A Personal History of the British Record Business 25 – Ken East Pt.2


We had reached the early 1960’s in Part 1, so I obviously asked about The Beatles

In 1962 there was a man named Stan Stern who was export promotion manager and it was his job to try and promote British acts into foreign territories. I’d had a letter from him in late 1962 about The Beatles, saying ‘this is an act that has to be very carefully followed and watched’ because they were going to be big. So at least EMI was aware of it at that time. They broke out and changed the whole music industry worldwide. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK was Cliff Richard. Because Elvis Presley was his biggest competitor, I think he tried to model himself on Presley, but look, he’s survived – he’s wonderful

You joined at the perfect time for music, as before then international business hadn’t meant too much.

I think within local repertoire and our licensed repertoire we had Winifred Atwell in Australia – she sold a lot of records, and Russ Conway, and Vera Lynn via Decca. The Australian connection was a very tight relationship between Sir Edward Lewis and John Burnett, who was Managing Director of Australia for a long time. I lost track of it when I got immersed in EMI’s affairs but we were still the (Decca) licensee. I went back in 1970 to run the EMI Group in Australia and this we were still the Decca licensee even then.latest-1.jpg

Working at Hayes, how did you regard the people in Manchester Square?

There was a thing called Group Music (everything was Group); there was a monthly meeting chaired by Lockwood and there was a man named Dick Dawes ( I never really discovered what his job was – head of international? (correct – he died in April 1966). They all had handkerchiefs tucked up their sleeves. Ron White was on this board. I was the new boy. They would meet and talk about the international business once a month. I doubt anything massive ever came of it and you’d be right to say there was resentment between Manchester Square and these corporate buggers at Hayes who didn’t know what they were talking about. I’d like to think I contributed to making that gap smaller, me being one of those corporate bastards, maintaining a link and an interest in what they were doing, particularly their records selling in Europe.


Sir Joseph Lockwood with Nipper and some young people in suits!

I came to England on a three year contract and I’d never planned anything in my life, just let it happen. Round about early 1966 I said to Bill Stanford ‘You know I’m here till June and then I’m going back.’ My marriage had broken up; I’d met Dolly and my previous wife had returned to Australia, but I still wanted to go back. Bill said ‘stay an extra few months because I haven’t got a replacement for you’ and I said ‘OK but September 30th is the deadline and then I’m off.’ Dolly and I had decided to get married somewhere along the way and I’d arranged with my mates in the shipping department to ship some of my furniture back. Burnett had said he didn’t have a job for me, but I wasn’t too worried as I thought I’d get a job with some other company. We were leaving on the Friday which was the last working day of September, and this was all done and agreed although Bill wanted me to stay on. Bill was not a music man – he was great going to the Cuban embassy to negotiate money for the Nat Cole records they were continuing to press after the revolution, and things like that, but he didn’t understand artists and all that stuff. On the Wednesday before that Friday he said ‘Sir Joseph Lockwood would like to see you.’ He had an office at Hayes and Manchester Square. I said ‘what’s it all about’ and Bill said ‘dunno’ so I drove in and I have a memory of Sir Joseph sitting there with his feet up on the desk. They were renovating the top floor and he was sitting in a little office in the basement. He said ‘how would you like to run EMI Records?’ I said ‘I’ve never thought about it, are you serious?’ He said ‘yes, very serious’ and I said “well the only problem I’ve got is that I’m off to Australia on Friday and I’ve got furniture already on on a ship on its way there.’ I couldn’t say no to such an opportunity but I hadn’t been home for three years and said I wouldn’t mind having a break.. He said ‘what about January 1?’ and I said ‘that sounds pretty good.’ One thing worried me, Geoff Bridge (encumbent MD of EMI Records), who was a dear friend and a lovely man, had got himself into trouble at EMI  – he couldn’t cope with the star f*cking. Geoff was not a record man, just a charming lovely gentleman. He was hoodwinked by two men involved with hookers and call girls and one of them was responsible for his downfall. Lockwood and Stanford and the powers that be decided that Geoff was not suited to the job. Rex Oldfield and John Fruin were both pretty certain that they were going to get it – Fruin would have been more correct than Oldfield. John was an action man in physical things, selling and distribution. Oldfield thought he was an A&R and marketing man. I was the dark horse that came through! Dolly and I left England as planned and for the first time that I’m aware of EMI bought someone who wasn’t a wife a first class ticket from London to Sydney and back, because we got married in Australia. Because of the connections we’d made over the years we had a wonderful time…first of all in the Algarve where Peter Gormley (manager of Cliff Richard and the Shadows, and a fellow Australian) had bought some house for Cliff and him and some of The Shadows; then we went to Athens and spent a bit of time there, to Istanbul, to Hong Kong, to Sydney. It took about six to eight weeks to get to Sydney. It was sort of a honeymoon before the wedding. The appointment was announced around Christmas time, so that all my friends at EMI knew about it; we were married on January 5th, left of the 6th and got back to London on the 7th, started work on the 8th! I turned up at EMI; Fruin gave me a dirty look. I knew them all by then; that was the advantage I had, but we worked it out pretty good. Oldfield was the only exception. He went to MGM and got $20,000 a year (I was getting about £5,000) which shocked everyone. It was the first of the Americans coming here and he was the envy of everyone. He had a black girlfriend and chartered a 727 plane and flew all the DJ’s and press people over London for a couple of hours to promote her record. I don’t think she ever made it.


We (EMI) had the MGM licence. When Rex went there (July 1, 1967) all he wanted to do was get the licence away from EMI. They went through a very bad patch and we were doing very badly with nothing to sell apart from their catalogue. Mort Nasatir (MGM’s American President) is in town; Rex Oldfield rang me wanting a meeting. John Fruin, who was my right hand man in everything apart from creative matters, came with me. We went to their office in Bond Street and Mort’s there, always happy and pleasant. They get around to the fact that they’re very unhappy with our performance – we’re not selling any MGM records. I’d taken a copy of Billboard and said ‘Well, you’ve got no records, so what is it we should be selling? We’re friends and if this is going to break up our relationship, I think it better you go somewhere else and we remain friends.’ He said ‘do you mean that?’ I said ‘ Yes, I don’t want anyone going round North America saying they hate EMI Records because they’re no good, I only want them to say we’re good.”Oh, that’s great. OK’ We’re walking out and Fruin says ‘What will they do? Where will they go?’ and I said ‘they’ll go to Pye’ because Pye was chasing anything it could get. Then I went off on holiday and Louis Benjamin (Pye MD, subsequently its Chairman) also went on holiday. We were in Spain and I rang Philip Brodie, who was running our Spanish company, just to say ‘hello’. He said ‘where are you? I’ve been asked to find you; they’re looking for you all over Spain.’ So I ring up. ‘You’ve got to come back’ Bernie Delfont (Delfont/Grade Organisation had just been bought by EMI) is a big shot on the (EMI) Board with the film operations and he’s got all these big shot friends at MGM Pictures. I consider this to be none of their business; it’s the record business. So I’ve got to explain to the Board why I let MGM go – that’s why they’re chasing me. They’re chasing Louis too because he shouldn’t have done the deal, either because of the Jewish business mafia or because of ATV. As it turned out I was made to take MGM back! I said ‘I don’t want it back’, but we took it back. And retained it for a long time. Did they ever set up on their own?

I was able to tell him that when I arrived at Polydor in 1972, Polygram had bought MGM and it was being released here via Polydor.

BTW, does anyone have a clue who the “black singer” was, or maybe even went on the plane ride junket?!

And we will pause here! Next time we move to the pirate radio days, his friendship with Tony Windsor, his return to Australia  in 1970 and back to England several years later. Lots more to come!

text © David Hughes, 2016.



About dhvinyl

Lifelong obsession with music, 33 years in the music business, 43 years immersed in selling old records, 20 years very happily retired!
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