You need to read Pts. 1-3 first!
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
“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.
All quotations taken from my interviews, except..
(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