The U.K. continues to be an international hotbed for Soul Music, and a man who always seems to be at the center of things is Ralph Tee. The native of North West London was smitten by Soul Music as a teenager and was soon DJ'ing around his school and building a following. He launched the Soul magazine Groove Weekly at age 20 and a couple years later became Assistant Editor at the influential Blues & Soul magazine, for whom he still writes. By his mid 20s he moved to the top job at Street Scene. This gave Ralph the chance to create his first CD compilation and he focused on his musical love, Philadelphia soul, releasing a number of anthologies of Philadelphia International Records and such artists as the Jones Girls and Archie Bell & the Drells.
After stops at Arista Records and Ian Levine's short-lived Motorcity label, in 1989 Tee co-founded Expansion Records, which has arguably developed into the most important independent Soul music label in Europe. Expansion began with soul compilations but soon became an important driver of new music by underrated soul artists like Gary Taylor, Evelyn "Champagne" King and Ali Woodson. Expansion has created an enviable catalog of great music and has been an oasis for American soul singers trying to reach European audiences. Tee continues to branch into new areas, creating the Passion Jazz label and more recently soul music documentaries, while continuing to DJ around the world and to move Expansion forward.
The UK based label prides itself in releasing a high standard of quality Soul largely abandoned by the American major companies many years ago, providing a platform for both new and heritage talent to reach the UK - the burgeoning soul scene, and where possible, an international stage through their vast network of music fans and business affiliates.
Expansion has signed such great talents as Leon Ware, Howard Hewett, Stephanie Mills, Gary Taylor, Leroy Hutson, Billy Griffin, Atlantic Starr, Ali Woodson (ex-Temptations), Jean Carne, Angela Bofill, Evelyn “Champagne” King, and more recently Steve Harvey, Frank McComb, Adriana Evans, Marva King, James Day, Maysa Leak, Kloud 9, Trina Broussard, Ebony Alleyne and much more. There is real passion in the team behind Expansion Records, which is what keeps them going through sunshine and rain, especially through these ever more changing and challenging times – declining physical sales and niche audiences.
Not all the music Expansion releases is new, much of what they do includes re-issues of rarities/new discoveries, compilations and previously unreleased music they recognise as collectable. They have major distribution for both physical and digital releases.
Ralph Tee runs the label from London, while the events side of the business (luxurysoulweekender.com, www.myspace.com/luxurysoulweekender) is headed up by Richard Searling in Manchester. Together they are Expansion where record releases, music events and DJ-ing activities reflect the personal tastes and love of classic soul.
The first releases on Expansion were through Richard Searling and John Anderson ofSoul BowlRecords in Kings Lynn. Ralph joined at the time Ronnie McNeir released his Life & Love album for the label (1989), and John left after Gary Taylor’s Take Control release, a year later.
Expansion’s name was thought up by Richard to represent ‘stretching the boundaries of independent soul’. Early success came with the singlesGive Me The Sunshine (Leo’s Sunshipp) and Memory (James King, formerly of The Futures). Blues & Soul also voted Expansion as the UKs No.1 soul label for 5 consecutive years.
Through the 1990s, Expansion worked on over fifty artist album projects and released numerous compilations in legendary album series like Expansion Soul Sauce, Soul Chasers, Winners Circle, Phat Jams, and Friend In High Places. In 2000 the label launched the Soul Togetherness album brand, which continues to this day.
The Soul Togetherness weekenders paved the way for the Luxury Soul events, which thrive on the same adoration for the music as the label. More recently, some compilations have been collaborations with ambassadors of quality soul like David Nathan (soulmusic.com), Andreas Hellingh (thesoulofamsterdam.com), Paul Clifford (myspace.com/soulguru_uk), Dan Dodds (Soul Jones), Eleanora Cutia (undergroundsoul.com), Chris Hill and Geoffrey Bingham.
In 2008 Expansion joined forces with Jazz FM for a new joint venture label Jazz FM Records launching a series of compilations including The Sound Of Jazz FM series, The Soul of Smooth Jazz and Funky Sensation.
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