A Personal History of the British Record Industry 75 – Tony Hall, Pt. 2.

 

 

 

 

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We left Tony as he was about to join Decca Records, at the time when it was indisputably the No.1. record company in Britain, largely because of its foresight not only on the new 45rpm and LP formats, but on the growing importance of American music. And it still had the Capitol Records licence for the UK

What did the job Product Manager mean in those days?

I was dealing with American product, Nat”King’Cole and all that sort of stuff. Then Decca lost Capitol and as a poor substitute I was given the Coral label, and then Brunswick to look after. It  included a bit of promotion, but eventually they allowed me to produce jazz records for the Tempo label. The label existed and had a few traditional jazz things by overseas artists and maybe some English stuff, but then I plunged full time into my modern jazz stuff and recorded all kinds of people I was lucky enough to be able to give work to at the Flamingo. A lot of them were druggies and things, but the music they were making was fantastic – it was that particular era. Ironically I think I must have produced about a dozen, maybe fifteen – I don’t know, I’ve lost count – albums for Tempo. Now they’re changing hand at between £600 to £1000 a piece! That product is now equated in some respectable circles as the UK equivalent of Blue Note, which is the highest honour for me. I was offered a job to go and work for Alfred Lyon. I was like Blue Note’s man in London and Alfred Lyon was my hero. I met him several times and eventually he offered me a job via Art Blakey to go and be his assistant in A&R, which would have been a fantastic job – that would have been at the end of the 1950’s. I did one (Blue Note) album at Decca at West Hampstead on a Saturday afternoon. We bunged the caretaker a fiver to go to the pub for the afternoon and we got in Donald Byrd and Arthur Taylor and put them with Dizzy Reece and Tubby Hayes and did a fantastic albums in about five hours, which was released on Blue Note. It was for Blue Note! It’s called Blues in Trinity and it’s another of the things I’m very proud of. I don’t think it sold, but it’s great music.

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I got married for the first time and was getting on a bit (!!). I’d been doing The Flamingo every weekend during this period as well,  but eventually decided to give it up. I never got paid a penny for anything I produced – no royalty, no nothing and the musicians got about £25 if they were lucky. Decca just patted my on the head to keep me quiet so I’d do my day job better. They never spent any money on marketing or distribution. But it was a very important period in my life and I thoroughly enjoyed most of it.

Dealing with Coral and Brunswick – what do you remember?

I remember Brenda Lee coming over with her mother and the manager. I’ve only got one anecdote about Buddy Holly. One of his front teeth fell out before a concert at the Elephant and Castle and we had to get some chewing gum to fill up the gap. I’m embarrassed to say that’s virtually my only memory. Norman Petty did have the coldest wettest handshake I’ve ever know in my life!

Really my ears and soul were totally into jazz – it was just a question of doing the day job as best I could. But then one thing led to another and eventually I was made Promotion Manager for the Decca group at the age of 31. I was the youngest promotion man in the business and I became very respectable from that day on! I was very proud of it, to be the youngest, now you have kids of 18. The title was probably Exploitation Manager, horrible word. Interesting thing about the business in the Fifties was the way in which when you had a big hit song in America, unless it was by a famous artist, invariably you’d have covers by well-known British artists with outlets on TV, and the publishers would play both ends against the middle, pay lip service to America but desperately try and get the song covered here in England. I had one embarrassing situation. The song Sixteen Tons, a huge American hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Coral had a guy called Don Cornell (who’d had a hit called Take my Hand) and he covered it, and it was a good presentable cover version. Smart-arse TH here thought ‘well, I’m a good promotion man; I’ll get my record played on the radio and give Tennessee Ernie Ford a fight. I didn’t get a single play on Don Cornell because the other one just swept everything. And that was the first release on Capitol through EMI!

Another joke I remember on not getting any airplay. On Tempo, I thought I’d be clever and make a couple of nice melodic three-minute things with Ronnie Scott and Jimmy Deuchar and some of the jazz guys. I think one song was called I’ll take romance and the B-side was Speak Low. two good melodic songs and I thought, ‘well, with my promotional know-how I’m sure I’ll be able to get some airplay and maybe introduce people to the albums. Not a single play! – which left me with egg on my face and two nice records.

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I used to go through the Radio Times and look through every programme of any description that could be plugged and I would try and invent excuses to get a record on. I’d try and plug both producers and presenters, but presenters were much more important in those days. The stars DJ’s of that period were people like Sam Costa. I remember one of the Decca promotion people was Jackie Buckland, the girl who eventually married Stan Tracey and managed him. She was a tough cookie, started on the switchboard at Decca. Ted Lewis thought she had something and she became promotion.

 

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Sam Costa used to get so drunk and would grope her in the taxi afterwards; he would reduce her to tears. He was a nasty guy and would phone with huge lists he wanted of classical LP’s in return for one play on a single. All sorts of weird DJ’s. I remember the editor of the Daily Sketch, Scottish gentleman – if it wasn’t Keir Robertson it was somebody Robertson (it was Keir Robertson!) ; all these strange people had shows on the Light Programme. Then you had the producers. There were three incredible ladies: Esther Farmer, Isabel Burdett and Pat Osborne, who were all characters. Pat was married to an engineer at Decca, who got lumbered with most of the Tempo records. He hated jazz and was so difficult to work with. Half my energies went on fighting the engineer before we could ever get down to creating music. Just being difficult, smoking a pipe and just being bloody minded. “I don’t want to fucking do this anyway.” But Pat Osborne – lots of verbals but all three would help you if you were in trouble with a record and they liked you. Esther Farmer, a real little spinster. I used to take her to lunch and she’d have a dog at home and she’d insist on going to a serious restaurant like the Caprice or Savoy and her doggybag would be there and she’d take home the meal! Isabel Burdett was a real sweetie and she loved to giggle and flirt, touch kneesies under the table. You could go to them for help and they would if they could. It was hard going at times, having to put up with the doggybag suff and playing kneesies with Isabel but it was always fun. Then there was Jack Dabbs, the producer who hit the headlines with a holiday in Cyprus with Dot Squires. All sorts of weird people.

Who were your promotion competitors?

Jimmy Henney and Kay O’Dwyer were in publishing and I was in records. Jimmy was a very handsome guy and very Mr. Showbiz, loved the glamour of the business and fitted it very well, and it served him well because he used to get great covers (cover versions of American hits by British singers). The big love of his life was an actress – I can’t remember her name – there was a very big serious romance.

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I can remember taking Alma Cogan home after one of the Jimmy Henney parties and having a snog on the doorstep! She was wonderful. I went with Jackie Collins for about three years; she graced the covers of several Tempo albums, photographs by David Redfern. She helped sell the albums – these particular ones were compilations. I also had a passionate and lengthy affair with Barbara Lyon from Life with the Lyons. I got blocked by Bill Townsley at Decca because he thought that because I was going with her I was plugging her record, which I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing because it wasn’t ethical and I was as very ethical guy.

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Townsley was regrettably my boss at Decca. My name for him was Dr. No. The classic Townsley thing was in the early 60’s. Motown were shopping for their own label here in the UK because their product had been coming out through London American. I loved Motown’s music and went out of my way to meet Esther Edwards and the Gordy people who were over here and I got on really well with Esther. She knew I was with Decca and I said “listen, if you come with Decca, I’ll make sure I’m responsible for your product and I’ll make sure it’s well looked after.”

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Esther Gordy Edwards

So I then went into Sir Edward Lewis and said “Sir Edward, if you can work out the business side, I’ve got the Motown catalogue for you.” He called Townsley in and said “Townsley, what do you think?’ “Oh, take it from me, Sir Edward, Motown will never mean anything here – they’ll never sell records.” You can imagine how I felt. I thought ‘well, fuck you.’ He was so negative about everything. He was really Sir Edward’;s doormat. I hate the speak ill of the dead but…a very negative man. This would have been after Oriole and before EMI. It was typical of Townsley’s attitude to everything.

Ironically, eventually I went to Detroit. Decca finally allowed me to go to America in 1965 for the first time and I went down to Nashville, then up to New York and I managed to wangle a trip to Detroit, met up with Berry Gordy himself and went to some Motown sessions. I was doing a Record Mirror column in those days and ended up being presented with the key of the door to Detroit by Gordy. I had loads of pictures and went to a Holland Dozier Holland session. Gordy was knocked out by Tom Jones and said “Listen, when you get back, tell your boss to send Tom Jones here and we’ll make an album with him here. It’ll open him right up for the States and to the black audience.”

Went back – Townsley again, I think!

I think I had that job for about seven years and left in 1967.

And we will leave the story there but before we get to the THE days, he does talk more about TV, radio, jazz and compering.

As with the 74 earlier episodes of these interviews, if you have any questions, can add any information, or just have a view, PLEASe either add it to the Word Press site, or email me at dhvinyl@gmail,com.

Text ©David Hughes 2019, Illustration as always are just to bring the extra dimension to the text.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 78 – Norman Newell Pt.2

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We left Norman as he was about to move from EMI to the newly formed Philips label, lured  by the thrill of meeting Doris Day (?)

They (Philips) asked me who I wanted to be the sort of marketing boss and I said I thought it might as well be Leonard Smith because we’d worked together all this time. But unfortunately it developed into a tremendous jealousy thing later on. I left under a cloud and CBS went mad and tried to sue Philips because in their contract (with EMI) they insisted on having me. They paid me compensation as they had no chance of winning the case. At Philips we had Winnie Atwell, Norman Wisdom. It was a new company and they (the artists) came to me from other companies because of the reputation I’d earned . Two people I thought were coming with me, Ray Martin and Norrie Paramor, both decided at the last minute to sign with EMI and stay. I started Ray, can’t remember why – I must heard an arrangement of his somewhere, and Norrie did an arrangement for someone – could have been Pet Clark – and I admired him so much I signed him to a contract with Columbia. Ray had success with Blue Tango – I recorded that and most of his..that’s why I wanted to take him.

I had always admired Bette Davis and thought ‘if only I could get her to make a record where she spoke the lyrics’, like Rex Harrison, whom I recorded later on). I went through her agents and everyone who knew her, and always got the same answer. When I finally did meet her and told her how hard it had been to get to her, she said ‘I’ve wanted to make a record all my life. It (your calls) never got to me or I’d have been over right away.” We became great friends and she made an album, not a good one, but it represented a great actress.

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I think it’s always better to go to the fountainhead. Generally in those days there wasn’t an entourage around the stars that there is today. You could usually get the artists with too much problem. I don’t think the value of records was recognised so much in those days. We sold a lot but nothing like they do today.

We always paid a royalty. It was a penny  (1d) royalty for Russ Conway for instance and we’d make a whole album in one day. That was the starting point. Later on I became known for original cast albums, and I always tried to make an album that conveyed the show to the person who couldn’t get to see it live. I always remember one record of Camelot (I think I made three – the original, one with Richard Harris and one for Music for Pleasure which was a cover job)camelot82varesecdart.jpg

It was Goddard Lieberson’s idea to start Philips in this country. Leonard Smith was basically in charge – I concentrated on the artists. We started in an empty office in Great Portland Street opposite The Shaftesbury Theatre – not even a desk in it. Johnny Franz had done the early recordings with Shirley Bassey (on Philips), then suddenly I got a telephone call  from her manager asking if I would be interested in recording her. I nearly fell on the floor, so he said ‘well let’s have lunch at the Caprice and meet her.’ Not only did I make albums with her, and several big hits, but I wrote several hits for her….this was all on Columbia.

I decided to go to America to learn my job better. I thought they were better at recording that we were and I was right then. I always had the ambition to write a musical. I wrote one over there with Michael Carr and someone else, called ‘The Hot Rock,’ based on the Stone of Scone being stolen, but nobody wanted to know. You had to audition to get money over there, so I travelled all around America with the man who wanted to produce it and we never got enough money to put it on, but there were some good songs in it. I was kept going through the royalties on my songs, as now, though it’s less as they’re played less frequently.

I was offered a job in Hollywood by Dory Shelley ( I can find no trace of anyone with a vaguely similar name), head of MGM – his sister was a big agent – and he said ‘would you like to sign up with me and come over and write for films?’ and all that kind of thing.  That was a great big temptation, but temptation doesn’t take me away from my family. I had a conscience about it. It was a big gamble and I think now I should have taken it. The one thing I am conceited about is that I know I can write lyrics and there was an opportunity staring me in the face. I hadn’t been back here for five minutes when I got a phone call from Sir Joseph Lockwood who took me to lunch and asked if I’d go back to EMI. I said ‘well, I had this offer from Hollywood’ but he said ‘I’m making you a definite offer – you don’t know what would happen if you went out there’. He had a good way of talking, but I said ‘You’ve got George Martin on Parlophone, Wally Ridley on HMV and Norrie Paramor on Columbia – where would I fit in?

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He said ‘well, you would put your records on any label you like.’ That was another tempting offer. It wasn’t very popular with the other people,  but they couldn’t argue – this was a rule from the boss.In fact it was ridiculous and sometimes two people would record the same song for EMI. Then of course, shortly after that Shirley Bassey came on the scene and became one of their biggest artists. I always  loved recording Vera Lynn -she was marvellous. She’s definitely the favourite person I’ve recorded. I think she was recording when I  first started at Decca, but she came to EMI on Columbia and we had a lot of success with ideas like Hits from the Blitz – all that kind of thing.

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I think this was a Norman Newell celebration lunch with Dame Vera as special guest. We certainly dressed up for it!!

I walked into a club one day and saw two boys singing. I thought ‘all of show business has come to this club – why hasn’t someone recorded them?’ They were called Peter & Gordon. I never knew at the time that Paul McCartney was interested in one of their sisters. In fairness, I can’t remember whether I made the record myself of whether John (Burgess) did. I was extremely lucky in the people I employed as my assistants. First of all I had John. Strangely enough I always believe you know someone’s got a personality as soon as they walk in a room. You can talk to some people who look right but are absolute bores. I got in the lift at Manchester Square and John was there, and a couple of girls and they were laughing and joking and I thought ‘this boy’s got a terrific personality.’ He was working in the company so I went to L.G. Wood and said ‘look, I’ve found someone who I want to be my assistant.’ He proved to be so good; he was especially marvellous at handling people that it was ridiculous of me just to have him as an assistant. I recommended he become an artist producer in his own right. The first thing I think he did was Adam Faith and John Barry – I had signed them because I thought John Barry could do anything. We fell out in the end but that’s another story.john_burgess_air_studios1.jpg

John Burgess

When I was in America one time, Elvis Presley was all the rage. I thought to myself ‘I must find someone over here who can try and give him some competition. The only person who faintly reminded me of Presley was Tommy Steele. I went to Blackpool to see him, but he was already under contract, but accompanying him was John Barry. I thought immediately he had tremendous talent. When he started he was with the John Barry Seven and he came to me one day and said ‘I’d like to do more ambitious things like record with a big symphony orchestra.’ So I got EMI’s agreement to spend that kind of money. If we went in for big things like that you had to ask somebody, but they never said ‘no’. I don’t think they made big hits for EMI. John Burgess always says I get the credit for Adam Faith. I don’t, actually – I think it was John Barry who thought of the pizzicato thing. Adam had recorded with other people and I had a call from his agent who took me to lunch at the Dorchester and offered me part of his contract – but I never took anything like that.

(This comes across a little garbled, but maybe Adam was also in Blackpool….whatever!!)

The thing that really annoyed me in those days was that we (the producers) got no credit. So many of my records people don’t know I was the producer and we certainly got no royalties. We owe all that to George. When I went independent (funded by EMI) they didn’t offer to pay me any royalties for past recording.s I got a solicitor….

I’m guessing Norman chose not to complete that sentence, but we can guess EMI prevailed. Certainly it was George who persuaded EMI to give credit to the producers, both with name checks, and more importantly with royalty payments. Up until then all house producers were employees paid the same monthly salary whether they produced hits or not!

 

More meandering, name dropping and lunches from Norman in the final episode, coming up when a couple of hours present themselves!

©David Hughes, 2019. Photos Googled for illustration only.

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 77 – Norman Newell Pt.1

jimmy-henney-2.jpegThis treasured photo is no stranger to dedicated readers. Taken at a lunch upstairs at Rules restaurant in Covent Garden to mark some birthday or anniversary of Bert Weedon, here we have the enigma that was Norman Newell, plus (l-r) Maurice Kinn (owner of the NME), Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman and Jimmy Henney.

Back in the day when A&R men (and they were all men) were the Kings of record labels, EMI had the biggest court…Wally Ridley (lengthy interview to come one day) – HMV, Norrie Paramor – Columbia, George Martin – Parlophone, and Norman. Norman had no label association and was allowed by Sir Joseph Lockwood for reasons I couldn’t possibly surmise, to pick and choose which label released his recordings. Let’s see if he tells us!

It all began when I met a man called Bill Waddington who later became a star in Coronation Street – he played Percy Sugden

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I’d always wanted to be an actor and I think that helped me later on when I was creating ‘original cast’ albums. Bill and I were in the same regiment together in the army, and because he was in show. business I thought ‘Oh my goodness, I must talk to him about stars and all the people he must have met.’ He was a very small-time comedian then: he’s a big star now. He said ‘Well, if you’re that interested in show business, why don’t you get into it?’ I told him that when I came out of there army I’d be about 26 and it’d be a bit late to start training and he said ‘Well, I’ll get you a job. Can you write lyrics?” I said ‘no, but I used to write poems so suppose I can write lyrics.’ So he said ‘well, write a lyric to this’ and he played me a tune on a banjo he had, and I did. I expected him to get me a job as Laurence Olivier’s understudy but it turned out to be selling music in a shop in Charing Cross Road called Sinaphonic. This was about 1947. I met people that I longed to know, like Anna Neagle and Herbert Wilcox came into choose songs. I got my first taste of show business.

After a while I got fed up with this. I thought ‘why am I selling everybody’s else’s songs? – I think I can write them.’ So I wrote one and took it to my boss Sid Coleman who worked for Ardmore and Beechwood, part of EMI who owned the shop. He said ‘Oh, I’ll give you £10 advance for that.’ Well, £10 advance in those days was a lot of money. And it was one of the most awful songs you’ve ever heard in your life. But the second one I wrote became a success, so that £10 had given me a great deal of encouragement.

Then I started song-plugging. It was a different world then. You had to go round to stage doors to see the artists. Some would never see you – couldn’t be bothered – but Dorothy Squires was so kind. She invited me into her dressing room, heard the song (I sang it to her) and said not only would she sing it in her act next week, but she’d also record it. And she did. Then I wrote one called My Lovely World and You which was a small hit.

There was a variety act around then called Forsythe Seamon and Farrell. There was very successful and Charles Forsythe was a big name. He heard my song and offered me a job starting my own publishing company called Unit Music. He took premises in Soho Square for me. We published my songs and  were also on the lookout for other people’s  Someone sent in a song called The Silver Wedding Waltz and I said to the boss ‘that’ll be appropriate next month – it’s the silver wedding of the King & Queen (1950)

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I wasn’t earning enough money from the songs I’d written and was wondering what other job I could do. A BBC producer said they wanted a recording producer at EMI. I thought that was a good idea because I could write at the same time. I went for an interview which was very amusing because the person who interviewed me, Leonard Smith, who was in charge of the classical department of Columbia Records, put two white labels on the auto changing record player and asked which one I thought was the best recording. I looked at him and said ‘well, I can’t tell the difference between the two’, and he said “You’ll never make a good recording producer because the first one is obviously better. You’ll have to learn to choose.’ When he lifted the lid of the record player the top one hadn’t dropped down, so I’d listened to the same record twice! He couldn’t very well not give me the job.

The first record I made was with Pet Clark when she was a child. She was already signed to the company and I was assigned to do the recordings. At that time there was Josef Locke, Pet Clark, Steve Conway, Victor Silvester and I had a mammoth hit with Les Compagnons de la Chanson. They were appearing at the Talk of the Town (I think it was called the London Hippodrome then) and I heard them and thought they would make a great record. Once I went to see Gracie Fields and in the bill in very small letters were the King Brothers. I signed them and they were very successful.

When I went to EMI everyone was dressed in white coats (This would have been at Abbey Road studios) The canteen had a tea urn with a spoon on a piece of string. It didn’t matter who you were – if you were Yehudi Menuhin and wanted a cup of tea you had to use that spoon on the string.

 

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The facilities at the studio now are part of the attraction that draws people in. We used to record with wax discs. It was a bit nerve wracking. You didn’t have the advantage of  tape and doing it over and over again. You were allowed two or three ‘takes’ and that was all, so it meant a little more rehearsing. I had a song I thought suitable for Pet Clark  called Put your shoes on Lucy  and I think it had a certain amount of success.

 

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Years later I wrote a song for her called Sailor which reached No.1. I wrote the lyrics.

You had a booker who booked the musicians and you also get someone to organise an orchestra – if Jack Jackson played it you knew it had a chance! You had to be careful that you didn’t do covers of songs that were on the American label. I handled the English and American Columbia Records, which meant we had boxes of 78’s from America and I had to go through them and see if there were any American hits that could be issued in this country…Guy Mitchell, Johnny Mathis. I recorded a duet with Jo Stafford and Teddy Johnson. We did Teddy Johnson here and Jo Stafford over there and then joined them together!

 

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When I went to see the artists I would judge the audience rather than the singers. When I saw Ronnie Ronalde there was a tremendous excitement from the audience and I thought I must give this boy a recording test. We had testing days just listening to new people. Ronnie had a manager called Arturo Steffani and he came to the studio in a Rolls Royce, and I heard afterwards they’d hired it just for the day to make a good impression. I think he did In a Monastery Garden. He whistled it, didn’t sing it and he was a tremendous success. I only made one record with him – Leonard wouldn’t let me take him over.

Harry South at Decca offered me a job. I was getting £11 a week with EMI and Decca offered me £14. But Leonard Smith sent my mother a hamper and I thought that was a nice thing to do, so I stayed!

I then had a letter from Goddard Lieberson at CBS in America saying they wanted to start their own label (in the UK) and would I be interested in being their record producer. He invited me to America a to get to know the Columbia staff. In those days hits from here were rarely successful in America. I played the man who judged my songs out there He’s got the Whole World n his Hands by Laurie London. He said it would never go in America because the drums were too soft. I said I could easily record it again but he didn’t want to know. It was No.1 for weeks in America (on Capitol) I went over there with him on a promotional tour and everywhere we were walking along Broadway the record shops were playing it. He was a one-hit wonder because his father took over and decided to run his career, which was fatal, and of course his voice broke.

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I also went to meet Mitch Miller and he took me to a recording session by Percy Faith of I talk to the trees. Mitch was going to Los Angeles the next day and they sent me with him. When we got to the Beverly Hills Hotel he said ‘can you meet me down here at six’o’clock’ so I said ‘yes’ and he said ‘we’re going out to see a friend.’ When we got to the house, the person who opened the door was Doris Day! We became great friends and she took me to the premiere of one of her films and walked out five minutes after it started, saying ‘Have you ever seen yourself that size on a screen?’

 

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My first idol – on record and on screen and my introduction to soft focus! And a good point to pause before we move on to Norman’s next career move – from EMI to Philips

 

Text © David Hughes 2019. Pictures sourced from the web for illustration purposes only

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 76 – Tony Hall, Pt. 3 and conclusion.

 

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We left Tony’s story at his departure from EMI and the beginning of a new independent life.

I’d been broadcasting on the Light Programme, presenting jazz programmes. I failed an audition for Johnnie Stewart (later Top of the Pops producer) which I thought was very unfair because I thought I did a good one, and then he came off the programme and a guy called Jimmy Grant took over. I immediately applied for another audition, got through straight away and was on the air. I was the first guy to use the work ‘funky’ on BBC and had the piss taken out of me by other presenters, ‘funky wunky’ – it was a jazz expression – low down, dirty, as in the blues. I did a lot of programmes for Bernie Andrews and Ron Belchier, pop shows on the Light Programme. I asked if I could do one for Decca. They used me on Luxembourg several times. I found a way to avoid playing all the English rubbish. I came up with a format, ‘America’s Top Ten’ which meant going through the Billboard charts and taking the Top Ten records that were released in the UK through Decca, so it was good product..mainly. This became such a success that I ended up being voted No.4 DJ in the country in the Melody Maker poll…above God knows who! There was a big write up in the Daily Express with me and Jimmy Young together, listing Jimmy as one year older than me, which always amused me because when I first met him I was 21 and he was 29! Bless his heart! I became quite a popular DJ. I was doing what (Emperor) Rosko was doing before Rosko came along. I would always stand up to present, rather than sit down, to get some urgency.

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Emperor Rosko, Jimmy Young

Before then I’d been doing loads of compering – I did an NME Pollwinners concert before 10,000 people at Earl’s Court or somewhere.

‘Oh Boy’ was about 1959. Jack Good saw me working at the Flamingo. He’d got Jimmy Henney booked and he wanted to contrast Jimmy – he was Mr. Smooth – and I was meant to be a bit of rough, the finger snapper.

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Was he (Jack Good) as influential a figure on the music screen as he’s now painted?

My own recollection of ‘Oh Boy’ is the pilot show, which was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen on television. It was in black and white and it lost everything that it had when it was eventually broadcast in colour. The secret of its success was obviously Jack Good’s enthusiasm, but the artistic secret was Rita Gillespie’s lighting which was fantastic and gave it its sense of evil. Which it did have – not evil but menace, the rebellion of youth in those days. The pilot was the best, fantastic. It was live because I remember I once forgot my lines and was stuck – it seemed like two minutes but I think it was probably ten seconds – I couldn’t remember my script and everything was timed to the second. Terrifying.

Had you had to leave your jazz by the mid sixties?

Tempo just fizzled out, largely a combination of Tubby Hayes signing to Fontana and me getting married. Jazz was starting to get avant garde and freeform and I hated it, so I didn’t really want to know. Also I was taking my day job quite seriously and it was full of exciting battles like the Righteous Brothers versus Cilla Black. I had what I believed was the best promotion team in the country – a wonderful team, everybody with different tastes. Oddly enough it was Tony King who really gave me my standards in pop and soul and stuff. He turned me on to Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson when they were new. I liked them because there was a jazz feeling there, so it was easy for me to get involved. In the sixties I was very active in the whole RSG (Ready Steady Go) situation. Hanging out with them; people like Vicki Wickham were fantastic. It was really a social do every Friday night. The whole business would just go and hang out in the studio. Michael Aldred was a Decca producer at one time.

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Vicki Wickham with Paul Gambaccini, Berry Gordy, and ??? (Adam White, my expert, thinks maybe a cast member of the Motown Musical)

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Michael Aldred in the Sixties

The Sixties were really special if you were in the music business. Most of the sixties passed by because we were all so busy and involved in the music. The swinging sixties were happening to everybody.

What prompted you to strike out from Decca?

People like Ron Belchier complaining to Dick Rowe ‘why’s this Tony Hall pushing this black guy called Otis someone when he should be plugging The Bachelors to me’? I thought ‘bollocks to The Bachelors – they’re established already. Anybody could push The Bachelors, but Otis not everybody could push. I was very close to the Atlantic people, Jerry Wexler and the Erteguns. I persuaded Jerry Wexler to let me take My Girl off an Otis album and go with it as a single, because I said I thought I could make it a hit. With the help of the Pirates I got it to No.7, but I was only given four weeks to be able to do that because he had more product coming and he didn’t really want to do it anyway. They knew that the Temptations’ record hadn’t made it, so people didn’t know it as a hit song and that’s what enabled Otis Redding to come to England later. The irony was that I discovered My Girl had been recorded as a one take filler and they’d never played it live. They had to take it down off the record and learn it (the score)  when they got to England.

Atlantic was some consolation for Motown?

Atlantic became a labour of love for me, with Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Don Covay. But I swear to God that Otis wouldn’t have happened or Wilson wouldn’t have had hits if it hadn’t been for me. For instance, The Midnight Hour, a huge hit for Pickett. I was due to go on holiday for the week it was due for release. I said to my team at Decca ‘While I’m away please push this one. I know it’s a hit and I want to come back and find it a smash.’ Got back from holiday to find fuck all had been done. Nobody even knew about the record so I had to start on it a month late, which in those days was very very difficult. A friend of mine was producing Juke Box Jury in those days, and I begged him – a month after release – to put this on the Juke Box Jury tape and he said ‘OK, I’ll put it on as the number 8 record, but I can’t guarantee we’ll get there – it depends how much they (the Jury) rabbit. I was sitting in front of the screen, praying, lighting candles and everything!, and there wasn’t that much talking and they got to number 8, thank God, so it got heard. Then I got the pirates all working with me. I wasn’t officially allowed to of course, but they were fantastic and we got Pickett into the Top 10.

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Tell me about the pirates 

We weren’t allowed to touch them officially but on the other hand they (Decca) wanted to know why everybody else’s product was on the pirates and not ours. I eventually went down to Caroline (their offices were in Chesterfield Gardens in Mayfair) and got to know the people and got my records on – the same with London when it started.

 

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Radio Caroline

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Radio London

The whole thing was illegal but it was airtime. I wanted my records on there. I didn’t want other people’s, I wanted mine! I didn’t care about PRS (Performing Rights Society – the organisation which sets the fees radio stations have to pay when playing records). As long as the records were heard people would go into the shops and buy them. To this day I think that the mid-sixties Decca promotion team was the best I can remember. There was Tony King, Roger Watson (who became MD of Arista at one stage), Pat Campbell (the old cowboy DJ – he was in Phil Solomon’s pocket), Dick Rowe.

Andrew Oldham came to see me a couple of weeks ago – his autobiography is coming out and I’ve done a lot of quotes for it. He’s starting a campaign and I agree with him, that while Dick Rowe is always put down as the man who turned down The Beatles. Andrew is saying that he’s the man who signed the Stones. Very positive. Dick Rowe loved the music business. Again, I didn’t necessarily approve of all his business practices, but I liked him, especially later in life. He loved music,  loved the music business, loved America. A sad loss. I heard the (Beatles) tape. I would have passed musically, but I heard the voices and the personalities between the really abysmal music, and the personalities I thought were worth investigating. But the music was shit, deserved to be turned down and unfair to criticise (Dick).

 

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Dick Rowe

Back to why you decided the leave Decca.

I thought, ‘if I’m going to do promotion I might as well do it pushing music that I really believe in, people that I believe in rather the bleeding Bachelors whom I don’t like at all’ David Platz had made overtures to set me up in my own company so eventually I started the first independent promotion company in the UK -T.H.E. I handed in my notice, went on holiday, came back to find thirteen years of Decca in a tea chest outside my office, orders of Townsley, which I thought was pretty shitty because I really had done a lot over and above the normal call of duty. Anyway, that’s show  business!

You know the next period  – I started T.H.E. with Ray Kane and Liz Clower. Ray was something else in those days – he was a wonderful promotion guy and he and I made a great team, totally contrasting. Ray would go and do his job and you would never even notice him, but he’d get results. Very quiet. I was offered everybody, but again many were people I didn’t really want. I was offered Humperdinck and Tom Jones and all that lot, but it was too easy. But our first record was Desmond Dekker’s Shanty Town/007 . I was going out with a Jamaican girl at the time called Faye Sparks and through her I heard this record which the black community was dancing to and I thought ‘this is a pop record – if white kids heard this they’d love and buy it, but if they’re going to hear it, it’s got to be on the radio.’ So it was the first T.H.E stickered single, which took three days to track down to Pyramid Records on Fulham Broadway. It was a fight to get any money, but it was a challenge and it got to No.14. When I took it round to the BBC they thought I was crazy and I said ‘listen, I’ve never cried wolf before, never let you down…just trust me, play it!’ And they played it and it was a hit. After that T.H.E. would take all the off-the-wall groups, or relatively off-the-wall, like Love Affair and Family, and I did a deal with Track Records – Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Brown, and we started signing a few artists as well. Locomotive was the first Gus Dudgeon hit and we had two or three acts from the Harvest label – Bakerloo Blues Band, Tea & Symphony, who were off-the-wall and were mainly through a manager in Birmingham called Jim Simpson . Black Sabbath came through him as well – they were signed under the name Earth, just a blues band who deserved to make a record. I changed their name, Olav Wyper signed them and their first album cost £750.

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At this point Tony declared he was running out of steam, and we just have a paragraph to cover the period from 1970-2000+

The 70’s were difficult, but then I found The Real Thing and ended up selling nearly two million singles in a three-year period. In the 80’s I had Loose Ends for nine years who became the first (British) black band to get a No.1., which was a great thrill. Then I had a triple heart by-pass, slowed down for a while; then four years ago I found Lyndon (David Hall). His girlfriend at the time was Samantha Powell,  who was on a development deal with RCA and John Jacobi, who rents an office here (‘Here’ for this interview was in Carnaby Street) was acting as her lawyer and she brought in a tape of her boyfriend with her band. John gave me the tape and asked me what I thought. I said ‘it’s interesting, send the boy in.’ Then I persuaded him he’d be better off on his own than with a band.

Lyndon signed to EMI but any success was tragically ended by his untimely death. He was the first singer from the newly open BRIT School in Croydon to secure a record contract (with EMI) and a memorial plaque remains in their main foyer to this day.

So, while I never returned for the second half of Tony’s story, the early years are always the most interesting.

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To conclude, here is the now famous T.H.E. sticker as written on hundreds of singles by someone very close to me!!

Text ©David Hughes 2019. All illustration come via Mr Google and are there to help you get through the text.

 

P.S. Happenstance is a wonderful thing. One of my Collectors’ Vinyl customers, having seen the press cutting in Part 1, with the photo of Tony, Ray Kane and my wife in 1967  (12 months before I met her), came up with two more shots which we’d never seen before. Seems he knows the executor of Tony’s will and, being a major archivist and collector was gifted a mass of paper work among which were these. On a sadder note, his research has revealed a “Friends of Procol Harum” Facebook page and posting from Ray Kane’s daughter, saying he had died – this was in May 2018. Liz and others had totally lost contact with Ray, but she remembers baby sitting his daughter….small world gets smaller.

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 74 – Tony Hall.

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The concept of these interviews, apart from the original fantasy of them forming the basis of a book, was to give space to some of the many people behind the scenes who were influential in the history of this still remarkable industry, but whose names possibly mean nothing to the lay reader. Tony Hall, who recently died at the fine age of 91, is a prime example. Even though he was known to the devoted late 1950’s music fan via his Decca Radio Luxembourg shows and his regular appearances as compere of ITV’ “Oh Boy” , his influence on the British industry was enormous and largely overlooked. On a personal note, it was through Tony that I met the lady who has been my wife for nearly 50 years.

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Liz is not a lady for nostalgia, but she did keep this cutting  from the first of five years she worked for Tony in the 1960’s. She was a devotee of his Luxembourg/Decca shows and the music he played and persuaded him to give her an interview as his PA, operating from his Mayfair flat. I first met her when interviewing Arrival for Disc and….largely thanks to my then dear colleague Penny Valentine….one thing led to another! 

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Here she is, 50+ years later with Carroll, Tony and Frank from Arrival, pictured in Tony Hall’s front garden

I interviewed Tony in his then Carnaby Street offices over 20 years ago, and even then, my first question was…..

Do you want to tell me why you’re still doing it?

I came into the music business because I loved the music. I still love the music. The only gift God gave me, really, was being able to pick hits and spot talent that most people would not spot or pass over because maybe it was too difficult or unconventional. I still feel the music. At the age of 70 now I’m still stuck in traffic jams tapping out grooves on the steering wheel, thinking ‘now where the hell did they pinch that line from, and what have you. I shall go on doing it as long as I find talents that excite me sufficiently, and as long as the dramas and stress that come with it don’t really freak me out or affect my health.

Not that it matters, but the people you’re dealing with are half your age or less

Yes, but people haven’t got my ears, and I know I can still pick hits better than most people in most record companies. I can spot major talents. At the moment, at the age of 70, I’ve got the hottest young R&B singer possibly that England has ever had. He’s winning all the awards and,  OK, he’s only sold 50,000 albums so far but that ain’t bad. It ain’t chopped liver for a first album. Maybe he’ll get the chance to develop a bit and maybe turn into a long-term album-selling artist. (I’m assuming this was Lynden David-Hall, who tragically died before he was able to fulfil Tony’s aspirations for him) I’ve got a girl singer who is the nearest thing to a young Aretha or maybe a very young Mica (Paris) that I’ve heard in this country for many years. Her name is Vicky and she’s got an African surname that I can’t pronounce very well, but I think I’ve got a deal on the table with Wild Card Records and Colin Barlow loves her. He’s offered me a four-album deal, so if I’m still alive after four albums…!

Every day I’m having to turn down people for management – even people with the kind of talent that I might be interested in – because there just aren’t enough hours in the day and I haven’t got the strength. In an ideal world I’d like to work a four-day week, but it ain’t as easy as all that. I’m in the office four days a week and I’m on the phone for the fifth, and the sixth and seventh! I’d become a vegetable if I quit the business because music is virtually my entire life…which my wife doesn’t appreciate!

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Tony’s second wife, with whom he spent over 40 years of his life, was a professional singer and actor. Born in Trinidad, her real name was Grace Carr. She predeceased him by one year

Ironically, at this age, I’ve gone back to my jazz roots – that’s all I really listen to at home. I do jazz reviews for whoever will pay me – it’s marvellous. I get free CD’s and I’m now, and again it seems stupid after all these years, I am expert on all the young jazz players around, especially in America – the new generation.

Which is how it started for you, isn’t it?

Yes. I came into this business because I loved jazz and I was working in jazz clubs in the Fifties in the evenings, compering and booking. The Feldman Club was at 100 Oxford Street, and it was there that I heard my first ever live music at the age of 15. Nowadays 15 is nothing, but in those days it was young. I was on holiday from school and was taken down there. I was staying with a schoolfriend who had a flat in town and was taken down to this club at 100 Oxford Street. It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.

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It changed my life completely. There were people like George Chisholm and Kenny Baker,..Victor Feldman – he was brilliant, Jimmy Skidmore – those sort of musicians . One thing led to another, then when I was in the army at Catterick I started compering the bands, and even played diabolical drums when the normal drummer was on leave, with the big band playing Stan Kenton arrangements. How I had the gall to do that I don’t know, God help everybody! I was compering and getting involved in the jazz scene, getting to know musicians, starting to write a bit. When I came out of the army, through my friendship with the assistant editor at Melody Maker, a great larger-than-life character called Jack Marshall, and through my friendship with Steve Race, the Sunday after I was demobbed I started as resident compere at the Feldman Club at 100 Oxford Street. It was a great honour, me with my dreadful ill-fitting demob suit standing there shitting myself. But that was the beginning and led to other clubs – I was totally totally involved with the jazz scene. I was working at studio 51 and while I was there I met Jeff Kruger and started working at his club. at the Mapleton before planning the Flamingo Club.

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Jeff really relied on me for the musical policy and because of that I was able to sneak in a whole lot of people who were a bit off-the-wall and probably might not have had the same exposure had someone else been booking, including West Indian musicians who were very good people, like Dizzy Reece (his version of Round About Midnight was played at Tony’s funeral) and a tenor player called Bogey Gaynair who was something else

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One thing led to another and one day I was at Decca as product manager and then promotion.

How did you get into that?

That was through Bunny Lewis. I was doing pop record reviews for various papers including a dreadful thing called The Showbiz and Boxing Review or something, edited by another really larger-than-life character called Isadore Green, who was really a boxing fanatic but found he couldn’t make money with just a boxing paper so he broadened it to show business to get all his pals from the Variety Club and Jewish restaurants around the West End involved in the paper. Then when pop started happening a little bit he widened it even more and somehow I ended up doing pop reviews.

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It ended up as Record and Showbusiness Mirror. I remember all those one-sided heavy 78rpm test pressings. But he was a difficult man to work for and eventually after two or three years of not being able to stand him any longer, we had a flaming row and I walked out – or he sacked me! I can’t remember which, but it was mutual. I remember walking round the corner in Gerrard Place and bumping into a musician I knew quite well with a good sense of humour called Benny Green. I said ‘Benny – you want to be a writer, don’t you go up and see Izzy Green round the corner. You’ve got a gig.” And that’s how Benny got his first writing job.

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Then I went on and wrote for various other papers. I was on the original Music Express before in became the NME, before Maurice (Kinn) bought it. I worked for Ray Sonning who was actually Jack Marshall’s boss. He was another very genial guy. Journalists are very different now. Percy Dickins was the advertising man then. There was an editor at Melody Maker called Pat Brand, wore glasses. Ray Sonning was a very avuncular guy. Jack Marshall has a very dry sense of humour. Ray Sonning left the MM and started the NME. Jack Baverstock was around.

From the reviewing for Izzy Green I used to go to Bunny Lewis’s office to get the review copies. Decca were the hottest then. I got to know Bunny reasonably well., I used to review anything he gave me and one day when I went in he said “are you interested in a job at Decca?” I said “doing what?” “Oh, they want a product manager, for Capitol or something.” I said “I don’t know about things like that.” But he said ‘Go on, give it a go.” So I did go for an interview. I believe there may have been a large number of people up for the job and, I don’t know, but I got it. My day job until then had been in advertising as a copywriter. My parents wanted me to be a chartered accountant and articled me to a firm and I absolutely hated it – everything about the job – it wasn’t me at all. So I thought that if anybody’s going to fuck up my life I might as well fuck it up doing what I enjoy doing. I got into advertising as a day job, but really wanted to get into music. When I was doing all this writing in the evening I also had my first column in the NME called Hallmarks. I joined Decca in 1954. Bunny Lewis was managing David Whitfield as well as producing, promoting and agenting him, which I didn’t think was very ethical. But I thought he was a fantastic guy. He started promotion in this country on a really professional basis – he was the very best I ever encountered. I learnt my promotion trade from Bunny, was inspired by him, though my approach was very different. I had nothing but respect for him. I didn’t necessarily approve of his other activities but I didn’t blame him.

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This is the only photo I’ve unearthed of Bunny – devoted readers will remember it from my interview with him. A great Juke Box Jury panel!!. Sadly the interview made no mention of Tony!

Much more to come!

Teet ©David Hughes. Photographs sourced via Mr Google to hopefully add a dimension.

Posted in A Personal History of the British Record Business, Stories of the British Music Business, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Disc & Music Echo, June 7, 1969

Quite why Ray Coleman chose me, the pop kid, to help launch EMI’s new progressive rock Harvest label, I can’t remember, but a young (26) reporter does what he’s told. I don’t expect you to attempt to read the copy, any more than I remember doing the interviews, but to me this page is important because of the man who created the label, Malcolm Jones. I wasn’t to know it at the time, but my six years at Polydor Records from 1972 was greatly enlivened by Malcolm, who had moved from EMI to be a product manager at Stratford Place and with whom I became firm friends. In fact some of his now extremely rare EMI demo discs were the first outsiders to be sold by my Collector’s Vinyl auctions – how much more he would have made 40 years on! But how sad that he succumbed to tuberculosis at too young an age.

Anyway – seems I survived Edgar Broughton!

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The Book that never was – and never will be

With The Beatles forever in the news I thought I’d share this piece with you. It was written nearly 20 years ago as the preface to a book I planned to spend the early years of my retirement writing. All the transcript interviews you’ve seen here were undertaken as material for the book. As time went by – over 80 interviews later, I realised that a) retirement was a fantastic way of life and my time, which I thought might be plentiful was even busier and more exciting than employment, and b) no one can ever write definitive book about the record industry. It is forever changing and even recent histories are quickly out of date.

So I mulled over what I should do with these interviews and decided I should just let you read them exactly as they took place…and on reflection, I’m delighted I did.

But I came across this piece when wanting to reassure myself that all the contents of my old Mac had been safely transferred to the new one. It is self explanatory!

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Preface -The Beatles – the act nobody wanted!

“What a stupid name for a band – and now you look back and could they ever have been called anything else” (Tim Blackmore)

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More words have been written about The Beatles than anyone has life left to read. But if there is one example above all other of the way in which the music business has succeeded despite itself, it is with The Beatles. Put simply, they could not get a record contract. Manager Brian Epstein was an important name to record companies. As proprietor of NEMS Record shop in Liverpool and local chairman of the Retailers’ association, the four major record companies – EMI, Decca, Pye and Philips needed his co-operation. So he was listened to wherever he went, but when it came to touting a new band which had never played live in London, rejected as well.

One of the problems was that The Beatles was a group that played and sang – something quite new to the UK. All earlier bunches of musicians were either jazz bands or skiffle groups, or were essentially a lead singer with backing musicians who occasionally, like The Shadows and The Tornados, were allowed to make an instrumental single or two themselves. There were groups aplenty in America, though there too, few played as well as singing. And anyway, in 1962 America was quite definitely another world, one still largely based on songs and songwriters, with little desire to build an international career for their new rock’n’roll artists, other than through the constantly touring cinema and ballroom package shows. Everyone lived from single to single and even the bill toppers had to make do with a twenty-minute slot. These were the days before the LP, before television became a true force, and before global success became a financial necessity.

Another problem was laziness on the part of the record companies. Or rather, they were so spoilt for choice in London they felt no need to travel further than Soho’s “2 I’s” coffee bar to seek new talent. That’s where they’d “found” Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard, the two biggest new British stars of the late fifties, and that’s where all the hopefuls gathered to join the queue. With only four companies, each with a growing number of American labels to deal with, there was a limit to the new British names needed. And anyway, the business was in London – the companies were all there, the songs publishers were all there, and the radio station was there.

Then there was The Beatles’ demonstration tape itself. Recorded at Decca’s West Hampstead Studios on January 1, 1962 under the supervision of A&R assistant Mike Smith, the fifteen tracks embraced only three Lennon & McCartney recordings, the rest being the then ritual cover versions of American hits of the previous ten years.

Rejected by Decca, Pye and Oriole following earlier “pass” letters from the Columbia and HMV labels at EMI, Epstein resorted to his friends at retail. It was at the suggestion of Bob Boast, manager of the HMV shop in London’s Oxford Street, that Epstein substituted the 15-track tape for 78rpm discs, a service provided by the shop. The cutting engineer Jim Foy expressed an interest and, on learning that three of the songs were original, directed Brian to EMI’s publishing company, Ardmore and Beechwood, located upstairs. Ardmore & Beechwood’s General manager Sid Coleman heard the songs, realised that George Martin, head of EMI’s ‘novelty’ label Parlophone, was the one recording manager at EMI not to have passed judgement, and an appointment was made on 13 February, 1962. The rest……….eventually, is history. Love me do was first recorded at Abbey Road on June 6, 1962, though not, as is well documented, with Pete Best on drums. What is not so well documented is that George Martin was not there either, the session being conducted by his assistant Ron Richards. Only when engineer Norman Smith suggested that George be present did the relationship, and the legend, begin.

Listening today to those early demonstration songs, it is easy to understand why the rejection letters came. Consider also that Columbia and HMV passed the opportunity on the basis of the Polydor single My Bonnie, recorded in Germany with lead singer Tony Sheridan. Little wonder that the man from Decca was said to have told Epstein “You have a good record business in Liverpool, why not stick to that?” (1)

Perhaps if Mike Smith from Decca, or Tony Meehan, the former Shadows’ drummer working there in A&R and named by at least one person as the man who turned down the group, or any of the others, had travelled to Liverpool and witnessed the excitement, things might have been very different. Perhaps if Brian Epstein had done a deal with Larry Parnes, the most prominent pop star manager of the day, things would have moved faster. Perhaps…perhaps.

Even today, struggling for stories in the silly season, a national newspaper will send “demo” tapes to record companies by well-known artists and delight in printing the ‘pass’ letters. They fail to understand the way in which A&R (Artists and Repertoire) people work. The supply of hopeful musicians will always vastly outweigh the demand, and as a result, the selection begins almost exclusively by word of mouth, followed by the sight of a live performance. Never, well hardly ever, does an unsolicited demonstration disc or download result in a contract. You can bet your life that, once he’d struck gold with The Beatles, Brian Epstein never again made a demonstration tape for any of the many artists he subsequently represented.

Tony Barrow, a Liverpudlian who subsequently became The Beatles’ press officer, was a sleeve note writer at Decca at the time. as well as writing his “Diskery” column on the Liverpool Echo and was one of the endless names on Brian Epstein’s list of people to talk to in London.

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“I was a Decca person and he was interesting anyone he possibly could at that stage. He knew the retail side (of record companies) but not the artistic side at all. He didn’t know any A&R men and he didn’t know anyone on “Melody Maker” or the “New Musical Express.” So he was interested to come across someone like me.”

Having listened to Epstein’s speech and the acetate of his new group discovery, Barrow “did what I didn’t have any right to do, which was ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ It was nothing to do with me, I wasn’t there to hire or sign. But when (he) had gone I didn’t ring the A&R department, but (Beecher Stevens, Head of) the marketing department and said ‘This guy is a retailer so maybe you’ll feel you have to give him an audition. Don’t ask me about the band because I can’t assess it from what he’s played me, but if he’s an important Decca customer…..so that phone call was one of several triggers. The local salesmen were also coming back to London saying ‘There’s a guy up there with a band who thinks he should have an audition.” It was the marketing department that forced the A&R department to lay on the original audition on New Year’s Day (1962)

“It was Mike Smith (who took the audition) because Dick Rowe was away. Dick Rowe was in charge and he went on his holidays saying, ‘There’s this band, this artist, do them for me and let me know about them when I get back.’ Mike thought enough of that audition to say to me (I was keeping in touch for the (Liverpool) Echo, nothing else at that stage): ‘Dick isn’t back yet but I’m sure you can say that they’re going to get a Decca contract.’ That actually appeared in my column in the ‘Echo’ – Local group about to make good. Watch this space. They’re about to sign with Decca. Then Dick Rowe gets back and makes his classic remark about groups with guitars are out and in any case, Liverpool – what can be do up there? What’s that other one you’ve got? Brian Poole and the Tremeloes? Where are they from? Tottenham? Oh yes, we’ll have them. On our doorstep, a group we can with without having to hike all the way up to Liverpool every time we want to see them.”

Tony Bramwell, whose long career in the music industry began as a junior in Brian Epstein’s organisation, agrees, though differing on the geography.

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“Decca Records had decided to sign only one of the two groups they had under consideration and they signed the Trems – a guitar group….simply because (they) lived closer. They came from just down the road in Dagenham, Essex – just outside London – which was a great deal more convenient for meetings and rehearsals than Liverpool.” (5)

Barrow also reminds us that it was this January 1, 1962 audition tape which resulted in Epstein being rejected by everyone he visited.

“People think The Beatles must have been so bad that they gave all these auditions and none of them were successful. It’s not like that at all. Epstein had nothing else but the Decca tape to hawk around and it was that tape that was turned down. You may well think that was a very stupid thing for the man to do, because if you’ve been turned down by a major like Decca, he must have realised that this was not going to be picked up very readily by anyone else either. You would have thought he’d have put some money into recording them locally. This was feasible; it was perfectly possible to do it – he had loads of money. If he’d been five or ten years later in the business, he’d have done that. (But) he was totally new to it. If he’d taken (the tape) to other people and readily admitted ‘Don’t go by this tape too much; I’m just trying to give you some idea; come and see them in Liverpool; believe me they’re ten times better than this’ or whatever.’ “

Despite the reality that The Beatles were turned down by just about everyone, one man was stuck with the tag. Tony Hall worked at Decca at the time as Head of Promotion.

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“Dick Rowe is always put down as the man who turned down The Beatles. Andrew (Loog Oldham) is saying (Dick’s) the man who signed the Stones. Very positive. I heard the tape. I would have passed musically, but I heard the voices and the personalities between the really abysmal music, and the personalities I thought were worth investigating. But the music was shit; deserved to be turned down; unfair to criticise him passing.”

Tony Calder whose music business life started at Decca in 1961, agrees:

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“Dick always got labelled as the guy that turned down The Beatles. I’ve got to tell you anybody would have turned down that tape – it was pretty shit. He played it to me a couple of times and said ‘Do I deserve this?’ I loved Dick Rowe – he was one of the nicest people. After I left and was involved with Andrew (Loog Oldham, original manager of the Rolling Stones) we were sitting there with a No.1 record (with the Stones) and no money. He would say ‘Bring us any record’ and we’d get any record and take it to him and he’d give us £200 on a Friday for it because he knew we had no money. He never put them out – he was amazing.”

Another of Decca’s team of producers at the time was Bunny Lewis, by then running his own Ritz label for stars such as Craig Douglas and the Caravelles.

“There was that scurrilous story that’s become part of pop history. It’s not true, about Dick Rowe and The Beatles. Total nonsense. It wasn’t him, it was a fellow called Smith. First of all Brian Epstein came along to Decca with a pretty ghastly demo of The Beatles. At that time EMI had the Shadows who were hot, and this sounded very much like the Shadows, not very exciting. So Dick Rowe said to Mike Smith, one of our junior producers, “You’d better give them a test.” So he gave them a test and at the same time he tested Brian Poole (and the Tremeloes), and he preferred Poole. He took them to Dick Rowe and said ‘I prefer Brian Poole’ and Dick said ‘well, you’re the fellow producing it, do what you like.’ But the story stuck that it was poor old Dick – it wasn’t.”

“George Martin had Parlophone, which was the poor man’s label. I had Lorrae Desmond with him. He was a hell of a nice fellow to work with and a good musician, but he hadn’t had any real success except for Peter Sellers and funny things like that. But he had a liaison with Dick James. He’d recorded him or something. Brian Epstein found his way into Dick James’s office and Dick pointed his nose towards George Martin, and you know the rest”

Tony Barrow agrees. “It seems to me that George Martin wanted to get into the pop side of things and was being urged to do so by his masters. Other people at EMI were the golden boys; he was not. He was the guy who was recording all kinds of absurd things that occasionally would sell enough to give his department some profit. He was known as the madman, he was the eccentric guy.”

Alan Lockie produced for EMI.

“I was in Ardmore and Beechwood when The Beatles made their test recording in the HMV shop (below). The Ardmore & Beechwood guys phoned Norman (Newell) who was in Spain and then called George Martin.”

Wayne Bickerton, himself a Liverpudlian and a musician, remembers hearing of Brian Epstein’s frustration at his inability to attract any interest from London.

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“I can remember being in a flat with a man called Joe Flannery who was the manager of the band I was in (Lee Curtis & the Allstars). He was talking about Brian coming back (from London) saying ‘these people, they just can’t see it, yet another failure, yet another record company.’ Like Mike Smith and Dick Rowe, Dick saying to Mike: ’OK, make a choice, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes or The Beatles?’ ‘The Tremeloes.’ I had to live with that for all time!

Memories play tricks, so not all of these stories can be true. But they coincide on one point – The Beatles and Brian Epstein were just one step away from possibly never making a recording.

Ron Richards was George Martin’s assistant at Parlophone.

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“George (Martin) asked me to listen to this tape that Sid Coleman (Ardmore and Beechwood Publishing) had sent over. Norrie (Paramor) had already turned it down. The thing was that Wally (Ridley), Norrie and Norman (Newell) all had successful acts at the time, so they weren’t in a hurry to sign any unknown kids. George didn’t (have any successful acts). So that’s how George came to take them up. I think he was the last one to hear them. So he asked me to listen to this tape of The Beatles. I must admit I wasn’t terribly impressed at the time. He saw in them more than I did. If it had come to me I would have turned them down, because I had Shane Fenton and the Fentones. But George did a good job with them. Because he wasn’t so au fait with rock & roll, he allowed The Beatles to more or less do their own thing. If they had been with Norrie, or particularly with Wally, he would have said: ‘You do it this way, you do it that way’ and they may not have taken off like they did, but George virtually let them get on with it.

(Sid Coleman) made a record with (them) that I’d given him called How do you do it. They hated the song and made a terrible job of it. So then George asked me to produce them with Love me do and I did. I went in the studio – he had gone out with his girlfriend at the time – and he came back at ten-o-clock and asked them ‘Is there anything you don’t like?’ and George Harrison said ‘I don’t like your tie.’

I was the one who got rid of Pete Best. I was the first one in the studio with The Beatles for rehearsal. George asked me to take them into (Abbey Road) No.3 studio one afternoon. He rehearsed them with Please please me and one or two others. I had a thing about drummers in those days and I wanted him to do a double beat on his bass drum and he (Best) couldn’t do it. I thought ‘Well, he’s useless’. I said to George ‘Look, that drummer’s useless. You’ll have to get another one’. The next thing I hear they’ve got this drummer, Ringo. Ringo came into the studio when I was recording Love me do and I didn’t trust him. I’d never heard him play so I didn’t know if he was good, bad or indifferent, so I booked a session drummer to be safe – Andy White. He did the session and I told Ringo to go down and play the maracas (or, as Geoffrey Emerick remembers it – tambourine), which he did.”

Geoffrey Emerick had only just joined EMI as an assistant recording engineer, and fate was to pair him with The Beatles virtually from his first day at the Abbey Road studios. He began work under the auspices of established engineer Norman Smith

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“The conversation turned to the Beatles session we’d done earlier that week and all of the problems the drummer (Ringo Starr) was having. Apparently, the drummer they had turned up with for the artist test…had been so bad that he had been sacked a couple of months later.”(7)

Tony Barrow feels this autocratic approach was one of the key reasons why The Beatles’ early creativity was seemingly stifled.

“What it really should have taken was a Larry Parnes of the recording industry, but in those days there were no such people. It was the day of the A&R department; it had complete control. I think when The Beatles went into the recording studios for the first time. They found it a very unfriendly workplace. The producer was in control, the producer would say precisely where in the room they had to stand…’this is your microphone…no you can’t have that microphone over there…’ It was almost like the ‘X’ on the floor in the television studio. Because that’s how it was set up for a four-piece, that’s how it was done. Bright lights, very clinical, not conducive for musicians to work. They hated that. They also got the treatment every other newcomer got. The producer would say ‘OK, I’ve got a songwriter for you – his name’s Mitch Murray’. The tie up was directly between producers and music publishers. They brought the songs in. There was the great B-side thing where either the B-side actually written by the producer and was rubbish, or the producer would have written a couple of lines and would say to the band ‘OK, this is going down as band-producer and I want a quarter of the (royalties) on this.’

Wally Ridley at the time was regarded as the Godfather of EMI, having been responsible for a stream of huge hits for HMV in the 1950’s.

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“I never thought, and I still don’t to this day think they’re the best singers. I don’t think they’re the best instrumentalists…. but the thing they had, the thing that I preached about and the thing that I bought 20,000 shares in were their songs – that was their magic. You can forget everything else. Give me the songs.” (2)

Wayne Bickerton whose link to The Beatles came via Pete Best, who after being dropped by The Beatles joined the band he was in, Lee Curtis & The Allstars, makes this assessment.

“Before The Beatles came along, the UK music industry had no real significance. What The Beatles did was twofold. They changed the whole face of popular music and turned the United Kingdom into a serious exporting industry. If they hadn’t done that, God knows where we would be today – I think that’s something that hasn’t really been acknowledged. They broke the mould, turned the whole damn business upside down and made people realise – hey, we’ve got something special; we can take it back across the pond, which they did and other acts followed over the next 20 years. Everybody who earns money, from a record company to the Performing Rights Society has The Beatles to thank.”

Colin Burn, long-serving EMI employee remembers his first encounter.

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“I first met The Beatles when they came in to do The Friday Spectacular (an EMI sponsored programme for Radio Luxembourg, recorded at the Company’s Manchester Square, London, headquarters). They were miming on stage, had only just released their first record. They had driven down in a van and were parked outside EMI and were sleeping there overnight. They hadn’t got any money, not a bean. I gave them loads of cups of coffee and we had sandwiches and biscuits upstairs.”
LG (Len) Wood was Managing Director of EMI from 1959 to 196?, and a hugely influential figure in the British music industry.

“(Brian) Epstein had taken the group (on) the rounds. He’d gone to three of our four A&R men and been turned down, he’d been to Decca and been turned down and he was pretty disconsolate. But by the grace of God he went into the HMV shop in Oxford Street where there was a private recording studio, so if you were a private person and you wanted to make a little recording or have something transferred from disc to tape or tape to disc, you would go in there and have it done. Epstein had got some demonstration tapes which (the A&R men, apart from George Martin) had turned down, so he thought, well, ‘the best thing to do is to go round the music publishers and see if I can get any support there.’ But to do that he needed to have the tapes transferred to disc…. and when he called for them next day the young man who was running the studio just made the comment that he thought there were very attractive recordings and ’why don’t you get a recording deal?’ Epstein, I suppose, explained to him what his problems were, and the fellow said to him, ‘ Well, EMI’s music publishing company is on the next floor, the fellow’s name is Coleman, Why don’t you have a word with him?’ Coleman liked the recordings but again said ‘If I’m to get involved in this you’ve got to have a record deal.’ It was explained to him what happened and he said ‘have you tried George Martin?’ And he hadn’t. So he (Coleman) rang through for George Martin and asked George if he would give them an audition. Which George did, wasn’t terribly impressed, but thought there might be something there and signed them up.” (3)

Then there are the “might-have-been” stories. Jeffrey Kruger, whose London Flamingo Club was a unique source of new jazz talent for Tony Hall’s Decca-owned Topic label in the Fifties, is one for whom life could have been different.

“I knew Brian Epstein via NEMS – he was one of our main dealers who helped sell Ember Records and I didn’t want to upset him. He told me he had this group and couldn’t find a record company interested in recording them. He called me to say he was coming to London and made an appointment to have lunch with me on the Monday. On the way down on the Sunday his parents made him go to a Jewish wedding. He sat next to Dick James and his wife at the wedding and was pressured by his family to do a deal with Dick for the publishing. Dick confirmed to me years later that if Brian hadn’t gone to that wedding, I’d have got the publishing and the recordings”

Dick James’s slant on events, as recalled in 1974, is somewhat different.

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“A young songwriter called Mitch Murray came to see me with songs one day and I very much liked one of them entitled How do you do it. He’d been walking it around Denmark Street for about six months without any success. I took the song to George Martin who liked it and said he’d try it out with a new group from Liverpool called The Beatles. But when we heard their versions both George and I agreed it wasn’t very good. George offered to put it on the B-side of Love me do, the first Beatles’ single, but I thought it was too good for a B-side. So George said he’d try and make it the A-side of their next disc. Nothing happened for about four months, and then in late October 1962, George rang me. That telephone call was the turning point, though I didn’t realise it at the time. George said he had some bad news for me. He explained The Beatles didn’t feel they could do much with the song…… then he gave me some good news. The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein was looking for a publisher to work with him full-time because he had a number of other artists he wanted to launch. He wanted a publisher who would really work the song, the artist and the record – and George had strongly recommended me.” (4)

Epstein met James and played him ‘Please please me’. James immediately played it over the phone to Phillip Jones, producer of Thank Your Lucky Stars who booked them there and then for the first show after the record’s release, January 12, 1963. Don Arden, however, is convinced that the phone call was a set-up, that James knew Thank Your Lucky Stars had wanted The Beatles, had pre-arranged the phone call to impress Epstein. (6). It obviously worked!

“At this point I didn’t even have the song, but my enthusiasm apparently impressed Brian Epstein and I was certainly impressed by his enthusiasm. So the deal was done and we went to lunch. Over the meal he told me the Mitch Murray song was going to be recorded by another of his groups, Gerry & the Pacemakers. At last our faith in the song was justified. Not only did Please please me make No.1, but so did How do you do it. We went on to chalk up seven No.1’s in seven months.” (4)

Tony Bramwell agrees that it was the promise of national television that clinched the deal, but also his naivety in the long-established world of music publishing, “He blindly believed everything that Dick James told him, and thought he was lucky to have found him.” (5)

John Burgess, at that time Norman Newell’s assistant at EMI, has his slant on the story.

“EMI missed out on the publishing purely and simply because Sid Coleman, signed the first two sides the Beatles recorded at the HMV shop. Sid had sent the demos over to George Martin, which was unusual for Sid because he was Norman Newell’s best friend. However, Norman was in America at the time and Sid felt he had to make a fairly quick decision so he sent them to George instead. Norman asked him afterwards why he hadn’t sent them to me. I don’t know what my reaction would have been. He heard the tracks and liked them, and I think those two or three titles still remain with EMI Publishing today. George then got hold of Dick James, who was struggling at the time, almost going bust, because he felt that Dick would do a better job than EMI. He didn’t get involved, just recommended it, and Epstein did the deal. Dick James actually offered George a large percentage and George rejected it. (I think) George was the only guy at EMI to have heard The Beatles. I’m pretty sure Norrie (Paramor) never heard them because he was tied up with Cliff Richard or Ruby Murray at the time.”

Publicist Tony Barrow was at the heart of The Beatles’ phenomenon. How does he remember it?

“The way I’ve always thought of it is of the whole thing being an enormous Cinemascope screen and we were standing with our nose right up against the screen. We couldn’t possibly see the complete picture at the time and it was only years afterwards that we were able to sit back in the stalls and re-run the whole thing that we appreciated the enormity of it all.”

So – just as Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner had no concept of what they had invented, so the most important band in the history of popular recorded music nearly never recorded at all. And some of those still remembered primarily for their Beatle associations, can point to luck as the key factor.

Why? Because music is all about personal taste and business is about making profit. The music business is all about balancing the two. It’s a thread that we will see appearing time and time again as we journey through this extraordinary business.

(1) The Complete Beatles Chronicle, Mark Lewisohn, p.53
(2) EMI interview with Chris Ellis, 1996
(3) EMI interview with Rupert Perry
(4) Music Week April 27, 1974
(5) Magical Mystery Tours – My Life with The Beatles, Tony Bramwell, Robson Books, 2005
(6) Mr Big, Don Arden, Robson Books, 2004
(7) Here, There & Everywhere – My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles, Geoff Emerick, Gotham Books, 2006

 

Copy © David Hughes 2019. Photos from Google search and for illustration purposes only.

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