Press On vinyl is putting Middlesbrough on the map
If you could bottle the buzz of elation as the vinyl record press machines first whirred into action, you’d call it ‘Middlesbrough, distilled’.
And you could sell it to anyone.
Hugs, laughter, nervous energy – it’s the sound of a dream realised as directors, staff and family members watch freshly pressed vinyl roll off the production line at Press On records, at TeesAMP, Middlesbrough’s brand new business park
Undoubtedly, the fact a huge manufacturing site has cranked into production in the town is good news.
But this feels more like an event – shared by friends, not colleagues; family, not employees.
“I just fills me with absolute immense pride,” said Danny Lowe, a director at the company.
“I love this town, we all do, and I love music.
“I love people being in jobs where they’re happy, and in a happy environment, and I think they’ve got all those things here.”
Danny is one of three friends who started Press On, along with David Todd and David Hynes. They have recently been joined as directors by Colin Oliver of Futuresound music group in Leeds.
A painting of the Press On plant at TeesAMP, hung up in the front office
The trio have long been mainstays of the local music scene, and the idea of opening their own plant came to them when their record label, Goosed Records, struggled to find a manufacturer to press a compilation of Teesside bands it wanted to release.
“I think there was a six month wait,” said David Todd, 35.
“There’s maybe three other large scale presses in the UK, I know there’s one in London, but there’s not much else out there. I believe we’re the only large scale one in the north.”
Vinyl sales continue to boom. In a world dominated by downloads and smart speakers, many music fans crave sound quality and a well-designed product they can hold in their hands.
But the continued revival of vinyl means production is struggling to keep up with demand.
“A lot of the capacity is in Germany and Eastern Europe, the largest plant is out in the Czech Republic. They are huge operations but the capacity for UK musicians to get records pressed there, especially with the problems with imports from Europe, was really low.”
As we chat, talk in the front office turns to music megastar Adele.
Much has been made nationally of how she’d ordered 500,000 vinyl copies of her new album, 30, with many criticising her for strangling supply in an already crowded market.
But Danny, 39, isn’t having it.
“Loads of people have blamed her, but to be fair she’s released everything she’s done on vinyl,” he said.
“Our mission is different, anyway. We want to work on smaller numbers, with bands who might never have had the chance to get a record pressed.
“It’s about celebrating the grassroots. We could do a run of as little as 100, but we don’t want to be looking at pressing more than 2,000 of one record. People aren’t waiting too long then.”
Making a record is a complicated affair – but thankfully, we’ve got Danny and David to give us a guided tour, their evident passion translating the technical language into plain Boro.
A master lacquer is made, and taken through to the laboratory – purpose built in the centre of the cavernous factory floor – to produce a metal stamper, which is used in the record pressing machine.
The process of ‘silvering’, more scientific than I can adequately explain, sees the master lacquer sprayed with silver nitrate and then dipped in a nickel solution connected to electric terminals for ‘plating’.
An even more complicated process of splits and more dips produces positive and negative discs, before a ‘stamper’ is produced.
David Todd and Danny Lowe as a stamper is made
The exact centre is found on the stamper in another giant machine and a hole is cut, before it can go into the press and records can be made.
It is skilled work, with quality control absolutely essential – and as you survey the plant, it’s almost unbelievable the Press On team were originally only looking to be a small, DIY operation.
Instead, it has taken over their lives.
David said: “We started out just wanting to get a lathe, then we thought we’d get the next thing, and it just snowballs from there.
“We thought if we’re going to do it, we were going to do it properly.”
Despite the intricacy of the work, Press On is no soulless production line – there’s no stress or raised voices on our visit.
Through every stage, instead, there’s smiles and camaraderie. It’s relaxed.
Chief engineer Andy Kilvington explains how the pressing machines will use the stamper we’ve just seen made to produce a test pressing of a record by the band Komparrison.
It’s the first off the production line, and a test for quality.
Of course, Komparrison are a local band.
And of course, Andy went to school with Danny and has remained close friends, leaving a good job to join his mates on an adventure of a lifetime.
Andy Kilvington working the press
As we tour the site I’m introduced to David’s wife Kerry and Danny’s wife Emma, both working at the company.
Other old friends have given up careers to jump on board too – with more on the way – and those who weren’t already part of the gang are quickly made to feel welcome.
Do the directors feel any pressure?
“Someone made an analogy,” said Danny. “You want to jump off the high diving board but even though you know you’ll enjoy it, you’re apprehensive.
He grins: “But we did it anyway. It’s going well.”
We pass by an MFC scarf hanging above club memorabilia in one corner of the factory floor, and I’m introduced to Danny’s uncle Nigel, who led the huge fit-out efforts of what was essentially a giant empty warehouse.
“The whole place does feel a bit like a family,” continues Danny. “We treat everybody the same. We might as well enjoy our work, mightn’t we? What’s the point otherwise.”
Tears of happiness flow as Yussef Nimer, saxophonist and Middlesbrough music scene veteran, presses the button to start the first test press.
Danny spontaneously jumps up and pats David on the back, gives him a hug, then rocks on his feet as the first vinyl disks are pressed.
“I’m very proud to be here,” says Yussef. “I’ve known the lads for years and I couldn’t be happier for all of them.
“They’re lovely people and they’re doing something significant for Middlesbrough.”
Pride is something David feels too.
“Yussef is just a legend. He represents a lot of what we’re about, really,” he said.
“It’s good for Middlesbrough that we can show off a bit of what we’re about here.
“There’s a lot of people that are committed to grassroots music and this can hopefully help them.”
The machine hums and clicks into gear with Elise Harrison – singer in Komparrison – watching on excitedly.
One staff member gives his mam and dad a detailed tour as David and Danny do more interviews.
There’s two pressing machines so far, and more will come as production scales up and more staff are employed.
Danny is emotional as he explains how every record press has a name – Press On’s are called John Paul and Tex, named after good friends who are no longer with them.
“They would have been the first down here today,” said Danny.
“That’s the family sort of vibe and atmosphere we’ve got.”
‘Be fair, be sound’ is emblazoned in giant black letters, on a yellow wall.
Press On is in the business of music, so you could take the phrase quite literally. But say it in a Teesside accent in your head, and you’ll get it. It’s not just a saying, it’s an ethos.
“It’s the Middlesbrough mentality. People say – if you’re sound, I’m sound,” continued Danny.
“People come from all over, but it doesn’t matter where they’re from. We wanted it up on the wall – we’ll be fair, and we’ll be sound.”
We are Words: Mike Brown