A Personal History of the British Record Industry 40; Brian Gibson Pt. 2 and conclusion.

We left Brian in the thick of his days at Decca Records where he was their press officer from 1966-1969 and was talking about the large studio staff on the payroll. This somewhat longer portion concludes my interview with him at his home in Worthing. Oh, and I found a photo!!

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This is, as you’ve worked out, a gold disc presentation to Diana Ross, probably in 1980. left to right, it’s me, dear departed Chris White, Noreen Allen, Diana, James Fisher, a lad who worked with James(?), Karen Spreadbury, Chris Marshall,  sadly also no longer with us, Brian Gibson and Peter Prince. Kneeling is front is Les Spaine

That (the large studio staff)probably explains why so much repertoire was released, to justify all their costs

I found it difficult to come to terms with the music side, the covers (British artists covering American hits) were still going on. I couldn’t understand why people were doing covers. I liked good melodic stuff, Sinatra, the swing era and I love great classics. But I used to enjoy the one-offs that came Decca’s way, like The Fortunes, a fun sound. A lot of those Decca records were fun. The Deram stuff was way ahead of its time. I worked with Cat Stevens with Mike Hurst and Chris Brough, and Wayne Bickerton was there with The Flirtations. There was a very wide selection of material on Decca.

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I used to write press releases and follow up with the nationals. I did a special on Mantovani for the News of the World, sending records for export to America, (we got) a big picture in Southampton with Mantovani and George Elrick. Jack Bentley had a weekly record spot in the Sunday Pictorial (was it?) and he would phone me up on a Thursday ad say ‘have you got  a record I can feature and would you write it for me?’ I worked a lot with Les Perrin who was the doyen of PR’s and looked after so many of the big names:- Rolling Stones, Tom and Engelbert. I didn’t have much to do with them from the press office. Gordon Mills didn’t want Decca doing the press, Chris Hutchins had The Rolling Stones – those kind of artists I didn’t have much to do with. I remember Gordon coming into the office saying ‘we’re changing the name of Gerry Dorsey; we’re going to call him Engelbert Humperdinck’. I said ‘you are joking, aren’t you?’ He said ‘no, we’re going to have a try.’ He won a song contest at Knokke-le-Zoute. But The Moody blues were a great band to have – they were very happy to let the press office look after them. Justin Hayward was a nice guy, so was Tony Clark who produced them.

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Tom Jones, Gordon Mills and Engelbert Humperdinck

Were managers the sort of power they now seem to be

They were very keen on their artist succeeding. Marion Massey, Lulu’s manager, she was a dynamo. She dealt with Les Perrin. Andrew Loog Oldham, whom I met long before the Stones when I was at Australian Consolidated he was doing publicity on a film. Amen Corner had Don Arden – he was OK to deal with. Mel Collins was a forceful manager – can’t remember who he had.

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Marion Massey and Lulu

Are we now at the period when Jonathan King claims he was effectively running Decca for nothing?

He came in as an advisor – he knew Sir Edward. He didn’t interfere with what I was doing. He wasn’t running the company but he was making contributions. Tony Hall was agin me because he liked Sue Hallward (?) who was the press officer  and the old man (Sir Edward) wouldn’t give her a job. I later married her and she went to CBS and worked there under Olav Wyper. I bump into Tony in Brighton from time to time

What prompted the move to Pye?

Syd Gillingham phoned me and asked if I’d go over to Maddox Street to see them. I knew Sid socially. He’d left EMI and set up with Chris Hutchins, Max Clifford and Nick Massey. Syd said ‘we’ve got Pye Records’ because Pat Pretty had left – she married Leslie Mallory who’d been on the News Chronicle when I was there – he must be in his 80’s now; he’s still alive and living in Ireland (Leslie died in March 2006). The Pye press office wasn’t being run very well. Syd had been recommended to Louis Benjamin by Geoff Bridge – he’d been at EMI and then joined Pye – and Syd said ‘we want you to look after Pye exclusively’. Syd and the others still had Frankie Vaughan, Rolf Harris, the Bee Gees and others. So I took on Pye, working with Syd and Chris in Maddox Street. I used to go up to the Pye offices in Great Cumberland Place to check on things, usually with Geoff Bridge and they gave me an office there. Benjy (Louis Benjamin) said ‘why don’t you move in here – we’ll charge you a nominal rent and you can have a drinks cabinet as well!’ Chris decided he wanted to go with Tom and Engelbert because America was opening up for them. So Chris pulled out and Syd said ‘we’re left with Val Doonican, Frankie Vaughan, Rolf Harris and Pye Records, we can move into ATV House – Pye will give us some space there’. Max had gone – he was looking after Paul and Barry Ryan. After a while Syd decided he wanted to get out and take Frankie, Rolf and Val with him. So Benjy said to me ‘why don’t you come onto the staff – it’ll make things simpler.’

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I met Sir Edward Lewis only a couple of times and he would call me Mr Gibson, and that was it. There was no contact/ But I remember Benjy saying ‘if you want to come and join me I want you to call me Benjy.’ We got on from day one – he was a fair boss. I took over the press office on my own. Precision Tapes was formed and I took them on; then Geoff Heath asked me if I would look after ATV Music (Pye’s music publishing company) .When Geoff left, Peter Phillips asked me to continue. I used to go to MIDEM every year for ATV Music, but never for Pye.

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l-r: Ray Donn, Billy Marsh, Larry Grayson, Louis Benjamin

How do you do press on a publishing company?

Through Record Retailer, Billboard and Cashbox. When ATV signed Neil Diamond it made a good story. When rumours were rife in Cannes about ATV being sold, I said to Rodney (Burbeck, then Music Week editor) ‘It’s not going to be sold’ and it made Music Week and MIDEM News. ATV was probably the only music publisher to make use of a publicist. I think EMI did through Kay O’Dwyer, but that’s what I did and I enjoyed working for TV music. I was at MIDEM one year and Peter phoned me up. It was the year after we won Eurovision with Save your kisses and he said ‘Tony Hiller (producer of the Brotherhood of Man hit) has a suite at the Carlton but he’s staying with friends and It will be empty for three days – why don’t you check in there?’ I remember signing at the desk at the Carlton and Walter Woyda was behind me and said ‘What are you doing here?’ I said ‘I’m staying here in Tony Hiller’s suite’ and his face was a picture! I stayed there for a week because Tony phoned halfway through and said ‘you can stay there because I’m happy where I am’. It was the year that Dick Leahy was there – I think that would have been 1977.

I stayed with Pye until it all finished in 1981, when the whole ATV thing had collapsed. A real power battle at the top had been going on while I was there – Derek Honey, Benjy and Jack Gill. Peter Philips called me into his office in Bruton Street before I went to MIDEM for the last time. He said ‘look, you’re coming to MIDEM but when you get back you’re going to be fired – I thought I’d tell you.’ I met Honey at the Carlton and he said ‘come up and have a drink.’ And I said ‘ is it true I’m going to be fired?’ He said ‘well, we’re making some changes.’ Peter had said to me ‘don’t worry. When you get back you’re going to be with Jack Gill and myself. Louis is going to go sideways and Jack’s going to take over.’ When I got back from MIDEM a battle had broken out between Jack and Benjy. There was a vote and Holmes -a-Court had come in.

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Robert Holmes-a-Court

Before this happened they had formed Chips Records and I moved out of Pye and into an office in Upper Brook Street with Jack, Eric Hall, Peter Summerfield, Terry Brown and Les Cocks. This was going to be the start of the new regime. Derek Honey and Trevor Isles were banished down to the basement, the studio. Benjy’s days were numbered. Jack was determined to clear the place out, get rid of the guy who ran the film division in America who had been costing a fortune. The Lew Grade Titanic losses had started to mount. Jack went out there and said game was up; it was all going to finish. Then Jack went on holiday, there was a board meeting and there was one vote (majority) against Jack, and he was out and Holmes -a-Court came in. We were all out. By then Pye had become PRT. I think they lost the rights to the Pye name in about 1979-80. Pye of Cambridge owned the logo and the rights to the name, and ATV had purchased 49% initially to get into it. When they renegotiated, Pye of Cambridge wanted a lot more money for them to have the name and they said no. So they decided to call it PRT. I stayed with that until I left and effectively moved in with Jack Gill. I left Pye on the Friday and Jack said ‘when you come in on Monday there’s an office for you on the fourth floor. Mike Evans is running Chips Records for me.’ So I can back into the same building. Then Jack said ‘I want you to work on the TV series The House of Hammer on location in Buckinghamshire.’ So I went up there once a week to take journalists and do publicity on the series – that was 1981, one of the best summers of my life.

Philips, Decca and Pye have all gone. Pye was a great little company

It was a good ‘people’ company/ Benjy had this ability of getting the right people around him. He wasn’t a record man – he was a theatre man to his roots, but he had a good team – Monty Presky, Tom Grantham, Les Cocks – and you’d do things for Benjy you wouldn’t do for other people, because he had a good human touch. We went through a great period when we had Save your kisses , Donna Summer, Barry White.

I remember the Lonnie Donegan/Joe Brown era. Petula Clark was the formation of the label?

Polygon with dear old Alan (A) Freeman. Alan formed Polygon.

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Chess and Wand, Dionne Warwicke, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley – they had beaten off Decca and EMI to get this great American repertoire.

Benjy was a good deal maker. The American labels came he because he got results. He’d get artists when they came to the Palladium and we’d make albums and singles.

Les Cox produced some of those recordings – it was a huge scoop to get the Reprise label.

He could negotiate with the Americans – there was no stuffiness about Benjy.

There were a few strong characters in that company – not as remote as Lockwood or Lewis

I was invited into the executive dining room – that was quite a privilege. I think you paid sixpence extra for waitress service.

It was a different era

Sir Edward wasn’t interested in records – he was interested in cricket. He would go to Australia for six months of the year following the cricket. I remember going up to see him in his office and (Bill) Townsley said ‘Sir Edward wants to see you about this Rolling Stones cover.’ It was the one with a lot of graffiti on the wall.

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Townsley stood behind Sir Edward and said ‘This is Mr Gibson, the press officer.’ and Sir Edward said ‘the sleeve with the graffiti, what do you think of it; do you think it’s alright?’ and I said ‘yes sir, I think it’s fine.’ and that was the end of it!

Townsley was an old style shop foreman. Very old fashioned figure – he didn’t understand the record business; he huffed and puffed a lot. An affable enough man, and he gave Ron Richards a job as record producer because he met him over the garden wall.

I started on The Embankment and then we were transferred to Great Marlborough Street in 1967-8 and Tony Hall was there. We decided to move the press and promotion department to the marketing area in Great Marlborough Street. Decca recorded the Playboy bunnies at West Hampstead studios. (and as this picture shows, there was even a follow-up!).

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Decca’s West Hampstead recording studios, now the home of the ENO

We threw a party down there and Ivor Raymonde, whose wife ran the Ivor Raymonde Singers, got the Bunnies on stage and I organised the press. They couldn’t sing to save their lives, but the Ivor Raymonde Singers were on the other side of the stage and it was they who were being recorded! They sold it at the club and we all got made members!

The importance of an orchestra leader/producer

And the arranger. Ivor Raymonde was staff – they all were in the early days. When I joined Pye, Tony Macaulay and John McLeod had left and they had no house producers. They had had them – Cyril Stapleton, Joe/Jack Dorsey who produced the 101 Strings’ albums. That was a clever concept – it wasn’t 101 musicians, just 101 strings…25 musicians with four strings each!

When I left Pye a did a stint at BBC Records for about 18 months and then went back to journalism, and did some PR for Georgie Fame. I had met him at a reception for Yeah Yeah back in 1962-3 and then we bumped into each other in the Pye studios when he was making an album with Marian Montgomery. Peter Summerfield said ‘why don’t you put together a Georgie Fame album?’ I went down to Georgie’s farmhouse in Wiltshire – he was a squirrel and kept everything – and talked about doing a book of his life, and met his wife Nicole who later tragically killed herself, jumped off a bridge in Bristol. We had dinner that night and Georgie said ‘Brian’s going to write the book – do you agree? Tim Rice’s company, Pavilion, are interested in it.’ And she said ‘Oh yes, whatever you want, Fame.’ She always called him Fame. We sat up until two in the morning, drinking quite a lot of wine, going over records. He showed me contracts from Larry Parnes  and said ‘Larry used to charge us bus fares. He wouldn’t give us money, we had to get around on buses and trains’ – he was a fund of stories. I put together an album with him which Connoisseur issued. Never got round to doing the book (I know the feeling!) but there’s one there. There’s a lot of things he won’t talk about, like the break-up of the Marchioness of Londonderry’s marriage. (When I went) I asked a milkman “do you know where Mr Powell’s house is”. He said ‘Oh, you mean Georgie Fame?’ He had this bloody great farmhouse, a huge house and a stable block which was his office, where his organ was and his files, cases of stuff his father had kept for him. Mike Hennessy was also going to do a book and gave me his taped interviews – some lovely stories about Billy Fury and the Blue Flames

I remember a package show which was all Larry Parnes acts

I went to a couple of those for ‘Disc’ Went down with Larry to interview Fury.

Went to Billy’s 21st birthday party- that was the first time I met Ray Coleman. When I was working from Upper Brook Street, Anthea, Les Perrin’s secretary said ‘I’m working for Dave Clark – can you come up and see him in Curzon Street.’ Dave said he was going to American for a year – a tax thing – and wanted his name kept in the papers. He was after John Travolta for ‘Time’. He used to phone me and ask me if the money was coming through alright!

And there the interview sort of petered out…… Brian was a fine, honest, straight down the line sort of guy, no airs or graces, a jobbing journalist who drifted into the music business but kept his sense and sensibility. I know another one of those!!

Next time I’ll (maybe) tackle a joint interview with Syd Gillingham,  another PR doyen, who died recently, and his longtime friend Max Clifford! Let’s see what that throws out!!

Text ©David Hughes 2017. Photos sourced from the web for illustration purposes only

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry 39 – Brian Gibson Pt.1

For Those who may not know Brian’s history, here is the 2003 obituary from the UK Press Gazette.Sadly, despite much web trawling, I can find no photograph of Brian.( I know there is one of him with Motown staff around 1977, if anyone can find it)

Brian Gibson: record company press officer and Brighton Argus journalist

Brian Gibson, who combined a life in journalism with his love of music, film and theatre, has died at the age of 65.

Brian was the main advertising and feature writer of Argus Property, the property supplement of The Argus, Brighton, until his retirement in May.

Working for Newsquest in Sussex was his final full-time job in a career which saw him mix with pop, theatre and film stars and gain friendship and respect everywhere he worked.

Brian died of heart failure at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, on 4 February after being treated for throat cancer diagnosed in November.

He had been looking forward to retirement at his Worthing home with his partner, Pam, and continuing his friendship with many showbusiness friends.

One of his closest friends was actor Chris Ellison, who plays DS Burnside in the TV series The Bill.

Ellison, who visited Brian in hospital days before his death, said: “I have lost a friend and a source of great knowledge. We spent many hours together. He was such a wit, who lived such an interesting life. He was a great guy and great company. Mention any name from the Sixties and Seventies and the chances are that Brian would have met them. I am in deep shock. It is terrible he has died before he could really enjoy his retirement.”

Brian joined the Leader, the sister series of The Argus, as a freelance reporter at the old Argus House in Brighton, in 1987. He moved on to The Argus as a full-time writer two years later.

He wrote many showbusiness features and a weekly eating-out promotion in the Leader.

Brian’s journalism career started in Fleet Street in 1952 at the Evening Star and News Chronicle. He got his first job as an office boy by going into the reception areas of the main newspapers and asking if there was any jobs available.

Having gained as much knowledge as he could about the newspaper business, he became a reporter at the London bureau of Frank Packer – the father of Australian media magnate Kerry – where he had his own column. He also began to write about the pop scene for Disc and Music Echo.

He became the chief press officer at Decca Records at the time of the Sixties explosion in the pop scene and was responsible for promoting bands such as The Rolling Stones and The Moody Blues.

He then became group press officer of Pye Records at ATV House near Marble Arch, where he loved to entertain journalists from the bar in his office.

He became known as “Dr Gibson” because of the copious amounts of alcohol and free records dispensed.

He was responsible for looking after the PR for artists such as Max Bygraves, Des O’Connor and the pianist Russ Conway, who also moved to Sussex and kept up his close friendship with Brian.

He later worked for Georgie Fame, Tamla Motown Records and many small record labels before joining The Argus.

John Deighton, former showbiz editor of the Sunday People, a close friend who regularly used to commute to London with him said: “Gibbo was a very amusing and amiable man. I took him as my guest to a Mirror Group function recently and Brian knew more of the people there than I did.

“It is a great shame. I and many others will miss him terribly.”

Rowan Dore

 

How did you start?

I was working for Australian Consolidated Press, Frank Packer’s news agency. Then I saw an advert for a freelance writer for Disc. Alan Walton was the editor then. I applied and got the job, working in tandem with ACP. ACP was at 107 Fleet Street and Disc was 161. I freelanced for Disc for about five years until Ray Coleman replaced Alan. I was doing pop interviews – myself and Dick Tatham were the freelancers. But when Ray came in, he didn’t want freelancers  and Dick and I got the heave-ho. I think Don Nicoll was freelance there as well. While at ACP I met Chris Williams who was press officer at Decca Records. I used to go Decca receptions and Chris phoned me up one day and said that a guy who’d gone for the job at Decca to replace him was someone from the aircraft industry, didn’t understand the music business and was making a complete mess of it. Why didn’t I apply? I said I didn’t know anything about PR and Chris said ‘oh, you’ll easily do it.’ So I wrote to Beecher Stephens who was then head of Decca under Ted Lewis, working with Bill Townsley and Colin Borland. I applied out of the blue asking if there was any chance of a job going, knowing full well there was.This was in 1966. Beecher Stevens hired me and I stayed there until 1969

Howe long had you been writing about music for Disc?

Since 1961-2. I was writing pop stuff for Australian Consolidated. I joined them as a tea boy from the London Evening Star where I was also a tea boy. Then I was working in the telephone room and the phone used to ring and someone would shout ‘copy boy’ and I used to race copy through to the newsroom. One of the guys on the news desk at the time, Jimmy Green said to me ‘look, this company’s going to be sold – you want to get out if you want to do something.’ Sure enough, the Cadbury Brothers sold the Star and the News Chronicle, and I saw an ad for an office boy for Australian Consolidated and went there. I really got started when I said I wanted to write. Neil Kelly was the news editor then and he sent me out on a job at a church in the Strand and I managed to get something in the paper. They said ‘you’ve still got to be an office boy but you can write as well.At AMC I wrote for the Sydney Daily  and Sunday Telegraph and had a column in a magazine called Everybody’s, called ‘From London to Liverpool.’ which ran from 1962 to 1965.

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Australia was pop hungry but the only people who had been there were Winfred Atwell and David Whitfield – people who had come to the end of their careers here. Of course when The Beatles broke through, that really opened the door.

Did you get to talk to these people through the record companies?

The press officers of the companies were the ones who controlled it. There were a few independents like Brian Somerville, but mostly you went to people like Syd Gillingham at EMI, Pat Pretty at Pye, Chris Williams at Decca and Annie Ivil at Philips. Artists didn’t have PR representation to the extent they do now. Sometimes you’d go through their agent – I got to know them well and I liked that side of the business. But the record companies used to push their artists largely through the press office.

There was so much coming out each week

There was a regular pattern of singles every week and LP’s every month. You’d write a lot of press releases, send them out – the provincials were a valuable ground for getting publicity – and the record company press officers did work very hard on the artists.

Was there a pecking order? I’d have thought working for an Australian agency would have been bottom of the list.

I had a good column in London to Liverpool and bear in mind I was also in tandem with Disc . They both knew of each other so I was getting a good measure of interviews which benefited both companies. Alan (Walton) would sometimes come up with ideas and sometimes I would. If an American artist was in town he’s send me along to interview them. He sent me to interview Bing Crosby. It was the only interview that Bing Crosby gave to a music paper and he agreed to do it at Claridges. Alan phoned me and said ‘can you get to Claridges in half an hour and see Bing Crosby for us?’ I did and it was one of the great moments for me.

Alan also came up with a idea around Marty Wilde who was running out of hits. Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn were in London to launch the Reprise label and Alan said ‘why don’t you phone them up and say ‘could you write a hit for Marty Wilde?’ I think I found them through the Savoy Hotel press office and went to interview them which was a great thrill and they said “yes, we could write a hit for Marty Wilde, we could write a hit for anyone’ They mixed me a very lethal dry Martini. I’d never had a dry Martini in my life and I knew it when I left the hotel. They gave me an autographed copy of High Hopes – it’s a real treasure. Great guys. Alan would also come up with ideas about jazz, like inventing a war between Chris Barber, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball. Disc was a good paper, in competition with NME but very different.

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The record companies were always having receptions..

You could go the two or three receptions a day in those times, and they were very lavish. One I went to which Decca threw for Sonny & Cher at the Hilton – they had an iced horse as a centrepiece. That was the first time I met Jonathan King. The nationals used to flock to them; you had people like Pat Doncaster, Don Short, Weston Taylor of the News of the World, Tom Merrin of the Mirror and Mike Housego from the Sun, Dougie Marlborough – a whole pack of them. They didn’t interview the artists at these receptions – sometimes you got future interviews – but they were basically goodwill gestures to the Americans who’d come in and were having a bit of success. Kind of celebrating the hits. You’ve got to remember that the record companies here were only licensing the product from America, so they were anxious to do their best to keep them (the American labels) before they set up on their own (in England).

Did the little independent labels have any impact?

Not really – Joe Meek went through Decca, didn’t it? Jeff Kruger’s label (Ember), Oriole, Saga (Monty Lewis), Woolworth’s Embassy…there weren’t many independents. At Decca we had Coral, Brunswick, London, RCA, Monument. When I was at Pye we had 20th Century, Buddah, Stax. EMI had a huge roster of American labels.

You were at Decca from 1966-1969

We had Tom Jones, Engelbert, The Stones, plus the American stuff. Bob Angles looked after RCA, Geoff Milne looked after some of the American labels. A lot of in-house hits like Los Bravos’ Black is black and Whistling Jack Smith, who was dreamed up in the studio by Noel Walker and Ivor Raymonde. I remember it (I was Kaiser Bill’s batman) being brought into the A&R meeting and someone saying they’d been playing around in the studio and come up with this, what shall we call it? And Tony Hall said Whistling Jack Smith after Whispering Jack Smith.

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Decca had the West Hampstead studios. They used to record the jazz stuff through the pub next door; they bused to trail the cables from the studio into the pub. Gus Dudgeon was a Decca producer then. When I was there the house producers were Tony Clarke, who did The Moody Blues; Noel Walker who sis The Fortunes with Ivor Raymonde; Dick Rowe who did The Bachelors, Tom Jones, Engelbert; Tony D’Amato who did Phase 4 – he was the only American on the staff; Ray Horrocks who did all the Anthony Newley hits and the Lionel Bart staff; Mike Vernon who did jazz and blues.

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Gus Dudgeon

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Tony Clarke

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Mike Vernon

That was a big in-house cost

A huge cost, the maintenance of the studio, the engineers, the producers.

Probably explains why so much repertoire came out, to justify them all?

More soon as we finish the Decca chapter and move to Brian’s time at Pye and beyond.

Text ©David Hughes, 2017. Photos for illustration only, courtesy Firefox search.

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A Personal History of the British Record History Pt.38 – Tony Barrow Pt.5 and conclusion.

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Songwriters were bewailing the fact that it was the artist, not them, getting the credit?

At the time, I think The Beatles’ situation, and to a lesser extent Gerry & the Pacemakers, they were controlling their own destiny and using their own material to do so. In the case of The Beatles, the way their music did develop was superb. There was no conflict between singer and songwriter; they were being their own producer to a greater extent as time went by. Most of the time I would say George Martin’s role was translating their music hums into an arrangement. George Martin was a brilliant arranger – from the vaguest idea he could hear what they really meant. He would turn around and say exactly what they needed and they were flabbergasted. He brought in the musicians and and it  was ‘George, that’s brilliant, that’s exactly what we wanted.’ They (The Beatles) were thinking that he was brilliant to come up with that, but actually it was their ideas. He had read their minds correctly; he was a superb arranger but a little lost in the world of pop. People were looking at him for many years afterwards for another Beatles; he almost felt shamefaced about it himself, which he never should have. That was not his expertise – he’s a very talented man but his talent was not to seek out his next pop fad, or to build another Beatles. That was never in his creative makeup – it was something that had been pushed on him by the media. I’m sure at various stages he actually felt ashamed that he hadn’t managed to do this or that, but he doesn’t need any extra credentials. What he has done is brilliant.

The saddest thing that happened to him and the others was that AIR didn’t work

They spent a fortune and their talent and their time.

Did you leave NEMS to set up on your own?

I actually said to Brian shortly before he died (he died on August Bank Holiday 1967) ‘Look it makes greater sense, if The Beatles are not  going to be touring any longer, they’re just going to be a recording band, if I’m to maintain the clout I have now with the media, that I have clients beyond the realm of NEMS.’ He came back immediately with ‘you’re talking about setting up on your own? OK, if you’re asking me the question will you still have NEMS business?, yes you will.’ I waited till I got one other major account, MCA Records – and we’re talking about another McCartney connection because Brian Brolly was head of MCA Records at the time. I got that big one signed up as a solid client and then declared myself independent. By then Brian had brought in Vic Lewis to be, shall we say, the decent end of the business. Vic was still part of NEMS after Brian’s death – in fact Vic thought he was in line to take over, so did Robert Stigwood. There was a sort of massive power struggle after Brian’s death. They were in Hill Street (Mayfair) at the time and I had the whole of the top floor as the press department. All I did was to take down the NEMS sign and put up Tony Barrow International. I stayed on that top floor (it suited me) for about a year, then I moved to Hanover Street because I realised the NEMS association was actually stopping some people from coming up the stairs. They thought, quite rightly, there was some NEMS money in there and they really weren’t going to go through a NEMS office, past Don Black’s office, or whatever, if they were rivals.

Interesting that you chose to take a complete record company account?

I wanted a major account and that seemed the best way of doing it. Majors accounts seemed to be record companies or tour promoters – they were the more lucrative ones. They led to more stability as far as running a business is concerned. Record companies aren’t going to drop you overnight, but individual artists blame their manager or whoever and we’d be the first ones to go.

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Wasn’t there a danger of that being the case with a company like MCA who were probably signing acts good, bad and awful?

We had the good fortune, if you like, to be working with Brian Brolly and then with Larry Yaskel (?) at A&M. These people realised more readily than an individual manager that it wasn’t our fault. Record companies had been doing it for years, throwing it against the wall and some of it stuck, so they knew it wouldn’t be our fault, that was the way it went. Whereas a manager who was being pressed by his artist would say ‘well, it’s the PR’s fault’ and would use us as a scapegoat. In the long term it would make no difference to the artist’s success or failure. It would solve the manager’s problem at the time.

I read in 1969 you took on Ronnie Scott’s club.

That was largely because I just loved going to Ronnie’s after hours myself. We did that kind of deal that I could take people in any time I liked and have free food and drink, a small fee and everything on the house.

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The business was changing…

You’ve got your decade from the end of The Beatles to the end of the seventies. The punk stuff didn’t start until 1976-7 which is when I got out of PR. Bess (Coleman) and I were turning down accounts by the end of 1976 purely because of the image they wanted to project.

That was exactly the reason Sid Gillingham got out

I couldn’t abide that. I’m not saying there weren’t some good musical talents amongst the punks, but their idea of image was not something Bess and I were prepared to project. At first I thought perhaps it was me being silly so I had to turn to Bess and say ‘how do you feel about this?’ and she said ‘well, you’re handling it, I’m not,’ and I said ‘we’re not handling it!’

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Bess Coleman

Was that a major decision to get out of PR?

We had to either change the image of Tony Barrow International entirely and take on industrial accounts, film accounts, or get out. The whole film business was very union tied up at the time, very closed shop. I quite fancied going back into freelance journalism anyway – I’d been a journalist first and that was my ambition. It’s a chicken and egg thing over the punk rock – maybe I should have decided to pack in the PR business a little earlier than  I did, maybe two or three years earlier. We lost interest in what we were doing; there wasn’t the excitement for us. The press was changing as well.  After giving it up and going back to journalism within the following decade, the 80’s, even journalism was now distasteful to me. I had been writing happily for the News Of the World, People, Sunday Mirror, TV Times and so on, and suddenly they all wanted stuff I would not want to get from the artist and then face the artist the day after. The last thing I wrote was for TV Times, as far as consumer publications are concerned. People like News of the World. I was a great friend of Derek Jameson but even he was realising he had to ask for more – nobody wanted good positive constructive stories. Even the teenybopper magazines didn’t want that any more and more to the point, the mass circulation papers and magazines were going for the sleazy stuff.

There used to be honour among the editors

Even the really dangerous people like Jean Rook would write good concrete positive pieces as well as the bitchy stuff. Even TV Times was saying ‘I believe she had a baby a couple of years ago – try and get that stuff out of her’ and I’d be thinking I don’t want to talk to this West End actress about that. Which is why I’m happily doing trade stuff and bits and pieces that suit me.

That decision was made in 1980 because there was no good reason to stay in over-priced dirty London any more. To be a PR you had to be somewhere between the record companies, concert promoters’ offices and Fleet Street. To be a journalist, you didn’t. Because of the stuff I was writing, I was becoming more of a show business journalist rather than a music one. Thank goodness I was able to move into writing about TV and theatre, and I did a lot of stuff for The Stage and various women’s magazines. For a long time I went on reviewing for them for peanuts because there were some nice features, but there comes a point when you’ve got too much of a workload and it either has to be the thing you like doing least or the thing that’s paying least, so it had to go! I was getting more and more satisfaction writing on tv stuff and doing so from a trade press angle as much as anything else. That I enjoy and I think I know what I’m talking about.

Is there one period that was the happiest?

I’m a great believer in now. But – just because I know now how belated the significance of it was – it has to be the peak of The Beatles, the mid-sixties.

When did you realise you’d been at the heart of the most extraordinary thing that had ever happened to the music business?

After the event. The way I’ve always thought of it is as the whole thing being an enormous Cinemascope screen and we were standing with our nose right up against the screen and couldn’t possibly see the complete picture at the time. It was only years afterwards we were able to sit in the stalls and re-run it all that we appreciated the enormity of it. In that first year in Monmouth Street, The Beatles would spend full days there seeing twelve journalists on the trot and doing twelve phone calls to people in the provinces, and they’d be doodling on bits of paper all day and my secretary Valerie would just come round and chuck everything in the bin! Doodles worth thousands!! I’d just put a foolscap in front of the boys so that if they were going to make phone calls I would write down ‘David…Hull’ and of course they would doodle around it. It’s not something I will forget in a lifetime and it’s not something that anybody else will allow me to forget, the association with The Beatles. To this day people scarcely believe it – they ask questions like ‘Did you ever actually see them, in concert?’ ‘Well actually I saw about 200 concerts.’

(I mentioned my own similar experiences (on a totally different level of course) with The Osmonds and The New Seekers.)

I was doing The Jackson 5 at the same time (as The Osmonds). And didn’t we have press conferences scheduled for the same time? I think 12 noon at each of the hotels and somebody, a kindly Dougie Marlborough, pointed this out, so one was shifted and they were able to dash across the square and do the other one. The first act I did under my own steam was The Monkees. I’d left NEMS, but this was for NEMS. Vic Lewis had brought them in. If we were put down as specialists for anything it was teenybopper acts, therefore The Monkees were happy to stay with us. Bay City Rollers came and said ‘Do for us what you did for The Beatles.’ New Seekers, Gary Glitter.

I had the same experience with The New Seekers at Eurovision in 1972. Then they didn’t want to know about a teenybopper audience but a year later David Joseph asked me to do for them what we’d done for The Osmonds.

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He was a very strange guy.

I just saw Bill Cotton – a sad occasion; it was Bobby Willis’s funeral. We met beforehand in the pub in Denham village and were reminiscing. I said ‘I remember the first time I met you was 1972, Edinburgh Eurovision Song Contest. Stupidly the record company passed control of the bar to me at about one-o-clock in the morning, and you walked in about 2.30am and ‘Scotch please’ and I said ‘have a large one’ and you grabbed the bottle and said ‘I’ll have a very large one.’ They broke up two years later and I’ve got The Sun Awards on video. My wife and I are at a table with Cilla and Bobby and half The New Seekers who were all up for an award. And that night The New Seekers were breaking up and Eve Graham wouldn’t come into the room, so there’s an empty chair there, then my chair’s empty, then Lyn Paul’s chair is empty because I’ve gone out there and said to Lyn: ‘you do it, you go up there.’ Already in her own mind Lyn was going to be a solo artist and had been discussing management with Bess and me. I said ‘Look, whatever happens with the two boys, just walk in front of them, grab the trophy and speak into the microphone.’ And you’ve got her doing that on the tape.

Text ©David Hughes, 2016 (Interview January 5, 2004). Photos via Google for illustration only.

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A Personal History of the British Record Business 37 – Tony Barrow Pt.4

Apologies for the inevitable delays …life gets in the way of good intentions! Anyway, we left Tony Barrow as he was about to join Brian Epstein’s NEMS Organisation.

We were trying to find an office and Epstein wanted cheap premises because he was used to Liverpool rentals, not London W.1. and he got Dick James into the picture by asking advice about office space. Dick James said ‘There’s a little office down Monmouth Street, a tiny little back street by Seven Dials. There’s a first floor office becoming vacant – Joe ‘Mr Piano’ Henderson is coming out of there.’ Epstein, Dick James and I trooped down there, didn’t see Joe Henderson, but it was furnished Joe Henderson style complete with very low lighting and a casting couch! The first thing I did when I moved in was to get strip lighting!

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(Above, the plaque marking 13 Monmouth Street, and Dick James)

 

In the first few months all your record company links were with EMI?

Yes. It was The Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, The Dakotas on their own, The Fourmost, Sounds Incorporated (who were a superb backing back if nothing else) and Cilla. Cilla, Brian had been talking about all through the summer of 1963. I actually opened that one-and-a-half room above a dirty bookshop, 13 Monmouth Street on May 1st, 1963. Right through that summer he kept talking about this marvellous girl singer that he’d got. Just like The Beatles were going to be bigger than Elvis, this girl was going to be Judy Garland. ‘Wait ’til you hear her – she’s Judy Garland all over again,’ he would say to me. The first view I got of Cilla was a back view of this massive carrot-coloured beehive towering towards the ceiling, accompanied by Bobby Willis. I saw the back view of them arriving in the outer office. When I heard her I had to say yes, there was definitely something there. What was interesting about Cilla at the time was that she could go all the way from being a husky voiced ballad singer into doing something like Dancing in the street. She made quite an interesting singer with a heavy brassy band behind her. Of the others, I suppose the ones that fared worst were The Fourmost. They should have done more than they did, but they were half a comedy group, and comedy doesn’t come over on record in that kind of way. It had to be out and out comedy like the stuff George (Martin) had been recording prior to The Beatles.

Can you recall what Syd’s (Gillingham, then the EMI head of press) reaction was to having an outside man involved?

I was starting from scratch, like Epstein had been. Epstein had not done management before – he’d been a seller of records only. I had not done PR, but I had been pitched, so I thought I knew how to do it. I won’t say I didn’t have respect for record company press offices, but I think I tended to use record companies (and initially that meant EMI) like people have used them more recently, that is as distributors. You know how the era of the independent producer was, where the whole thing was packaged and given to the superb distribution machine called EMI or whatever, and I took the initiative from the start by demanding to be the central control. I didn’t do this is a dogmatic way – I was happy to work with record company PR’s whom I’d lately been working with as a reviewer, but I insisted everything be centralised through me. Later I did that with BBC TV and ATV. We used the BBC with the Cilla shows, to lay out money for promotion, but I took complete control of the PR. I’m not saying this is a dictatorial way and I don’t think it was resented by Syd Gillingham and his people, one of whom was Bess Coleman, and Pat Pretty came to EMI I think after Syd left. It was all totally amicable on the grounds that the record company press offices had umpteen releases to take care of and were very pleased to have one or two taken off their hands. The likes of Max Clifford might say years later ‘I represented The Beatles’ but at the time he and his colleagues were only too happy to say to callers ‘No, if it’s about The Beatles, speak to Tony Barrow – he’s on Covent Garden 2332 (that was the number)’. When there was to be a launch for one of the new Epstein artists, or taking some press to a gig somewhere, they (the record companies) were the ones who would pay for it, but we would organise it. So I didn’t take anything away from them that they were unwilling to give away – they were only too pleased to be given the biographies and pictures and the bill from Dezo Hoffman. That worked fine – they were overworked. Those were the days when record companies were interested in maintaining careers, so they were glad to have something taken off their hands.

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Syd Gillingham and Max Clifford

There were 20 or 25 singles a week

The whole thing was was totally different because it was singles that mattered. The moment it looked like Please please me was going to hit number one, and then it did, they immediately rushed the act into the studios, get an album as soon as possible, or, having got four or five tracks already in the can, one of which was going to be the next single, just make it up to ten. That’s why a lot of (LP’s)  are so mean – it was only ten instead of twelve (tracks) because they couldn’t pull any more together in the time. The hit single came and then they would release an album. If you were the opposition company (i.e. one for whom the artist had previously recorded) you would quickly put out a Best of..

Now they invest money into the album immediately

The be all and end all was the single.When we are talking about key things The Beatles brought about, they caused an acceleration in the record business by doing things like not putting singles on the album….encouraging album sales. Half the time I don’t think record companies had co-ordinated directly with artists’ management in the same way that Epstein did with EMI. EMI would say ‘we need the next single by September 1st’ and Epstein would say ‘No, we want it on October 4 because I’ve got an Arthur Howes tour starting the last week of September and we want the first six dates under our belts, then we want the single out. I want a chance to get Top of the Pops and Thank Your Lucky Stars to be in the can before we go out on tour. The televisions will break during the first two weeks of the tour which will a) sell records and b) sell concert tickets.’ For the first time, cohesion between all parties and there was a business plan. The record company for the first time was only party to it instead of being in complete control.

Epstein learned quickly and his greatest skill was to hire the right people. He hired an excellent guy to do the bookings, an excellent guy  to produce the artists for their television appearances. He went to the right lawyers, accountants and so on. Because he knew so little, if he’d been part of the Grade family he’d have done what the Grade family did, but he came to it totally new and therefore went to people. He made mistakes, the classic example being with one of the early TV dates, say it was Sunday Night at the London Palladium. He went along to whichever Grade it was involved in the booking and negotiated that The Beatles would be top of the bill and they said ‘OK, £1000’ (or whatever the figure was). Epstein said ‘I’ll have to come back to you tomorrow on that; pencil the dates in and include the other three TV dates. You’re saying £1,000 for the Palladium and £500 for the others. I’ll have to come back to you tomorrow.’ What he really went to do was the get on the phone very quickly to David Jacobs the lawyer, and ask if that was OK. Meanwhile overnight the Grade office would be saying ‘we want The Beatles for these dates, and we want Cilla; give him another 50% on top.’ And before he got back to them in the morning they’d be on to him with a new offer and Brian would say ‘OK, done!’ They were getting the wrong impression but he (Epstein) was relying on what David Jacobs said.

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There was the odd act – I can only remember Tommy Quickly – who went elsewhere, not EMI. Had EMI turned them down?

Brian was trying to spread his interests around. Ray Horrocks – was he at Pye? I think he was a man that Brian knew, or he had been bidding for other acts and got Quigley (his real name). Quickly into the charts at 101 and quickly out again! I think that was very much Brian’s heart ruling his head. He may have fancied Tommy Quickly’s chances as well as fancying Tommy Quickly, but it was the first of a number of mistakes he made for varying reasons. In that case it was plain and simply that Tommy Quickly was a pretty boy and he fancied him. He was probably getting to the stage then when he believed in his own Midas touch. He started to add artists on a whim. There was one time when he went down to the West Country to judge a competition and before he’d judged any of the acts he made a typically flamboyant speech saying he would arrange a recording contract for the winner. The winners were The Rustiks.

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They, and another one, Michael Haslam – he’d worked in a leather tannery, God knows what he’s doing now?

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Michael Haslam, (1939-2003)

Each time he’d say things like ‘these are following in the footsteps of..whoever.’ He never did it with Cilla – he never signed another girl and said ‘this is going to be the new Cilla.’

Beryl Marsden wasn’t his?

No – should have been. She’s actually improved over the years. Beryl Marsden was potentially a Barbara Dickson.

 

At NEMS you took on Brian Mulligan? (former Philips press officer and later editor of Music Week)

Brian Mulligan, Keith Howell (formerly CBS press office), Pat Pretty (formerly EMI & Pye) – that was much later, Bob Houston (former Melody Maker journalist) – that was later, for a year until I couldn’t stand the spilt beer stains on the carpet, Norman Duval, Maureen O’Grady…

 

To be concluded!

 

Text ©David Hughes 2016, photos borrowed for illustration only via Google search.

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Business 36 – Tony Barrow Pt.3

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We had reached The Beatles’ first single which EMI released with Tony still at Decca, writing sleeve notes.

Going back to your days at Decca, what was the company’s reaction to this record  (Love me do) and its success? It seemed to open the floodgates.

Yes. Love me do went to No.17 but it didn’t do more than that so Dick Rowe was let off the hook temporarily. Yes, it had been a hit but it wasn’t a runaway No.1. When Please please me came along in the new year, I think he realised he had done very wrong, and that is why they made a point of signing The Rolling Stones. The people in charge of A&R at Decca I don’t believe thought The Rolling Stones were going to make it, but they dared not miss out a second time around. In any case, Richmond wasn’t very far from London! I’m not saying that somebody other than Dick Rowe signed The Rolling Stones, but I was there and I didn’t get the impression that Decca was all that enthusiastic at the beginning. The group they did have immediate high hopes for was The Bachelors. I think, and I’d have to look up the dates, they were coming out at more or less the same time and I knew The Bachelors from sleeve note writing and they knew of my connections with The Beatles and it was a kind of race, in a very good-natured kind of way, but a friendly race as to who was going to sell more records, get more hits and stay on top longest. They were both going for the number one spot at the same time, and The Bachelors had a lot of success. Frankly, if Dick Rowe was going to turn anyone down for being out of date it should have been The Bachelors because they belonged quite firmly in the 50’s rather than the 60’s. But they had a lot of success and sold a lot of albums.

 

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EMI was rushing to sign umpteen bands from Liverpool

I don’t think Decca wanted to get their fingers burned twice. Then they had a local Liverpool producer called Noel Walker who was an old school friend of mine and he was the leader of a jazz band I used to hire from time to time for gigs locally, the Noel Walker Stompers. Noel Walker arrived at Decca as a producer and he was instrumental in getting The Big Three from Brian Epstein into Decca. It was Noel and Decca’s bad luck that they were a stage band, not a recording group, that just wouldn’t transfer from gig to tape. The sound couldn’t be captured, or Noel failed to capture the real excitement. It was a great on-stage type band but in terms of recording it came out flat. I remember really looking forward to hearing the first Big Three acetate, and then playing it and thinking ‘Oh dear’ and half-blaming Noel Walker at the time in my own mind and perhaps undeservedly. It probably wasn’t his fault at all. It was probably that the band couldn’t be condensed down to two tracks as it probably was then.

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The expansion of The Beatles as far as recording goes, is the story of the way the whole thing went. As far as I know they were first – I’m sure you’re going to find out if I’m wrong – but I don’t think other bands paved the way in the way they did.They took control of their own recording destiny like no other band had done. Even the other Epstein bands were not questioning the three-hour session bit, or the fact that they were handed stuff by the producer and it was the producer who had the whip hand.

They weren’t writing their own songs either.

Gerry Marsden for example accepted the Mitch Murray situation. Gradually he was astute enough of course to see what was happening with The Beatles. They got their own way literally, and then he got his own way and got his own songs. He marched in there and had number ones and so did Billy J. But the difference with Billy J. is that he wasn’t a songwriter and that was one of the reasons why he didn’t keep up.He had his number ones at the beginning but he didn’t keep up in the race – he was relying on stuff being given to him. He had the misfortune to believe he knew better than Epstein or George Martin or Ron Richards or anybody there and said ‘no, those aren’t for me, ballads aren’t for me. I should be doing the big rock and roll numbers.’ Which of course was quite wrong for him. He was a pretty balladeer; he was the Jess Conrad, the Billy Fury and he should have accepted that and let himself stay in that mould. Epstein hired him to be the last of the gold lamé suited guys, stood standing on a pedestal. Billy J. unfortunately kept bringing himself right down off that pedestal by arguing wrongly. He saw Gerry Marsden arguing and getting his own way, but Gerry had good reason and was right – he should have been recording his own songs, but Billy J. was being destructive rather than constructive. He turned down Lennon and McCartney stuff, he did a couple of them unwillingly and then turned one down because he thought he knew better. He saw himself much more as Cliff Bennett.

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When did you make the decision to leave Decca and go with Epstein?

Early in the New Year of 1963. Epstein had stayed in touch with me and wanted me to do the same thing again on Please please me as I’d done on Love me do and I did. When that  actually became a number one hit we went for our fourth, fifth, or sixth lunch at Wheelers and over Chablis and Dover sole he eventually made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, because he’d got other acts in mind, even if he hadn’t signed any yet. He knew he was forming a stable, and he said ‘I won’t ask what you’re getting at Decca. but whatever it is I’ll double it.’ I still have the hand written note from Epstein later that year saying that he agreed after the first three months that things had been going really well and he now wanted to confirm his confidence in me  by increasing my pay to £1,500 a year. My parents had been saying ‘are you sure you know what you’re doing son, leaving this major record company, Decca, going with this guy who’s got a record shop and a band?’ They actually said something much more anti-semitic…parents did! But later on ( and this was the way the whole image of NEMS had changed), five years later when Epstein dies and I was leaving to set up my own company, they said ‘Do you know what you’re doing, setting up on your own, leaving such a good company as NEMS?’ In the mind of Joe Public, the image of NEMS had built itself into something as righteous and proper as Decca or EMI!

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He offered me this double decker money and I had to say yes. I was about to bring my fiancée down to London and we were contemplating getting an unfurnished flat. I’ve got to confess I had no idea The Beatles were going to be…he had originally said to me the very first time he met me ‘these guys are going to be as big as Elvis.’ He’d moved on by then, in 1963, to say ‘The Beatles are going to be bigger than Elvis.’ If he really believed it, none of us did. I really don’t think he did, because if he did he’d have done a Colonel Tom and concentrated entirely on one act. Why get all these acts if you really have that kind of faith in the one. If it’s going to be a world-beater, stick with it; don’t waste your time trying to build up second and third-rate ones.

To be continued, with life at NEMS

©David Hughes 2016. Photos for illustration purposes only, courtesy Google search.

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A Personal History of the British Record Industry Pt.34: Tony Barrow 2

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As mentioned in Part 1, there were a few mystery breaks in transmission with this interview, reasons for which are lost in the mists…but we jump right into Brian Epstein…I am rashly assuming I’d asked Tony how he first met Brian and that it was Brian who contacted him, looking for anyone who might help him in getting The Beatles a record contract.

So I did to Epstein what I didn’t have any right to do, which was ‘don’t call us we’ll call you.’ It was nothing to do with me, I wasn’t there (at Decca) to hire or sign. He was there to interest me because I was a Decca person and he was interesting anyone he could possibly interest at that stage. He knew the retail side of the business and the artistic side not at all. He knew the marketing department and he knew the Beecher Stevens of this world, but he did not know any of the A&R men at all. Nor did he know anyone on the NME or Melody Maker. He knew Merseybeat and that was the total of it. So he was very interested to come across someone like me. I’d already started to make contacts socially, not necessarily for work purposes, with people from the trade papers. We tended to socialise, but it was also partly because of the record column. I was in the record business but I was also doing a record column so I got into the circle of people who were trade press writers or record company PR’s.

How did you do that?

DeHems (a pub off Shaftesbury Avenue) was one way. At Decca if there was good reason I had the OK to farm out some sleeve notes. So if I knew someone was a specialist in this or that, I would put it out to them. Didn’t Nigel Hunter do the Latin American releases for The Gramophone? Therefore, when an Edmundo Ros release came up – it may have been from a prompting from Peter Clayton, I can’t remember now. Peter may have said ‘The guy for that would be Nigel Hunter – I’ll give you his number’. So I would then get to meet Nigel because I was commissioning him.

Nigel Hunter and Latin music…..!!!

Were you allowed to by-line yourself?

Yes. I was churning the things out, adapting American sleeve notes etc. If my name is on one it’s because I was quite proud of it; if my name isn’t there it’s because it was at the very beginning because I didn’t have my name on for the first few months. After that I put my name on the ones I wanted to do…so a lot of the crap didn’t have my name on! I think I took to sleeve writing and wanted to get into that because I had found sleeve notes so useful in the second half of the fifties, from the age of 17 when I started the record column.

At ‘Disc’ the LP’s that remained at the bottom of the reviewing pile were always from Philips because they didn’t have sleeve notes and you had to play them!

There was someone at Decca who wrote classical sleeve notes for Philips. Anyway, when Brian Epstein had left that day I didn’t ring the A&R department but the marketing department and said ‘This guy is a retailer so maybe you’ll feel you have to give an audition. Don’t ask me about the band because I can’t assess it from what he’s played me, but if he’s an important Decca customer…?’ ‘I don’t think so. Epstein? Is that the name of the shop?’ ‘No, NEMS.’ They said ‘Oh NEMS, good grief yes, one of our best customers in the North West. Oh yes, they’ll have to have an audition.’ So that phone call of mine was one of several triggers. The local salesmen were also coming back to London saying ‘There’s a guy up there with a band who thinks he should have an audition.’So the marketing department was getting pressure from people, and then hearing it internally from me, it was the marketing department that forced the A&R department to lay on the original audition on New Year’s Day.

Do you recollect who actually took that audition?

It was Mike Smith because Dick Rowe was away. Dick Rowe was in charge and he went on his holidays saying ‘there’s this band, this artist – do those for me and let me know about them when I get back.’ and went off on his holiday. Mike Smith thought enough of that audition to say to me (I was keeping in touch for the Echo, nothing else at that stage) ‘Dick isn’t back yet but I’m sure you can say they’re going to get a Decca contract.’ That actually appeared in my column in the Echo. Local group about to make good. Watch this space – they’re about to sign to Decca.

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Then of course Dick Rowe gets back and makes this classic remark to Mike about ‘groups with guitars are out’ and ‘in any case, Liverpool – what can we do up there? What’s that other one you’ve got? Brian Poole and the Tremeloes? Where are they from? Tottenham? oh yes, we’ll have them. On our doorstep, a group we can work without having to hitch all the way up to Liverpool every time we want to see them.’

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Dick Rowe (above) with some of the acts he did sign, and Mike Smith (below) with Wee Willie Harris

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Prior to that the place to be spotted was the ‘2 I’s’ in Soho. Nobody went out of town. But skiffle and trad jazz did get represented from the regions.

Wasn’t that because first of all they broke in London, but nobody looked beyond London until that happened? They were cheap to sign and record. The material was all there in the public domain.

Epstein was the one who tried hardest to make a record company aware (of Liverpool)?

There is another break in the minidisc at this point, but I’m guessing this next episode was pre-Beatles. Freddie Starr did record for Decca in 1963. Someone (Mark?) will tell us!

There were 300 groups on Merseyside. I remember during a period when I went home to Liverpool and Epstein took me over the Mersey to a ballroom in Birkenhead to see this group and ask if he should sign them – Freddie Starr and the Midnighters.

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Freddie Starr at that stage was a rock & roller – he wasn’t a comedian at all. It was a pop act. Did they go to Decca?  (they did, releasing singles in 1963) He was thinking of signing them but didn’t – I think he took Gerry or the Fourmost and signed them instead. He was only feeling his way. The other thing to be said about The Beatles is that the myth is that all the record companies turned them down, so Decca couldn’t have been wrong. But the truth is that the turn-downs were based on the Decca audition tape, not on separate auditions. People think The Beatles must have been so bad that they gave all these auditions and none of them were successful. It was not like that at all. Epstein had nothing else but the Decca tape to hawk around and it was that tape that was turned down. You may well think that was a very stupid thing for the man to do, because if you’ve been turned down by a major like Decca he must have realised that this was not going to be picked up very readily by anyone else either. You would have thought he would have put some money into recording them locally – that was feasible; it was perfectly possible to do it; he had plenty of money. The family had the furniture stores as well as the electrical and record shops. There was plenty of backing money there. If he’d been 5-10 years later in the business he’d have done that.

I guess there was no one to advise him

No, he was totally new to it himself. That was his first big flaw if you like. Why should a man like that think that if Decca had turned them down, why should anyone else be interested in that tape? If he’d taken it to other people and readily admitted ‘don’t go by this tape too much – I’m just trying to give you some idea of it here. Come and see them in Liverpool; believe me, they’re ten times better than this…or whatever’ But he didn’t do any of that. He just tried to sell them on that tape. With the great wisdom of hindsight….

The tracks that Brian copied at the HMV shop  – were they different recordings?

No, I think they were some of the Decca audition ones. It was just that it was a right time, right place situation. It seems to me that George Martin wanted to get into the pop side of things and was being urged to do so by his masters. Other people at EMI were the golden boys – he was not. He was the guy who was recording all kinds of absurd things that occasionally would sell enough to give his department some profit. He was known as the madman; he was the eccentric guy.

It was a call from someone at Ardmore and Beechwood, and the session was given to Ron Richards.

Then he (George) nicked it in effect -‘I’ll do that myself!’ To compensate, Ron did have some of the other Epstein acts.

He certainly did The Hollies

They were not Epstein’s, but as I recall, he had Gerry & Pacemakers, though George was what would now be called the executive producer, rather than hands-on.

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Ron Richards (in glasses) with The Hollies

The assistants were actually delegated most of the work and the producers got the namecheck.

What was your awareness of what was going on four hours away in the north? One group had been turned down by Decca in January, then nothing seems to happen until the end of that year. Here you are writing for the Liverpool Echo…

What it really should have taken (to bring attention to the provinces), was a Larry Parnes of the recording industry, but in those days there were no such people. It was the day of the A&R department – they had complete control. I think when The Beatles went into the recording studios for the first time, they found it a very unfriendly workplace. It was not a friendly comfortable place to do their work. The producer was in control; the producer would say precisely where in the room they had to stand :’this is your microphone, no you can’t have that microphone over there; we’ve set it up now.’It was almost like the X on the floor in a television studio – that how it was set up for a four-piece, that’s how it’s done, that’s the set up. Bright lights, very clinical. Not conducive for musicians to work. They hated that. But they only got the treatment that every other newcomer got. The producer would say ‘OK, I’ve got a songwriter for you – his name’s Mitch Murray.’ The tie-up was directly between producers and music publishers. They brought the songs in. There was the great B-side thing where either it was written by the producer and was rubbish, or the producer would have written a couple of lines in and was say to the band ‘OK, this is going down as band/producer and I want a quarter of the action.’

That was one of the few ways the producer could earn more than their pitiful salary.

OK, they were not getting much. You could condone it because nobody played the B-side.

But it worked so much better in the Sixties with The Beatles because the songwriters were also part of the band. Once they were able to get into the studio on a more open-ended basis, they were able to (take their time). It wasn’t just the roadies who sat in the corner playing poker – it was also possibly Ringo or, from time to time, George. Certainly Ringo spent a lot of time with the roadies because until they needed a drummer in there, the others would get on with constructing the final version of the song, maybe even changing some of the lyrics or the notes or what have you. What part George Martin played in that construction is now open to debate. According to who you listen to he was more, or less, influential in the finished version.

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Brian Epstein, George Martin and Geoff Emerick in the control room at Abbey Road’s Studio 2

Lots more to come……

Text ©David Hughes, all photographs from Google search for illustration only.

 

 

 

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A Personal History of the British Record Business 33 – Tony Barrow 1

Careful readers will note not only another long gap in posting, but a change of interviewee. The recent death of Tony Barrow, a name known to everyone if only for one famous client, prompts his replacement for Brian Gibson, who will follow….promise.

N.B. If you spot some jumps in the conversation, they were apparently technical faults – i.e. something went wrong with the Mini Disc or maybe Tony asked me to press the ‘stop’ button. So, if you find a non-sequitur that’ll be why!

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I knew Tony Barrow no better or worse than millions of others. By the time I joined Disc in 1967 he was running his own PR company with a host of (still largely Brian Epstein) artists and was a hugely important and influential figure. This interview took place on January 5, 2004 in London. My memory tells me he initially asked for payment! Tony has been interviewed many times and also wrote his autobiography, so it will be interesting if aficionados find any new titbits from this conversation.

How did you start?

From school days I was interested in writing, and I actually started an unofficial school magazine in opposition to the formal one at Merchant Taylors, and got a lot of publicity within the school as this guy who’s started the 4A Flash which then became the 5A Flash and so on. Then when I was in the sixth form, aged 17 in 1954, I’m looking in the Liverpool Echo on a Saturday, the magazine Echo, and it has everything in it, chess, bridge and things, but nothing about pop.

Pre rock’n’roll?

Just, I guess, It was Frankie Laine, Guy Mitchell, Doris Day, Jo Stafford – all that little lot. The very first record I bought was Winifred Atwell Black and white rag. I wrote to the Liverpool Echo and suggested they have a record column and that I was their man. They couldn’t understand at first why I couldn’t come into the office to discuss the initial things before 5’oclock. The truth was I was nipping out of school at ten past four, shoving my cap into my back pocket, getting on a bus from Crosby to Liverpool, and I could just make it to their offices by 5’oclock. When they took me to do this they didn’t mind a 17-year-old schoolboy reviewing the records, but they didn’t want to admit it publicly. They said ‘you must have some sort of nom de plume – you can’t use your own name.’ Travelling home on the bus I saw this huge poster, a 48-sheet or something for the Liverpool Empire and it said ‘Guy Mitchell – the world’s top selling disker.’ I thought ‘great name – that’s me, Disker’ and that’s what I’ve been ever since for passwords and all sorts of things.

Were you getting paid for this?

Yes, they paid me half a guinea – 10/6d (52p) a week. I didn’t even have all the records. The guy who took me on had first choice of the albums but he didn’t mind about the singles. Initially they demanded that the records came through their office – they used to send me the order form, I’d fill it in, send them back. They’d send it back to Philips of wherever, and records would come to their office.They would never review any of them but the guy who took me on took his pick and wasn’t reviewing any of them! Occasionally there would be an overlap where I’d say ‘I’m reviewing that one’ and he’d say ‘can you let me have it back when you’ve finished it?’ It was the biggest provincial paper; in those days it sold over a million copies every evening. I very soon diverted records straight to me. It was really Decca and EMI then – though there were some small specialist labels around. Philips launched with the American Columbia label which had previously gone through EMI. Decca seemed to have everything else in the way of American labels.

My guess is that because EMI had bought Capitol it probably thought it had its American representation.

But it was just the two biggies that mattered in the industry. As far as I can remember Decca also had its distribution sewn up – it had its own distribution outlet called Selecta. That side of it I got into pretty early on because when I was doing the Echo column I compiled Liverpool’s own Top Five. To get that I thought ‘I’m not going to record stores who are going to lie to me – I’ll go to the actual wholesalers’. I went to Selecta, Richardsons and two or three other wholesalers in the North West and got their top sellers each week. It was very strange – they used to talk catalogue numbers not song titles!

From newspaper columnist, Tony decided to apply to EMI, Decca and others for a non-existent job as sleeve note writer.

I can’t remember if there were any offers from other record companies, but back came a ‘yes’ from Decca. I went to see them and got the job.

You found a non-existent hole in the business?

Basically – I think I was the only full-time sleeve writer. I don’t know of any other full time sleeve note writer. I know of people who are pretty prolific like Nigel Hunter and Norman Jopling. I was the only one sitting behind a desk working one day on Gracie Fields and going up to see her in Maida Vale and the next day be writing about Duke Ellington for the Ace of Clubs label. It was right across the board. With the jazz stuff I remember ringing Max Jones (Melody Maker legend) and telling him I’d got this Ace of Clubs jazz things from 1934 and ‘I’m lost here for personnel’ because I always wanted to do the kind of sleeve note that would include who plays what – which is why I did that on the first Beatles’ one even. It did say ,’rhythm guitar, vocals.’ Max would say ‘July 13, 1934 – that would be so-and-so on guitar…wait a minute..no, July, he had a broken leg at that time, he was in hospital. It would have been so and so.’ He was such marvellous mine of information and he would always lend me his notes or a book. That was between 1959 and 1961.

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Max Jones

That was Decca’s best period. EMI’s fortunes came later, but Decca had more nous with their UK signings and the cream of the American rock’n’roll stuff.

Everly Brothers, Bill Haley, everything. I actually remember the demise of Bill Haley through working in the sleeve department alongside Peter Clayton and Peter Gammond.

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Peter Gammond

Over at EMI there was Doug Pudney – I think he was at Decca first. There was also Alan Crowder looking after one of the American labels and has now been for a long time with McCartney. There was Tony King, who eventually finished up at Apple. He was the Dale Winton of Decca! He was the one man cabaret; he would come into the sleeve department and we’d just down tools and listen to him for twenty minutes while he did his turn!

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Alan Crowder, centre, with spectacles

You had a free rein when it came to writing the sleeve notes. Didn’t the A&R men want a say?

The only time anyone queried anything would be something like Anthony Newley and ‘Stop the World..’ They (A&R) never asked to see the stuff. I got quite adventurous and did some quirky sleeve notes sometimes. Often they were everything to do with the record, but occasionally I went off and did something that was nothing whatsoever to do with the record – almost Goon Show style humour. Far from getting picked up and told not to do that, on the contrary they said ‘that’s a great idea, keep it up.’ It’s a ‘Now it can be told’ sort of thing as far as jokey sleeve notes were concerned. It was because there was nothing to hear half the time. With rush releases they used to need the sleeve notes almost before they’d done the session, so you’d be writing sleeve notes before you knew what the tracks were, never mind what they were like. So I did a number of humorous ones like that and it worked.

One tends to forget the volume of LP’s and EP’s a company like Decca was putting out.

At its easiest, as far as I was concerned, it was a matter of taking the American sleeve notes and putting the ‘u’ in colourful. At its hardest it was a matter of going to see Anthony Newley about ‘Stop the World..’ or going to see Gracie Fields about an album of old stuff and getting her to tell the anecdotes connect with the old tracks.

It was good you had contact with the artists

I found that very interesting.

Were you still “Diskering”

I eventually passed that over to Brian Mulligan. Brian did it for a spell. That was after I left Decca and had joined NEMS. I was doing it through the Decca period., If ever there was a Decca bias it was because I did have early access to the new Billy Fury or Bill Haley. Decca knew I was doing it, but nobody was into hyping in those days. I was about to say earlier that I saw the demise of Bill Haley in that suddenly…we used to order 5,000-10,000 sleeves of anything really big. You would order or re-order sleeves of ‘South Pacific’ by the 5,000. They were into that with Bill Haley, but suddenly there were 4,900 Bill Haley sleeves sitting in our office, still in the form of flats, not even gone to be made up. What would happen was that the sleeve department in Decca would stock the flats – some of the printers stocked them but Decca also stocked quite a lot so you could pull off 100 or 1000 at a time and send them to be laminated and made up very quickly if you suddenly saw something was selling.

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A Tony Barrow sleeve note you may recognise!

I was hired as an in-house journalist if you like, to write those sleeve notes so I was really in my own little backwater. If anything Decca’s press office or marketing department gained a little from me having that position on the best-selling provincial paper because I would give Decca records good coverage, not through any loyalty to Decca but because the acetates were available to me early, and if I could review the new Everly Brothers’ single before Liverpudlians had even seen it in Pat Doncaster’s Daily Mirror column, that to me was a great feather in my cap. I always tried to be the first to review a record and I used to scout around to be first. When I knew there was a new Elvis coming up, Geoff Milne and people like that, they would help me. Once they got to know what I was doing they would say ‘here, I’ve got the new Neil Sedaka, come over.’ And I’d go over right away and hear it. Far from not co-operating, they did co-operate with me.

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Geoff Milne with Bing Crosby

He (Sedaka) was first, but musically superceded so quickly.

People thought that was rock’n’roll – they now know different. I remember interviewing All Martino for the Liverpool Echo – that must have been around 1956 – and asking him about rock’n’roll. He said ‘there’s nothing new about rock’n’roll’ and explained its roots to me. ‘There is a rock’n’roll festival each year in Wildwood, New Jersey and suddenly everybody thinks that’s the new thing, whereas the bands have always been playing that and going to specialist festivals to do that kind of music.’ He explained the roots of it, which of course was black and jazz. The musicians in the big bands hated playing rock’n’roll – it was almost like having to do ‘Uno paloma blanca” again.

We continue next time with Tony’s first meeting with Brian Epstein

 

Text ©David Hughes, 2016. Illustrations courtesy Google search.

 

 

 

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