In this final part, Wayne talks about State Records, his subsequent life….
Was it inevitable that State became a Polydor label licensed label?
If I hadn’t given them The Rubettes as a present, which I did, we could have been free agents. But there was that tie.
What are your memories of the ups and down of co-running a label?
I was running it with John Fruin for a while until he moved on to other things. At one point we were looking very good because we had Mac & Katie Kissoon flying as well as The Rubettes; then Gary Benson came along and gave us us another hit so we were looking at a tidy little label for a couple of years, but things change. It’s either a producer/writer relationship that is the basis for making the whole thing function, or your A&R has to be so good that you’re constantly finding the new people out there, and feeding from a satellite label like State to the big boys. I think in my time in the record industry the importance of what I’ve just said hadn’t been recognised. Subsequently it was – ‘yes, we’ll pay the A&R man £200,000 a year and give him lifetime involvement in what he’s signed; yes we’ll fund that particular label because these guys want to do their own thing and they’re going to give us, the corporate entity something on a global basis that we do not have’. It’s what Seymour Stein with the Sire label did so well for so long, to the point where I’m sure Seymour doesn’t care anymore – great record man.
You licensed it somewhere else after that?
WEA, because John was there and our deal with Polydor was coming to a close. Freddie Haayen ( John Fruin’s successor as Polydor MD) despite everything he told me to the contrary, signed The Rubettes.
He did the deal with Jonathan King and replaced you with 50 releases on the UK label. Was it a hard decision to close State?
I think is reality we embarked on building the (State) studios for all the right reason. We were spending so much money in other people’s studios, it seemed the logical thing to do. What we didn’t realise was that a nasty recession was just around the corner and starting a new studio in a recession was not a good idea. Mac & Katie had split up, The Rubettes had gone to Polydor; in essence we ended up just licensing masters. The label still exists today (today was November 1998!) and we license masters out but we don’t have a licensing deal as such with anyone. I eventually sold the studio to London Jazz Radio.
I think the Polydor days were great. I never had any doubt about signing Neil Sedaka, because of his songwriting. He went through that whole period (of doing very little) and it gave him an immense lift as an artist. He wrote some great songs for the label, but now his career is down again, though they pay a fortune in Las Vegas.
I joined the board of the PRS (Performing Rights Society) in the 70’s and when I left I was one of two people who had served for 20 years. I felt one of the issues that was never addressed was the fact that the record business I’d grown up in seemed to see itself as something quite different to performing rights. If you spoke to some of the younger people in the industry about PRS it met with glazed eyes. I really believe it is only the growth of the internet that has made major record companies realise they are in the rights business. It’s taken a lot of time for the corporate side of the business to wake up. I’m talking about being proactive, not reactive.
You as an A&R guy didn’t have musical elitism?
We had a gentleman training with us at Polydor and I invited him to have a look at everything we were doing from a business point of view. I gave him sheets of paper which showed how many records had to be sold to cover advances and royalties. I always had a business approach to A&R – reduce the risk factor. I’ve always said that if you can’t divorce yourself from your personal taste and get serious about what people on the street want, you shouldn’t be in A&R. It’s a business. I didn’t care that we had The Osmonds and others – I cared that this company came from nowhere to No.2. I was lucky enough to be around when a group of people who didn’t all sing from the same songsheet were in one place, and I put that down to John Fruin. If you ask me how we replaced the 25% market share that Stax and Atlantic gave us, I don’t know…but we did.
Apart from this interview taking place in a rather noisy restaurant I have little memory of it, but it is obvious my dear wife had some trouble originally transcribing it! It seemed to end with this yarn about the BPI (now The BRIT) awards.
I was asked to do the BPI awards at the Grosvenor House. We did so well that John Deacon remarked ‘we’ve done so well that BBC TV have picked up on it and you’re fired’ That was incredible. Obie (Maurice Oberstein, Chair of CBS Records at the time and, I think, also Chair on the BPI (British Phonographic Industries)), who I have great affection for, trying to have a serious meeting with him, going to CBS offices with John Deacon. I was there once when Stephen James was doing one aspect of the awards. We’d run through what was happening without revealing who had won because no one was supposed to know other than John and me. Obie would sit there with his dog and we’d have these exchange of views on what would happen on the night, and when he was irritated by something Stephen had said Obie would turn to the dog and say ‘Hey Charlie what the fuck do you think of this idea?’ Obie turned up at the Awards with the dog and I said ‘Please don’t take the dog on stage, it’s not projecting the right image’ and of course not only did he take the dog onstage but the dog cocked his leg on the mike stand which fortunately the cameras did not pick up.
So, farewell Wayne Bickerton. Interviews with John Fruin and Maurice Oberstein will follow at some point, but next will be the Cliff Busby interview promised at the beginning of the year. This, I have just discovered was conducted not by me but by Picture Music International, the video arm of EMI.