Cherry Red Records is a British independent record label founded by Iain McNay in 1978. The label has released recordings by Dead Kennedys, Everything But the Girl, The Monochrome Set, and Felt, among others, as well as the compilation album Pillows & Prayers. In addition to releasing new music, Cherry Red also acts as an umbrella for individual imprints and catalogue specialists.
Cherry Red grew from the rock promotion company (similarly named after the song "Cherry Red" by The Groundhogs) founded in 1971 to promote rock concerts at the Malvern Winter Gardens. In the wake of the independent record boom that followed the advent of punk rock, founders Iain McNay (who remains company chairman) and Richard Jones released the label's first single, "Bad Hearts" by local punk band The Tights, in June 1978.
Cherry Red's early roster included releases by Morgan Fisher under various pseudonyms, using a small studio installed in his Notting Hill flat, as well as material licensed from The Hollywood Brats, Destroy All Monsters and The Runaways. The latter was the label's biggest seller until McNay invested $10,000 in the recording of the debut studio album by San Franciscan political punk band Dead Kennedys. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1979) and its attendant singles sold well worldwide. New A&R head Mike Alway had promoted the Snoopies venue in Richmond, London and been involved with the Scissor Fits, and signed groups including The Monochrome Set, Everything But The Girl, Eyeless in Gaza, Felt, and Five Or Six. McNay's view aimed for Cherry Red to be a label that offered a space for artists who would otherwise not fit the image of some of the more succinctly defined and stylised independents. "Cherry Red Records was always about musical individuality, diversity, character, commitment and passion," he stated in 2008. They also marketed other smaller independent record labels, like Bristol's Heartbeat Records, who recorded the Glaxo Babies.
Cherry Red's role as one of the keynote labels of the early '80s independent scene was confirmed by the success of a budget compilation album compiled by Alway and released at Christmas 1982. Retailing for 99p, Pillows & Prayers topped the independent charts for several weeks.
Cherry Red continued to sign contemporary artists but increasingly moved into the reissue market from the late 1980s onwards. It has a number of subsidiary labels dealing in genre-specific releases, curating many "critically unloved" musical genres, in partial continuation of McNay's earlier advocacy of the unfashionable.
The company has also signed agreements with a number of specialist reissue labels, which operate with a degree of autonomy using Cherry Red's logistical and financial support. Mark Stratford's RPM Records label focuses on pop music from the 1960s to the advent of punk. Esoteric Recordings, headed by Mark Powell, specialises in progressive rock and folk catalogue. Mark Brennan heads 7T's Records, which reissues albums by that decade's glam/glitter generation. (Brennan originally helped Cherry Red form one of its first subsidiary labels, Anagram, covering punk, Psychobilly and Goth, which remains active). él Records continues under the auspices of Mike Alway (but purely as a re-release label), alongside other labels including Poker, Giant Steps, Mortarhate, Now Sounds, and Ork. The Cherry Red label group continues to house reissues, but is also active in the release of new studio material by established artists such as The Fall, Suzi Quatro, Marc Almond, Red Box, Van Der Graaf Generator, Jah Wobble & Keith Levene, Squackett (a collaboration between Steve Hackett and Chris Squire), Hussey-Regan (a collaboration between Wayne Hussey and Julianne Regan), Hazel O'Connor, The Christians and Ken Hensley.