We left Tony’s story at his departure from EMI and the beginning of a new independent life.
I’d been broadcasting on the Light Programme, presenting jazz programmes. I failed an audition for Johnnie Stewart (later Top of the Pops producer) which I thought was very unfair because I thought I did a good one, and then he came off the programme and a guy called Jimmy Grant took over. I immediately applied for another audition, got through straight away and was on the air. I was the first guy to use the work ‘funky’ on BBC and had the piss taken out of me by other presenters, ‘funky wunky’ – it was a jazz expression – low down, dirty, as in the blues. I did a lot of programmes for Bernie Andrews and Ron Belchier, pop shows on the Light Programme. I asked if I could do one for Decca. They used me on Luxembourg several times. I found a way to avoid playing all the English rubbish. I came up with a format, ‘America’s Top Ten’ which meant going through the Billboard charts and taking the Top Ten records that were released in the UK through Decca, so it was good product..mainly. This became such a success that I ended up being voted No.4 DJ in the country in the Melody Maker poll…above God knows who! There was a big write up in the Daily Express with me and Jimmy Young together, listing Jimmy as one year older than me, which always amused me because when I first met him I was 21 and he was 29! Bless his heart! I became quite a popular DJ. I was doing what (Emperor) Rosko was doing before Rosko came along. I would always stand up to present, rather than sit down, to get some urgency.
Emperor Rosko, Jimmy Young
Before then I’d been doing loads of compering – I did an NME Pollwinners concert before 10,000 people at Earl’s Court or somewhere.
‘Oh Boy’ was about 1959. Jack Good saw me working at the Flamingo. He’d got Jimmy Henney booked and he wanted to contrast Jimmy – he was Mr. Smooth – and I was meant to be a bit of rough, the finger snapper.
Was he (Jack Good) as influential a figure on the music screen as he’s now painted?
My own recollection of ‘Oh Boy’ is the pilot show, which was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen on television. It was in black and white and it lost everything that it had when it was eventually broadcast in colour. The secret of its success was obviously Jack Good’s enthusiasm, but the artistic secret was Rita Gillespie’s lighting which was fantastic and gave it its sense of evil. Which it did have – not evil but menace, the rebellion of youth in those days. The pilot was the best, fantastic. It was live because I remember I once forgot my lines and was stuck – it seemed like two minutes but I think it was probably ten seconds – I couldn’t remember my script and everything was timed to the second. Terrifying.
Had you had to leave your jazz by the mid sixties?
Tempo just fizzled out, largely a combination of Tubby Hayes signing to Fontana and me getting married. Jazz was starting to get avant garde and freeform and I hated it, so I didn’t really want to know. Also I was taking my day job quite seriously and it was full of exciting battles like the Righteous Brothers versus Cilla Black. I had what I believed was the best promotion team in the country – a wonderful team, everybody with different tastes. Oddly enough it was Tony King who really gave me my standards in pop and soul and stuff. He turned me on to Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson when they were new. I liked them because there was a jazz feeling there, so it was easy for me to get involved. In the sixties I was very active in the whole RSG (Ready Steady Go) situation. Hanging out with them; people like Vicki Wickham were fantastic. It was really a social do every Friday night. The whole business would just go and hang out in the studio. Michael Aldred was a Decca producer at one time.
Vicki Wickham with Paul Gambaccini, Berry Gordy, and ??? (Adam White, my expert, thinks maybe a cast member of the Motown Musical)
Michael Aldred in the Sixties
The Sixties were really special if you were in the music business. Most of the sixties passed by because we were all so busy and involved in the music. The swinging sixties were happening to everybody.
What prompted you to strike out from Decca?
People like Ron Belchier complaining to Dick Rowe ‘why’s this Tony Hall pushing this black guy called Otis someone when he should be plugging The Bachelors to me’? I thought ‘bollocks to The Bachelors – they’re established already. Anybody could push The Bachelors, but Otis not everybody could push. I was very close to the Atlantic people, Jerry Wexler and the Erteguns. I persuaded Jerry Wexler to let me take My Girl off an Otis album and go with it as a single, because I said I thought I could make it a hit. With the help of the Pirates I got it to No.7, but I was only given four weeks to be able to do that because he had more product coming and he didn’t really want to do it anyway. They knew that the Temptations’ record hadn’t made it, so people didn’t know it as a hit song and that’s what enabled Otis Redding to come to England later. The irony was that I discovered My Girl had been recorded as a one take filler and they’d never played it live. They had to take it down off the record and learn it (the score) when they got to England.
Atlantic was some consolation for Motown?
Atlantic became a labour of love for me, with Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Don Covay. But I swear to God that Otis wouldn’t have happened or Wilson wouldn’t have had hits if it hadn’t been for me. For instance, The Midnight Hour, a huge hit for Pickett. I was due to go on holiday for the week it was due for release. I said to my team at Decca ‘While I’m away please push this one. I know it’s a hit and I want to come back and find it a smash.’ Got back from holiday to find fuck all had been done. Nobody even knew about the record so I had to start on it a month late, which in those days was very very difficult. A friend of mine was producing Juke Box Jury in those days, and I begged him – a month after release – to put this on the Juke Box Jury tape and he said ‘OK, I’ll put it on as the number 8 record, but I can’t guarantee we’ll get there – it depends how much they (the Jury) rabbit. I was sitting in front of the screen, praying, lighting candles and everything!, and there wasn’t that much talking and they got to number 8, thank God, so it got heard. Then I got the pirates all working with me. I wasn’t officially allowed to of course, but they were fantastic and we got Pickett into the Top 10.
Tell me about the pirates
We weren’t allowed to touch them officially but on the other hand they (Decca) wanted to know why everybody else’s product was on the pirates and not ours. I eventually went down to Caroline (their offices were in Chesterfield Gardens in Mayfair) and got to know the people and got my records on – the same with London when it started.
The whole thing was illegal but it was airtime. I wanted my records on there. I didn’t want other people’s, I wanted mine! I didn’t care about PRS (Performing Rights Society – the organisation which sets the fees radio stations have to pay when playing records). As long as the records were heard people would go into the shops and buy them. To this day I think that the mid-sixties Decca promotion team was the best I can remember. There was Tony King, Roger Watson (who became MD of Arista at one stage), Pat Campbell (the old cowboy DJ – he was in Phil Solomon’s pocket), Dick Rowe.
Andrew Oldham came to see me a couple of weeks ago – his autobiography is coming out and I’ve done a lot of quotes for it. He’s starting a campaign and I agree with him, that while Dick Rowe is always put down as the man who turned down The Beatles. Andrew is saying that he’s the man who signed the Stones. Very positive. Dick Rowe loved the music business. Again, I didn’t necessarily approve of all his business practices, but I liked him, especially later in life. He loved music, loved the music business, loved America. A sad loss. I heard the (Beatles) tape. I would have passed musically, but I heard the voices and the personalities between the really abysmal music, and the personalities I thought were worth investigating. But the music was shit, deserved to be turned down and unfair to criticise (Dick).
Back to why you decided the leave Decca.
I thought, ‘if I’m going to do promotion I might as well do it pushing music that I really believe in, people that I believe in rather the bleeding Bachelors whom I don’t like at all’ David Platz had made overtures to set me up in my own company so eventually I started the first independent promotion company in the UK -T.H.E. I handed in my notice, went on holiday, came back to find thirteen years of Decca in a tea chest outside my office, orders of Townsley, which I thought was pretty shitty because I really had done a lot over and above the normal call of duty. Anyway, that’s show business!
You know the next period – I started T.H.E. with Ray Kane and Liz Clower. Ray was something else in those days – he was a wonderful promotion guy and he and I made a great team, totally contrasting. Ray would go and do his job and you would never even notice him, but he’d get results. Very quiet. I was offered everybody, but again many were people I didn’t really want. I was offered Humperdinck and Tom Jones and all that lot, but it was too easy. But our first record was Desmond Dekker’s Shanty Town/007 . I was going out with a Jamaican girl at the time called Faye Sparks and through her I heard this record which the black community was dancing to and I thought ‘this is a pop record – if white kids heard this they’d love and buy it, but if they’re going to hear it, it’s got to be on the radio.’ So it was the first T.H.E stickered single, which took three days to track down to Pyramid Records on Fulham Broadway. It was a fight to get any money, but it was a challenge and it got to No.14. When I took it round to the BBC they thought I was crazy and I said ‘listen, I’ve never cried wolf before, never let you down…just trust me, play it!’ And they played it and it was a hit. After that T.H.E. would take all the off-the-wall groups, or relatively off-the-wall, like Love Affair and Family, and I did a deal with Track Records – Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Brown, and we started signing a few artists as well. Locomotive was the first Gus Dudgeon hit and we had two or three acts from the Harvest label – Bakerloo Blues Band, Tea & Symphony, who were off-the-wall and were mainly through a manager in Birmingham called Jim Simpson . Black Sabbath came through him as well – they were signed under the name Earth, just a blues band who deserved to make a record. I changed their name, Olav Wyper signed them and their first album cost £750.
At this point Tony declared he was running out of steam, and we just have a paragraph to cover the period from 1970-2000+
The 70’s were difficult, but then I found The Real Thing and ended up selling nearly two million singles in a three-year period. In the 80’s I had Loose Ends for nine years who became the first (British) black band to get a No.1., which was a great thrill. Then I had a triple heart by-pass, slowed down for a while; then four years ago I found Lyndon (David Hall). His girlfriend at the time was Samantha Powell, who was on a development deal with RCA and John Jacobi, who rents an office here (‘Here’ for this interview was in Carnaby Street) was acting as her lawyer and she brought in a tape of her boyfriend with her band. John gave me the tape and asked me what I thought. I said ‘it’s interesting, send the boy in.’ Then I persuaded him he’d be better off on his own than with a band.
Lyndon signed to EMI but any success was tragically ended by his untimely death. He was the first singer from the newly open BRIT School in Croydon to secure a record contract (with EMI) and a memorial plaque remains in their main foyer to this day.
So, while I never returned for the second half of Tony’s story, the early years are always the most interesting.
To conclude, here is the now famous T.H.E. sticker as written on hundreds of singles by someone very close to me!!
Text ©David Hughes 2019. All illustration come via Mr Google and are there to help you get through the text.
P.S. Happenstance is a wonderful thing. One of my Collectors’ Vinyl customers, having seen the press cutting in Part 1, with the photo of Tony, Ray Kane and my wife in 1967 (12 months before I met her), came up with two more shots which we’d never seen before. Seems he knows the executor of Tony’s will and, being a major archivist and collector was gifted a mass of paper work among which were these. On a sadder note, his research has revealed a “Friends of Procol Harum” Facebook page and posting from Ray Kane’s daughter, saying he had died – this was in May 2018. Liz and others had totally lost contact with Ray, but she remembers baby sitting his daughter….small world gets smaller.