Songwriters were bewailing the fact that it was the artist, not them, getting the credit?
At the time, I think The Beatles’ situation, and to a lesser extent Gerry & the Pacemakers, they were controlling their own destiny and using their own material to do so. In the case of The Beatles, the way their music did develop was superb. There was no conflict between singer and songwriter; they were being their own producer to a greater extent as time went by. Most of the time I would say George Martin’s role was translating their music hums into an arrangement. George Martin was a brilliant arranger – from the vaguest idea he could hear what they really meant. He would turn around and say exactly what they needed and they were flabbergasted. He brought in the musicians and and it was ‘George, that’s brilliant, that’s exactly what we wanted.’ They (The Beatles) were thinking that he was brilliant to come up with that, but actually it was their ideas. He had read their minds correctly; he was a superb arranger but a little lost in the world of pop. People were looking at him for many years afterwards for another Beatles; he almost felt shamefaced about it himself, which he never should have. That was not his expertise – he’s a very talented man but his talent was not to seek out his next pop fad, or to build another Beatles. That was never in his creative makeup – it was something that had been pushed on him by the media. I’m sure at various stages he actually felt ashamed that he hadn’t managed to do this or that, but he doesn’t need any extra credentials. What he has done is brilliant.
The saddest thing that happened to him and the others was that AIR didn’t work
They spent a fortune and their talent and their time.
Did you leave NEMS to set up on your own?
I actually said to Brian shortly before he died (he died on August Bank Holiday 1967) ‘Look it makes greater sense, if The Beatles are not going to be touring any longer, they’re just going to be a recording band, if I’m to maintain the clout I have now with the media, that I have clients beyond the realm of NEMS.’ He came back immediately with ‘you’re talking about setting up on your own? OK, if you’re asking me the question will you still have NEMS business?, yes you will.’ I waited till I got one other major account, MCA Records – and we’re talking about another McCartney connection because Brian Brolly was head of MCA Records at the time. I got that big one signed up as a solid client and then declared myself independent. By then Brian had brought in Vic Lewis to be, shall we say, the decent end of the business. Vic was still part of NEMS after Brian’s death – in fact Vic thought he was in line to take over, so did Robert Stigwood. There was a sort of massive power struggle after Brian’s death. They were in Hill Street (Mayfair) at the time and I had the whole of the top floor as the press department. All I did was to take down the NEMS sign and put up Tony Barrow International. I stayed on that top floor (it suited me) for about a year, then I moved to Hanover Street because I realised the NEMS association was actually stopping some people from coming up the stairs. They thought, quite rightly, there was some NEMS money in there and they really weren’t going to go through a NEMS office, past Don Black’s office, or whatever, if they were rivals.
Interesting that you chose to take a complete record company account?
I wanted a major account and that seemed the best way of doing it. Majors accounts seemed to be record companies or tour promoters – they were the more lucrative ones. They led to more stability as far as running a business is concerned. Record companies aren’t going to drop you overnight, but individual artists blame their manager or whoever and we’d be the first ones to go.
Wasn’t there a danger of that being the case with a company like MCA who were probably signing acts good, bad and awful?
We had the good fortune, if you like, to be working with Brian Brolly and then with Larry Yaskel (?) at A&M. These people realised more readily than an individual manager that it wasn’t our fault. Record companies had been doing it for years, throwing it against the wall and some of it stuck, so they knew it wouldn’t be our fault, that was the way it went. Whereas a manager who was being pressed by his artist would say ‘well, it’s the PR’s fault’ and would use us as a scapegoat. In the long term it would make no difference to the artist’s success or failure. It would solve the manager’s problem at the time.
I read in 1969 you took on Ronnie Scott’s club.
That was largely because I just loved going to Ronnie’s after hours myself. We did that kind of deal that I could take people in any time I liked and have free food and drink, a small fee and everything on the house.
The business was changing…
You’ve got your decade from the end of The Beatles to the end of the seventies. The punk stuff didn’t start until 1976-7 which is when I got out of PR. Bess (Coleman) and I were turning down accounts by the end of 1976 purely because of the image they wanted to project.
That was exactly the reason Sid Gillingham got out
I couldn’t abide that. I’m not saying there weren’t some good musical talents amongst the punks, but their idea of image was not something Bess and I were prepared to project. At first I thought perhaps it was me being silly so I had to turn to Bess and say ‘how do you feel about this?’ and she said ‘well, you’re handling it, I’m not,’ and I said ‘we’re not handling it!’
Was that a major decision to get out of PR?
We had to either change the image of Tony Barrow International entirely and take on industrial accounts, film accounts, or get out. The whole film business was very union tied up at the time, very closed shop. I quite fancied going back into freelance journalism anyway – I’d been a journalist first and that was my ambition. It’s a chicken and egg thing over the punk rock – maybe I should have decided to pack in the PR business a little earlier than I did, maybe two or three years earlier. We lost interest in what we were doing; there wasn’t the excitement for us. The press was changing as well. After giving it up and going back to journalism within the following decade, the 80’s, even journalism was now distasteful to me. I had been writing happily for the News Of the World, People, Sunday Mirror, TV Times and so on, and suddenly they all wanted stuff I would not want to get from the artist and then face the artist the day after. The last thing I wrote was for TV Times, as far as consumer publications are concerned. People like News of the World. I was a great friend of Derek Jameson but even he was realising he had to ask for more – nobody wanted good positive constructive stories. Even the teenybopper magazines didn’t want that any more and more to the point, the mass circulation papers and magazines were going for the sleazy stuff.
There used to be honour among the editors
Even the really dangerous people like Jean Rook would write good concrete positive pieces as well as the bitchy stuff. Even TV Times was saying ‘I believe she had a baby a couple of years ago – try and get that stuff out of her’ and I’d be thinking I don’t want to talk to this West End actress about that. Which is why I’m happily doing trade stuff and bits and pieces that suit me.
That decision was made in 1980 because there was no good reason to stay in over-priced dirty London any more. To be a PR you had to be somewhere between the record companies, concert promoters’ offices and Fleet Street. To be a journalist, you didn’t. Because of the stuff I was writing, I was becoming more of a show business journalist rather than a music one. Thank goodness I was able to move into writing about TV and theatre, and I did a lot of stuff for The Stage and various women’s magazines. For a long time I went on reviewing for them for peanuts because there were some nice features, but there comes a point when you’ve got too much of a workload and it either has to be the thing you like doing least or the thing that’s paying least, so it had to go! I was getting more and more satisfaction writing on tv stuff and doing so from a trade press angle as much as anything else. That I enjoy and I think I know what I’m talking about.
Is there one period that was the happiest?
I’m a great believer in now. But – just because I know now how belated the significance of it was – it has to be the peak of The Beatles, the mid-sixties.
When did you realise you’d been at the heart of the most extraordinary thing that had ever happened to the music business?
After the event. The way I’ve always thought of it is as the whole thing being an enormous Cinemascope screen and we were standing with our nose right up against the screen and couldn’t possibly see the complete picture at the time. It was only years afterwards we were able to sit in the stalls and re-run it all that we appreciated the enormity of it. In that first year in Monmouth Street, The Beatles would spend full days there seeing twelve journalists on the trot and doing twelve phone calls to people in the provinces, and they’d be doodling on bits of paper all day and my secretary Valerie would just come round and chuck everything in the bin! Doodles worth thousands!! I’d just put a foolscap in front of the boys so that if they were going to make phone calls I would write down ‘David…Hull’ and of course they would doodle around it. It’s not something I will forget in a lifetime and it’s not something that anybody else will allow me to forget, the association with The Beatles. To this day people scarcely believe it – they ask questions like ‘Did you ever actually see them, in concert?’ ‘Well actually I saw about 200 concerts.’
(I mentioned my own similar experiences (on a totally different level of course) with The Osmonds and The New Seekers.)
I was doing The Jackson 5 at the same time (as The Osmonds). And didn’t we have press conferences scheduled for the same time? I think 12 noon at each of the hotels and somebody, a kindly Dougie Marlborough, pointed this out, so one was shifted and they were able to dash across the square and do the other one. The first act I did under my own steam was The Monkees. I’d left NEMS, but this was for NEMS. Vic Lewis had brought them in. If we were put down as specialists for anything it was teenybopper acts, therefore The Monkees were happy to stay with us. Bay City Rollers came and said ‘Do for us what you did for The Beatles.’ New Seekers, Gary Glitter.
I had the same experience with The New Seekers at Eurovision in 1972. Then they didn’t want to know about a teenybopper audience but a year later David Joseph asked me to do for them what we’d done for The Osmonds.
He was a very strange guy.
I just saw Bill Cotton – a sad occasion; it was Bobby Willis’s funeral. We met beforehand in the pub in Denham village and were reminiscing. I said ‘I remember the first time I met you was 1972, Edinburgh Eurovision Song Contest. Stupidly the record company passed control of the bar to me at about one-o-clock in the morning, and you walked in about 2.30am and ‘Scotch please’ and I said ‘have a large one’ and you grabbed the bottle and said ‘I’ll have a very large one.’ They broke up two years later and I’ve got The Sun Awards on video. My wife and I are at a table with Cilla and Bobby and half The New Seekers who were all up for an award. And that night The New Seekers were breaking up and Eve Graham wouldn’t come into the room, so there’s an empty chair there, then my chair’s empty, then Lyn Paul’s chair is empty because I’ve gone out there and said to Lyn: ‘you do it, you go up there.’ Already in her own mind Lyn was going to be a solo artist and had been discussing management with Bess and me. I said ‘Look, whatever happens with the two boys, just walk in front of them, grab the trophy and speak into the microphone.’ And you’ve got her doing that on the tape.
Text ©David Hughes, 2016 (Interview January 5, 2004). Photos via Google for illustration only.