Bill Leader (born 1929) is an English recording engineer and record producer. He is particularly associated with the British folk music revival of the 1960s and 1970s, producing records by Paddy Tunney, Davey Graham, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Frank Harte and many others.
Leader was born in New Jersey in the late 1920s, of British parents. His parents returned to the UK while he was still young and he was brought up in Dagenham, Mottingham and Shipley. Even as a child, he wanted to be a recording engineer and he moved back to London in 1955 to work in a film library at the Polish Embassy, with the intention of working in the film industry. He began working for Topic Records and particularly recorded some of the Irish folk musicians who were in London in the late 1950s, as well as releasing a Rambling Jack Elliott record for Topic. To supplement the meagre income from his recording work, he took a job in Collett’s record shop (specialising in folk, blues and jazz records) in Oxford Street, London. Through his work in the shop, he met Nathan Joseph who had set up Transatlantic Records and, from 1962, began working with him, part-time, as a producer
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The early days of recording folk artists in England were characterised by low budgets and improvised technology. In the 1960s, Leader lived in Camden and, using a semi-professional Revox tape recorder, recorded a number of artists in his own flat, sound-proofing the room with blankets and egg boxes. John Renbourn described the early recordings of himself and Bert Jansch, in which Leader proceeded by „setting up the tape machine in the sink and having us play in the broom cupboard“.
In 1969, together with his second wife, Helen, he set up two record labels: Leader and Trailer Records. The Leader label was intended for recordings like those made by Alan Lomax, with extensive academic liner notes. The Trailer label was focused on the revival scene. A recent compilation of Trailer tracks is Never The Same – Leave-Taking From the British Folk Revival 1970–1977, in which some biographical details are given.
Leader was in charge of the Audio Department at University College Salford.
In 2009, the accompanying book to the Topic Records 70 year anniversary boxed set Three Score and Ten provides Leader’s biography. The book lists classic albums, including some engineered or produced by Leader such as Her Mantle So Green (with Ewan MacColl), The Iron Muse and Frost And Fire (both with A.L. Lloyd), and Paddy In The Smoke.
He is now retired and is concentrating on transferring his huge collection of 78, 33 and 45 rpm records onto more modern systems.
Leader was honoured with a „Good Tradition“ award, for his contributions to continuing the tradition of folk music, at the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards at The Lowry theatre in Salford on 8 February 2012.
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