Label Dive: Be With Records

By in Features





In Label Dive, we take a look at labels–big and small–that have been bringing top quality vinyl releases to fans across the world.

Launching its first release in 2014, Manchester-based label has built an impressive catalogue of reissues. Abstaining from the genre and era specificities usually attached to labels focused on vinyl reissues, Be With Records has brought artists as varied as Kimiko Kasai, Leon Ware and Cassie to whole new audiences.

At the end of a year that’s seen excellent reissues of records such as Wally Badarou’s Colors Of Silence and Bobby Caldwell’s self-titled, we catch up with Rob Butler, the founder of the vinyl-only label, to learn more about Be With’s history, essential discography cuts and the suprising involvement of a private detective.

How did Be With Records begin?

The first release was in 2014 but I was working on the label for a good two years before that. In many ways, you could kind of say, it probably stemmed from my time working at Piccadilly Records in 2003 when I moved to Manchester for University. A bunch of us used to sit around talking releases that should be on vinyl but never were. It was around the time where a lot of things weren’t coming out on vinyl – early 2000s when a lot of labels were just doing CD and digital.

Fast forward to 2010, I moved down to London and I was doing a job in arts and culture marketing. I loved the subject and was working with galleries and museums but I didn’t actually like the day job. I thought you know what, “I still love to DJ a bit and stuff and I would love to do a reissue label”.

Basically, it was born out of me being really frustrated in my day job. I was in my late 20s, early 30s and having worked in the record shop I had known a lot of distributors and DJs by this point for good 15 years. We did our first release in 2014 and it did all right and then we quickly moved on from there. That 10 years ago, and haven’t really looked back since.

Be With Records owner Rob Butler

Why do you think reissues are so essential to vinyl culture?

Obviously, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t think that they had significant value but reissue culture is a tricky terrain because a lot of reissues out there are pointless and lead to the clogging up of pressing plants and there’s lost of major label reissues retailing at 30/40 quid now when you can still find the records for a pound anywhere in the world.

With labels like myself, and all the other amazing reissue labels that there are around, of which we all know who they are, they are doing really valuable work. Whether it’s shining a light on an artist, or a period or genre that was unfairly ignored at the time, or whether it’s simply making a record available for 20 quid now that otherwise is 400 quid.

It’s an endlessly fascinating area to work in because so many things have still not been reissued and there’s still so many areas of music that have not been heard properly and are still coming to light.

Be With Records’ releases veer across genres and time periods. Is there an ethos or theme that connects them for you?

I’ve been asked this a lot over the years. Before starting, someone said to me, “What genre are you going to reissue and I said that it would just be all over the place, whatever I feel like doing whatever I want to do.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a case of whatever I want to do. There’s thousands of things we’ve asked about that you can’t get permission to do for many different reasons, as you can imagine. So it’s whatever I want to do and we’re allowed to do. But yeah, this guy said, “You’ve got to concentrate on one genre otherwise the market won’t understand you, no one will get what you’re doing”. I understand that point of view but that’s not going to be interesting for me. We were going to be all over the place from the get go and hoped that people would get that straight away, and they kind of did.

The first maybe eight or nine records were loosely solo records. Then our tenth thing was a reissue of Kylie’s album from ‘94–the self titled one. That was definitely a deliberate curveball, I guess you could say.

You’re never gonna know what’s coming next and hopefully, that’s as exciting and interesting for you, as it is for us, you know? In terms of a guiding thread, obviously I think they’re all amazing but I guess it’s all pretty soulful – even if you wouldn’t necessarily find a particular record from our catalogue in the soul music section, it’s all still soulful.

Be With Records with Alec Mansion on Charlie Bones’ show

Your catalogue features releases from major label artists alongside more independent acts. What is the process like for reissuing records from both sources?

You really are learning as you go. With a lot of things, it’s a bit of luck – right place, right time. Or, who you know, and who you happen to know or who someone you know knows. When I was starting out, someone said to me, “Oh, you need a music lawyer” and I hadn’t even thought about this. To this day, we’ve never used properly used one but I spoke to one who was a friend of a friend and he said, “I suppose you’ve got contacts at Sony and Warner Brothers and Universal in the licencing department?”. I didn’t but he did and gave them to me. It’s little things like that were purely serendipitous.

Once you’ve got the label’s ear, you need them to not ignore you. You can go six months and they’ll ignore messages and it’s because they’ve left the company or they’ve had to change policy internally. Generally speaking, if you’re talking major labels, it’s quite simple once you’ve got relationships with the different licensing departments and majors. You just say “here’s something I want to do” and you send them licence request forms. You fill it all in as best you can and then they have a meeting about it with loads of other things that they’ve had requested and then, it will just be a case of yes or no.

It’s yes, we take it from there, we get in touch with the artists, and ask if they want to work on it together or do press or retrospective liner notes.  Probably 80% of the time, if they’re alive, they do. Sometimes we have cases where people say, “I’m not really interested in getting involved, but I give my blessing”.

When it’s not owned by majors, it’s a different thing because then you’re hunting down these people. I’ve had private detectives in the States before but nothing ever came from that so it was $1,000 down the drain. Dealing with artists directly can be a much more long drawn out process. Obviously, a lot of the time, they’ve never heard of you, so you have to build up the trust.

Eventually, you come to an agreement that everyone’s happy with. There’s often a lot of back and forth over tiny percentages and things like –most artists are pretty cool to work with. It’s not for the faint hearted, though, I will say that.

Stocking up at Aloha Got Soul, Hawaii

You’re going to have to tell me the full story of the private detective. 

I had a friend who I went to college with in the States. I was on a trip there and he told me his friend is now a private detective. I’d often thought about getting someone to track down some of these artists that I want to licence releases. We got him touch with him and he asked for five names and said is rate was I think $250 per artist. We must have had a bit of cash in the bank.

Nothing came from any of it. The big one I was really trying to get a hold of was Richard Flowers who did a track called “For Real”, under the name of Flowers. It’s one of the most amazing modern soul records ever. It’s been bootlegged a few times–I presume everyone’s tried to track him down. The detective was like, “Okay, here’s his address. You take it from here”. I gave a letter to my friend who gave it to the detective to give to him [Flowers] but he was dedicated to trying to stay anonymous and didn’t want to be found.

Ned Doheny with his Be With Records reissue

It’s Be With Records’ tenth anniversary next year. Any big plans?

I wanted to have everything wrapped up by the end of this year but obviously there’s loads of business as usual stuff going on. I’m also trying to look ahead to next year in a way that I don’t normally have to do because I want to make next year quite special.

Events around the world, nothing like extravagant or anything, but just going to places where we’ve either played before, like in Los Angeles with In Sheep’s Clothing or going to Japan where I’ve never been and playing with people– DJing and putting on some live events.

We’re looking to maybe do a book with cool stories about all the people we’ve worked with and different features and stuff. I want to make it more appealing so we’re gonna give a record away with it, a compilation of new and exclusive stuff from artists who’ve worked with.

Other than that, a bunch of special releases basically. I can’t really talk about too many just yet, in terms of, because not all of them have been signed off properly signed off. There’s this element that’s like, oh lets make a big deal about the 10 years but I don’t want to jeopardise anything to make it come out in 2024. There’s things I want to come out next year but if they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. They’ll come out eventually.

Be With Records’ essentials according to Rob Butler

Ned Doheny

Hard Candy

Favourite song: “Get It Up For Love”

This was only our third release so everything was still so new. At this early stage, there were huge learning curves for me across every element of licensing a record to release as a vinyl reissue.

BUT! That’s the boring part.

The reason this is such a key record for Be With is that it ignited a friendship that’s nearly a decade in now, with one of the most legendary characters of ’70s West Coast AOR / Balearic/ White-Hot Funk music.

“Uncle Ned”, as our family and friends now know him as, came over to do a European Tour for us in early 2015 and we’ve been firm friends ever since. Doing a further four records with him and with another on the way in 2024, all being well.

And this record? Just enormous, in every. Single. Sense.

Letta Mbulu

In The Music… The Village Never Ends

Favourite song: “Nomalizo”

If our reissue of Hard Candy and subsequent “Be With Ned” tour put us on the map and really offered Be With a huge amount of goodwill from the scene-at-large, it was our reissue of this South African behemoth that announced to everyone that we’re here to stay and mean (very serious) business. And while we’re at it, we’re going to keep making bombs like “Nomalizo” a “grail-no-more”.

This reissue was incredibly well-received, wonderfully timed (people either knew it and thirsted for ownership of it or they were very much pre-disposed to fall madly in love with it) and enabled a memorable release party at Brilliant Corners with some of my favourite DJ friends and headlined consummately by the venerable Sean P.



Favourite song: “Me & U”

Sandwiched between our Letta and Nohelani Cypriano reissues came the first-time-on-wax release of Cassie’s icy self-titled masterpiece. I guess this again demonstrated pretty early on that we were going to be determinedly all over the place when it came to output. It’s a roster that Andy Beta once described in an early Pitchfork piece as being “baffling”. We liked that. And this Cassie release probably baffled a fair few heads. But all the right people got behind it, and we knew it would be a pretty killer thing to do, and so it proved. Massive.

Lewis Taylor

The Lost Album

Favourite song: “The Leader Of The Band”

Jumping ahead to 2023, this is a massive one for us as it’s the centrepiece of no less than six Lewis Taylor records that we put out in a mad 2-week spell this June. Indeed, “The Summer Of Lewis”, as we dubbed it, became exactly that. His fans had wanted all of his previously CD-only masterworks on vinyl for decades. We finally made it happen after years of bugging Lewis about them.

And, without question, The Lost Album is the cream of them all. The very title suggests it would strongly appeal to record-buyers / diggers of a certain stripe and it really is exactly what it purports to be: A lost, criminally underheard magnum opus of legendary status amongst those in the know. It’s the most requested record ever at Be With Towers.

It was the intended follow-up to his first album but Island rejected it for fear of “confusing” the marketplace and its conception of Lewis as a soul artist. Their loss. It’s breezy sunset soul with a heavy AOR / Beach Boys-bent.

Bobby Caldwell

Bobby Caldwell

Favourite song: “What You Won’t Do for Love”

Speaking of breezy sunset soul with a heavy AOR bent…

What can we say about this wonderful album – and the instanely talented Bobby Caldwell – that hasn’t already been said? Especially this year, with his incredibly sad passing in March. We’ve loved this record for probably 20 years or so but in the last 3-4 years we’d noticed that copies had suddenly started to dry up – massively.

This couldn’t be the case for such an essential, seminal album, we thought. And, so, we got to work. We’d been trying to license this album for 3 years, with lots (and I mean *lots*) of back and forth with the rights holders in negotiation and trying to persuade them that Be With was the right home for a reissue of this (and the equally brilliant Cat In The Hat).

Anyway, we finally got it over the line on 13th March and on the 14th March we woke up to the news that Bobby had died. We were all terribly sad and shocked by the timing, it felt even more poignant that we do justice to Bobby and his beautiful art. This one really is a timeless masterpiece of sophisticated jazzy soul brilliance and is strictly canonical.

Wally Badarou

Colors Of Silence

Favourite song: “Amber Whispers”

This is super important to Be With because it kind of neatly bookends the very very beginning of the label, and where we are now, ten years down the line.

When we first started work on Be With in 2012, we asked some pals with exquisite taste what their dream release would be. We asked Balearic legend Moonboots and, without hesitation, he said Colors Of Silence by Wally Badarou.

We didn’t know Wally had made this album. And most still don’t. But that’s about to change. It’s only been out a few weeks and has already – deservedly – blown up.

It’s just a beautiful, elegant, profoundly moving record. Initially conceived as music to accompany a Yoga DVD, it went on to become a touchstone of the global Balearic community.

And, come on, it’s WALLY BLOODY BADAROU!

Find out more about Be With Records here.

Read more: Be With Records on how the label reissues music