This wonderful sketch of Terry was drawn by Peter Dadswell. I used it once before as part of the lengthy Jeff Kruger interview, but it is only now I have discovered his name as the artist. Peter wrote an excellent appreciation which I’ll reproduce at the end.
Terry Oates to me was one of those music industry titans, a publisher, initially with Chappells, then RCA and subsequently with his own company Eaton Music. He died in April 2011, and this interview was probably 7-8 years before then. You will tell right from the opening paragraphs that his golden era dates pretty much from the beginning of pop music. If the interview reads a little disjointed, well, I guess that’s how it was!
I used to have to go down to Maida Vale where they (The BBC) did the live broadcasts. I used to have to go down with sheet music and the old 78 rpm records they used to make at Chappells. that was the big money then, live broadcasts, so you went and plugged your songs. You picked up the guy’s bag and took him for a coffee. I always remember in my early year Sidney Bright (music MD on the Light Programme in the late 1950’s) – he was Geraldo’s cousin or brother. I would try and plug one of my songs, mainly orchestral stuff. I finally got an audience with him – his company was Good Music in Bond Street. I went to see him with acetates and sheet music. I’d only been working in the business a few months and this was the big opening, the big audience. I always remember his first words were ‘Terry, are you Yiddish?’ I said ‘Err, no.’ ‘Well you look it – it’ll be good for the business.’ Cliff Adams was involved with him at the time – Sing Something Simple.
Then I moved on to managing a few bands. There was an act called The Belltones, four trumpet players who also sang – in those days it was vaudeville. I was going to be one of them, but I said to them ‘No, I’m working now.”, so they said ‘OK, we’ll get another trumpet player’. That’s how I became a manager. The band/group achieved Sunday Night at the London Palladium and we got a record contract with Norman Newell.
What did you know about management?
F*** all. I had to get them £20 a night at one American base – we weren’t talking big money. I was booking them via agents – the American bases were big earnings, and we did the London clubs with a 10-mile barring clause. £20 a night between four guys and I took 10%. I made a stupid deal. I agreed to pay 10% towards any of the suits they wore. I f****d it up.
How did you go about getting them a record deal?
I got them on Sunday Night at the Palladium, a big gig. Alex Fine was the agent. We got these suits made quickly for them – shiny suits – and on the night Dot (Dorothy) Squires was sitting behind me.We didn’t have much money to spend, and they camper on and were a great opening act. Then these words came from behind me….’F*** me, why don’t they get them proper clothes’. I thought ‘Christ, we spent money getting these bloody suits’ but they didn’t fit – she was right. She was the one who told Norman Newell about this act she’d seen, so she actually got the deal. Ironically, it was John Burgess who actually produced them. They did the big trumpet fanfares and sang just liker The Four Freshmen, so there was all that harmony – and they could play the trumpets so they were very impressive.
Were you doing this while you were working at Chappells?
Yes, Teddy (Holmes) knew. I was quite a personality, being a song plugger, so we could get away with it. I put on the first beat show in the West End – at the Vaudeville Theatre….and I found Sandie Shaw you know. I got a call from my nephew who lives in the East End and he said ‘you’ve got to go down to the Ilford Palais and see this girl – she gets up and sings and she takes her shoes off.’ So I saw her and brought her into the office. I talked to Tony Hatch and he said he would record her.
I also sold an idea to Silvikrin and had my own radio show on Radio Luxembourg – it was called Silvikrin Time, can you imagine? On the shows I recorded Val Doonican for Dick Rowe at Decca. I sold this idea and it went on for a year every Tuesday night, and I was still working at Chappells. I used to pre-record the shows and Jimmy Henney narrated it. We had everyone on it live. I produced it. Part of the contract with Silvikrin was that we had to do three live concerts a year. At Hammersmith I booked Adam Faith to top the bill and had all my other people on there. I made the big mistake of giving Sandie Goodrich’s mother and father two free tickets, and they were seated next to Adam Faith’s manager Evie Taylor. The result was that her parents decided Sandie (real name Goodrich) Shaw should be managed by a woman, not by me.
Wasn’t she involved with Van Doonican?
No, I was plugging him and sold the idea (of Silvikrin Time)n To Decca and Chappells; they paid for the studio time. It was a sideline to me. I was managing Tony Rivers and the Castaways as well. As pluggers we used to go down to the (BBC studio) at The Playhouse and afterwards we’d go to The Sherlock Holmes. There’d be a chap there with a big jacket on and a lot of personality! I thought ‘I wonder who he is’ – he knew everybody, Ron Belchier and all that. I was talking to him and he suddenly said ‘if you hear of a job going in the business, let me know.’ I said ‘hold on, aren’t you in the business?’ and he said ‘no, I work in print’ I said, ‘well, what are you doing at the moment ?’ He said ‘I’m on two weeks holiday/’ I said,’well, I tell you what, if you want to get into the business, turn up tomorrow (I had any agency then) and I’ll give you £10 a week against 50% of what you book – try it out.’ (This was Colin Johnson, whose interview will appear too at some point – wonder if it will confirm this?!!) Of course, he took it the other way – he took the £10 and also took the 50%! That’s how he started out in the business. He ran the agency and then left me to work for Brian Epstein – and Tony Rivers went too. Then I headed up to RCA and one of my first signings was Harmony Grass (the reincarnation of Tony Rivers & the Castaways)
Tony Rivers & Castaways, and Harmony Grass
How long were you at Chappells?
I rose very fast; I ended up taking over. I left to run the agency and then Teddy Holmes phoned me to go back, and I said, ‘well, the only job I want is Jimmy Henney’s’ and he said ‘well, that’s what we’re offering!’ Jimmy had apparently upset the directors so I went back and at that time was the only plugger who also had his own publishing company with Chappells. And they also supplied me with offices for the agency in the same building. There were record pluggers and live music pluggers and we used to look down on the record pluggers because they were only talking to disc jockeys; they weren’t selling music. All the pluggers who dealt with live music had to be musicians because they had to communicate with musicians.
What persuaded you to move from publishing to record company?
The money! When they brought me in Bernard Ness was the boss. It was when RCA decided to go independent and I was brought in to look after all the artistic side. I gave them some big hits – Clodagh Rodgers was my signing, also Harmony Grass. Kenny Young produced Clodagh. I employed all my staff; they were all young, but I believed that if the A&R staff were songwriters, they would see talent – they could hear what kind of song would be right for them (the artists). I wish I used my own money to back them, because I had Richard Kerr and Gary Osborne in A&R who both went on to write very successful songs – Mandy was one of them. Derek Green was running my publishing company, my office boy was Phil Swern and my pluggers were Billy Lawrie and Del Newton (can anyone help? Web search is drawing a blank).I’d already taken on Del Newton and he brought Billy in. They knew I didn’t approve of any drugs at all, but of course the bastards were doing it without me knowing. NBC was at the top of the building and if the lads saw a van with furniture arriving they’d stop the lift at my floor, and if there was a better desk or something like that, we’d take it out!
Billy Lawry, brother to Lulu, and a fine songwriter
I had this idea of picking my own staff and I think I did it well. They were all talented. I look around now and all they’re interested in is finding a B-side. There aren’t many music men around now. My forte was having been a musician. I was with RCA for 3-4 years, then went to Columbia Pictures’ publishing company, Screen Gems. I realised I didn’t really like dealing with records – I wanted to be with composers rather than artists. Columbia Pictures offered me a lot more money to move – something like £5,000 which was a lot of money then. I have a rapport with composers – we talk the same language. I don’t want to talk about vinyl, I’m much happier talking with George Fenton or Louis Clark who can ask me “what key should I play this in?”. I was never a record company man, I was a publisher. Teddy Holmes was my guru – he taught me all about publishing. I learned from him what he learned from the Dreyfus Brothers, who founded Chappells. When I worked for them in the early days they either owned or controlled three quarters of the world’s music.
Teddy Holmes, Jimmy Henney and Terry Oates.
All my contracts were structured on the Chappells contracts. And in the same way, as my composers become successful I do what Max and Louis Dreyfus did and make them joint publishers. All my composers have a joint company with me. That gives them the incentive to recommend other composers and they help me fight the battles with the film and TV companies who want to keep the publishing. I never paid a penny advance to any of my boys – maybe gave some money to some of the smaller ones – and none of them left me….except Carl Davis.
I think this is Louis Dreyfus!
Was Screen Gems dealing with film composers?
Yes, but it was a natural in-built thing. I actually set up Henry Mancini’s publishing company. When I left Screen Gems I set up Compass Music which was Mancini’s company. It was originally looked after my Chappells but came back to me. We had some big hits – Leo Sayer. When I left there I set up Eaton Music which has been going for 23 years (in 2000-2001). It was going to be called either Bow Bells Music or East End Music…Bow Bells Music was already in use. But Mandy (Terry’s wife) found these offices in Belgravia and I thought ‘f*ck it, I can’t call it East End Music in Belgravia!’
Who got you started on your own?
Nobody. I worked worked behind a bar to start with..to keep going. It took me three years to turn it around. I’d just had enough of the American guy (Bernard Ness??), so I thought ‘sod it, I’ll go on my own.’ At first the phone didn’t ring – I didn’t have one song; nothing was going right. Harry Nilsson had always been a pal of mine. I’d gone over to The Antelope (a pub in Eaton Place) came back and phoned Nilsson as I knew he was in town. He asked if I’d heard from his lawyer. I said ‘no, I haven’t’ and he said, ‘well, as of September you’ve got all my publishing.’ Tears came into my eyes and I said to Mandy ‘it’s going to be alright.’. He’s the one who told Jimmy Webb to come with me. Colin Johnson managed Status Quo and he said ‘you’ve got them’. IT all happened at once. It shook the business, because that year there was only one week I was not in the charts. That’s when I set up all my companies overseas. Eaton Music has its own company everywhere in the world now. I’m possibly one of the biggest independent publishers.
You are cited as someone who has never stopped working for his artist’s songs. It seems most publishers are just bankers
If anyone says anything bad about me in the business he definitely owes me money! If I’d given advances I’d be f*ck*ng broke. I didn’t – they came to Eaton Music because of Terry Oates. I say to my pluggers now ‘if you take someone to lunch, it’s house wine’ and ‘no advance.’ If they don’t like it…. I didn’t have the money to give advances. I wasn’t in that silly league. If they want to use my expertise, give me an advance, not vice versa!
They (record and film companies who are also after the publishing rights) can’t get hold of the likes of George Fenton. No one could entice him away from me – none of them can be enticed away. With George , they all go after him. Some of the film scores I can’t keep. They’re paying him half a million pounds for a film, so though he’s under contract to me I can’t hold him back. Over here on the lower budget tv stuff, like the Ken Loach film My Name is Joe they have got the money to pay George the going rate, so we say ‘fine – we’ll keep everything.’ We keep the soundtracks. I formed a record company with George. The film companies all keep the record rights and they don’t know what the f*ck they’re talking about. On some of these lower budget films, we keep the rights and I agree a percentage to pay the film company. I formed Debonair Records for this purpose – I wanted something nice and classy! One of the biggest video earners for Time Life and the BBC was Trials of Life for which George did the music. It’s been the biggest seller ever and we kept all the video rights and everything. I can’t tell George what to do – he knows what to do. He’s been nominated for 5-6 Academy awards.
The great thing is that all my composers are my mates – that’s the important thing. I still pick up a few new ones, but I expect my staff to do it now. I’ve done my bit.
Are you interested in keeping up with the charts?
No – I leave them alone! I’m a bit too old to know about The Spice Girls and things like that. But when it comes to film music, tv composers, musicians…then I can overtake them.
What’s kept you going?
Being a musician myself, trumpet player. I’m dealing with musicians. What more can you ask for? I’d hate to be working in a butcher’s shop talking to someone abut cutting up a bit of steak! I can talk to them about hearing a song and what key it’s in. I’ve never thought about (doing) anything else other than music.
In your early days of plugging there were house producers who knew about music
That’s right. Norman (Newell), although he wan’t a musicians was a top class lyricist. George Martin’s a classic one. John Burgess bluffed at away!. Norrie Paramor, a good musicians. Ron Richards bluffed it as well! You could have good musical conversations with record companies in those days. You found an act and you went to them, in the same way a plugger goes to the BBC, and say ‘this record is happening’. There’s a notice on BBC producers’ rdoors now, say ‘No Pluggers Allowed’. We had a rapport with the record producers and the radio producers because we both had something to offer.
In the Chappells days, who was the best person to go to to get a song played?
There were lots of live broadcasts then. The biggest seller for a song was ~Billy Cotton. Jimmy Henney was in with Billy Cotton. You’ve got to bear in mind that in those days all the top artists did live broadcasts. The Musicians Union used to insist that so much music played on the radio was live music. There was a (strict) limit on the amount of recorded music, so this was our forte.
People have said Dorothy Squires was the most approachable. (well, that’s what Wally Ridley told me!!)
All of them were in those days, basically, In the old days, when the original charts were based on sheet music sales, the pluggers would go down and sit in the front row, with Issy Bonn (one of the most prolific singers on the BBC music shows and on stage) singing. They got plug money and when he’d sung one of their songs, they’d nod at him from the front row ‘go again’ and he’d sing another chorus! Sid Green was a great plugger – I just came in at the end of it. The other plugger wants the singer to finish so Sid would just started waving his fingers at Issy. That’s when it got serious! One BBC executive left the country. She got a fur coat out of it; she was being bribed.
And so we finished. I think it must have Ken East who recommended I talk to Terry, and I’m glad I did. I had no real contact with music publishers during my 30 years in the business and Terry was indeed an icon!
To conclude, here’s the piece that Peter Dadswell wrote a few years ago on his own blog…and thanks again to him for his sketch and paintings, without which you’ve never know what Terry looked like!
“In my last blog on bohemians I briefly mentioned my life in the music industry and some of the people I had met. There was one music publisher who, although not perhaps a true bohemian, was, dare I say it, slightly unusual in his methods and behaviour. His name was Terry Oates.
Terry died in 2011 and I still think of him regularly. Here is part of a tribute that I wrote shortly after the news of his death.
“Audacious, outrageous, controversial, politically incorrect and unorthodox are some of the words I would use for one of the most amazing characters I ever met in the music industry. Terry Oates, music publisher extraordinary, who died on 16 April 2011, had an enormous impact on my career in the business and I will never forget him. Terry was above all a musician, who passionately championed his songwriters and composers and his honesty and integrity were beyond question. Yes, he could be adversarial and stubborn, but he was also charming, generous, loyal and compassionate with a wicked sense of humour and a constant twinkle in his eye.
He was also physically imposing when we first met – tanned, muscular and immensely proud of his tough East End beginnings. Terry, like me, had also been a trumpet player and this quickly helped to establish a great rapport with him. I admired his instinctive ability to recognise and attract immense creative talents such as Jimmy Webb, Harry Nillson, Denis King, George Fenton, Dave Mackay and many others. He had a long relationship with Henry Mancini who he met and worked with early in his publishing career. One of his first signings as an independent music publisher was Status Quo and in the 1980s he was closely associated Louis Clark’s highly successful “Hooked on Classics” series of recordings. His composers were part of his extended family and many were close friends.
Mandy, Terry’s wonderfully loving and caring wife, was always the perfect foil and business partner for such an entertaining extrovert. Their music publishing company, Eaton Music, has always been the envy of so many in the music industry and was an inspiration to others who aspired for such success. I will always cherish numerous fond memories of the fun, kindness and support they both gave to me, particularly when I became ill. I also learnt so much from them and always appreciated their constant guidance and encouragement. My thoughts are with Mandy and Terry’s family at this time.”
I would add to this that Terry was creative too. I had seen that he was a very talented photographer and, although I never heard him play, I understand he was an excellent trumpeter as well. Whilst my own parents played an enormous part in my artistic and musical development, Terry was in many ways a father figure to me.
Rest of the text ©David Hughes, 2020