Unlike most of my previous interviewees I can’t claim to have had more than a passing acquaintance with Tony Calder, who died suddenly in January 2018. I didn’t even know what his claims to fame were, although I had heard stories of his and Andrew Loog Oldham’s publicity company and whether they, as opposed to Max Clifford , were responsible for the beginning of The Beatles’ recording career. Such relationship as I had with Tony came in my last five years with EMI when he, who was a friend of my boss Rupert Perry, used to be forever phoning me with requests for this and that. This interview I remember as being pretty chaotic, starting off in his office, being interrupted by Bill Kimber, moving to a cafe or pub and then returning to the office.
How did you get to Decca?
I had a paper round and I did it for a week and thought ‘this is madness.’. So I wrote to Decca Records saying their Teen and Twenty Disc Club wasn’t very good. I got a letter back from S.A. Beecher Stevens which said ‘OK smartarse, we’ll pay you £1 a week or soemthing, to write a report on it.’ So there I was, some 15-year-old schoolboy being paid to listen to Radio Luxembourg. When I was going to leave school to work for the British American Tobacco conmpany, I think it was, in Southampton, I rang up Beecher Stevens and he said ‘Start on Monday, £15 a week and I’ll pay your train fare.’ I suppose today you’d call in a Product Manager trainee. He ran the sales and marketing departments; I was the kid who played records on Southampton pier and who was meant o know what was going on. This was 1961-2.
At one end of the fifth floor at Decca was A&R with Dick Rowe and Hugh Mendl, Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
Dick Rowe (l), Hugh Mendl (r)
Then you had the Beecher-Stevens operation at the other end, under which were two divisions – Colin Borland and John Russell-Thompson for singles. Get a load of that! As Sir Edward (Lewis) said ‘this is the normal company’ and I never knew what he meant by that. He took took me to a meeting one day at EMI – Sir Edward took me to meet Sir Joseph (Lockwood) and his personal assistant, whom I had only met once until about six of seven years ago when we were in a restaurant with Rupert (Perry) and he says ‘excuse me’ and goes and talks to someone else, who was William Cavendish (Sir Joseph’s assistant). The only straight guy at Decca was a man called Frank Lee who was head of A&R and had a Mercedes 190 Golring – that was the first time I realised there was more to life than just rock’n’roll – you could have a car that everybody liked.
I loved Dick Rowe. He was one of the nicest people. After I left and was involved with Andrew (Loog Oldham), he knew we had no money. We were sitting there with a number one record with the Rolling Stones but we had no money. He would say, ‘bring us any record.’ and we’d take it to him and he’d give us £200 on a Friday for it. He was amazing – he never put them out! But we took one from Lou Adler with Johnny Rivers and overdubbed his voice. But Lou said ‘you can’t put it out – it’s happening here in America.’ So the only good record we ever gave him we had to stop.
In those days record companies were releasing a huge quantity of singles, weren’t they?
Decca were putting out like ten singles a week. Dick Rowe always got labelled as the guy who turned down The Beatles. I got to tell you anyone would have turned down that tape. The tape was pretty shit. He played it to me a couple of times and said ‘do I deserve this?’ The boy who was nasty about it was his son, Richard. Andrew said to him ‘your father was very good to us’ The guy (Dick) was good to us – he did singles and Hugh Mendl did albums. Frank Lee just suddenly disappeared one day. I knew Sir Edward didn’t like him.
What was the relevance of albums in those days?
Well, they (Decca) started their own album department – did 10″ albums, like the Billy Fury one, and the dreadful David Whitfield.
You could make an album in two days, twelve songs in four sessions. The word ‘mixing’ never came into it. But I do remember being called up to the seventh floor one day about six-o-clock. There was a guy called Bob Crab – I don’t know what the hell he did. W.W. Townsley, who was Sir Edward’s right hand man for the record company was there too. It was about 12″ albums. I said ‘why don’t you put them in a round sleeve? ‘Roll out the rack, young man, don’t be so stupid.’ So, many years later, when Steve Marriott said to me, ‘look, we’d really like to make it (Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’) like a cigarette box.’ I called Ogden’s who sent over this amazing book and they (Small Faces) said ”Ere Tone, Ogden’s Nut Brown.’ So I ring the guy and say ‘We’d like to put cigarette papers in (the box).’ He said ‘wonderful – this conversation’s not taking place. We don’t care how we sell it (having Ogdens on the sleeve) – we just have to sell it.’ I said thank you, put the phone down and said ‘right, we’ve got that one; we can change the ‘gold’ to ‘brown’ and what’s more, let’s put it in a round sleeve.’ We found a printer to cut some paper – that was grief. I sent one of the first copies to W.W. Townsley and said ‘thanks for the idea!’ He never spoke to me again. From that day on he would never speak to me. When we were doing Immediate I went back in the see him and said ‘Look, why don’t you take over Immediate and we’ll run the record company for you.’ Then Ken East popped up there (Decca). He never liked me but always got on with Andrew. After I’d left Immediate, one minute Ken wanted to get rid of it all, the next he wanted to save it. Andrew went to Ken East who said ‘no I won’t give you the money.’ Immediate should never have gone – there was so much money in the pipeline around the world. It was immoral what they did – they just killed it. Whether it was Andrew being cocky or off-hand or drugged at the time, I don’t know because I was gone. I remember ringing up Andrew from Antigua and saying ‘I’ll come back – we’ve got to deal with it.’ We had this dreadful debenture with UA. Andrew went off for one of his sleep treatments, so I did a deal for Itchycoo Park with UA and then he comes out and disappears to America. Lou (Adler) introduces him to Clive Davis and they do a deal and I say ‘wait a minute, I’ve done a deal. Get out of here.’ I must admit we wanted to go to CBS. I learned about the world from Andrew – I didn’t know much about the world record business. We had the Stones and he said ‘America – we’re going to America.’ All he wanted was America. If he hadn’t kept on with the Stones going to America, I don’t believe The Beatles or any of the other acts, would have happened. It was all his handiwork. I think the first three tours of America all lost money – it wasn’t until the fourth tour that it broke even. It was quite sad really. I remember we did this rodeo in Texas for the money – just to pay the expenses. They (The Stones) were in America before The Beatles – it was Andrew. Cliff Richard had been to America and died a million deaths. They’d put him on one of those terrible 50 acts Alan Freed style shows….it was sad.
There’s a movie I’m working on now (2000-ish) Bongo (you remember Cliff’s second movie ‘Expresso Bongo’ ?) about what happened to Bongo when he went to America and found his fame and fortune. It’s set in 1968. So he plays Vegas the year before Elvis and Elvis goes backstage with The Colonel and says ‘hey, that’s unbelievable – I’ll do it now. The Colonel wants me to play Vegas and I said ‘no’ I wouldn’t do it after my thing in 1959.’ Then I’ve got Andrew, Mick and Keith coming back and saying ‘hey man, how did you carry it off?’ This is a screenplay I’ve nearly finished. Anyone who reads it will believe that Bongo really exists. We do an open air concert in Sussex after the Isle of Wight and the year before Woodstock. We’ve still got Johnny (Jackson – the part originally played by Laurnce Harvest) in there, but that part’s got to be played by Alan Rickman or Robert Lindsay. I was going to do it with Andrew but the man’s mad. I’ve got a thing about Scientology – you don’t need Scientology any more and he believes he does. About five years ago he said to me ‘I’ve got this great new diet.’ I said ‘yeah yeah’ and he said ‘it’s a herbal diet and it’s got me off the drugs. I’ve been on it for six weeks and I’m going up to San Francisco.’ I thought ‘oh yeah?’ I’m going ‘This doesn’t quite ring right me.’ About two months ago I rang up his ex-wife and ‘How’s Sean ? (the eldest son) and she said ‘well, Andrew’s agreed to pay him for him to do rehab, provided he does the Scientology diet.’ I don’t want to know about all that. But then Andrew was always looking for one of those support systems.
Andrew Loog Oldham and Tony Calder
Well….make of that what you will! That was the first three of 24 pages so eyes glued for a few weeks yet.I do recall the conversations being all over the place, but you certainly already have a flavour of the man. Next time we learn how Tony and Andrew met, a diversion into The Beach Boys and back to Decca, where the name Jimmy Savile pops up. Watch this space!
Words © David Hughes, 2018. Photos sourced via Google for illustration only.