We left Tony as he was about to join Decca Records, at the time when it was indisputably the No.1. record company in Britain, largely because of its foresight not only on the new 45rpm and LP formats, but on the growing importance of American music. And it still had the Capitol Records licence for the UK
What did the job Product Manager mean in those days?
I was dealing with American product, Nat”King’Cole and all that sort of stuff. Then Decca lost Capitol and as a poor substitute I was given the Coral label, and then Brunswick to look after. It included a bit of promotion, but eventually they allowed me to produce jazz records for the Tempo label. The label existed and had a few traditional jazz things by overseas artists and maybe some English stuff, but then I plunged full time into my modern jazz stuff and recorded all kinds of people I was lucky enough to be able to give work to at the Flamingo. A lot of them were druggies and things, but the music they were making was fantastic – it was that particular era. Ironically I think I must have produced about a dozen, maybe fifteen – I don’t know, I’ve lost count – albums for Tempo. Now they’re changing hand at between £600 to £1000 a piece! That product is now equated in some respectable circles as the UK equivalent of Blue Note, which is the highest honour for me. I was offered a job to go and work for Alfred Lyon. I was like Blue Note’s man in London and Alfred Lyon was my hero. I met him several times and eventually he offered me a job via Art Blakey to go and be his assistant in A&R, which would have been a fantastic job – that would have been at the end of the 1950’s. I did one (Blue Note) album at Decca at West Hampstead on a Saturday afternoon. We bunged the caretaker a fiver to go to the pub for the afternoon and we got in Donald Byrd and Arthur Taylor and put them with Dizzy Reece and Tubby Hayes and did a fantastic albums in about five hours, which was released on Blue Note. It was for Blue Note! It’s called Blues in Trinity and it’s another of the things I’m very proud of. I don’t think it sold, but it’s great music.
I got married for the first time and was getting on a bit (!!). I’d been doing The Flamingo every weekend during this period as well, but eventually decided to give it up. I never got paid a penny for anything I produced – no royalty, no nothing and the musicians got about £25 if they were lucky. Decca just patted my on the head to keep me quiet so I’d do my day job better. They never spent any money on marketing or distribution. But it was a very important period in my life and I thoroughly enjoyed most of it.
Dealing with Coral and Brunswick – what do you remember?
I remember Brenda Lee coming over with her mother and the manager. I’ve only got one anecdote about Buddy Holly. One of his front teeth fell out before a concert at the Elephant and Castle and we had to get some chewing gum to fill up the gap. I’m embarrassed to say that’s virtually my only memory. Norman Petty did have the coldest wettest handshake I’ve ever know in my life!
Really my ears and soul were totally into jazz – it was just a question of doing the day job as best I could. But then one thing led to another and eventually I was made Promotion Manager for the Decca group at the age of 31. I was the youngest promotion man in the business and I became very respectable from that day on! I was very proud of it, to be the youngest, now you have kids of 18. The title was probably Exploitation Manager, horrible word. Interesting thing about the business in the Fifties was the way in which when you had a big hit song in America, unless it was by a famous artist, invariably you’d have covers by well-known British artists with outlets on TV, and the publishers would play both ends against the middle, pay lip service to America but desperately try and get the song covered here in England. I had one embarrassing situation. The song Sixteen Tons, a huge American hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Coral had a guy called Don Cornell (who’d had a hit called Take my Hand) and he covered it, and it was a good presentable cover version. Smart-arse TH here thought ‘well, I’m a good promotion man; I’ll get my record played on the radio and give Tennessee Ernie Ford a fight. I didn’t get a single play on Don Cornell because the other one just swept everything. And that was the first release on Capitol through EMI!
Another joke I remember on not getting any airplay. On Tempo, I thought I’d be clever and make a couple of nice melodic three-minute things with Ronnie Scott and Jimmy Deuchar and some of the jazz guys. I think one song was called I’ll take romance and the B-side was Speak Low. two good melodic songs and I thought, ‘well, with my promotional know-how I’m sure I’ll be able to get some airplay and maybe introduce people to the albums. Not a single play! – which left me with egg on my face and two nice records.
I used to go through the Radio Times and look through every programme of any description that could be plugged and I would try and invent excuses to get a record on. I’d try and plug both producers and presenters, but presenters were much more important in those days. The stars DJ’s of that period were people like Sam Costa. I remember one of the Decca promotion people was Jackie Buckland, the girl who eventually married Stan Tracey and managed him. She was a tough cookie, started on the switchboard at Decca. Ted Lewis thought she had something and she became promotion.
Sam Costa used to get so drunk and would grope her in the taxi afterwards; he would reduce her to tears. He was a nasty guy and would phone with huge lists he wanted of classical LP’s in return for one play on a single. All sorts of weird DJ’s. I remember the editor of the Daily Sketch, Scottish gentleman – if it wasn’t Keir Robertson it was somebody Robertson (it was Keir Robertson!) ; all these strange people had shows on the Light Programme. Then you had the producers. There were three incredible ladies: Esther Farmer, Isabel Burdett and Pat Osborne, who were all characters. Pat was married to an engineer at Decca, who got lumbered with most of the Tempo records. He hated jazz and was so difficult to work with. Half my energies went on fighting the engineer before we could ever get down to creating music. Just being difficult, smoking a pipe and just being bloody minded. “I don’t want to fucking do this anyway.” But Pat Osborne – lots of verbals but all three would help you if you were in trouble with a record and they liked you. Esther Farmer, a real little spinster. I used to take her to lunch and she’d have a dog at home and she’d insist on going to a serious restaurant like the Caprice or Savoy and her doggybag would be there and she’d take home the meal! Isabel Burdett was a real sweetie and she loved to giggle and flirt, touch kneesies under the table. You could go to them for help and they would if they could. It was hard going at times, having to put up with the doggybag suff and playing kneesies with Isabel but it was always fun. Then there was Jack Dabbs, the producer who hit the headlines with a holiday in Cyprus with Dot Squires. All sorts of weird people.
Who were your promotion competitors?
Jimmy Henney and Kay O’Dwyer were in publishing and I was in records. Jimmy was a very handsome guy and very Mr. Showbiz, loved the glamour of the business and fitted it very well, and it served him well because he used to get great covers (cover versions of American hits by British singers). The big love of his life was an actress – I can’t remember her name – there was a very big serious romance.
(From this photo found via Google, I’m assuming the much married actress was Christine Norden).
I can remember taking Alma Cogan home after one of the Jimmy Henney parties and having a snog on the doorstep! She was wonderful. I went with Jackie Collins for about three years; she graced the covers of several Tempo albums, photographs by David Redfern. She helped sell the albums – these particular ones were compilations. I also had a passionate and lengthy affair with Barbara Lyon from Life with the Lyons. I got blocked by Bill Townsley at Decca because he thought that because I was going with her I was plugging her record, which I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing because it wasn’t ethical and I was as very ethical guy.
Townsley was regrettably my boss at Decca. My name for him was Dr. No. The classic Townsley thing was in the early 60’s. Motown were shopping for their own label here in the UK because their product had been coming out through London American. I loved Motown’s music and went out of my way to meet Esther Edwards and the Gordy people who were over here and I got on really well with Esther. She knew I was with Decca and I said “listen, if you come with Decca, I’ll make sure I’m responsible for your product and I’ll make sure it’s well looked after.”
Esther Gordy Edwards
So I then went into Sir Edward Lewis and said “Sir Edward, if you can work out the business side, I’ve got the Motown catalogue for you.” He called Townsley in and said “Townsley, what do you think?’ “Oh, take it from me, Sir Edward, Motown will never mean anything here – they’ll never sell records.” You can imagine how I felt. I thought ‘well, fuck you.’ He was so negative about everything. He was really Sir Edward’;s doormat. I hate the speak ill of the dead but…a very negative man. This would have been after Oriole and before EMI. It was typical of Townsley’s attitude to everything.
Ironically, eventually I went to Detroit. Decca finally allowed me to go to America in 1965 for the first time and I went down to Nashville, then up to New York and I managed to wangle a trip to Detroit, met up with Berry Gordy himself and went to some Motown sessions. I was doing a Record Mirror column in those days and ended up being presented with the key of the door to Detroit by Gordy. I had loads of pictures and went to a Holland Dozier Holland session. Gordy was knocked out by Tom Jones and said “Listen, when you get back, tell your boss to send Tom Jones here and we’ll make an album with him here. It’ll open him right up for the States and to the black audience.”
Went back – Townsley again, I think!
I think I had that job for about seven years and left in 1967.
And we will leave the story there but before we get to the THE days, he does talk more about TV, radio, jazz and compering.
As with the 74 earlier episodes of these interviews, if you have any questions, can add any information, or just have a view, PLEASe either add it to the Word Press site, or email me at dhvinyl@gmail,com.
Text ©David Hughes 2019, Illustration as always are just to bring the extra dimension to the text.