There must be plenty of record labels that were born on a drunken night in the pub. In the case of Song, By Toad, it was a Leith pub in the summer of 2007, where Matthew Young and his wife Kate were thoroughly enjoying a then unknown Scottish band called Broken Records.
"We were hammered," recalls Young. "Kate said to them, if you don't get signed by the time I get my next bonus we'll put out your record. We woke up the next morning and thought, what have we promised?"
Back then, Young was a design engineer writing a daily music blog in his spare time with, he admits, no clue how to run a record label. Feeling compelled to keep his drunken promise, he decided to do some research. As it turned out, Broken Records' rise was faster than anticipated, the band eventually securing a deal with high-profile indie label 4AD. While delighted that his friends were doing so well, Young was crestfallen that his research had come to nothing.
So he decided to start a label anyway, and approached a young Edinburgh band called Meursault instead. With this group, the timing was perfect. A buzz was already building around Meursault's distinctive mix of folk and electronica, and when Song, By Toad released their debut album, Pissing On Bonfires, Kissing With Tongues in December 2008, it won rave reviews. "They picked up an audience so fast that it forced us to set up a proper record label. It became a lot more legit than it was ever intended to be."
In the past two years, Meursault have played Glastonbury, Rockness and T in the Park, toured Europe, and released a second album, All Creatures Will Make Merry, currently featuring on numerous "best of 2010" critics' lists. Young, meanwhile, was spending most of his nights at his computer until 4am, as Song, By Toad took over his life.
By 2010, it had become a record label with 14 acts listed on its roster, plus a podcast and radio show. When Young wasn't organising all that, he was recording bands in his living room and continuing to blog seven days a week, while still doing a full-time job. Something had to give.
"My colleagues were getting a bit annoyed with me. I was coming into work shattered all the time. I was just wracked with guilt constantly because they were paying me a wage and far too much of the time I was sitting there working on other things."
And so, in June this year, aged 34, Young abandoned the career he'd pursued for ten years. "A friend said, you've given up your job, tomorrow you're driving to Glastonbury. It's the end of your adulthood."
It was a joke, but it had a ring of truth. "Most people doing what I'm doing now are in their early twenties," Young acknowledges. He spends much of our interview paying affectionate tribute to Kate (or Mrs Toad as she's referred to on the blog), whose job as a fund manager at Baillie Gifford keeps a roof over the couple's heads while Young throws all his energy into a label which, while it "washes its face and hasn't lost me a cent", is yet to turn a profit. "All of this would have been impossible unless she was completely supportive," he says. "She's very loyal and protective and very maternal towards the bands. We've recorded three albums in this house. I don't think most people would tolerate that easily."
The couple own a two-floor home in one of Edinburgh's more well-to-do areas, but seem to share a disdain for materialism. For his part, Young clearly didn't set up Song, By Toad to make a fast buck. On his blog, which remains the heart of the whole operation, he enthuses about other labels far more than his own. Last month, when the launch of new signing Yusuf Azak's debut album clashed with several other Edinburgh gigs, he plugged the other gigs on his blog anyway.
When it comes to the label, he hasn't signed contracts with any of his acts: "I don't know why Meursault are still with us, but nobody's tried hard to take them off us, so here we are. If a better label comes in with more resources, that's great. I'm actually more interested in finding the bands that nobody gives a shit about. I don't want to babysit Meursault through their entire career. I don't particularly want to form a big company or have staff."
What he would like is a new house, although not for the same reasons as most people. "We want to move into somewhere a bit weirder. We'd like to do more house gigs, but in a space that's bigger than this, a church or an industrial space or whatever we can find. We're going to look for an interesting space with a view to doing more recordings, more sessions, more house gigs. We have to be very careful because Edinburgh City Council don't like fun of any description as far as I can tell, but they can't stop you from having a private party." v
The Song, By Toad Christmas Party, featuring Meursault, Jesus H Foxx, Inspector Tapehead, Yusuf Azak, Rob St John and the Savings and Loan, is at the Queen Charlotte Rooms, Leith, on Thursday
This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 12 December, 2010