A Personal History of the British Record Industry 21. Cliff Busby Pt.2.

Cliff Busby.jpeg

I managed to unearth another photo of Cliff, here with Nick Beggs, then of Kajagoogoo, and yours truly. They are few and far between. We left Cliff as he was about to move to United Artists Records as General Manager.

I left in April 1975 because I’d had a total disagreement with the (EMI) management about having two sales forces doing exactly the same thing for different types of records. I’d been schooled in selling everything, whether it’s albums, singles and in the old days. Gerry (Oord, then EMI Managing Director) and I just didn’t get on, and then he put Alan Kaupe, who knew nothing about distribution, over my head so I thought ‘bugger it.’ But in fairness to Alan, he made the exit extremely smooth. It might have been in his interest, but he did and I would never blame him for that.

United Artists was owned by TransAmerica and not part of EMI. What position did you take? (Liberty, having earlier been an EMI licensed label had become independent but was later absorbed into United Artists when that label was bought by TransAmerica)

I started as General Manager but when managing director Martin Davis left because he had a hell of a row with the management in America, I was appointed in his place. It was a prime time; we had Electric Light Orchestra with ‘Out of the Blue” which sold about 600,000 double albums. That was very exciting but dealing with (Jet Records boss and ELO manager) Don Arden wasn’t quite so exciting, but he was an old friend of mine so I knew how to get along with him. And then, completely out of their field EMI bought United Artists. Included in the roster of course was Kenny Rogers- in the first year they sold 48 million dollars-worth of albums

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Don Arden

 

United Artists had a strong UK artist roster – how did that come about?

Andrew Lauder was our Head of A&R and brought The Stranglers and The Vapors to the label. He’s already signed The Buzzcocks, Dr. Feelgood and Brinsley Schwarz, so he deserves a lot of the credit. For a small company to develop your own talent you had to be on a different wavelength to the big companies because you can’t compete with them. They’ve got the money and you haven’t, so you find a different direction and he did that extremely well

What were your feelings about EMI buying United Artists?

Ironic I would think. After all you’d been with the company for 25 years, you’ve got your gold watch and then suddenly you leave and suddenly you’re back in the fold! I don’t know how to describe it – it’s very difficult. I mean I suppose I enjoyed it in a way. I thought it was hilarious, but realistically EMI wasn’t doing too well and we (UA) were doing quite well, and it was decided to make them one company. Some of the alternatives I felt would have been totally wrong. It would have been gobbled up by CBS for example and totally lose its identity. UA did have an identity, after all Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford started it. Also for me it was better the devil you know!

(This was, I believe, in 1980, and coincided with the move of Motown and RAK to the Liberty-United building in Great Mortimer Street. John Bush was then MD of EMI , a position he had held for only two months before, according to Billboard ‘resigning suddenly due to person reasons’)

When EMI Music bought UA some of the staff felt betrayed, but some felt delighted because they thought it was bigger security. Some were open minded. It was just so different – you know, suddenly we were a small company doing really well. We took acts from EMI like Whitesnake. Motown was all right but one or two, like The Stranglers felt totally and utterly betrayed because they looked on themselves as leaders of a new world institution and didn’t belong with the company (EMI). From the day EMI bought us I had trouble with them, believe me I had terrible trouble.

Which culminated in them leaving?

Yes, well, I thought in the end, you can’t keep them if they don’t want to be there; let them go as long as I get a decent deal, fine. I had a decent deal and they were very good, let’s be honest, once it had been decided they could leave. Mind you, they went to CBS which was probably no better for them than being with EMI.

How did you feel when you became Managing Director of EMI Records, beginning as mail boy, leaving, coming back?

Wonderful! When I joined EMI in 1950, the first person I met was Miss Smith (see previous posting). I thought then, ‘I’m going to make Managing Director and then I’ll fire you! I had the inspiration to run the company, to go from the bottom to the top. Miss Smith turned out to be great influence, an extremely difficult woman -she’d frighten the life out of you. So when I got the chance to be MD of EMI Records I thought the dream had come true.

And this brought you together with some interesting people in terms of management and artists. You’ve already spoken about The Stranglers, but I’m also thinking about Malcolm McLaren

Well, I think you know that EMI buggered it up with the Sex Pistols – you either want them or you don’t – and Malcolm McLaren wanted Bow Wow Wow to leave EMI. I told him to go away and he didn’t like it because he was using us to get a better deal. I said ‘you’ve signed a deal, now stick with it – that’s it.’

From being a salesman selling records by Paul McCartney and Cliff Richard, how did it then feel having to deal with them as Managing Director?

I never had to deal with Paul McCartney hut Cliff Richard was an absolute delight. His manager was very professional. One of my first tasks was to sign a new deal. Bearing in mind his status, Cliff is one of the most delightful people to deal with that you’ll ever come across. I’ve met artists who are so difficult you want to strangle them.

Tina Turner was super, absolutely. When she split with Ike she did a deal with Mike Stewart of United Artists publishing and we also did a five album deal with her. So lovely to deal with and such a lady. There was never an argument and you could speak directly to her, even when she was knackered at the end of a concert.

Duran Duran was the first act I signed with (then A&R manager) Terry Slater at EMI. I can remember going to see them at Hammersmith Odeon and staying outside because they were so loud.

Looking back over 35 years, who are the people who you have a particular fondness for, or who had an influence on your career?

Yes, Len Wood and John Fruin. Len was the man who put me on the road, telling me to be very careful because he was so frugal with the petrol costs! And John Fruin because we grew up together. We started in the same year, we used to go and tape West African records and send them all over the world to see if anybody wanted them. That took a lot of overtime and some of the music was terrible

Bhaskar Menon I remember with great affection because when he came on an EMI training course he was one of the few people who was prepared to learn from doing the most mundane jobs. Filing is not the most exciting occupation in the world, but he did it. I shall never forget that because it was my filing he was doing! A very intelligent man – he could talk non-stop. He started in the 1950’s I think – he was smashing; he would knuckle down and do it and learn from it. In fairness, Rupert Perry, who was L.G. Wood;’s assistant in the 1960’s did as well.

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Top, Bhaskar Menon; Middle, John Fruin (right, with Henry Hadaway); Bottom, L.G. Wood (left)

The final part covers Cliff’s views on HMV shops, life on the road as a salesman and the impact of Sir Joseph Lockwood…

 

 

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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 Industry 21. Cliff Busby Pt.2.

  1. Excellent piece David, I enjoyed that.

    Dave

    >

    Like

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