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Embassy Records. The label that reigned supreme, on Woolworth’s counters, from 1955 to 1965.

Levy’s, the independent UK recording company, which, later, became Oriole began life in the late twenties in Whitechapel. Levy’s specialised in early gramophones and records, however to supplement their income they also sold sewing machines and hired out cycles.

In 1931 ‘Levaphone’ records was established and they began importing and distributing US and Continental recordings, a number of which they licensed to Levaphone.  Subsequently they secured a loyal following of jazz musicians as they embarked on importing niche ‘hot jazz’ records; coincidentally Oriole was the first and sole distributor of Django Reinhardt’s recordings.

By the late thirties they had established Levy’s Sound Studios at 73 New Bond Street, a former dance hall and sometime gallery. The sons of the Chairman, Maurice and Jacques Levy were introduced into the business and together they created ‘Oriole Records’ and embarked on creating a catalogue. The pressing of records was done ‘in house’ and consequently Oriole was rapidly outgrowing the old Whitechapel premises.

Unfortunately the War was to intervene, however after hostilities ceased, at Aston Clinton a pressing and manufacturing plant was purchased and equipped - shortly after additional premises were acquired at Colnbrook. The retail business was transferred from Whitechapel to 315/7 Oxford Street and an administration office and dubbing suite was installed across the road from the Studio at 110 New Bond Street.

Levy’s business was growing and Jacques enthusiasm for ‘taking in washing’ (pressing for other companies) was filling their ever-expanding order book. In 1953 Levy’s obtained the lucrative UK licence to press and distribute the Mercury catalogue. Additionally they manufactured for the BBC and began distributing high quality classical recordings on their Allegro label. Other enterprises embraced Jewish, Ukrainian, Scots, Hebrew and Yiddish catalogues, alongside a spoken word and comedic series.

In 1955 they were commissioned by Woolworth’s to produce a ‘budget’ label, to be sold exclusively through their UK outlets. The idea was simple; predict the next ‘hit’ and produce a reasonable copy to be sold in the Woolworth store and sell it, at a price undercutting the originals’ cost. And generally they did - ‘Embassy’ recordings tend to be dismissed as poor copies of the originals,however many have been assessed as good as - or better than the originals.

The fifties were good to Oriole; they had their first million sellers in ‘We Will Make Love’ (45 CB 1359) by Russ Hamilton, and with ‘Freight Train’ (CB 45 1352) by Chas McDevitt and Nancy Whiskey and additionally several other minor big sellers… nevertheless their enthusiasm for producing masters and pressing for other companies, even when at times when their own facilities were stretched began to compromise their own releases, in the ephemeral world of popular music, continuity of supply is fundamental consequently a number of their own releases suffered from poor response to orders. Indeed the insufferable chairman of Decca, Edward Lewis once stated that the best way to stymie an Oriole recording was to give Maurice a pressing instruction.

Perhaps Maurice’s greatest mistake was his response - or correctly - his lack of response to the 60’s beat explosion, he was alleged to have stated that ‘It was a craze and would go the way of skiffle’ as a result Oriole missed the boat and although belatedly they were to place an advertisement in the Liverpool Echo exhorting bands to contact them, the horse had bolted…..............READ ON>