INTERVIEW: Tom Beck (Walnut Tree Records)

By Chris Marshman

A couple of days ago, Walnut Tree Records head honcho Tom Beck announced that he was putting the label to bed. Over the last five years, Punktastic has had a close relationship with Walnut Tree Records, with one of the Un Scene comps coming out through the label, so it’s sad to see the day arrive. We spoke to Tom to discuss the reasons why he’s wrapping up the label, and also took a retrospective look at his favourite releases and proudest moments.

You announced yesterday evening that Walnut Tree Records is to be no more, how are you feeling about that at the moment?

I’m saying goodbye to a large part of my life, so I’ll admit to being a little choked up whilst making the announcement. I’ve run the label the whole of my paid career since leaving university so I don’t know anything else really.

The comments I’ve had through Facebook, Twitter, phone texts and on the Punktastic forums have been really appreciated. It’s clear to me now that there are people that care, I’m proud of that.

How long has this decision been coming?

It’s been at the back of my mind for well over four years now, which probably sounds quite dramatic when you think that the label is only five years old. The first year threw up some really difficult situations for me and whilst that made the label better prepared for the future, it certainly shaped my mind set and how hard I can be on myself. I’ve always felt the hard times more than I’ve enjoyed the successes though and I’ve constantly questioned my reasons for carrying on.

The decision started to make more sense this year though, and has really taken hold since Easter. I just wanted to find the right time and the right way to end it.

What made you decide to wrap up Walnut Tree Records?

I think the key factor was a change in my career really. I used to work for a major label and I disagreed with almost everything that went on there, so I used Walnut Tree Records as a way to escape. Music shouldn’t always be about climbing ladders and making mad amounts of money, but that’s exactly what I was part of every day. You see people head in with good intentions and come out completely changed. The same happened to me. I went in wanting to do a good job and to make my mark, and came away fairly bitter and frustrated.

Since January I’ve left full time employment in the music industry and work for a start up video solutions company and it’s a world away from where I was. I’ve got a better attitude to work and I feel like I’ve learnt more in six months than I did in five years at the major label. It’s allowed me to step back and look at what I achieved with Walnut Tree Records and where I wanted to take it from here…and realised that actually I had nothing left to prove to myself. I no longer feel like I need something to escape into. It’s given me a different perspective on running a label. I’d put up with all the little issues that you naturally get with independent music because it was the only way I was bettering myself during the day, sadly.

I’m far from a changed man and I haven’t ‘seen the light’, I’m just more relaxed. I’m enjoying myself more. It feels good.

What strikes me most about Walnut Tree Records was the sheer consistency in the quality of all your output, what has been your favourite release?

This is putting me on the spot a touch Chris, but as you’ve been so complimentary I’ll avoid sitting on the fence with my answer. I’ll pick Portman’s album, From Here To Your Eyes And Ears.

I’ve enjoyed working on almost all of my releases but Portman’s always sticks in my mind. They really understood the ethos behind the label and that took the pressure off for a start. The album also defined my intentions as a label – putting out music I loved, regardless of whether I felt everyone else would love it too. It’s nice to know that so many people did end up liking my bands though, I’ll take ‘sheer consistency in the quality’ as one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Nice one.

Which release have you felt most proud of?

Probably the CD release of Tiger Please ‘They Don’t Change Under Moonlight’. It really highlighted that independent labels can be successful without the need to splash the cash on building an image or paying for PR. Fans had fallen in love with some of my previous releases, but the numbers who to this day still love what we did with Tiger Please and that’s something to be proud of.

Everything was organic too, which made it even sweeter when a year later the band were a centre page poster in Kerrang. To round that off it was the Blink-182 comeback issue, so the framed copy looks great on my living room wall.

Which moment sticks out for you as the very best one being involved with Walnut Tree Records

Cuba Cuba’s appearance at Reading Festival in 2011 was an incredible moment for me. I’ve seen all of my favourite bands at the festival growing up, and I honestly never imagined being stood at the side of a busy stage watching one of my bands there one day. Cuba Cuba were on just before the stage headliners and the line up was running late, by the time they took to the stage you had thousands of kids there expecting to see the Rizzle Kicks (who had just entered the charts at 9th). We got lucky there, however when I walked around the crowd I bumped into so many of my friends and loads of Punktastic regulars. It was brilliant. My little brother, who I’ve always gone to the festival with, came down too and that genuinely meant the world to me.

The buzz backstage as we saw the crowd growing will always stick with me.

In your leaving message you announced that there will be one final release from the label, what can you tell us about that?

As clichéd as it is my final release will be a ‘Greatest Hits’. I wanted a way to tell the story of the label from start to finish and there’s no better way to do that. It will be free to download or stream and will cover all 27 of my releases, featuring a page in the booklet for each one where I talk about what went into the release and why I decided it was right for Walnut Tree Records. You’ll be able to read this booklet online whilst you stream the tracks, or download it as a .pdf with mp3s to enjoy offline.

I’d love to offer a physical copy too but the 30+ pages would make it very expensive and I can’t afford to take that risk. If anyone has any solutions to this then I’m all ears.

I’m writing the booklet this summer and hope to have it ready to go in September. Perhaps this isn’t the most original or exciting way to go out; it’ll serve a purpose though. If you’ve read any of my interviews before and think you’ve heard the story a few times then I promise you that you’ll still find something fresh here.

You leave behind a work ethic like no other, always trying to do things the right way, what would you say to any aspiring independent labels out there?

This is probably a really clichéd answer, I apologise. I can’t stress enough how important I found it to follow my passions and not the fashions. Help bands and put out their music because you enjoy what they do and the way they do it. Jumping onto bandwagons will work at times but when you’re having a difficult day and you’ve got label work to come home to it is far easier to motivate yourself if it’s something you believe in. Even then it can be draining.

It’s also worth taking your time and making sure that the label works around you, your finances and your time scales. It’s hard to push back on bands at times and I really wish I’d learnt to do that earlier. If something sounds like an expensive risk to you then don’t just close your eyes and hope it will be okay.

Good luck too, you’ll need it at times.

What’s next for you, I believe you’re heavily involved in Believe/Revolt records?

That’s right, I’m working with Gary Lancaster (who handled PR for a number of my bands, including some excellent work with Tiger Please) on Believe Revolt. The initial idea there was to work with bands that didn’t really fit onto Walnut Tree Records but I still loved them and wanted to find a way to help them. It’s never been seen as a replacement for Walnut Tree though, I know a few people wondered if I was shutting up shop to focus my time on Believe Revolt. That’s not the case at all.

If I’m honest I was preparing to walk away from Believe Revolt too. We met up yesterday to discuss my reasons for trying to leave independent music behind and he said a lot that made sense to me and convinced me that cutting all ties with music wasn’t for the best. I’m not going to be involved in the day to day efforts as much going forwards, I’ll be helping Gary as we go and offering advice and support when it’s needed though. He really values my opinions, experience and ear for bands and I think that will fit well with his connections and new take on promoting music. He has some great ideas at times and we’ll make a success of this.

Outside of music I’ll be as busy as ever. I’ve always worked full time and have a career to consider, which is going really well right now. I’m certainly not someone who will be lacking in options for hobbies and people to spend my time with either.

Is this a definite end for Walnut Tree Records or do you think you may be tempted into putting any further releases out under that name?

I’m not going to rule it out at this stage, but it would take a very good opportunity for me to even re-consider it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add at all?

Big thank you to yourself, Tom Aylott and if we go a little further back Paul Savage for every news item, forum post, interview, review, stream, video exclusive that you’ve helped me out with over the years. In addition to this all three of you have listened to me rant over the last few years and I value the support. Thanks guys.

I have a cast of hundreds I need to thank properly and I’ll be making my way through the list over the next few months. I’m also keen to show my thanks in the notes of my final release- so if you’ve ever bought something from Walnut Tree Records then keep an eye on that.


Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]