The concept of these interviews, apart from the original fantasy of them forming the basis of a book, was to give space to some of the many people behind the scenes who were influential in the history of this still remarkable industry, but whose names possibly mean nothing to the lay reader. Tony Hall, who recently died at the fine age of 91, is a prime example. Even though he was known to the devoted late 1950’s music fan via his Decca Radio Luxembourg shows and his regular appearances as compere of ITV’ “Oh Boy” , his influence on the British industry was enormous and largely overlooked. On a personal note, it was through Tony that I met the lady who has been my wife for nearly 50 years.
Liz is not a lady for nostalgia, but she did keep this cutting from the first of five years she worked for Tony in the 1960’s. She was a devotee of his Luxembourg/Decca shows and the music he played and persuaded him to give her an interview as his PA, operating from his Mayfair flat. I first met her when interviewing Arrival for Disc and….largely thanks to my then dear colleague Penny Valentine….one thing led to another!
Here she is, 50+ years later with Carroll, Tony and Frank from Arrival, pictured in Tony Hall’s front garden
I interviewed Tony in his then Carnaby Street offices over 20 years ago, and even then, my first question was…..
Do you want to tell me why you’re still doing it?
I came into the music business because I loved the music. I still love the music. The only gift God gave me, really, was being able to pick hits and spot talent that most people would not spot or pass over because maybe it was too difficult or unconventional. I still feel the music. At the age of 70 now I’m still stuck in traffic jams tapping out grooves on the steering wheel, thinking ‘now where the hell did they pinch that line from, and what have you. I shall go on doing it as long as I find talents that excite me sufficiently, and as long as the dramas and stress that come with it don’t really freak me out or affect my health.
Not that it matters, but the people you’re dealing with are half your age or less
Yes, but people haven’t got my ears, and I know I can still pick hits better than most people in most record companies. I can spot major talents. At the moment, at the age of 70, I’ve got the hottest young R&B singer possibly that England has ever had. He’s winning all the awards and, OK, he’s only sold 50,000 albums so far but that ain’t bad. It ain’t chopped liver for a first album. Maybe he’ll get the chance to develop a bit and maybe turn into a long-term album-selling artist. (I’m assuming this was Lynden David-Hall, who tragically died before he was able to fulfil Tony’s aspirations for him) I’ve got a girl singer who is the nearest thing to a young Aretha or maybe a very young Mica (Paris) that I’ve heard in this country for many years. Her name is Vicky and she’s got an African surname that I can’t pronounce very well, but I think I’ve got a deal on the table with Wild Card Records and Colin Barlow loves her. He’s offered me a four-album deal, so if I’m still alive after four albums…!
Every day I’m having to turn down people for management – even people with the kind of talent that I might be interested in – because there just aren’t enough hours in the day and I haven’t got the strength. In an ideal world I’d like to work a four-day week, but it ain’t as easy as all that. I’m in the office four days a week and I’m on the phone for the fifth, and the sixth and seventh! I’d become a vegetable if I quit the business because music is virtually my entire life…which my wife doesn’t appreciate!
Tony’s second wife, with whom he spent over 40 years of his life, was a professional singer and actor. Born in Trinidad, her real name was Grace Carr. She predeceased him by one year
Ironically, at this age, I’ve gone back to my jazz roots – that’s all I really listen to at home. I do jazz reviews for whoever will pay me – it’s marvellous. I get free CD’s and I’m now, and again it seems stupid after all these years, I am expert on all the young jazz players around, especially in America – the new generation.
Which is how it started for you, isn’t it?
Yes. I came into this business because I loved jazz and I was working in jazz clubs in the Fifties in the evenings, compering and booking. The Feldman Club was at 100 Oxford Street, and it was there that I heard my first ever live music at the age of 15. Nowadays 15 is nothing, but in those days it was young. I was on holiday from school and was taken down there. I was staying with a schoolfriend who had a flat in town and was taken down to this club at 100 Oxford Street. It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
It changed my life completely. There were people like George Chisholm and Kenny Baker,..Victor Feldman – he was brilliant, Jimmy Skidmore – those sort of musicians . One thing led to another, then when I was in the army at Catterick I started compering the bands, and even played diabolical drums when the normal drummer was on leave, with the big band playing Stan Kenton arrangements. How I had the gall to do that I don’t know, God help everybody! I was compering and getting involved in the jazz scene, getting to know musicians, starting to write a bit. When I came out of the army, through my friendship with the assistant editor at Melody Maker, a great larger-than-life character called Jack Marshall, and through my friendship with Steve Race, the Sunday after I was demobbed I started as resident compere at the Feldman Club at 100 Oxford Street. It was a great honour, me with my dreadful ill-fitting demob suit standing there shitting myself. But that was the beginning and led to other clubs – I was totally totally involved with the jazz scene. I was working at studio 51 and while I was there I met Jeff Kruger and started working at his club. at the Mapleton before planning the Flamingo Club.
Jeff really relied on me for the musical policy and because of that I was able to sneak in a whole lot of people who were a bit off-the-wall and probably might not have had the same exposure had someone else been booking, including West Indian musicians who were very good people, like Dizzy Reece (his version of Round About Midnight was played at Tony’s funeral) and a tenor player called Bogey Gaynair who was something else
One thing led to another and one day I was at Decca as product manager and then promotion.
How did you get into that?
That was through Bunny Lewis. I was doing pop record reviews for various papers including a dreadful thing called The Showbiz and Boxing Review or something, edited by another really larger-than-life character called Isadore Green, who was really a boxing fanatic but found he couldn’t make money with just a boxing paper so he broadened it to show business to get all his pals from the Variety Club and Jewish restaurants around the West End involved in the paper. Then when pop started happening a little bit he widened it even more and somehow I ended up doing pop reviews.
It ended up as Record and Showbusiness Mirror. I remember all those one-sided heavy 78rpm test pressings. But he was a difficult man to work for and eventually after two or three years of not being able to stand him any longer, we had a flaming row and I walked out – or he sacked me! I can’t remember which, but it was mutual. I remember walking round the corner in Gerrard Place and bumping into a musician I knew quite well with a good sense of humour called Benny Green. I said ‘Benny – you want to be a writer, don’t you go up and see Izzy Green round the corner. You’ve got a gig.” And that’s how Benny got his first writing job.
Then I went on and wrote for various other papers. I was on the original Music Express before in became the NME, before Maurice (Kinn) bought it. I worked for Ray Sonning who was actually Jack Marshall’s boss. He was another very genial guy. Journalists are very different now. Percy Dickins was the advertising man then. There was an editor at Melody Maker called Pat Brand, wore glasses. Ray Sonning was a very avuncular guy. Jack Marshall has a very dry sense of humour. Ray Sonning left the MM and started the NME. Jack Baverstock was around.
From the reviewing for Izzy Green I used to go to Bunny Lewis’s office to get the review copies. Decca were the hottest then. I got to know Bunny reasonably well., I used to review anything he gave me and one day when I went in he said “are you interested in a job at Decca?” I said “doing what?” “Oh, they want a product manager, for Capitol or something.” I said “I don’t know about things like that.” But he said ‘Go on, give it a go.” So I did go for an interview. I believe there may have been a large number of people up for the job and, I don’t know, but I got it. My day job until then had been in advertising as a copywriter. My parents wanted me to be a chartered accountant and articled me to a firm and I absolutely hated it – everything about the job – it wasn’t me at all. So I thought that if anybody’s going to fuck up my life I might as well fuck it up doing what I enjoy doing. I got into advertising as a day job, but really wanted to get into music. When I was doing all this writing in the evening I also had my first column in the NME called Hallmarks. I joined Decca in 1954. Bunny Lewis was managing David Whitfield as well as producing, promoting and agenting him, which I didn’t think was very ethical. But I thought he was a fantastic guy. He started promotion in this country on a really professional basis – he was the very best I ever encountered. I learnt my promotion trade from Bunny, was inspired by him, though my approach was very different. I had nothing but respect for him. I didn’t necessarily approve of his other activities but I didn’t blame him.
This is the only photo I’ve unearthed of Bunny – devoted readers will remember it from my interview with him. A great Juke Box Jury panel!!. Sadly the interview made no mention of Tony!
Much more to come!
Teet ©David Hughes. Photographs sourced via Mr Google to hopefully add a dimension.