Basically, we have now reached 1966, so we’ll end that last sentence in part 5 and move on!
That’s how our label grew until in 1966, thanks to Len (Wood) again, I did a second rights deal with Capitol. Arising out of that I was in Vegas and I saw Glen Campbell playing on Shindig. It was a song called Turn around and look at me.
Were you aware that the UK company was not releasing everything Capitol was putting out?
Correct. I was looking for album material, so I said to Len ‘listen, I’m a collector. Now you haven’t released Ella Mae Morse, you haven’t released the Jodimars.’ He said ‘never heard of them.’ Ron White came up ‘Ever heard of the Jodimars, Ron?”No.’ I said ‘they’re a breakaway group from Bill Haley & the Comets – when I toured Bill he told me about them. Ella Mae Morse – can I release them?’ ‘I don’t see why not but you’ve got to clear everything through us.’ I said ‘that’s fair enough.’ The first ones I cleared were Ella-Mae Morse, the Jodimars, Donna Hightower, whom I loved, and a Christian choir. Capitol was thrilled because I was picking up stuff that had no meaning, and they were earning money.
Oh, and in between I did a little thing and got the rumour from someone at EMI that John Barry was unhappy. I took John on as my A&R man and that’s when Ember got serious. He wanted to be in A&R but George (Martin), Wally (Ridley) and Norrie (Paramor) were protecting their positions and wouldn’t let him produce, so he came to me and that’s how we got Chad and Jeremy and the Bond soundtracks which we licensed to United Artists in America, and Annie Ross and Billy Cotton – all things John did.
Travelling up on the Brighton Belle every morning in a carriage for six were Laurence Olivier, Kay O’Dwyer, myself, Beecher Stevens (the big man, manager of Jimmy Savile), and Jimmy Phillips all in the carriage. Jimmy said to me ‘I’ve got this song by this new group. I don’t like the record but it’s got that thumping sound you did with Madison. Can you put it out for me? I want to hold the copyright.’ ‘Who is it?’ ‘Dave Clark.’ ‘Send him up to see me.’ Dave came up and played me the record. No sooner did I sign it than Harold Davison called me said ‘listen, I don’t want you to release that.’ I said ‘don’t put me in an awkward position. I travel with Jimmy 365 days of the year – I’m committed.’ ‘Well, don’t do anything with it – just put it out.’ I said ‘why?’. He said ‘I’ve just signed Dave to Columbia. He’s going to be one of our big artists and he’s embarassed that you’ve agreed to put this out. Knowing you, you’ve got two singles, you’ll put an EP out and you do it as part of an LP.’ I said ‘yeah.’ He said ‘well, will you let the other single come out?’ I said ‘what do you mean?’, knowing full well what he meant. ‘Well, Dave has now cut two crackers. I don’t want anything to interfere with that.’ ‘Oh’, I said, ‘I won’t do that’, thinking I’ll wait till EMI release it, let them do all the work and then come in with it. Which is exactly what I did. But what I didn’t realise was that, indrectly I made an enemy of Dave Clark. Subsequently, many many years later I sold it back to him. He’ll never let it come out again. It didn’t affect my friendship with Harold. I didn’t put out the second one as I recall, but I did put it out on an album with a group of ours called The Washington DC’s.
It was Dave Clark in big letters and….that’s because, again, once I got distribution and Oriole went out of the picture, my distributors were saying to me that it was getting harder and harder to compete with EMI and Decca. ‘You don’t have the promotional dollars to throw in. Your stuff is selling steadily and we know we’ll take everything you’ve got because we know it will sell three, five, ten thousand, but why should the dealers stock your stuff when they’re being pushed to take EMI’s Top Ten. Why don’t you do what you said you were going to do at the awards dinner.’ ‘What did I say?’ ‘When you got the award for Fool Britannia you stood up and said to the Gramophone Retailers Association that you guys out there had better support we independents.’ That’s when I made this famous speech. I just repeated what came into my head because the guest of honour was Sir Edward Lewis, who reluctantly gave me the award. I said ‘because if you don’t buy our material, you’re going to force us to go elsewhere. I’ve seen it in America, so I will sell to Smiths, Boots, chemists, airports, railway stations, garages – in fact I’m going to launch a budget line.’ I came out with the first budget line under ten shillings (50p). The cheapest was Decca at 17/6 (85p) so I undercut them, stupidly and without realising I’d probably cut the throat of the record business. Once I did, they had to undercut and it took the emphasis off the topline, except for the big stars. But I started the first under £1 budget record and it became a huge success. It became the FA (Famous Artists) series. FA had a different connotation – everybody told me I couldn’t do that!
LP’s for under ten shillings?
Yes, they were good. One of them was the Dave Clark thing, Broken. I couldn’t couldn’t have put John Barry out on that series, but I had other things and I packaged them as beautifully as I could. We really had the first budget line at that price. It was even cheaper than Embassy was selling to Woolworths, though they weren’t in it at the time.
As juch as he hated me, I got a call one day from Ted Lewis – very rare. I said ‘as long as this call’s not to invite me to cricket.’ He always laughed at that. He said ‘Have you heard of this man Mandela?’ I said ‘yes I saw it on the news last night – this canon Phillips or someone from St. Paul’s cathedral was saying how terrible it is.’ He said ‘they want me to release this album Why I am Ready to Die by Nelson Mandela. I can’t put it out. Same way as you picked up Fool Britannia can I give it to you? It’s got to come out’
Did Decca not want Fool Britannia?
Originally it was offered to Decca. It was the fact that I put out records that were different. I didn’t care. Politics didn’t mean anything. I saw the canon from St. Paul’s who said all his parishioners would buy it. All I could see were sales, but I got it fromSir Edward which was ironic. It’s still in the catalogue today (2000-ish) and it was a huge seller and we gave part of the money to the apartheid situation, and I was banned from going to South Africa for a while, not that I wanted to go. So there is a capsulated version are some of the highlights of Ember which sytarted with nothing.
I hadn’t realised Ember started as a subsidiary of an American label
It was going to be subsidiary of an American label, but it was always mine.
Tell me about Glen Campbell
Before we come to that. Please understand that I am not looking for ego, but there are things that I did that nobody else did and if it hadn’t been for me, the independent business as it exists today might not have existed. I’d like you to at least acknowledge that I had to find pressing – it wasn’t there – and had to find distribution. I had to ride my bike to distribute product; I had to get it played against the majors saying ‘if you don’t play this you’re not going to get that’. I was up against everything. I couldn’t get my stuff on the air because there was a monopoly. If you explain that background within the history maybe, then it makes sense.
Tell me about promotion
What usually happened was down to personal relationship. For instance, Alan Dell loved jazz, came down the club. I’d say ‘I’m going to release this Chico Hamilton or this Gerry Mulligan. ‘I gotta have it.’ Alan played my records to death and in the course of chatting he wasn’t for me or against me. These are good records – support the independents. I built up a network of independent reviewers. A written review was very important, almost as important as radio. The Rodney Collins’s of this world were just starting and they would say ‘we can’t get review copies – we’re getting Melodisc, Oriole, can we have yours?’ So I brought in a secretary just to service those people, so I was a hero to them. When John Barry came on board I said ‘Look, the biggest problem we have is getting your stuff promoted. Don’t think just because you’re John Barry and you’ve had twenty hits that DJ’s are going to love you because you’re on Ember. We’ve got a talking point John, but you’ve got to realise you’re now on the other side of the fence.’ ‘Oh no, I’m John Barry.’ John had an ego. We clashed all the time because I was watching the pennies and John was used to spending. ‘I want 60 men (musicians)’ ‘Jesus, can you get a bigger sound with 60 than you can with 30? I thought you were this great arranger who could make 30 sound like 60.’
It worked for a while. When he wanted a big band he had a big band – those were the rows. He came to me one day and said ‘We’ve got to have a promotion man. Who’s the best in the business?’ ‘You can’t afford the best.’ ‘Well, I don’t know who the best is yet.’
I bumped into Teddy Holmes at Chappells, who is the doyen of all publishers and who was giving me masters to release. That’s how I met Hal Shaper – they all had songs they wanted to get released. Ted said to me one day ‘Jimmy Henney will plug the hell out of this, don’t worry.’ ‘Who’s Jimmy Henney?’ Everywhere I went at the BBC all I heard about was Jimmy Henney, whose office wasn’t at Chappells, it was at the BBC! When Jimmy said ‘play’ it was played; when David Jacobs was told to play it on Juke Box Jury, it was played. They had a fantastic relationship. I found out Jimmy was unhappy for some reason at Chappells and I went to Ted and said ‘I’m going to talk to Jimmy.’ (I never went behind people’s backs). I sat down with Jimmy and told him what I was trying to do. He said ‘I’m aware of what you’re trying to do – they hate you in the business. You’re the one who’s doing all the things they wish they could do, but you’re doing it. But I don’t think you afford me, unless you let me do my deejaying’ (Chappells wouldn’t let him do his GPO broadcasts or something). I said ‘I don’t care what you do as long as you plug John Barry’s stuff.’ That’s how we got all the play on Chad and Jeremy and things like that. I put Jimmy Henney on the payroll.
I think that next time we actually are going to reach Glen Campbell and maybe even a lengthy, but sure to be entertaining Frank Sinatra story!
Text © David Hughes, 2017. Photos gleaned from Google Search purely for illustration.