50 years ago in the Music Industry 16 – Disc & Music Echo, 1967-1972

I don’t think anyone will disagree that pop music for the teenager actually sprang into life courtesy a middle-aged man with a strange “kiss” curl and his band of merry men including a stand-up bass player and a saxophonist. Bill Haley and the Comets were the most unlikely introduction to the revelation that there was more for the war babies to listen to than dance bands and crooning singers.

Bill first came over on a ship in the late 50’s and thence by train to Waterloo Station. He started everything but his days were quickly numbered when we realised/discovered that the music he was platying was so much better sung by those folk to whom it meant something.

But fast forward 10 years and Bill was still coming to London, playing to audiences that wimps like me felt it best to avoid, but still managing to build up a fair old head of steam. This dates from May 11, 1968)

(Oh, and please don’t overlook the Episode advert, a slightly desperate reincarnation of Episode Six without their original enigmatic drummer)

 

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50 years ago in the Music Industry 15 – Disc & Music Echo, 1967-1972

 

With “Tina-the Musical” having opened to sensational reviews this week, strangely appropriate that this interview, of which I am ashamed to admit I have absolutely no memory, pops out of the annals of Disc, April 27, 1968.

 

 

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And in the same issue (two by-lines in one week!!) one of several interviews I had with Peter Frampton, marked for many years by Disc’s idea of calling him “The Face of ’68”, poor chap, though of course he was good-looking then!!

 

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1967…and The Face of ’68 is no more, with eight months of 1967 still to go!! Pop weeklies eh?

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 67 – Bunny Lewis 5 and conclusion

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Bunny had just listed some of the artists that he signed to Columbia during his time at EMI including The Avons, The Mudlarks and, via Top Rank, Craig Douglas. I then asked about the frequency with which singers changed labels in the late 50’s/early 60’s

Decca was the Woolworths of the record companies. You went in there and probably got a  better shake at Decca than anywhere else. Your promotion was probably better. They were not stingy about the amount of money they would spend on sessions but you had to come up with the songs. There was no long-term keeping an artist, saying ‘well, he’s going to have one (a hit) over the next year or two. Bollocks, he’s out. And that’s why they all moved eventually. They only had to have two flops in a row and it didn’t matter who produced them, Dick Rowe or whoever, said. It was an attitude. Decca was a quick turnover company and they wanted it to happen quickly, and they knew damned well that if they got rid of  Lita Roza, Joan Regan, Suzy Miller or Lorrae Desmond, there were four others sitting around just as likely to have hits. And the only trouble was that the people who made those hits for them like Dick Rowe and me, had left, and they weren’t getting hits from America any more either, and suddenly there was a vacuum and Decca went……When Ted Lewis picked up Decca it belonged to a man who did all his business in the bath!  Dreadful! (was this S.C. Newton?) Ted took it up basically because he was a jobber in the stock market, that was his real thing, and always was for the rest of his life. He never took a salary from Decca, but he was very proud to tell you ‘I can’t think why you want more money – I don’t get any! But of course, he didn’t. He used to fiddle the bloody shares. He’d go down to the stock market on Friday or something, fiddle about and he’d have made himself a couple of grand just like that, because he was a jobber. He saw these shares being desperately treated by this fellow, so he bought Decca and he brought it from right down there to right up here. It was Ted Lewis who did it.

 

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Then he managed to get the right people to be executives and they kept it up there until he suddenly got bigger than his boots. He thought that he couldn’t do wrong. He was the big man. One way or another he antagonised two or three people who were top executives there. He antagonised all these people who let us have the labels from America and Decca went down to the depths. The only person who got any money out of Decca at the end was Marcel Stellman who took them to court. When you consider how big they were….

Did you work with Larry Parnes?

I was a friend of Larry’s. I liked Larry. He was one of us, a bit more of a brigand that perhaps I was, that’s why he made a bit more money than I did!

Was Tony Hall there with you?

I got Tony Hall his job. You ask him. And very good he was too. He took over looking after Capitol or something. He became a plugger – he was the top plugger there. Nice fellow.

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Larry Parnes with Billy Fury, Tony Hall.

I had successes. I had David Essex. I became his agent and made his records. He was a very good looking boy from the East End. Very nice fellow. I’ve still got eight tracks of David that are incredibly bad. I got him at the wrong time – I got him too soon. Couldn’t sing properly. I mean, he’s not the greatest singer even now, but I tried and tried. By that time I had my label with Fontana. Apart from anything else I liked him enormously, still do. He nearly cracked it in America. He did get a hit, perhaps he didn’t get a follow-up or something. The next thing I knew RCA Victor, one of their cheaper labels, got on to me and said ‘Have you got any David Essex tracks? Fontana says he belongs to you, not them’ I said ‘well, I’ve got about five or six full tracks and another two or three with enough to fiddle around with and get records out of, so you could make a short album.’ They said ‘how much do you want for them?’ I said ‘they’re not for sale.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘They’re too bad.’ They said ‘well, what do you care.’ I said ‘well I do care because I happen to like David Essex very much and the last thgiung I am about to do,on the brink of him making in the States, is to be party to putting out a ghastly, and it was ghastly, album.’ So they said ‘we’ll guive you $30,000’, which at that time was quite a lot of money and I could have done with it. Those tapes are still up there (on his shelves). I couldn’t have done that too him. He’s a really nice fellow and to have done that would have been wicked, not just unkind.

 

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‘a really nice fellow’

Did it make any difference to you where you went with your productions?

I went where they wanted me. I had a label deal with Columbia until Norrie left, or something. My deals were nearly always based on the relationship with the human being who was there. I got on well with Jack Baverstock; I got on very well with Johnny Franz who was a great friend of mine, one of my few really great friends in the music business. But he was full of artists at the time, so I went with Jack. There must have been others…..you forget.

 

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Johnny Franz

Did Jack Jackson’s radio success prompt you to make that suggestion to Jimmy Young?

By the time Jimmy went to radio he’d left me. I never got on awfully well with Jim. We didn’t quarrel all the time or anything like that. It was strictly a business relationship as far as I was concerned. I found him a bit of a nause. Then he parted from his wife and I liked her, Sally Douglas – she’d been a singer and I thought she was a very nice woman and he just discarded her, the selfish fellow. He’s always wanted to talk; he’d always had faith in himself way back as a talker. I never thought anything of it and he did it all himself. I don’t think he has an agent today. He’s not the easiest or nicest pereson to deal with, but he’s still there. And that he, this miserable little fellow should end up with an OBE and a CBE, talk about other buggers’ efforts!

And can get Prime Ministers etc., into his studio to talk to him.

That’s how he got his OBE of course! Pete Murray got his through getting Lady Wilson on, so did Kenny Lynch. Jim got his through Mrs Thatcher, the first one anyway. I’m certain that we shall see Sir Trevor MacDonald in a matter of months (he was knighted in 1999). It’s all Jim’s own effort. He always believed in himself as a talker. And he’s right – that’s what he’s best at. A good singer too, but he wasn’t really a performer on stage, so he’s much better doing what he’s doing now. (Sir Jimmy Young died in November 2016)

 

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It’s interesting that you made that switch from performers to presenters and presumably didn’t regret it?

It was better really because, without being snobbish about it, dealing with television presenters you’re on a slightly different intellectual level to dealing with pop singers, where there wasn’t too much between the ears. I’m not suggesting there’s much between the ears of some of the television people either, but after all,  television companies were relatively civilised people to talk to, and commercial advertising companies too. When you’re in the pop record field, the record company people were the only civilised people, otherwise it was all ‘oy oy oy.’ I don’t know the record people these days. I only know a few managing directors – I’m too old to deal with them now.

It’s interesting that today people are complaining that the record business is short-term and isn’t sticking with artists, and yet within that 40 years period it was the same for different reasons. Well, maybe it’s the same reason – to make money?

I remember the early Craig Douglas days, when the groups became big, the amount of money that the record companies starting forking out for totally unknown groups was incredible. You could come along with a group and if you were good at hyping you could hype a record company into putting up twenty-five grand for a two-album deal. Of course, it never went near an album – it was spent down the pub! It used to amuse me, but it was happening all the time.

The Beatles were attracting such a deluge of signings that people were signing everything that moved in the hope….

..that they might get another Beatles! And they were all so frightened. If you had one of these groups all you had to say was ‘I’ve got to get an answer out of you because I’ve got something else coming up.’ – you were terrified of losing them. There was that scurrilous story that’s become part of pop history – it’s not true – about Dick Rowe and The Beatles. The fact that it is untrue doesn’t make any difference – you still read it in books and all the rest of it. It wasn’t him – it was a fellow called Smith, one of our junior produicers. First of all, Brian Epstein came along to Decca with a pretty ghastly demo of The Beatles. At that time Decca had The Tornados, who were hot, and these demos sounded very like The Shadows, not very exciting, so Dick Rowe said to Mike Smith ‘you’d better give them a test.’ So he gave them a test and at the same time he tested Brian Poole and the Tremeloes and he preferred Brian Poole. He took them to Dick Rowe and said ‘I prefer Brian Poole’ and Dick said ‘well, you’re the fellow producing it, do what you like.’ The story stuck that it was poor old Dick, but it wasn’t.

It wasn’t just Decca – other labels had done the same. When you listen to those tracks, you understand why.

What happened was, in those days George Martin had Parlophone, which was the poor man’s label. I had Lorrae Desmond with him – he was a hell of a nice fellow to work with, and a good musician but he hadn’t  had any real success except for Peter Sellers and funny things like that. But he had a liaison with Dick James – he’d recorded him or something. He was a competent band singer, but he was never going to be a hit singer, because he was ugly as sin…no chance. Brian Epstein found his way into Dick James’ office and Dick pointed his nose towards George Martin, and you know the rest. And George said to me ‘that bastard Dick James never gave me a penny’ (presumably of the publishing revenue). Because of The Beatles, George has done very well for himself. It’s taken a lot of time, but now he’s Sir George and all this. The rest of The Beatles are still sitting there, except McCartney, with only an MBE. It’s only because George speaks the Queen’s English…we are a  monstrous nation of snobs! (Paul has of course recently been joined by Sir Ringo!)

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I think it was Judy (George’s secretary and later wife) who made great strides to smarten up George’s accent.

I remember them both up there and she was always ‘frightfully, frightfully’, almost aggressively so. Didn’t worry me particularly but it did worry some people. They’d go in there and she’d say ‘la di da’ and they weren’t used to it. I don’t remember George as being quite as smooth as he is these days, though I dont remember him, being very rough – very nice fellow.

The other girl who worked for him, Shirley, she’s done well. I knew all the promotional staff down there…Harry Walters, Chris Peers. Chris picked up a girl duo, The Caravelles. I used to use Harry Robinson as an arranger for most of my people. I used Bob Sharples to begin with until he went off to television, You don’t have to be a baby to cry came in to my company, though they had a slice off the top. They hadn’t written anything else and didn’t look as if they could write anything else. The father of one of them was a bloody nuisance.

At this time when I went over to America I was spending the day with Burt Bacharach in this magnificent flat he had, and I said ‘what have you got on the hob, Burt?’ ‘Well, I’ve got this thing here – I’m going to send it over to Dusty.’ Dusty had done a lot of his stuff. Very hard to argue about Dusty because, let’s face it, she was the best girl singer we’ve ever had. He sat down and played it and I said ‘I want that, Burt.’ I’ve got these two girls, they’re hot as a pistol; they’re hotter than Dusty at the moment. I talked him into it –  Wishin’ & hopin’ . I sent it over to Harry and Chris and I said ‘here’s the latest Burt Bacharach offering – get it done nice and quick before he changes his bloody mind and sends it to someone else.’ I rang them up and said ‘did you get it alright”‘ They said ‘they won’t do it.’ I said ‘what – for Christ’s sake this is Burt Bacharach; he’s the hottest thing’ But they wouldn’t do it and it ended up with Dusty who had a hit with it. It just goes to show our business is all about where you are and who you know. And The Caravelles never had another hit. Harry and Chris could never find anything that could either please them or was good enough for them, so they disappeared into limbo and broke up. One was difficult and one wasn’t. They might have become quite big stars. They must be one of the few who turned down a Bacharach original – those were the days when he was writing with Hal David.

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So you can understand in a way why I’m retired. At least in those days it was fun. It wasn’t always rewarding but it was fun and it was exciting. When you had a new record coming out and you were plugging everyone within sight, it was exciting to see what happened. Then they (the BBC) stopped the disc jockeys picking records. In my hey day you had to go round to all the disc jockeys and get them to play your record. That to me was infinitely preferable to dealing with some bloody nameless BBC producer who would say ‘we haven’t got it on the playlist.’ and so on; having to take some crummy woman out to lunch..what they were supposed to know about whether something would be a hit was nonsense. It was people like Jack Jackson, Sam Costa, lots of them, who had some sort of idea about what the public would like – these old cows had no idea of anything! All they wanted was to be taken out to lunch all the time, and probably given one for all I know. Bloody lucky if they got it, I should think! It was the beginning of the end of the exciting bit of it!

Another one of mine I’d forgotten was Rosko. He’s still mine except that he’s in California. I bring him over about twice a year to do a couple of gigs – he’s still on the radio here. He’s going out on about four stations, none of them in London. I’ve never been able to get him on Capital. It’s no good going to the BBC because he walked out on the UK. He owed the income tax so much money he didn’t feel like hanging around much longer. He went back to California foolishly – I told him not to. I said ‘we’ll solve this’ but he owed the Income Tax quite a lot.  I said ‘you can do a deal with these people.’ I’ve been through it. Stuart Henry was another one, and Pete Brady. But Rosko went in with a fellow who was a millionaire and they bought a house in Notting Hill Gate and were going to turn it into a school for DJ’s, and Mike (Michael Pasternak – the Emperor’s real name) was a lovely fellow but a total idiot ads far as money was concerned, signed all the leases. The millionaire died or went bust, I forget which it was and Mike was left holding the baby and there was a bloody great mortgage, and the end of the story was that he owed Barclays Bank £40,000, probably about £15,000 before all the interest.

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When I did bring him over and we were still doing things for the BBC, I used to have to get him out through the back door and make special arrangements with the BBC to pay me when no one was looking. Barclays had put a restriction of him earning any money in the UK. So it made it very difficult for him to come here. He now comes back under all sorts of pseudonyms. He goes round all his chums at the record companies, because he still does his shows in California but he’s not important enough to the record companies for them to send him stuff anymore. He’s lost out because he is in America they’don’t give a damn what you’ve done in England. He’s just making a living over there.

And so we came to an end and presumably I and my Mini Disc were back on the Embankment. Bunny is no longer around the tell more stories, but I have loved transcribing what may have been his only interview and learning of an era that preceded me by a good decade.

text © David Hughes 2018. Photos via Google to add some faces to the words

 

 

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50 years ago in the Music Industry 14 – Disc & Music Echo, 1967-1972

If I can claim anything in my six years as a “journalist” (inverted commas as I was really little more than a local reporter and music paper ‘hack’) it was playing my part in trying to save the pirate radio stations. These boats and forts were and remain the pinnacle of British music broadcasting. In the days when the Musicians’ Union restricted the playing of records to a mere handful a day on the BBC, the pirates were spawning the cream of today’s DJ’s and the uncertainty and excitement of life in the North Sea kept the listener pinned to the radio.

Their hero was a softly (is there another kind?) spoken Irishman called Ronan O’Rahilly who had already made a mark in London with a trend-setting magazine calle Scene (I wish I’d kept copies) but then decided to start a radio station in a boat off the Felixtowe coast. The ship was the Mi Amigo and the Station Radio Caroline and in home town Maidstone, the reception was really good. Two years before  I joined the Gravesend office of the Kent Messenger in the summer of 1966 I had been part of a 250,000 ‘Save the Pirates’ petition which we got to hand in to the front door of No.10, and the paper had printed my letters. In Gravesend it wasn’t long before I managed to persuade the lovely old editor Henry Cohn that I could help fill our edition with a quarter page of record and gig reviews, helped by the local angle that the Thames Estuary pirate forts (Radio City, Radio Essex, Radio 390) were serviced from the town. Naturally I wrote about the pirates as often as possible and went out to sea, once with Ronan himself, and as the Marine Offences Bill reading got closer, every edition of the paper got behind it.

Anyway, fast forward, and my Kent Messenger cuttings book had brought me to Ray Coleman at Disc in Fleet Street, keeping in touch with the pirates. Fifty years ago this week, Ronan gave me the exclusive on this story.

It never happened and this was two weeks after Fool’s Day. Who can tell now – except Ronan whom I think is still with us – was this genuine or a wind-up? You be the judge.Caroline TV

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 66 – Bunny Lewis 4

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(Apologies for repeating the same photo for every episode, but as with so many of these legendary figures from the British Record Industry, Bunny was largely ignored by the media so photographs are very limited)

To state the obvious, this interview was conducted long before the events, but…take a deep breath and..

Tell me how you first got to know Jimmy Savile?

Jim of course I knew about when he was operating in Leeds and Manchester for Mecca with his heavies, and the sales manager, Peter Stevens from Decca said ‘this fellow’s bloody good..why don’t you put him into your Luxembourg programmes, he’d be very good.’ I said ‘OK Steve, fine. If you think so I’ll put him on.’ So I bunged him on and it worked. I got to know him better on Juke Box Jury because I did a lot of them. At one time I was on about once a month. And Jim used to do them, and still in those days he kind of wasn’t acceptable to the establishment. Jim used to flirt outrageously with any women around – he was really quite harmless but people kind of believed his publicity in those days. We became more and more friendly and I discovered underneath all this tra-la-la and palaver and crap actually was an extremely nice and very decent man, and I came to admire him enormously. I became virtually his agent although he wouldn’t tell you that – he would say I was his friend. He didn’t like to admit it. He used to say ‘you’re my friend, you’re not my agent.’ I said ‘at times I’ve been a very friendly friend when I’ve got you the biggest commercial the country’s ever known – British Rail.’ It wasn’t as big as David Niven doing one of those coffee things, but that was worldwide. The biggest in the UK was Jimmy Savile’s British Rail. I don’t think people get as much (for doing commercials) today as he did then – twelve years or whatever ago. We’re now very close friends – rarely a day goes by that we don’t have a chat. I still look after his work – he doesn’t accept most of it. He was 19 years on Jim’ll Fix It. I sent him three charitable things in the post today. With help from other people he raised £11,750,000 (and we’re talking some years ago) to build the Spinal Wing in that hospital (Stoke Mandeville). And I can tell you nobody charged the charity anything, not one penny, not even for letters and stamps. We all did it for absolutely nothing. Some of the nurses up at the Leeds Infirmary where he used to work as a porter – they gave him their luncheon vouchers. People forked out left and right and the Prince of Wales opened it. A few years ago I had a bad batch of cancer operations, three in a matter of six months or something, and I nearly kicked the bucket. Since then I tried to help people who are fairly young in the cancer business, called CCC – Colon Cancer Concern and I go round begging for them, and Jim’s been marvellous. He’s given me a grand for them.

He was very influential on Top of the Pops

Yes, and he was on Radio 1 for ages. He was always very smart. When they slung him off Radio 1 he wasn’t pleased, but he wasn’t going to let anyone know. He got himself on the Overseas Service and said he’d moved because his audience was so much bigger. He’s a great guy. I’m very fond of him. He’s extremely generous but extremely mean to himself – never buys anything. Everything in his flat and so on has been given to him. Whenever I do a biggish deal for him, I’ve always had to tag on at least one box of Havana cigars on the end of it. You know he has more Havana cigars stored at Dunhills in Jermyn Street than Dunhills have! And now of course he lives in a penthouse in Leeds; he’s got a small flat just off Regent’s Park, he’s got what was his mother’s (who was known as the Duchess) house in Scarborough. He’s got a couple of caravans down Bournemouth way that he puts poor or ill people into for a week in the summer. He’s also got a room at the hospital and another room at Broadmoor. He goes down to the hospital and he’s there all day, and sometimes I say ‘would you like to come down the road and have a drink?’ and he says ‘I can’t.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I’ve promised this fellow who normally sits in with the corpses that he can have the night off’ People don’t know this about Savile. All they know is that he’s eccentric, sometimes rather rude, a bit of a joke, and they have no idea about the serious side of it, but if you walk round the hospital then you know the serious side, because they all adore him. He’s the only person allowed to smoke his bloody cigars, which he keeps in his sock. He never spends too long with them and he never cries on their shoulders. It’s always ‘How are you?, getting better? Good, that’s the stuff!’ and so on to the next. And he is still, through all these years, paying for a whole lot of things in that hospital. I think I’d be correct in saying that it costs him £4,000-£5,000 a year providing little things in there that they can’t afford under the National Health. I used to cadge records from the companies and I also used to write a record column for Reveille for about 14-15 years so I used to get sent all the records and being at Decca, of course I could get what I wanted so I used to go up to the hospital with a bunch of these and distribute them to the younger members up there, Because there are a lot of people who go to the hospital there – girls largely through falling off horses and fellows falling off motorbikes, I haven’t been much lately.

Whose idea was ‘Jim’ll Fix It’?

Jim will tell you he did, the BBC will tell you they did and I keep my nose right out of the bloody way.

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I associate you with Craig Douglas and the Ritz logo.

I made all his hits. Just after I left Decca, Dick Rowe left, for the same reason. They were giving him even less money than they were giving me. He (Dick) got the chance to run Top Rank and we’d always been buddies, so I said ‘do you want Craig? Decca aren’t interested in him.’ So I put Craig with Dick. There was one hit with an American duo and Craig scrambled in at the bottom end of the top 20 with it. And then came A teenager in love. Marty had the big one, but we barged in and got in the top 10 with it. Larry Parnes always said to me ‘I’d have had No.1. with Marty if it hadn’t been for Craig Douglas.’ He would have. Marty got to about 2 or 3 with it, and we got to number 6. And then we had Only sixteen which was one of the biggest records ever.

I told Decca ‘if you want Craig or anything of mine, you’ve got to give me a logo deal and a producer’s royalty and I’ll pay the artist.’ It took time. I can see during my career most people find that. When I wrote a lot of my songs I just went along to the music publishers and they published them and that was that. Then I suddenly discovered what they did with the foreign royalties. By the time it had been round three countries and then come back to you..there was bugger all left. They halved it all. Eddie Kassner was a genius and what he used to do, and he did it to the Americans too – he did it to Mike Stuart who ended up as managing director of CBS Records, but when Eddie was a publisher he did it to Mike and took him to court. He would buy a song from an American and then publish it in England, so the writer only got half his royalties because the other half went to the English publisher. What he should have done was publish it in America and then sub-publish it everywhere.  He didn’t; he re-published it everywhere, so when that song went to France, the same thing happened over and over again, but this time the writer didn’t get a half, he’d get a quarter! Then it might go to Belgium and he might get an eighth. By the time it had been around four of five of these there’d be nothing left. I caught on to this eventually. We were all a  bit slow in those days. There were only the Eddie Kassners and few other peopole making millions through being faster and more experienced than we were. With Cara Mia, which I thought was frightfully clever, nobody at that stage had thought of going to a music publisher and saying ‘look, I want my company with you – Lewis Music and I’m prepared to pay you 15% off the top to administrate it.’ which is what they’ve been doing for years now. But in my time no one had thought about that. I had Dennis Preston, who was the first independent producer in the UK and, I think, Ireland,with Robbins Music here. I published it in the United States and Canada with one of Robbins’ music companies, but direct over here so I always got the full writer’s royalty wherever I was. I made a half step forward – that’s how Ritz came about really. I was fed up with making hits for other people. All that money I made for Decca with David Whitfield, then when Top Rank packed up, which was a disaster because it was doing so well, but they were amateurs in the record business. They did a deal with good old EMI who slaughtered them so they were losing money below the line. If you’re losing money above the line there’s something you can do about it- you can cut the artists’ royalty, or cut this or cut that. But if it’s below the line there’s bugger all you can do about it. EMI were charging them so much to manufacture each record they couldn’t make any money. It only lasted a couple of year. Only Sixteen sold 750,000 in England alone.

 

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My wife found Craig Douglas. Robin Britten (we called  him ‘Old Thing’ and he managed The Hollies as well as doing PR for Gene Pitney and many others. Sadly he escaped my microphone and MiniDisc) lived on the Isle of Wight and wrote to us, and she went down to Ryde where he had entered Craig for a local talent competition in the cinema. She came back and said he was jolly good, so we took him on. He was the first person I produced independently. I had him up until about four months ago (this interview dates from October 1998) when I decided that I had no right to take commission from him any more. One of my professional problems is that I have never been greedy enough. I’m serious,  I could have been a millionaire now if I’d been a bit greedier. Craig is still working, playing all these clubs and things and I decided a) it wasn’t really my bag and b) I wasn’t very good at it. I don’t think I was getting him enough work. I said to him ‘we’ve been chums for so long. I’ve known you since you were sixteen, why not give Kenny Earle a chance! Maybe he can get you more work’ I’m sure he’s doing very well, because I was doing next to nothing. I didn’t like it, you see. I didn’t like these bums who ran all the clubs. I’ve been too used to the more glamorous side of the business, compared to what ity’s been latterly. Even playing the Moss Empire circuit was more glamorous than Batley was umpteen years ago, and now there’s not even Batley. Civic Halls now, not my cup of tea at all.

Any other artists from that era?

The Mudlarks. I found The Mudlarks. Someone told me to go and hear them in North London. I thought they were great and came running back to Norrie Paramor. I was at EMI then because Len Wood came to me when Top Rank went bust and said that all their artists automatically come over to us. So I said ‘I’m not automatically going over to anyone, Len!’, so I got taken out to lunch two or three times. Evetually I thought, “I’ve got to go somewhere I suppose.’ I got the deal I wanted. I insisted on going to Columbia under the aegis of Norrie. We started writing songs together because he needed a lyricist and I needed a composer. He took over Craig about that time, at the same time roughly as Cliff Richard, and I found The Mudlarks. They knocked off a couple of quick hits, then bust up through no fault of their own…the army insisted on one of the boys. They were a threesome, two brothers and a sister, so that mucked that up

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Another one I found was The Avons. Went to Columbia and they had a couple of big ones – Seven little girls sitting in the back seat – with Norrie. I was co-producing. We were a couple of old-timers even then. All we were interested in was success and a few bob – that’s why we had all those different names.

Norrie chose to stand apart from the royalty fights the others had because he made a lot of money elsewhere. He had BBC bands and things, he was writing away, etc. George didn’t have anything else at that time and they were paying him nothing – much less than I was getting at Decca. Absolutely ridiculous. Norrie was one of the better-to-do people, as indeed I was at the time because of my association with the agency. And a bit of luck with some of the songs – I’d had three big hits which helped.

One more episode to go

Text © David Hughes, 2018. Photos etc., courtesy Google search to break up the copy and stimulate a few memories

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 65 – Bunny Lewis 3

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Bunny has now left Decca and joined his wife in her management and booking agency

All we had at that period was Lorrae Desmond and Jimmy Young. Then David Jacobs rang me up one day and said ‘you have made me play records I didn’t want to play so often that I want you to be my agent. If you can do that (for others), then you can do it for me.’ So I became David’s agent, which I was up until about two years ago.,

He and Jack Jackson were very influential

Jackson was always bigger in terms of selling records

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Do you know how he (Jackson) got on the radio?

After the war – he had a hard time in the war. All the West End bands collapsed because of the bombing and Jack worked for one of the government organisations. He was a very good caricaturist and after the war started working in crummy places like Churchill’s and so on. Then he went to Harry Foster’s as an agent which he was terrible at. That’s where I met him because I was running a dance hall and they said they wanted some big bands. I didn’t know anything about big bands, just Vic Lewis, so I rang Jack and said ‘will you book them?’ ‘Oh Christ’ he said, ‘I suppose so.’ He didn’t like it any more than I did. We got together and he used to book these bands, and then I think he sat down and worked out some of those funny programmes of his, and submitted them. Funnily enough on Tuesday I was up at Watford General Hospital seeing his widow Eve who’s been terrible terribly ill – she’s 91 now and has been a friend of mine for 40 years. Jack and I were more than just an agent and a client. We were tremendous buddies. We used to play golf together. He was great fun, an intensely amusing person to be with, with a tremendous visual sense of humour. His aural sense of humour wasn’t that great but his visual one was fantastic – he could see funny things. That’s how he could see the funniness in the records that he used to take bits and bob out of. I’d got to know him so well, I knew what he liked and what he didn’t like. I knew what he loved above all else was big band jazz, Stan Kenton, Billy May, all that lot. When I used to go and plug him, we (Decca) had a lot of this stuff on Capitol and Ted Lewis never bothered with it. It was just big band stuff to them, but I used to take it down to Jackson. I used to plug Jackson when he was on tour round the sticks – like I’d plug anyone. I used to go along with my pile of records on a Wednesday or Thursday night and, while he was in his dressing room I ‘d go through them with him, like I was a disc-jockey. I’d sort them out, play this one and then that one, and then that one. I knew how to dish him out with some of this big band jazz which he loved and then sneak in something I knew he wasn’t really too keen on, but was the pop we really wanted. I monopolised his programme. I would say that Decca regularly had 70% of Jack’s programme. I put him on Luxembourg later when I was in a position todo so – we were the first to go into Luxembourg.

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And I never had any trouble from Anna Instone because she knew that if Jack didn’t like a record nobody on God’s earth could make him play it. I tried so hard to make him play that Slim Whitman hit Rose Marie. It was so big but we couldn’t get the plays in England – everyone hated it. Jack wouldn’t budge. I said ‘listen, my job’s at stake.’ “tell them to stick it up their arses’. He wouldn’t play it. The only person I could find to play it was Marcel Stellman and on the strength of him playing it for three weeks, Marcel got a job at Decca.

 

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Marcel Stellman

Anna knew that although we were close and I knew the sort of stuff he liked, obviously I was going to do pretty well with him. His favourite song was Dancing in the dark. Anyway, that’s when I went into the agency business and David Jacobs came along and somehow or other I began to veer towards presenters on television more than anything else – possibly because the group scene came in and I missed out on it. I’d gone to America because by and large American records were so much better than ours, to see what the secret was, and to meet Burt Bacharach, a great charmer. And while I was away the group scene happened. It was just the wrong time to go. By the time I got back I won’t say it was all over bar the shouting but I’d missed out on the whole thing. And I never really liked it awfully. I had the odd one but they never did any good,. Tony Hatch and I wrote the odd song for one, but I missed out. So I began to turn towards disc jockeys – David was my first.

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All David had done before he came to me was a hell of a lot of work for BBC sound for schumpence an hour! They were so bloody mean. He’d worked down at Aeolian Hall – he’d been an announcer. He was doing about eight programmes a week for £10 a programme – that kind of stuff. So we altered all that, got his money put right, launched him into television and he did, as you know, extremely well..Juke Box Jury, then his own shows. He was on TV almost more that anyone. Anyway I had him, and I was very friendly with songwriter – forgotten his name (Eric Maschwitz) who wrote A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square who became head of BBC Light Entertainment – his deputy was Tom Sloan until he died and Bill Cotton Jr. took over. They were all friends of mine so I had a good way into BBC TV, being chummy with these various people.

Were eyebrows raised at taking on this new breed of disc jockeys?

I suppose so. I never paid much attention to any scandal. I think the next was Katie Boyle and she came to me because Tom Sloan said ‘you should have Bunny Lewis looking after you.’ And she was with me for donkey’s years…Alan Freeman, Don Moss. Pete Murray was a great friend but I never took him on because it seemed almost indecent at the time. I had everybody except Pete Murray and I was almosst frightened of being told I was monopolosing the business. Alan Freeman had just come in from Australia. Somehow or other he met a fellow named Fred Jackson who was my partner in a little music business we had together – we’d got a bit wise about what to do with my songs and not just give them to publishers. So we started our own little music business which was very successful in its way. I don’t know how he’d met ‘Fluff’ but he said ‘would you see him?’ I saw him and thought ‘what a marvellous voice’ and I bunged him up to the BBC and you know the rest of the story. Except that after him I had Simon Dee. And that was the story of the decade. There’s never been another Simon Dee, thank God! I still don’t know what was wrong with him. Jimmy Savile says he knows what was wrong with him – some strange theory. I thought it was a split personality, he said ‘oh no’. He was sick in his mind in some way.’ He led me a dance. I got him Dee Time through Bill Cotton. When I met him he’d just gone to Radio Caroline. I heard him there and that’s when I took him on. To begin with he wasn’t so nutty, but he gradually became nuttier and nuttier and I don’t want to go into details about it because we’d be here all day. You should see his letters to me – they’re unbelievable. He attracted the press – they still can’t leave him alone. The man did the craziest things, He gave up huge commercials in the middle of them because he suddenly decided he didn’t want anything to do with children on television or something. I can’t tell you what he was like. And Dee Time was so successful. It started in Manchester and was then brought down to London, but he was so difficult. I used to go down there nearly every goddam week on a Saturday. I had lunch with chums in the King’s Road and then I’d go down to the Centre to calm things down. By that time something would have happened and Simon was saying ‘……..’ and the producer was saying ‘No, I can’t’ And we’d go all through it. And on Monday morning I knew sure as eggs were eggs that at 10-o-clock there’d be a call from Tom Sloan.  ‘Can you come down here Bunny – we’ve got to talk about Simon.’ I’d get a rocket because Simon had done this or done that until eventually after three years the BBC said ‘we’re not going to take him on anymore.’ Despite the fact that the figures were excellent.

As a viewer I got no feelings of that. To the viewer he was tremendous

He got delusions of grandeur and he looked at David Frost and thought ‘if that bastard can do that, I can too’ and what he was really good was being sycophantic with big Hollywood names. It got about Hollywood that if you go to England and they start asking you to go on talk shows, don’t touch anything except Simon Dee because he’ll give you a good shake. And this was because Simon wanted to get into film. He was a bit film star happy, so we’d have Michael Caine on, Richard Harris, whatever, and he’d brush over the tough bits and make life easy for them. And it came over well with the viewer. Everything was lovely except he kept saying ‘I want to interview big politicians.’ The BBC said ‘we have professionals like Robin Day doing just that,’ He said ‘well, I want to do it,’ so they got fed up and dropped him. I’d already had offers from several other television companies for him, which I’d always refused because I thought, knowing what he’s like, the BBC at least know him – we know what’s happening there. So he went rushing off and I think it was Tito Burns got at him. Tito was acting as a kind of agent for London Weekend Television at the time and got him to go on. He’d done about three shows and….ring-a-ding. ‘Bunny, you’ve got to come up and help me/’ I went up there. He had this fellow, a Scottish poof  as his producer and they  (were always quarrelling) and he’d also quarrelled with the woman controller and he had delusions that the FBI were after him, or the CIA. Oh God, you’ve no idea what it was like. So of course they sacked him. My wife always had a weak spot for him, so we got him back onto Luxembourg and he opted out of it..never did one show in the end. There was always something wrong. Then I got him an interview for a series on Radio Reading or somewhere, but it was outside Reading and he went down there and was back the same day. He’d had a terrible quarrel with the boss there. And then another chum of mine who worked for ATV, but worked out of Birmingham, said to me ‘Bunny, we’ve got this show coming up; it’s got a sort of religious tag to it. I wonder about Simon Dee.’ Well, you know, if it had been about manure I’d said ‘great.’ I didn’t know what to do with him. He went up there and my producer chum who was quite young, said ‘fine’ and we fixed the fee. I thought ‘ something’s got to go wrong.’ And it did, The first thing that happened was that he said ‘I want it put in the contract that I’ve got a telephone in my dressing room.’ I said ‘Simon, you do not have contracts with telephones in dressing rooms. That is something I will talk to the producer about. We don’t have to have it put in you contract.’ And the next thing is ‘I want to paid on the floor immediately after the show in cash.’ Some financial advisor he’d got had sold him the bloody idea that cheques were unsafe. I said ‘we’ll never get it. You don’t know Lew Grade – I do. Lew Grade to pay in cash?’ So the whole thing went for a burton. And they said ‘you can piss off.’ And that was that. Since then he’s come back to me so often…not for some time now, but time and time again there he’d be and I would say to Jimmy (Savile…spoiler alert. Bunny looked after him. More in next episode!) ‘I can’t take it anymore. I had Tony Prince. I had a very nice chap who does sports commercials – Dickie Davies – for quite a long time until the producer who I thought was a friend of mine, inveigled him away from me to his own agents on the grounds that ‘Bunny isn’t really a sports agent.’

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Don Moss, Alan Freeman, Simon Dee

Next extract will be dominated by Jimmy Savile and then hop back in time to Craig Douglas. Am I allowed to say that I’m really enjoying typing this interview, and reading it for the first time?

text ©David Hughes 2018. Photos are there courtesy Mr Google to break up the copy and put faces to names.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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50 years ago in the Music Industry 13 – Disc & Music Echo, 1967-1972

Although I vividly remember P.J. Proby coming to Maidstone Agricultural Hall probably in 1964, when he performed inside the wrestling ring and arbitrarily split his velvet pants towards the end, I have no recollection of this interview. Strange as it involved leaving 161-166 Fleet Street and going to his flat. And it had my name on it, so Ray Coleman presumably thought it was worthy of recognition!!

Anyway…….

 

 

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Posted in Disc and Music Echo 1967-1972, Uncategorized | 1 Comment