Monday, December 28, 2009

SHARON O'NEILL


Although Sharon O’Neill had been around the New Zealand local music scene for a few years I was not aware of her. Watching a talent contest show on TV, I came across Sharon singing “Lucks On Your Table”. I thought she was just fantastic and was surprised that her wonderful song and performance only got her only 3rd place. I was sure I had come across an artist who would be worth signing as our CBS New Zealand’s first local artist.
On inquiring I found that Dick La Forte, a Radio New Zealand music producer had actually completed a whole album with Sharon. Better still “Lucks On Your Table” was included. I negotiated an agreement with all concerned parties to release the album on CBS and with Sharon to sign with us for future recordings: Sharon also signed with us as a songwriter.

SHARON SIGNING WITH CBS RECORDS NEW ZEALAND
From Left: John McCready, Sharon O'Neill, Robyn Williams, Gaynor Crawford

The single “Lucks On Your Table” and the album “This Heart, This Song” became minor hits for us. I then started working with Sharon on choosing songs for her first CBS recorded album and in doing so realised that Sharon was a truly gifted singer-songwriter with a real “let’s do it” attitude. Sharon’s talent grew more evident as we worked and so did her will to be a success. This was an artist who knew how to work with a record company as a partner and would work hard to have an album we could all be proud of.
During the process leading up to the recording of the album TVNZ were building up to their 1979 Telethon and I got the idea of trying to convince the show’s producer of having Sharon do the official song.
On approaching them I was informed of the show’s aims. It was The International Year of The Child and the theme of Telethon would be “Don’t Say No To Tomorrow”. The producers agreed if Sharon could write a song with this theme and they liked it they would have it as the official song.
Sharon and I sat down and went through some of her newer compositions and we found one melody that Sharon thought could have the lyrics changed to embrace the Telethon theme. The result was “Don’t Say No To Tomorrow” which subsequently went on to reach No6 on the NZ charts and as a result of the Telethon exposure we established Sharon with a high profile.
Working with Sharon was a delight: she was a total professional and was one of those rare artists who understood the publicity and marketing process and managed to embrace it without compromising her own artistic integrity.


Determined to take no short cuts with her new album I hired USA producer Jay Lewis to produce and they proved to be a good mix. Jay with his brilliant production managed to enhance Sharon’s wonderful songs. The only problem created was that he worked the backing musicians relentlessly and as a consequence I had several unhappy guys on the phone complaining about the increased hours each session was taking. As a result we ended up (rightly) paying the musicians far more than our original budget and the final costs were huge for a New Zealand album.
During the sessions at Marmalade Studios in Wellington, an excited Jay phoned me: he believed one of the songs they were recording was a real gem. That song was “Asian Paradise” and still today I get goose bumps every time I hear it.
The new album “Sharon O’Neill” reached No3 on the album charts and the two singles “Words” and “Asian Paradise” both charted. Sharon’s song writing ability was evident throughout this wonderful album and it is probably somewhat ironic that in 1980 Sharon won an APRA Silver Scroll Award for “Face In A Rainbow” from her earlier album.
A key member of our small CBS team was our Publicity Manager, Gaynor Crawford who worked hard and enthusiastically with the press to promote Sharon. Gaynor’s work was a key factor in getting Sharon’s talent recognised by a wider audience.

Our success with Sharon probably lead to Rocky Douche from Wellington’s Marmalade Studio bringing my attention to a new artist he had discovered. On hearing the demo of Jon Stevens singing Jezebel I had no hesitation on signing Jon to a CBS contract and the final version of Jezebel went to No1 on the NZ charts.

Within a short time my wildest dreams had been realised; we had established CBS New Zealand as a significant recorder and promoter of Kiwi talent. We then decided to make a single with Sharon and Jon singing as a duo. The result was “Don’t Let Love Go” which reached No5 on the NZ charts in March 1980.
Sharon was voted Top Female Vocalist in both 1979 and 1980.



GOLD RECORDS FOR SHARON AND JON
From Left: Sharon, John, Jon and Gaynor Crawford

My belief that Sharon was a major recording star was total and I was determined to break her in Australia. My view was that my Australian colleagues would only embrace Sharon and her talent if they had ownership and Sharon became theirs. New Zealander, Peter Dawkins was having success with CBS Australia as producer of Dragon and Mi-Sex and as I had the highest regard for him both as a producer and a talent spotter I sought his support. Sharon and I went to Sydney to meet with Peter and after our meeting he agreed to produce a single for Australia and both Sharon and I agreed that Sharon would sign direct with CBS Australia, which was after all the parent company of CBS New Zealand.
“How Do You Talk To Boys”, the first Australian produced Sharon O’Neill track was one of the only songs performed by Sharon that she had not written: however it worked and charted in Australia. CBS Australia then repackaged our New Zealand album including the new track and called it “Words”.

At this time I thought, with some sadness, that my working relationship with Sharon would be a distant one. To my surprise I was then approached by Bill Smith, The Chairman of CBS Australia and invited to transfer to Australia as Director of Marketing for six months then a promotion to Managing Director. The current MD, Paul Russell was moving to be MD of CBS UK and I had been chosen to replace him in Australia.
So within a very short time I was again working closely with Sharon. Sharon put together a band in Sydney and started the hard slog of playing the Australian pub and Leagues Club circuits. I remember a time I went to see her playing at an RSL Club and as in that then Australian environment women were not allowed in the main room Sharon had to get to the theatre auditorium at the back of the complex by a very roundabout route rather than being able to take the band's gear the short way. As usual Sharon handled all that with total professionalism and later in the evening totally won over the dominantly male audience.
WITH SHARON AT A SYDNEY PARTY ON MY APPOINTMENT TO MD CBS RECORDS


Our A&R team and Sharon started work on her 3rd but her 1st official Australian CBS album “Maybe”. To coincide with the album and single release we organised Sharon and her band to support our major artist Boz Scaggs on his Australian tour. It all worked and the single made the Australian charts: the album established Sharon as a major Australian artist.


Following the establishment of Sharon in Australia we started work on the album “Foreign Affairs”. For family reasons I decided to move back to New Zealand. Michael Wall heard I was on the way back and I was offered and accepted the job of managing Radio Hauraki. The once top radio station was falling in ratings and I was given the task of directing it back to the top.
Months later and after Sharon’s album “Foreign Affairs” and the single “Maxine” proved to be Sharon’s biggest yet I had dinner in Auckland with Bob Jamison, an American and my successor as MD of CBS Australia. To my surprise Bob said “Thanks a lot for Sharon O’Neill”, but not in a nice way. He then started to slag her both as an artist and a person. I didn't like him or his attitude and told him so. We departed on less than friendly terms.

I never found out what happened between Sharon and CBS after I left but Sharon’s career with CBS was clearly at an end. Whatever the dispute was, it lasted and Sharon was unable to record for five years.
Sharon O’Neill is the best singer/songwriter I have ever worked with and totally professional as an artist. It is with much regret that my time working with her was only such a short period of around 3-4 years and that her contract with CBS ended so badly for her. For me her songs have stood the test of time.

Link to Sharon O'Neill story AudioCulture

http://www.audioculture.co.nz/people/sharon-o-neill

Sunday, December 27, 2009

THE WRATH OF SOLOMON PT 2 "BREAK A LEG"

photo above: KEN EAST

So here I am in London with no employment, no income, the family to provide for and having just recently taken on a large mortgage. Was I worried? For some inexplicable reason I wasn't. It was though, an odd feeling departing Phonogram in London at the age of 34 after joining them as a 16 year old in New Zealand.

One day, the phone rings and on the line is Ken East. Ken is an industry legend, having been MD of EMI in the heyday of The Beatles. “I had a hard job finding you”, he says. “Those bastards at Phonogram told me you had gone back to New Zealand and it was only by chance I bumped into a guy who had your phone number. Any way I have taken over as MD at Decca and want you to be my Marketing Manager”.

I first met Ken in New Zealand when he looked me up when he was visiting EMI there. A big and tall, softly spoken Aussie he has a real presence about him and although warm and friendly you know this is not a guy you cross. He treats everyone with total respect until they deserve otherwise.

Next day I meet with Ken and we agree a salary and responsibilities. My job is overseeing the pop music division with the emphasis of choosing product and marketing it to media and the public. The Retail Sales Division is under him and he will have final say on local recordings. This is OK by me as the brief is right where my skills are.

Ken asks me to review all artist contracts and make some decisions about terminating those that were not working for us and those we didn’t think had a future. What do you know, I find that, exactly like the Phonogram “arrangement”, Phil Solomon has a contract to deliver Decca six singles a year. And just like the Phonogram recordings all those delivered are duds.

I bring this to Ken’s attention and once more I’m told to terminate the contract with Phil Solomon. I arrange a formal legal letter and send it off. Phil is soon on the phone to Ken. Unlike AJ Morris at Phonogram, Ken does not back away and tells Phil that we at Decca don’t want to deal with him and the contract is cancelled. Ken tells Phil that he is fully behind the decision and that I have his total confidence and support.

A couple of weeks later Ken calls me to his office where I meet a friend of Ken’s who is a music publisher. This guy was brought up in London’s East End and is still in touch with old friends connected to the seedier side of the music business. He informs me that there is a contract out for me to receive a beating and a few broken bones. Of course Ken and I feel we know who may be behind this.

I’m terrified and worried. Ken advises me to stay away from anywhere that is not busy with people. We arrange to have my car parked in the Decca yard, rather than the company garage, which is located in a rather dark back street a five-minute walk away.

So, I keep a low profile and stick with plenty of people around me when out at gigs. The scary part was getting into our home late at night from parking the car, as the only resident parking in our Barnes street is out on the street itself.

A couple of weeks later Ken gives me good news: His friend has had discussions with East End contacts and a deal has been agreed. I’m off the hit list and safe. I’m only safe thanks to Ken and his powerful influence and standing in the UK music business: and to his music publisher friend for using his boyhood connections to pull a favour.

Friday, December 11, 2009

THE WRATH OF SOLOMON

LONDON 1974

Irish Entrepreneur Phil Solomon was a major player in the UK artist management/producing scene. Powerful would be an understated description of his standing in the business, with The Bachelors, Them (featuring Van Morrison) just two of the big names he had managed. In the 1960’s Phil had his own label Major Minor and was a major shareholder and influence on Radio Caroline. Phil and his wife Dorothy managed Lena Zavaroni*.

Lena was currently our hottest act, having just completed a five-week run on the TV talent show OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS and now with the charting single and album, "Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me".

A priority responsibility of mine, as Director of A&R, was the management of artist and production contracts and controlling our very large recording budget. My boss and MD of the company, AJ (Morris), was complaining about recording budget over-expenditures. “You have to reduce our costs and get rid of non-productive contracts,” said AJ.

So, off I go tracing the paper trail of contracts against results. There were a lot of dud deals and one in particular stood out as a big loser. Phil Solomon, separate from the Lena Zavaroni contract, had a deal to supply us with six singles per year via producer Tommy Scott. On the delivery of each single we would pay an advance against royalties of several thousand pounds. The contract made no sense, as there was no artist development or album spin off. All of the singles delivered in the past year were flops. We were out of pocket on this deal for thousands!

I bring this to AJ’s attention, knowing that Phil was a real power in the business and important to us. “Tell him we are not going to re-new next year” he directs. I phone Phil and give him the news. He takes this calmer than expected and suggests we should have lunch and get to know each other better. “I’ll pick you up outside your front entrance tomorrow at noon; I’ll be driving a Rolls” he says.

Next day at noon there is the man himself behind the wheel of a Rolls Royce convertible and he takes me to a very up market restaurant in Mayfair. Through the meal we make small talk and give each other a brief history of our backgrounds and future plans. It was all very cordial.

Phil says with my experience I should do well in the UK record business and welcomes me aboard. As far as the annual contract for the six singles a year is concerned I am obviously are not aware of the finer points of the deal or I would not be dropping the contract. Apparently it is very simple; I re-sign the deal for the next year and what do you know? I’m a songwriter! I get credited with one of the songs on the B-side of a major selling act and accordingly to get the royalties due, which are exactly the same amount as the A-side hit. I would have a new line of income and as the years go by and the deal continues I could make some major money.

I am stunned. I’m just a Kiwi lad and have never been exposed to such a crooked offer**; I decline and confirm we would not be continuing this particular contract.

The atmosphere at the table suddenly became very frosty. I am called an inexperienced idiot who will never get along in the UK recording scene and would soon learn to either join in with the system or become an outsider going nowhere. I was not offered a ride back to the office.

Subsequently we inform Phil officially that the singles contract will not be ongoing.

Time goes by and Lena’s new record album is overdue for delivery and we are in danger of not having the income included in our quarterly sales. AJ and I discuss the situation and I am instructed to inform Phil that he is in breach of contract and that we will take the legal action to have delivery of the recording.

I phone Phil several times and he refuses to take my calls. Late morning I call again and leave a message with his assistant that we will take legal action for the contract’s fulfilment.

Early afternoon I’m chairing a meeting of my A&R team discussing progress on our current productions. I hear a shout outside the meeting room; “Where’s that fucking McCready?”

The door bursts open and charging in is an enraged Phil Solomon. “There you are you bastard” is directed at me, as is a flying briefcase that collects me full in the face. Blows from Phil’s fists then attack me. At first I just keep the seemingly mad man at bay by pushing him away; but as more damage is done to my body and pride (the 10 or so staff are cowering in fear and amazement); I counter attack and bodily pick Phil up and hurl him over the conference table, scattering chairs and staff in the process. He is down on the other side of the table, not moving. I’m now worried, what have I done? I move round to his prone body and inquire, “Phil, are you OK?” Suddenly I’m the recipient of a well-placed kick to my groin area.

Now I’m angry too and I have had enough. I wrestle with him, grab him in a bear hug, turn him around and with a “Full Nelson” hold on his back and neck I run him out of the room, down the corridor, out the main door of the building and hurl him down the steps towards his illegally parked Rolls Royce. Cheers accompany this from the now large group of Phonogram staffers who have come to watch the show.

Timing is everything.

Arriving at the bottom of the stairs simultaneously and returning from a lunch is AJ. Naturally he is surprised to witness a very important artist manager being tossed out of the building by the company’s A & R Director.

In AJ’s office I am given a shot of whiskey to calm me down as I’m shaken and shaking from the physical altercation.

To my surprise AJ, after hearing the story, takes the view that we should hush this up and implies the fault is mine. I am horrified and suggest that Solomon be banned from the building and that the police are informed so that assault charges are considered against Phil for this unprovoked attack on me at my place of work. AJ and I are at odds and I tell him he and the company should support me. I don't believe I can continue working for him if he does not support me. He suggests I go home and calm down. I do so.

Early next morning there is a knock on the door of our home. I answer it. A chap advises me he has come to pick up the company car. I give him the keys (was I wise?).

I phone AJ who advises me he has issued a release saying I am no longer with Phonogram UK. Did I resign or was I fired? I’m not sure. One thing that was certain is that AJ never wanted me on his team and had taken the opportunity to get me out.

My employment at Phonogram UK was arranged by our International office so I phone my regional manager Reinhard Klassen in Baarn, to appraise him of the situation. As usual Reinhard is the master of listening and patience. He suggests that as obviously AJ does not want me back I should come and work at head office for a period until another suitable posting in one of our many International companies is available. I take a day to think this over and decide no; I am better suited to day-to-day “hands on” music management than a head office role. Also, we had just purchased a home in Barnes and the children were at last settled into London. After discussion between legal’s for me and Phonogram we agree a financial settlement and I am now officially unemployed.

Ken East contacts me and I get offered the position of Marketing Manager at Decca. What do you know, Phil Solomon has an identical contract with Decca and I'm again given the task of getting rid of it.....but that's another story.

*Lena Zavaroni died in 1999 aged 35 after a 22-year battle with anorexia and after contracting pneumonia following an operation.

**Am I right to say Phil Solomon was crooked? I certainly found him so. It was with interest I noted on an interview with influential record producer Shel Talmy that he made the following comment on his Phil Solomon experience:

“One of the first persons I ran into was Phil Solomon, who has quite a reputation in the English music business. He was one of the biggest crooks of all time. The Bachelors were his band. I had to sue Phil to get my royalties--although they were coming from Decca, part of them was coming from Phil. Dick [Rowe] tried to remain neutral, but things got difficult for him, and I said, fine, I'll go out and see what else I can hustle up. So I really became an independent producer, doing things for a couple of labels at the same time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Excitement of Kraftwerk

I get a call from the A&R guy at Phonogram in Germany. He has this electronic group called KRAFTWERK and believes their new album has worldwide potential. He has heard that I’m keen on Tangerine Dream and like this type of electronic music. It would be a great help to him if we released the new album AUTOBAHN in the UK. We agree that the two guys in the group, Florian and Ralf, would come to London, play us the new music and discuss the possibility of a UK release and support.

A week later Florian and Ralf arrive. They are quiet, shy and seemed to be a couple of neat guys. I invite my number one assistant Nigel Grainge to join in the listening session. Nigel was and is one of the great music men and I valued his opinion.

We put the reel-to-reel tape on our Revox and sit back to listen. I can’t believe what I’m hearing; it is just bloody fantastic. I’m more excited by what I’m hearing than anything I have heard since arriving in the UK. I try not to let my excitement show, thinking if I’m right and this is as good as I think we don’t want to appear too excited so that it costs us a bigger royalty. The first track of over 20 minutes comes to an end and I excuse myself to go to the toilet, hoping Nigel will do the same and we can compare impressions. He does.

Out in the corridor I can’t contain my enthusiasm and say to Nigel. “I think this is absolutely bloody fantastic; what do you think?” Nigel is equally raving about how good he thinks this is. So we go back, hear the full album and much to the relief of Florian and Ralf agree to release the album in the UK and ensure it has back up marketing support. Naturally our German company are ecstatic at our decision.

We have a presentation of new releases at our annual company sales conference at Crick, near Rugby. I decide to make AUTOBAHN my major push and presentation to the retail sales team and the promotion staff.

I’m on stage in front of this group of people who are important in selling our music to retailers, radio and TV throughout the UK. I rave on enthusiastically about the sales potential of Kraftwerk and Autobahn. I play the first 20-minute plus track. Throughout the playing there is much shuffling of feet and bodies and I sense Autobahn not being received well. At the conclusion of the playing I again enthusiastically promote the wonderful music and the high sales potential. I receive a less than polite spattering of applause and know that besides Nigel no one here thinks Autobahn has a chance in hell of being a success. It is just as well we also presented THIN LIZZY’S "NIGHT LIFE"; this probably gave the staff some hope that I was not completely crazy!

Not too long later, having left Phonogram and now Marketing Manager at Decca Records UK, it was with great satisfaction that my faith in Kraftwerk and Autobahn was proven correct, as the album became a huge seller in the UK and worldwide.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A DAY AT THE RACES

PADDY McCREADY-THE THORNDON BOOKIE 1949

1949 and Dad was the local bookie in Thorndon, Wellington. Our house was usually filled with punters drinking beer and placing bets.

One weekend Dad decided to go to the races himself at Trentham and took me with him: I was nine at the time. This involved a train journey and in my memory this was a very exciting time; that is until we got to the racetrack!

My day consisted of a walk with Dad through crowds to stand behind a picket fence for what seemed an age. My eye level came to an adult’s waist height so I couldn't see much: then the noise of galloping horses coming from the distance and getting louder as they approached our position. Through my little window view between two pickets I saw a flashing of horses legs and hooves and then the galloping sound faded away to be replaced soon after with a rising crowd noise then cheers and clapping combined with a mass of swearing from the disappointed.

Dad would then go off to place a bet and have a beer; he would leave me there at the fence to hold our position.

Eventually Dad would return and the whole process of the galloping sounds, a quick view of flying hooves, crowd noise and cheering and swearing was then repeated. After about two further repeats I asked to go to the toilet and I was taken to “The Gents”, and then given an ice cream (yum), then back for several more repeats of my race view from the picket fence.

Eventually the races finished and I sat outside the bar for what seemed forever, whilst Dad “had a few”. He finally staggered out of the bar and we walked to the station and caught the train back to Wellington. I did not become a fan of horse racing in my adult life.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

“SO; YOU’RE THE GUY FROM NEW ZEALAND?”

The Chairman of CBS Records Australia, Bill Smith, has asked me to set up and manage a new CBS Records Company in New Zealand. Before Bill can formally appoint me to the position I have to be approved by Walter Yetnikoff, the President of CBS Records. I’m asked to fly to New York the next day as an appointment has been arranged with Walter for later that week.

So off I go to New York where I’m booked into a 5Th Avenue hotel. After a good nights sleep I arrive at the CBS Head Office, known as BLACK ROCK, and shown to Walter’s suite of offices. Walter's secretary sits me down with a cup of coffee to await Walter’s availability to see me. Much later, after many coffees and having read several trade magazines back to back I’m finally directed to enter Walter’s personal office.

Walter is sitting behind his large desk and in one of the two visitor’s chairs is another man. I’m greeted by Walter with “So; you’re the guy from New Zealand?”

After I’m seated Walter introduces his other guest: “This is my friend Tommy Mottola, he manages some of our biggest artists”.

We make small talk and I’m asked to give him a brief summary of my career. This takes about three minutes and is followed by a long silence. Finally, after what seems an age Walter looks at me and says again, “So; you’re the guy from New Zealand?”

This is followed by a further long silence. Walter then jumps to his feet shakes my hand and says, “Nice meeting you” and I’m in no doubt the “meeting” is over.

I ask Walter’s secretary “What now?”

I’m informed that’s it: I can go home.

Next day I fly home to New Zealand and phone Bill Smith to ask if I got the job. Bill says, “You always had the job, Walter just wanted to say Hi.”

Several months later I’m with a group at a party during the annual CBS Records Convention in Los Angeles. The party is held on the set of a Western movie shoot at the CBS movie studio lot: the wine and beer are flowing.

Along comes Walter Yetnikoff and joins our group. Walter then looks at me and says, “Hey; you’re the guy from New Zealand: how’s it going?”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

THE BIRTHDAY CAKE

Dean Wheeler, in 1990 was a brilliant Promotions Director, working at TVNZ.

Dean's 27th Birthday was coming up on November 1st 1990 and he invited John McCready (then Programme Marketing Manager at TVNZ), JT and other friends and work colleagues to join him for a celebratory dinner at a restaurant in Jervois Road, Auckland.

We duly arrived and it was obvious to us, but not so much to Dean that the waiter was being very attentive to him and flirting outrageously. We teased Dean mercilessly.

After a wonderful meal the smitten waiter grandly delivered a birthday cake to our table. It was a most beautiful cake and it was obvious someone had taken great care in baking it.

Dean cut the cake and we dished ourselves a slice each and very quickly the cake was gone. Oh, it was so soft and delicious and everyone looked at Jt asking, "Did you bake this cake?" "No, she said"

We were curious now and did the rounds of the table to find out who did. No one claimed to the baking of this wonderful creation so we asked the waiter.
He said "As you are celebrating a birthday and a birthday cake had been delivered, I assumed it must be yours"

At that exact moment from the front of the restaurant came Peter Elliott. Peter was then, and still is, a top TV, drama actor. He stood next to the waiter who was still standing at our table and whispered to him loud enough for us to hear...
"You weren't here before when I bought in a cake I had made myself especially for my wife's birthday as a surprise. Can you please bring the cake out now?"

Monday, October 19, 2009

A BRUSH WITH SIR ROBERT

In 1968 John Rowles from Kawerau was having great success in the UK with two charting singles, “If I Only Had Time” and “Hush Not a Word to Mary” and we picked up the New Zealand rights through CBS. Both songs were hits in New Zealand and Kerridge Odeon decided to tour him. I joined John on tour and organised radio and press promotion as we travelled. John wanted to see his parents in Kawerau so I drove him there to meet the family. On arrival at John’s home we were greeted by a huge crowd and had to fight our way to John’s modest family home. I waited outside and eventually was noticed by John’s Dad who said to John, “Does your driver want a cup of tea?” Both John and I cracked up with laughter. A Powhiri followed at the local Marae and we shared a fantastic day.

I drove John back to Auckland to The White Heron in Parnell. Sir Robert Kerridge’s Kerridge Odeon Group, who was touring John, owned this hotel. I had organised a series of interviews with press and radio and we worked through to about 8.30PM.

John then invited me to dinner in the hotel dining room and off we went to get a table. I was dressed in a suit and tie and John in smart casual, as befits a pop star. We were greeted at the dining room desk by the maitre d’ who informed us that, "Whilst I could dine John could not unless he went and put on a tie" I took the gentleman aside and told them who John was and that Kerridge were touring him and surely this silly rule could be waived. I was informed it could not be.

Just at that moment Sir Robert himself arrived with a few friends for dinner so I took the opportunity to ask him for a moment. On explaining the situation Sir Robert also confirmed John could not be admitted to dine without a tie. I then got angry (my short fuse again) and told Sir Robert I thought his rule, stupid, unrealistic (in a show biz hotel) and that he should re-think a poor decision that made him and his company look bad to a major star.

Sir Robert then called the maitre d’ over and in a loud voice informed him “Mr Rowles is invited to join me for dinner and this rude young man must leave my hotel immediately.” I left, happy that John had been looked after.

Back in Philips in Wellington the next day Sir Robert’s complaint about me had already reached top management. After explaining to MD Dirk Hudig and Commercial Director, Bruce Garden what had happened, we all had a good laugh as they, like me, knew of Sir Robert’s autocratic style.

CHASING PADDY

1974 and I'm working in London as Director of A&R for Phonogram UK. I get a call from our Marketing Director, Ken Maliphant, who has heard a whisper, that hot Irish folk band The Chieftains are out of contract and could be available to sign. We arrange an appointment with the group’s leader Paddy Moloney in Dublin for later in the week.

We fly over to Dublin early in the morning and are at Paddy’s office on time for our morning meeting. The secretary welcomes us and says she will let Paddy know we are here. “Would you like a cup of tea, Mr McCready and Mr Maliphant?” says the lovely lady. We have tea and we wait: we wait and we wait.

“Mr McCready; Mr Maliphant, would you like another cup of tea”, the lovely lady inquires again after about an hour and several requests by us as to “Where’s Paddy?”

We are then informed that, “Regrettably Paddy has been unexpectedly tied up with an urgent problem. Mr McCready: Mr Maliphant why don’t you go and have a bite to eat and Paddy will be delighted to see you at 3pm.”

At 3pm we are back. “Paddy shouldn’t be long” the secretary says, “Would you like a cup of tea while you wait, Mr McCready: Mr Maliphant?”

So: more cups of tea, more waiting but no Paddy. Around 4pm the secretary comes over; “Mr McCready: Mr Maliphant” she says, “Paddy has gone off to the Guinness office and is unlikely to return today. Would you mind coming back to meet with Paddy at 10am tomorrow, Mr McCready: Mr Maliphant?”

We organise a hotel for the night and change our return flights to London for the next evening.

Next day promptly at 10am we arrive and are greeted by the lovely secretary “Good morning Mr McCready: Mr Maliphant, would you like a cup of tea while you wait?”

So, more tea and we wait, but still no sign of Paddy!

At around 11am the secretary says “Mr McCready: Mr Maliphant, regrettably Paddy has gotten himself delayed at another appointment; but he will be here to see you at 2pm, if that’s convenient, Mr McCready: Mr Maliphant.”

We graciously admit defeat and go to the airport and get a flight home to London.

On the aircraft Ken turns to me and in his Scottish accent says “McCready: it’s a strange place that Dublin,”

We never did get to have a conversation with Paddy or sign the band.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

SIGNING SHONA LAING






In 1972, Chris Bourne, a TV producer and a friend, was producing a talent show called New Faces and phoned me, all excited. “John, we have a young schoolgirl we have just auditioned and I think she is great; you have to come and have a look”. I raced down to the TV studios where Chris played me Shona Laing’s audition, a song called “We’re Gonna Change the World”. 

This was a folky protest song, written by Shona and on hearing the song and Shona's performance, my internal music antenna was sending me strong signals. In my view Chris was right to be so excited about this young and talented artist.

I phoned Shona, introduced myself and told her I was interested in offering her a recording contract: I followed this up with a formal letter.

Some time later, the shy school girl arrived at my office, guitar in hand. After a general “get to know each other” discussion in my office, we moved to our record library/studio where I had a Revox tape recorder. I had Shona perform what she liked from her own compositions and I was stunned by the beautiful and meaningful songs sung with heart and feeling.

After a dozen or so songs Shona fell silent. I said, “Have you anymore?” “No” she replied; then after a long pause said “I have one more, but you would hate it.” “Sing it anyway,” I said.
Shona launched into singing "1905"

WOW! What a song. 

When she finished I told her that in my view that was her best song and if we agreed a record contract I would want that to be the single. We agreed a recording and songwriting contract.

Shona went on to reach the final of New Faces singing “We’re Gonna Change the World” (I believe it was this and not "1905" as all bios of Shona I have read say, but I may be wrong.)

Realising that Shona was a passionate artist who saw me, as a “suit”, I had to find a producer who could make her feel comfortable. I decided Dale Wrightson was the right person, given his rare combination of being a fine musician, having a commercial savvy and already a successful advertising producer.

Dale and Shona hit it off immediately and went off together to work on the album. It was a beauty, titled “Whispering Afraid”. It sold well and spawned two top ten singles, “1905” and “Show your love”. We spared no expense on the cover art and Dale hired top photographer Sal Criscillo to do the pictures.

That year Shona deservedly won two RATA awards, “Best New Artist” and “Recording Artist of The Year”.

                   Shona and Dale at HMV Studio Wellington


From Yamaha Tokyo I received an invite to enter one of our artists in The Tokyo Song Festival and I decided to send Shona. In discussion with her we came up with the idea of combining two of her songs into a concept work and this became “Masquerade”, her Tokyo entry. Shona won the major prize.

The following year I was transferred to head A&R at our UK company, so "Whispering Afraid" was the only Shona Laing project I was involved in. I was delighted that the company in New Zealand went on to have further success with this very talented artist.


 Below, Shona Laing (holding her awards) and John McCready at the 1973 RATA Awards





Links

Demo of Whispering Afraid recorded as part of process in selecting songs for Shona's first LP


AudioCulture

Saturday, October 17, 2009

BOB (DYLAN) WANTS TO MEET

In 1963 as a young up-and-comer in the music business I received a sample single from Columbia Records USA of a new singer-songwriter they were enthusiastic about. It was “Blowing in The Wind” by Bob Dylan. I just loved it and later his album “The Freewheeling Bob Dylan”. I became an avid fan and worked hard to promote his recordings.

Now in 1978 I’m head of CBS New Zealand (Columbia’s NZ company) and Bob Dylan and band will be playing at Western Springs Stadium. We work hard to promote the gig and Bob’s wonderful catalogue of recordings.

The day before the gig is rehearsal day and I get a phone call from the tour’s PR man Mr. Wassermann. “Bob wants to meet you,” he says. They send a limo to pick me up and I’m delivered to the back stage area at Western Springs where Mr. Wassermann is waiting for me. He tells me I will meet Bob after rehearsal and meantime would I follow him. I am led out to the middle of the Western Springs grassed area, just in front of the sound techs booth. “Bob would like you to stand here,” says Mr. Wassermann; who then leaves me there all alone and marches off backstage.

Bob Dylan and band then come on stage and begin to play. After a couple of songs they stop and Bob goes to the side and has a discussion with Mr. Wassermann. Out comes Mr. Wassermann to the grassed area and heads over to me. “Bob would like you to move a little to the left,” he says. I move a little to the left and off goes Mr. Wassermann back stage and Bob Dylan begins to rehearse again.

I’m treated to over an hour of classic Bob Dylan.

The rehearsal finishes so Bob and band leave the stage. Mr. Wassermann comes out and collects me and I’m lead to Bob’s dressing camper van. I am introduced and Bob, with a sweaty limp hand, shakes my hand and says, “Pleased to meet you”. He turns away and I’m lead back to the limo and driven back to the office.

It was a very strange but very wonderful afternoon.