Record  Producer  Edward  (Ted)  Perry

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie

ted perry

Perry with his MBE
[Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire]
Awarded by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990
for Services to Music

Ted Perry

Ted Perry, who died on Sunday aged 71, founded Hyperion, the independent British classical music label.

At a time when the larger companies are concentrating on middle-of-the-road money-spinners - "crossover music", popular versions of the classics, and a handful of glamorous superstars - Hyperion has remained an oasis of integrity and idealism for the small, but devoted, clique of classical listeners who are no longer the focus of the large labels.

Hyperion (named after the father of the muses) was launched in March 1980 when Perry, a former record store assistant, took out a £12,000 loan to record what he described as "nice records, records that need to be made, that no one else will make" on his own label.

Hyperion quickly established itself as a label with a taste for the unusual. Among its earliest recordings were the Finzi and Stanford Clarinet Concertos, played by Thea King and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Alun Francis, and an organ transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, performed by Arthur Wills. It soon won a following among collectors, both for its interest in neglected British composers, early Romantics and medieval and Baroque works, and for its fine production standards.

For several years, the label struggled to break even, so Perry drove minicabs at night and dragooned his family into packaging discs round the kitchen table. But things changed for the better when the company released Sacred Vocal Music of Monteverdi (with the soprano Emma Kirkby, the tenor Ian Partridge and the bass David Thomas) and, even more profitably, a collection of works by the 12th-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen.

Perry's success was built on recognising the existence of a small but dependable market for well-performed, stylishly packaged recordings of music that fall outside the core of potboilers which are over-represented in the catalogues of the major classical labels. Though he could never afford to record huge symphonic works with big-name conductors, he proved that record companies could prosper by skillful exploitation of a niche market. As one music critic put it: "Hyperion has an extraordinary gift for detecting repertoire which leaves us wondering how we ever lived without it."

ted perry

He was rare among record executives in going out of his way to discover new and obscure works and in being prepared to trust his own musical instincts. He first heard the music of Hildegard of Bingen in 1981, on an early music programme on Radio 3. "I suddenly heard this serene and beautiful music and waited for the announcement," he recalled. By chance, the Cambridge medieval literature and music don, Christopher Page, whose Gothic Voices group had been formed to perform the music, phoned Perry about another Hyperion record soon afterwards, and Perry quickly arranged a recording session. A Feather on the Breath of God became a huge seller for the label: "Hildegard pays for my mistakes," Perry admitted. "Of course it has Emma Kirkby on it, and she's a cult performer. There's a strong feminist slant: a lesbian bookshop in Texas sells a thousand a year."

Perry went on to build Hyperion and its subsidiary label Helios (Helios, the sun, was the son of Hyperion) into the largest independent classical label in the country, with a catalogue of some 1,200 titles. As well as the label's more recondite recordings, Hyperion also produced a 36-disc collection of the complete Schubert Lieder, with the pianist Graham Johnson accompanying many of the leading Schubert singers of the past 20 years, and Leslie Howard's survey of Liszt's solo piano music, which took 14 years to record and ran to 95 discs. In addition, there were series of Henry Purcell, the masses of John Taverner, the church music of John Sheppard and the music of Robert Simpson.


[See my interview with Ann Murray]

Perry insisted that he never made a record knowing it would be a financial disaster, yet he took such obvious delight in exploring the repertory that he also happily admitted that only 40 per cent of Hyperion releases ever covered their costs. Frills were cut to a minimum. His office was situated on the packing floor in a warehouse at Eltham, south-east London, and, when required, he would come out and help with the packing himself.

George Edward Perry was born into a working-class family on May 15 1931. He developed a fascination with music after a childhood hip operation left him in leg braces and unable to participate in sports.

After leaving school, he was taken on as a buyer at EMG Handmade Gramophones, "a gentleman's record shop" in Soho Square. When Deutsch Grammophon opened a London office in 1956, Perry oversaw its first British releases. But the following year, he moved to Sydney, Australia, to run marketing and distribution at Festival Records.

He returned to London in 1961 and joined Saga, a small British label, as its director of artists and repertory. He left the company in 1963, but returned in 1972. In the mid-1970s he left Saga again to start Meridian Records with John Shuttleworth. In 1980 he left Meridian to start Hyperion with his wife, Doreen, and a financial partner, Bill Singer.


[If you look very closely, Perry's name appears as Executive Producer in the lower-left]

Perry's musical tastes were broad, though he admitted to some blind spots, including Italian opera (with the exception of Puccini), 20th century music after Janáček, and French harpsichord music by d'Anglebert: "The twiddles just get on my nerves - they even have twiddles on the twiddles."

Perry's loyalty to his performers was a byword: artists such as the King's Consort, Elizabeth Wallfisch, Sir Charles Mackerras, Emma Kirkby, Gothic Voices, Graham Johnson and Thea King became Hyperion "regulars".

Under Perry's leadership, Hyperion won many awards and accolades from the serious end of the classical music press; in January 1996, the company was presented with the Best Label Award at the Cannes Classiques Awards.

Ted Perry's marriage was dissolved in 1981. He is survived by a son and two daughters.

--  Note that links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

Perry was in Chicago in September of 1990, which was near the beginning of the age of the compact disc . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   How is the recording business these days from your point of view?

Ted Perry:   It’s quite healthy!  The CD has been the savior of us all.

BD:   Really?  Why?

The compact disc is an evolution of LaserDisc technology, where a focused laser beam is used that enables the high information density required for high-quality digital audio signals. Prototypes were developed by Philips and Sony independently in the late 1970s. Although originally dismissed by Philips Research management as a trivial pursuit, the CD became the primary focus for Philips as the LaserDisc format struggled. In 1979, Sony and Philips set up a joint task force of engineers to design a new digital audio disc. After a year of experimentation and discussion, the Red Book CD-DA standard was published in 1980. After their commercial release in 1982, compact discs and their players were extremely popular. Despite costing up to $1,000, over 400,000 CD players were sold in the United States between 1983 and 1984. By 1988, CD sales in the United States surpassed those of vinyl LPs, and by 1992 CD sales surpassed those of prerecorded music cassette tapes. The success of the compact disc has been credited to the cooperation between Philips and Sony, which together agreed upon and developed compatible hardware. The unified design of the compact disc made it so consumers could purchase any disc or player from any company, and allowed the CD to dominate the at-home music market unchallenged.

The new audio disc was enthusiastically received, especially in the early-adopting classical music and audiophile communities, and its handling quality received particular praise. As the price of players gradually came down, and with the introduction of the portable Discman, the CD began to gain popularity in the larger popular and rock music markets. With the rise in CD sales, pre-recorded cassette tape sales began to decline in the late 1980s. CD sales overtook cassette sales in the early 1990s.

The CD was planned to be the successor of the vinyl record for playing music, rather than primarily as a data storage medium. From its origins as a musical format, CDs have grown to encompass other applications. In 1983, following the CD's introduction, Immink and Braat presented the first experiments with erasable compact discs during the 73rd AES Convention. In June 1985, the computer-readable CD-ROM (read-only memory) and, in 1990, CD-Recordable were introduced, also developed by both Sony and Philips. Recordable CDs were a new alternative to tape for recording music and copying music albums without defects introduced in compression used in other digital recording methods. Other newer video formats such as DVD and Blu-ray use the same physical geometry as CD, and most DVD and Blu-ray players are backward compatible with audio CD.

U.S. CD sales peaked in 2000. By the early 2000s, the CD player had largely replaced the audio cassette player as standard equipment in new automobiles, with 2010 being the final model year for any car in the United States to have a factory-equipped cassette player. With the increasing popularity of portable digital audio players, such as mobile phones, and solid state music storage, CD players are being phased out of automobiles in favor of minijack auxiliary inputs, wired connection to USB devices and wireless Bluetooth connection.

Meanwhile, with the advent and popularity of Internet-based distribution of files in lossily-compressed audio formats such as MP3, sales of CDs began to decline in the 2000s. For example, between 2000 and 2008, despite overall growth in music sales and one anomalous year of increase, major-label CD sales declined overall by 20 percent, although independent and DIY music sales may be tracking better according to figures released 30 March 2009, and CDs still continue to sell greatly. As of 2012, CDs and DVDs made up only 34 percent of music sales in the United States. By 2015, only 24 percent of music in the United States was purchased on physical media, ⅔ of this consisting of CDs; however, in the same year in Japan, over 80 percent of music was bought on CDs and other physical formats. In 2018, U.S. CD sales were 52 million units — less than 6% of the peak sales volume in 2000.

mccabe Perry:   A lot of people like CDs, and they seem to buy them in very moderate quantities.

BD:   Was the LP doomed, or had it leveled off, and there was no growth?

Perry:   No, it wasn’t the LP as such.  It was just general poverty throughout the world, really because of economic depressions in various territories.  It was in England, anyway.  I know not a great deal about your territory, but I can speak only for Britain.  In England we’ve seemed to be coming out of a fairly severe economic... well hardly a depression, but...

BD:   Stagnation?

Perry:   Yes.  That’s a good word for it.

BD:   [With genuine concern]  If compact discs require the purchase of a new player, and generally a single compact disc is a little more expensive than an LP, how do you account for more expenditure if the economy is still sluggish?

Perry:   The CD is a very attractive medium.  It has appealed to a lot of people, not only to the newcomers to the record world, but it’s meant that many people have started to make their collections all over again.  They’ve started buying their Beethoven Symphonies again... not that we make Beethoven symphonies, but they are replacing their LP collections, the basic repertoire, which has been good.  Hyperion started in 1980, which of course was the LP era.  CDs came in four or five years later, and LPs began to die.  Therefore, in addition to the new stuff that we issued, we converted a lot of the back catalogue onto the new format, which means, in effect, they were almost new issues.  So, they were treated as new records, and we sold them all over again.  For the companies which had a vast back catalogue upon which they could draw, all or the bulk of the recording costs had been amortized.  So, economically it has been quite a good thing.

BD:   But now your company has basically been issuing new material, rather than back material?

Perry:   Oh, yes.  I’m not referring to historical records.  I’m merely referring to back catalogue that had been issued only in LP form, not so much historical material.  Of course, they’re all coming out, too, and from various places, though not from us as you rightly say.  We don’t have an historical section in our catalogue.

BD:   You decided to be almost a one-man show.  It is your company, and you are making the records and distributing them, rather than being part of a big conglomerate.

Perry:   Yes, but I’m no longer a one-man show.  I was when I first started.  That was certainly true, or even literally true.  I really did everything
I answered the phone, wrote letters, packed the parcels, delivered them, and so on.  I did employ others with specialized skills, but they weren’t members of the staff.  In other words, I used producers and engineers.  You have to do that, especially for their skills, but the company itself had one employee, and that was me.  I ran it from the back room of my home in London.  But that’s no longer true, so you can no longer describe me as a one-man band.  I’m a nine-man band actually, including myself.  [Laughs]

BD:   Do you anticipate ever becoming a sixty-piece orchestra?

Perry:   No, no, no, no!  Small is beautiful for me.  [Both laugh]  No, my ambitions don’t go in that direction.  I’m not aiming to be a major corporation in that sense.

BD:   What are your ambitions?

perry Perry:   To make nice records, as many as feasible, and practical, and possible
without making a misery for myselfand to make them to as high a quality as possible, and spread a little bit of joy and light throughout the world.  Seriously, that’s what gives me kicks.  I just love making nice records for people to enjoy.

BD:   It’s interesting to find a corporate executive who is not primarily interested in the bottom line.  You’re more interested in the artistic side.  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Thomas Allen, and Gwynne Howell.]

Perry:   Yes, of course.  I’ve got to live with myself, haven’t I?  That’s not to say I have a great deal of money.  I haven’t, but it’s not the prime factor for me.  As long as I get by with a couple of meals a day, and somewhere to sleep, that’s all I need, really.

BD:   Now you’re able to travel, and see the happiness you’ve brought.

Perry:   Yes, but that’s happened quite recently.  I couldn’t do that when I was at home looking after the shop.  I wasn’t able to do it, and I didn’t have the resources, anyway.  To be quite truthful, the company now is quite successful, and I do have staff, so I can get away, as you right say, to come and make new friends in Chicago.

BD:   When you started out ten years ago, did you ever think that maybe you would be traveling all over the world with your records?

Perry:   No, I never gave it a thought.

BD:   [Gently pressing the point]  Then why did you get into the business in the first place?

Perry:   I’ve been in the business many, many years.  I’ve been in the record business since 1949.  But since you asked me why, it’s because I’m selfish in the sense that it was simply what I wanted to do.

BD:   1949 was the dying days of the 78 rpm record.

Perry:   It was.  It was the end of the 78.  We didn’t know it at the time, but you’re quite right.  It was the end of the 78 era, and I joined the record business selling records over a record shop counter in London.  I’d not been there for more than about a year or thereabouts when the first long-playing records arrived, beginning a new age, as it were.  
[Having just (in 2020) re-read the box above about the history of the CD, I am wondering if we are in the dying days of the that format!  BTW, though the LP died a few years ago, it seems to be making a comeback, as shown in the box below.]

The Vinyl revival is the renewed interest and increased sales of vinyl records, or gramophone records, that has been taking place in the Western world since about 2007.

The analogue format made of polyvinyl chloride had been the main vehicle for the commercial distribution of pop music from the 1950s until the 1980s and 1990s when they were largely replaced by the Compact Disc (CD). Since the turn of the millennium, CDs have been partially replaced by digital downloads and streaming services. However, in 2007, vinyl sales made a sudden small increase, starting its comeback, and by the early 2010s it was growing at a very fast rate. In some territories, vinyl is now more popular than it has been since the late 1980s, though vinyl records still make up only a marginal percentage (<6%) of overall music sales.

Along with steadily increasing vinyl sales, the vinyl revival is also evident in the renewed interest in the record shop (as seen by the creation of the annual worldwide Record Store Day), the implementation of music charts dedicated solely to vinyl, and an increased output of films (largely independent) dedicated to the vinyl record and culture.

In June 2017, Sony Music announced that by March 2018 it would be producing vinyl records in-house for the first time since ceasing its production in 1989. The BBC reported that "Sony's move comes a few months after it equipped its Tokyo studio with a cutting lathe, used to produce the master discs needed for manufacturing vinyl records", but the company "is even struggling to find older engineers who know how to make records".

In 1988, the Compact Disc surpassed the gramophone record in popularity in Canada and the U.S. Vinyl records experienced a sudden decline in popularity between 1988 and 1991, when the major label distributors restricted their return policies, which retailers had been relying on to maintain and swap out stocks of relatively unpopular titles.

First, the distributors began charging retailers more for new product if they returned unsold vinyl, and then they stopped providing any credit at all for returns. Retailers, fearing they would be stuck with anything they ordered, only ordered proven, popular titles that they knew would sell, and devoted more shelf space to CDs and cassettes. Record companies also deleted many vinyl titles from production and distribution, further undermining the availability of the format and leading to the closure of pressing plants. This rapid decline in the availability of records accelerated the format's decline in popularity, and is seen by some as a deliberate ploy to make consumers switch to CDs, which were more profitable for the record companies. But ever since 2007, the popularity of vinyl records has risen again. The largest online retailer of vinyl records in 2014 was Amazon with a 12.3% market share, while the largest physical retailer of vinyl records was Urban Outfitters with an 8.1% market share.

In its 'Shipment and Revenue Statistics' report for 2016, the Recording Industry Association of America noted that "Shipments of vinyl albums were up 4% to $430 million, and comprised 26% of total physical shipments at retail value – their highest share since 1985". In 2019, Rolling Stone said that "Vinyl records earned $224.1 million (on 8.6 million units) in the first half of 2019, closing in on the $247.9 million (on 18.6 million units) generated by CD sales. Vinyl revenue grew by 12.8% in the second half of 2018 and 12.9% in the first six months of 2019, while the revenue from CDs barely budged. If these trends hold, records will soon be generating more money than compact discs". Best Buy discontinued CDs in 2019, but as of January 2020 still sells vinyl. Target Corporation and Walmart still sell CDs, but use less shelf space for them and use more space for vinyl records, players, and accessories.

Similarly in the United Kingdom, the compact disc surpassed the gramophone record in popularity in the late 1980s. This started a gradual decline in vinyl record sales throughout the 1990s. Sales of vinyl LP records in the UK increased every year between 2007 and 2014  In December 2011, BBC Radio 6 Music began an occasional Vinyl Revival series in which Peter Paphides met musicians who revealed, and played selections from, their vinyl record collections. In November 2014, it was reported that over one million vinyl records had been sold in the UK since the beginning of the year. Sales had not reached this level since 1996. The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) predicted that Christmas sales would bring the total for the year to around 1.2 million. However, vinyl sales were still a very small proportion of total music sales. Pink Floyd’s The Endless River became the fastest-selling UK vinyl release of 2014 – and the fastest-selling since 1997 – despite selling only 6,000 copies. In 2016, 3.2 million vinyl records were sold in the UK, the best sale for a quarter of a century.

As of 2016 the revival continued, with UK vinyl sales exceeding streaming audio revenue for the year. In January 2017, the BPI's 'Official UK recorded music market report for 2016', using Official Charts Company data, noted that "Though still niche in terms of its size within the overall recorded music market, vinyl enjoyed another stellar year, with over 3.2 million LPs sold – a 53 per cent rise on last year". The BPI also reported that "The biggest-selling vinyl artist was David Bowie, with 5 albums posthumously featuring in the top-30 best-sellers, including his Mercury Prize shortlisted Blackstar, which was 2016’s most popular vinyl recording ahead of Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, selling more than double the number of copies of 2015’s best seller on vinyl – Adele’s 25".

BBC Radio 4's Front Row discussed the increase in coloured vinyl releases in October 2017 in the wake of recent albums in the format by Beck, Liam Gallagher, and St. Vincent.

The price and size of CDs are part of why they became unpopular. A $15-20 CD comes in a small case and both are flimsy. A vinyl record is slightly more expensive but is more durable, and comes with album cover art, liner notes, and perhaps a poster or t-shirt. Used records are inexpensive.

In a comparison of analog and digital recording, vinyl's analog imperfection adds warmth to sound that listeners enjoy. CDs compress stored sound, dulling high and low notes unlike vinyl, and listeners likely prefer streaming audio if they accept the compression.

Though many sales in vinyl are of modern artists with modern styles or genres of music, the revival has sometimes been considered to be a part of the greater revival of retro style, since many vinyl buyers are too young to remember vinyl being a primary music format.

BD:   Did you take to the LPs immediately, or did you resist them?

Perry:   Oh, no, I loved them, with their obvious advantages.  I took to them immediately.  They were very exciting days, yes.

BD:   Then as you progressed, you had to redo the whole thing when stereo came about.

Perry:   Yes, but that was many years later...

BD:   Not too many... stereo came out in the late

Perry:   Yes, that’s true.  I was in retail for six or seven years, until 1956, and then I was asked to join Deutsche Grammophon in London.

BD:   Why were you picked for that?  Could they see some outstanding talent?

perry Perry:   No.  Deutsche Grammophon in those days, believe it or not, was a virtually unknown label.  It was a parochial German record label.   We’d never even seen one in England.  We knew vaguely there was something called DGG.  Polydor was a quite well-known name, though the actual Polydor label was not very well known.  They had been pressed by Decca.  They were known as Decca-Polydor, and we knew they hailed from some splendid German record company.  In 1956 they decided to open an office in London, and it was called the Heliodor Record Company.  They started with their archive, and they decided they needed somebody who understood the English tastes.  In other words, they wanted somebody to advise them what of their catalogue would sell in England.  I was able to say yes, that they could sell Shura Cerkassky doing the Tchaikovsky B-Flat Piano Concerto quite well, but they wouldn’t be able to sell many copies of Zar und Zimmermann by Lortzing.  So, in fact, that’s what I did for a couple of years.

BD:   Did you find almost immediately that the tastes of the British public were expanding to allow Lortzing?

Perry:   Oh, yes.  There’s always been an adventurous minority willing to try new things, but most records which are sold are fairly well-known and mainstream repertoire, and a lot of that ground had already been covered.  This was a few years after the beginning of the LP, and Decca had burgeoned mightily by issuing a lot of repertoire that was new to record.  The long playing record, coupled with the advent of tape recording, suddenly made it a lot more easy to make records.  Consequently, not only a lot of new repertoire, but also a lot new labels appeared on the market, like Westminster, Vanguard, and Urania.

BD:   Some of which have now ceased operation?

Perry:   Some of which have now ceased operation, and some of which are now coming back.

BD:   When you started working for DG advising them on repertoire, and what would sell and what would not sell...

Perry:   Among other things, but I obviously got involved in other things, such as listening to test pressings, and giving Germany advice on what they ought to record, and telling them what not to have recorded... just generally being useful.

BD:   [Somewhat surprised]  There is music that you advise not to be recorded???  It would seem from the expression on your face that you would want to expand the repertoire as much as possible.

Perry:   Well, I’m joking really, but this was about an urgent need for repertoire.  I do sometimes wonder if it’s wise making the forty-ninth version of the New World Symphony.

BD:   How long were you working for Deutsche Grammophon.

Perry:   Two years.  Actually, less than two years.  Then I went to Australia.

BD:   [Facetiously]  To sell records to kangaroos???

Perry:   [With a laugh]  Ah, no.  Kangaroos are not very good purchasers of records.  I went to Australia just to see the world, and I got a job as a record distributor out there in New South Wales.

BD:   Distributing all kinds of labels, or just one label?

Perry:   All kinds of labels, principally pop.  That’s where I got a grounding in the pop business, as this was the time of Buddy Holly.

BD:   Did you advise Buddy Holly about what to sing?

Perry:   No, I was not in the A&R wing at all.  I merely distributed for one of the major labels.  They made an issue of the records, and it was my job to see that they got into the shops.  I actually didn’t work for the company.  I worked for a separate company who had the distribution rights to the label.  In fact, it was Festival Records, a very big indigenous record label.  It still exists, and they have their own label, Festival.  They also had lots of American labels, like Coral, Brunswick, a label called Concert Disc, which was a very high-quality classical LP label, English Metronome, and others.

BD:   Were you happy working in the pop field?

Perry:   Yes, but I wouldn’t have wanted to work solely in the pop field because I’m not basically terribly interested in it.  The compensations were that they had classical labels as well, which is what I’m really interested in.

BD:   Were you trying them to get more people to listen to classical?  Did you try to get some of the pop listeners to try classical?

Perry:   I don’t think I was, actually.  No, my job was just distributing records.  This was long before I entertained ideas about making records.

ted perry BD:   How long did you stay in New South Wales?

Perry:   It was about three and a half years.

BD:   That was a good time for you?

Perry:   Yes, it was an excellent, lovely time.  I enjoyed it.  Then I went back to England.  This was in 1961 to get a job in the record business, which I did with an outfit called Saga Records.  Does that mean anything to you?

BD:   I’ve seen a few of them around, but not very many.

Perry:   It’s fair to say that it’s now obsolete or defunct, but it had just been founded, and it was a budget label.  While I’d been in Australia, the first budget labels had appeared on the market, selling for less than full price labels.  That’s what Saga was.  Instead of paying 39/6 pence,
which was thirty-nine shillings and six pence for a full-price LP record, you needn’t pay more than sort of 19/6 pence, which is less than half the price.  This was for things like Eileen Joyce playing the Grieg Piano Concerto, and the Bach Brandenburg Concertos with Harry Newstone.

BD:   How long did you stay with Saga?

Perry:   Three years.  My job there was more or less what I’d been working towards, and wanting, which was being in charge of the label and the repertoire that went on it.  The company I joined had recently acquired the Saga label from the people who actually started it, after it had gone bankrupt.  They’d taken it over, and my job was to sort out the mess, and find out what records existed, and what tapes there were, and generally tidy it up.  So that’s what I did.  I dressed up the existing catalogue, found sleeves for the stuff that had been recorded, and issued those, and at the same time initiated a new recording program.  I was deciding how the label should be continued, and what new repertoire should go on it.  There was nothing terribly ambitious, you understand.  It was mainly chamber music, and song, and harp records, and things like that.

BD:   It was interesting material?

Perry:   Interesting to me, certainly, and since quite a lot of people bought it, I presume it was moderately interesting to them as well.  [Both laugh]

BD:   I assume the bottom line of recording is that you want to see large quantities sold.

Perry:   Ah, that’s nice, yes, you do.  At least I do.  I want to make sure I’m making the right records that people actually want.

BD:   It’s not a popularity contest, is it?

Perry:   No, no, no, no, no.  If I was wanting to make only records that sold in quantity, then I wouldn’t be recording Schubert songs and Beethoven String Quartets.  I’d be recording pop groups, but I don’t.

BD:   I assume, though, that you want to make sure enough of them sell, so how do you tread that fine line of making sure that something interesting to you will sell in enough quantity?

Perry:   It’s always a risk.  One never knows.  That’s one of the joys of the record business
you make these things, and cast your bread upon the waters.  I’m mixing metaphors like mad, but you understand what I mean.  One makes educated guesses, and one can be lucky, and one can be very unlucky.  Records that you think are going to do well, in fact don’t, and some you have doubts about turn out to be best-sellers, and that’s lovely.  I enjoy that.

BD:   Does that influence future decisions?

Perry:   Yes, of course it does, and that’s how you make reputations.  You may experiment with a new artist, for instance, and make a record with that artist, and send it out into the world, and promote it, and advertise it, and get radio stations to play it on the air, and if it’s a success, people will remember it, and they take note.  That’s how reputations are gradually created, and I’m delighted to say that I’ve been able to do that to quite a large extent on the present label, Hyperion... groups like Gothic Voices, and Corydon Singers.

Originally founded in 1980 by the scholar and musician Christopher Page, Gothic Voices has gone on to record twenty-five albums, three of which won the coveted Gramophone Early Music Award. Its first recording A feather on the breath of God – Sequences and Hymns by Saint Hildegard of Bingen still remains one of the best-selling recordings of pre-Classical music ever made.


In the UK they have performed at the Aldeburgh and Chester Festivals, the York and Birmingham Early Music Festivals and at the International Festivals of Edinburgh and Cheltenham. They have toured widely throughout Europe, appearing at the Flanders, Utrecht and Stuttgart Early Music Festivals and the Vestfold Festival in Norway. They have also appeared in Israel and in the Americas.

Gothic Voices also enjoy performing contemporary music, particularly pieces with medieval associations. Many of today's composers are influenced by medieval repertoire and its often experimental nature. The group plans to give a renewed emphasis to the combination of old and new alongside its more traditional programmes.

Gothic Voices is committed to bringing medieval music into the mainstream. Their imaginative programmes aim to use their voices in varying combinations to produce performances of great beauty and thereby to continue to win the appreciation of audiences all over the world.

*     *     *     *     *

Founded by Matthew Best in 1973, Corydon Singers are now widely recognised as one of the foremost choirs in Britain.

Their first Hyperion recording, of Bruckner motets, was issued in 1983 and established them on the road to distinction. Their subsequent and numerous recordings, all for Hyperion, have consistently earned the approval of the press in Britain, Europe, the United States, Japan and elsewhere. Their 1990 recording of Vaughan William’s Serenade to Music and other works was selected as Record of the Year by both The Guardian and The Sunday Times, and was nominated for a Brit Award.


[See my interview with José van Dam]

Their recording of Rachmaninov’s Vespers was chosen as the preferred version in BBC Radio 3’s ‘Building a Library’ and their recording of Bruckner’s Te Deum and Mass in D minor was selected as one of the top releases of 1993 by the BBC’s Record Review. A great many of Corydon’s recordings have reached the Gramophone Awards short list in the choral section and they have four times been runner-up: in 1984 with Howells’s Requiem, 1990 with Vaughan Williams’s Serenade, 1996 Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ and in 1997 with Beethoven early cantatas.

--  The text of each précis in this box and the one below is from the Hyperion Website  

BD:   We’ll come back to Hyperion in a minute.  You said you worked for the company that swallowed Saga Records?

saga Perry:   Yes.  I was there between 1961 until November, 1963, which was the month that President Kennedy was assassinated.  It’s a period I remember vividly.  Then I moved onto a period that I don’t feel at all happy about, because I left the record business.  I had a growing family, and the record business didn’t pay a large amount of money
at least in England it didn’t in those daysand I needed to educate three young children.

BD:   So what did you do?

Perry:   I did two things, basically.  I sold ice-cream.  I was an ice-cream vendor, and I drove a mini-cab.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  You should have taken records with you, and have sold them with each ice-cream.

Perry:   I could have done, but with the sort of people I was dealing, I’m afraid there wouldn’t have been much point in that.

BD:   I take it the ice-cream and the mini-cab business provided you with enough to take care of everything?

Perry:   Yes, for the time-being, but it’s not me, really.

BD:   It was purely a money-making venture?

Perry:   It was, yes.

BD:   So, now you’re happy to be back into the recording business?  [Vis-à-vis the recordings shown at right, see my interview with Janos Starker.]

Perry:   Yes.  Time was passing, and my age was creeping on and on, and I thought this is not what I want to do.  I want to be in the record business because I enjoy it, so I decided to rejoin it.  It’s quite hard to get in.  It’s actually a very small industry, or at least it was in those days, with not all that number of classical labels, and most tended to be rather small ones, and nobody knew me.  I’d been off the scene for quite a long time, so I didn’t know quite what to do.  In fact, I went back to Saga, and did exactly the same thing.  It had meanwhile gone through a very funny phase.  It was more or less moribund, and I was hired to do exactly what I’d done nine years earlier
that is to bring it back to life, initiate a new recording program, and generally make it respectable again.

BD:   Which you did?

Perry:   I’d like to think so, yes.  [Both laugh]  I recorded people like James Tyler, the American lute player, and the London Early Music Group, and Jill Gomez, and some of the young artists that were appearing at the time.

BD:   How long did you stay with that?

Perry:   I stayed there more of less the same length of time
three or four years.

BD:   Everything in your business life seems to be in three- or four-year segments.

Perry:   Yes, it was.

BD:   Now that you have your own label, you’ve been with it for ten years.  That’s more than three times the length of your earlier ventures.  So you’re there to stay now?

Perry:   I think perhaps it’s probably the case, yes.  [Laughs]  When you sit behind the desk of a record company, responsible for all that repertoire, people keep sending you ‘Demo Tapes’.  Basically they say,
I’m a harpsichordist, or I’m a guitarist, or I’m a soprano, or I’m an organist, and this is me.  Please will you make a record of me.  That’s their aim, and quite clearly most of them have to be disappointed for one reason or another.

BD:   How do you decide which ones you will say,
“Yes, we’ll make a record of you,” and turn the others away?  How do you sift them out?

Perry:   That’s another question.  I automatically say no to a harpsichordist and guitarists.  The first thing you’d have to do is decide if you want yet another harpsichordist or guitarist in the catalogue.  These days I have to keep a tidy catalogue, so I have to decline an awful lot of very worthy musicians, sadly, mainly because I’ve got the same repertoire covered by somebody else, and I can’t really compete with myself in the same catalogue.  So if the New Budapest Quartet are recording Beethoven String Quartets, it’s silly to give them to somebody else.  That’s one discipline.

BD:   But suppose you need a new tenor.  How do you decide from those who are asking?

Perry:   Oh, I never think like that.  It never even occurred to me to think like that.  I often think I need a tenor for a particular record, but I don’t actually look for a new one.  The first thing that comes to mind is a Bach Cantata, but we don’t do many of those.  But if I were, I’d think around who is a suitable tenor among the ones I know that would be good for making this record.  I’m not looking for a completely unknown new artist to promote.  In fact, I don’t approach it from that aspect.

BD:   Then from a vast catalogue of music, how do you decide what you will record?

Perry:   The answer to that question is bound to change over a period of time.  In the early days, everything was new, and I had the fun of choosing who was going to do my string quartets, and my song records, and so on.  But I can’t do that now, because most of them are established.  So, that question applies less and less.  I merely continue ongoing series.  For instance, Westminster Cathedral Choir do all my early Spanish and Italian polyphony, Winchester Cathedral Choir do the English works, or The Sixteen do the early English polyphony, Corydon Singers do the twentieth-century choral repertoire, mainly English, and Liszt piano music is recorded by Leslie Howard, while Rachmaninov piano music is done by Howard Shelley.

The establishment of a fine choral foundation was part of the original vision of the founder of Westminster Cathedral, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan. Vaughan laid great emphasis on the beauty and integrity of the new Cathedral’s liturgy and music, and realised that a residential choir school for the boy choristers was essential to the realisation of his vision. Daily sung Masses and Offices were immediately established when the Cathedral opened in 1903, and have continued without interruption ever since. Today, Westminster Cathedral Choir is the only professional Catholic choir in the world to sing a daily Mass.

Richard Runciman Terry, the Cathedral’s first Master of Music, proved to be an inspired choice. Terry was both a brilliant choir trainer and a pioneering scholar, one of the first musicologists to revive the great works of the English and Continental Renaissance composers. Terry built Westminster Cathedral Choir’s reputation on performances of music—by Byrd, Tallis, Taverner, Palestrina and Victoria, among others—that had not been heard since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and Mass at the Cathedral was soon attended by inquisitive musicians as well as the faithful. The performance of great Renaissance masses and motets in their proper liturgical context remains the cornerstone of the choir’s activity.

George Malcolm consolidated the musical reputation of Westminster Cathedral Choir during his time as Master of Music—in particular through the now legendary recording of Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories. More recent holders of the post have included Colin Mawby, Stephen Cleobury, David Hill and James O’Donnell. The choir continues to thrive under the current Master of Music, Martin Baker, who has held the post since February 2000.


In addition to its performances of Renaissance masterpieces, Westminster Cathedral Choir has given many first performances of music written especially for it by contemporary composers. Terry gave the premieres of music by Vaughan Williams (whose Mass in G minor received its first public performance at a Mass in the Cathedral), Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells and Charles Wood; in 1959 Benjamin Britten wrote his Missa brevis for the choristers; and since 1960 works by Lennox Berkeley, William Mathias, Colin Mawby and Francis Grier have been added to the repertoire. Most recently three new Masses—by Roxanna Panufnik, James MacMillan and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies—have been performed and recorded by the choir.

Westminster Cathedral Choir made its first acoustic recording in 1907. Many more have followed, most recently the acclaimed series on the Hyperion label, and many awards have been conferred on the choir’s recordings. Of these the most prestigious are the 1998 Gramophone Awards for both ‘Best Choral Recording of the Year’ and ‘Record of the Year’, for the performance of Martin’s Mass for Double Choir and Pizzetti’s Requiem. It is the only cathedral choir to have won in either of these categories.

When its duties at the Cathedral permit, the choir also gives concert performances both at home and abroad. It has appeared at many important festivals, including Aldeburgh, Salzburg, Copenhagen, Bremen and Spitalfields. It has appeared in many of the major concert halls of Britain, including the Royal Festival Hall, the Wigmore Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. The Cathedral Choir also broadcasts frequently on radio and television.

*     *     *     *     *

The Choir of Winchester Cathedral is recognised as one of Britain's leading Cathedral choirs.

Their principal function is the singing of services in Winchester Cathedral, and, during term time, they sing an average of eight services each week. In addition they give concerts both in the Cathedral and elsewhere in Britain. They have also toured the USA, Australia and Brazil as well as most European countries. They are regular broadcasters on radio and television. Their repertoire ranges from music in the Winchester Troper (dating from c1000 AD) to many contemporary composers. Winchester Cathedral has also been at the forefront of commissioning new works from composers such as John Tavener, Jonathan Harvey, James Macmillan and Tarik O’Regan.

Their many recordings for Hyperion, Virgin Classics and Decca include discs of English music by Purcell, Tye, Tallis, Stanford, and Elgar. Other recordings for Herald and Regent include collections of music for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.


The Choir comprises eighteen boy choristers and twelve permanent lay clerks. The choristers are educated at The Pilgrims' School where they all learn at least one instrument, and the majority of them gain music scholarships to their next school. The lay clerks are all experienced musicians who work in a wide variety of professions, including teaching, PR and administration. The Cathedral also runs a girls’ choir (who are aged from 12-17) who sing services and concerts both by themselves and with the boys and Lay Clerks.

*     *     *     *     *

The Sixteen is recognized as one of the world’s greatest ensembles. Comprising both choir and period-instrument orchestra, The Sixteen’s total commitment to the music it performs is its greatest distinction. A special reputation for performing early English polyphony, masterpieces of the Renaissance, bringing fresh insights into Baroque and early Classical music and a diversity of 20th- and 21st-century music, is drawn from the passions of Founder and Conductor Harry Christophers CBE.

At home in the UK The Sixteen are ‘The Voices of Classic FM’ and Associate Artists of The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. The group promotes The Choral Pilgrimage, an annual tour of the UK’s finest cathedrals which aims to bring music back to the buildings for which it was written. The Sixteen features in the highly successful BBC television series, Sacred Music, presented by actor Simon Russell Beale – the latest hour-long programme was aired in December 2011, marking the 400th anniversary of the death of the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria.

The Sixteen tours throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas and has given regular performances at major concert halls and festivals worldwide, including the Barbican Centre (London), The Bridgewater Hall (Manchester), Cité de la musique (Paris), Concertgebouw (Amsterdam) and Sydney Opera House. Festival appearances include the BBC Proms, Hong Kong, Wellington, Granada, Lucerne, Edinburgh, Istanbul, Prague, Bremen, La Chaise Dieu and Salzburg.


Over 100 recordings reflect The Sixteen’s quality in a range of work spanning the music of 500 years, winning many awards including the coveted Gramophone Award for Early Music and the prestigious Classical Brit Award for Renaissance which was recorded as part of the group’s contract with Universal Classics and Jazz. In 2009 The Sixteen was given the accolade of the Classic FM Gramophone Artist of the Year as well as Best Baroque Vocal for its recording of Handel’s Coronation Anthems.

Since 2001 The Sixteen has been building its own record label, Coro, which released its 100th title in spring 2012. Bringing together live concerts and recording plans has allowed The Sixteen to develop a glittering catalogue of releases, containing music from the Renaissance and Baroque through to great works of our time.

In 2011 the group launched Genesis Sixteen, a new training programme for young singers. Aimed at 18- to 23-year-olds, this is the UK’s first fully-funded choral programme for young singers designed specifically to bridge the gap from student to professional practitioner.

BD:   Suppose one of those people decides they don’t want to record for you anymore, and they are going to sell ice-cream and drive mini-cabs.  [Both laugh]  Does your series come to an end, or do you find other artists?

hanoverband Perry:   No, we generally finish the series.  I’m delighted to say many of the artists whom we record do remain, if not exclusive, they’re certainly loyal.  They don’t storm off and record for thousands of other labels.  There are some exceptions, and it usually depends on their ideas and ambitions.  For instance, The Sixteen, which is a very fine English choir, started off by recording the early English polyphonic repertoirepeople like John Taverner (c. 1490-1545) [not to be confused with John Tavener (1944-2013)], Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), and so on.  But they also want to do baroque, and even twentieth-century music.  They want to do Poulenc, and that territory is being done for us by another choir, the Corydon Singers.  So, I have to tell Harry Christophers of The Sixteen, sorry.  We’ll continue with the early stuff but, if you don’t mind, I won’t do Poulenc.  So Harry feels free to go and approach another label, and therefore it comes out on Virgin, or Collins Classics.

BD:   Does it work the other way round
that people who are recording for other labels but can’t do all of what they want, come to you then and do such and such?

Perry:   Yes, I suppose it does.  It’s all very free and easy.  There’s a very fine orchestra in England called the Hanover Band, which so far has been associated with another label.  They’ve done the mainstream early classical and early romantic stuff, and namely Beethoven symphonies and Schubert symphonies.  

BD:   Now they are coming to you?

Perry:   They are, in fact, exclusive, but it’s a fine orchestra, and the man who directs it is somebody I’ve worked with on other records, with other orchestras.  I have a very high regard for him as a musician, and he loves working with me.  I freely admit I can’t remember where it came from, but the idea came up between us that we should do some Haydn symphonies with the Hanover Band.  So after some months of fairly tough negotiations, I have managed to clear their contractual obligations to the other label, and we are recording the complete symphonies of Joseph Haydn.

BD:   My goodness, all 104?

Perry:   It depends how you count, yes.  There are 104 numbered ones, and a couple of others, and possibly one or two of the 104 aren’t authentic.  In any case, there’s little over a hundred to be done, yes.

BD:   This will take you quite a while.

Perry:   Yes, I suppose it will.  I shall get them done as quickly as I can.  We’ve already got ten in the can.  The first three are coming out in a few weeks’ time.  There are some more recorded and awaiting issue, and we have sessions extending well into next year to do about another twenty.

BD:   Earlier you mentioned that you shouldn’t record umpteenth version of this or that.

Perry:   I did say that, yes.

BD:   But now you’re embarking on yet another set of Haydn, many of which have been done quite often.

Perry:   [Laughing]  Well, the longer you know me, the more you’ll realize I’m a man of inconsistencies!

BD:   But that’s the record business, really!

Perry:   It is, and I feel I can change my mind if I want to.   I always say that I’ll never have a policy, because the trouble with policies is that you’re stuck with them, and there are limitations.  I like to feel free to change my mind as I go along.

*     *     *     *     *

ted perry BD:   I assume you are personally involved, as least to some extent, in every record that comes out under your label?

Perry:   Yes, that is true.  I am involved to some degree.  The way it works is that a record doesn’t get made without my say-so.  The degree of my involvement in actually making it varies widely now because I do have more staff, and, as I’ve explained to you before, I use freelance producers and engineers.  It does happen now that records get made and I don’t have time to go the sessions.  I like to go to sessions because that’s where you meet your artists, but I’m here in North America for a few days, and whilst I’m here, we’re making two very important records, which I would have loved to been present at, but I just cannot be there.  In fact, at this very moment, Tatiana Nikolayeva is doing the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, Op 87, which is important because they were written for her.  I haven’t met her, and I’d have loved to have been there to meet her because she’s a very great and distinguished lady.

BD:   Are there some pieces of music that are in the back of the mind, and you are dying to make, and yet you know that you really can’t because there won’t be enough commercial success?

Perry:   No.  I used to have them, but I no longer have.  At one time I’d have loved to do Martinu’s symphonies with the Czech Philharmonic, but they’re all done now.

BD:   Someone else has beaten you to them?

Perry:   Yes.  I personally adore the early English stuff.  I love to make Byrd and Tallis till the cows come home, because I love it.

BD:   And the new English composers, too?

Perry:   You mean, twentieth-century English music?

BD:   Yes.

Perry:   Up to a point.  [Laughs]

BD:   Tell me a little bit about all of the music by Robert Simpson that you’ve recorded, and are going to record.

Perry:   Yes, Robert Simpson
Bob, we call him.   A little while ago I would have said he’s not the world’s most prolific composer.  There wasn’t all that much music of Simpson to record, but now that he lives in Ireland, he’s writing music like mad.  He’s already got through fourteen string quartets, and he’s about to have the first performance of his Tenth Symphony early next year.  It’s music that I respond to.  It’s well-made music, not bubble and squeak music.  It’s what I call real music.  It’s got sharps and flats and things in it.

BD:   Yet it’s something that the public should be able to listen to without running from the hall?

Perry:   I think so, yes.  He’s in a direct line from the great German symphonists
Schubert, Beethoven, Brucknerand the ScandinaviansNielsen and Sibelius.  He’s a passionate proselytizer of Bruckner.  He’s written books about Bruckner and Beethoven, and his music has form and logic and meaning.

BD:   How did you happen to latch onto him?

Perry:   I’ve actually known him for many years, since the days at that shop where I sold records, because he used to be vaguely employed there.  We used to publish a critical review, and he used to review the records very penetratingly and very amusingly.  He was very funny and very witty man, and I’ve had a very great fondness for him ever since.  I went to the first performances of all his early symphonies.  Now I’m in a position to help him, and I’m delighted to do so.  That’s part of my mission, and it’s only right and proper that an English record company should promote the music of its own land.  So that’s what I do.

BD:   Is the record business too cut-throat?

Perry:   The truth is, I always think there are two record businesses, really.  There’s what I think of a pop business, and there’s the classical business.  They are, in fact, quite different and separate.  They’re sold in different shops, they’re played on different radio stations, and so on.  The pop record business is probably is very cut-throat.  The classical business, surprisingly enough, on the whole isn’t.  It’s a fairly amiable, friendly-rival situation.  We know our colleagues in other labels, and get on with them on the whole.  I wouldn’t say there’s a cut-throat rivalry.  There is certainly a rivalry, of course, but there’s nothing bitter about it at all.

perry BD:   That’s a good thing for everyone.  Do you find making records fun?

Perry:   Oh, yes!  Of course, that’s why I do it.  [Both laugh]  It’s always different, and it’s full of interesting people, as you can imagine.  It’s a varied life.

BD:   Are you now where you wanted to be at this age, since you have your own record company?

Perry:   Yes.  I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.  I don’t remember ever having any sort of major ambitions.  I’m slightly surprised, to be quite truthful, to be where I am.  [Laughs]

BD:   It is a pleasant surprise, I hope?

Perry:   Oh, yes.  It’s happened quite suddenly, really.

BD:   Where’s the future of Hyperion Records
more of the same?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with John Corigliano, and Stephen Hough.]

Perry:   I think so, yes.  I suppose we will continue to travel along the same road.  We might diversify, because I am interested in other aspects and fields, but I don’t yet know how that might happen.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Hyperion ice-cream?  [Much laughter]

Perry:   Oh, no, that was a phase.  A very uncomfortable phase, actually.

BD:   So how would you diversify?

Perry:   Jazz, for instance, and folk music.  I’m very interested in folk music, ethnic music, and so on.  But I don’t know enough about it.  I’d have to take somebody on board who would be suitable, but it probably won’t happen.

BD:   I assume that you will try to stay flexible enough to keep the record company growing rather than just stagnating.

Perry:   Oh, yes, I don’t want to stagnate, no.

BD:   You’ve got to roll with the punches as technology grows.

Perry:   Yes, I see what you mean.  You certainly have to, and that’s quite hard sometimes.  I hated CDs when they came in
not because I didn’t think they were wonderful, because they werebut it was just a complication that I had to deal with, and I needed lots of money which I didn’t have.  I suddenly had to press records of an extra format, at a very expensive price on the other side of the world.  There wasn’t a pressing plant I could get into in Europe, so I had to have them pressed in Japan, pay in advance, and have them shipped at great expense before you’d even sold a single copy.  It was a very worrying time.  That’s what you call rolling with the punches, isn’t it? 

BD:   Yes, but it panned out.

Perry:   But it panned out, yes.

BD:   I wish you lots of continued success with your label.  It’s been fun playing a lot of your recordings, and I always look forward to seeing the next one that comes out.

Perry:   That’s very kind of you to say.  Thank you. 

BD:   Thank you for spending a little time with me today.

Perry:   Oh, it’s been a great pleasure.  Thank you for asking me.


© 1990 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on September 25, 1990.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB two months later.  This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.