Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Important UK record label which has not survived upheavals in the international business. Polygon was founded by Alan Freeman '49; first and biggest signing was Petula Clark, then a 16-year-old film star with Rank; first release '50. Polygon also launched Jimmy Young, and were one of the first to cater to West Indian immigrants with calypso on the Lyragon label. Nixa was an import/export company run by New Zealander Hilton Nixon; in '50 they were asked to acquire rights to a European label for Australia and approached Pacific in France; when the Australian deal failed Nixa went into the record business. First releases '51 incl. 'Autumn Leaves', by French female singer Dany Dauberson, their first no. 1. Nixa concentrated on Continental and off-beat product, moving into classical music via licensing US indie Westminster. Success meant needing capital for expansion; Nixa approached Thorn Electric, then Pye of Cambridge, a maker of high-quality radios since the 1920s. Pye bought 51 per cent of Nixa in '53 and acquired Polygon '55. Lonnie Donegan was the biggest Pye artist of the '50s: 'Cumberland Gap' gave the new company its first no. 1; 'My Old Man's A Dustman' was the first hit by a UK artist to enter the charts at no. 1. (Donegan's hits were on London in the USA, owned by British Decca, who were pressing Pye in the UK: thanks to this connection Pye had been among the first to issue LPs in the UK.) The UK market was dominated by US artists and Pye needed access; it was the licensee for Mercury for two years, but when this went to EMI Pye launched Pye International '58.

The '60s were Pye's golden age, beginning with Clark, Donegan, Emile Ford and the Marcels, with Kenny Ball on Pye Jazz; the Searchers had 14 hits, three at no. 1; the Kinks, Sandie Shaw, Long John Baldry and the Foundations all had chart-toppers. Status Quo had their first hits on Pye '68; Pye International had a strong R&B roster headed by Chuck Berry. Pye were innovative: they were the first in UK to release a stereo record, the first to advertise records on hoardings and one of the first to use TV; with the Golden Guinea label they were the first to issue budget albums of new material, with Golden Hour the first to put 60 minutes on an LP. They pioneered the use of US logos for licensed material, which other majors hated doing: WB, A&M, Cameo-Parkway, Dot, Reprise, Red Bird (the Shangri-Las) and Chess were some of the first USA labels to appear with their own logo in the UK, from Pye. Pye formed Piccadilly for UK material in the early '60s, Dawn at the end of the decade. In the '70s they launched Elton John via DJM and had Donna Summer on Casablanca; Mungo Jerry (on Dawn), Carl Douglas and the Brotherhood of Man all gave Pye chart- toppers in '70s; Lina Martell's 'One Day At A Time' '79 was the last. Unlike EMI, Philips and others, Pye had made little attempt to penetrate the USA (except for a joint venture with GRT in Janus Records, which failed); the Kinks for example were leased to Reprise in their heyday. Pye had good links with Vogue in France, Durium in Italy and Festival in Australia, whence they obtained Olivia Newton-John; but the '80s saw Pye decline.

Half the company had been sold to ATV in '59 and Pye of Cambridge sold the other half '66 (C. O. Stanley was a board member of ATV as well as chairman of the Pye group). The sale allowed the use of the Pye name until '80, when a new name had to be found; hence Precision Records and Tapes (PRT). That was also the year of negotiations for merger with RCA which failed. Debilitating uncertainty was worsened when ATV (renamed ACC) was sold to Australian businessman Robert Holmes A'Court's Bell group '82: ATV had been enthusiastic about the music side; Bell (controlled from Perth) was not. PRT had a valuable back catalogue and was an important distributor of independent labels (e.g. Bob Thiele's Signature and Dr Jazz); it issued good editions of classic jazz on its Jazz Reactivation label, rescuing the fine mono master of Count Basie's The Atomic Mr Basie, etc but suffered various problems: the young people who answered the phones there didn't know anything, and the company struggled to put out a catalogue of its wares (one got the impression it had been sold a bill of goods by a computer salesman). Bell sold it to Ray Richards early '87; he put daughter Kim in as MD; in early '88 PRT bought a compact disc factory in Sweden, relaunched Nixa as a classical line (first release a set of Verdi arias by USA soprano Carol Furness), and printed a catalogue, but it was all too late: PRT collapsed '89 along with Mrs Thatcher's overheated economic boom. The catalogue has been inherited by Castle Communications, much of the pop stuff recycled in budget CDs, often with no documentation on the outside of the packaging so you can't tell for sure what it is; the classical stuff seems to have become scarce. An ignoble end to a once great name.