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If you walk two hundred yards along Oxford Street from the old office heading towards Oxford Circus you arrive at Stratford Place a cul-de-sac opposite South Moulton Street. Entering Stratford Place you face the Oriental Club which has occupied the end of the street since 1824. In the far left hand corner is our new office comprised of two buildings No 12 and No 13 joined together to make one. It’s a rather grand building with three floors which I guess reflects our success. It has a large reception which we’ve covered in gold and silver records which also reflects success and provides a suitable backdrop for Denise our receptionist. It has the advantage that all the staff who had company car parking spaces in Selfridge’s garage when we were in Bird Street can now keep them. It’s also good that there’s room for AIR to move in, so we now have George Martin, John Burgess and their PA’s Shirley and Carol with us.
My new office is on the third floor and has a window that lets me see the rooftops opposite, rather like my original desk in Carrington House in the old Ellis-Wright days. The location of my office is determined by my wanting to be near the A&R and Creative Services departments who are on the upper floors. It means I’m no longer next door to Chris, who is on the first floor overlooking Stratford Place, so sadly we can’t pop back and forward between our offices as easily as we used to.
Almost the first thing that happens in my new office is a playback for the company of ‘Plastic Letters’ the first album Blondie have recorded for Chrysalis. We squeezed into my office, got very excited and unanimously agreed on ‘Denis’ as the first single. Blondie have transformed the label. Their string of hits around the world is amazing in itself but the level of creativity that the band have achieved is remarkable and Debbie’s stylistic sense is unique. She and her partner Chris are totally connected to the music of the moment whether it’s punk, disco, reggae or rap. Our company’s involvement with them has raised our game in every department. It’s helped that the band have formed good relationships with everyone.
One of the buildings has a fourth floor attic which is the home of the A & R department. Roy Eldridge has with him Stuart Slater who started his career in the 60’s as the lead singer in a MerseyBeat band The Mojos before turning to songwriting and music publishing. There’s a full team up there. Maureen O’Donnell our a&r administrator and Steve Andrews, Alison Donald, Terri Hall and Julie Aird aka ‘Beaver’. This is a good time for music in the UK. The Sex Pistols have had the same effect as the Beatle in the sixties encouraging a whole new generation to form bands. David Bowie is also a big influence and the new Yamaha DX7 digital synthesiser allows everyone to make new sounds and new music.
The A&R department are immersed in all this. They’ve signed The Specials and the Two Tone label which includes The Selecter. This is music that really matters. So is Stiff Little Fingers the punk band from Belfast we’ve also signed. Stuart has brought in Linx a contemporary British r&b group featuring David Grant and Sketch managed by Brian ‘Freshie’ Freshwater. We released an album from our US company ‘Heats for the Feet’ by Lee Garrett in 1976 but this is the first Chrysalis signing of a black music band in the UK. The Chrysalis label is pigeon-holed as a white rock label but that can change. We have modern soul band The Q Tips with vocalist Paul Young managed by Ged Doherty and art rock duo Intaferon who are all bringing our roster into the 80’s. The signing of Ultravox and Spandau Ballet from the New Romantic scene is really important for us.
We couldn’t do any of this without Roy Eldridge. He can identify new talent and listen carefully to what they have to say.
A magician entertaining the audience at one of our company conferences peered into the crowd looking for ‘a man we can trust’ for his next trick. He promptly hauled Roy on to the stage to laughter from everyone. The name stuck, he is ‘the man we trust’. Musicians are in such an insecure and competitive profession they’re reluctant to trust themselves let alone music execs but Roy always seems to carry a special card.
Ultravox have added Midge Ure as their new lead vocalist. The new line-up is successful immediately with the Vienna single and album. They’re innovators in pop promos and with the artwork they create with Peter Saville. They’re prolific and consistently successful. Midge also gains enormous respect for his lead on the Band Aid recording and the major concert event at Wembley at which Spandau Ballet also appear. After two successful albums in the UK Spandau Ballet’s third album was recorded in Chris Blackwell’s studio Compass Point in Nassau in the Bahamas. The band are well known for enjoying life and we’re all more than happy to join in with them, but there was concern that they might go to Nassau have a great holiday and come back without an album. They always deliver so I’m not concerned. Nevertheless I listen to them preparing at Nomis rehearsal rooms before they left so I could report back to the office. I loved what they were working on then and even more so when they return with the album. We congregate in a&r to hear the masters. It’s a revelation and word quickly spreads round the whole building. The excitement is more than justified by the massive success of ‘True’ around the world.
In the US Mike Chapman is producing hits for us. Toni Basil has had a No 1 single with ‘Mickey’ and now he’s working with Blondie and Pat Benatar who has come good and is enjoying her biggest hit with ‘Love is a Battlefield’. On top of that Huey Lewis & the News are selling millions of albums and have just released ‘Sports’ their best album to date. Our sales in the US are becoming astronomical and our profits likewise. We’ve also got hits in the UK with Fun Boy Three, Ultravox and Spandau Ballet. We’ve become one of the most exciting and successful record labels in the world. Can you believe it? I find it hard to believe. The success is encouraging all of us to do our best work and to enjoy the satisfaction we’re getting. Chris and Terry as the owners get the attention and credit of course but I don’t think this really bothers me. I’ve always worked quietly in the background from my earliest days. There’s an atmosphere of celebration regularly in the office nowadays. Perhaps to excess but who cares?
The other office nearest to me is Creative Services which is a posh new name for the art department. They ‘ve redesigned the label changing the colours of the logo from red and green to blue and cream. Video is having a big influence on what we do. Peter Wagg aka Waggy who runs this department with help from Carole Burton-Fairbrother is immersed in the world of pop promos which are an expensive new item and have got the accountants squealing loudly. The sleeves of the old 12” records used to be vital in presenting the music but the images on CD packaging are so small that videos have taken over as the most important element in the artists image.
I just wonder why they’re so expensive. I decided to direct one myself partly to find out about the cost and partly because it’s exciting and I want to understand how it works. I ask Rick Rogers the Fun Boy Three’s manager if they’d be interested in my directing their next video and to everyone’s horror they agree. It’s a cover of George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ from ‘Porgy and Bess’ so I’ve come up with the idea of setting it in a mansion in the Deep South of the US. Waggy has ducked the issue and left me in the hands of producer Lexi Godfrey, Jeff Baynes an amiable and talented lighting cameraman and his colleague Phil McDonald the editor. We hire from Victor Lownes, head of Playboy in the UK, his version of the Playboy mansion as a location. A date is set. I get there at 7.00 am. Seriously. Lorries and vans start arriving. Everyone is asking me questions. I have to go to the toilet. I can’t hide there all day. I emerge to a scene of expensive chaos . I have to get going. I give every question an immediate answer, any answer, for the next twelve hours. Finally we finish, or wrap, at about 9 o’clock in the evening and I arrive home exhausted, exhilarated and fall into bed.
In the office next day there’s only a cursory interest in what I’ve done and when we show some rushes get only a polite response. I realize how difficult it is for musicians, designers, photographers and record producers to bring their work into the office to be judged. I’m going to be a lot more considerate in future.
The two buildings are joined only on a couple of floors and it’s a big building so there is less casual communication than we had in our previous offices. It helps that the back door via the postroom opens onto St Christopher’s Place which is full of cafes, restaurants and two pubs The Lamb and Flag and the Pontefract Castle. It’s ideal for socializing at lunchtimes and evenings. I see some of that socialising appearing on peoples expense claims but I tend to let it go a bit. It will help to maintain the closeness we’ve developed. The most popular venue is Coconut Grove a trendy restaurant with an extensive list of cocktails. It’s become a bit of a canteen so it’s inevitable that we end up holding a Billy Idol album launch party there. Of course Bill made it unforgettable. I just can’t say how.
Terry Ellis has moved back to the UK. He’s planning to marry Danielle, a friend of Chris’ wife Chellie, and live in London. This has coincided with a crisis in the independent record distribution network in the US. The launch of CD’s has increased sales and profits in the industry and corporate interest in the business is growing. The majors are putting pressure on the independent distributors by increasing marketing spends and persuading labels to leave that system and join the major distributors. It begins to look likely that the independents will be forced out of business and unable to pay the labels. We’ve dealt with it by a making a deal with CBS the biggest corporate distributor and we’re moving the company from LA to New York where CBS are based. This allows Terry to commute from London one week a month. Sal Licata has refused to go to New York and has left the company leaving Terry in sole charge.
Chris isn’t happy. He feels Terry in London is going to encroach on his territory. I think Terry will concentrate on his new interests in visual programming as he calls it. He’s invested in a company with Linda Yellen a producer to make TV films in New York and has also started a company with Beryl Vertue, a London-based producer with a great track record, to make TV shows in the UK. His plans to produce a film of Joe Orton’s biography ‘Prick up your Ears’ with Gary Oldman as Joe Orton, Alan Bennett writing the screenplay and Stephen Frears directing has collapsed in a welter of ill-will all round but he’s pressing on looking for other projects. This is also alarming Chris and Terry Connolly who are worried that investments in these projects will soak up cash from the record and publishing companies, profits that until now have been reinvested in Chrysalis Properties which is considered pretty risk-free.
Terry is settling in a flat near the Albert Hall and bought a house in Newmarket to follow his horse racing interests. Even that’s competitive with Chris who also has racing interests, but in Gloucestershire. They need to find an understanding quickly. It’s not easy as Terry has maintained the lifestyle he developed whilst he was in LA which involves a lot of drinking and drug use. Cocaine has swept through the music business over the last few years and seems to have touched everyone. Most people seem to be able to handle the mayhem but not everyone. Bill Aucoin Billy Idol’s manager is one of Terry’s close circle of friends. His Fifth Avenue apartment has been party central for most of New York society and that includes Chrysalis employees. Bill has disappeared leaving our longtime colleague Brendon Bourke with the impossible job of holding the office together. Bill’s life has collapsed and apparently he’s gone into rehab. This is too close to home as we all love Bill and assumed, although his life was totally wild, that he was in control of it.
Terry has at least hired a CBS veteran Jack Craigo as the new President of Chrysalis Inc. Jack knows the CBS system but his appointment doesn’t seem like it’s going to make much of a change. Chris and Terry have been awkward with each other from the beginning of their partnership but their success held them together. Recently they’ve drifted further apart and both of them in London has brought it home to them how separated they’ve become. They’re not communicating with each other so they’ve hired lawyers to do the talking. Chris has gone to Allan Grubman the top New York music lawyer and Terry has gone for a firm of lawyers in the City. They plan to split Chrysalis into two parts, the US for Terry and the UK for Chris, based on valuations of each piece. When these are calculated and agreed Terry shocks everyone by suggesting he’ll sell his half for 50% of the total valuation. A race begins for Chris to raise the cash before, he’s convinced, Terry changes his mind.
CBS our US distributors can advance some money, we have some cash in the company and there is some City loans available. We need more so Chris and I fly to Munich to see Monti Luftner the head of Ariola. He has been our licencee in Europe for some years and is a close friend. He works for Bertelsmann, a German media giant owned and run by Reinhard Mohn. We explain the situation and ask for a $6 million advance. He swallows, promises to do his best and says he would need to call Mr Mohn. He makes the call and comes up with the money. Then he takes us to Kafer his favourite restaurant. Typical Monti.
The next step is for Terry to sign a document giving Chris an irrevocable right to buy his half of the company at the valuation price provided he pays within a fixed time period. Peter Caisley our legal person is sent to meet Terry in Newmarket so that he can sign. Chris is still anxious and tells Peter to call him as soon as he has a signature. It’s Thursday and we have Spandau and Ultravox on Top of the Pops and I’ve arranged to go along. Afterwards Chris Morrison Ultravox’s manager suggests we go to Hiroko a Japanese restaurant in the Kensington Hilton in Shepherds Bush where Midge Ure joined us. I’ve been distracted all day. I drink a lot of sake and beer. I keep calling Kate from a call box in the hotel lobby because we’d arranged that Chris would call her and leave a message when there’s news. Apparently Terry’s not at home so Peter is checking the pubs in Newmarket. On my next call Kate tells me Terry has been found and has signed.
Chris and Terry Connolly are coming to join us at the Kensington Hilton. I explain to Chris Morrison and Midge what’s happened and we go to the lobby bar of the hotel where we all meet up. Chris and Terry Connolly are in high spirits and order champagne. Simon Climie one of our songwriters is in the bar with Holly Knight the American songwriter of many hits including ‘Love is a Battlefield’ for Pat Benatar and they join us and get the news. After drinking champagne I get up to go to the toilet. I only walk a couple of paces before collapsing unconscious on the floor. Terry Connolly and Chris Morrison carry me to a taxi and take me home. Kate finds me distraught on the doorstep.
The first thing I do when I manage to get to the office next day is to call Midge to apologise. I don’t like our artists seeing me collapse. It’s never happened before, at least since I was sixteen. I spend what’s left of the day calling artists and managers telling them what’s happened and reassuring them. I tell them it’s business as usual. I haven’t been working with Terry in any real sense for a while so it’s true. I don’t feel I can call him and I don’t know what I’d say. Peter Caisley shows me the document Terry has signed. His signature looks terribly shaky.