. Baxter says the popularity of streaming has been damaging to small independent labels and artists. ‘We get paid between 0.002 and 0.006 pence per stream and if it’s on YouTube, you can add another decimal point. So we can’t pass on royalties to artists if there are none, it’s frightening. If you make a tin of custard you say to the retailer that it costs 20p, but this is the only industry I know of where a retailer tells us what they’re prepared to pay us. Our artists have to appear on playlists and expect as wide a digital distribution as possible so we have no choice but to accept the terms of the streaming services.’


We get paid between 0.002 and 0.006 pence per stream and if it’s on YouTube, you can add another decimal point

Coates-Gibson adds that despite the current situation, he believes that CDs still offer artists a better legacy than videos made under lockdown. ‘Many people think they have to create digital content but they should be focusing their energy on recording. A CD can attract critical acclaim as it makes its way around the world in a physical format while a video stuck on YouTube without label support might get a couple of thousand views and then disappear into the ether. From our perspective we hope people see the added value that recording an album brings.’

Certainly for artists starting out on their careers, their debut album is an important calling card. Delphian has an ongoing relationship with the Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT) which Coates-Gibson says benefits both the musicians and the label. ‘Many of these young artists have never been in a studio before so it’s really nice to be showing them how it’s done. We’ve ended up with some fantastic releases, the next one in April is Ohrwurm by the recorder player Tabea Debus who has already booked in to record two more albums with us. It’s a really nice relationship as YCAT care about their artists and they have an amazing line up of musicians.’

Forming close relationships with the people they record with and garnering critical acclaim for their work is what Delphian is all about and lies at the heart of their success. Other labels have a ‘roster’ whereas Delphian has a ‘family of artists,’ says Coates-Gibson. ‘Paul has the luxury of being able to choose who he wants to work with and there’s a lovely bond of genuine friendship and trust at the centre of every relationship we have. We don’t just make a CD and move on. But that boutique approach is only possible because of our size.’

With both Covid and Brexit hampering the ability of artists to travel and perform, Delphian has had to put on hold their plans to build up their international relationships. But the company is still pursuing its dream of having their own recording venue. Coates-Gibson says he scours the Church of Scotland property website daily in the hope of finding an acoustically appropriate church for sale in East Lothian. ‘That next step would be a game changer for us and our artists. To have a permanent studio space for our microphones and a Steinway D piano just outside Edinburgh really would be something to celebrate.’

Read Classical Music Magazine's full article here

Article published Thursday 25 February 2021,