Not much happens in Bricket Wood. Hany El-Naggar, 61, of Oakwood Road, was fined £819 after exceeding a 30MPH speed limit—he also received a penalty of five points on his license. Back in January, after a protracted battle local pensioner Kenneth Bruce, 82, finally had his water pipe problem solved. The local Post Office was shut for 10 days, with customers being advised to "use alternative nearby branches in either Watford Road, Chiswell Green, or The Gossamers in Garston." The arrival of a new open-plan layout was some salve to the inhabitants of the town. Being charitable, you'd describe the place as a quintessential English nowhere, a town just like another other. Being harsh you'd probably just call it dull.
Paul "Mudd" Murphy, the producer, DJ, and mastermind behind one of the UK's most consistently great record labels, is firmly in the former mindset. "It was a great place to grow up," he tells me. "We had so much freedom." Murphy's free time was spent breakdancing in old air red shelters, protecting his property from rival graffiti gangs, and getting up to no good on BMXs before returning home with "bumps on our heads and grazes on our knees," to no.56, Claremont.
For a decade now, Murphy's been changing the image of his sleepy Hertfordshire home, one incredible release at a time. The name "Claremont 56" now conjures up images of sun-kissed mediterranean coves, and long, languorous days spent under Californian palms, which is a far cry from from the pebbledash and chicken tikka masala of provincial life in gloomy middle England. Since its inception in 2007, the imprint has played host to the likes of Felix Dickinson, Phil Mison, and Blackbelt Anderson, putting it up there with Aficionado and International Feel in the Balearic big boys stakes.
For a certain kind of music fan, Claremont 56 has become one of those "buy-on-sight" imprints, a label that oozes class. Which, as one of those aforementioned certain kinds of music fan will tell you between bits of a panini in a tastefully decorated cafe, careful not to spill aioli all over his brand new Battenwear slacks, can be dangerous. Pick up any of their Originals series of compilations—put together by everyone from Moonboots and Balearic Mike to Lexx —and you'll be sucked into an overdraft-draining Discogs wormhole, desperate to get your grubby mitts on all manner of highly rare, regarded, and pricey tackle. Who needs hot water when you can bathe in the glorious glow of a German boss nova 12"?
If there was one thing the nation's Balearic dads were crying out for this Father's Day, it was the very swanky five record Claremont 56 Ten Year Anniversary 2007-2017 boxset. An untouchable collection of the best material that Murphy's label have released since the year Leo Sayer escaped the Big Brother house after the all-seeing-eye refused to give him a change of clean underwear. For those of you who traded in the Technics for another batch of ringspun Champion t-shirts, don't fret—Murphy's releasing a CD version that comes with an exclusive disc of edits by the legendary Idjut Boys. Who, it turns out, are pivotal parts of the whole Claremont story.
Murphy met the Boys—AKA Conrad McDonnell and Dan Tyler—way back in 1993. Having become a regular at the duo's Phreeek parties at the Cross, Murphy hooked up with a few mates and ploughed his student loan into buying a Roland JV1080, which they teamed up with a Mac he'd been given by his dad. "It was the one with the tiny screen," he remembers, "on which we loaded an ancient form of Cubase." They—Murphy and friends Tom Lee, and Steve Kotey—took their experiments to McDonnell, who gently suggested that the trio invest in a proper sampler. Aware that their technical limitations meant their admittedly "nice melodies," sounded a tad computer generated, they waited for another loan day and splashed out on an Akai 200. Akwaaba was born. In 1999, after two albums, a couple of 12"s and a few remixes, Akwaaba died.
Shortly after, Murphy found himself living it up in San Francisco. McDonnell had introduced him to Ben Cook, a vinyl fanatic who went on to launch everyone's favourite oddball-disco label Rong Records. "We hit it off and became good friends," Murphy says. "He showed me some great spots in Castro to buy disco records," including a 12"-stacked garage that housed gem after gem. Handily, Cook had a key for it. That friendship lead to the release of Murphy's best known track, the gloriously gloopy "Adventures in Bricket Wood," a tune that rapidly became a firm favourite amongst the cosmic disco cognoscenti.
And it's that musical sphere which Claremont largely exists in. Floating between beardy Balearic breezers and slo-mo chuggers, pretty much everything they've ever pressed up shares a shimmering, crystalline quality. Tracks like the luminous "Icasol" by Ongou, an undulating, dusky epic, or Torn Sail's gently-fried, country-rock roller "Birds," are custom built for bear hugs and Croatian sunrises—all plashes and ripples. Then you've got tracks like Dedication's seminal, spacey, piano house classic "Let Me Rock You" and Mark E's super-low-slung take on Murhpy's own "Vincent," devilishly delightful cuts that are guaranteed to do wonderfully strange things to discerning dancefloors.
The 10th anniversary set is proof, if proof needs be, that Murphy's created and curated an imprint that deserves a central place in the story of left-field dance music under late-capitalism. After all, any label that brings Larry Heard and Ron Trent together with Can founder Holger Czukay has to be worth memorialising. Czukay, who Murphy describes as "a fascinating man, with lots of wonderful stories," now makes up nearly 10% of the entire Claremont background, which if nothing else is a testament for just how mad about him Murphy is. Inspired by a live performance of DJ Harvey favourite "Ode to Perfume" Murphy spent months tracking him down, eventually getting hold of Czukay's wife Ursa.
After what he says was a "45 minute grilling over the phone," the Czukay's eventually agreed to a limited edition 10" release of the aforementioned track on Claremont 56. The trio have since become firm friends, with Murphy even trimming the bushes of the Czukay's garden when he visits them at home in the little village they live in just outside of Cologne.
In a way, that sums up the Claremont 56 ethos. A small label that releases amazing records in small numbers, each 12" or CD lovingly received by a close-knit core of listeners who want to experience a little slice of pure pleasure. Long may it continue.
The Claremont box-set drops at the end of July.