A Personal History of the British Record Industry 28 – Ken East Pt.6

The close of another record auction interrupted the flow again. If any readers are interested in old vinyl as well as old music industry stories, then do feel free to Google Collectors Vinyl – you should find me as your No.1. option.

Meanwhile we shall conclude the Ken East story which ended last time with Sir John Read inviting Ken back to EMI London…again



I said ‘Yes of course I would. As you know I never wanted to leave.’ He (Sir John) said they were planning to reorganise the divisions and I suppose it would be called decentralisation again, because they had Paddy Duffell, a corporate man, running music operations. He said ‘We’re going to make Bhaskar Menon the head of it all and it’s Bhaskar who asked if I’d ask if you’d come back.’ Which was good of him, and good of John Read to make me that offer. That was in May or June of 1978 and the talks went on over a fair period of time. I was aware of things that needed to be changed. I still had a good knowledge of all the EMI companies in Europe, certainly. We talked and talked and eventually agreed that I’d start in October I think it was, 1978, and I went back to running Europe and International, and Bhaskar was the boss of the world. International was the world outside North America, Japan and Europe. Leslie (Hill) was Managing Director of Europe and I was Managing Director of International. That went on pretty well and we gradually seemed to get things back into shape. Somehow the business diffused itself of management of the wrong people – we totally restructured the companies and put them back on a profitable basis because they weren’t making money. After a couple of years Europe didn’t seem to be coming right for some reason – oh, and I had UA Records in the UK. It was one of the negotiating points. I said ‘I still want an interest in the UK record business.’ so Bhaskar and John Read agreed to pull United Artists out of the UK and that Leslie would be EMI Records and I’d be United Artists, which was Cliff Busby. That was more independent and had younger people in it, more go ahead. Poor old Cliff hit the booze a bit too much, that was the only trouble.

Someone disbanded LRD (EMI’s Licensed Repertoire Division)

I don’t know whether Leslie did that under pressure or whether I did. Within a year and half or so, Bhaskar suggested that I should take over Europe and International, with Leslie reporting to me. Subsequently of course Leslie didn’t like that, and I don’t blame him. He left and went into some other business for a while and then he went into television. Then Ramon (Lopez) and I fell out because he had that idiot, Paul Watts, running his International Division. All I was getting were complaints from all over the world about the servicing of tapes and other promotional material and communications. Nothing but complaints about him, so I told Ramon he had to get rid of him. Weeks have gone by, what’s happening? ‘It will be done’, so I got him over to Gloucester Place (EMI international’s headquarters in London) and said ‘Ramon, you haven’t done it – you should be teaching at school. I’m going to have to do it myself.’ I didn’t say it as quietly as that. Watts went and the whole thing was restructured and I hope it worked better. But Ramon, again quite rightly, went off and got himself a job at Polygram and so impressed them that the Warner Brothers people offered him a job.

I sense your real excitement was the business rather than the artists

I guess so. If you can manage one thing you can manage another, because it’s basically people – the ability to motivate people. If you don’t motivate them they don’t work – and trying to make some money at the end of the day. That’s what you’re in business for, no point otherwise. But I love the music business, otherwise I wouldn’t ever have left EMI in Australia. I had a house with a swimming pool and a high wall around it, and all those nice things in life. There are many people whom I’d like to include among my friends in the artistic end of the business, because they’re your raw material. Jay Lasker’s the man. One day we were in America and he was running ABC Records and I’d known him for years. He said ‘There’s only one fucking thing the matter with our business, the fucking artists!’ Of course they’re a nuisance but they’re your raw material and you have to put up with them.


(Jay Lasker (right) with Berry Gordy (left) and Ewart Abner)

Talking of John Read, the other John Reid, Elton John’s manager, ran Motown for a while

John Reid and I have fallen out twice, and the second time will never be changed. Ron White (probably Marketing Director at EMI at the time) rang me up one day and said ‘I’ve got the most terrific young promotion man here. I’ve got a problem with him – he’s only 18 but he wants to say he’s 21 to get more money,’ So I said ‘If he’s that bright, pretend he’s 21 and hire him.’So he did this, but that was Ron – he had to make everything proper. So John Reid joined the company and he was terrific. He was a plugger to start with, when I left in 1970 to go to Australia. Motown was running a convention in San Francisco where they had all of their distributors and some of their licensees. At that time, August 1970, Phil Brodie had taken over (Australia) and I was spending a few months familiarising myself with all the other parts, the tool-making division and something else in Edinburgh that made medical equipment so I would know all the things we were supposed to be doing. As I was still in the UK, Dolly and I were invited. Gerry Oord was invited because he was the bright young star of Europe, Phil Brodie and his wife, and John Reid as the Motown label manager, and still the blue-eyed boy in everybody’s eyes – quite rightly because of his performance. This was a three-day event and he disappeared. We didn’t see him for a couple of days and we said ‘where have you been?’ and he said ‘I’ve been down to Los Angeles to the Troubadour to see Elton John.’ He’d never met him before in his life and they fell in love. We went on to Australia and in the early part of 1971 he left and became Elton’s manager. We remained his friend and during Elton’s first tour of Australia they stayed in our house and we stayed at their flat in the Water Gardens when we were in London.

It was probably while I was at Decca and John had a boyfriend he was trying to get into gainful employment. Eric Hall was running (Elton’s publishing company) Big Pig Music and John told Eric to employ him as a promotion man or whatever, but give him a job, teach him the publishing business. This boy, a nice young boy but he had no brains and Eric got fed up with it all. He said ‘I’m sorry John but I don’t want him around. He just upsets people – they ask why he’s here.’ And Eric fired him. The first evil thing that John did was to take a table for ten at an awards do -‘Don’t worry Eric, I’ll fix it’ – and he didn’t invite anyone, and Eric was left at the table alone and then John fired him, owing him money. We were friendly with them both and I said ‘that’s a shit thing to do. If you treat people like that, yore not my friend.’ We didn’t bother to to talk for a few years. At the opening of 42nd Street there was a party afterwards and he was there with Elton and we thought ‘life’s too short to be enemies’ and we became friends again. Then he did something worse to us personally and we just fell out.

(Ken goes on to tell me the reasons for Elton’s falling out with John Reid, which I must refrain from putting into the public domain. Sufficient to say they involve money!)

Were you at EMI when it had the licence for Rocket Records?

No, that was Gerry Oord’s deal. But it didn’t last. Reid is a violent person, very short-tempered and a liar. He can tell lies easier than telling the truth. But going back to the early days when he wanted to put his age up to get more money. He’s got a lot of nous; he was very good and he knows it. It suited us to maintain that relationship but eventually things happened when he showed his true colours.

Do you take an interest in the business since you retired?

If I’m in Terry Oates’s  (well respected music publisher who died in 2011 – his interview will follow at some point) office I’ll pick up a copy of Music Week or if I’m in Jim Schwarz’s (American independent music distributor) and he still gets Billboard, I’ll look at it, but I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way. When I read them I don’t know any of the people any more, and unless it’s The Rolling Stones or Tom Jones or that era, I don’t know the artists any more. And the names of the artists,from what I have observed, seem to change much more quickly. The lifespan of a successful artist seems to be much shorter and I think some of the music isn’t music, not that it was ten years ago for that matter! (Music) is not a short-term business. There has to be a bit of that in order to maintain volume, but you’ll never get constant volume unless you regard it as a long term business. You know it with your catalogue experience. The Beatles will be out of copyright and what is EMI going to do then without a catalogue. What’s anybody going to do?

People are not devoting time and energy to building new artists. Financial pressures are so intense and then there are the technological developments

That’s probably the biggest worry. We (EMI) were late coming into CD because we were fighting with Philips over the royalty – three cents a record, for every CD pressed in the world Philips gets three cents. That’s a lot of money. From their point of view they rightly said they should have done it with the cassette. But they were more interested in hardware – they wanted to get their hardware into the market so they introduced the music cassette without any requests for any royalty. I remember (name unidentified – Latzier Vader??) who was the boss of Electrola, stormed into Bill Stanford’s office one day holding this little leather package of a portable cassette recorder.’This is the finish of our business as we know it.’ He was right in his own mind because now immediately music can be copied. That went on for years and we knew if you didn’t copy it you probably would never have bought it, but you’ve got to keep the thought in your mind that somebody might have bought it. So when the CD came along, first of all I said to Bhaskar ‘Why should we pay these buggers three cents a record? Without the repertoire it will never get off the ground, like the cassette.’ We talked illegally with our competitors and they all agreed ‘we don’t want to pay this three cents.’ Except for Polygram of course, which was owned by Philips. Something went on behind the scenes because Philips and RCA shared patents in TV receivers and they’ve got a big hardware consortium, so they gave in, Warners gave in and we’re left on our own and had to give in. Then of course came the scare; what’s going to happen now that there’s a perfect recording that can be copied. But now you can buy blank CD’s. Someone said to me the other day that Philips were very clever to get out of the record business. I said ‘why?’ ‘Well, the record business is going to change forever in the next couple of years because there will be no certain ownership of anything – there’s the internet with music on it.’

This is too complicated for me to understand but as it was explained to me, the ownership of a master will mean very little compared to five years ago.

An interesting theory. The music business has progressed and nobody has preserved copyright

It is a problem. When I went back to EMI, everyone was gloomy and dull. Not just EMI but the whole of the music industry was in a worldwide recession in 1978. I said ‘don’t worry, business may be down but the music isn’t going to go away. Music will always be with us, not the form in which it sells and the number of people who’ll want to buy it – that’s something else – but our business is not going to go away’ – and of course it came good again and it’s pretty good today. I heard somebody the other day who got millions of pounds, speculative money, from the City, starting up a record label by people who have been in the business and have convinced investors that they can start up a record label and make a lot of money. I think that goes on quite a bit because it’s a glamour industry – everyone wants to be Tina Turner – they think there’s something magic about it,  but there isn’t. Artists, if you don’t handle them properly, will turn round and bite your hand off. They don’t think about the hundreds of thousands of pounds that you put into developing their career, but if you treat them fairly and properly from the beginning, it’s got to be a pretty shitty manager who will go against you, but some will.

Duran Duran were a bit like. Those two (Paul & Michael Berrow), were a bit like that. Those two were amateurs, when the first three years were up and they came round, I told them what I thought was fair and they said ‘we’ll go to so and so (a rival company) but we got them back again through Terry Slater (then EMI UK’s A&R director).


(Michael and Paul Berrow)

There’s a funny story how we got Duran Duran. Peter Laister, who was then Chairman of Thorn, rang up one day and said ‘have you heard of a band called Duran Duran’ ‘No I haven’t Peter, why do you ask?’ ‘Well, my nephew Nick Rhodes is the piano player with the band and EMI have had a tape of the band for quite a long time and they haven’t had any answer back from anybody and they’re getting offers. When they perform they seem to be getting more popular. Nick says that because we (Thorn) own part of EMI, he’d like to be with EMI.’ So I rang up Terry and he said ‘I think they’re one of these New Romantic people.’ I said ‘you’d better get your arse into gear and find that tape and listen to it. If you think it’s no good, say so, but at least give them an answer.’ So he had a listen and decided they were good enough to sign. I don’t know how much this was influenced by the fact that this came from Peter Laister.


And here concludes possibly the only interview ever granted by Ken East! It took place in 1999.

As a coda and as she is mentioned several times through these six episodes, here are extracts from an email from Ken’s wife Dolly, dated April 20, 1999 adding some of her EMI story and meeting Ken. I won’t explain who everyone is who is mentioned unless requested!

My first job was working with John Burgess as his secretary. Capitol in those days was kept quite separate from the other labels and had its own marketing, press etc. We were in Princess House, Eastcastle Street and the others were in Great Castle Street. So when Pat Pretty was moved into marketing, Arthur Muxlow made me press officer. I loved those days in Fleet Street – wonderful characters like Pat Lancaster, Mike Nevard, Leslie Thomas…I was very fortunate to know them. I was given more expenses than anyone else because I had so many overseas artists to look after. 25 shillings a week and it was more than enough, a staggering amount for those days actually. When Capitol was merged with the rest of the labels and we moved to Manchester Square, I took the American artists and joined Syd Gillingham in the press office. I joined Peter Gormley in 1963. He had asked me a year before but I had said no. Les Perrin was my mentor and I had become very friendly with him and Janie and the kids. In fact when my mother was very unwell in hospital I lived with them. He persuaded me to have the courage to step out of Manchester Square and into Peter’s office in Savile Row. It was a crazy time as Cliff was in the middle of filming ‘Summer Holiday’ and Frank Ifield’s ‘I Remember You’ had just hit the charts with such force – he was on tour at the time with I think Conway Twitty or someone like that…and was way down the bill. The craziness took everyone by surprise, hundreds of screaming girls, funny to think of it now. So I was sent on tour to look after him.

Peter as you know was a very special and intelligent man, I owe a great deal to him and Ken – although at that time I never knew Ken. Met him at a Gene Pitney party at EMI although I wasn’t working there then. Pitney asked me to be invited as I had looked after him during my EMI days. Years later Ken and I were married and he returned as MD of EMI and I went back to work for Peter. I remember a funny phone call from the EMI house photographer Ken Palmer. He had left EMI by this time but he had lots of mates still there. He called out of the blue to ask how I was and said ‘have you heard about the new MD at Manchester Square? He’s a shocker, he’s sacking everyone left right and centre – they are so upset and they hate him. Anyway, that’s enough of that, what about you? I hear you’ve got married – is it anyone I know or know of?’

‘Well, yes actually’ I said. ‘I married that new MD – the one that’s sweeping through the offices as we speak!’ I though poor Ken Palmer was going to pass out until he heard me laughing so much I needed oxygen. So many of these chaps that were fired and were often sitting round our dinner table even after they had left, which says a lot about them and Ken


A wonderful and appropriate way to end this story., Up next will be one of my three favourite bosses in 35 years of employment – John Fruin.


Text ©David Hughes, 2016. Photos from Google searches, for illustration only.






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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