A Personal History of the British Music Business 11 – Colin Burn 3

Colin’s start at EMI preceded Cliff Richard’s debut by about four months – he started in May 1958 and Cliff in September of the same year. So I was keen to know more.

cliff richard & the drifters with norrie paromor

Norrie Paramor with Cliff Richard, Jet Harris, Tony Meehan (?-it actually doesn’t look like him) and Bruce Welch

I remember starting on £15 a week in 1958 and I have a letter from L.G. (Wood, EMI’s MD at the time) putting it up to £16 a week. Norrie had to supplement his income by writing or changing an arrangement – that way he would receive a portion (of the composer’s royalty) because he had made a contribution. If someone wanted their song to be recorded by Cliff, they would agree to (Norrie) getting a cut of the A-side and totally write the B-side. He, and others, were writing so many B-sides that eventually a law came in and they’d then do them under pseudonyms. Norrie did too. He had hundreds under different names. His brother Alan Paramor was a publisher at Leeds Music, so they were in cahoots. Then the law came in that you could only have three pseudonyms and there was panic in the ranks! On some of them you might even see Joan Paramor, Norrie’s wife. He used to pay more in tax in a year than his salary from EMI – his salary in 1958 was £2000 a year. Wally (Ridley) had this clothing company as well in which he was partners with Ronnie Hilton. I never had an overcoat and he was always trying to flog me one. They didn’t get royalties. All the American records were coming in and everyone rushed to do cover jobs. The publishers could put a hold on the record coming out so you couldn’t be released before the American original – you could go in and make it but you couldn’t release it. Publishers had to hold to it or they’d lose all their songwriters. The only successful company was Oriole for Woolies (F.W. Woolworth, whose Embassy label released exclusively cover versions of hits at a cheaper price). They’d have a cover job in Woolies in a few days and they were very good records. They had the deal only with Woolworths. Cover jobs were very important indeed. You’d get the records coming in from America and the A&R had to assess whether they were hits. In those days only EMI artists recorded at EMI – nobody else was allowed to go in, which has now all changed. The cost of the record could be nothing because you didn’t put any charge for Abbey Road.

Norrie came along one day and said ‘I’m just thinking of signing a new lad.’ I said ‘what’s his name?’ and he said ‘I don’t know yet, I think we’re going to call him Cliff something. He’s coming in this afternoon, I’d like you to meet him.’ I went up to the fourth floor and there was this little pimple-faced brat, obviously doing an Elvis impression, and I had a brief chat. He didn’t seem to have much to say for himself. His manager was John Foster who came from Cheshunt as well. They were Cliff and the Drifters to start with. The first ‘A’ side that was put out was ‘Schoolboy Crush’, on the other side was ‘Move it’. I took it to Luxembourg and they all listened to it and said ‘we prefer the other side, I think we’ll go with that.’ It was actually Luxembourg that started the ball rolling, and eventually Jack Good, but Luxembourg were in there first. Jack Good will lay claim, which I suppose he should, but he was influenced by Luxembourg. I know because I was plugging the thing! If only I had the promo copy with ‘A’ on the ‘Schoolboy Crush’ side. Cliff took off and it was only when Peter Gormley arrived that The Shadows started.

peter1

Peter Gormley had arrived here from Australia with Frank Ifield?

He was a schoolmaster and came over with Frank Ifield who was doing quite well with Norrie on Columbia. We made the first record ‘Lucky Devil’ which got a lot of plays and got to about 28 in the NME Top 30. The big chart was Disc because if you got a silver disc (for selling 250,000 copies), it was from Disc magazine.

ttraward

As my first job in the music business was at Disc in 1967, and as the original editor Gerald Marks still had an office next to ours even though his only responsibility was to authorise the silver discs, I had to show you one – not, obviously, for Frank Ifield!

Melody Maker was just a jazz paper and the NME had the Top 30. Peter was a nice guy and said ‘is there anything I can do to help you?’ I explained what the system was and we got on very well. After that Frank made record after record and didn’t sell anything. It was just coming to a point when Norrie was going to say ‘I can’t do anymore with him’ and ‘I Remember You’ came along. Just before then Peter got interested in The Shadows – I don’t know who went to who. Tito Burns had ripped Cliff off. I had to take Tito and Cliff and the Shads to Cologne. They were doing concerts in aid of something and we had to go from Luxembourg to Cologne by scheduled helicopter flight. Tito was the ex-air pilot who said ‘don’t worry’ because nobody wanted to get on to this helicopter – it was a hurricane up there and you don’t have wings to hold on to, you just spin from side to side. I looked at Tito and he was reading the paper, but when I looked the paper was upside down! Cliff spewed into the sick bag and I would do the same if we didn’t get down soon.

(I think on reflection I should have prolonged that topic, but instead I asked whether Colin viewed the Columbia label as an entity on its own.)

Norrie only did Columbia. HMV was a special label and if you were a dealer you couldn’t just be a dealer – you had to be an accredited HMV dealer

Wally (Ridley) says his records never got to No.1. because you could only sell them in the accredited shop.

ridley

If you wanted to be a dealer, you had to be vetted, you had to have the area, the money and everything else.

Ron (Richards) moved up and started to do the younger rock and roll things, and Peter Sullivan did the same for Wally.

We were still in Castle Street and Tommy Loftus came in – he was going to work for George (Martin) and Ron. There was a guy called Arthur Muxlow who was an ex-Rumbelows shop manager and he came in to run Capitol because Capitol was such a prestigious label, he persuaded L.G. (Wood) he should be the general promotions manager for the whole company and everything should come under him. John Philips was always threatening to resign; L.G. would come down to him and say ‘no, you can’t do that’, but one day he came down and said ‘fine, go’ – he’d done it once too often. Within two weeks he was dead. Arthur Muxlow came in – he was a pillock! Everybody hated him. He was the General Promotion Manager. We didn’t have Marketing Managers; we had George Freshwater who did print and design and things like that. Stephen Wright worked for him and Ron Dunton. Arthur did all the advertising. There was no campaign. We had contracts and we had Luxembourg. (Our Radio Luxembourg shows were) The Friday Spectacular, Jimmy Young, Shaw Taylor, Muriel Young, Ray Orchard. When Arthur Muxlow came in we had to go to Eastcastle Street, a horrible place, and work for him. He had a sidekick called Mal Thompson – a Canadian. Arthur didn’t know anything about anything so there was a battle. All the A&R men had to go to Arthur to get their share of what was going on. Norman (Newell) and Norrie and all the others were always at Arthur’s throat, but he had the money and the power. The others had no say in what went on. Up until then you had people like Leslie Reynolds – I think he was loosely called Sales Manager – and we would have a meeting to decide how many plugs to give to our records on Luxembourg. Arthur came in and took over – he started to produce the Luxembourg programmes, the Friday Spectacular. He used to write the scripts and get paid a writer’s fee and a producer’s fee, so he was on the take as well. Arthur was always on the take.

Eventually in 1960 we moved into Manchester Square and Arthur became even more powerful which upset everyone. But there was nothing they could do about it because for some reason L.G.always backed Arthur. They had this executive committee – Arthur, Freshwater, Ralph Hewitt who was doing personnel, Ron White who floated from being General Manager to General Manager of classical. It was always felt he would take over from L.G. but he never did – so Muxlow went on and on until things got to such a pitch that he had to go. Meanwhile we had got (music publishers) Ardmore and Beechwood and we had a kind of talent agency called Artists Promotion, which Chris Peers went into for a short while, above the HMV shop in Oxford Street. Then it was thought that if we’ve got all this talent, why don’t we run our own entertainment agency and why not put Arthur Muxlow in charge?

We started to get sales managers in – one was Fred Exon and one was Rex Oldfield and they started to get the power. They were like (today’s) marketing managers. It was divided into English and American; Rex Oldfield got more and more powerful, Fred got less powerful until there was a coup and Rex took over and it all went to his head. Then he got involved with a coloured American girl singer called Chris Rayburn – he held a big press party for her on a 707 and all hell broke loose. The cost was unbelievable and the record was a stiff. Politics really began – when I started there was no politics; it was a fun game; you all liked everybody; nobody was trying to get anyone else out. It was only when you got sales and marketing managers that things went sour.

So Arthur Muxlow was put in charge of West One Entertainment. Unfortunately I was his general manager! When he started in Manchester Square there were about ten pluggers and it was split American/English. You had a head plugger for each side and I was head plugger, English. I was really working for Norrie but under Muxlow. There was a guy called Ron Randall working for Muxlow who did nothing but badmouth him; then Muxlow heard him and kicked him out and chose me as his replacement. I thought ‘do I need this?’ but it was more money so I went to see Norrie and told him I’d been offered the job. He said ‘take it dear boy, you’re still on the team.’ When Muxlow was dumped I had to go too.”

We will pause here to draw breath. Colin always said what he felt and I’m just transcribing it! Interestingly, some quick research on Ron Randall shows him moving to the Gerry Bron Agency in the late sixties…how small this business was, and probably still is.

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Text ©David Hughes 2015

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About dhvinyl

Lifelong obsession with music, 33 years in the music business, 40 years immersed in selling old records, 18 years retired!
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4 Responses to A Personal History of the British Music Business 11 – Colin Burn 3

  1. Slightly confused by all the comings and goings but, nevertheless, a worthy tome!

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  2. DavidRayner says:

    Did Colin mentioned the ill fated launch of his eleven years old son Darren (1961 – 1991) at EMI in July, 1973, or was it too much of a sore subject for him, with Darren eventually committing suicide?

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  3. dhvinyl says:

    It would have more the case of me not wishing to raise the subject. Having worked with Colin for long enough to know the sensitivity, I never talked to him about it.

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  4. DavidRayner says:

    Yes, I can understand that. I think you did the right thing under the circumstances. Thanks for replying and for the very interesting and unique interview with Colin. The impression I got of him while watching the 1973 BBC TV Man Alive film about Darren’s launch, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ which I have on a private DVD-R, is that he had a tired look in his eyes; that he worked very hard and long hours at EMI and that he was just, well, kind of living on his nerves. There’s no doubt he worked very hard to get where he was at EMI.

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