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Saga (5)

Profile:

British label.
Label Code: LC 0336 / LC 00336
SAGA was originally a label by Saga Films Limited, until the 1950s, when the company was taken over by Major Wilfred Alonzo Bank. After the bancruptcy in 1960, the Saga catalogue was acquired, together with Saga Records Ltd., by Marcel Rodd's Allied Records Ltd.
For unofficial releases, see Saga (6). Current label rights are held by Warner Music Group Germany Holding GmbH.
See also related label Saga FDY.

SAGA RECORDS was the first company in the United Kingdom to break the hold of the major record distributors and lead to the sale of records at much cheaper prices through normal outlets; less than half the normal price. This led to PYE issuing the Golden Guinea range and Decca the Ace of Clubs. Ace of Clubs was introduced to break the pre-existing record club members only business. Saga Records formation led to the creation of Triumph records and RGM Sound under Joe Meek, all of which were financed by Major Wilfred Alonzo Banks and his team from the family business premises at 6/7 Empire Yard (now Empire Square), 538-540 Holloway Road London N7. Without the SAGA record label there would not have been Triumph Records its pop spin off or RGM Sound, no introduction to Major Banks, no financial or commercial backing for Joe Meek at 304 Holloway Road London N7.

HISTORY

Timeline summary:

SAGA Films Limited was incorporated

SAGA record division of SAGA films limited - trading name

Barrington Coupe employed

Barrington-Coupe made a director of SAGA Films Limited 1958

Joe meek recorded George Chakiris for SAGA 1959

Joe Meek approached Major Banks 1959/1960 - enquiry passed over to Barrington-Coupe

Triumph records planned January 1960

Agreement with Barrington Coupe 25th February 1960

First Triumph record released - February 1960

Triumph (superfi) Limited was registered 31st March 1960

Joe Meek pulled out of Triumph involvement the distribution was badly organised - June 1960
See:- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_Records_%28UK%29 for independent comment.

RGM Sound registered 12th September 1960

SAGA Records Limited was registered 20th September 1960

From Wikipedia -William Barrington-Coupe biography:- The Saga Films and Records Company, of which he was an employee,[4] collapsed in 1960, with the Official Receiver declaring that Barrington-Coupe was chiefly responsible for the company's demise. [5]

SAGA sold to Marcel Rodd's Group - Associated/Allied/Dandy records - completed in 1961

Marcel Rodd' initial releases showed on the sleeves - 'Saga records manufacturers of Dandy Childrens' records'. There is no address

1963 Phillips introduce the first compact cassette player. It was not until 1971 when the Dolby B noise reduction system was introduced that serious music quality was available on cassette.

1982 On October 1st, Sony introduced the first CD Player to the market, the CDP-101, at a cost of $900.

Major Wilfred Alonzo Banks - brief background

Born 24th September 1913 in Barrow Suffolk. Died 29th May 1983 in Penryn Cornwall.

Worked in Family businesses of grocers, bakers, drapers, haulage contractors in Barrow.
Qualified as an ACCA.

Served in the RASC in second world war where he was a commissioned Major and was mentioned in despatches.

On demob was a sub-postmaster in Caledonian Road London which had a shop attached.

Became a distributor of comics, toys and other items. Printed greetings cards and other stationery.

Set up Company to import and distribute toys. Extended range into decorations and display.

Manufactured artificial Christmas trees in Whittlesford Cambridgeshire.

Set a company introduction business called Anglo Industrial Developments with Lord Dudley.

Undertook advisory and business rescue work.

Took over Booth and Robinson Engineering Co. Ltd. Manufacturers of the BOROBIN range of furniture including, probably, the first kitchen stepstool and automatic linen towel dispenser.

Took over SAGA Films Ltd. Leading to Triumph and RGM Sound.

Took over Dorai Replicas Limited (now New Replicas Limited). Artificial flowers and fancy goods.

Took over Thomas Shaw Limited. Old Birmingham manufacturing company. Wrought Iron mirrors, chrome and gold plated tableware etc.

Took over Metalcraft Limited. Sheet metal workers.

Details

Saga Records Limited was created by a change of name on 20th September 1960 from Booth and Robinson Engineering Company Limited. The name was changed back on 17th March 1961 and made available to Marcel Rodd's control. It is not yet clear if SAGA Films, purchased in 1958, was transferred or sold to Marcel Rodd or just the portfolio of films, recordings and rights to use the SAGA names. No cash transaction occurred in Booth and Robinson.

Its initial releases prior to late 1960 were as the 'Record division of SAGA Films Limited'.

Saga Films was setup by a musician called Leonard Cassini. He had the idea of creating short films about the lives of composers and illustrated by still images of the composers' lives but with background music ideally performed by prize winning musicians, conductors and orchestras specialising in that composers work.

Unfortunately he had financial troubles and via contacts approached Major Wilfred Alonzo Banks for help.

Major Banks was the owner of a large toy and fancy goods importer who was also distributing Christmas decorations and manufacturing artificial Christmas trees. In fact his company had 80% of the Christmas glass ball market in this country. He was a certified accountant (ACCA) and was involved in many company rescues - British Replin was one.

Major Banks took over Saga Films in 1958 and tried to get cinema chains and television interested in showing the films. This was unsuccessful because the films were specialised and had limited general appeal.

Major Banks then considered what assets the Company had and realised that the music was of top quality and perhaps the major record companies would be interested in releasing the music on LP records. He was given short shrift, being told that classical music did not have a large market and that the record companies had enough musicians and orchestras for their own needs. At that time classical records were expensive being priced at around the £3 or over.

Undeterred by the rebuffs the Major approached a mail order company 'Kays' whom he already supplied. He was told that they wanted to include records in their catalogues but all the manufacturers refused to supply them because of the fear that it would effect prices and hurt their retail distribution outlets.

As the recordings had already been made it was only a question of pressing the LP's and getting the sleeves and packaging right. The major record companies were approached to see if they would press the records for SAGA but they refused. Garrod and Lofthouse, one of the best record sleeve producers, were approached and they were happy to design and make the sleeves.

Major Banks was by this time aware that he stood no chance with the UK record industry so he contacted Pathe Vox in France. Pathe Vox were happy to press the LP's for an export customer and gave a quotation. Armed with costings Major Banks returned to Kays buyer and concluded a deal for mail order which allowed them to sell the records at £1.25p. Sales were more than satisfactory in spite of the quality of the material on which the discs were pressed and the competition led to PYE launching the Golden Guinea range in response.

Some time later Major Banks was contacted by Sir Joseph Lockwood (the Chairman of EMI) and a meeting was arranged a EMI's offices. Major Banks was quite concerned at this turn of events and wondered what action EMI might take.

At the meeting Sir Joseph said that he was conducting a review of EMI's group business and had occasion to visit his French subsidiary Pathe Vox. On seeing a large quantity of SAGA records ready for shipment to the UK he was delighted to discover, at last, who was pressing the LP's. Sir Joseph then enquired about the volume being shipped and he was given the figures. He was amazed and shocked that the quantity meant that nearly every one of Saga's Records sold enough to make them number one on the Classical Hit Parade.

Sir Joseph asked Major Banks if EMI could press the records in the UK. Major Banks was delighted as the UK pressings were on a higher quality material than that used by Pathe Vox.

The amount of work involved in running the record business became too great and after a search William Barrington-Coupe was employed as the classical record manager. Barry as he was known had married, in 1956, one of SAGA's performers, Joyce Hatto. Joyce was released on a number of genuine recordings years before the scandal of releases of other artists performance under her name.

Barrington-Coupe in the offices at Empire Yard.

At that time and even today, it was common for an artist or orchestra to have their work released under a pseudonym in order to avoid contractual obligations or to increase their royalty income. There is no evidence that SAGA did this at that time as the performers credentials were the main selling point.

The SAGA 'brand' was reviewed during the early years and the decision was taken to try and capture more of the mainstream market. Light music was recorded and released on the 12 inch LPs and included a record by George Chakiris a leading star in the film of West Side Story and starred in the London Stage version, also Joyce Hatto playing Gershwin, to mention but two.

The 10inch market included musicals such as Cinderella and West Side Story (later released on 12inch). When West Side Story was transferred from America to London, Leonard Bernstein, the composer, requested Lawrence Leonard to conduct the London version - SAGA records were fortunate to have Lawrence Leonard contracted for their 1959 recording.

The 'pop' singles market had Peter Burman as the A&R manager and the singles made little impression on the charts. SAGA did make one notable record by signing up ex RSM Brittain, 'The loudest parade ground voice in the British Army', to record Regimental Rock, the 'B' side was Swinging Sporrans. Brittain brought the 1958 or 1959 Radio Show at Olympia to a halt when he announced his record at the SAGA stand. The stand and Major Banks appear in the following photograph. Note the SAGATONE stereo record player

The 7inch EP market included Classical, Jazz, Folk and other popular forms. The jazz recordings included artists like Mick Mulligan, Al(l)an Ganley and Reg Wale. The folk songs were mainly recorded by Roy Guest who later ran a coffee bar in the West End of London called Bunjies. The record display in the main toy and other businesses showroom at Empire Yard shows an EP by Ken Sykora 'Guitar club' along with many other records. There is also a poster in the background advertising a concert on July 3rd given by Sergio Fiorentio

A range of Amplifiers, tape recorders [TD1 and TD2] and gramophones were introduced under the SAGATONE label. At the same time 3.25 ips and 7.5 ips speed tapes in mono and stereo were released.

In between the tape recorders is a SAGA single, Cat on a Cool Tin Roof, featuring Bert Weedon.

A brilliant and innovative recording engineer called Joe Meek, after financial trouble and dissatisfaction with his employers, on hearing of SAGA films interest in expanding its popular music business, approached Major Banks and William Barrington-Coupe, who was looking after SAGA films classical side. Major Banks was heavily involved with preparations for the most important annual exhibition, the Harrogate Toy Fair, in January and had little time to follow up the approach, so it was handed over to Barrington-Coupe to progress.

See http://www.joemeekpage.info/triumph_1_E.htm for a largely accurate and detailed account of Triumph and Joe Meek's later life.

Before that approach, in 1959, SAGA issued an LP of George Chakiris which Joe engineered. George Chakiris was in London from 1958 for two years performing in the stage production of West Side Story and he went back to America to perform in the film version in 1961. It was this recording which first introduced Joe to SAGA.

Joe recorded a single of George Chakiris for the Triumph label which made 49 in the charts, it did not make an impression or launch his 'pop' career, it is believed that he was a bit miffed about that and denied that he had made that record in a radio interview.

Joe's track record was impressive (see John Repsch's book 'The Legendary Joe Meek'). As Major Banks was heavily involved with his toy business and Barrington-Coupe had, for some years, been handling the administration of SAGA and its venture into popular music, it was agreed to form a record company, so Major Banks financed the formation of Triumph (Superfi) Sound with Joe and Barry as its directors. Its first release, 'Just too late' by 'Peter Jay and the Blue Men' occurred in February 1960 before the company was officially registered on 31st March 1960.

See :- http://www.joemeekpage.info/triumph_1_E.htm

SAGA's distribution department launched Triumph records into a new target market in the UK (the 13 to 19 ages) and were distributed through the normal retail channels. To back up the label to this target audience Triumph had short programme on Radio Luxembourg, hosted by Rick(y) Wayne (an ex wrestler). Rick recorded for TRIUMPH and later became a Mr World and Mr Universe.

After Barrington-Coupe's devolvement with Joe Meek the Major and Joe formed RGM Sound on 25th July 1960 and Telstar as it's biggest hit.

Saga was eventually sold to Marcel Rodd who continued to release new material under this label. One of the first releases was 'Harry Walton' Jazzmen - The Condon Touch'. The initial pre-release cuttings and pressings were made before the sale to Marcel Rodd - (white label pressing in G N J Banks archives). When Marcel Rodd finally released it, the record XID 5041, showed at the foot of the sleeve "Saga records manufacturers of Dandy Childrens' records". There is no address. The indication is that the Allied/Associated record companies or SAGA records as a limited company did not exist under Marcel Rodd's control until later. The record sleeve of this release is:-

There were many well known classical artists and orchestras recorded by Saga. Light music and musicals also appeared on its label including West Side Story under its British conductor Lawrence Leonard. SAGATONE was the label on amplifiers, tape recorders and gramophones.

Sergio Fiorentino sleeves which cover the SAGA records division (which are Fiorentino) and the later Marcel Rodd pressings (some of which may not be Fiorentino) are shown here. The image was on a Sergio Fiorentino website believed to have been created by Ernst Lumpe - a notable classical expert.

Notable artists appearing on this group of record labels include: The Tornados, The Honeycombs, John Leyton, Michael Cox, Eileen Joyce, Joyce Hatto, Sergio Fiorentino, Fou T'song, Alan Loveday.

The SAGA records division became, for a short period, SAGA Records Limited by a change of name from Booth and Robinson Engineering Company Limited (still currently owned by the Banks family). The name was changed back later

The tape and record library is now in the British museum's sound archives (together with later music of the Marcel Rodd era) and is managed by SAGA Continuation Limited.

Sources

Major Banks, Triumph records and Joe Meek feature in John Repsch's Book 'The Legendary Joe Meek' and the Stage show 'Telstar'.

A film 'Telstar' is being made for release in 2008 with Kevin Spacey playing the role of Major Banks. The film theme tune is being sung by Duffy. Duffy will sing the theme tune Please Stay which was a 1966 record for Joe’s Liverpool group The Cryin’ Shames.

There are many articles in the Gramophone, New Musical Express and the Record Mirror in the late 1950's and early 60's.

A magazine called Thunderbolt published by the Joe Meek Society gives information about Joe Meek, his artists and general history of his involvement in the record business. http://www.rhis.co.uk/jmas/thunderbolt.html

Parent Label:Saga Records Ltd.
Sublabels:Antiqua Series, Saga Sovereign, The Great Pianists Series
Contact Info:

(defunct)
Saga Records Ltd.
326 Kensal Road
London W10
United Kingdom

Links:cvinyl.com

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