Nathan Joseph

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Nathan "Nat" Joseph owned and operated Transatlantic Records, an early and profoundly influential British independent label that played a critical role in the nation's folk and blues culture.…
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Nathan "Nat" Joseph owned and operated Transatlantic Records, an early and profoundly influential British independent label that played a critical role in the nation's folk and blues culture. Born July 13, 1939, in Birmingham, England, he appeared in comedic revues while a student at Cambridge's Queens College, but after graduating took over the metal business he inherited upon his father's 1948 death, transforming the company to serve the waste treatment industry. After quickly realizing the business world did not suit him, Joseph turned to teaching, followed by a year traveling the U.S. His experiences abroad galvanized his interest in American roots music, and he returned to England in 1961 determined to launch his own record label. At first Joseph acted as a middleman for American folk labels, selling their records from the trunk of his car, before founding Transatlantic in 1962 as a vehicle for the emerging British folk movement. The company nevertheless first earned notice via three LPs by the sex therapist Dr. Eustace Chesser, recorded under the pseudonym Dr. Keith Cammeron. These records not only proved scandalous, but they were also highly profitable, selling well in excess of 100,000 copies and affording Joseph the opportunity to pursue his wider ambitions.

In collaboration with Transatlantic staff producer Bill Leader, Joseph established a label respected for its eclectic yet judicious taste as well as its commercial acumen. Projects like Songs of Love, Lust and Loose Living, which paired folksinger Isla Cameron with actor Tony Britton, proved a surprise hit, and poetry records headlined by Christopher Logue and Adrian Mitchell both sold respectably. British R&B pioneer Alexis Korner and jazz chanteuse Annie Ross called Transatlantic home as well, but the imprint was most renowned for its British folk signings, beginning with the Ian Campbell Folk Group and quickly followed by the Dubliners, Bert Jansch, and John Renbourn. By 1967, when Jansch and Renbourn teamed to form the groundbreaking contemporary folk band Pentangle, Transatlantic billed itself "the label where trends begin," and indeed, the company seemed to remain one step ahead of its rivals throughout the decade, even expanding into global music by releasing efforts from Indian raga legend Ravi Shankar and Chilean singer Victor Jara.

In addition to its own vast catalog, Transatlantic virtually outlined the U.K. indie model later followed by Rough Trade, Southern, and others by implementing an innovative distribution network that guaranteed British release for records leased from overseas labels such as Blue Note, Prestige, Nonesuch, Milestone, and Black Lion. Joseph further solidified his stature with a next generation of signings including folkie Ralph McTell, comedian Billy Connolly, and bluesman Stefan Grossman. He nevertheless sold his controlling interest in Transatlantic to Granada in 1975, retiring from the music business two years later to launch a new career as a theatrical producer and agent. In addition to representing the career of the noted playwright Arnold Wesker, Joseph's NJ Enterprises was home to a number of up-and-coming stage directors and designers, and in 1984 he produced Alec McCowan's hit Kipling, followed two years later by Brian Clark's The Petition. The 2004 release of the three-disc retrospective The Transatlantic Folk Box Set, complete with a resurgence of interest in Jansch and other British folkies, sparked a renewed wave of attention in Joseph's past efforts. Sadly, he died on August 30, 2005, at the age of 66.