Oriole Records (UK)

Oriole Records was the first British record label founded in 1925 by the London-based Levy Company, which owned a gramophone record subsidiary called Levaphone Records.



The Levy family founded a record shop that also sold bicycles and sewing machines at 19 High Street, Whitechapel, and later moved to 139 High Street. Oriole recorded popular music in England, and also issued masters from the United States Vocalion Records in May and June 1927. The original label was discontinued in 1935.

Jacques Levy produced records starting in 1931 at the West End studios at Rosslyn House, 94-98 Regent Street, London, where they stayed until 1937 when they moved to 73 New Bond Street, with chief engineers Ted Sibbick and Bill Johnson, built into what was once an art gallery. In 1949, they segregated the work and the label, with Oriole Records Ltd moving into 101 New Bond Street, London, and with Levy moving out to a factory at Aston Clinton, near Aylesbury. From 1938 or 1939, David Morris Levy lived nearby at Flat 98, Clarence Gate Gardens, near Baker Street until his 1971 death, and also maintained a residence in Birchington, Kent.

The owner, David Morris Levy, and his brother Jacques (no relation to his Roulette Records namesake) revived the Oriole label in 1950. For a few years (ending in 1955) it was the exclusive UK licensee for the American Mercury Records label, with releases by artists such as Frankie Laine, Vic Damone and Patti Page. These releases appeared first on the Oriole label itself, and later on the Mercury label.

First hits

Oriole achieved a few home-made hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including the Chas McDevitt skiffle group's version of "Freight Train" (featuring Nancy Whiskey on vocals); "Like I Do" by Maureen Evans (based on the same music as Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" – Amilcare Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours – and the label's biggest hit), Russ Hamilton's "We Will Make Love", which reached #2 in the UK Singles Chart, and the B-side of which ("Rainbow") reached #4 in the US Billboard Hot 100 on Kapp Records. The label also had successes with tracks licensed from European labels, notably Domenico Modugno's original recording of Volare and recordings by the Swedish instrumental group the Spotnicks. In the 1960s Oriole licensed several productions by Joe Meek, performed by the Dowlands, Alan Klein and Screaming Lord Sutch. It also distributed several American hits from Columbia Records in the US.

Embassy Records

Oriole also produced cover versions of the hits of the day, which it released on its cut-price Embassy Records label, sold exclusively in Woolworths stores. The repertoire consisted of cut-price cover versions of British pop hits, first released in November 1954. It later included session cover performances by such future stars as Elton John (then singing as Reg Dwight).

Tamla Motown on Oriole American

During the tenure of A&R manager John Schroeder, Oriole was the first UK label (after the odd release on London and Fontana) to license recordings on a regular basis from the US Tamla and Motown catalogues, but none of the releases charted (it was not until a few years later, and on EMI's Stateside label, that the Detroit-based label would begin its run of hits in the UK). Nonetheless, several of the singles have since come to be highly regarded, with famous recordings including "Do You Love Me" (The Contours), "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" (The Miracles), and "Fingertips" (Little Stevie Wonder). Oriole released nineteen Motown releases on their black and white Oriole American label, whilst seven albums appeared on the normal black and yellow Oriole label. The company was known as Tamla Motown outside the US, and these were some of its rarest releases.

Takeover by US Columbia

The Oriole record company had two record pressing factories, one situated in Aston Clinton and the other in Colnbrook. It lasted until 21 September 1964, when it was bought by CBS, parent of the American Columbia Records, who were looking to set up their own manufacturing facility in the UK. The result was CBS Records, and with its coming the Oriole label would be phased out. The company was officially renamed CBS Records in 1965.[1] David Morris Levy originally stayed on as managing director, but severed all ties with CBS in 1967.

David Morris Levy's sons, John Jacob, an attorney at Nicholas Morris in London, and Edward Frederick, principal of Chelsea Music Publishing in London, are still active in the music industry.


See also

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