A Personal History of the British Record Industry 73 – Ronald (Ronnie) Bell.

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Ronnie Bell, before and after his toupe, is one of the music industry’s top unsung, forgotten even, heroes. Despite the fact that he wrote, and published two versions of his memoirs, try and search for him online and you’ll find nothing! I interviewed him some 20 years ago at his house in Burwell, Cambridgeshire. I have canvassed all my old music business friends via Facebook; they all remember him with great fondness but no one knows what happened to him. I tried the old home phone number – no reply. Were he still alive he would be 103! If anyone knows, do let me know.

Here are his two books, and following that is what he had to tell me that day, before a Branston Pickle sandwich prepared by his devoted wife Peggy.

 

 

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I was born in Cambridge but my parents left when I was about three and they moved to Brixton. When I came out of the Navy (see above) my parents were living in Hayes, and I walked all round the local factories. I eventually got a job in the Goods Inward department of EMI, helping to load and unload and check the manifests. (in those days EMI was making radios and televisions, not just records, and it was the beginning of the television era.) There was a lot of activity there.

I did that for some months. then an incredible piece of good fortune occurred. The foreman, a big ex-guardsman, charming chap but not literate, was involved in an accident with a car which smashed up his cycle and he asked me to help write the letters to the insurance company. He got compensation – a brand new bicycle. He said to me ‘you ought to be doing something better’, but I had no qualifications as I had been a signalman in the Navy. He spoke to a man called Jack Jarvis, and when I delivered a package to him, he asked if I would like to do something different. The pay on the Goods Inward job was not good and I had a young wife and a little baby. He asked me to join the Correspondence Department, which communicated with all the dealers, their complaints on orders. I was there for some time. In a way, it was a hole in the corner job, but better than what I was doing. My wife worked at EMI in the Wages Department. She used to pay a lot of people every week and built up quite a lot of contacts, There was a man in the Export Department called Mackenzie Smith (Aubrey Mackenzie Smith, died August 17, 1971 aged 54 by which time he was International Sales Manager) and he told my wife he was looking for someone to make the tea and learn the business. She said ‘I know the very one – my husband’. She got me an interview with Max Smith, which effectively got me into the business. You see, I was a choirboy for seven  years in a famous London choir, men and boys, one of the best in the country. That gave me a broad knowledge, so when I went to see Mackenzie Smith I knew something about Brahms, Beethoven and Schuman. He was impressed and he gave me a job – that’s how I started.

Then I worked with Stanley Stern, he was in charge of the Export Records and Matrix Department. The structure in those days was slightly complicated. The people who actually did the work didn’t get the direct credit – the managerial people above did. The man in charge of me was called Robert Dockerill, a veteran Columbia man from the earliest days, a little Cockney man, no nonsense, a disciplinarian, but a very nice kind man. He was my boss along with Stanley Stern. I worked in Stern’s office. We used to audition records from all the licensees all over the world…from Germany, Italy, Africa, France. In those days the quality of French pop, for instance, was wonderful – you got a stream of lovely songs, intelligent lyrics.

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Ronnie then showed me some of the old (1950’s) release monthly supplements around the time the 45rpm singles were starting to appear.

Dockerill used to plan the supplements, three, six months ahead. He progressed it all through the plant and the supplements appeared monthly. He was the brain behind that. I worked with a chap called David Evans, who left EMI and became a Roman Catholic priest – he ended up as chaplain at Wormwood Scrubs. This was the 50’s. You may remember that the microgroove record burst like a bomb on the 78 traditional business. EMI came into existence because when radio came in the late 20’s, record companies were frightened. They thought ‘this is going to be end of us – who’s going to buy records when you can switch on the radio?’ How wrong they were! Nothing sells records like a play in the on the air. That’s why promotion men came into the picture.

EMI was formed as a sort of defensive body against this new invasion of entertainment – radio. When radio became generally available – the end of the 20’s, beginning of the 30’s – the big record companies were HMV, Columbia, Parlophone, Regal Zonophone – they were all separate companies and came together as EMI to ensure their survival. That’s how EMI was born. American Columbia was associated with the British Columbia label for 50 years or more, the same way that RCA was connected with HMV. When the microgroove record emerged, C.H. Thomas (the MD at the time) was absolutely amazed at the prospect of someone listening to Perry Como -twelve songs one after the other. There was an editorial in The Gramophone . Tony Pollard will tell you about that.

But didn’t Decca lead the way?

Decca were the first – EMI were reluctant followers. They didn’t believe in it (microgroove records) and it would cost them dearly. RCA broke away from HMV after many years, American Columbia broke away from UK Coloumbia. EMI, from the record point of view, was facing extinction. The English product at the time – all the old dance bands of Roy Fox, Ambrose, Jack Hylton, Henry Hall – they were the main basis of the British business, but that wasn’t enough for long term survival. Decca was ahead of the field – that was the clever Mr (Ted) Lewis – so they decided to license Capitol Records of America. But then The Almighty was shining on EMI, because they bought Capitol when there was a torrent of wonderful musicals, fast selling LP’s. They got Oklahoma, The King & I, South Pacific. These brought LP sales to a wonderful volume for EMI. They saved themselves by that purchase and swiftly moved from near disappearance from the scene into a leading role once more.

This is the truth I’m telling you, but not many people would be aware of it except those who were there at the time. David Evans and myself, under Mr. Dockerill’s tutelage, used to sit and analyse the 78rpm sales figures and we would decide what is durable and what is transient. The things that had a durable life we put onto microgroove. David Evans did all the classical – I was a bit jealous of him because I would have liked to do the classical. I had to do the middle of the road – people like George Melachrino, Norrie Paramor – all the EMI labels.

(To add a personal note here. In the early 80’s, sadly, not long before he died, I was Bob Dockerill’s final manager. I was aware that in the late 50’s/early 60’s he was the arbiter, not only determining which titles were worthy of continuing with on 45 and 33rpm discs, but he also headed the committee that decided which new recordings submitted to him by A&R were worthy of release at all. Bob’s last job was the other side of that coin, submitting to me lists of titles that should be deleted from the catalogue. I don’t think I ever disagreed with him! I also mention this in Post no.10 – Colin Burn Part 2, February 2015)

After about four years C.H. Thomas made me MGM manager. I used to go to that wonderful EMI record library at Hayes which has RCA America samples. It was an incredible choice of repertoire because EMI had so many licensees around the world. France in particular was a source of wonderful repertoire and a lot of it is there. The ‘Cabaret in Paris’ LP’s did very and went to about Volume 7 before we exhausted it. EMI bought David and me a stop watch each and we were allowed to visit the library and choose titles, time them and prepare them ready for manufacture at the plant. We handed them all to Mr Dockerill and he progressed it all through. It was a most fascinating and enjoyable time but nobody would know about it.

I fell on my feet at MGM. There were people like Connie Francis who had a giant seller with ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ and there was a mann called Marvin Rainwater who had one very big hit in Britain, ‘Whole Lotta Woman’ I promoted these as well.

There is a piece in Record Retailer 32 years ago, which says about youSome people look on me as a little too old for the game’ (that would have been in 1968!)

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That’s right! I did have a spell with CBS, the American company. Of course they had Andy Williams, Barbra Streisand, lot of major artists. They were very greedy unpleasant people. I didn’t like them at all, but I was promotion manager there for about five years…

Shall we start with MGM?

I initially chose the repertoire for release and subsequently promoted it through the BBC, the disc jockeys and the provincial radio stations, Radio Luxembourg and the pirates. There were great musicals on MGM like Annie Get Your Gun.

Who were the key promotion people when you started at MGM?

For Philips, Paddy Fleming. RCA had an incorrigible Irishman called Tommy Loftus (see parts 72 & 72 of these interviews). Pye had Johnny Wise, Decca had Tony Hall – they were the principal ones. In those days the key DJ’s were David Jacobs, Pete Murray, Jimmy Savile, Jimmy Young, Tony Blackburn. We were the perpetual mendicants. We had to be very diplomatic. I once made a bad mistake and rang a disc jockey about an important single when he was at dinner. He was furious and dropped me like a hot potato. I met him about three months later in the corridors of the BBC and said ‘I’m sorry – mea culpa’  and he patted me on the shoulder and put the record (I think it was Shirley Bassey) in his programme three times!

The peak plugs were Juke Box Jury on television. That was a marvellous thing; the chances of getting in there with 60-70 releases a week, were very slim. But you had to try and and on occasion I got one or two. That was David Jacobs of course and Johnny Stewart was the producer. We had to cultivate relations with these people on a professional basis. There was a hoo-ha one time about payola, giving them money. I suppose I could say I was one of the principal promotion men and the last thing I would have done is offer them anything. If it went on, it was at a higher level than mine. It never went on with us – once you do that you destroy a relationship. Lower down the DJ scale there was some of it, but not at the level I’m talking about. David Jacobs was a supreme professional. Jimmy Savile was an eccentric but we must never forget he’s raised thousands of pounds for Leeds hospital (n.b. this interview long preceded the JS revelations).

The other (peak) plug was Two Way Family Favourites which was a happy occasion once a week (Sunday) when a huge family of some 50 million listeners tuned in. Bill Crozier in Cologne where the British Forces Network had their transmittor, and here with Jean Metcalfe. The rapport between thes two was very enjoyable. It was designed for soldiers in Germany to choose a record for their families back home, and the reverse as well. It was the ace plug, because if you got on there with the right record, it would be rolling by Tuesday.

Another powerful source in those days was Radio Luxembourg. We promotion men would fly over occasonally, and we’d see the late, very charming Barry Aldiss and before him Keith Fordyce. But we learned quickly it was no use going over there with anything; you had to have something very strong, otherwise you were wasting your time. It was contemporary with the record companies having their (sponsored) programmes. Luxembourg used to be partly record company sponsored, but they also had a lot of needletime left over which depended on Barry, Keith and later Geoffrey Everitt.

Another favourite target for the promo man was Housewives’ Choice –  every day if you could get in there. That was run by some very nice BBC ladies , including Doreen Davies._88432369_88432368.jpg

George Elrick recent died (December 15, 1999) – he was one of the best-known presenters of Houswewives’ Choice

Oh yes, and he was also the manager of a Welsh singer called Maureen Evans. I knew George very well. Maureen Evans could have been a major star but she was madly in love with a solicitor in Cardiff and we could never get her to London to do promotion. That’s when I was at Oriole. She was relatively easy to promote on the air, but wouldn’t come to London for television – spoilt her career, In the end she married someone else! I took her to Cologne for German television – she did a rehearsal, then we had the afternoon free. We went to the pictures and saw such a funny film, a detective story. The heroine was a large German blonde, very well built in a diaphanous dress. The detective was a chap who reminded me of Jimmy Durante. It was so over the top it was hilarious., Sitting in front of us were two men with shiny bald heads. The light from the screen was shining on them and it made them look like two huge….  Maureen started giggling and she set me off, The attendant came and said ‘you must go’ and we got chucked out!

You haven’t mentioned Jack Jackson

He was a great jazz man. I used to deal with him with people like Fats Waller and all the big jazz names on EMI. He was very erudite – there was probably no one else in Britain who knew more about American jazz artists than he did, and of course he wrote books about it. I used to send him samples but he was a perfectionist and we had some tussles. To the jazz purist, a session by a great solo artist is sacred. If there were four titles in the session, you could make an EP of them, but we had a commercial approach and chose the four strongest titles, but probably from different sessions. Jack couldn’t stand that – he thought it was sacrilege. He wrote to C.H. Thomas about it and Mr Thomas called me in and said ‘look at that’ and showed me the letter. I told him the approach was to sell records and not to justify the purist aspirations of jazz fans. The number of true jazz fans is quite small, but people will buy a jazz record with a well-known title. Fortunately Mr Thomas agreed with me.

You went from MGM to Top Rank?

After about four years. It was money. I had a mortgage and two little children. EMI were never good payers. I found it hard going so when Rop Rank offered me a repertoire job, it was twice as much as I was getting at EMI.

Was Colin Burn there?

Yes, I think he was. The managing director, Scottish chap, Mr MacLeod I think he was, hada no knowledge at all of the record business. He was appointed by the great ones to

Rank to a job for which he didn’t have the background. I dealt with a marvellous company in the United States called Vanguard. They had superb classical reperetoire. We did a deal with them and I released a lot of Vanguard recordings. It was a brief and interesting time.

Then I went to Oriole in Oxford Street. That brings in Mr (Morris) Levy. He was an extraordinary mixture of perspicacity, shrewdness and folly. He could not delegate. He was one of the nicest people I ever met and he always treated Peggy and me with great kindness, but he had no musical knowledge. I showed him a record of quartets and he said ‘how many are in the orchestra’? But he was terribly clever. He built a pressing plant at Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire, and that was a jewel indeed. And of course he did this deal with Woolworths for Embassy Records. He had an A&R man called Reg Warburton and he used to get early copies of emerging hits and he’d copy them. He had a roster of unknown talented singers – Ray Pilgrim was one, very good voice, Mike Redway was another, and Clinton Ford. He would copy the original and when it was played in Woolworths people would think it was the same one they were hearing on Housewives’ Choicve and they bought it. When CBS bought Oriole they were amazed at the solvency of the company – they were doing very well because of Embassy. They had one LP that never stopped selling – Salad Days.

That must have been a strange experience being at Oriole when CBS were using the facilities and then bought it?

Of all the companies I’ve been with, the one I liked least is CBS. I was about 40 by then I think, The Americans weren’t interested if we had success with people like Rosemary Clooney or Andy Williams, their big selling artists. They thought they were automatic hits and you didn’t have to work on them. We got no credit for a hit like I left my heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennett, for example. They said anybody could plug that – perhaps they were right. We were entering the era when ghastly groups were emerging, sweaty youths strumming guitars and bellowing into a microphone making ghastly noises…..but millionaires for God’s sake!

Before CBS took over Oriole you had a period there with Motown and with John Schroeder’s trips to Liverpool

Motown was a hot label and its first attempt to break into the British market was with Oriole, so I had all those wonderful people to work on, which I did, but only for a little while, because EMI bought the licence. The man who ran Motown didn’t have any loyalty to Mr Levy for bringing him into the British market. It was unfair in a way because he didn’t give Oriole the time to promote the artists to big sales. It was like The Seekers. The first person The Seekers saw when they came to England was me – Mr Levy sent them to me. They belonged to an Australian company called Festival Records. Mr Levy made an error. The management of The Seekers presented certain conditions and terms that he couldn’t accept and they went to EMI.

What about the Motown music?

I’ve got to be truthful here. From the point of view of my own sensibilities I found a lot of it horrible. But I was very wrong about that – it was extremely commercial and there was a great demand for it. They left us and I was very sad about it. They went to the (promotion) hands of a friend of mine, Peter Prince, and he did a good job.

 

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l-r Marvin Gaye, Peter Prince, James Fisher, Smokey Robinson

I think Ronnie must have been getting tired by this point and the conversation meanders a bit, but stick with it…it’s worth it!

What I found fascinating in promotion was that some records got exposure on Housewives Choice and started selling straightaway. With others there was no movement for weeks. One like that was American Pie by Don McLean. The lyrics were unintelligible to most British people so I wrote to the American company and asked them to explain the significance of the lyric. The record obviously had potential, an infectious hit. None of the DJ’s were interested, despite all my efforts…we nearly lost it altogether. Week after week went by and there are two people to whom the credit of that record belongs – Alan Freeman and his producer Dennis Jones. They saw its potential from the beginning and each week they would ask ‘Is it moving?” and I had to say, “trickling, nothing much.” I distributed the lyrics to everyone so that when they were doing their scripts they had something to work on. After about ten weeks Dennis Jones said to me “we’re going to have to drop it – we can’t hold it much longer.” On the eleventh week it began. It went very quickly then and everybody else took it up. The follow-up Vincent was a big hit too. Don insisted on me having a silver disc.

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Shirley Bassey’s quite a character. She could have been a comedienne. She’s a very funny lady. What used to amuse her was that at the London concerts for some inexplicable reason (!!) there were usually several homosexuals in the front seats and they all wanted to reach and touch her hand – they love her you know. This used to amuse her. There was a lovely DJ called Roger Moffatt on Radio 1

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He was young and charming – one of the elite DJ’s in the early days. He blotted his copybook by using a rude word on air  – today he would have got promotion! – but in those days he was taken off and sent into exile to Radio Hallam in Sheffield. He rang me one day and asked for an interview with Shirley Bassey. I asked her and she said ‘tell him to come to my dressing room at the interval’ Roger came along and I knocked on her door. Miss Bassey is like any other human being; she has days when she is not feeling all that well and this was one of her off days. When she’s on stage of course she’s always a million dollars. I knocked on the door and said ‘Roger’s here’ and she said ‘tell him to naff off’ and he was right behind me. I said to Roger ‘I suppose you won’t play the record now” but he did. Later on I said ‘Miss Bassey, you didn’t treat him very well. You agreed to an interview and you didn’t give it to him.’ ‘I know’ she said ‘ and I feel bad about it. Tell him to send me an open tape with questions on it and I’ll answer it.’ And she did.

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Miss Bassey with (hooray!) a Disc & Music Echo silver disc. Ronnie, and toupe, is on the far right, but who are all the others? Update April 10, 2019 – Alan Warner has provided a left to right: Alan Warner (unrecognisable with beard!), Stephanie (UA UK press officer), Dennis Knowles, Dame Shirley, Martin Davis, Noel Rogers and Ronnie Bell.

 

I first met Shirley Bassey in Denmark Street in 1958. There were some wonderful music publishers along there, wonderful little street. Jimmy Phillips gave a party to which, as the MGM man, I was invited and that was the first time I saw Miss Bassey. I didn’t realise the part she would play in my life in later years. She’d just come up from Cardiff and was making her first record with Norman Newell.

How important were the music publishers to you in those days?

There was notably Cyril Symonds at Leeds Music, very shrewd, intelligent, a Jewish gentleman, very nice. When Ken Glancy (see next paragraph) cast me out into the wilderness, Cyril and another publisher Dave Toff, a lovely chap, said ‘we’ve got a telephone, a desk and a chair and you can have it until you’re settled.’

I meant to tell you about CBS. Ken Glancy came over. CBS wanted to achieve success with English artists. The A&R man – and you’ll never meet an A&R man who will admit to making a duff record; it’s always the promotion man who’s let the side down – Reg Warburton was the man. He was good at copying but he wasn’t good at creating. I used to be the eloquent advocate of records I believed in, and they weren’t always the same ones the company wanted. Ken Glancy’s reputation depended on English success, but the records were nothing special. Rumours started circulating…’Ron’s a nice chap but he’s too old and he doesn’t understand the product.’ I got a message from Ken Glancy’s secretary to go and see him. I went in there. He was engrossed in Billboard and had a cigar like a chair leg in his mouth puffing smoke everywhere. He kept me there for about ten minutes before he put his paper down and said ‘we’ve decided to dispense with your services – we’ll give you a month’s money.’ I said ‘when do I leave, now?’ ‘When you like’ he said, ‘within the week?’ I left straightaway. I was out of work for 36 hours. My friend Johnny Wise at Pye told Louis Benjamin. Louis Benjamin was a managing director who really understood the complexities of record promotion – all the regional and pirate stations. You could show Louis Benjamin a plug sheet and you’d think he’d be pleased, but he’d say ‘where’s so-and-so, couldn’t you get on so-and-so’s show’? He really understood it and he gave me a job for 12 months.

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Louis Benjamin with Petula Clark and Tony Hatch

Everyone seems to have had a great respect for Louis Benjamin.

He was a fine man. I knew Pye were carrying me as a passenger. Johnny Wise was one of the best in the business. They really didn’t need me – it was an act of kindness by Louis Benjamin and was able to contribute something. Then I read in Music Week that Liberty Records was going independent and break away frm EMI, so I wrote to Al Bennett in America (he was the Alvin in The Chipmunks). I got a reply referring me to Bob Reisdorf, who gave me a job on the spot. So I thanked Pye and left to go to Liberty. We looked at various offices and chose one in Albemarle Street. He told me they were prepared to wait two or three years for profit, but they achieved it in less than two.

I worked for lovely people at Liberty. Canned Heat – I accompanied them on their European tour which included an open-air concert outside Amsterdam. Also Fifth Dimension – I looked after them when they came over, took them to television shows. Another very nice man I dealt with was Bing Crosby. I worked with him for three days when he came over to do an LP for United Artists, who by that time had bought Liberty, with Ken Barnes. It’s Bing at the end of his career, and it shows. It was rather sad.

For my last seven years I was the European man for United Artists..went three times to Moscow, to Poland, Bulgaria, all those countries except Albania and Romania. I even got a telegram from the head of the Russian State Concert Agency on my retirement!

I retired in 1980 when I was 65.

I was desolate at the time. but my family and grandsons have filled the gap.

And there we ended. Extraordinarily we didn’t touch on Ike & Tina Turner…maybe he talked about them during our Branston Pickle sandwich!  Ike Turner became firm friends with Ronnie during their UA years and they were still regularly in touch at time of our interview. So, for that reason alone, here’s a final photoIMG_0918.jpeg

 

text © David Hughes, 2019. Photos both from web search and copied from Ronnie’s two books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 72 – Tommy Loftus Pt.2 and conclusion.

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As mentioned in a recent update to Pt.1, I have to thank my pal of 50 years or more, Tony Byworth for coming up with two photos of Tommy. This one not only features him in animatedly full flow, but has the bonus of legendary, and now late, BBC radio producer Bill Bebb, and the very much still with us Nigel Hunter. For anyone who has ever been a record plugger, known a record plugger or wondered how a record got on the radio, read on. The last section says it all!

So now, on with Part 2. We left Tommy doing battle at BBC with a veritable scrum of fellow pluggers all vying for airplay for their chosen single. How did Tommy deal with it?

There was a lot of competition, a lot of record labels and a lot of publishers. The important thing was about making contact. I used to write to someone I didn’t know and mark the letter “personal’ because if you phoned him cold, the secretary would try and steer you off, but if you sent a letter I could say ‘he knows what it’s about – he’s got my letter’ You couldn’t charge in like a bull in a china shop. But when Harry (Walters) first told me about the job, I thought ‘this is hard – how do you just go in there; you don’t know these people; you’ve got to establish a rapport.’ After a few months and I’d become established, the doors were open to you. If you were lucky enough to have a hit artist, like Colin Burn had with Cliff Richard, nobody said ‘I don’t like that Cliff Richard record’. They say it now of course!

Parlophone was almost like an independent label. They had all sorts of things like the Salvation Army and The Goons – it was a mixture of things. I finished up in the promotion department. They changed their structure and we were working under the late Arthur Muxlow. He was in charge of the promotion department for all labels.2006BA1889_jpg_ds.jpg

Arthur is standing on the far right with (l-r), Sam Costa, David Jacobs, Ray Orchard and Jimmy Young. Who the two who are signing whatever, I have no idea, though the one on the left looks familiar! ( Richard Wootton has subsequently told me it’s Peter West whom I associated with sport and come Dancing!)

You were with EMI when the company moved to Manchester Square?

Yes. Head of promotion was Mel Thompson, a Canadian who moved back to Canada. There was also Syd Gillingham in press, Brian Mulligan, Edna Bowers, Fred Pearson (who moved to South Africa). In the promotion department was Victor Lebatti (?) – he also did artist liaison and artist promotions, Johnny Francis, Alma Warren who was Lita Roza’s sister and worked for Leeds Music after leaving EMI, Selwyn Turnbull, Gerry Corbett, Harry Norton (both deceased), Fred Faber. He looked after juke box promotion – you wouldn’t think about it today but it was an important part of promotion then.

It was really only EMI and Decca

We were the two majors. The receptions we had in those stars – the number of stars that passed through. They were a big part of the record company’s budget, visiting artists. It was a very exciting time.

And there were the paid Radio Luxembourg programmes

Yes, we had Alan Dell, David Gell, Judith Chalmers, Ray Orchard, Sam Costa, Jimmy Young.

When and why did you leave?

A guy called Dennis Berger who worked at Philips, was transferred to the label management area as assistant to Johnny Franz or Jack Baverstock. Which left a vacancy in the promotion department for the Fontana label. Paddy Fleming was head of promotion at Philips and he phoned me up and said there was a job going. In those days most of the jobs came from someone phoning you up. It was very rarely you replied to an advert in the paper. There were only so many experienced promotion people. It was a natural progression from one company to another. You got a bit more money, but we were in a low wage economy and when pension time came round the money we had in the system was zilch. Anyway, in 1963 I got an offer to go to Philips as Fontana promotion man reporting to Jack Baverstock and Paddy Fleming.

Had you been involved in The Beatles emeregence at Parlophone?

No. I think Fred Faber was involve with The Beatles. I did Adam Faith and that sort of thing.

Were you aware of the Selection Committee, which all new single releases had to go through and pass their judgement?

It rings a vague bell. EMI was virtually the recording company equivalent of the BBC. It was a civil service job; it believed in memos and selection committees. It also believed in a nine-to-five situation. The fact that you were out with Adam Faith until 10.30pm at Wimbledon Theatre was of no concern to EMI. They would complain if you hadn’t gone to see him and yet you were expected to be there from nine to five.

It’s the same, only it’s ten to six!

The other situation you had at EMI then – it was very formal. You didn’t call anyone by their christian names. It was Mr. This and Mr. That. When I got to Philips it was the same. Leslie Gould was Mr. Gould. When I got to RCA the managing director was a man called Bernard Ness and he said to me one day ‘what’s all this Mr. Ness business – you should call me Bernie.’I said I couldn’t do it – I was trained at EMI. The Managing Director was Mr Wood. He said ‘this is a different set up. You’re Tommy, I’m Bernie.’ But it took a long time. Ronnie Bell used to say ‘I am Mr Bell until I say to someone ‘call me Ronnie.” And he was right. We now live in a society where there is no respect at all. It’s only with advancing years that you realise Ronnie was right. He probably foresaw the collapse of discipline in our society. But we were an informal business.

Everybody says the atmosphere at Pye was so different, more warm and friendly. Perhaps they called him Louis?

Benjy, they called him. It was a more informal family atmosphere. I knew Issy Price very well. He was the head of promotion before he passed away.

Brian Mulligan says Philips was a disorganised company as opposed to EMI

Philips was an offshoot of the main organisation and I used to say to Paddy Fleming when Christmas bonus came along.’We’re in trouble Paddy; we haven’t had anything on the Top 10 for three months.’ And Paddy would say ‘we have our ups and downs but Philips looks after its employees.’ We still got the bonus. They were making fortunes from light bulbs, electronics, televisiions, hospital equipment.

So it was the same job, different premises

Yes. The only difference was that I was Promotions Manager at a later date at Philips, because Paddy Fleming had taken over the label management of Mercury. Then at a later date, a Radio Luxembourg disc jockey who I knew very well, Peter Aldersley, was called in as the first marketing manager of RCA records through having known Bernard Ness in a previous life. Peter got on the phone to me and said ‘it’s time we started working together.’ That was in 1969 and I think the job offered about £2,500 a year. The personnel guy was not too pleased about the salary being offered to me and asked me how I justified it. I explained that he was getting quality not quantity. I presumed I was coming into a seven year cycle in my life. I had done about four years as an entertainer, five years at EMI, six at Philips and so thought I was going to be with this outfit for seven years. The seven years stretched to nineteen, and at the end the product was not tops. I was the easy listening man – that was my kind of music. They decided to let me go at the age of 55. I said they had to give me my own area – I wasn’t reporting to the pop music man. Radio 2 had arrived and we did a launch party. I was looking at Elvis Presley and Perry Como making a tremendous comeback.

 

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Peter Aldersley and The King

Ken Glancy was a good MD?

Ken was an outstanding managing director; then he went back to America and became president of the whole operation. In this life everyone had different opinions about artists. Perry Como was a gentleman – he was real – what you saw was what you got. All the time I was with him, when a promotion man normally has to retreat into the background, he never allowed me to do that. No matter whom he met, he always said ‘here’s my man in London, Tommy Loftus, say hello to him.’ Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mercer, various people we met down the years. (American music publisher) Ivan Mogull once said to me about Perry Como ‘in your dealings with artists you will never meet another man like Perry Como’. Only Nat ‘King’ Cole was the same.

RCA had incredible historic repertoire but there must have been a real desperation to break UK talent.

That was the big challenge. The early stages were very difficult. Wonderful catalogue from Caruso to Elvis, built up over many years. How do you match it with home-grown product? The demand came from America. They wanted to establish themselves in the UK with new product.

Was the company recognising the wealth of its catalogue?

I don’t think they had any concept of the value of the catalogue. Lee Simmonds was the MOR label manager. He phoned me up after I’d left and said my product was coming out ‘nobody knows anything about them, so there’s no exposure.’ I said ‘The conpany let me go, what can I do?’ and he said ‘we’ve got to get you back on a freelance basis.’ so I got another three years. CD’s had arrived; now you had all the clarity and you could throw out the vinyl. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards had an album released for 99p. Here’s where the expertise comes in. I have to put in a monthly order for the product I want and how many copies. I have to think in terms of priorities, so I look at the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards for 99p and think, who do I give this to? There was a producer on late night radio called Ian Fenner. He liked military music and had a military band slot in his late night show, so I thought I’d put Ian down for one of these. I left it for him to listen to and he picked out the Amazing Grace track. Nobody was asking me ‘what’s happening to that 99p album?’ – they were only interesed in the full price albums. Ian phoned me and said ‘Have you listened to Amazing Grace?. I said ‘Ian, do you want an honest answer or a promotion man’s answer? Because the promotion man’s answer is ‘it’s sensational’ and the honest man’s answer is ‘I haven’t heard it.’! I gave him the honest man’s answer. He said ‘listen to it and tell me what you think.’ I put it on the turntable and phoned him back. I said ‘the hairs are standing up on the back of my neck.’ He said ‘it’s incredible.’ Next think I know Jack Dabbs is on the phone. ‘What’s this record you given to Ian Fenner that I haven’t had.’ Then I have to do a complete mail-out of the album to everyone. For six shillings you could buy the single and for less than £1 you could buy the album. The single was released on the response I was getting. They couldn’t argue with the facts – the radio was suddenly coming alive for me.

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I was like when I was at Parlophone and Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren did Goodness Gracious me. I only had to give it out. I didn’t have to say anything about it. For a start it was Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren on one record, and it was a very funny record. It had to be a monster hit. So the Amazing Grace thing was created by itself. Ian Fenner has gone to that great studio in the sky now, but he should be remembered as the man who played that record because he was interested in the music. (for completeness, Amazing Grace was in the charts for 24 weeks in 1972, four of them at No.1. It also reached No.11 in the American charts)

The record business for me was a time of a lot of insecurity because you never really felt safe in that job. It’s an element you can’t take out of the job. We had no say in any aspect of the operation except taking the finished product. We were the liaison people between the record conpany and the means of exposure.

What did you do with the records that others in the company thought were fantastic and you thought had no chance?

You really had great difficulty because the job of the promotion man is probably the greatest apprenticeship in the world for the diplomatic service! You can never go to an A&R man and tell him the record isn’t any good. You can never go to a songwriter and say ‘I don’t think much of that song/’ You have to be the supreme diplomat. You’ve got to tell them you’re not getting the response but you’ve got to phrase it in such a way that you don’t cause offence. One of the stock phrases we used was ‘it’s not what they’re looking for at the moment.’ We had a number of stock phrases we used. In later years as a freelance an artist called me up and said ‘I’d love you to work on my latest record.’ I said ‘send me the record and I’ll give you an honest answer.’ He said ‘I’m pretty sure we’ve got a hit record.’ I listened and thought it had 10% chance of getting on the air. It was Radio 2. I went to the head of playlist at Radio 2, Brian Stephens and asked him if he could stick the record into the next selection meeeting and tell me what kind of response it got. ‘I know what it’s going to be, but I can’t lie and I have to go back to the artist and tell him’ It got the thumbs down. I spoke to the artist and said ‘I’m afraid the response is not brilliant. I know you think it’s a great record, and perhaps it is, but we’re looking at a different world and a different time, and you’re looking at me from ten years ago. If you’d given me this record ten years ago I wouldn’t be making this phone call; I’d have started work on it straight away.’ He went back to the record company and said ‘Tommy Loftus can’t take it on – he’s too busy. We’ll have to get another promotion outfit.’So they got someone else to take it on and I found a box of the records in the post room at Radio 2, which had been left there by these other promotion people, just hoping the producers would take the records out. The promotion company had to be paid. They obviously had no faith in the record but they didn’t have the honesty to tell the guy. I couldn’t operate like that.

If there was one aspect of my life that dominated throughout all those years, it was insecurity. You had no say in what you were doing; you were out there with someone else’s product with which you had no connection. You were the last link in the chain – the fall guy. The sales department can say ‘it never got any airplay – no one heard it.’ and the A&R could say ‘we spent a lot of money making that record.’ The end of the line was the promotion man and he couldn’t pass the buck.

Did you get embroiled with the managers who insisted the company pay for independent promotion?

That went on all the time. You had to accept that that was part of the business. I reckon if I’d been the manager I would probably have done the same.

Your insecurity lasted you 30 years!

I had the insecurity of being freelance for ten yearts, but at least I was master of my own destiny then. Then I went to Ritz records, the Irish record label, Daniel O’Donnell and all that. I was there for five years. At the end of four years the whole music scene had changed dramatically at Radio 2, younger producers, different attitude. It had become Radio One-and-a-half. It was a total change of concept and artists were no longer welcome. I went to the MD and said ‘I’m not justifying my existence but I’m up against a stone wall of indifference’, and he reluctantly agreed to say farewell to me two years ago. You can’t stop forward movement in anything.

 

About 18 months ago “Sir” Walter Ridley phoned up and said he was going to the theatrical nursing home where Peter Brough was living to do a show with him and Archie Andrews. He asked me to compere the show. First person who spoke to me was Doris Hare from On the Buses. I introduced Peter, who came through and did his routine. Wally was on piano.

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I know at least two former record promotion men will read this. Was Tommy right? Oh, and Wally Ridley probably should have been knighted as you’ll discover when I get round to the lengthy interview I had with him.

Text ©David Hughes 2019. Photos used from the web for illustration distraction only!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 71 – Tommy Loftus

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Now here’s a challenge before I even start transcribing this interview from about 20 years ago. I remember Tommy Loftus as a name but, albeit I obviously spent an hour or two with him at the time, I cannot remember his face. He is unlikely to still be with us, as he says he was 68 at the time of the interview but his name remains legendary in the golden days of record promotion men – up there with Tony Hall, Tony Bramwell, The Man in Black, Adrian Rudge….well, feel free to add to the list. Google can find nothing, zilch, on Mr Loftus..no words, never mind a photograph. Hopefully this interview will awaken a few memories and provide some more information. Meanwhile, here’s the first part of what he told me back around the turn of the century.

STOP PRESS! Thanks to friend of 50+ years, Tony Byworth, I now have not one, but two photos of Tommy, both taken on a “jolly” trip aboard a boat owned by Terry King, who is here with Terry and  mysterious plastic bag. The other one will open Part 2 of Tommy’s story.

I earned a living in the entertainment business as a compere, comedian in the pubs and clubs, American Forces bases in Europe. I was appearing at Collins Music Hall in Islington  – you were paid zilch  but it was a famous showcase for agents.000024.jpg

A guy called Johnny Lawson came in one night and said he booked bases in Germany and France. I went out for $100 a week – I was getting £7 at Islington. I did the auditions out there and stayed for three months. On the American bases you had four clubs – the Officers’ Club, the Sergeants’ club (the N.C.O’s club), the Enlisted Men’s club (that was for the GI’s, the toughest club of all) and you had the Special Services club. So you had four layers where you could appear in one week. You’d only do one of the clubs a night, then you might come back two weeks later and do another club. The toughest club was The Enlisted Men’s. If the G.I’s didn’t like you, you might finish up with an imprint of a Budweiser Club in your face if you were unlucky. The best club was Special Services. This was run by ladies from the USA, known affectionately by the GI’s as Stateside rejects, all rather plump homely ladies. Their job was to make the coffee, home made apple pie like Mom used to make them back home. The guys who went to that club wanted to see a show and they weren’t going to make trouble. When the agent said ‘we’ve got you the Special Services Club” you thought, ‘well, that’s going to be a nice evening, no big problem, there

You were the MC holding it all together?

MC’s were always in demand. A lot of these acts were Scandinavian, German, Austrian.

Where had you got that experience?

I started as a youngster on the west coast of Ireland,County Mayo. I always had this thing fr the stage. I used to do the local school concerts and graduated to entertaining the patients in the sanatorium where TB was the big killer. There was a lot of charity work we could do, and that’s where I got some sort of experience. Coming to Britain I had to accept work where I could, the pubs and clubs of northern England, working men’s clubs, theatre like Collins and the Queen’s Theatre, Poplar.

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It was the end of the Music Hall era. I remember working with Dave Allen in Northampton. He decided to emigrate to Australia and arrived there when televisiion was in its infancy, so he learned and gained all his experience at the Australians’ expense. When he came back to Britain of course he knew it all. Television was about to take over and live variety was on the way out.

I was recommended for the EMI job (by Pat Campbell, who was at Decca. He was part of a group called The Four Ramblers, which consisted of him, two others and Val Doonican, and they used to tour quite a bit before Val went solo. I had worked with Pat on a number of occasions and he phoned me up one day and asked me what I was doing. I said ‘not a lot’ and he said it was time to decide what my future was going to be. He said ‘do what I’m doing’ (he’d moved to Decca Records on the recommendation of David Jacobs who knew him from broadcasting). He’d settled in as the RCA man at Decca. By a strange freak of fate, many years later I was the first RCA promotions manager when they went independent. So in other words I took Pat’s job…but that was 11 years later.

He knew Harry Walters, the label manager at Mercury Records. I said ‘I don’t know anything about the record business – I’ve got a few records, that’s all.’ Pat said ‘well, you’ve got a good apprenticeship, you should be able to handle it.’ So with some trepidation I followed through on this and phoned Harry Walters and made an appointment to see him. He said ‘we’re taking a chance, but come in on Pat’s recommendation and that’s how a lot of people come into this business. You’ll have to go on a probationary periuod for three months to see how you handle it etc.’

I arrived at EMI, 8-11 Great Castle Street, in October 1958. I worked for Mercury Records. I worked on the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace”, Billy Eckstine’s”Gigi, thos types of records.

 

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In the area, as I remember, was Peter Prince, Ron Richards, Colin Burn – and I was the new boy. Harry said ‘You’ve got to go up to the BBC and make a start. Housewives Choice is the big programme. You have to try and make contact with the producer and the presenter as they come out of the studio into the lobby of Broadcasting House, so you’re lying in wait for them!’

So I said ‘I am the hit man?’ I went up to Broadcasting House one morning and discovered the place was full of music publishers and all sorts of people who had the same concept in mind and I had. There was a place called Yarners Coffee Ltd about five minutes walk down Regent Street. Having changed to various businesses, I passed it recently – it’s now a Starbucks – gone back to its original function. Yarners Coffee was a place upstairs where you had all the old machines grinding the coffee and it was the place where the average promotion man of music publisher took Edmundo Ros or Pat Osborne for coffee and chatted and then it came round to the inevitable discussion about what records they had. There had to be requests sent into Housewives Choice and the only way you could get something played was if some woman from Ormskirk wrote in and said ‘Could you play someething nce for my mum’s birthday on Tuesday?’ I used to have trouble getting The Big Bopper in for that one, but I did succeed with Gigi .

Did the presenters have some say in the content?

They had some say in some cases, but it was the producer who put the programme toegether. The presenter arrived in the studio with the pile of records arranged and a pile of postcards laid out for him. Pat Osborne, Isabel Burdette, Lilian Duff, Michael Bell, Teddy Warwick. They had a rota that came around for presenters.  They weren’t professional DJ’s as they are today. I was dealing with people like Jack Train, Sam Costa, Max Bygraves, Dickie Murdoch who were really personalities, not disc jockeys,

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Sam Costa and Jack Train.

Was that the same for ‘Two Way Family Favourites’?

That was produced by Jack Dabbs, with Jean Metcalfe here and Bill Crozier in Cologne. We used to go to Cologne once every three months or so to meet up with Bill and make him aware of what we had. You had to be very discreet in those days. In the old days of music publishing they used to pay for plugs. But that was all cleaned up and when the record companies came on the scene it had to be totally open and above board. The only thing you could do was to make the people concerned aware of what you were working on, and hope it would fit into the format they were using.

The amazing thing about Family Favourites was that if you got a record on, you could just go home for two weeks. EMI didn’t need you – they were too busy pressing records! There was nothing in history like it and there never will be again…a programme that had such power. All the pirates and commercial radio came along and that power was diminished. Two-Way Family Favourites was the prime slot on radio.

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Bill Crozier, and Jean Metcalfe with Cliff Michelmore

When I moved to Philips we managed to get Julie Rogers’ The Wedding on Family Favourites. Robin Richmond was producing at that time. He wasn’t enamoured with the song but he could see its potential for the audience. If the producer had the ability to detach himself from his own personal taste then you had a chance with something like that. Robin put The Wedding into Family Favourites and it was a runaway success – monster hit. Jack Dabbs on the other has was a jazz man. You had to say to him ‘Jack, keep an open mind on this one. Ypu’re probably going to hate it but at least listen to it.’ In those days you could do that, but in today’s world if a disc jockey doesn’t like the record he’s not going to play it.

Many years later at RCA we picked up an independent label and put out this record by Billy Eckstine. There was a guy working at RCA called Paul Williams. There are three Paul Williams in the business, composer, musician, producer, and this one now works at RCA in New York. He said ‘we’re putting out this album by Billy Eckstine. He’s in South Africa at the moment and he’s going back to the States via Holland so if we bring him into London can we get him some exposure?’ I sai ‘no problem.’ Billy came into London for a week with his accompanist, Bobby Tucker. I’d never met Billy in my life before. I told him I’d worked on Gigi all those years before and he said ‘that’s incredible.’ Then I told him that the label manager at Mercury at that time was Harry Walters, who had moved to the BBC. I said that Harry had insisted Billy’s version of the song was a hit. My life was hanging by a thread on this record but we did get the hit. Then I put him on the phone to Harry at the BBC and he said ‘Hello, Harry – this is Mr B – Billy Eckstine’ and Harry was in a state of collapse. It was one of those strange coincidences that happen in life.

 

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Talking of coincidences, when I got to RCA Records (I was there for 19 years and about 12 Managing Directors!), I came back from holiday and there was a message on my desk. ‘The new managing director would like to see you.’ I made an appointment, walked into his office and he said ‘Hi Tom, I’m Don Burkheimer. I bear greetings from your brother. He’s my parish priest in Los Angeles.’ I knew my life had been saved – that is known in the Catholic church as a minor miracle. My brother had mentioned my name to him and said I worked in London. He was a very nice man, one of the many Managing Directors of RCA. David Betteridge was MD at one time, George Lucan, people like that.

How long was it before Mercury went to Pye, and did Harry go with it?

I can’t remember – might have been after six months or a year. Harry had a few career changes but I remember him more than anything as a radio prducer. He always described himself as a poacher turned gamekeeper. He would say ‘don’t give me that hard sell on records’ and I would say ‘Harry, that’s how you trained me. You wouldn’t accept no for an answer, now I’m doing the job you prepared me for.’ It was a useful connection for me because he was producing The Jimmy Young Show and he couldn’t be really hard on me because we’d been colleagues and he knew what the job involved. A lot of producers hadn’t been in a commercial environment and didn’t have to justify their existence. They were living in a cloistered world of their own. We had to go the BBC in the morning, come back in the afternoon and try and prepare some sort of sheet for the promotion meeting. The A&R men made the records – that was the end of their involvement. We were the foot soldiers and had to carry the can for the whole situation. We had no involvement with the artist nor the selection of the song – we just had to get it played on the air.

Probably one more part to complete this interview, which takes us back to EMI, Philips and RCA..and more legendary names from the 1960’s

Text © David Hughes 2019. Photos for illustration purposes only via Google searches.

 

 

 

 

Posted in A Life in Music - random memories, A Personal History of the British Record Business, Stories of the British Music Business, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

50 years ago in the Music Industry 18 – Disc & Music Echo, 1967-1972

Life, a lack of articles I could physically copy from my bound volumes, and a lack of articles generally (maybe one of the down-sides of being Assistant Editor at the time) has resulted in this ongoing series having had a long holiday.

However, over 18 months has gone by since the Marine Offences Bill ended the golden years of broadcasting and Ray Coleman obviously thought my then interest in the ship and fort personalities merited this update.

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Near impossible to read, so I’ll transcribe the captions, which appeared in the January 4, 1969 edition of Disc. (Was that how we spelled discotheques in those days?. Ray would surely have jumped on me if I’d missed out the ‘h’!)

 

Roger Day: Another Caroline stalwart and one-time rival to Tony Blackburn around breakfast time. Managed a short stint at Radio Luxembourg at a ludicrously late hour and now hopes to survives on discoteque appearances until the BBC say “yes”.

Stevi Merike: Another Radio Caroline stalwart. After trying his luck in Holland discoteques, returned to Britain and helped vainly in Radio Free London’s short broadcasts in August. Periodically phones Disc with news of impending Apple recording contracts.

Johnnie Walker: Best-known face of all, yet still without the BBC show he richly deserves. Remained faithful to Radio Caroline until its dying day and is now of course responsible for Disc’s R-n-B column. Predict 1969 will bring Johnnie either a regular radio or tv show.

Don Allen: “Daffy Don” and his “big wide wonderful world” hold the record for longest serving “pirate”…nearly four years service. Loyalty unrewarded Don now tours North of England with Bud Ballou and Jason Wolfe at discoteque P.A’s. Still hopeful of a BBC show.

Carl Mitchell: Caroline man, known as the “weird beard” – and you can see why. Apart from an extraordinary tale of taking London double-decker buses to Holland as mobile boutiques and discoteques, and occasional frantic phone calls to Roger Day, little comes to light. Apparently working in Dutch clubs.

Dave Dennis: The original lunchtime man on Big L, the “Double D” lasted nearly 18 months on the “Galaxy” before the lure of his fiancee proved too much. Returned to shore, married and moved to peaceful farm in Ireland. Still listens to Radio 1 and answered Kenny Evertt’s broadcast call “in minutes”.

Mark Roman: Of the “Roman Empire” and Radio London fame. Was among the first to gain a BBC contract, and almost the first to lose it again. After a violent outburst in Disc against the state of radio in Britain, packed his bags and left for Australia where he now hosts daily show on top-rated 2UE station in Sydney.

Bryan Vaughan: Radio Caroline original stalwart, and subsequently Radio Scotland, and a short spell for Polydor on Radio Luxembourg. Married his number one fan and sweetheart Jean from Caroline days and moved to Australia a few years ago. Now works as assistant head of exploitation for Philips records in Sydney and has two children.

Doug Kerr: Another Caroline original who paved the commercial way back in 1964. Canadian by birth and much admired during his stay on the boat. When fired, he unsuccessfully tried to become a protection officer. Subsequently sailed to New York where he now works in a steel factory. According to many of his Caroline colleagues, Doug was considered one of the best broadcasters of his time.

Andy Archer: Another Caroline South man, stranded since the station vanished. During first few months after Caroline’s March madness last year, Andy tried unsuccessfully to refloat a station. Among abortive attempts were a trip to Red Sands Fort (formerly Radio 390) ending with a clever rescue by coastguards. Has since admitted defeat and now works in a Northern discoteque.

Tom Lodge: Best remembered by me for the time he broadcast  for 16 hours non-stop while mv Caroline sailed from off Frinton round to the Isle of Man. Had a short (very short) stint as compere of the late “Radio-one-o-clock” show on BBC, but soon returned to his wife’s boutique in Gloucester. Earlier this year upped and moved to Canada where, after weeks hounding, he’s now joined a commercial station there.

Mike Lennox: “The Marshall” of Big L as he was affectionately known. Again managed to secure a BBC contract when Radio 1 began, but decided to move into films because “BBC obviously didn’t want me any more.” Spent this summer making “Alfred the Great” with David Hemmings and begins new film with Hemmings’ company in the spring.

Duncan Johnson: At one time the most recognisable voice on pirate radio and ideal late-night DJ. However when he left Big L, Radio 1 gave him short-lived “Midday Spin” spot. Duncan now runs a photographic studio with partner Brian Ward, models occasionally and does Radio 1 jingles. The most sadly neglected, talented DJ to come from the pirates.

Garry Kemp: Another of Caroline’s best DJ’s, fired, with Mike Allen because he didn’t toe the line and spoke his mind over the air. Later returned to the sea with Radio 353 under the name of Gordon Bennett (Gordon Bennett!!!) but vanished after only three months on board and has never been heard of since.

Mike Aherne:  Caroline North and South and their most successful housewife’s DJ, with incredible fan mail. Like Mark Roman (and Graham “Spider” Webb) has moved to Australia where he now has his own morning daily show on Radio1UE, Sydney

Mike Allen: Possibly the most serious-minded of all the pirate DJ’s. First to broadcast jazz and blues to Radio Caroline and the only DJ ever to attack pop singles over the air if he didn’t like them…which was often. Fired from Caroline with Garry Kemp, Roger Gail and others in big DJ purge during 1966 and returned to Potters Bar home and family.

 

Do update these near 50-year-old stories if you have news, and add any other “lost” pirate DJ’s.

©David Hughes 2018

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 70 – Janet Lord MBE – 2, and conclusion.

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After the pressure of receiving her MBE, we treated Janet to lunch at Rules restaurant at 34-5 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, almost next door to No. 31 where The Gramophone Company (EMI’s founding name) was formed in 1898. Aptly, my next question concerned the company’s move from Great Castle Street to Manchester Square.

They did a floor at a time. When we had Capitol in East Castle Street, Arthur Muxlow was there with Edna Bowers. Harry Walters was my boss there in promotion. We weren’t there for very long before we came into Manchester Square. It was all this open plan, metal cupboards as dividers. I can visualise the floor. You didn’t chat to the artists. Arthur was a great promotions man – one day a Surry with a fringe on top turns up outside; then The Temperance Seven with camels!group-of-recording-artists-known-as-the-temperence-seven-arriving-picture-id562625295.jpg

They couldn’t bring a kangaroo to Manchester Square – the insurance was too much – so Rolf Harris had to go to the zoo. I remember we had a Coca Cola machine on the landing thanks to Arthur doing a promotion in the Radio Luxembourg programmes, and he did a milk marketing project and you’d find lots of staff with a glass of milk in their hand. It was purely promotion, but it was interesting because you’d get an invited uadience in for the evening. I was spellbound by the artists – Nat Cole..he was so humble, saying “Sir” to everyone, and Eartha Kitt with her cigarette, sending to her hotel for a hamburger. They were big artists but they still came in and did these spots on the small stage.

The Americans always did this?

There was a famous Liberty reception with Gary US Bonds, Johnny Burnette and Gene McDaniels.

(I have to jump in here – this tour came to Maidstone Granada, my home town. It wasn’t well attended and one of them, can’t remember whom, missed the first house, so the audience was all invited to stay for the second house! I loved it. Gene McDaniels remains one of the best voices in pop)

They’d have (a reception) for one of Cliff’s records – they had “Choose the title of his next LP” or something and the audience was invited to vote.

Did the artists come and talk to the artists?

No. For the reception, the artist got up and spoke. Some people, like Maria Callas, came in, but the only picture we’ve got is of her getting in a car outside! The artists were very affable. It wasn’t competitive; it was like touring orchestras. The most unlikely mates were made by being on tour. If they were in town they’d often pop in. We, as staff, didn’t talk to the artists. It was only press and promotion and the A&R departments. I always remember The Animals coming. Brian Mulligan was looking after them – we couldn’t understand their broad accents. The talk of the building was when The Beatles came in inthe collarless suits. The fans used to find out when The Beatles were coming in – we used to say it was the chauffeurs who told them. I remember one day they came in via the back mews. There were all these police in the basement in case there were crowds and one girl was getting wet standing on the edge of the steps and two of The Beatles went out and said ‘do you want to come in the dry’.

How long were you in promotion?

I started in 1955 and it went on until 1965. Then, with Arthur running the agency (check back to my Colin Burn interview for details of EMI’s West One Entertainment agency business) he decided that everyone could get their photogrpahs through the agency because it would be better to have a central supply. That was when June West and I sat and filed everything we’d got and made up all the photo files. All sorts of people in the company had photos and we inherited loads more. Arthur considered it would be a good thing to centralise the photos. The agency only lasted a year and then we were absorbed into the main system, so there was a central press office and central photo librtary. I worked alongside Joan Healey who did the photos for LP sleeves and I did the photos for the press.

Did the Agency work?

It worked OK but it wasn’t given a chance to get going. Jimmy Young and Janie Jones. That’s how I got to know The Karlins. They used to work the clubs. When Bernard Delfont came in they decided they couldn’t run the agency against his operation.

 

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Arthur Muxlow (right) with (l.to r.) Geoff Love, Sid Luft, husband of  Judy Garland, and Norman Newell

Sir Joseph had arrived by now?

He was upstairs. He’d stand and wait for you to get out of the lift so he could get in. You weren’t allowed to ride in the lift with Sir Joseph. William Cavendish was a really nice helpful buffer. Sir Joseph really had his finger on the pulse. Brendan O’Dowd was one of his discoveries. He was well known but he wasn’t a big star on record.

When West One Entertainment drew to a close, that left you with the photographs?

We were just adopted again. Rex Oldfield was on marketing then. He came down to see me and said ‘Janet, just the person I want to see.’ I said ‘that sounds suspicious’ and he said ‘don’t be cheeky – I’m your boss again.’ When we first went into Manchester Square, the stage used to be on the first floor andf alongsaide it was a long corridor with International. Hilary Walker was the only person I knew up there doing promotion. They moved it to the ground floor and then we were alongside Adrian Rudge and Jack Florey who were doing promotion and across the way was the West One Agency. Ken Palmer took pictures, then Ian Dove came in 1962 as a photographer but he didn’t have a studio to work in. There was an old kitchen where we were and they turned that into a dark room. Outside we only had room for one cabinet to hold the negatives. We used to sit people on a chair to take their picture, or by the staircase or outside the front door. If it was fine they were taken out to the Square by that squirly thing! John Dove worked more with Sid Gillingham

EMI employed a series of photographers who relinquished all their copyrights to the Company

Because they were staff photographers and that was the ruling. Peter Vernon was the first person to be credited by name. John Dove in the early 60’s had his written on the bottom but usually the only photographer credit on LP sleeves was for the cover design, not the photographs of the artist.

EMI has an extraordinary legacy of photographs for which it just paid an employee a modest salary.

That’s right. It is unique but if I find a photograph I know was taken by Ian Dove or Peter Vernon, they need that recognition. The old deal was that if you’d done a photo session and paid for it, you would still credit the photographer. When Peter Vernon left in 1978 I was told I could be the photo manager because no one else had replied to the advert! Prior to that we were working alongside the press with Brian Southall.

What have you enjoyed most about the job?

It’s interesting. I like to be able to say, ‘that’s a nice photo and I can find it!’ I used to say that my one condition was to always have a file copy as well as the one that was being used. Then I said I wanted three copies and we had to write on each one ‘Copyright EMI’

Were you aware that EMI had photos going back to the turn of the (20th) century?

Yes – they were in Ruth Edge’s archive. Now we are discovering boxes full of factory photos from the late 1800’s and are absorbing them into our system. Everyone wants to look at photographs. I wish I’d got time to go through all the files and sort them. I could spend the rest of my life doing that if they let me, but you could be wasting your time unless someone wants that particular artist.

Through all this time, did you never think of leaving?

I got offered a job once, many years ago, for Record Retailer. I said I wouldn’t do it – far too risky. I said I wouldn’t go and work for a newspaper – they’ll get you to say things!

Were you ever aware of Janet Lord equivalents in other record companies?

People in other companies have phoned me up over the years and asked me how to do it. We’ve talked about the 50’s and 60’s, but for me the 70’s was chaos. Every so often there would be another change, EMI, EMI 2, LRD, GRD. Sometimes the artists would change from one side to another and then back again.

Nowadays the artists take a much greater interest in their photography. You think back to when all the photos were taken by an employed photographer in and around the building. Something happened when the artist wanted more control.

In the early days, the young people were just starting and they needed photos to get themselves known. Now it is a working tool.

The changes you’ve seen at EMI are endless

I think Rupert Perry is the mainstay. He held forums where you could ask anything. In the early days I packed up 78’s. I didn’t believe 45’s could be posted in a single envelope – I thought they were all going to be smashed. Then we had LP’s, stereophonic, quadrophonic, cassettes…

And so our conversation petered out, but as she admitted, she never wanted to wrk anywhere where “they’ll get you to say things”! When she retired, her unique method of storing, usually in carrier bags under her desk(!) took Kate Galloway, her ‘protege’ who has run the photo library in its current Hayes home, for over 20 years, some time to file in a way that anyone could access them!  But as she told me “I can find them!’ Janet commuted from High Wycombe for all of the near-50 years, frequently bringing free-range eggs on the train. She is still missed – the record business does not produce characters like her any more.

 

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Janet Lord MBE, with Mike Heatley at Rules Restaurant

Text ©David Hughes 2018, photos from various sources are for illustration only.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 69 – Janet Lord – 1.

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Janet Lord MBE will probably be unknown to most of you, especially if you were not employed by EMI at any time from the early 1950’s to the mid 1990’s. However, to those who did enjoy working years with the company she was a legend, one of that huge band of unsung heroes – except that we managed to secure her a well-deserved MBE at the end of her long career…..which she told me about here….

 

My first job was in a board mill in High Wycombe. I remember there was cardboard on big rollers and it had a bright orange facing to it. I said ‘what’s that going to be used for?’ and they said Oxtail soup powder – how dated that sounds!

My second job was even worse. I did typing for the Imperial War Graves Commission, details of the gravestones. It was in a big manor house in Wooburn Green. A lady downstairs had the lovely job of making the white crosses that were temporary markers until they got the stones done. It was run by old admirals and people like that and you had to have the right coats of arms on the stones  – all this sort of detail. It had to be very precise typing. I had done a commercial course and a lady was given a typewritten print which she read to me at dictation speed for me to type back. I just said ‘give me the thing to type.’

I went up to London one day and I knew how to get the No.1 bus from Marylebone to Oxford Street, got off the bus at Selfridges and walked the length of Oxford Street looking in the windows. For my lunch break I’d turned to the right instead of walking up Oxford Street, to get a sandwich from Joe Lyons, gone across to Marble Arch (which wasn’t an island then but an entrance to the Park), sat on the seats there to eat my sandwich and look at the paper. I’d got the Telegraph to see if there were any jobs. They’d just had this big drive to say you had to go the Job Centre to get  job – and the only one that said to call or write was for EMI Records. So I got on the No.1 bus and went up to Oxford Circus. The office was just behind Peter Robinson, in Great Castle Street. I went in and saw Sheila Johnson who was C.H. Thomas’s secretary.

What was the job?

Just typing in the typing pool

Did EMI Records mean anything nto you?

No. My father was a semi-professional musicasn and was always off to Ronnie Scott’s, and took me to the Ad Lib club. I refused to go to Ronnie Scott’s when Stan Kenton was there because I thought he would be too loud! Dad was a real music man and knew a lot of people – Johnny Dankworth, Ronnie Scott, Acker Bilk – I met them all. He used to put bands on in the local town hall. He ran a jazz club at the Cadena Hall in High Wycombe…on a Sunday in this Quaker Town! He got away with it because it was an afternoon club and he said ‘we always finish at 6pm because these people have got to be elsewhere!’ The Salvation army came at 6pm so we had to be out by then. The original jazz club in High Wycombe was run by Max Jones. Mum and dad used to do ballroom dancing and dad played the double bass. I think this was my whole influence, and it can’t be ignored. People like Ralph Dollimore and Don Lusher I met years ago. I don’t see them now but they are people I have known. With dad’s varied interest in music, I was interested too. But I was more into the big band sound. We’d go backstage to see Ted Heath. The musicians all knew one another. Dad never recorded but he was once on a Pathe newsreel. He happened to be down in the Underground and it was dressed up like a French Metro station and they asked him to dep. for someone and it ended up on the newsreel. Years later people would say “we’ve seen a funny thing with your dad in a band.’

 

A Google search reveals that the Cadena Hall in now “buried” under the shopping centre, but a letter in the local newspaper from 2010 remembers Bob Lord”

I recall Lord of jazz

LAST week’s letter regarding the Cadena Hall (now buried under the Chiltern Shopping Centre) brings back memories for me of the 1950s’ Sunday afternoon jazz club sessions run there by the late Bob Lord.

I well remember seeing the likes of the Ronnie Scott/Tubby Hayes Jazz Couriers, Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, Mick Mulligan Band with George Melly, The Vic Ash Sextet and numerous others playing there. Although somewhat older now, I am still helping to keep the jazz alive by attending the Sunday lunchtime sessions at the Merlin’s Cave in Chalfont St Giles and those on Tuesday evenings at the Marlow Jazz Club – which is also helping to keep me alive!

 

So you joined the EMP typing pool but you weren’t excited about being in a record company?

No..it was Records Division then. To me it was a job. I was never in early in the morning.

That was in 1953?

Yes..it was steam trains and smutty clothes. I think my first weekly wage was 24s/6d (£1.23p) and at least I already knew how to get off the train at Marylebone and go on the tube to Oxford Circus. I used to go through the scrum of Oxford Circus before it was altered. I was interested in the music because records were fun. The first show I saw courtesy of EMI was Howard Keel in Kismet down at the Aldwych Theatre, which later became a tv studio. I could find my way home because it was on the underground!

How many were there in the typing pool?

About six or eight of us, including Mrs Nicholls, who was a lovely old lady who had known L.G. Wood for a long time. The training was that every week we had to have a rep’s report to type up, deciphering their handwriting. After a year I went up to work in promotion with Rex Oldfield.

Did you feel part of the company in the typing pool?

Oh, definitely.  Great Castle Street had, at a guess, 80 or 90 people there. It was an unusual building because you came in on the ground floor but you could also walk from one side of the building top the other on the first and fourth floors. The first floor was the sales office on one side and you would walk through the typing pool and the swing doors to C.H. Thomas’s office and secretary. So many people would walk down to sort things out. Mrs Nicholls would be in touch with what was going on!

None of the managers had secretaries then?

Yes  they did. We did more of the admin., learning how the company worked. I went as far as Sheila Johnson’s office outside C.H. Thomas’s.

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I didn’t see any more than that until I got moved up to the fourth floor. You would be moved on when the company reorganised. On the top floor you had Ray Martin and Norrie Paramor in the A&R office, with a secretary outside, and a small office with Rex Oldfield doing the plugging and I was working for him. I also worked for Alan Tallock (?) who was on the opposite side and was doing the plugging for George Martin. (Judy Lockhart-Smith was his secretary), Ron Richards, John Burgess and Shirley Spence, who is now Shirley Burns.

What did you have to do working for these two pluggers?

They didn’t have an organised mailing list as they do now, but you would make up a list and make sure they had the right addresses to send the records to. It was like an information process. It was a new department that had moved up from Hayes and a lot of things were still governed from head office.

I imagine these were the peaceful days before rock and roll

We were doing the groundwork, pulling it all together. I do remember Ronnie Bell frequently talking about Who’s sorry now, and I would say ‘yes, but she’s not here!.’ When she did come over and was immediately successful with her personal appearances, I realised that he could hear the commercial side of the record.

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Ronnie Bell, who, if still alive, will be over 100. Can anyone help? I last heard from him in 2009.

I didn’t think it was commercial – I just knew my favourites. I remember being spellbound by Count Basie’s Atomic Mr. Basie. It should never be off the catalogue. I sound a bore but I’m really a records person.

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I was upstairs at Great Castle Street, then I moved down to the ground floor where they had John Phillips doing promotion. I shared my desk with Joan Coulson (whom I remember from EMI’s Classical Division in the 1980’s). My first project was a promotion called “May We Suggest” and I got the whole typing pool typing up these suggestion lists like a promotion mailout. John Phillips was Head of Promotion, (died in 1962 aged just 46) Roy Squires was also down there. We all used to go to the cafe next door, Peter Mario’s and that became the place to meet if folk couldn’t get into the office. It was like The Westmoreland for Manchester Square.

Life was competitive then. In those days you’d have three or four different recordings to get broadcast and the publishers would be pushing as well. If someone had scheduled a record for a certain programme and the library copy, which should have been sent to the BBC direct from the factory, hadn’t turned up, I would scoot up in my lunch hours and deliver things. That’s how I knew Valerie Britten personally. Sometimes they would say ‘no, we don’t want any pluggers, too busy’ so I would go up to Valerie Britten to take her parcel and I was allowed in because I wasn’t a plugger!

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Valerie Britten, revered head of the BBC Gramophone Library, so much so that she was a guest on ‘Desert Island Discs.’

Tony Crombie came in to see Norrie Paramor about making a record. I made the tea and took it in. There was an aghast silence. Tony looks up and says ‘hello Janet, how are you? How’s Bob?’ His agent was Jeff Kruger, who’d seen me at The Flamingo, but didn’t know who I was. Norrie just looked like this ! ( I can imagine the face Janet pulled?) After they’d gone Norrie said ‘and how do you know Mr Kruger?’. I said ‘well, my dad’s taken me down the clubs – Ronnie’s old place and others like that.’ Norrie said ‘that’s very interesting – you must tell me if you see something interesting’ It wasn’t his scene to go down the clubs – he was a studio man; you didn’t mix it.

What are your memories of Norrie?

He was a charming gentleman. In comparison, Ray Martin was a very polished suave conductor type. They worked in parallel – the two different fields of Columbia. Norrie did things like The Big Ben Banjo Band. He was very affable. He never threw a wobbly. George Martin was even nicer. But we didn’t see a lot of them; they’d come in for meetings and then go. They were more in Abbey Road than the office. They used to have audiences on a Sunday for shows – an invited audience for a recordings, like That Was The Week That Was.

Were the recording managers the most important people in the company?

Yes they were. They each had different fields and artists.

There was no marketing so no one ever questioned with the people were doing – they just put the records and everyone did their best for them?

The bread and butter were Joe Loss, Victor Sylvester and Jimmy Shand. But Parlophone had some lovely jazz. I’m sure we had early George Melly with Mick Mulligan. I heard Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson at the Gaumont State in Kilburn.

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Here’s Janet at my Abbey Road retirement party in July 1998 (Studio 2 don’t you know!) Photos of her are in short supply, but I’ve put out a plea for more to go with the second and final part.

text ©David Hughes 2018, Photos from Google search or my own collection and for illustration only. No money changes hands for these postings!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in A Personal History of the British Record Business, Stories of the British Music Business, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Personal History of the British Record Industry 68 – Rodney Burbeck.

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All the fine people I interviewed in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s were names I knew, often respected and they certainly played an important part in the history of the British music business. Some I had worked with and/or for, others were people with whom I’d had business association, and  a few were more than that.

Rodney Burbeck I knew in at least four parts of his life – as a journalist on the then newly-formed Music Business Weekly, a rival to Record Retailer, later renamed Music Week, in the late 1960’s, as press officer at CBS and RCA, and as editor of Music Week. It was in this last capacity that he presented me with an award, which of course I still have, marking the in-store portion of my advertising campaign for the Duran Duran “Rio” album, as “Top Point of Sale, 1982”!!

Sadly, Rodney has just died, after what I am told was a lengthy and incapacitating illness, and while his passing may not attract national attention, you may like to hear a brief summation of his story.

This fairly short interview took place as I recall in the courtyard of a Covent Garden pub and my wife had some difficulty with the transcription.

You started as a journalist?

Leicester (?) Evening News. I came into music via the Daily Sketch, London Life – a Thompson weekly  which followed swinging london. Then London stopped swinging and so did London life. Then I became press officer for CBS Records.

Was this the Sketch in the time of Mike Housego?

The man with the loud voice? Yes it was. Les Perrin used to do the pop column on the Sketch. He largely wrote about Dave Clark!

How did the CBS thing come about?

I was out of work and co-habiting with Mike Ledgerwood and one or two other people in the pop business – we were sharing a house. He was on Disc – this was the late 1960’s. Mike recommended me for the job. I went along and met Olav Wyper. He recognised me as a Fleet Street hack, down to earth, and I got the job.

The last Daily Sketch, 11th May 1971

Did you know what  CBS was all about”?

No, but I knew they had Bob Dylan and Barbra Streisand, pretty good references.

Did you know whom you were succeeding?

Sue Hawlward (?), who was fired for some reason or other – she married Brian Gibson. Ken Glancy was the top man. To me he was a mentor. He was not like an American – he had a sense of irony and a sense of humour. On the Sketch although I wasn’t showbiz, being young I did a lot of showbiz stories and came into contact with music people. Previously I had worked for the Scottish Daily Express and Glasgow Evening Citizen, two Beaverbrook papers in Scotland, doing pop and showbiz stuff for them, which was how I met Mike Ledgerwood.

 

Disc staff 1972?

Any excuse to use this photo which at my best guess, was taken at a leaving “do” for Phil Symes and myself who both left “Disc” on the same day in 1972 – he for the EMI/Tamla Motown Press office and me to Polydor as its press officer. From the left we have Rosalind Russell, Caroline Boucher, Brian Southall, the aforementioned Mike Ledgerwood, Judy Noakes/Fernie (editor Gavin Petrie’s secretary as they were called in those days!), our house cartoonist whose name escapes me, a sub-editor sadly also without a name – Bill someone?, Phil Symes and yours truly. Amazingly, I think we are all still alive!!

How did you adapt to becoming a PR person?

Not an easy transition. In those I discovered alcohol was quite a good calling card, and charm, I’d been on the receiving end of a lot of PR and I looked on the job as looking for stories and offering them to journalists. I tried to treat the job as if I was working for a newspaper. It didn’t always go down terribly well with the company. ‘Why aren’t you getting any…?’ There wasn’t anything worth writing about that week. There was a UK manager Derek Everett and a USA manager David Howells. UK acts – Tremeloes. Peter Walsh (their manager) said ‘you can’t have Brian Poole without his backing group.’ So we said ‘OK, then.’ We put out Brian Poole’s record which didn’t do a great deal, then we had to record the Tremeloes’ Silence is Golden and this was a honking great hit. This was my introduction to ‘isn’t it great being in the record business.’ I was driving home in my car with the radio on and they played Silence is Golden. I thought ‘I’ve done something’ – that’s when I thought ‘I like this job.’ Brian’s records died and eventually we dropped him. We didn’t want to put the the record out (Silence) but one of the DJ’s picked it up and it was a runaway hit. It was a hit by default.

Mike Smith (Tremeloes’ producer) moved from Decca to Strand Records and then on to CBS

Last I saw of Mike he was completely out of the business. I went to a CBS reunion ten years ago – he was a bit of a sad figure.

My other good memory of CBS was Georgie Fame and Bonnie & Clyde. I remember setting up a photo session with him and a fake machine gun in the mews behind CBS Records. The police were called.’There’s this man with a machine gun making threatening action’

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That was still the era of lots of receptions

And coming up with a gimmick. I did lots of gimmicks. With Scott McKenzie’s San Francisco, I hired some leggy ladies and lots of boxes of flowers and positioned them outside Bank tube station and said ‘anyone who comes out of this tube station in a bowler hat, hand them a flower and if they say ‘why?’ say ‘wear it in your hair.’ Lots of photos of startled businessmen being handed flowers by pretty girls.

Did you have anything to do with Derek Taylor?

Over the years Derek and I shared a bottle or two.

What about the established icons from America?

I liked **** ******* (I was asked to hide the name, and he is still alive) a lot. He was on stage at the Palladium and we had a telephone call from New York that his girlfriend had slashed her wrists. I was with Derek Witt and we said ‘we can’t tell him – we’ll have to wait till he comes off.’ She was OK – it was a cry for help.

What about getting calls in the middle of the night from Fleet Street (this happened to me at 3am on several occasions).

It didn’t bother me because I’d worked the night shift on the Sketch – I was used to it. I was at CBS for five years, then I moved to RCA. My high was hearing Silence is Golden. The lows were meeting Miles Davis at Heathrow – in those days the press officer used to go to the airport. Derek wasn’t around, so I did it. I met this small man carrying a small case and I said ‘Hi.’ He looked at me and said ‘you’re one of thos f*ck*rs who doesn’t sell enough of my records.’ I put him in the back of the limo and we sat in total silence from Heathrow to his hotel. Another low was Buddy Rich at Ronnie Scott’s. I took a journalist and said ‘Look we’re not going to eat here – even Ronnie admits the food is awful.’ So we had a meal first and went it just in time for his set. The place was packed except for one table right at the front. They were already on stage and we sat down quickly. Buddy did a roll on the drums. “thought you’d like to know that my record conpany just turned up.’

Another high was meeting Barbra Streisand whom I’d been in love with for years – she didn’t say a lot to me! And meeting Leonard Bernstein. I was taken to the airport by our classical promotions man to meet him. I was a very innocent young man at that time and didn’t know his sexual proclivities. His lady manager said ‘I want you to be there’ – she wanted a handsome young man to be there as well for him.

I left CBS to go to Music Business Weekly. It was a competitor to Record Retailer. Peter Robinson and Nigel Hunter were there, also Brian Southall. Jack Hutton was charged with launching a trade magazine to comnpete with Record Retailer, along with the advertising director Peter Wilkinson. We had about 18 months’ fight against them. We were evenutally knobbled by the postal strike – six weeks with no post. The rival was far more established.

 

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Peter Robinson, Rodney, Christine Eldridge, Brian Southall and Nigel Hunter, taken at my retirement Abbey Road party in July 1998.

It was a good bunch of people

Roy Eldridge’s wife Christine was my secretary – it was great fun. But the record business wouldn’t support two magazines, though more recently we set up a magazine in competition with The Bookseller  and that’s worked. Also we didn’t have a chart. We phoned round a few shops but our chart wasn’t being seen on Top of the Pops. We thought we could beat them with better journalism.

So that died and RCA had a vacancy?

(The previous person-his name was lost in the crowd!) was doing it and I don’t know if he wanted to give it up or they wanted him to go. So I set up an in-house operation, myself and Alan Sizer who was with me on Music Business Weekly. He went on to do A&R somewhere, but we established David Bowie, Middle of the Road, Bonnie Tyler and Sweet.

Who was guiding that from an A&R point of view?

Mike Everett and Ken Glancy. Mike signed the UK acts. I don’t know the inside story of David Bowie – you’d have to talk to Geoff Hannington. He was marketing manager at the time and then became managing director.

Was RCA different from CBS?

It didn’t change in the work involved but the music was changing and the lawyers and the managers were coming along and taking over to a certain extent. I remember sitting down to a meeting with De Fries (Tony De Fries, David Bowie’s manager) and I’d drawn up a PR campaign and he looked at it and said ‘We are not going to do any of that – we’re not going to do any interviews’, using the Colonel Tom Parker/Presley technique of keeping the guy away. For me that was a load of sh*t. Big money started to be made in pop music by The Beatles and the Stones, so it was inevitable that the accountants and the lawyers were going to move in and control it

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David Bowie and Tony DeFries

I was with RCA for most of the seventies. I enjoyed it. I had lots of great trips to the States but I never met The Colonel or Elvis!

Do you remember when Elvis died?

Yes, it was late evening and the phone rang…I phoned New York and they said ‘Don’t say anything’ I said ‘Is he dead?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then I’ll have to say something. But we were just ‘the offshore outlet’  (so I couldn’t). I remember the description in a CBS brochure – offshore activities, UK!

So next came Music Week?

Brian Mulligan was leaving. I’d been at RCA for seven or eight years and had had almost as many Managing Directors. It was attractive to go back to journalism. I got a buzz out of PR but you get tired of being nice to everybody.

But surely the record business expects that from its trade paper?

Not in quite the same way. You don’t have to be quite so nice to artists and their managers and lawyers. We used to cut Louis Benjamin out of pictures Pye Records sent us – he was always in them so we started cutting him out! (Music Week) was enjoyable up to the first recession, but then it started losing advertising and it got very sticky. Good team though.

What is the essence of a good trade magazine?

A good editor needs to tread a fine line, get the right balance. You have to be nice to your advertisers – you need the advertising. If you’re not subjective the magazine has no balls and people won’t read you. Maintaining that balance is very tricky. They (the record companies) switched to single record or single artist advertising, which, apart from backing up the record, showed the trade there was muscle behind the record, and to please the artist and manager. We also then initiated reasons for other advertising – we invented the Special Feature, spotlight on reggae, independent records, recording studios, whatever. That was a little bit soul destroying but I’m pragmatic and it had to be done. My criterion was to make it readable. Jack (Hutton) was Managing Director. He was a good anchor, but he had become a managing director rather than a journalist.

How long did you stay there?

Eight years. The demise of the independent record shop was a gradual change, a move towards chains – Our Price, HMV. The increasing important of the charts – there was always a scandal or a complaint about them, and the editor takes the stick.,

What about the award ceremonies?

They were a very good idea..not mine. They gave the industry a reason for a piss-up. I left in 1986. There was a change of management and my face no longer fitted in the hierarchy.

After that I was six months “freelancing” as they say. Then I was hired by Publishing News. I friend of mine introduced me to one of the partners. They had this book catalogue and magazine and had the idea of a CD music catalogue that they could give away in book shops and have the record companies pay lots of money to have the (booklet) covers inserted. They hired me as a consultant for that. Fred Newman, who owns Publishing News, worked with me on the Daily Sketch in 1961. In those days Publishing News was fortnightly and they wanted it to go weekly. The idea of the CD catalogue never got off the ground but Fred asked me if I wanted to get involved in the magazine itself. So I stayed around to help them go weekly, and I’m still there.

Fred Newman, who died in 2008.This interview was conducted some years before then)

Did you leave the music business quite happily?

No, I left it sadly. I had a lot of friends and I miss that buzz of being involved with records and hits. But books are not so very different. And retailing is retailing. I miss MIDEM.

We were close to concluding this brief and rather noisy interview, when Rodney said..

You’ve forgotten my big low in the industry, when Richard Branson played his April 1st practical joke on me. I was editing Music Week and had a call from Richard’s PR man. ‘He’s got a great story for you – a totally innovative way of delivering music. Can you come for lunch on the barge on the canal?’ Went along to his barge, had lunch with Richard on the deck and he said ‘We’re going to start delivering music through cable, going to cut out record shops, no records any more. We’ve discovered a way of being able to let people decide what they want, and key it in.’ I thought ‘this is a good story, why should I not believe this guy – it’s Richard Branson. But it’s a bit odd’. Got back to the office and discussed it (and the response was) “why should he have you on?” I rang his PR man and said ‘it’s not on – it doesn’t make sense. I’ve talked to the Cable TV people and they say they don’t know anything about it.’ Anyway, he said ‘Richard is personally offended that you should think he’s lying.’ So I printed it and didn’t realise our issue that week was April 1st. Apparently one of the Music Week staff had, he alleged, been freelancing nasty stories about him to ‘Private Eye’ and this was his way of getting back at him. through me. This was in 1983-1984. Who would have thought such an extraordinary convoluted story would come full circle? I met Richard a couple of years ago at a party and said ‘do you remember that?’ He said ‘yes, it’s come true, hasn’t it. ‘

Every journalist wants to believe he has a scoop!

text ©David Hughes, 2018. Apart from two from my own collection, all illustrations are sourced from web searches and are purely for that purpose.

Posted in A Personal History of the British Record Business, Stories of the British Music Business, Tales of a Press Officer, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments
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