We left Brian in the thick of his days at Decca Records where he was their press officer from 1966-1969 and was talking about the large studio staff on the payroll. This somewhat longer portion concludes my interview with him at his home in Worthing. Oh, and I found a photo!!
This is, as you’ve worked out, a gold disc presentation to Diana Ross, probably in 1980. left to right, it’s me, dear departed Chris White, Noreen Allen, Diana, James Fisher, a lad who worked with James(?), Karen Spreadbury, Chris Marshall, sadly also no longer with us, Brian Gibson and Peter Prince. Kneeling is front is Les Spaine
That (the large studio staff)probably explains why so much repertoire was released, to justify all their costs
I found it difficult to come to terms with the music side, the covers (British artists covering American hits) were still going on. I couldn’t understand why people were doing covers. I liked good melodic stuff, Sinatra, the swing era and I love great classics. But I used to enjoy the one-offs that came Decca’s way, like The Fortunes, a fun sound. A lot of those Decca records were fun. The Deram stuff was way ahead of its time. I worked with Cat Stevens with Mike Hurst and Chris Brough, and Wayne Bickerton was there with The Flirtations. There was a very wide selection of material on Decca.
I used to write press releases and follow up with the nationals. I did a special on Mantovani for the News of the World, sending records for export to America, (we got) a big picture in Southampton with Mantovani and George Elrick. Jack Bentley had a weekly record spot in the Sunday Pictorial (was it?) and he would phone me up on a Thursday ad say ‘have you got a record I can feature and would you write it for me?’ I worked a lot with Les Perrin who was the doyen of PR’s and looked after so many of the big names:- Rolling Stones, Tom and Engelbert. I didn’t have much to do with them from the press office. Gordon Mills didn’t want Decca doing the press, Chris Hutchins had The Rolling Stones – those kind of artists I didn’t have much to do with. I remember Gordon coming into the office saying ‘we’re changing the name of Gerry Dorsey; we’re going to call him Engelbert Humperdinck’. I said ‘you are joking, aren’t you?’ He said ‘no, we’re going to have a try.’ He won a song contest at Knokke-le-Zoute. But The Moody blues were a great band to have – they were very happy to let the press office look after them. Justin Hayward was a nice guy, so was Tony Clark who produced them.
Tom Jones, Gordon Mills and Engelbert Humperdinck
Were managers the sort of power they now seem to be
They were very keen on their artist succeeding. Marion Massey, Lulu’s manager, she was a dynamo. She dealt with Les Perrin. Andrew Loog Oldham, whom I met long before the Stones when I was at Australian Consolidated he was doing publicity on a film. Amen Corner had Don Arden – he was OK to deal with. Mel Collins was a forceful manager – can’t remember who he had.
Marion Massey and Lulu
Are we now at the period when Jonathan King claims he was effectively running Decca for nothing?
He came in as an advisor – he knew Sir Edward. He didn’t interfere with what I was doing. He wasn’t running the company but he was making contributions. Tony Hall was agin me because he liked Sue Hallward (?) who was the press officer and the old man (Sir Edward) wouldn’t give her a job. I later married her and she went to CBS and worked there under Olav Wyper. I bump into Tony in Brighton from time to time
What prompted the move to Pye?
Syd Gillingham phoned me and asked if I’d go over to Maddox Street to see them. I knew Sid socially. He’d left EMI and set up with Chris Hutchins, Max Clifford and Nick Massey. Syd said ‘we’ve got Pye Records’ because Pat Pretty had left – she married Leslie Mallory who’d been on the News Chronicle when I was there – he must be in his 80’s now; he’s still alive and living in Ireland (Leslie died in March 2006). The Pye press office wasn’t being run very well. Syd had been recommended to Louis Benjamin by Geoff Bridge – he’d been at EMI and then joined Pye – and Syd said ‘we want you to look after Pye exclusively’. Syd and the others still had Frankie Vaughan, Rolf Harris, the Bee Gees and others. So I took on Pye, working with Syd and Chris in Maddox Street. I used to go up to the Pye offices in Great Cumberland Place to check on things, usually with Geoff Bridge and they gave me an office there. Benjy (Louis Benjamin) said ‘why don’t you move in here – we’ll charge you a nominal rent and you can have a drinks cabinet as well!’ Chris decided he wanted to go with Tom and Engelbert because America was opening up for them. So Chris pulled out and Syd said ‘we’re left with Val Doonican, Frankie Vaughan, Rolf Harris and Pye Records, we can move into ATV House – Pye will give us some space there’. Max had gone – he was looking after Paul and Barry Ryan. After a while Syd decided he wanted to get out and take Frankie, Rolf and Val with him. So Benjy said to me ‘why don’t you come onto the staff – it’ll make things simpler.’
I met Sir Edward Lewis only a couple of times and he would call me Mr Gibson, and that was it. There was no contact/ But I remember Benjy saying ‘if you want to come and join me I want you to call me Benjy.’ We got on from day one – he was a fair boss. I took over the press office on my own. Precision Tapes was formed and I took them on; then Geoff Heath asked me if I would look after ATV Music (Pye’s music publishing company) .When Geoff left, Peter Phillips asked me to continue. I used to go to MIDEM every year for ATV Music, but never for Pye.
l-r: Ray Donn, Billy Marsh, Larry Grayson, Louis Benjamin
How do you do press on a publishing company?
Through Record Retailer, Billboard and Cashbox. When ATV signed Neil Diamond it made a good story. When rumours were rife in Cannes about ATV being sold, I said to Rodney (Burbeck, then Music Week editor) ‘It’s not going to be sold’ and it made Music Week and MIDEM News. ATV was probably the only music publisher to make use of a publicist. I think EMI did through Kay O’Dwyer, but that’s what I did and I enjoyed working for TV music. I was at MIDEM one year and Peter phoned me up. It was the year after we won Eurovision with Save your kisses and he said ‘Tony Hiller (producer of the Brotherhood of Man hit) has a suite at the Carlton but he’s staying with friends and It will be empty for three days – why don’t you check in there?’ I remember signing at the desk at the Carlton and Walter Woyda was behind me and said ‘What are you doing here?’ I said ‘I’m staying here in Tony Hiller’s suite’ and his face was a picture! I stayed there for a week because Tony phoned halfway through and said ‘you can stay there because I’m happy where I am’. It was the year that Dick Leahy was there – I think that would have been 1977.
I stayed with Pye until it all finished in 1981, when the whole ATV thing had collapsed. A real power battle at the top had been going on while I was there – Derek Honey, Benjy and Jack Gill. Peter Philips called me into his office in Bruton Street before I went to MIDEM for the last time. He said ‘look, you’re coming to MIDEM but when you get back you’re going to be fired – I thought I’d tell you.’ I met Honey at the Carlton and he said ‘come up and have a drink.’ And I said ‘ is it true I’m going to be fired?’ He said ‘well, we’re making some changes.’ Peter had said to me ‘don’t worry. When you get back you’re going to be with Jack Gill and myself. Louis is going to go sideways and Jack’s going to take over.’ When I got back from MIDEM a battle had broken out between Jack and Benjy. There was a vote and Holmes -a-Court had come in.
Before this happened they had formed Chips Records and I moved out of Pye and into an office in Upper Brook Street with Jack, Eric Hall, Peter Summerfield, Terry Brown and Les Cocks. This was going to be the start of the new regime. Derek Honey and Trevor Isles were banished down to the basement, the studio. Benjy’s days were numbered. Jack was determined to clear the place out, get rid of the guy who ran the film division in America who had been costing a fortune. The Lew Grade Titanic losses had started to mount. Jack went out there and said game was up; it was all going to finish. Then Jack went on holiday, there was a board meeting and there was one vote (majority) against Jack, and he was out and Holmes -a-Court came in. We were all out. By then Pye had become PRT. I think they lost the rights to the Pye name in about 1979-80. Pye of Cambridge owned the logo and the rights to the name, and ATV had purchased 49% initially to get into it. When they renegotiated, Pye of Cambridge wanted a lot more money for them to have the name and they said no. So they decided to call it PRT. I stayed with that until I left and effectively moved in with Jack Gill. I left Pye on the Friday and Jack said ‘when you come in on Monday there’s an office for you on the fourth floor. Mike Evans is running Chips Records for me.’ So I can back into the same building. Then Jack said ‘I want you to work on the TV series The House of Hammer on location in Buckinghamshire.’ So I went up there once a week to take journalists and do publicity on the series – that was 1981, one of the best summers of my life.
Philips, Decca and Pye have all gone. Pye was a great little company
It was a good ‘people’ company/ Benjy had this ability of getting the right people around him. He wasn’t a record man – he was a theatre man to his roots, but he had a good team – Monty Presky, Tom Grantham, Les Cocks – and you’d do things for Benjy you wouldn’t do for other people, because he had a good human touch. We went through a great period when we had Save your kisses , Donna Summer, Barry White.
I remember the Lonnie Donegan/Joe Brown era. Petula Clark was the formation of the label?
Polygon with dear old Alan (A) Freeman. Alan formed Polygon.
Chess and Wand, Dionne Warwicke, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley – they had beaten off Decca and EMI to get this great American repertoire.
Benjy was a good deal maker. The American labels came he because he got results. He’d get artists when they came to the Palladium and we’d make albums and singles.
Les Cox produced some of those recordings – it was a huge scoop to get the Reprise label.
He could negotiate with the Americans – there was no stuffiness about Benjy.
There were a few strong characters in that company – not as remote as Lockwood or Lewis
I was invited into the executive dining room – that was quite a privilege. I think you paid sixpence extra for waitress service.
It was a different era
Sir Edward wasn’t interested in records – he was interested in cricket. He would go to Australia for six months of the year following the cricket. I remember going up to see him in his office and (Bill) Townsley said ‘Sir Edward wants to see you about this Rolling Stones cover.’ It was the one with a lot of graffiti on the wall.
Townsley stood behind Sir Edward and said ‘This is Mr Gibson, the press officer.’ and Sir Edward said ‘the sleeve with the graffiti, what do you think of it; do you think it’s alright?’ and I said ‘yes sir, I think it’s fine.’ and that was the end of it!
Townsley was an old style shop foreman. Very old fashioned figure – he didn’t understand the record business; he huffed and puffed a lot. An affable enough man, and he gave Ron Richards a job as record producer because he met him over the garden wall.
I started on The Embankment and then we were transferred to Great Marlborough Street in 1967-8 and Tony Hall was there. We decided to move the press and promotion department to the marketing area in Great Marlborough Street. Decca recorded the Playboy bunnies at West Hampstead studios. (and as this picture shows, there was even a follow-up!).
Decca’s West Hampstead recording studios, now the home of the ENO
We threw a party down there and Ivor Raymonde, whose wife ran the Ivor Raymonde Singers, got the Bunnies on stage and I organised the press. They couldn’t sing to save their lives, but the Ivor Raymonde Singers were on the other side of the stage and it was they who were being recorded! They sold it at the club and we all got made members!
The importance of an orchestra leader/producer
And the arranger. Ivor Raymonde was staff – they all were in the early days. When I joined Pye, Tony Macaulay and John McLeod had left and they had no house producers. They had had them – Cyril Stapleton, Joe/Jack Dorsey who produced the 101 Strings’ albums. That was a clever concept – it wasn’t 101 musicians, just 101 strings…25 musicians with four strings each!
When I left Pye a did a stint at BBC Records for about 18 months and then went back to journalism, and did some PR for Georgie Fame. I had met him at a reception for Yeah Yeah back in 1962-3 and then we bumped into each other in the Pye studios when he was making an album with Marian Montgomery. Peter Summerfield said ‘why don’t you put together a Georgie Fame album?’ I went down to Georgie’s farmhouse in Wiltshire – he was a squirrel and kept everything – and talked about doing a book of his life, and met his wife Nicole who later tragically killed herself, jumped off a bridge in Bristol. We had dinner that night and Georgie said ‘Brian’s going to write the book – do you agree? Tim Rice’s company, Pavilion, are interested in it.’ And she said ‘Oh yes, whatever you want, Fame.’ She always called him Fame. We sat up until two in the morning, drinking quite a lot of wine, going over records. He showed me contracts from Larry Parnes and said ‘Larry used to charge us bus fares. He wouldn’t give us money, we had to get around on buses and trains’ – he was a fund of stories. I put together an album with him which Connoisseur issued. Never got round to doing the book (I know the feeling!) but there’s one there. There’s a lot of things he won’t talk about, like the break-up of the Marchioness of Londonderry’s marriage. (When I went) I asked a milkman “do you know where Mr Powell’s house is”. He said ‘Oh, you mean Georgie Fame?’ He had this bloody great farmhouse, a huge house and a stable block which was his office, where his organ was and his files, cases of stuff his father had kept for him. Mike Hennessy was also going to do a book and gave me his taped interviews – some lovely stories about Billy Fury and the Blue Flames
I remember a package show which was all Larry Parnes acts
I went to a couple of those for ‘Disc’ Went down with Larry to interview Fury.
Went to Billy’s 21st birthday party- that was the first time I met Ray Coleman. When I was working from Upper Brook Street, Anthea, Les Perrin’s secretary said ‘I’m working for Dave Clark – can you come up and see him in Curzon Street.’ Dave said he was going to American for a year – a tax thing – and wanted his name kept in the papers. He was after John Travolta for ‘Time’. He used to phone me and ask me if the money was coming through alright!
And there the interview sort of petered out…… Brian was a fine, honest, straight down the line sort of guy, no airs or graces, a jobbing journalist who drifted into the music business but kept his sense and sensibility. I know another one of those!!
Next time I’ll (maybe) tackle a joint interview with Syd Gillingham, another PR doyen, who died recently, and his longtime friend Max Clifford! Let’s see what that throws out!!
Text ©David Hughes 2017. Photos sourced from the web for illustration purposes only