A Personal History of the British Record Business 18 – Wayne Bickerton 3

The frustrations at Decca, mistakes in launching new acts, stock levels in stores insufficient to satisfy demand, missing out on a Top 50 slot and the subsequent chance of an appearance on ‘Top of the Pops’, led Wayne to leave Decca.  He became Polydor’s head of A&R in, I believe, 1969

“These were some of the reasons I eventually succumbed to the charms of Mr (John) Fruin, having previous turned down the offer of Marketing Manager at Polydor. That came from Peter Erdmann – I lived in the same block of flats as him.

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This shot was taken on the roof of Polydor’s Stratford Place offices I’m guessing, shortly after I arrived in 1972. Wayne is second left in the front row, John Fruin is holding the strange naval-looking award and Peter Erdmann is left of Wayne. (I am two rows back, directly behind John)

Was anyone doing A&R at Polydor before you (The company’s releases seemed to come either from its German head office company – James Last, Bert Kaempfert) or its licensed labels, Stax and Atlantic)

No, it was a clean sheet of paper – and The Mixtures was a good way to start.

Was the team of house producers still at Decca when you left?

Yes, most of them were.

So house producers outlived those at EMI?

(They paid) Mickey mouse royalties based on wholesale prices that lasted the duration of your employment. I got nothing for a lot of the recordings I was involved with as a producer.

Had you been writing at Decca?

Yes – I’d had mild success until I got into The Flirtations. We had a huge hit in America called I can’t stop loving you. Tom Jones also did it – same song in the charts by two different artists. I thought ‘this is it, breakthrough time in the UK’ but Tom’s record never came out because of what did or didn’t happen with music publishing. Burlington Music, Decca’s publishing company, wouldn’t do a deal and give Gordon Mills (Jones’s manager) half the copyright, so Decca mashed all the Tom Jones singles they’d pressed at the factory. That was a black day for me; I was gutted. I felt like I’d been stabbed in the chest.

Polydor was a very young company

The brief was to start an A&R department, so if, like me, you’re young and a bit too confident, you thought ‘why not?’ and in the cold light of day you think ‘oh shit’. The first challenge was how to attract people because everyone wants to be with a happening record company and they wouldn’t automatically come to Polydor. The Mixtures probably broke the ice and made things a little easier. I think perhaps we were a bit too poppy. John Fruin can take responsibility for Jump up and down and wave your knickers in the air (St. Cecilia) One of the better things that happened was me bumping into Rory Gallagher one night, having a long chat with him. The band (Taste) was going nowhere, so we put him in the Polydor studio where basically he did his first album for Polydor.

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If Polydor hadn’t made any records, how come the studio was there?

I have no idea. Carlos (Olms, a German born in 1930 who joined Deutsche Grammaphon, Polydor’s parent company in 1949. Carlos was an extraordinary technician and  innovator and the third floor Stratford Place studio was THE place to be. Andy Stevens, better known as A&R man at CBS and later manager to unmanageable artists (!), was Carlos’s assistant for most of the time I was there and I know credits Carlos for his own knowledge) was there doing what Peter Erdmann would describe as piecemeal stealing. He managed to buy bits of equipment to construct a console and a tape machine, so yes, there was a recording studio. Gallagher was wandering around like a lost soul and that was one of the first things I did. Chasing Focus round Europe also paid off and we started to swing to a broader repertoire. Slade came because they wanted out of Phonogram and on to Polydor. The deal as I recall was for five years for something like £20,000-£30,000. Chas (Chandler, former bassist with The Animals and then Slade and Jimi Hendrix manager) didn’t get on with (Phonogram MD)Fred Marks and I knew him from his days as a musician. Slade were phenomenal at that time.

You were having to battle it out with Track, Stax, Atlantic, Buddah, Kama Sutra as far as sales and marketing were concerned.

Exactly. The act we blew was down to you, Fruin and Roger Holt. If I ever went back to A&R I would never take holidays. I shook hands with (manager) Colin Johnson, five-year deal, £30,000. You collectively decided it wasn’t right. Status Quo. I was shell-shocked. Don’t go on holiday! I came back and John said “the lads and I, Roger and David, have decided…”

(I genuinely have memory of this, but…….!!)

The classic moment for me, and the biggest frustration, was talking to Roger Greenaway and listening to a song called I’d like to teach the world to sing by a group called The New Seekers and saying ‘these commercials, I love them and we could be in at the beginning’ and going to Fruin and saying ‘I know it’s the wrong time but I really want to release this song’ and then two hours later coming the nearest I have ever come to thumping someone. That was Tim Harrold (Marketing Director, to the right of John Fruin in the photo at the top) and he instructed me not to release it because of diversions at the factory. I flipped my lid and John changed his mind and the damned thing sold a million in about 12 days.God knows how he managed to get those records out over the Christmas period.,

The other thing was “don’t be stupid, you can’t sell classical music on this scale”. The television link was the similarity. I did the deal because “The Strauss Family” was going to be on television. I went in under the nose of Pye Records who were extremely pissed off and did a deal with ATV. “What do you know about classical music?” “I don’t need to know anything about classical music; all I need to know is that this series is going to be television every week and that this is Strauss, popular classical music.”

Wayne’s next big success, together with his writing partner and former fellow band member Tony Waddington, was to be The Rubettes. This coincided with Wayne’s idea to form his own record label.

What prompted The Rubettes, and most people seem to have lost sight of this, was the Eurovision Song Contest. I decided to put a song in and we needed demos. Sugar Baby Love  was a demo for the Eurovision Song Contest. We’d done a rhythm track and voices and it got nowhere. Glam Rock was happening at the time and I felt Polydor was in a gap , and that’s how it started. I think I played the demo to Tony Bramwell who said ‘That’s a great record, you should finish it off.’ So we did and the logical home for it was Polydor1962-polydor-logo.jpg

We put it out, it didn’t do much at all for a few months, it wasn’t an instant success. Tony managed to convince a couple of major stations to start playing it and I think it stayed at No.1. for about 10 weeks.

Did you have to find a visual for the band?

Yes we did, and the name itself, The Rubettes. Tony Waddington and I were great fans of Gene Vincent,the Blue Caps, that sort of thing. Then it was a question of who was on the record. Paul DaVinci was on the record. ‘We think we want to take this all the way – do you want to become part of the group?’ ‘No no I am doing my own thing’ said Paul. We formed the group and Alan Williams took over the role.wallpaper-1280-800.jpg

You’d work with these guys as session musicians – about three of them were session musicians – and it took off. I think life’s all about timing. I wanted to move on and do my own thing, and that was a good time to do it. Initially the thought process was mine about starting a label, along with Tony (Waddington) and subsequently I found that John (Fruin) was thinking about leaving too so we ended together.

Two of you for many years had been employees – now you had to start investing.

Sustaining the product situation so that you could pay for all the things you have to do to set up a label.

 

How were you able to take The Rubettes with you?

The deal was that The Rubettes would transfer to the State label for the duration of the licensing arrangement. Before I realised that John was leaving, that went down like a lead balloon. Peter (Erdmann) “You’re going to wreck the relationship with people like Billy Connolly.”

Connolly said to me later, ‘Why didn’t you tell me? I’d have gone with you to your label.’ But that’s not the way you do it, you play it straight. I was head of A&R at Polydor. Forming State was very close after he signed. I dragged George McManus up to Scotland with me.2920749.png

George McManus, a dear Polydor colleague of mine – a gentler, finer man you couldn’t wish to meet. He died in March 2014.

I’d heard about Billy through guys I knew in the clubs in Scotland. He’d had an album out on Transatlantic. He was free of contract and everyone seemed to want to meet him. What’s this guy all about? So I went up to see him and we back to the Albany Hotel in Glasgow about midnight, and at 6.am I’m still standing at the bar talking to Billy. Billy says ‘You’re my man – what’s the deal?’ ‘14% no advance. We’ll do all we can. In the long term if it’s a successful career and it takes off, you’ll thank me, rather than me saying ‘I’ll give you £200,000 and you get 4 on 90 or whatever.’ We shook hands, I grabbed McManus who was slumped in a chair and said ‘get the bags and we’ll get the 8am flight back to London’. That’s what used to happen in those days, because we worked for a madman called John Fruin who used to think if you weren’t out till 3 or 4 in the morning….. that’s how it all came about.

 

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Extraordinary that you were able to sign him without an advance

I thought there was talent there – Connolly’s incredible talent and presence. I take the point when some people said ‘can’t understand him in Scotland; how the hell do you think they’re going to understand him down her?’ I thought that, from his point of view, if it happens (and 14% is not the end of the world from a record company’s point of view) there’s a sufficiently healthy margin left, but it’s much better concept than worrying about having paid a hundred grand up front  how you were going to get the money back. I was going to produce Billy’s first album and went down with bronchial pneumonia so I asked Phil Coulter to do it.

 

Working with Billy Connolly was a frustrating joy! At that time Polydor’s press and promotion were on the same floor and we had been allowed to contructed a full stocked bar at the back of the office, carpeted, bench seating, walk in fridge, the works. Billy was a frequent visitor at the end of the day and was (though we would say this wouldn’t we?) even funnier offstage than on. We will move on to State Records and the final part of this interview next.

Text ©David Hughes 2016, photographs sourced by Google for illustration purposes only.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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One Response to A Personal History of the British Record Business 18 – Wayne Bickerton 3

  1. sally2walton says:

    Hi David

    I’m really enjoying this.

    Sally

    Like

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