Originally published March 2009
Dome Records: Rising To The Top
Written by Imran Mirza
Boasting a who's who of contemporary and established soul artists, Dome Records has proven to be one of the few stable homes for a consistent quality of soul and R&B in the UK. So much so, that aside from the homegrown UK talent, including the names synonymous with British R&B (Beverley Knight, Full Flava and Don-E), Dome also houses an abundance of US acts including Eric Roberson, Conya Doss and Anthony David. Chances are, if you're a fan of contemporary soul music, you already own a handful of releases with the 'Dome' stamp printed on the back.
Dome Records was initially started in 1992 by Peter Robinson, in conjunction with EMI until the label became fully independent in 1995; and was neverinitially intended to be an urban label - just with the premise to, as Robinson himself would declare, "Put out quality records". He further explains, "We've always had a feeling that the vocals are what mattered and the quality of the performance ... I spent many years when I worked at major labels putting out pop records of all kinds, some of them by not very good singers, and sometimes they were very successful despite not involving very good singers, but at Dome, my orientation has always been to put out quality records with good vocalists, and not worry too much if they're selling huge quantities".
Robinson's resume' reads like a dream team of commercial soul and popular music in the 70s and 80s - after having been involved in top-tier A&R positions for RCA, Chrysalis and CBS (before CBS would go on to become Sony Music), Dome's Managing Director also found himself behind albums from artists including Five Star, Imagination, Luther Vandross, The Emotions, Earth Wind & Fire and Sharon Redd, among the countless other names and movements during this golden age of commercial and glam-filled treasures.
One of Dome's first signings was with early-90s male vocalist, Sinclair, whose debut album, 'I Want You Back', generated the hugely popular summer anthems, 'I Want You Back' and 'Cassanova', but it was after hooking up with Lulu, and releasing 'I'm Back For More', that Dome received its first taste of chart success. The album featured a duet with Bobby Womack, along with tracks with the Bee Gees, and a song originally recorded by Lulu herself, before being handed to Tina Turner, 'I Don't Wanna Fight'. The release of Beverley Knight's debut album, 'The B-Funk', in 1994 (featuring the popular single, 'Flavour of the Old School') and eventual signing of Hill St Soul marked the beginning of Dome's orientation towards urban black music, and in turn, their decision to take on American acts as well...
"Initially, we were making a virtue out of the fact we were working with British artists" explains Robinson, "But then we started to get offered a lot of American content. There never have been many British labels specialising in soul and R&B, so we were finding that increasingly we were getting offered stuff, so we picked up on a few things that Choice were heavily exposing, like Dennis Taylor, 'Enough is Enough', who we did a deal with that lead on to three albums ... Things just picked up to the point where we were offered most of the decent independent soul artists, like Rahsaan Patterson, and from Rahsaan, subsequently we ended up getting involved with Eric Roberson, and Rosie Gaines".
Dome's knack of establishing these long-term relationshipswith their artists is something that's worked well for them on many fronts - one notable example is through their partnership with Rob Derbyshire, who formed the Birmingham-based band, Full Flava, and released 'Chinese Whispers', 'Colour of My Soul' and 'Music is our Way of Life', which have featured guest vocals from Carleen Anderson, Alison Limerick, Chantay Savage, CeCe Penistone and, Dome's very own, Beverlei Brown, and are releases that have served the label well.
The list goes on with Eric Roberson and Rahsaan Patterson - two American, independent and contemporary soul artists, who used to be signed to major labels but currently release their music via their own labels in the US, and turn to Dome for their UK distribution.
Urban black music has always managed to stay at the forefront of what is considered popular commercial music - from prominent acts like James Brown and Marvin Gaye in the 60s and 70s, to Prince and Michael Jackson in the 80s, and the emergence of R&B vocal groups and new jack swing in the 90s, highlighted by popular names including Jodeci, Boyz II Men, Babyface and Mary J Blige. Commercial radio, marketing, record labels, etc have always targeted a teen audience including high sales expectations, with the current torch carriers, Beyonce, Rihanna and Ne-Yo, not to mention the huge commercial appeal of established hip-hop acts like Jay-Z, Kanye West and Eminem. There still has to be a home for independent artists who wish to work free from the constrictions that major labels may enforce in a bid to reach sales targets - one of the most notable inclusions to the current Dome roster are the legendary (acid-)jazz/soul group, Incognito, who were previously signed to Universal Records, and now find themselves happily housed by Dome in the UK, consistently releasing material and pulling in large numbers through live performances.
For contemporary soul music fans, it's certainly the consensus that they're supporting an under-represented genre, where artists with a wealth of talent can quite often fall by the wayside due to a lack of exposure, but the reassuring thing is that it IS there, and Dome Records are certainly doing everything they can to bring it to your attention, as Peter Robinson concludes:
"Over the years, we've attracted more artistsbecause partly, there aren't too many other people doing what we're doing, and partly, the word of mouth is very good of the way we treat our artists. It may not be possible to sell huge numbers of albums, but we've been around for a while, and we'd like to think we know a good record from a bad record. We don't go out looking for much these days, they tend to come to us ... people are coming to us, particularly from the US, because of people saying 'these guys will do a job for you', and we certainly try to do that to the best of our ability".
We thought it only appropriate to explore a selection of classic Dome releases, so sifting through their ever-expanding catalogue of rousing soul music, Liberation Frequency is proud to present three of our favourite picks:
Incognito – Bees + Things + Flowers (2006)
The legendary, and vastly under-appreciated, Incognito can boast numerous Dome Records releases to their name, including ‘Who Needs Love’, ‘Tales From The Beach’, ‘Eleven’ and ‘Adventures In Black Sunshine’, among others. As usual, the album is headed up by Jean-Paul Maunick (Bluey), and ‘Bees + Flowers + Things’ marks the group’s first album consisting of cover versions. Songs by Roy Ayers and Earth, Wind & Fire see their work given a deluxe makeover, as well previous works by Incognito themselves, which are given new perspectives, and help paint the portrait of true summer soul music.
‘Bees + Flowers + Things’ was rivalled by a fellow Incognito release, ‘Who Needs Love’, for inclusion on this list (which we hold in equal esteem), but was narrowly pipped to the post due to the incredible cover of America’s ‘Tin Man’ that is a sublime slice of soul music and a remake that needs to be heard, appreciated and adored!
Eric Roberson – …Left (2007)
Eric Roberson (Erro) has long been one of contemporary soul’s most bankable artists. With album releases that have spanned nearly 10 years, as well as being a staple on the live circuit (including being a long-term resident at London’s Jazz Café), Eric Roberson’s 2007 album release, ‘…Left’, went leaps and bounds to introducing him to a new market.
The album featured Roberson’s first guest vocals from a hip-hop artist (Phonte of Little Brother), along with production from Kev Brown, James Poyser and J Dilla. A consistent and cohesive piece of work highlighting Roberson’s vocal, production and song-writing ability – his talents soar through unique songs like ‘Only For You’, ‘The Baby Song’, ‘Iluvu2much’ and the luxurious 8+ minute, ‘Couldn’t Hear Her’, with extraordinary guitar-work from Curt Chambers.
Hopefully, through Dome Records, his mature and versatile blend of soul music will continue to grow and be heard for many more years to come.
Conya Doss – A Poem About Ms Doss (2002)
The award-winning soul singer marked the beginning of her long-term relationship with Dome Records in 2002, with the release of her debut album, ‘A Poem About Ms Doss’, which has, at this time, been followed by a further three albums, ‘Just Because’, ‘Love Rain Down’ and ‘Still…’.
Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Doss has a CV that lists her having worked with 3LW, Dwele and Gerald Levert, as well as being the recipient of numerous awards from BET to Soultraks.
‘A Poem About Ms Doss’, the album that started it all, was produced by Tony Nicholas (who would go on to head up Nu Mecca Records) and was littered with stirring soul songs from mid-tempo grooves, to lush ballads, and even including a standout cover of Norman Connors and Michael Henderson’s ‘You Are My Starship’. A solid debut outing from a consistently evolving artist, with an ever-expanding Dome Records library.