Rob Garratt

Originally formed as a three-year project to promote Norwich bands, next week will see NROne Records celebrate its fifth birthday with a Haiti fundraiser at Norwich Arts Centre. ROB GARRATT reports.

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These Ghosts

Originally formed as a three-year project to promote Norwich bands, next week will see NROne Records celebrate its fifth birthday with a Haiti fundraiser at Norwich Arts Centre. ROB GARRATT reports.

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NROne founder Kingsley Harris. Top: Violet Violet.

It has brought out 62 releases by more than 30 of the city's best bands, put on an endless list of memorable gigs and generally has a fair claim for having done more to put Norwich's thriving music scene on the map than anyone.

This weekend NROne Records turns five. Remarkably, it was originally only set up as a strictly three-year project. Another surprising anecdote about the label is that its postal address is actually in NR7.

But founder Kingsley Harris - whose 30 year experience of watching gigs in the city is reflected in his Music Notes column for these pages - swears it was originally formed in NR1, and was amusingly enough based in Kingsley Street.

“The idea came from a drunken pub conversation,” recalls Kingsley. “We were taking the mickey out of the boy band situation and said we should form a boy band called NROne, like East 17. It stuck in my head.

“I wanted to do something where the music came first, not being commercial but going out and recruiting a band as they were and recording them and putting it out.”

The label's first release, a single by Americana band Cortez in February 2005, placedin the vinyl charts above Feeder, Bloc Party and Morrissey. Within weeks of setting the label up Kingsley was deluged with calls from agents and larger labels trying to buy him out.

“Everyone thought we were bigger than we were,” remembers Kinsley. “It was a very confusing time, I could have sold out very early.”

Since then the label has grown considerably, its bands picking up airplay across the world, touring Europe and releasing records that are frequently met with glowing reviews in the national press. The label was also name-checked by music chronicle the NME when it singled out Norwich as just two cities in its prophetic Future 50 list last year.

The original concept for next Friday's anniversary gig was to get every NROne band back together, to perform every NROne single in order - a vision that perhaps unsurprisingly self combusted.

However we are promised to see the label's current stalwarts playing rare cover versions and appearing in unseen combinations, with The Brownies and The Barlights expected to share a stage - dubbed “The Brownlights”. Also appearing are 2007 Next Big Thing winners The Kabeedies and headliners Violet Violet.

There's even talk that Kingsley, who has not picked up a pair of drum sticks in more than 20 years since playing in a troupe of city bands, might be persuaded to perch himself on the drum stool.

Before NROne there was Angel Records, a label Kingsley ran between 1981 and 1989. The local music buff has also run the East Anglian Sound Archive since the early eighties, a unique collection of more than 8,000 tracks by musicians from the region stretching back to the fifties, and written two books on the subject.

“People in the industry have never taken Norwich seriously,” says Kingsley. “But now they are starting to sit up and take notice.

“Anyone with a creative mind will love Norwich, it's so full of art and music you can't fail to be at peace here.”

However, music fans will be gutted to hear the label will not be putting on the 10-day long Norwich music festival Hot City Sounds this summer. Instead they are pioneering a new series of gigs called Norwich Music Express that will transport the city's best bands to London's 100 Club - with backing from the NME - and hopefully put them in the gaze of the national press.

Other new moves include recent signings Alloy Ark, who were runner-ups in last year's Next Big Thing, and These Ghosts, formally Vanilla Kick, who will be onstage with The Kabeedies tomorrow. However the future of the label may well depend on the muse of the man behind it.

Kingsley adds: “If it lasts another five years it does, if it doesn't it doesn't. Running a label's a full time job. I get itchy feet and I've got a massive amount of things to do in my head.”

t NROne Records 5th Birthday Party is at Norwich Arts Centre on February 12, £5 adv/£7 door, 01603 660352, www.noreichartscentre.co.uk. All profits to Haiti appeal.

CURRENT BANDS ON NR ONE

t 2 Hot 2 Sweat - Two-piece electro-pop from Norwich, now based in London.

t Kabeedies - Indie four-piece, winners of the Next Big Thing title in November 2007 and veterans of Glastonbury and Latitude festivals.

t Brownies - Punk-pop five-piece whose debut was the Guardian's single of the week.

t The Barlights - Formerly Oblique, a four-piece influenced by the likes of Radiohead and REM.

t Violet Violet - Formed in 2006 and one of Steve Lamacq's 'New Favourite Bands' on his BBC 6Music show.

t Tin Man - The reincarnation of the band Cord, who got to number 32 in the charts with their single Winter when they were on Island Records.

NRWHAT? - KEY RELEASES

NR1 - Cortez: This Is Nowhere (single) - Charted above Feeder, Bloc Party and Morrissey in the vinyl chart.

NR14 - The Shadow Project: A Beauty To Fight For - Still the label's bestselling release.

NR15 - Violet Violet: Bitchbox - Credited with getting the NROne name out to the nation.

NR18 - Violet Violet: Love This Band/Baby's Going Down Yellow (single) - Steve Lamaqc's single of the week, BBC 6Music.

NR21 - The Brownies: Means To An End Blue (single) - Singled out as The Guardian's single of the week.

NR23 - Rosalita: Manga Girl (single) - Next Big Thing winner's first release after winning The Road To V national televised competition.

NR28 - F**k Dress: Suburban Nietzsche Freak (single) - Best selling release in Europe, aired on Radio 1 and also Spain, USA and Holland.

NR39 - The Barlights: If It Wasn't For The Light, The Dark Would Have Killed Us - NROne stalwart's glittering debut LP.

NR47 - The Brownies: Ourknife Yourback - Acclaimed album produced by Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill.

NR51 - 2 Hot 2 Sweat: rarararararaRA! - Forthcoming mini-album from Latitude performers.

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