We left Gerry at “Ha ha said the clown”, so my next question was about forming a record production company
“I always wanted to make records. When Ron Goodwin recorded with George (Martin) and made all those instrumental albums I used to go to a lot of the sessions. I loved it. In my youth I spent a lot of time talking to people like Ron Goodwin about music. I learned a lot just talking to people. My interest in composers like Ravel and Debussy came from Ron Goodwin. Those guys were weaned on Ravel – the string writing in Ravel is very much the Hollywood style of strings. I remember watching George fiddling about with some piece of equipment; he was very inventive; he had some sort of tape delay set up and I just looked at him and thought ‘this is just what I want to do.’ The problem I had in those days is that I would go to my father, the boss, and say ‘we want to go to the studio and make this record’ and he would say ‘how much? £300? How are we going to get that back?’ ‘Well, if we sell a million records’ and he’d say ‘but you haven’t sold a million records, Gerry!’
When did the thought come of forming your own record company?
I formed Bronze Records by accident. What brought that about was that we were there when Vertigo was formed and (Philips’ General Manager) Olav (Wyper, right, below) reckons if it weren’t for me they wouldn’t have done it. I had all the original acts and they needed my permission.
You had them signed to Philips anyway?
I had a contract with Philips that I could produce three artists as an independent producer. I had Juicy Lucy, Colosseum and Uriah Heep, so those three were the mainstay of Vertigo when it started. I think they came to me partly because I knew something about that type of music that they didn’t.
I’m told that at that time Philips was the last company that anyone ever went to.
That’s probably right. The reason I was there was because of Manfred Mann. We did the deal with Mercury in America and I remember Leslie Gould phoned me up saying ‘I’m the managing director of Philips Records in London and we will be putting out your Manfred Mann records and I’d very much like to meet you.’ I was knocked out that the managing director of a record company would phone me up.
Philips had had a peak a few years earlier with Dave Dee, The Herd and Dusty.
Dave Dee was exactly the same era, on Fontana, released by Jack Baverstock, as were Manfred Mann, also released by Jack Baverstock, so we were all there at the same time. Carolyn (Wyper) was Jack’s secretary – I’ve known her longer than Olav. I wasn’t uncomfortable with Philips; they looked on me as their blue-eyed boy because I was selling records. They didn’t really understand what I was doing. Colosseum mystified them – they couldn’t understand how anyone could go out there and play blues and progressive music and actually sell records. Vertigo was a sort of follow-on from Colosseum and having them as the first release on Vertigo was obviously very strong. I never felt they really needed my permission.
Harvest was the label they were emulating. I managed Pete Brown who was on Harvest and I said to them (Philips) ‘You’ve got a good idea here because EMI are doing very well with Harvest and you should be doing the same thing.’ Pink Floyd were on Harvest so that didn’t do them any harm, though I don’t think they meant a great deal at that time.
Of course, while ‘Ha ha said the clown‘ was my first, I started producing Gene Pitney records as well, though I never produced Marianne Faithfull. Gene went from being very successful in America and unsuccessful here, to being unsuccessful in America and successful here. He really had two bites of not the same cherry! From the day ‘24 hours from Tulsa‘ was a hit here his career went downhill in America and became enormous here. If you look year by year you’ll see he had terrific hits in America with songs like ‘True love never runs smooth’ which meant nothing here, then big hits here that wouldn’t have been hits in America. (Rogers) Cook & Greenaway wrote ‘Something’s gotten hold of my heart’ which Gene heard when he was over here and said he would try and record it in America.
Roger Cook, Roger Greenaway and Gene Pitney
Weeks later he phoned up and said ‘we’ve tried this twice, we’re not getting anywhere; we just can’t get the same feel. Could you get the tape of the demo that we could use as a backing track.’ So we sent that over and he put his voice on and they put it out as a single in America. I heard it and said ‘we can’t put this out here’ and they said ‘why not?’ ‘Well, it sounds like a demo, it needs strings, brass and choir, the whole thing.’ They said they didn’t agree and I said I wouldn’t let the record come out unless they did. Eventually they gave in and sent me the tapes and asked me to put the orchestra on and do the whole thing. Lew Warburton did the arrangement. It was a hell of a job. We had eight track and they’d used 5-6 for Gene and the backing so we had to duck and dive in between the tracks to get the orchestra and choir on. I reckon that would never have been a hit otherwise.
The Vertigo period was the time when artists started taking themselves too seriously, though I loved Jon Hiseman.
Jon Hiseman was impossible – he took himself terribly seriously. He was a wonderful drummer, one of the best drummers in the world in his day and he might still be, sheer technical drumming. But he would sit there all day with his practice pad. Jon was very set in what he wanted to do. I did an interview about Colosseum not long ago and they were trying to imply there was dissent in the band and the band was always about to break up, and I said ‘absolutely not, nobody ever argued with Jon – there was no point!’ Whatever Jon said, that’s what happened. It was always Jon’s concept. Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jon came to me and said ‘we want to put this band together, we reckon we can do it. We’ve been with John Mayall for the last however many months or years, we know exactly how he does it and we think we can do the same,’ These were the days you did things like that. I said ‘fine’ I heard them rehearse and I thought it was absolutely terrific. But nobody saw it. We played Colosseum to record companies and they said ‘you’ve got to be kidding, this is too complicated, nobody’s going to buy these records.’ There’s always this gap between the artist, the public and the record company. The record company never understands what the public wants and the artist knows more than the record company. I don’t think that’s ever changed – it’s always been the same.
Another example is Motorhead. They (the record companies) did not want to release Motorhead records. I said ‘go to a Motorhead gig, there are 3,000 people queuing to get in – every one would buy a record.’ My favourite story about (Joint Chrysalis Records owner) Terry Ellis is that we had a deal in America with Chrysalis and they heard Motorhead and Terry said ‘I’m really sorry Gerry but we cannot be associated with this sort of music.’ I said ‘what’s wrong with it, Terry’ and he said ‘well, we’re into music that means something, we can’t put out Motorhead.’ I said ‘Terry, I don’t think you understand. This band’s got a fantastic following. It will sell 100,000 in America based on its cult following. You’ve got to see the band on stage. When you see the band on stage and see the crowd reaction you will see what this is all about.’ He said ‘I’m coming to Europe; I’ll be in France on such and such a day.’ I said ‘great, they’re playing in Zurich then.’ He said ‘How am I going to get from France to Zurich?’ I said ‘I will come and get you in my plane. I’ll take you to the gig and then we’ll go out to dinner somewhere nice (he’s very into that) and once you see what’s there you’ll pick up Motorhead in America.’ So we pick him up in Paris, we fly him down to Zurich, we go to the gig and he absolutely hated every second of it, and that was the end of it!’
(Colosseum – Jon Hiseman on the right, Motorhead and Terry Ellis.
The final, extended part of this interview (which I see I did on December 10, 1998) will return to Bronze Records and the days of licensed labels
©David Hughes, January 2015 (illustrations excluded)