My music business life in seven offices
My music business life in seven offices
By Doug D'Arcy

Office Three. 388-396 Oxford Street. Part Two 1976

We’re still in the same offices but we’ve expanded even more to occupy two and a half floors in the building. We no longer have the Sergeant at Arms so now just met by a receptionist. 

There have been other changes. Bob Grace our publisher has taken his talent to Rondor Music. Rod Duncombe our head of International has left and his replacement is Des Brown who is ex-Warner Bros. He’s knowledgeable, energetic and has a great lust for life. Nick Blackburn the accountant has left and been replaced by Terry Connolly who appears pretty brash but obviously smart. He and I are chalk and cheese but very quickly I realise I’m getting lessons in the financial running of the business. This is something I need.

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Luckily as we’re making the label our priority we’re enjoying a run of hit singles with Leo Sayer,  ‘The Show Must Go On’ ‘Moonlighting’ and ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’, and also with Steeleye Span  ‘Gaudete’ and ‘All Around My Hat’ produced by Mike Batt of Tir Na Nog fame. Brian Protheroe has a hit with ‘Pinball’. We’re also selling albums with Tull, Ten Years After, Procol Harum’s amazing opus ‘Grand Hotel’, Robin Trower’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’, UFO’s ‘Force It’ and new signing Rory Gallagher’s ‘Against the Grain’. Hits create energy and walking the office corridors is like rush hour on the tube. We’re nearly fifty people working on the record company all of us trying to create the best independent label around. There’s plenty of competition from other independents and the major labels and that means needing to have the best people working for us. Finding them occupies a lot of my time but I know it will pay off.

Organising this cast of characters takes ingenuity. There are so many meetings it’s shocking. Everything we do has a meeting attached to it, and a whole new list of managers to attend them. We have Tony Secunda managing Steeleye Span in his own inimitable way, Lloyd Grossman managing Philip Goodhand–Tait, Adrien Miller managing the Baby’s in a unique fashion, Carl Leighton-Pope with Sassafras and Peter Mensch managing Michael Shenker to name only a few. Jo Lustig is now the grand old man of our managers and has proved to be our best ambassador and a trusted colleague. It’s taken a while to get used to dealing  with managers. 

When I began my relationships with the artists and their live shows meant everything. It’s completely different now. I still try to be as close as I can to the artists and encourage everybody else to do the same. We’ve built a structure of department heads, managers, coordinators and secretaries but we’re all jammed in down the corridors so the hierarchies don’t matter that much, except when it comes to salaries. I want to create an atmosphere where everyone’s totally engaged and shares our commitment to the artists. There’s a lot to be proud of in what we’re doing, not least our first ever number one single with Leo Sayer’s  ‘When I Need You’.

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Chris is spending a lot of his time on international. He loves to travel and has a serious interest in different countries and their cultures. It makes travelling with him fun especially with his road management expertise. He also loves negotiating. We have deals with some great independents, notably Sonet in Scandanavia, Dischi Ricordi in Italy and Festival Records in Australia. There are  individuals in the majors we respect and enjoying working with but it’s  with the independents we really share  ideas about the industry. It’s a totally different job building your own company with all the risks and stress involved. Unfortunately getting big advances and the highest royalties tends to put us with the multinationals. 

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A regular visitor is Frank Chalmers the head of EMI International. He cuts an unlikely figure wandering down the corridor in a baggy grey suit, tie and black brogues. He’s supposed to be discussing a possible deal with us but he knows we don’t fit in with EMI.  Frank is coming to the end of his career and he seems happy just to share his vast and detailed knowledge of the world’s record markets. He settles down with a cup of tea and a biscuit for a chat. Chris sticks the world map up on his office wall and Frank leads the discussion whilst we sit there asking questions and taking notes. 

Chris is enjoying our success by regularly eating in posh restaurants and I happily tag along. Langan’s Brasserie and Burke’s in Clifford Street are our favourites for lunch. We usually manage to pop into either Brown’s in South Moulton Street on our way back from lunch for a bit of clothes shopping, they have all the latest Versace and Armani clothes, or to Sotheby’s to look at the paintings up for auction. Chris has begun to collect Impressionist paintings. We stay in first class hotels and often travel first class, and to top it all he’s bought a long wheelbase stretch Mercedes limousine. It’s enormous and is quickly named the Iron Butterfly. Joseph, an ex-policeman hired as a chauffeur, really struggles to turn in and out of Bird Street and it frequently gets embarrassingly stuck, but whenever it does go anywhere it draws a crowd.

Terry is spending  all his time in LA where he’s bought a house in Pacific Palisades and become a tax exile based in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands where he has also built an amazing cliff top house. He now has Friday Management instead of Chrysalis Artists as his company for managing Jethro and Gentle Giant. He is also involved with Karen Carpenter personally and as the manager of The Carpenters. Terry’s old friend from university Clive Walter has joined him to run that company. I can see Chris is unhappy. They used to share the profits of the management company whereas now it’s each to his own. Terry is dogmatic about everything he does so I can’t see what Chris can do about it. Effectively Terry is now running the American company and Chris is running the UK company although I not sure they see it that way. 

Terry isn’t allowed to visit the UK because of his tax status so Chris, Terry Connolly and I meet him somewhere in Europe for management meetings. It means Terry booking a weekend in a Relais & Chateau hotel somewhere in France, with three Michelin stars for the restaurant, where we have a series of lunches and dinners. Both Chris and Terry are becoming wine buffs so dinners include pre-dinner champagne followed by white burgundy for the starters and for the main course a good Bordeaux followed by a vintage Burgundy. Deserts have their own wine usually its Chateau d’Yquem and we end up with brandies or marc de Bourgogne. Terry Connolly and I call these outings ‘the Gastronomics’.

Terry is becoming isolated from the London team. He’s out of touch with what’s happening and aware of it. On the other hand the London trio aren’t sufficiently involved in the US label.  The meetings are edgy and it takes a lot of talking to get agreement on what we should be doing. Maybe the life Terry is living in LA is contributing to some of this. He arrived at one of our International Conventions, this time in Lisbon, Portugal, in quite a state. He was incoherent at dinner and began eating the flower arrangement on the table. Roy Eldridge and I had to help him to his room to avoid embarrassment in front of our licencees. We passed it off as jet-lag. Terry appeared next morning as if nothing had happened and when I asked him if he was OK he said yes looking at me as if he didn’t understand why I would ask. He wants to move into new film and video businesses but Chris is reluctant. I don’t know how all this will work out but the company is performing so well and the two of them making such good money they’ll just have to rub along.

Chris is buying a house in the South of France. I suspect there is an element of wanting to keep up with Terry’s spending in all this. I’m getting my share of the success so a pregnant Kate and I have left Elizabeth Mews and bought a flat in Strathray Gardens, Belsize Park.  One evening after we’d enjoyed a Chinese meal with Wilf Wright Kate threw up all over him and immediately we all rushed to the Royal Free Hospital where she gave birth to a boy we named Matthew James.

It’s not all posh restaurants and night clubs there are still lots of gigs. I went to the 100 Club in Oxford Street to see the Sex Pistols. When I got home I sat down in the kitchen and told Kate all about them. She stopped me after a while and pointed out I hadn’t talked about a band like this for a very long time. Chris, Roy Eldridge and I try to go to a gig at the Screen on the Green, Islington but can’t get in. We eventually get into negotiations with Malcolm but Chris doesn’t trust his claim of a bigger EMI offer. The band sign to EMI. Malcolm wants the kudos of EMI the establishment label and home of the Beatles to play off and had no intention of signing to what he called  ‘Chrysalis the gilt-edged record company’.

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I’m disappointed we didn’t sign the Sex Pistols. We’ve seen all of the other punk bands and signed Generation X. Thankfully everyone is excited by this and loves Billy Idol. At the contract signing Bill curls his lip and announces that he’s not going to be ‘boring the arses of people into the 80’s like Jethro Tull’ and I could only reply that’s exactly what we do want him to be doing. Gen X is a great signing for us but I still find myself wondering where we’re going. We’re not a progressive rock label anymore but I’m not sure what we’ve become. It feels like we’re putting out records randomly. Split Enz, Racing Cars, Phillip Goodhand-Tait, Strife, Kai Olssen are all good music but they don’t create an identity for us.  We need to sign artists who matter that’s what we’re here for and we must find a way to intensify our A&R efforts.

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Luckily Terry Ellis is doing just that. He wants to buy out the contract of Blondie a New York punk band from their label Private Stock and sign them to Chrysalis. It’s an expensive proposition and the US company doesn’t have the cash. We need to send the money from London. That will require Exchange Control Clearance from the Bank of England who are trying to stop the outflow of money from the UK . Terry Connolly will take care of that. Some people in the company have already seen them in London playing with Television but in the meantime for the rest of us a video has arrived of an appearance on Australian TV performing ‘In the Flesh’ and ‘X-Offender’. It’s a revelation.