My music business life in seven offices
My music business life in seven offices
By Doug D'Arcy
 
 
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Listen to episode 3 here:

We need more space so we’ve moved. We’re still on Oxford Street but the other side of Oxford Circus. It’s a large building next door to Selfridges and a bit too far from Soho for my liking. The entrance is actually in Bird Street and if you don’t know that then it’s difficult to find, so it’s essential to point it out every time you give someone the address.  

Stepping out of the lift there’s a reception area with a Sergeant-at-Arms and a receptionist. Terry Ellis has hired the Sergeant but nobody seems to know why. He stands there smiling, an elderly chap in a uniform. The double doors at the back of the reception open on to a corridor which stretches the length of the building, with offices on either side. The offices on the left overlook Oxford Street and those on the right face the back of the building. At the far end of the corridor there’s a spacious corner office, a kitchen and staircase to the toilets and other floors. It’s quite a big move for us.

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Terry has renegotiated our agreement with Island Records which means we undertake more of the work and make a bigger profit on our sales. It’s generous of Chris Blackwell, Island’s owner, to amend our contract as he’s not obliged to. Terry has an office on the left as you go through the double doors. The rest of the offices on the left are taken up by the people we’re taking on to cover the new responsibilities such as press, marketing, sales, radio promotion and music publishing. Towards the end of the corridor you come to my office, which is next door to Chris Wright who has the corner office. On the other side of the corridor Chrysalis Agency has the largest room. Kenny and Richard have taken on new bookers Geoff Jukes, Martin Hopewell and John Jackson. Adrien Hopkins an Oxford promoter is looking after Chrysalis Promotions for them. We are also running the old Finsbury Park Astoria as the Rainbow Theatre a rock venue modelled on Fillmore East in New York. That’s mainly run by our accountant Nick Blackburn.

 Chris Blackwell Island records

Chris Blackwell Island records

I’m on the road and away from the office quite a bit.  Wild Turkey have just finished a 55-date tour across America supporting Black Sabbath and I’ve been on a number of the shows. The tour went well and when we reached the west coast Mo Ostin and Joe Smith the heads of Warner Bros our US record company asked to meet us. They want to see what they’ve got. The band are taken on a tour of the Warner Bros building finishing with the famous visit to the record storeroom where you’re allowed to take away as many free albums as you can carry. People stagger out of there hardly able to walk. Warner Bros is the hippest record company in America, so hip they don’t seem fazed when I leave the meeting to go back to LA airport to retrieve my briefcase, which I’d left in the baggage claim area.

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It seems though that my job has to change. Terry has told me that it’s not possible for me to continue running both the management company and the record label so I must choose which one I want do. I enjoy both and protest. He insists the label needs someone fulltime, it doesn’t work having records released whilst the label manager is out on the road. I think I do a good job on both although I admit not always perfect. On my first trip to America, and my first time on a plane, I left my briefcase with my passport and ticket in the back of the minicab that brought me to the airport, so I missed the flight and the band left without me. Then there was the Brussels incident. Thankfully the artists seem to put up with me as far as I can tell.

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Despite all the anguish I know I have to concentrate on the record company. Why? I suppose I’m of more use to the label and I might have a chance to make my own mark.  Record production, album sleeves, marketing and promotion campaigns all these things are critical to a band’s career and are at least as important as their live career. I can see it’s the future for the company as well.

It will mean a change in my relationships with the artists but I’ll still be working on their behalf. I hope they understand. 

Wilf Wright will take over from me on the management side just as he did when I left the agency. He’s found a house for rent in Elizabeth Mews, Belsize Park and  asked me if I want to share. It’s the end house across the width of the mews and really lovely. I agree as soon as I see it.  My girlfriend Kate is pleased it’s much nicer than the Gloucester Place flat. It’s further from the office but Wilf drives so we can travel in together. He’s not great at getting going in the morning either but we don’t need to be in too early. He’s a funny mixture taciturn most of the time, not keen on letting you know his feelings, but loves to banter especially with the bands.

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We go to a lot of gigs together around town and up and down the country but we try to get back in time for the Speakeasy our favourite nightclub in Margaret Street off Oxford Street where everybody goes.

We’ve taken on Roy Eldridge replacing Bill Harry our former publicist. We knew Roy as a journalist on Melody Maker and Sounds. He’s respected and well liked. He’ll do press but also work on artwork and marketing for the label. He’s started work on the new album from Tull called ‘Thick as a Brick’ which is being packaged as a newspaper. We’ve found a head of radio promotion, a former Apple employee called Chris Stone. It’s his job to get our records played on the radio. He’s professional and serious not like most promotion men who are flamboyant extroverts never too far from a joke, a drink or a stunt. He seems to suit us. 

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We’ve also hired Rod Duncombe to work on finding companies to license and release our records internationally. Rod’s told Chris and I we must go in January to a music festival in Cannes in the south of France called MIDEM where all the overseas companies look for deals.  When we get there the size is a shock and so is eating lunch outdoors in January. There’s an even bigger shock when we meet up in the hotel lobby to go out to dinner. Rod is wearing an evening suit with a white tuxedo, black trousers with shiny stripes down the sides and a bow tie. Tall and elegant he’s more James Bond than rock’n’roll as he explains he’s planning to go to the casino after dinner. We’re wearing jeans of course.

Bob Grace has arrived to run Chrysalis Music our music publishing company. He’s a nice guy and great taste. One of his first signings is David Bowie who despite a hit single ‘Space Oddity’ is without a label or manager. Bob is doing everything he can to support him and his office is swamped with David’s tapes, very expensive acetates of his demos and stacks of boxes of 8” x 10” photo prints from the many photo sessions. David regularly comes in to the office from Beckenham by minicab and returns the same way. Nick Blackburn the accountant always complains about the bills. None of our other bands get taxis. Apparently David doesn’t like travelling on the tube carrying his guitar, and feels it isn’t right for his image. Bob and Nick discuss this issue frequently but Bob is the more persuasive. Basically he gets away with it.

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Chrysalis feels like a merry-go-round at full speed these days. Our release schedule is hectic since most of our artists are recording and releasing at least one album a year. Procol Harum are out of their old contract with Regal Zonophone and have signed to Chrysalis. Their first album for us is ‘Broken Barricades’. We also have new albums from Jethro Tull and it’s offshoots the Mick Abrahams Band and Blodwyn Pig. Ten Years After have signed a new contract with Columbia in North America and with Chrysalis in the UK so we have a new album from them  ‘A Space in Time’. None of us have recording experience so we rely on a small pool of producers and engineers to get the records made. Andy Johns and Chris Kimsey make a lot of our albums and Chris Thomas from AIR produces Procol and Mick Abrahams. He’s close to us and his opinions are invaluable. 

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Robin Trower the guitarist has left Procol to form a band with Frankie Miller called Jude. It features Clive Bunker the ex-Jethro Tull drummer and Jimmie Dewar the ex-Stone the Crows bassist but it collapses after only a few gigs. The audience reaction is as poor as it gets. I find it incomprehensible. It isn’t good for my credibility either. I was heavily involved in putting it together. Straightaway Robin has kept Jimmie Dewar as bassist and made him lead vocalist.  He’s recruited Reg Isidore on drums to form a trio called the Robin Trower Band and they’re already recording their first album Twice Removed from Yesterday which is being produced by Matthew Fisher also ex-Procol. 

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Frankie Miller has been hanging out at a pub the Tally Ho in Kentish Town where a few bands the music press are calling pub-rockers have been playing regularly. Frankie is  frequently getting up and singing with them, especially Brinsley Schwarz. He’s at a bit of a loose end and hasn’t had a record out yet. Dave Robinson the Brinsley’s manager has offered to make an album with his band backing Frankie at Rockfield studio in Wales for an all-in price of £500. It’s a great opportunity for Frankie. Thanks Dave.

The old hands and the new recruits have come together in the new offices. We go out to see bands and get drunk together regularly. I’ve got used to being so far from Soho especially since I’ve discovered Browns a clothes shop in South Moulton Street where I’ve bought a fabulous blue velvet suit. In the office the corridor is the place to be. It’s where we have impromptu meetings and loads of gossip. There are plenty of ideas flying round. Walter Wanger a young west coast American Terry has hired as our ‘high-voltage concept generator’ has somehow acquired a box of plastic apples which we use for a variation on football called ‘kick an apple in the corridor’ which is exactly as the name says and is immensely popular with hour long games at regular intervals. We even managed a rebellion when Terry’s Danish architects insist we each make our own desks from a tree stump, a slice about 2” deep of a larger stump, a piece of leather and a staple gun. You stick the flat piece of wood on to the stump and then stretch the leather over the top and staple it into place trimming the edges. This idea survives for a couple of infuriating days until we protest en masse and the old desks reappear.

All the hiring of new people and the discussions about salaries has made me wonder about my own position. I’ve decided to consult a lawyer. I don’t know any but I’m convinced Mick Jagger will have the best so I’ve made an appointment with his lawyer David Offenbach of Offenbach & Co in New Bond Street. I explain to him how important I am to the new developments in the company. I ask his advice about my position and pay. His reply is that my position in the company is entirely at the discretion of Chris and Terry who could fire me at a weeks notice. He suggests that I go back to the office and work as hard as I can so they won’t have any reason to sack me and instead would be prepared to continue paying my wages. This isn’t what I expected to hear. In fact it’s a shock. Walking slowly back absorbing what he said I find myself speeding up. I’ve a lot to do when I get back to the office.

The energy in the office is great but it can get chaotic. There are new signings, Laurie Styvers, Cozy Powell’s Bedlam, Bridget St John and UFO, and we urgently need some structure. We’re making a start with a weekly product meeting every Monday to plan our upcoming releases and coordinate the promotion efforts on the records we have out. Pretty much all the staff except the secretaries attend, it’s them who keep the office running. Chris and Terry are often away, and probably couldn’t agree which of them should run the meeting anyway, so it’s fallen to me  which is a novelty. Twenty people in a record company meeting means at least thirty different opinions so I need to find a way to make this work.

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Everything is in motion but a big shift occurs when Terry signs Steeleye Span. A folk rock band brings a different music style to the label, but the bigger change is that we’re not their managers. They already have a manager, Jo Lustig, who was a New York press agent who came to London with Nat King Cole and decided to stay. He’s become a major figure on the folk scene managing important artists such as Julie Felix and Ralph McTell. This means we don’t make all the decisions ourselves, particularly given how vociferous Jo can be.  He’s prepared to fight his corner, indeed any corner, and our relationship with the band is second-hand so deal with Jo we must.

I’m surprised when Terry and Chris suddenly announce, without warning, that I’m being promoted to Managing Director of Chrysalis Records. People are impressed and look at me differently. Frankly I’m enjoying the attention but it feels a bit strange. I’ll just keep my own counsel and press on.

To sign new artists we just see what tapes people bring in or things we hear about on the grapevine. That’s how Chris comes to have a meeting with Adam Faith and his partner Dave Courtney. They give him a tape of a singer they manage and produce called Leo Sayer and he asks me to listen to it. I take it home and stick it on the revox tape machine in the living room. He’s a really good singer but when a song titled ‘The Show Must Go On’ appears I call Chris at home urgently. Luckily we sign it to Chrysalis, although Warner Records already has North American rights. Adam Faith and Dave Courtney have produced a solo album for Roger Daltrey and he has a hit with one of Leo’s songs which is a great start. This signing changes things. Along with the Steeleye Span signing we’re becoming a different company.

Things are also different for me. Kate and I are getting married. Her father is going to marry us at his church St Martin in the Fields on May 11th 1974.