A Personal History of the British Music Business 31; John Fruin Pt.3


John Fruin with, I’m told, Henry Hadaway. John  is on the right!

I believe we left John being quizzed by L.G. Wood about his occasional off-the-wall sales  tactics.

I used to do all sorts of things that were considered outrageous in those days, but so innocent by today’s standards. For instance, we would know that there was going to be a new Elvis Presley record coming in April. You were supposed to tell everyone the (catalogue) number at the same time, so everyone had a fair chance. Of course they never did – I don’t blame them. We got pissed off with this, so I came up with a scheme where I said ‘right, there’s a new Elvis Presley record, it’s going to be so-and-so and this is the catalogue number, and we’ll go out and blitz London tomorrow.’ I made it up. When we get all the orders in, which we will, and when we get the real number we’ll just change it and say ‘OK, we’ve been given the wrong number.’


So we went out and blitzed London and got away with it for nearly a day. Decca went absolutely mad. I called up by L.G. (Wood) who said he didn’t understand what had been going on, so I told him. He was absolutely horrified.’You can’t do things like that’ ‘But I’m making business fort the company’ ‘No Fruin, I don’t ever want to hear this sort of thing again.’

Later when we launched Motown I was not being successful in getting it away in this country, but I believed in it. The financial director of EMI was Reg Palmer, and he had an assistant called Brierley who was a bright guy. Purchase tax was in operation in those days. You could not do SOR (sale or return) because it contravened purchase tax regulations. I was chatting to Chris Brierley one day and he said ‘if only we could get it out to dealers, knowing we could take it back.’ He devised me a brilliant scheme, legally correct, where you could do it. I put it all together, didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, certainly not L.G., and covered the country with Motown albums.


Motown started to take off and once again someone had reported back to Decca ‘EMI has done an SOR deal – why can’t we?’ So I got called again in front of L.G.. Reg Palmer was an old-style finance guy and said to me one Friday night ‘by the way John, I felt it my duty to tell L.G. that you devised an illegal purchase tax scheme with Motown which will probably get us into huge trouble with the Customs and Excise’ and went home! It knew it wasn’t illegal.

Monday, and Geoff Bridge and I get called up with L.G. and get a colossal rocket. He said to me ‘Fruin, are you supplying Tamla Motown records on SOR illegally?’ I said ‘no I’m not Mr. Wood’ and didn’t volunteer anything else. I remember him saying ‘There’s more ways of killing a pig than sticking it, Fruin, don’t think I don’t know this.’ Anyway, I told him all about it and he said ‘this should have had board permission, this is all wrong’, and so on. He went to the board to have me fired because it was so tough. He could not visualise the real hard commercial approach.

It sounds though L.G. rose through the whole company and was conceivably put into one job too far?

Undoubtedly. Anyway Geoff Bridge came into the office and said ‘I think it’s the end of the line.’ ‘Bloody unfair’, I thought. ‘I’m doing it because it’s getting Motown away.’ So I get called up the next day to Lockwood’s office. Lockwood says ‘Well Mr Fruin, I’m very disappointed. Mr Wood has explained to me what you’re doing. I can understand what you’re trying to do, but to do this sort of thing without advising the board, this is not the way you progress in management at EMI.’ I’m thinking ‘this is it, I’m going to have to go.’ ‘I have advised Mr Wood we have to avoid this sort of thing happening again. I have suggested that you become a Director of the Company so this sort of thing won’t occur!’ So I became that close to being fired and then became Sales Director. Lockwood and I then became very close because he used me as his runner. He devised the Red Star W.H.Smith train service. One of the few inspirational visions I had was that I could see there was no way you could market artists and repertoire properly if the main concern of the people out in the field was to get an order in before someone else. If The Beatles hadn’t occurred I would have got direct distribution and killed the wholesalers at least two years before it happened. It was going that way and then The Beatles and the Liverpool scene happened, EMI’s profits went sky high and L.G. held it off for two years – the wholesalers made fortune out of that stuff because none of was on the HMV label. I became very close to Lockwood through this; he introduced me to the British Rail board and sat with Dr. Beeching, and the W.H. Smith board. Eventually I did the job of closing the EMI depots and centralising the whole thing at Hayes which was a difficult and sad time because there were lots of old EMI employees who went. It’s always a good thing when you’re eventually fired yourself, like I was with WEA, because then you know how it feels. Geoff Bridge and Ken East after him gave me all the backing I needed. I did it and L.G. fought me all the way. He was being sidelined, pushed up into ‘the house of lords.’ Then we were really able to start marketing records.The wholesalers went and people distributed their own product, then started taking on their own distributor lines, which was the nearest thing to wholesaling. When I read things in ‘Music Week’ like ‘the revolutionary thing that has happened is that WEA and CBS are going to combine distribution.’ I fell about laughing. The first thing I did at WEA was to take distribution away from CBS.

The advent of rock’n’roll must have been one of the hardest things for the English record companies to grasp.

Absolutely. Roland Rennie was sent to work for Paul Marshall, our lawyer in New York, to pick up American singles like ‘I wear short shorts’ and ‘Western movies’ – that was when the whole business changed.

Harold Davison, who was a great impresario, wanted me to go and work with him when I was at Polydor. I said I didn’t really want to and he said ‘It’s a great pity. What you’ve done wrong in your career so far is that you haven’t got anything to sell, because then we could pay you an inflated sum for it, you could come and work for us and we’d have the ‘fuck you’ money.’ That stuck in my mind and when I decided I didn’t want to become an international man, the next move was to go to American for Polygram! I wasn’t entirely sure I could make it in American and our children were the age when I didn’t want to move them, so I left to form a little deletions company and, in conjunction with Wayne Bickerton, State Records to form an embryonic idea of a vehicle that someone might eventually want to buy or float.It was the right vision to have at that point. I didn’t quite know how to do it, but that was in my mind. Within a year Nesuhi (Ertegun) was pursuing me, and two years after I left Polydor I went back into business at WEA.

One more chapter to go!

©Text David Hughes 2015

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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