How did the Marianne Faithfull link come about?
I think she and Gene Pitney got very friendly – she was having problems with Andrew Loog Oldham – and she phoned us up one day in tears and said “I don’t want Andrew to manage me any more, but I don’t know what to do – will you come and talk to Oscar, my solicitor?” We sat there and Oscar said “I think it’s a very good idea that Gerry and Lilian look after you” and she said “but they can’t be my manager!”, and he said “if they’re not going to be your manager, what are they going to do?” She said “I want them to look after me but I don’t want them to be my manager”. So he said “alright – why don’t you be her agent?” So I formed the Bron Agency specifically because Marianne had refused to allow me to be called her manager. I think she had most of her hits in the one year when we were managing her. She left us after exactly a year.
Andrew Loog Oldham and I were at swords drawn from the word go. There were a number of problems. One was that Andrew was Gene Pitney’s publicist at the beginning, which is not well-known. Andrew’s philosophy was that if you don’t tell anybody anything about anybody then everyone will get so curious they’ll want to know, which I used to regard as total abject nonsense, particularly for someone who was only in the country for a few weeks at a time, so I fired him and got someone else. Probably Brian Somerville but it might have been Robin Britten. So we were then a management company. This is 1965 and we were handling Gene Pitney, Marianne Faithfull and Manfred Mann, all of whom were in the charts.
I mentioned to Gerry that John Burgess (an EMI producer) claimed he named Manfred Mann
Possibly. There’s a very interesting story about John – I’m hopping about here. They (Manfred Mann) wanted to renew their contract at EMI. I said ‘If you want to do this, the only way is to either get a much better deal at EMI or go to another record company’. And they said they didn’t want to move. “There’s only one person we trust to make our records and that’s John Burgess”. I spoke to John and he said “I’m employed by EMI; I can’t make records for anyone else.” This went on for ages and I actually went to see the EMI MD Geoffrey Bridge and said “this is the deal we want”. In those days EMI paid so much a record. I think they said something like “but we’re offering you fourpence (2p) a record and we pay all your recording costs” and I said “yes, but you haven’t worked this one out. The cost of the recording compared to the (sales) income is so small, whether you pay or we pay doesn’t matter. I’m talking about a 10% royalty and you’re not offering me anything like that” So I went and got a deal with Mercury for the world and we tried to get Mercury to release the records on EMI here so we could still use John Burgess. We sort of got it sorted out but that wasn’t going to happen. Manfred said “You’ve got $60,000 on one side and a small contract with John Burgess producing the records on the other. Forget it, we’ll go with Mercury and find another producer.” So that’s the point at which John stopped producing their records.
I think that’s what inspired John and George Martin to do what they did (form AIR London, an independent record production company) The pity is they probably would have done very well – Manfred Mann went on having hit after hit. I don’t know whether I remember this right, but Ron Goodwin, a man who laughs at everything, told me ‘they’ve (EMI) offered this deal to George Martin and it’s absolutely ridiculous because George has worked out that if they sell a couple of million records he’ll make some money, but if they only sell a million he’ll actually owe EMI money”. The stories I’ve heard about AIR is that Chris Wright managed to buy the whole thing for less money than was coming in on the next royalty statement. They (AIR) needed a manager.
Manfred Mann was very serious, particularly about interviews
I haven’t seen him in years but he is a very awkward individual. I’ve always thought one of his problems is that he’s basically too intelligent; he spends too much time thinking about what he was doing. When it came to working in the studio it used to drive everyone mad – he just simply couldn’t make up his mind about anything. There would be interminable arguments about ‘is it really good enough?, we ought to do it another way’. I became Manfred’s producer by default. When they went to Mercury their original producer was Shel Talmy.
They weren’t very sure about Shel. He would record a track and tell them it was a hit. Manfred phoned me up one day and said ‘This is ridiculous, everything’s a hit, it can’t be, we’ve got to make a change.’ They came to me and told me they were doing an instrumental EP and asked me to go in and help them. I said ‘You want me to produce it?’. ‘Well no, not produce it – we thought you could just help us out in the studio.’ Obviously (they were thinking) let’s see if Gerry is really that good. I was still looking for songs, I always basically found songs for them. Manfred was a genius at taking a song to pieces, invert it, cut bits out and add bits in. They were working with Shel Talmy at Pye studios in Great Cumberland Place. One of our writers came in and played me a song. I said ‘that’s Manfred’s next single.’ Even he (Shel) was surprised – ‘but Gerry, it’s got four bars…’ ‘I don’t care – that’s their next single, Go round to Regent Sound in Denmark Street, make a quick demo with voice and guitar and take it up to Manfred.’ They took it up to him in the studio – Shel was there as well – and the message came back ‘tell Gerry we think it’s very funny and it’s very appropriately titled “Ha ha said the clown” and we’re not going to record it!’ I insisted it was their next single and the argument went on for four weeks and in the end they said ‘OK we don’t want to record this, but if you’re going to insist on it, you’re going to produce it, then if it’s a flop it’s your fault.’ They actually went to the press and said this. There were articles which said ‘if it’s a failure it’s our manager’s fault.’ So that was my first real single and it was a big success, and huge in Germany.
Was ‘Ha ha said the clown’ the first record you produced?
The first successful record I produced! I’ve always found it galling that I formed a production company called DB Records. D was for Dale and B was for me, it was Syd Dale and me. We found three black girls and Syd did the arrangements and we produced it together and took it to Philips, they put it out and nothing happened. No one was very interested in Gerry Bron producing records, but once I’d had success it all went the other way. I always say to record producers today ‘you’re only as good as your last hit.’ How do you get you last hits if nobody will listen to you?
(Anyone have any idea who that girl group was?) Meanwhile, back to Manfred Mann
I reckon Manfred is one of the most gifted musicians I’ve ever worked with. I’ve got hundreds of stories about him. One is that when I was producing Uriah Heep, we had this very long track which became one of their most successful of all time, called ‘July morning’. I said at the end ‘I hope you realise there’s nothing happening, it goes on and on.’. They said ‘what do you want to do Gerry?’. I said ‘Well, you’ve got to overdub something that makes something happen because it just goes on and on. Why don’t we get a Moog and put some Moog on?’ Ken (Hensley) said ‘I don’t know about a Moog, let’s get Manfred in. ‘Manfred came in and said ‘what do you want me to do?’ I said ‘here’s the track Manfred, and as you can hear, nothing happens at the end. We need you to do something to liven it up at the end – just play a solo.’ He listens to it and says ‘I can’t do anything with it, it’s terrible, it’s just three chords that go on and on.’ I said ‘That’s why you’re here! We want you to play something, just go down and play something,’ We ran the tape through and listened to it and what he’s playing is absolutely fantastic. I said ‘that’s fantastic’. He said ‘really? I can do much better than that – I’ll go and do it again.’ He came back and said ‘was that better than the first one?’. I said ‘they’re both the same really, they’re both fantastic.’ He said ‘I thought that was terrible, I’ll do it again.’ He must have done four or five different versions, he’s an amazing guy. When he was doing his own records he’d say ‘I want the first half of the mix here, and the second half of the other. I think I’ll edit them together.’ He spent hours and they didn’t have the sort of facilities we have now. He just went on and on forever.
And next was Earthband?
The Earthband was a very interesting thing because while Manfred was having his single pop hits, I formed a band called Colosseum. Manfred was furious. He said ‘you’ve gone off and done exactly what we were going to do.’ I said ‘these are blues guys, what are you talking about?’ and he said ‘we can play it much better than that.’ He literally disbanded Manfred Mann, I was dismissed as their manager without a day’s notice and they formed Chapter Three which wasn’t successful, on Vertigo. It was only when they formed the Earthband and were on Philips that we did a gig with them – it must have been either Colosseum or Uriah Heep – at Alexandra Palace. Bronze Records was up and running by them and we asked him to sign to Bronze. He said ‘what can you do for me that Philips can’t do?’. I said ‘for a start we’ll sell a lot more records abroad than you are selling’ and I told him we had sold 10,000 Dick Heckstall-Smith albums in Japan. He said it was amazing as he wasn’t selling anything like that, so that’s how we got him back.
To be continued….
©David Hughes 2015 Photographs courtesy Google search.