By John Dingwall, The Daily Record
A budding record label boss discovered pop sensation Emeli Sandé after responding to her advert on the small ads website Gumtree.
John Ansdell recognised her talent straight away and recorded her first tracks. John recalls: “I found an ad in the Gumtree music section from a singer called Adele Sandé who was looking to collaborate with a producer. She cited D’Angelo, my favourite artist, as one of her influences so I got in touch. I had actually done music production as a hobby for six months so I emailed her some music that I produced. She liked it so we agreed to meet.”
“I went to see her perform and I could tell straight away that she was an incredible talent. Not only could she sing but she was also a great songwriter and musician – she ticked every box. I knew that she had the potential to be a superstar. It turned out that she lived around the corner from me in Hyndland so we set up a meeting in my flat. We hit it off right away and made a very impromptu contract there and then for me to release her first album – and she became my first signing to the label,” he said.
John signed Emeli to his new record label, which he set up with the help of a £1,000 grant from Business Gateway and a £5,000 loan from the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust. It seems a somewhat paltry amount when one sees the millions spent on marketing alone by entertainment giants such as Time Warner and EMI, but John took advantage of it and was determined to help up-and-coming talent. “I came along and she was delighted to have the chance to make music so long as she could manage it with her studies. I wanted to give her more focus. Instead of playing the odd gig here and there, I wanted a proper launch and a full album recorded.”
Once the album, called Have You Heard?, was completed, John set about organising an album launch. The young music entrepreneur had sunk his funding into the launch, sparing no expense when it came to making sure the night was a huge success. The same week Emeli was due to perform at Òran Mór, Glaswegians were spoiled for musical choice. Rock legends Status Quo, vocalist Eddie Reader, Emma Pollock and Glasvegas all had gigs within a one-mile radius. But with John’s entrepreneurial spirit, the Òran Mór album launch was a sell-out.
“We launched the album in December 2007 at Glasgow’s Òran Mór. It was an amazing night – the venue was packed and her performance, backed by a full band, was incredible,” he said. Those who attended the gig got their hands on an extremely limited CD featuring a handful of Emeli’s songs. Ansdell said: “There were eight tracks on the CD. Seven were tracks she recorded for me and one was a live track she did for the competition at the BBC for Trevor Nelson’s show.”
John and Emeli, who later dropped her Christian name and adopted her middle name to avoid confusion with singer Adele Adkins, planned to press more CD copies of the album for a nationwide release. But John had overstretched himself. He struggled to raise more finance because Emeli – at the time studying neuroscience at Glasgow University – was still an unknown quantity.
“Unfortunately, the launch used up the majority of the funding I quickly ran out of money. It was a frustrating time. I tried desperately to find an investor but no one was willing to take a gamble.” Months later, John and Emeli released an EP, also under the name Adele Sandé. Very few people are aware of the existence of the tracks, Best Friend, Has Needs, Your Song and Baby’s Eyes. “It took me a year to find the investment, which came in the same week Emeli got an offer from Virgin”, says John. “The extra funding came too late for me to continue working with her but I was delighted a major label recognised her talent.”
Despite Emeli’s recent success, John resisted the temptation to release the EP on CD and cash in on her fame. “There was interest from half a dozen labels. Big ones. I got offers from private investors. I knocked back everything because it didn’t feel right. But the tracks were so good I wanted people to know they existed. My preference was for Virgin EMI to take it because she is their artist,” he said. Long after Emeli’s career took off, Ansdell got his reward when Virgin EMI stepped in and bought the EP. The label is considering the songs being available at a future date.
The pair have remained friends and Emeli is tipping John for success with his new company, Innovation Music, run from his home in Glasgow’s west end. Emeli said: “John is brilliant. He is a really cool guy. He was a big supported. He is great and his whole family are really lovely. It’s brilliant to hear he is working on breaking new acts. I think he’ll do very well.” The star also thanks John and his family in the liner notes to Our Version Of Events.
John, mentored by top Scots songwriter John McLaughlin, is working with producer Jud Mahoney, who has worked with Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Justin Timberlake. “Since the investment came through I have been working on several projects by Grammy-nominated US artist Muhsinah, acoustic hip-hop artist Me One and the late UK soul singer Lynden David Hall. I have also discovered some up-and-coming local talent too.”
John said “I am proud to have been a part of Emeli’s career at the start. She has gone on to write for and collaborate with major artists but I’m excited she finally has the platform to showcase her talent and ability as a solo artist. Back then I didn’t have the support network and financial backing that I have now. But things have certainly worked out well for both of us. I’m still in touch with her and would love to collaborate on a project with her sometime in the future. The challenge for me now is to find a new artist who can match her success. If the act does half as well as Emeli’s doing right now then I’ll be happy.”