Office Two. 155-157 Oxford Street. 1968
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The move from Carrington House, Regent Street to new offices at 155-157 Oxford Street comes only a couple of months after I started work at the Ellis- Wright agency. Its October my new girlfriend Kate has gone back to Manchester University and the second summer of love is over. I’m living in a Peabody Building flat in Lower Sloane Street near Battersea Bridge courtesy of Simon another ex-drama student from Manchester University. My commute to the office is different, a tube journey from Sloane Square. The new office is also different, four rooms located above a shop on the corner of Oxford Street and Poland Street. These offices were previously occupied by Island Records who’ve moved to Hammersmith but their music publishing company has remained on the floor above. They are not the only music business tenants, Mickie Most the record producer and owner of the Rak label shares the top floor with Peter Grant who manages of a number of bands.
When you enter there is a reception leading into an open office where Dawn Ralston and a new secretary called Jennie work. On the left is the front office overlooking Oxford Street shared by Terry and Chris. There is a small office tucked away behind reception where Bill Harry, a publicist, has moved in with his wife Virginia who brings a touch of glamour. They are from Merseyside where Bill started a music magazine called Mersey Beat after meeting the Beatles at the Liverpool Art College and getting Brian Epstein along to see them at the Cavern. Bill is doing publicity for Jethro Tull and Chrysalis amongst other clients. Harry Simmonds has found offices elsewhere although he still visits and we continue to book his artistes. His impersonation of his new client Bobby Parker is priceless.
We are part of the newly formed Chrysalis Group of companies. The name is an amalgamation of Chris’s first name and Terry’s last name. Terry has worked with a designer to come up with a logo based around a butterfly. Our new stationary is green on the top sheet but pink on the second page. The green page has the butterfly logo cut out so that the pink page shows through in a vaguely psychedelic way. I don’t know what happens if there’s a page three, I assume it’s just another pink page. We also have a design for the record label which is a green background with the butterfly logo and lettering in red. Terry has set out rigid rules on how the logo should be positioned in every conceivable situation and has made it clear there will be no deviation.
On the right of reception at the back is the office set aside for the booking agency where I’m now employed. The Chrysalis Agency is formed by merging the Ellis-Wright agency with Universal Attractions, which sounds to me like a circus but is actually a booking agency run by Kenny Bell and Richard Cowley. They are both well known in the agency world, their biggest act is the Alan Bown Set who are respected and doing well. I sense straightaway that Kenny is skeptical about me. I don’t know whether it’s my inexperience or my closeness to Chris and Terry, but I’m anxious about my position. What started as a short-term fun experience at Ellis-Wright is beginning to feel businesslike. I surprise Kenny by the number of my bookings in the first week. He examines them carefully asking me quite a few questions before approving my commission cheque. The following weeks bookings are also good. Although still suspicious he’s warming to me as my gigs begin to happen and cheques arrive.
The new offices are busy. Jethro Tull have released their first album ‘This Was’ through a deal that Terry made with Island Records and it has reached the Top Ten album charts. Terry’s gamble of paying for the recording and producing the album for Chrysalis has paid off, and we hear that US labels are bidding for the rights to the record and an American tour is being booked. In the middle of this there is drama when Mick Abrahams the lead guitarist leaves the band. It’s just before they are due to film the ‘Rolling Stones Rock n’ Roll Circus’ which features, as well as the Stones, John and Yoko, the Who and Marianne Faithfull. There are secret auditions for a new guitarist and rumours about who is in the running circulate the office and the music press. Tongues are wagging but everyone’s lips are sealed. I’m shocked that it’s happening and wish I could go to the ‘Rock n’ Roll Circus’ recording but it doesn’t seem to be on the cards.
Ten Years After have released ‘Undead’ their live album and are on their second tour of America where reports are really good. They’re about to release ‘Stonedhenge’ the next studio album which should do well. Chick Churchill the keyboard player arrives to pick up some cash when they get back from the US. He pops in and regales us with stories about life on the road in America and clearly loves every second of it. He says once you’ve eaten an American hamburger you’ll never eat a Wimpy again, apparently the difference is mind boggling.
In our Chrysalis Agency room at the back we three settle into a sort of routine. The pair of them are very different. Kenny is older and has greater experience. Richard is a bundle of nervous energy and always on the phone. He can be charming and persuasive but volatile. The agency world is small and very much a Soho scene. There’s a large jewish contingent and a significant gay community, which despite the Wolfenden Report changes in the law, is still very much underground. It all contributes to a feeling of a private and exclusive world which is also volatile with opinions varying from minute to minute.
The result of all this is that each booking is it’s own little drama and some of them become big dramas. My days are full of endless frenzied phone calls back and forth and chain smoking, whilst bands and promoters are ringing to complain or cancel or both. As Richard Cowley furiously exclaimed as a delinquent promoter left the office after a meeting. “Don’t let that bastard in the office ever again” he paused for a second “unless we really need him”.
Kenny is beginning to be an ally. He’s fixed me up with his doctor in Chelsea when I was suffering arm pains. Fortunately it seems I only have muscle strain from when I took a particularly large collection of letters and packages to the Post Office. However he has also found me a tailor in Wardour Street who can make me a fringed suede jacket. He is even able to fix Kate a holiday job at a shop ‘Lord Kitchener’s Valet’ in Piccadilly Circus. Where Kenny is calm and private Richard is excitable and drives up the tempo as the day wears on until six in the evening when every day he unfailingly calls his mother at her place of business. He always asks her how business has been and listens attentively to her reply and then offers his commiserations ‘I know, I know, what can you do. See you at home’.
I start my evenings in either La Chasse, a gay bar in Wardour Street popular with the music crowd, where I often bump into Kenny, or the Ship where the bands hang out and then I seem to be at the Marquee Club most nights. I’m living the music business life to the full and despite my occasional nervousness I have become what’s known as ‘a face’ someone who is known and accepted. I’m beginning to pick up clients of my own.
I’ve taken on a psychedelic group from the East End called Synanthesia. A young record producer Sandy Roberton is making an album with them for RCA records. I’ve also taken on a performance art and music collective called Principal Edwards Magic Theatre based at Exeter University. Jeremy Ensor the bass player is my contact and he invites me to visit them in Exeter. He is charming but I’m not long out of university and spending time with them brings home the gulf that has already opened up between my old life and the new. I’m getting a few gigs for a new group The Village put together by Peter Bardens an enormously talented, charming and wickedly funny keyboard musician who had recorded with Them and I’d seen many times with the Shotgun Express a group he formed with Rod Stewart, Beryl Marsden and Mick Fleetwood.
Peter Grant our neighbour from the top floor is using our agency to book his latest band The New Yardbirds. It’s an almost entirely new line-up and he is booking some dates for them to warm up, a Scandanavian tour followed by some UK clubs, and he asks me to book some college dates. It’s not difficult as the New Yardbirds are a name, so I’m surprised when he appears at my desk to approve the bookings he announces that the band has a new name, Led Zeppelin. I protest, after all my promoters have heard of the New Yardbirds and may have started printing posters, but Peter, who is a very large man and an ex-wrestler, leans over me and politely insists. A little later he appears with a test pressing of the band’s first album and plays it for us. Normally it’s difficult to concentrate in the office with the phones ringing and people coming in and out, but this is really astonishing. They have an incredible album.
The whole blues and progressive rock scene is growing fast. Tull are having hit singles and appearing on Top of the Pops. In May of 1969 we reach a peak when Jethro Tull and Ten Years After share top billing at the Albert Hall with Clouds supporting in a sold out show. We are all so close in the office that the rivalry that inevitably exists between the bands has to be discrete, but putting the Albert Hall show together really taxes Terry and Chris, who have retained their individual relationships with their own bands.
The compromise is smart, equal billing for both bands but Jethro get the prestige of the important left hand billing in deference to their chart success and Ten Years After get right hand billing however they close the show on the grounds that they are the bigger live act. It’s an object lesson for Terry and Chris in finding a solution that allows both of them to feel they’ve got what they wanted out of the situation and leaves them both feeling like winners, which of course they are.
Chrysalis has come into being as a record label, a management company, agency and concert promoter at this point. We’re all impressed. The only ones who don’t fully share this success are Clouds whose review says “New group Clouds opened the show with a competent but not mind blowing set.”
Unfortunately May also signals the end of the students academic year. Their interest is entirely on finals and what their vacation job will be. Colleges and universities have spent the socials budget so there are no dances even for the few students who would attend them. My phone falls silent. My inactivity doesn’t just mean I’m short of cash it also irritates Kenny and Richard. I try to explain that a new year will start when social secretaries book the next term in a month or two’s time but it doesn’t convince them. It leads to a period of frustration for all of us. I decide to quit.
Does the prospect of the next academic year and an influx of new social secretaries really thrill me, I don’t know. What am I thinking.
I have no idea. Fortunately when I tell Chris and Terry my intention to leave they immediately offer me a job. Again? It seems they need someone to work on the management company Chrysalis Artistes, which at present is still just the two of them. My first task will be to go to America to help on Jethro Tull’s second US tour. I jump at the chance. I move to the middle office and apply for a passport.
I’m back in London from the US. I spent most of my time there with Jethro Tull who were mainly supporting Led Zeppelin as well as doing some club dates of their own. I also went on a few Ten Years After gigs but unfortunately not the Woodstock Festival, which was a massive success for them. That weekend I was at the racetrack in Laurel, Maryland with Jethro and Led Zeppelin. That was an incredible gig for both bands but Zeppelin felt like the biggest band in the world that night. I can’t wait to go back to America, absolutely everything there is interesting and a lot of it’s amazing. For the moment though I’m working somewhere between the middle office with Dawn and Jennie the secretaries and the front office with Terry and Chris. I’m not sure what my job is but it seems I’m a general dogsbody helping out wherever I can. Wilf Wright, a former social secretary from Hull, has taken my place in the agency and I wish him good luck.
The afternoons on Tull gigs were taken up with soundcheck and rest time for the band so when Terry was with us he and I would settle down in his hotel room with a giant pot of coffee and the yellow legal notepad he always had with him. We took the opportunity to discuss the business. He talked about his idea that rock musicians could have a long term career instead of being ‘back on the buses’ after a couple of years as a musician’s future is usually described. Jethro Tull’s activities are planned at least two years in advance. It’s extraordinary most bands are lucky if they know what they’ll be doing in the next two weeks. He’s helped by his closeness to Ian Anderson whose prolific writing and strict recording schedule make Terry’s plans work. I’d realized on the road with Ian that as well as being disciplined and industrious he’s also extremely perceptive. I learned something from him every day and in only a few weeks he had an enormous impact on my understanding of the business. I also discovered he’s secretly writing to Jenny in the office. It must be serious.
Terry also talked about his ambitions for the company. He wants the Chrysalis label to be like the Elektra label which is a cool west coast label and by an odd coincidence Elektra also have a butterfly image on their label. We talked about the business relationships with the artists. This is a new to me. I’m aware of all the stories about musicians being ripped-off but that’s all I know. Terry explained that they had set the company up on the basis that a band signed to Chrysalis Records and Chrysalis Music pays no management commission on those royalties, which they would if they were signed to other companies. This way Chrysalis Artists only take management commission on the band’s live income. I enjoyed our discussions a lot. I knew Terry before, but I feel I know him better and find we share a lot of the same ideas.
Back in the office my main job seems to be looking after any of the management bands when Terry or Chris aren’t available so I’m sent on the road with any of the groups when they can’t make it. This usually means Scandanavia or Germany, places we tour a lot. I’m particularly involved in the management of Blodwyn Pig who I took to both the Bath Blues Festival and the Isle of Wight festival, but they make a point of telling everyone I’m only the assistant manager. We have also taken on Procol Harum for management. This is different from the artists we began with and have grown together. Procol Harum have had monster hits with ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ and ‘Homburg’ as well as extensive international touring experience. They are much more sophisticated than our other bands, for a start they drink red wine and seem to know a bit about the vintages. They’ve just released a great album ‘Salty Dog’. I don’t think they will avail themselves readily of my assistant manager services but we’ll see. All our management artists have road managers and crew so they can tour without a manager. This helps me enormously given my lack of experience or any skills that might prove helpful on the road. I don’t have a driving licence or a watch for example. Actually I haven’t completely mastered the ‘getting up in the morning thing’ yet either so a band member has to be nominated to do the wake-up calls.
I have other things to do as well as management. The label is releasing more records and getting our releases together with Island Records takes a lot of time. Thankfully the people working there are patient and helpful as I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. There’s something called ‘label copy’ which I have difficulty with every time. Terry has also asked me to start a publishing company Chrysalis Music and arranged a meeting with Lionel Conway from Island Music upstairs. Lionel is a twinkly sort of guy and finds the whole thing most amusing but manages to give me enough information to make a start.
Since the success of Jethro and TYA at the Albert Hall we also promote concerts under the banner of Chrysalis Promotions. I’ve promoted a tour for The Family which went ok but I did make a couple of mistakes I don’t want to talk about. When Led Zeppelin decided to do a short tour of town halls I had to be very, very careful. Thankfully it all went well. Alvin Lee’s girlfriend Loraine had made me a pair of the tapestry trousers with fringed bottoms that Alvin always wears with white Dr Scholl’s clogs, which I also copied. This caused enough amusement in the Zeppelin camp to get me through the tour easily.
When Mick Abrahams left Jethro Tull I was shocked but that was only the beginning. He’s really not easy to manage. On one occasion he arrived at my desk with Stan Webb from the Chicken Shack and John Bonham from Led Zeppelin. They had obviously spent lunchtime at the nearby pub the Coach and Horses. They circled my desk giggling. They somehow produced a rope and managed to tie me to my chair and then carried me and the chair bodily downstairs depositing me on the traffic island in the middle of Oxford Street despite my protests and futile threats of ‘you’ll never work again!’. They left me highly amused which was shared by the lunchtime shoppers, one of whom eventually untied me. Luckily I was wearing my yellow velvet jeans and a rather nice flowery shirt so at least I looked decent.
I’ve moved to a flat of my own in Gloucester Place. It’s second floor floor flat with no lift and it’s poky but a relief to have a place of my own, and Kate’s happier. It’s near to Gloucester Gate Mews where Alvin and Lorraine live. I often go round there in the evenings. Alvin has an avuncular attitude towards me and always makes me welcome. We usually smoke dope and listen to Beatles records. Other musos drop round, Ronnie and Chrissie Wood are regulars, and we just lounge about being silly. It’s fun and relaxing. Most other evenings I’m at gigs seeing my bands, our bands, other people’s bands, unsigned bands and probably your band if you have one. Dealing with the artists is demanding and the pace of work is relentless but I can cope. We’re successful and that makes it easier, as does the fact that although there are more people working in the office it still feels small, and whilst we’re quite a mixed bunch we’re all caught up in what we’re doing and enjoying the merry-go-round.
Mick Abrahams has left Blodwyn Pig the band he started leaving Jack Lancaster to run it. Meanwhile he is planning yet another band called the Mick Abrahams Band. He’s going to struggle to leave this one. This business of leaving to form new bands is catching. Glenn Cornick the Tull bass player has left to form a new band, called Wild Turkey, named after his favourite American bourbon. Robin Trower lead guitarist of Procol is leaving to form a new band with Frankie Miller the singer from the Stoics. Frankie is my first signing. I’ve also signed an Irish folk-based songwriting duo called Tir Na Nog. Mike Batt a producer took me down to see them at The Troubadour folk club and he’s now producing a single with them.
As the third Isle of Wight festival approaches I’m with Richard Cowley driving down to meet the promoters at their office at Newport. He drives at terrifying speeds. We’re going to discuss our bookings and make arrangements for what we think is going to be the biggest festival ever in the UK. We have Procol Harum on Friday, Ten Years After on Saturday and Jethro Tull on Sunday.
Richard and Kenny are concerned about the financial backing for the festival so Richard is collecting the 50% in advance of our fees whilst we are there and arranging for us to pick up the balance in cash immediately we arrive at the festival. We have an accountant now, ex-public school with something of the playboy about him, called Nick Blackburn. He has rented a house on the island as accommodation. As soon as we arrive Nick and I go round the various turnstiles on the site with the promoters collecting bags of cash and taking them to the site office so that they can pay us the balance of our fees. I’m not sure how many of the other artistes will get paid.
The house we rented becomes a social centre with lots of visitors and games of football. The only snag is Tull’s soundcheck on the Sunday morning. Many of the fans have been watching from the hillside overlooking the festival without needing to buy a ticket. Over the course of the weekend there have been a lot of calls to the promoters to make it a free festival. Now fans have begun to break down the fences. The promoters are forced to declare it a free festival and despite Terry’s best efforts he can’t get the site cleared of the 600,000 fans for a private soundcheck on the Sunday morning.
For musicians festivals seem to operate on two levels. The first is the backstage bonhomie of meeting old friends, making new acquaintances and rubbing shoulders with the greats, who are Miles Davis, Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix at this festival. The other level is the savage competition onstage for the best audience reaction. Both Jethro Tull and Ten Year’s After owe an enormous part of their success to festival appearances, Jethro at the National Jazz and Blues Festival in 1968 and Ten Years After at Woodstock in 1969.
We’ve contracted playing spots for each of the bands across lighting up time. The idea is for the band to come on in daylight and to end their set under floodlights. It works at this festival. Ten Years After are amazing full of confidence from their US tours and Emerson Lake and Palmer struggle to follow them on their much hyped debut gig, even with the cannons they fire to open their show. Tull also have a great show on the Sunday night. Jimi Hendrix goes on so late both he and the audience seem a bit tired and listless. I miss it for a lift home. We’re playing two shows with him in Germany next week in any case.
Back in London exhausted but elated I can’t get to sleep. Two years have passed since I was at the free concert in Hyde Park doing nothing and broke. Now my festival going involves a grand country house and piles of cash. I enjoyed the whole experience and I’m proud of the way we managed the festival, but I’m not a country house person. I feel part of the crowd watching from the hillside and sneaking in when the fences go down. It’s weird I’ve got the backstage role I wanted but I’ve lost my place in the crowd.