The story of the world’s oldest truly independent record label begins with the early aspirations of the Workers’ Music Association. The WMA was founded in 1936 as an educational offshoot of the British Marxist Party, when five London Socialist choirs met to perform together. During the 1930s, against the rise of fascism and totalitarianism, there was an upsurge of interest in socialism and internationalism amongst British intellectuals. The formation of the Workers’ Music Association was in the same year as the new Left Book Club was founded to ‘help in the struggle for world peace and against fascism’. On 31st January 1936, George Orwell had set out by public transport and on foot for Wigan, where he spent February researching how people lived; taking systematic notes of housing conditions and wages earned, visiting a coal mine, and spending days at the local public library consulting public health records and reports on working conditions in mines. The Road to Wigan Pier was published by the New Left Book Club the following year.
Against this backdrop the Workers’ Music Association sought to promote the composition and performance of music which expresses the ideals and aims of mankind towards the improved organisation of society; music which exerts an influence against the social injustices of our present society. Within three years the WMA established the Topic imprint to release “gramophone records of historical and social interest”. The first record to be released, in September 1939, on the Topic imprint was a 10″ 78rpm disc – The Man That Waters The Workers’ Beer performed by Paddy Ryan backed by an arrangement of The Internationale performed by the Topic Singers and Band led by Will Sahnow.
Today, Topic has an unequalled reputation as the foremost publisher of British traditional music . Throughout the past seven decades the history of the label is a remarkable tale of limited finances and ensuing pecuniary practicalities. The aims and objects of the Workers’ Music Association (as published in 1944) still stand as a fair description of the ambitions of Topic Records in 2009:
- To present to the people their rich musical inheritance.
- To utilise fully the stimulating power of music to inspire people.
- To stimulate the composition of music appropriate to our time.
- To foster and further the art of music on the principle that true art can move the people to work for the betterment of society
*Image found on sagesource.net, where you can also find the rest of the pages.
**Image found on netcharles.com/orwell, where you can read the transcript.