A Personal History of the British Music Business Pt.15 – Colin Burn 7 and conclusion!

We left Tony Hall with Joan Collins and Colin with a girl called Vicky, so time to get back on track!

The other thing that’s changed is the money it costs to make a record. In those days if a record didn’t sell it was goodbye artist; hardly any money changed hands; no such thing as advances.

When Don Partridge recorded ‘Rosie’ it cost £17.50. It was done by Don Paul, a plugger for Essex Music.

I mentioned that I’d seen Don recently, still busking outside Hammersmith Odeon (this would have been in the late 1990’s)

When I see them now, I think ‘they can’t still be going on’, they must be too old, but what I forget is that maybe I’d got on a bit – I was 30-35 and they were in their 20’s. I stayed young in the job because I was with young people and young music. I forget I was quite old.

Cliff Richard is one of the few older than me

He can’t escape it – everyone knows when he started and how old he is.

He can’t to terms with the fact that radio has moved on

He’s got to – it’s silly. I think he will alienate more people by trying to live this myth of being the Peter Pan of the business.

It’s a shame he can’t spend his remaining years resting on his success

He dyes his hair black, but he’s looking old – how old is he?

58 – I think (which if true puts this interview in 1999)

I remember his 21st!

There’s a gap here, and this next story is about The Beatles

It was a lunchtime reception, we had the police there ready to link arms. If they’re going to be mobbed there’s going to be chaos outside Manchester Square; people might go down the alley down below (this would have been the cul-de-sac to the EMI garage) and there might be a few injuries. The police were there about 12.30 round the whole of the front and round the corner. The Beatles came and got in the lift and went up. There was one fan! And we’d got all these police to link arms and repel everybody. We invited the girl in. I said ‘You’re the only one, you’d better come in.’ She had a great time.

You did your job too well, keeping that secret

They had such a big organisation that you thought ‘it’s got to leak out somewhere.’ Have to use those tactics again though we didn’t need the publicity – it was all happening.

You got out, or were got out, at the time it got shitty.

The only regret I have is that in those early days and thereafter, you didn’t get paid very much. You did it because you liked it, it was good fun but you didn’t actually get any money out of it. Fortunately I bought a small house in 1960 when I got married, upgraded and upgraded, but after my divorce it all went haywire. Now the money people can make in the record business is astronomic. Very unfair, and yet we were probably working a bloody sight harder to achieve it. You had to know your craft.

You have to be a graduate to get on the interview list these days

You don’t get the flair. John Schroeder wasn’t an academic – he didn’t do too badly but fell flat on his face when he left the company. Rocket Records was a disaster. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber were music men – you can’t really be taught that. Whatever you do in the music business, the chances are it is not going to work. If you put a record out, the chances are against it being a hit, but as long as you can do more successful things than unsuccessful things, you’re going to win through. That’s what I’ve always said. You can’t always be right. But in working for a large company you’ve got that shield around you; when you get out on your own you haven’t got that clout. You would have thought that Rocket Records would have been enormous

Apple should have sent out the signals

They had so much money it just didn’t matter. They loved it. Now they’re all still very wealthy and very successful doing their own little bits. I suppose McCartney in his own way enjoys what he’s been doing, now that Linda’s gone. I’m surprised it (the marriage) lasted.

I always remember when we did the ball when we launched Wings at the Empire Leicester Square. Ron White, Roy Featherstone were there, but none of them wanted to have anything to do with it. I don’t know why, whether they were frightened of McCartney or not. It was all going to be vegetarian and I had to go and meet with him at his office in Soho Square and fix it all up with him. Ron White and Roy Featherstone didn’t want to go so I was left looking after McCartney with Linda, who was up there. I had to set the parameters, the sums in those days were really quite low. I said ‘EMI will obviously pay but it’s not unlimited.’ I was thinking of a ballpark figure of £1,000.; he wanted Ray McVay and his band to play dance music; the hire of the Empire Leicester Square and all the food and booze, provided it was beer and wine. If they wanted spirits the guests had to buy their own. We worked all this out and I was saying ‘ we can’t do this and we can’t do this.’ Linda was getting a bit twitchy and Paul said to her ‘Linda love, you’ve got to remember that the days of the Queen Mary are really over for us.’ I will always remember that line, such a great remark. I got a telegram from him – I’ve got it upstairs “Thank you and your staff for a highly successful evening. McCartney.” It was invitation only, black tie. I’ve got my Beatles file upstairs.

I first met The Beatles when they came to do The Friday Spectacular (a weekly “live” event for EMI’s Radio Luxembourg) they were miming on stage. They had only just released their first record. They had driven down in a van and were parked outside EMI and were sleeping there overnight. They hadn’t got any money, not a bean, and I gave them loads of cups of coffee and we had sandwiches and biscuits upstairs for all guests. I used to give them a contribution towards advertising of £350 and they’d always ring me up and say ‘we want to do this and that’ and I’d say ‘fine, I’ll send you my cheque tomorrow.’ I look back and think ‘how could I have got away with it?’ The millions of records they were selling. I met all the people who turned out to be superstars – Clapton, Yardbirds, Animals, and they all went under other guises.

And that was always the comeback. With Motown for example ‘how can you only spend 5% or 6% on us when we’re doing all this?’ Overall the budget was 5% of your income on your spend and you had to apportion it to all the different labels. They would never understand that you had to use your money to plough into other areas to make it successful, because if you applied your 5% rule you’d never spend anything. You don’t need to spend it – it’s going to happen. It’s difficult to get them to understand why you don’t need it ‘why shouldn’t I have it?’, such extravagant spending. So much money was wasted. There were some (publicity & advertising) things that were totally over the top, but you did them politically; you thought ‘it’s got to be seen to be done.’ From the early days of putting 7 or 8 people on a quarter page, you got to ‘I want a half page on my own.’ What? A half page on your own – you must be mad!

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The only time I used to do it was with dear old Percy Dickins. If I had a record that was really hot and I didn’t know what was happening I’d phone Percy and say ‘I’m not quite sure what to do; I was going to take an ad. congratulating whoever on being in the chart, but I don’t know if they’re in the chart so I don’t know whether to take the ad.’ And he’d say ‘let me go and check the chart’. Ten minutes later, a phone call. ‘Hello Percy.’ ‘You’re lucky, it’s just gone in at 28.’ ‘OK, put me down for a quarter page.’ But it would work for you; dealers would start to stock it.

When I was Promotion Manager, whistling round the country in my car, having people like Barney Ales in my car – it was my car; I didn’t have a company car. No one had company cars. Ron White did – the executives did. I would go to the airport and pick up people in my Morris Oxford.  One day I was going down Oxford Street with Barney Ales and Roy (Featherstone.) We stopped at the lights and Barney took the keys out of the ignition and threw them out of the window! I thought, years later on, I had to be mad.

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(Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield with Barney Ales)

I had Diana Ross in there, taking her somewhere. If I had had an accident and she was killed, who would have paid for it? I only had my regular car insurance – I didn’t have personal liability for millions of pounds. The amount of people I had in that car. And before that I had a little mini. I was charging around with Bobby Rydell when he came over with his manager Frankie Day. They could only just get into the car. I remember taking them up to the Tower of London and there was a space with about four inches either end and to them, used to their huge great cars, there was no way that a car would get into that space, but I knew it would and they screamed as I drove in! Actually they liked it, being in a Mini was unbelievable. For some reason I had to give Bobby Rydell special attention because he was on Cameo Parkway, as was Chubby Checker, and L.G. (Wood) was very keen. I had to go and pick them up at the airport in my mini. I thought ‘that’s going to impress them!’ Bobby was 17 or 18, Frankie Day was quite an old guy – 35 – I took them everywhere they wanted to go and we had a great time. Then I had a call from Ron White .’They’re going over to Europe now and they want you to go with them.’ Oh dear! Label managers later on used to pull that sort of thing -‘I think you should have me go with you’. Ron said ‘you can’t go to Sweden; you’ll have to come home while he’s there and then go back to Norway and meet him again.’ We had a great time – we went to Paris and he said ‘where’s the broads?’ and I could speak French so I arranged for these two girls to go up to the hotel and I gave the room numbers of Bobby and Frank. Then Bobby and Frank had an argument; I went to my room an hour later; there’s a knock on the door and it was Frank.’I’ve got a girl for you” and pushed her in and shut the door, because they’d had a row and he didn’t want to know. I didn’t know what to do with this bloody girl. I had to say ‘thank you very much, it’s on the house.’ It happened again in Germany; we drove for hours to the great big house with a red light in the middle of nowhere and there were these great big huge ugly frauleins waiting in their undies. Frank said ‘champagne, let’s have champagne.’ I thought ‘that’s going to cost a fortune.’ When he’d got the champagne he sorted out two girls for him and Bobby and he said ‘and that one’s for you.’ Again I had to decline this woman – she was so appalling. I had to sit in the room for about half an hour and pick them up and take them home.

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Bobby Rydell

Andrew Loog Oldham’s name then somehow came up and I asked if they did the publicity for ‘Love me do.’

If they did, I didn’t see it. Maybe Epstein did a deal with them? But how would he have known them; they were liggers basically. They earned £1 and spent 30 bob; they had to go out of business; they could have been very successful – didn’t learn the lesson

Oldham is supposed to be writing his autobiography (in fact he did, in two volumes)

People have said ‘why don’t you write a book’ but I think too many people have written too many books; no one knows me; it would only appeal to maybe 200 people. There are so many stories along the lines about deals and people and artists. The Don Ardens. Wilf Pine worked for Don and had LOVE and HATE on his fingers, and if you didn’t take out that advert “I’m going to send Wilf round. I’ve got a lovely letter from don. ‘The Move have got a new record out. Sssh – keep it a secret’ He locked someone up for three days, do you remember?

Gary Farrow is regarded as one of the larger than life characters these days

He worked for me. What a flash little git – is he still? People are taken in by it I suppose. I employed him; thought he was a sharp little guy; thought he might be able to get out there and convince people. He didn’t do it terribly well; it all came to an end. It surprises me some of the people who have survived and done well. Things I do hate to hear are like Max Clifford whom you see on TV, the authoritative voice of PR who still claims he made The Beatles. And I think ‘ you didn’t, you lying son of a bitch, you were working in the press office under Syd Gillingham.’ The last time he was talking about it, it was always the same thing, how he made The Beatles, which gives him a certain amount of credibility for his PR work because if he could do it then can do it now. I remember him saying ‘I remember at the time, the marketing manager said ‘don’t work too hard on that Max, they’re not going to make it.” Well, we didn’t have a marketing manager at that time – we had Arthur Muxlow and Arthur wouldn’t have said that. It just annoys me. He doesn’t need to, he’s successful enough.

The press office was doing biogs and sending stuff out with the records

It was doing biogs. As soon as someone was signed,’we must have them in to do a biog and the photo session.’ John Dove would do the photo session and Janet Lord would put them in the library and she’s still got them there today. They didn’t write very much, there was no need to. You would then fix up the interview with the newspaper and they would do their own story. In fact there were so many (new releases), probably ten a week, or you had to update the biog, get new pictures..

Who’s the other guy – who said he made Queen? Eric bloody Hall! He’s so inarticulate he made me shudder even when he worked for us. Now it’s ‘I made Queen, I was such good friends with Marc Bolan, I was with him the night he died.’ I think ‘well Eric, it didn’t quite happen that way.’ He’s another one with The Beatles – he wasn’t even around with The Beatles.

I know what I’ve done and what I haven’t done. It’s all in the past,. I’ve got drawers full of memory things which I need to look at.

Did you ever make any real friendships with the artists

Not really. I was friends with Helen Reddy and Jeff Wald inasmuch as we had a love/hate relationship over a long time because we couldn’t sell any of her records and he used to phone up and shout and scream at me and I used to shout and scream back., We got on famously; we liked each other but we couldn’t sell any records. Then we had the record ‘Ain’t no way to treat a lady’ which delighted him. She came over on tour through Jeff Kruger, which was a mistake, was absolutely delighted the record was being played and the concerts were selling out, and on the way back he said ‘you really must come over to America as a guest of Helen and me.’ I heard that all the time -‘Yeah, thanks Jeff.’ Then I put out ‘The Best of Helen Reddy’ with all the other stuff that everybody thought had been a hit anyway. A month later I got a phone call from my wife Jo. ‘I’ve just heard from a travel agent – they’ve got a first class ticket to Los Angeles from Helen and Jeff.’ I got on the phone and thanked them. ‘No, it’s fantastic all that you’ve done.’ That was the closest in terms of friendship. The irony was he said he’d been on to Capitol- ‘we’re going to put you up in the Beverly Wilshire for two weeks, stretch limo to the airport.’ It was the centenary year for America and Helen was doing a song and each line was from a different location, Lake Tahoe, Golden Gate Bridge, and this was all being laid on by the TV company and I was tagging along. They had a Lear jet to take them from location to location – they’re private planes and take you anywhere and a car comes up and takes you off. At Tahoe they had their own bungalow on the lake and with it came a speedboat and a chef, and the chef said ‘what would you like for lunch’ and you can only think of salad. That went on for two weeks and we came home. But it didn’t sustain itself. You can’t. Every time I went back I’d see them and have dinner, but they got divorced. I think he’s something to with boxing and Mike Tyson.

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Jeff Wald and Helen Reddy

The Manager of Grand Funk Railroad, Terry Knight, came over and said ‘have you ever seen the band?’ I said ‘no’ and he said ‘they’re playing at Madison Square Gardens’ and he flew us over. I’d never been to American  before.

I used to keep a book of every record we released, so I knew who was the agent, publisher, how many free copies I got. Kenny Lynch, Valerie Mitchell, Little Richard, Donna & the Goodtimes, Adam faith, Biddu – you think ‘whatever happened to them?”

People think you had an exciting life when you have to go and see Frankie Vaughan at Great Yarmouth in his summer show. Not only have you got to sit through it, you’ve got to go backstage afterwards and that ‘that was great Frank.’

All those tickets – you knew you’d never go to them all., The worst ones were at the Talk of the Town or the Savoy because they were late cabaret and you had to be in at work in the morning.

And on that I can only think he’d run out of steam. Now, 15+ years later I wish I’d returned  and captured more of his very strong opinions. I also wonder what happened to all the files and memorabilia he mentioned after he died. Ah well. At least this interview is now shared and hopefully pleased some of the many who knew or worked with him.

Next time – Cliff Busby

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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7 Responses to A Personal History of the British Music Business Pt.15 – Colin Burn 7 and conclusion!

  1. Nice one DH – he was a bloody nice bloke!

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  2. Haylee McCaffery says:

    Hi there cliff busby is my grandfather and would love to see your history of him please get in touch as I’m thinking of doing a documentary on him ..many thanks

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    • dhvinyl says:

      Haylee – you have pricked my conscience. I will get to work transcribing the interview with Cliff. All my good intentions at the beginning of the year seemed to evaporate as the days got longer! Watch this space!!

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  3. dhvinyl says:

    Haylee – i hope you have discovered that I’ve finally transcribed the interview with your grandfather. I’m just typing the third and final part.

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  4. Paul Randell says:

    Dear David,

    I stumbled across these blogs earlier today completely by accident. I am 63, my first ever job being at the HMV Oxford Street store in 1969, before moving on to Manchester Square three years later and then leaving EMI to run my own business around mid 1975. My office on the 2nd floor was right opposite Tamla – I never thought I would ever come across an old photo of Gordon Frewin. Do you remember Phil Symes and John Marshall? I couldn’t find any mention of them. Gerry Oord, Malcom Brown, Roy Featherstone, Vic Lansa and Chris Mercer (as you rightly say from General Foods, knew nothing about records and appointed whilst I was there) were all in adjoining cubicles.
    Colin Burn was on the other side of the stairs with all the label managers, Paul Watts, Richard Forte, Nick Heath, Nick Mobbs, someone called Duncan whose surname I can’t recall (he ran the Purple label after DP split from Harvest) and their assorted assistants, typists etc…. Some of the happiest times of my life but I don’t regret leaving because I’d never have made big money if I’d stayed. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember you maybe because by that time you were a major player in higher places. Great to read about Bob Dockerill – I clearly remember him – lovely man! Do you remember the staff photographer Peter Vernon and old Joe who ran the darkroom?

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  5. dhvinyl says:

    We wouldn’t have met as I didn’t join EMI until 1978, working at LRD in Thayer Street as GM of Motown, with whom I moved to Liberty/UA in 1980 and then to Manchester Square finally retiring in 1998. Phil Symes and I worked for Disc and left on the same day in 1972, he for Tamla Motown and me to Polydor, both as press officers. Gordon Frewin was the product manager at Motown. Later on when I was running a division called Strategic Marketing, both Vic Lanza and Bob Dockerill were under my care(!) and I went to both their retirement do’s and, sadly, their funerals. Colin Burn I got to know during the Liberty year, hence the interview, When I became Corporate PR for EMI I used Pete Vernon all the time, though by then he was freelance. Joe must have left the darkroom by the time that was part of my portfolio (!), but the legend that was Janet Lord was there (and I went to her funeral too!). They were, particularly the middle ten years, the happiest days of my working life too, and, unlike you it seems, EMI’s pension has kept me going happily for the last 19 years! Check out some of the other EMI-related interviews that you may find of interest, loads more to come when I find the time.

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  6. Paul Randell says:

    Dear David,

    Do keep in touch. We should meet up for a drink some time. Do you remember Ron Dunton? He was in charge of packaging (sleeve printing etc…)

    Also, do you know what happened to Barry Green? He was my immediate boss in charge of cassettes and 8-track cartridges?

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