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For the record: The evolution of Lush music and ECC Records

Figaro Figaro, Intergalactic, Sex Bomb, Groovy Kind Of Love… It might sound to the uninitiated like a particularly wild karaoke playlist, but Lush customers are more likely to see it as a perfectly reasonable shopping list.  If you’ve ever picked up a product in your local Lush and thought that it couldn’t just be a coincidence that its name was a pun on one of your favourite songs or artists, then you’d be right. Lush co-founder Mark has always done exactly what most of us would when tasked with naming products – he’s given a nod to the things he loves, whether that’s Leonard Cohen with The Olive Branch shower gel, or Paul Weller with The Modfather bubble bar. Yet Lush’s relationship with music goes far deeper than just the odd quirky song reference.

How it all began

In fact, when Lush branched out into spa treatments back in 2009, Mark saw music as an essential part of the experience. He got in touch with the musician Simon Emmerson of The Imagined Village, after he saw his band perform at the Poole Art Centre in Dorset, and asked him to write and record some specially commissioned music to complement each of the spa treatments. It didn’t take long for Mark and Simon’s mutual love of birdsong to surface. Their soundtrack to the first treatment, Synaesthesia, which featured natural soundscapes of jackdaws and hawk owls, among other beautiful birds, was so lovely, that Mark decided it should be made available for customers to purchase. It was promptly pressed up on vinyl, and so ECC Records – or Emmerson, Corncrake & Constantine – was created, with Corncrake being a tip of the hat to the bird.

Albums released so far on ECC Records feature a gorgeous mishmash of spa music, birdsong, and artists whose work Mark wanted to make available. Its offshoot, ECC 100 – so called because he plans to release 100 records – is Mark’s personal project, which exists to ‘seek out exceptional new, original music, explore the quirky and eclectic, and celebrate the back catalogues of artists that we have loved for many years’.

Through vinyl compilations like The Self Preservation Society (whose fuchsia pink cover is emblazoned with an image of Intergalactic bath bomb), and the new Instant Replay, Mark has gathered a ‘loose collective’ of musicians he loves, including legendary folk artists Martin and Eliza Carthy, and Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside, to record some of his favourite songs. As he explains, ‘The compilations are autobiographical of me as a music lover. I’m going to go right the way to the end with them’. Those who have already heard the wonderful ‘60s and ‘70s selections, will also be excited to know Mark is currently putting together a collection of his ‘80s favourites for the musicians to interpret. 

Where to start

If you haven’t heard any of the records yet, then ECC 100’s label manager, Mira Manga, recommends giving Instant Replay a spin, as it is ‘a collection of covers from the ‘70s featuring a ridiculous number of talented singers and musicians... You’re bound to find a few tracks you love on there!’

Simon Emmerson, who both performs on some of the releases and produces them, finds it hard to pick just one. ‘I think the Hard Day’s Night Treatment album is fantastic – especially if you’re a Beatles fan. It is a tricky one when you are having to interpret such iconic songs but I’m very proud of what we did. If you’re into folk music, then definitely try From Source To Sea because that’s got a great interpretation of classic sea shanties. But, with the compilations, you get the whole breadth of vision there in the label.’

Reasons to indulge

Whether you are new to vinyl or a longstanding record collector, Lush compilations have something for everyone – big hits and obscure songs sit perfectly together across a triple vinyl set, some songs performed by artists you may have heard of (Lush skincare fans may recognise the name Jackie Oates, for instance, as she inspired the original colour supplement) and others that might be new to you.

For those of you who like to listen to your music digitally, ECC records come with a USB of hi-resolution audio files, so you can listen to the music on the go. Some even contain fantastic bonus tracks. And for anyone who might be curious about why we have chosen to release on vinyl, it is much like having a Lush bath – sometimes you just want to fully switch off, indulge, and treat yourself.

Why vinyl?

For Mira, it’s about people ‘remembering, (or experiencing for the first time!) the thrill of the album as a complete experience. One where you enjoy poring over the artwork and the sleeve notes as you open it up, drop the needle on the record and settle down to listen and enjoy. It’s about bringing back that relationship between the listener and music and the pleasure of indulging in a whole album.’

 For Simon Emmerson, the most exciting thing ECC offers its listeners is authenticity and quality. ‘It is Mark coming along’, he says, ‘and saying he wants a vinyl label that puts the power, majesty, and dignity back into music and music production. That itself is honourable and music to all of our ears!’.

A family affair

When you discover a song or artist you love on one of the records, you’ll be pleased to know that they can be heard on many other ECC 100 releases. As Mira points out, ‘the label has a family feel, with our musicians collaborating across different projects and working together regularly. Musicians who helped develop our spa soundtracks appear at Lush events and perform on albums we put out. And they guest star on each other’s albums too!’ 

Many of the musicians who appear on the compilations perform alongside Simon in The Imagined Village, and as he notes, they are “an eclectic collective of musicians exploring English roots music and trying to find a way of expressing it in multicultural Britain. The diversity of the collective means that everything doesn’t sound the same, but there’s still an identifiable sound and aesthetic to what we do.’ There’s a beautiful familiarity across the releases in hearing voices you’ve heard before and love, but the incredible dexterity of the musicians is breathtaking – whether they’re performing much loved classic songs, or freshly commissioned spa music, everything is brilliantly performed and produced.

As Simon sums it up perfectly, ‘the amazing thing about ECC and ECC 100 is that Mark has a quest for excellence which is extremely refreshing at this point it time, especially when a lot of music is becoming blander and losing its edge and shine.’

The same creativity, joyousness and love that you find in our cosmetics goes into our record label – from dreaming up ideas of what to record, to the musicians that perform it, to the design and packaging that you can find nestled on shelves in stores or on our website. But don’t take our word for it, give it a listen for yourself. Like your go-to Lush products, we’re sure you’ll find your firm favourites on ECC Records.    

Words by Hannah Vettese

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