A Personal History of the British Record Industry 13 – Colin Burn 5

These periodic delays in posting are down to one hobby interrupting another! One of my bi-monthly auctions finished a week ago and then it’s non-stop creating invoices, packing parcels etc. So no, haven’t ground to a halt again…yet!

Good news is that, courtesy a Facebook page for folk who worked at EMI in the 1970’s I have found photos of Colin to ‘steal” and show.IMG_0309

Here’s Colin on the left, by his favourite chair occupied by what looks like Don Black but probably isn’t – and I’ve no idea who the guy is standing behind!


And here’s Colin on the far right with what looks like the Motown team about a year before I joined. My pal Bob Fisher is second left, standing, and next to Colin are Barney Ales, Motown’s No.2. man whose story is currently being written by Adam White, and Ken East, whom we’ll get to when we reach ‘E’! Squatting left is Gordon Frewin, Motown’s long-serving label manager who survived three years with me!

Right, back to the story and we left Colin saying that those (Motown) days were fun, so I said…because you were the age you were? Everyone says it’s not fun anymore

I think it was because of the age I was and that allowed me to enjoy what was going on and there was a hell of a lot going on. I was 23 or 24 which was considered very young and you weren’t allowed to make it in the business unless you were 40 or 45, and when I got to be 45 you were no good unless you were 25! But it was a friendly happy atmosphere, everyone had time for everybody else. As you went up the ladder it got a bit more corporate.

You got the feeling no one was brandishing figures at you?

In the early days you didn’t have figures and number, you just did what you had to do and hope that you would win. Luckily I was always on the winning side. Then it changes and you get all the budgets. Capitol had its ups and downs.

It (Capitol) never produced what was expected of it?

We would be there with our artists doing bits and pieces out the front and you’d have a little green room at the back. There was a guy who came to work for us as a plugger called Johnny Francis who was a complete lunatic – worked for Harry Walters doing American repertoire, a complete thug. Example- we’d all be sitting at desks one behind the other, open plan; all you had was your little desk and your phone and that was it. There’d be a playing room with a record player where you could play a record if you wanted to. At Christmas time there’d be a parcel brought up, say from Peter Gormley on behalf of Cliff or Frank Ifield, could be bottles, big glass ashtray, things for Christmas presents. Johnny Francis obviously didn’t get anything because his artists were all American, so he used to go and buy presents, give them to the commissionaire downstairs and tell him ‘can you wait half an hour and bring them up to me and say ‘These are from Frank Sinatra'” When we were sending in postcards to the Beeb for ‘Two Way Family Favourites’ he thought it would be much easier to take the postcards rather than send them through the post, just leave them on the secretaries’ desks as he went round. The only problem was they wouldn’t be franked, so he went to a post office and nicked a franking machine! He was that kind of a guy. One days he said to me ‘I do fancy that Edna Bowers – she’s got such big tits’. I said ‘well believe me, I’ve been around – all you need to do is to go up to her and say ‘I think you’ve got the biggest tits I’ve seen and I fancy you like mad and I’d really like to grab hold of them’, and that will turn her on – she likes it upfront like that. In the green room having a drink, she said ‘what’s all this you’ve been saying to Johnny Francis about my tits?’ Oh my God! Obviously from that moment she didn’t like me. Ken (East, who may or may not have been husband by this time – someone will tell me!) was working in International and on his way going back to Australia on a boat when he was told he was needed here. I then heard the news that he had been taken off the boat and thought ‘Oh my God, that’s going to be the end of me’ So he came in and we had this terrible time, but he didn’t like Ron White and he didn’t like Roy Featherstone either. He didn’t like any of us. He had to put up with me because for the first time I was actually doing a bloody good job, took me a few years to get it together. At every turn you knew Ken was trying to find a reason to get you out or not like you. Every Christmas he’d have a party at his house and I always got an invite – he couldn’t not because he would invite Roy Featherstone and Ron White – we were a trio. Ron was General Manager, Roy was Marketing Manager and I was Promotion Manager- we were the terrible trio.

Then Gerry Oord came in and he was worse! He started this thing – International Artists Promotion (IAP) from Duke Street. He had all these people coming over from Europe because he wanted to use his own printing works to do centralised printing on visiting artists like Anne Murray.’It will be much better if we do this work from Holland; It’s cheaper and we can do it for everybody.’ He had this huge campaign plan for Anne Murray throughout the whole of Europe – he’d done the posters, the streamers, the leaflets, the window stickers, half a million of each (you’d overprint the relevant catalogue numbers for your country). He held them up in front of the various General Managers and said ‘any questions?’ and someone said ‘Yes Gerry, you’ve spelt her name wrong.’ And he’d spelt her name wrong on all these millions of posters. ‘It’s no problem, we’ll get them fixed.’ Six months later he was Managing Director! That was the end of Ron White; he couldn’t be there if Gerry Oord was Managing Director – really, Ron White should have been Managing Director – so they pushed him off to publishing. Ron White came to me and said ‘watch your back very carefully because Gerry Oord is after you.’ I’d had a few run-ins before because they had all these crap Dutch acts like The Cats that they insisted we released over here, which we didn’t want to do, and instead we spent a lot of money promoting them and they didn’t sell anything. If you didn’t release them you were in trouble and if you did you were in trouble because they didn’t sell.

That seems to have been an extraordinary over-spend period, the Gerry Oord period; from the flamboyance of the offices, and why wasn’t he sussed that he was arranging the marketing to benefit his printing company?

It was John Reid’s time, wasn’t it? John was a star f*cker. Anybody who was a star – he just loved them. He was the reason that EMI went down the tubes because of the brain scanner…but that’s another story! He supported Gerry Oord; Gerry was a very flamboyant man and was able to impress John Reid. He involved John Reid in all the things he did and invited him round to dinner with Glen Campbell or whoever. John Reid didn’t know any better and he just allowed Gerry to go on and on and on. Gerry was a very wealthy man anyway – we bought the Dutch company from him for a lot of money.


Gerry Oord (right) with Maria Callas, probably on the steps of Abbey Road studios

To be continued

Text © David Hughes, 2015

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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2 Responses to A Personal History of the British Record Industry 13 – Colin Burn 5

  1. —–fascinating – and rapidly approaching the time when I, Jennie and Moira Bellas came in – the Top Pops office was in Bentinck Street – about 100 yards away from Manchester Square and I recall Moira contrived to get me and my staff passes for the staff canteen where one could get a very cheap nosh!


  2. dhvinyl says:

    There was certainly no canteen by the time I got to Manchester Square in 1980!


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