I met Lombardoni for the first time in 1986, someone introduced me to him when I was in Italy to see my parents.
Over the next couple of years we kept in touch because we had this plan of setting up a company to press Discomagic tunes as UK releases. Lombardoni was well aware of the potential of the UK market as he had tasted success with the 1983 UK Top 5 hit “Dolce Vita” by Ryan Paris.
However, this was well before “Ride on Time” opened the door to Italian labels over here and the logistics were very challenging. At that time Lombardoni did not have his own vinyl factory and everything would have to be manufactured in the UK at great expense.
I did find some backers in the City who were prepared to invest in the project and we had a few meetings to prepare a business plan but in the end, nothing came of it.
In the spring of 1989, on a memorable day, I visited him in his office and he said “Roland, listen to this and tell me if you think it can do well in the UK because a label has just paid me 1,000 dollars for it!” and he proceded to play me “Ride on Time”…
I told him I thought it was excellent and that it could possibly get in the top 20 with a bit of luck and asked him who sang on the track.
I still remember to this day his apologeti expression when he said the famous last words: “I don’t know! They took the vocals from some vinyl called ”Accapella Anonymous” that I imported from the USA. It’s some obscure track and hopefully no one will notice…”
Several court cases and a few £ millions later, Italian Piano House was born!
From August 12, 1989 when it entered the UK charts, to October, every week I was faxing Lombardoni the Record Mirror official charts so he could know what was happening (there was no Internet or email!) and it was at number 1 for six weeks.
In the following couple of years, he invested by buying two vinyl factories in Italy, including Astro Record, the factory where eventually Disco Magic UK would manufacture almost all of their vinyl in the early 90s.
Finally, at MIDEM in January 1992, we started discussing the details of the project and agreed the time had come. Lombardoni would give me the right to use any track from his catalogue without an advance and to manufacture the vinyl at his plant for a very reasonable price and with 90-day credit.
I would set up my own company and run it independently without any financial support from him. Labels and sleeves would be cheaper too because I would get the same prices that he had negotiated for himself.
Disco Magic UK would then pay an agreed royalty for every record sold and pay mechanical rights to composers through a copyright society as well as a monthly fee to Lombardoni directly for “facilitating the discounts”!
EARLY DAYS OF DISCO MAGIC UK
We started Disco Magic UK because we believed that if records were sold at UK price instead of import price (£3.99 / £4.49 instead of £10+), they would reach a much wider audience. So from the start, I wanted to make it clear that our vinyl was a UK product, not an import, by ensuring that labels and sleeves clearly indcated it and our dealer price was the same (or less) than other UK releases (£1.79 + VAT).
At first, some stores were selling our vinyl at import price, sometimes because the dealers sold them to shops as imports… somebody was making a huge profit and it wasn’t us! This defied the whole purpose of Disco Magic UK.
Eventually, buyers came to realise these were UK products and expected to pay UK prices. I remember threatening our dealers to stamp every record sleeve with “DO NOT PAY MORE THAN £3.99 FOR THIS RECORD!”
A key selling point for us was that our releases were identical to the original imports, because we were using the exact same metalwork as the originals and we were pressing them in the same factory in Italy.
CHOOSING A COPYRIGHT SOCIETY
This presented a problem: records pressed in Italy must have a physical stamp from SIAE, the Italian copyright society, on the label. This was strictly enforced by all factories in Italy with the risk of heavy fines.
I did not want the SIAE stamp on our records because it would have made them look like import copies.
Eventually SIAE agreed that I was right under EU law and all our vinyl, although manufactured in Italy legally, did not need a SIAE stamp. We obtained mechanical licences from MCPS and faxed them to the plant in Italy.
The manager of Astro Record was shocked! It took an official letter from SIAE to convince her she could press records for us without the “bollino SIAE” on the label without risking being fined and closed down!
However, our records were sealed at the factory and could not be sold in Italy unless they were shipped to the UK first and then re-exported to Italy, which was fine with me.
PRESSING IN LOMBARDONI’S ITALIAN FACTORY
Another characteristic of most of our early releases was the scratched out catalogue numbers: since we were using the original Italian metalwork, which had the origiinal Italian catalogue numbers, when they made us new stampers the factory crossed out the old catalogue number from our stampers and etched our UK catalogue numbers.
We could have saved even more by pressing from the original stampers, which had been used for the Italian pressings, but that would have been a compromise on quality as stampers degrade quickly after about 1,000 copies. So we had new ones made every time (the metalwork can produce up to 10 stampers).
The savings we made by using the original metalwork and the heavy discounts we were getting from Lombardoni’s factory, Astro Record, were all passed on to the UK fans. These discounts also extended to the sleeve and label printers and that’s why we could afford lots of different colours and styles for our sleeves.
Shipping 10,000 records from Italy to the UK via courier (we used Beauvois) cost only about £300 and of course there were no import or custom duties and no paperwork to fill in those pre-brexit days.
So with everything ready and set, we started with our first batch of Disco Magic UK releases…
You can order the printed edition of the VINYL HISTORY book or the PDF digital edition from the Disco Magic UK webstore: