Miles Away Records is part of dedicated digger Dom Ore’s ongoing mission to make dusty, forgotten soulful gems widely available again. Having earned his vinyl chops at Acid Jazz, where he worked his way up from the mail room to label manager, Dom founded Miles Away in 2019. The imprint has clocked up a dozen sell-out releases to date, and Dom’s “sound” can be sampled on his fantastic fortnightly Soho Radio show. The label’s latest missive, a heavenly hit of dance-floor friendly gospel, is an AA-sided 45 from The Howard Lemon Singers. Here, The Insider gives Dom a quick grilling.
Interview conducted by our favourite four-to-the-floor expert, The Insider.
Good to talk to you Dom. Thanks for taking the time. Where are you today and what are you up to?
Hi, thank you for having me. I’m currently at home in the UK.
How long have you been working in music, and what were doing to prior to Miles Away?
I’ve been working in music for the best part of 7 years now. I started my career at Acid Jazz, as the mail order person. I was one of three employees, so I got to try my hand a lot of different parts of working at a label. As time went on, I became the label manager, which really helped in my understanding of how to make a record label work. I`d be involved in the manufacturing, the marketing, the A&R, and even press and promo. Now I work for Demon Records as a product manager, which is my full-time job.
You’ve done quite a lot of radio work in your time. Your current show on Soho Radio is going strong. What’s the vibe of the show, and the format?
The show is a reflection of Miles Away. I try and keep it as open minded as possible, with the main root always going back to soulful music. I love to invite guests on who are either DJs, collectors, bands, or anyone interesting really. It’s an open space.
I know you are a gigging DJ too. What kind of stuff might we hear in a Dom Ore Set?
When I play out, I like to really mix up the styles and genres. I find it exciting to be able to do sets which are quite eclectic. So, anything from jazz, jazz-funk, modern soul, disco, house, techno, MPB, Salsa, Cumbia, dub and reggae.
I’ve seen you on the line up with Dom Servini quite a bit. Are you fans of his Wah Wah 45s?
Oh yes, I’ve been a bit fan of Dom and the Wah Wah 45s label. They always release such original and diverse records. Plus, Dom’s a really lovely person.
You’ve played with Mr Bongo too. They are another fine example of a quality label. Are they a label that align with your own values in some way?
In some ways yes. I like the way they operate and having met the guys that run Mr Bongo a few times they are really lovely people. More than anything else that’s what I like to align myself with.
I was sitting with my folks the other day reminiscing about music from my childhood. Where does your love or soulful music come from? Was it from your folks?
It wasn’t. My love for music came from my Nan. I would go round to my Nan’s house every Sunday for dinner. While I was there, they’d play records – reggae, rock steady, dub and also blues. For me that was really informative and opened my ears to loads of different sounds without me even realising it at the time. It was all going in subconsciously ha!
What are some of the records they played that have stuck in your mind?
Ah well, I remember hearing a lot of Robert Johnson, Rye Cooder, Dennis Brown, Bob Marley. The Clash as well.
What’s the story on Miles Away Records? How long has it been about and what is its musical manifesto?
We founded Miles Away in 2019, while I was working at Acid Jazz. From the very beginning we set out with a mission to reissue soulful music from all over the world, in the highest possible quality. We spend a considerable amount of time tracking down the original rights holders. We’re committed to working with artists who perhaps only ever released one great single, but equally it’s not just rare and obscure recordings that we’re into. We dig good music, and if we see something we love, which we think deserves to be made more widely available, we go for it.
What was the first release you put out?
The first release we put out was a 45 called Patience by Rokk.
What do you think has been your most notable release so far, the one that caused the most commotion?
We released Dancing Close by Rita Joyce in 2020, the response to that single was amazing and it sold out really fast.
Which one do you think slipped under the radar?
I think the single by The Grooms perhaps slipped under the radar. I thought both sides were fantastic. Side A – Slow Down – was a funky dancer and on the flip, I Deserve A Little Bit More was a spine tingling ballad. People liked it but not as much as I thought they would ha.
Let Me be Your Lover is a Miles Away highlight for me, although I never managed to get a copy, only the digital. How much do you love that record?
I’m glad you like that album. When I was working at Acid Jazz, a friend of mine came into the office one day and played Gonna Find A True Love on a radio show that was happening upstairs. Immediately my ears pricked up. Finding Estus and Lester Patterson was relatively easy, as far as I remember. At first, we were going to do for deal just a single, but the twins were keen to do the album too. At the time we felt it was a bit of a risk but we loved the album, so we went for it and I’m glad we did it in the end.
Do you have the original album yourself? Do you want to sell it?
Haha I do have the original, but I’m afraid I don’t want to sell it right now.
Timmion have a bit of a reputation in the 7s market. Why do you think they are so good?
More than anything I think they know and love the genre. I have been a fan of theirs for some time and I love the cuts they put out. Some of their 45s never leave my DJ bag.
How do you go about sourcing your ideas? Where do you dig for you next projects?
All over the place to be honest. I find you get inspiration from loads of different places, whether that be on listening to music on Youtube, Spotify even, in record shops, simply talking to people and taking their recommendations, listening to DJ mixes, and, most importantly, going out and seeing bands and DJs play out. For me hearing music really loud in a good environment really energises me and gives me more and more ideas.
Are there still a lot of rare gems and dusty obscurities to find or are they all nearly gone?
Oh there’s definitely still loads out there. The more you dig into it, the more you realise that there’s so many more great records out there. I think a lot of the more obvious rarities have gone now, they’ve been reissued, but there’s so much other music out there, which people perhaps haven’t heard before and is absolutely fantastic!
Have you ever spent time digging in other countries for these treasures?
Yes, I’ve spent time in central Europe digging for records, and then further afield in Peru and Colombia. When I was in Peru I went record digging with Fernan and Mario from the Lima Soul Club. They took me to a few spots and they showed me some Salsa and Cumbia records. We spent the day drinking beers and trawling through various record shops and lock ups. Safe to say, I came back with a ton of fantastic vinyl from that trip.
At home, in the UK, where do you go digging in crates, or is that a secret you’re not prepared to share?
To be honest there’s no secret. I just go to record shops I love and spend time in them week after week. Eventually you get to know the collection they have in the shop, the new arrivals, and also the owners too, and so they put you onto stuff which you didn’t know / wouldn’t have picked up. I regularly go to Alan’s in Finchley, Yoyo Records in Hackney and Crazy Beat in Upminster.
Ah Alan’s. That’s a cracking shop! What’s your opinion on the prices that some of these records change hands for online?
Yeh, it’s crazy man. Totally overpriced. I try not to buy records that are more than £50, unless I need to buy them for a project that I’m working on. It’s hard because sometimes they’re great records, but in your heart of hearts are they worth more than £50 to you. To me that’s a lot of money haha.
What’s the rarest record that you own?
Ah, well that’s a tough question. I don’t really sit on Discogs and watch the value go up, but I think the rarest record I own is one that I’ve only just acquired. It’s by a group called The Eliminators, and the album is called Loving Explosion. A decent original copy will set you back a fair bit, but it’s a stunning record and it’s no wonder lots of people want it.
How did you first discover The Howard Lemon tracks?
I’ve known about the album Seasons for some time. I think I heard someone like Red Greg play it at a party. Luckily this year I eventually got my hands on a copy. From the album I always thought that these two tracks were absolutely killer and there was never a 45, so that’s what gave me the idea.
What can you tell us about Howard Lemon himself?
Howard Lemon was born and raised in Detroit. At the age of five he began playing his grandparents piano. His great uncle was Berry Gordy, Sr, father of the founder of Motown Records. The Lemon family were devout Pentecostals. His mother had him taking piano from the age of twelve, and on Sunday’s he caught two buses into downtown Detroit to play at a storefront church. He picked up the clarinet, trumpet and trombone throughout high school.
After University, Howard decided to pursue a career in Gospel music and in the late 1950s he formed the Lemon Inspirational Singers. Their first recordings were for HOB Records, a local Detroit Label, in 1959. Stylistically these recordings are firmly rooted in the `50s, more stately than state of art. Following a more individual album for Savoy in 1966, Howard signed with STAX Records, who were doing well with The Staples Singers and The Rance Allen Group. He recorded two albums for Gospel Truth – a STAX subsidiary – in `73 and `74. The first announced a commitment to modernity with its title, A Message For Today; the second enlisted the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the Memphis Horns, and included a gospel-ised version of The Sytlistics hit, Stop, Look, Listen To Your Heart.
Do you know who the members of the band were and parts they all played?
Howard, the group leader, called upon some of the best musicians from STAX Records – Willie Hall and the aforementioned Lester Snell were key components of such groups as the Isaac Hayes Movement and the Bar Kays. They were the rhythm section for this album. Esther Smith is the vocalist. Her voice is absolutely amazing. She was already an accomplished singer, having recorded for Vee Jay in 1954, with the Lockhart Singers. and with Mattie Moss Clark in the late `60s.
Is it hard work officially licensing tracks? What’s the process?
It can be very hard, but it can also be quite straight forward. It depends who owns the tracks. More and more often these days you’ll find that a company have bought up the rights to a lot of these tracks, so you have to go to them and agree a deal. Licensing directly from the artists can be extremely tough. We spend months, years, trying to find the original license holders. When I was trying to find Lamont Butler, I must’ve rung every Lamont Butler in Kentucky before I eventually got through to Lamont’s wife. His wife said I he was at work and to call back later not realising that I was calling from the UK. I stayed up until 2AM to wait for him to finish work and then we spoke at length for a few hours. I eventually got to bed at 4 or 5, but happy that I’d manage to put the wheels in the motion with that project.
The new E.P. is full of joy and soul. Just what we all need right now. For The Children has been a staple in many a discerning record bag. Please, talk us through the tracks a little.
Both sides of this 45 are oozing with positivity, a fine example of the harmony between sacred and secular sounds, and the experimentation taking place, during the late 1970s, as gospel artists were modernizing the soundtrack, and lyrical content of gospel music.
You Are Somebody is a gorgeous modern soul heater. Accomplished vocalist Esther Smith delivers her lines with such confidence and assurance that the words seem to strut over the funky basslines and drums. Flip it over and For The Children is a more mid-tempo burner, but don’t let this fool you – it’s “stop-you-in-your-tracks” good. Smith’s vocals once again shine brightly and are delightfully accompanied by the Nile Rodgers-esque ‘wacka-wacka’ guitar of Lester Snell throughout.
What are you working on next that you can share?
We’ve got a few more singles already due this year, and we’re also full steam ahead with a label compilation, which hopefully will come out this year too.
Loving the label. Thank you for your time.
Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
The Howard Lemon Singers’ You Are Somebody / For The Children is out now on Miles Away Records.