The Compendium Story by Frode Holm
The Compendium Story
by Frode Holm
Compendium – The Beginning
Compendium started out in 1974 as a classic hippy enterprise: a lucky set of circumstances, practically no money and a complete disregard for any and all usual business practices. In fact, we didn’t have a clue as to what those might be anyway! We did, however, manage to stumble upon a good business idea. At the time, the price difference between Norway and England for records was quite substantial, and we found out that we could sell the albums cheaper than the other stores by importing directly from England while still making money. After harassing our parents and friends for startup capital, we managed to buy 6-7 boxes of the hottest records and put them up for sale in a dilapidated basement in an obscure part of town.
To our amazement, the word spread like wildfire and before we knew it, we had a steady stream of customers coming into the store to buy new records at discount prices. To make matters worse for the other shops who relied on “legal” imports from the big labels, we almost always had the new releases a week or two before anyone else, and in those days that was a big deal!
After some initial personnel turmoil, the first crew consisted of Frode Holm, Gunnar Skogen and Jomar Johansen. The name Compendium was a rip off: F.H. had been living on and off in Camden Town, London for the last few years and one of London’s better ‘alternative’ book stores, The Compendium, was located right around the corner from where he was staying.
Compendium – The Label
In our hippy days we were all a little bit ‘off center’ from the usual Oslo music scene (Grateful Dead etc.), in that we all liked to listen to jazz and pretty much any kind of ‘out there’ music – Frank Zappa comes to mind. In particular, we were big fans of Soft Machine, and when they released “Third” we were in complete ecstasy. There was never a get-together when that album would not get played at least once and it is still, to this day, one of the all-time greats in all our opinion. From that source, we of course, quickly found all the other bands and artists revolving around the same scene – what became known as the Cantebury movement.
Our first meeting with the guys happened in 1971 when they came to town for a concert at the Henie-Onstad Art Centre outside of Oslo. We tracked them down the day before and found Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean playing pool in a rather sleazy downtown bar. We introduced ourselves and by the persuasive power of a big chunk of prime grade hash, they invited us over to their hotel for a late night chat. Of Mike Ratledge and Robert Wyatt there was no trace that day. That was the first and last encounter with Soft Machine until four years later when we would again meet, this time to discuss recording plans.
By 1975, to the record companies’ great annoyance, Compendium was in full bloom, and we had refurbished our basement to include not only a record store, but also a book store, a small coffee room, oriental goods, posters etc. We were rapidly becoming the alternative cultural nexus in town. On one of my many business trips to London I came across an ad in Time Out for a concert by a band called “Henry Cow”, whom I’d never heard of, but looked promising from the write-up. By that time, a couple of years after Robert Wyatt’s accident, Soft Machine had run out of steam in many people’s opinion, including my own. But the need for some more of that music was still with us, but not quite satisfied, all the other excellent bands notwithstanding. So when I heard Henry Cow for the first time in that Kensington theatre, I was completely blown away. I felt that these guys had taken the baton from Soft Machine and given it new life.
Immediately after the concert I went up to them and got hold of Chris Cutler (the drummer) and from there things developed rapidly. I invited them over for a concert in Oslo without thinking twice and with the resources we had at our disposal through Compendium, we quickly arranged for them to play at the same venue that Soft Machine had made their legendary Oslo concert: the Henie-Onstad Art Centre. As fortune would have it, the place had an excellent recording studio at the time with taps directly to the concert hall. We made sure that the engineer was on duty and the sold-out concert went down on tape – the Oslo Concert.
Even at this point there was not the slightest intention on our part of starting a record label. But when the quality of the recording became apparent, the defining moment came along and we all just went: let’s get this out on a record! Once we made that decision and talked to the Cow about it, they told us of more tapes of similar quality and eventually it all turned into a double album of live material. The only snag was – we had to get a deal with Virgin Records, which was their label at the time. Again, cosmic circumstance had played the cards in our favor: our sole supplier of records for the Compendium store was a distribution arm of Virgin called Caroline Records. Through them and Henie-Onstad Art Centre we had no problem getting through to Richard Branson, who was generous enough to give us full Scandinavian rights for the album as long as Caroline could take distribution of the product.
So that’s how it all began – the joy of music taking a bunch of hippies along for the ride!