Holyground Records - one of the most collectable labels in the world

'Rockfile' article The Record Collector on Bill Nelson Press Releases David John and the Mood



An article in the book "Rockfile", edited by Charlie Gillett, was written about Holyground by Simon Frith following interviews with Mike and Dave. Mike reckons this is a highly accurate article and represents what Holyground was trying to do in those days. This is an excerpt:

    Rock Liberation should not mean alternative ways of marketing product but alternative ways of sharing music. One such alternative is being explored by Mike Levon and Dave Wood, who run an independent recording studio in Wakefield.

    Mike and Dave started Holyground Enterprises in the summer of 1967 - the boom time for hip entrepreneurs. They thought that a recording studio would be a good way of supplementing their regular incomes and so, armed with £100 worth of tape recorder, etc., they converted a bedroom in Mike's flat and joined the £1 per hour demo-making business. They soon had a trickle of work from the cabaret singers of Yorkshire's Variety Club belt, anonymous names such as Paul Reid and Joanna Starr, semi-pro groups like the Methods. A typical job was providing 20 LP's of mood music for a chain of Bingo Palaces. After a year they had learned several things. First, they weren't going to get rich quick -even a big deal like the Bingo music only brought in £20. Second, they weren't going to get rich at all - semi-pro singers and their managers were remarkably adept at vanishing or going bankrupt and Holyground found itself dealing more with solicitors than with musicians. Thirdly, it was no longer riches they wanted. Recording mood music was not fulfilling and meanwhile they had been getting to know local rock musicians.

    Mike and Dave found it increasingly difficult to distinguish between liking a group of people and liking their music; after sharing home and food it was difficult to remember to make studio charges. The studio stopped being a place of business and became a place in which to make music. Holyground had reached this position not from any great ideological principles but simply from the logic of the situation itself. They found that they couldn't simultaneously treat music as a means of honest expression and as a product to be used for money making. By the beginning of 1969 they were still doing demo work but were spending more studio time with friends, musicians reached through ads, and assorted visitors.

    The music they eventually put together came out as an album in Autumn 1969. It was very much private music, with only 99 copies pressed.

    Mike reckons that over the five years they've spent in the region of £1,000 on equipment of which they've got back maybe half from demo-work. The rest has come out of their regular earnings and savings. Although he's reasonably satisfied with what they've got, he would like more room (the flat is over a small shop in a scruffier part of Wakefield) and there are many extra gadgets that would be useful (like stereo recording facilities). He doesn't yearn for 32-track machines, and the studio still charges only £2 an hour (compare Apple's new studio which cost half a million pounds to set up and charge £30 an hour, with overtime for evenings and weekends). They still do selected pieces of professional work but they've been getting increasingly inefficient as entrepreneurs, forgetting basic commercial rules like charging five minutes as a full hour, including meal-breaks, etc. They aren't making money but they have put another record together, Astral Navigations, which came out last autumn.

    The music for Astral was again written, arranged, played, and recorded by Mike ... and musicians from Wakefield and Preston. There were no payments involved, either to the musicians or Holyground. It is extremely difficult to point to the usual distinctive roles of engineer, producer, musician - it was just 400 hours of eating, playing, and making music which was eventually edited down to 45 minutes. Two hundred and fifty copies of the album were pressed (at a cost of about £160) and Holyground designed the packaging themselves (a plain white bootleg sleeve with pictures in the form of stick-on labels, an eight-page booklet with words and details, the whole thing in a paper cover which can be opened out into a poster), doing everything down to the letter setting. The printer's bill was £40. The total cost of the album was, then, £200 plus the cost of the tapes and Travelling expenses (£80) of hiring a van to move equipment around. Also the cost of food, substances, etc. And a lot of time. The original intention had been to sell the album at £1 but this would have meant a loss even if all 250 copies were bought, so a £2 price was fixed in the hope that they could sell 150. If they could guarantee bigger sales they could sell the album much cheaper.

    By the time the record was finished Holyground was broke and there was no money available for advertising in any organised sense. They had to rely on low-key hustling: Yorkshire's alternative paper, Styng, ran ads for them free; John Peel and Pete Drummond both gave the record some air time; Radios Leeds and Blackburn used it as local colour; a Styng writeup was reproduced in Ink. Some interest was aroused but because it was a studio record there was a drawback - they couldn't use live gigs to make the music known. A playing group can spread the word just by playing.

    The other problem was distribution. Holyground is two people with full time jobs. They don't have time to hawk the record round shops and, although some local stores have carried copies, and Frendz offered to act as a distribution centre, they depended on the public asking for copies direct. This isn't very satisfactory; you have to be pretty trusting to buy an album blind. Most independent record companies use commercial distributors but Holyground want to retain control because if they and the musicians are not profiting by the venture they see no reason why a distributor, with no connection with the record's creation, should take a cut. For the same reason they've ruled out using the bootleg distributors. Bootleggers are as much in the music product business as EMI. Dave would like to see some sort of 'underground' distribution system throughout the country which would handle not only records but books, magazines, news, etc.


With the exception of 'Teenage Archangel', Bill recorded all his pre-EMI material at Holyground, including Northern Dream. Apart from this LP, all the other recordings are now available on Electrotype. For a brief time Chris Coombs sang with Global Village, and Brian Holden and Barbara became friends with Mike & Shirley, performing on other Holyground recordings, as did Bill. Below are excerpts from an article from Record Collector, including an interview with Mike Levon.
excerpt from the article about Holyground interview with Mike Levon
(part one)
interview with Mike Levon
(part two)

This is a general press release for Holyground. Please feel free to print and distribute it widely!


David John, aka Miff or Miffy, real name David John Smith, was the singer with Thundermother when Holyground started recording them. He had had record success though before that as David John and the Mood. He recorded with one of Mike's heros, and someone whose approach to recording was so similar, the legendary Joe Meek!