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The 1980s

Roger Armstrong and Poison Ivy from The Cramps Image

Roger Armstrong and Poison Ivy from The Cramps

As the 70s slowly segued into the 80s record production and promotion was to becoming an expensive game. This was still pre-MTV, but promotional videos were becoming de rigueur and as the costs of taking records into the charts spiraled, Ted, Trevor and Roger looked more to the steady but rewarding world of reissues.

A licence was struck with mighty EMI in 1978 for the pop end of the Chiswick label, so a new name had to be found for the re-issue side. As some of this product was to include Frankie Ford's Sea Cruise and an album's worth of Huey "Piano" Smith, the three decided to follow a route taken by the UK Sue label which had simply taken the name of the US label of origin. So with the permission of Johnny Vincent of Ace Records, Mississippi, Ace Records of Camden Town was born.

As several volumes of the Ace story came off the presses, other leads were followed up, thanks to the efforts of a musically-obsessed, devoted record fan and Ace consultant Ray Topping whose ability to sniff out good music was as highly developed as a Perigord pig trained to hunt for truffles. 

The prize truffle was the mighty Modern label out of Los Angeles. In its heyday, the label had been up there with Chess, Atlantic, Savoy and Peacock as one of the top-selling indies of the late 40s and early 50s. But its star had waned and during the early 60s, when British blues groups latched on to UK reissues of Excello, Vee-Jay and Chess goodies, the Modern label was nowhere to be seen. 

Still, Ray and several others realised the label's true worth and Ace began to reissue material from the label including classic early B.B. King, thus cementing a relationship with the world's greatest surviving bluesman which continues to this day. Other label stars, such as Howling Wolf, Richard Berry and John Lee Hooker got their share of the spotlight, culminating in a still deeply-wonderful three CD set of the complete early recordings of guitar god Elmore James. Eventually, in 1990 Ace became owners of the complete label - tapes and all - and moved the precious archives to their new and secure home in the Ace vaults.

Meanwhile back in the UK record jungle a new Ace label, Big Beat, was forcing its way out of the undergrowth. Formed to cater for the material that EMI wasn't interested in, it helped foster a previously unclassified brand of rock'n'roll that the label christened psychobilly. Signings included the Meteors followed by the US band who had inspired them, the Cramps. Their "Smell of Female" became the label's big-seller. Then the label entered the world of garage band reissues and other Nuggets-inspired artifacts, researched and reclaimed by writer, musician, full-time rock'n'roll fanatic and indefatigable Ace consultant Alec Palao.