Potted biography courtesy Wikipedia
Gerry Bron, born 1st March 1933 – died 19th June 2012,was born in Hendon, Middlesex, into a Jewish family, the elder brother of actress Eleanor Bron. Their father, Sydney, shortened the family’s surname to “Bron” from “Bronstein” when founding Bron’s Orchestral Service.Bron’s record label, Bronze Records, was founded in 1971 and was home to many popular bands, including Uriah Heep, Osibisa, Paladin, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, The Real Kids, Sally Oldfield, Motörhead, The Damned, Girlschool, Bronz and Hawkwind
Bron’s career in music covered just about every aspect of the industry. He was at various times a clarinetist, a sheet music printer, an artist manager handling acts including Gene Pitney, Marianne Faithfull, Manfred Mann, Colosseum and Uriah Heep, a record producer working with the Bonzo Dog Band, Juicy Lucy and all the acts he managed with the exception of Faithfull, a booking agent, record label owner and a studio owner and manager at Roundhouse Studios. Bron was brought up in a family steeped in the music industry. His father’s company, Bron’s Orchestral Service, was claimed to be the largest supplier of sheet music in the UK. Gerry Bron joined the company at 16 to assist his father when Bron senior’s health started to fail. “I , suspect I may have left school at 16 anyway,” Gerry commented in an interview with Billboard’s Encyclopaedia of Record Producers.
The company moved into music publishing and one of the first acts that Gerry Bron was responsible for was Gene Pitney. This business relationship led to Bron and Pitney discussing making records together and Bron produced all the demos for the publishing company. The positive response to the quality of these encouraged Bron to move into the area of production more actively and he produced Manfred Mann’s hit singles “Ha! Ha! Said The Clown”, “My Name Is Jack” and “Fox On The Run”. This was followed by albums with Colosseum and Uriah Heep.
When did you start?
“It was a family business. The story goes back to when I was 15 in 1949. My father Sydney Bron had an inoperable bladder problem and it was put to me that his company, Bron’s Orchestral Service was unique. The company supplied printed band parts for dance bands. We virtually don’t have that any more but the pride of Bron’s Orchestral service was that it stocked everything that was printed. If it had been printed, we had it in stock. We had a premium service, mostly mail order and that was the family business. My father started it because publishers normally didn’t give discount, but he got discount from everyone except Chappells, and even they later relented. If you were a dance band leader in those days you had to go to each of the individual publishers. It goes back to that era when Tin Pan Alley was filled with (publishers) – Laurence Wright, Campbell Connelly, Southern and others. We had a mailing list of 6000 people – we posted orchestrations to the army bands in Germany and to Singapore and Australia. We bought sheet music occasionally but it was basically orchestral parts. We got a third discount – bought for two shillings (10p) and sold for three (15p), but we did stock everything so we had that capital risk. The other thing we guaranteed was that 90% of orders would be dispatched the same day. My father was a very meticulous and organised (the business) well. He always wanted to be a publisher. When I was 16 – I was the oldest of three – it was felt that the business was in jeopardy and maybe I ought to leave school and go into it – which I did. My father died in 1994 and continued working until he was 90. As things progressed, my father joined up with Eddie Kassner as a music publisher. They worked together for years and struggled. Eventually Kassner was extremely keen to go to America, where it all happened. So he was there, my father was in England and it didn’t really work so they split up. They divided the copyrights down the middle which was quite unusual, so there was Edward Kassner Music and Sydney Bron Music. In the process he started getting a lot of Americans who wanted to have representation here via a 50/50 company, and one of these was Aaron Schroeder who was Gene Pitney’s publisher.
You’ve jumped into the 1960’s here
Yes, but there’s not an awful lot that happened in between. My father effectively left the running of Bron’s Orchestral Service to me. The dance bands died out and we were doing the same turnover every year but the price of the orchestrations was going up every year so we were selling fewer and fewer. It wasn’t really a business any more. When my father was with Eddie Kassner we had three arrangers. One of them was Ron Goodwin – people like Cyril Stapleton would say “I don’t particularly like the song but I’ll (play) it if Ron Goodwin arranges it for me.
How did it work, the publishing business?
Someone walks in, gives you a song and you try and get it recorded. You’ve got to remember that in the early days we had enormous success with songs that were hardly recorded. The biggest seller we ever had was a song called “Silver Dollar” which sold 200,000 song copies (sheet music). That’s a huge profit; you printed them yourself, they were a shilling (5p) each, we sold them to the wholesaler for sixpence to sevenpence and cost a penny to print, so you were making sixpence (2.5p) a copy. After paying the royalty the rest was profit. Much bigger income than you’d make on a record.
So getting the songs recorded was not the priority?
What really stated the ball rolling for me was that Aaron Schroeder was a big publisher; he published things like “It’s my party” by Lesley Gore, and lots of other hits, but we could not get Gene Pitney off the ground. It was very aggravating because he (Schroeder) was also Gene’s manager and he kept saying “You’ve got to do something with Gene Pitney” while we kept saying “We think the songs are great, let’s just get covers” and he’d go totally berserk and say “under no circumstances are you to get covers” and we said “you’re tying our hands, you’re stopping us making money for you but we’re still paying you advances”
In 1963 Gene Pitney came over and we talked briefly about a song called “24 Hours from Tulsa” and he said he’d come back in a couple of weeks to do television. From that time we never looked back. We became very friendly and we were both workaholics so if I said “Let’s go up to Manchester and do ‘Scene at 6.30’ he didn’t give me that “I’m too busy”.
At that time I wasn’t that much involved in anything else. Taking a couple of weeks off and driving around the television programmes, I didn’t officially call myself his manager. I didn’t get a commission, but it worked really well because we had the publishing on the ‘B’ side of everything he recorded and sometimes the ‘A’ side so our income was substantial. I was requested by him as his manager. He toured mostly for Arthur Howes and I did all the work. I did all the television and everything else that had to be arranged, but I didn’t mind – you couldn’t knock having the B-side of a record that sold 750,000 copies.
Penny Valentine and my first wife Lilian were both very involved in persuading me to release a song from an album as a single – I can’t remember what it was , maybe “Just one Smile”
(I worked with the wonderful Penny Valentine from 1967-1970 and know she was instrumental in getting Dusty Springfield to record this song for the classic ‘Dusty in Memphis’ album. I also know that Gene Pitney fancied her like crazy…and who wouldn’t? I know I did. She was a treasured friend)
Penny Valentine (1943-2003)
Gene was always talking to me about making records and I had aspirations to be a record producer. It was being with him that made me realise that I could do it. He was always my mentor but actually I realised I knew more about making records than he did, but he always behaved like he knew exactly how to do it and so I learned a great deal from that.
Gene Pitney led to Marianne Faithfull and Marianne Faithfull led to Manfred Mann.
To be continued
©David Hughes, 2015, excluding all photographs.