AESS Newsletter, March 2003:

TED PERRY
15 May 1931-9 February 2003

With the death of Ted Perry the British recording industry has lost one of its most remarkable characters. He was the founder of Hyperion Records, whose current catalogue runs to over 250 pages and comprises so much wonderful repertoire that we may now wonder how we ever managed without it. Vocal music in general and British music in particular are well represented, together with some splendid series such as The English Orpheus with the Parley of Instruments (now nearly fifty discs), the complete Robert Simpson symphonies (conducted by Tod Handley) and string quartets, the ‘complete Purcell’ series with Robert King and the King’s Consort, the Schubert song series masterminded by Graham Johnson, and even Sidney Jones’s The Geisha (with Sarah Walker and Christopher Maltman). Ted’s familiarity with singers began early and he once told a story of when he worked in the EMG record shop in Newman Street during the early 1950s: shortly after his London debut, Fischer-Dieskau visited the shop looking for all the records by a young French baritone called Gérard Souzay; a few weeks later Gérard Souzay was there asking for all the records by a young German baritone called Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau!

‘When someone comes to me with an idea, or when I hear some music, I just have a gut reaction’, he once said. ‘I am not in the business to sell a lot of records and to make money. I want to make nice records, records that need to be made, that no one else will make. They tend to be slightly off-centre in repertoire terms but not once have I ever made a record that will knowingly be a financial disaster – they must all have a reasonable chance of selling.’

In the early days Ted drove a minicab at night to help finance Hyperion during the day and one night, listening to Radio 3 while driving, he heard a programme of obscure but beautiful music that turned out to be by a certain Hildegard of Bingen. After contacting the performers (Gothic Voices) a record was made, and A Feather on the Breath of God has to date sold nearly 350,000 copies! Then, and subsequently, he showed that it was possible for a smaller company to compete with the major ones on a critical level. Amongst the regular performers on his vocal records are Emma Kirkby, Sarah Walker, Anthony Rolph Johnson, Graham Johnson, Roger Vignoles, the Corydon Singers and, in the Schubert series, Janet Baker, Elly Ameling, Brigitte Fassbaender, Thomas Hampson and others.

The tousled appearance and perpetually bemused manner belied a shrewd business brain, but the starting point was inspiration and enthusiasm. Lacking a musical education, Ted nevertheless knew his music, as well as being ‘street-wise’, thanks to previous experience with Deutsche Grammophon, Saga Records and Meridian. Meridian’s Gramophone Award winning recording of A Shropshire Lad was the first by an independent label and the event that spurred him to realize he could run a record company of his own. The subsequent awards to Hyperion titles in the intervening years are simply too numerous to mention.

I would be horrified to think that anyone reading this is unfamiliar with Hyperion but, if so, please telephone 020 8318 1234, or e-mail info@hyperion-records.co.uk to request a Hyperion catalogue, or visit their website at www.hyperion-records.co.uk, and marvel at Ted Perry’s achievement (and acquire some records!). The world will be a duller place without Ted, but his son Simon will undoubtedly continue to carry the torch and maintain the high standards set by his father.

© Garry Humphreys, 2003