Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CHAOS IN CANNES: I meet "THE AL CAPONE OF POP"

DON ARDEN "The Al Capone of Pop".

In January 1976 Ken East and I attended the annual record industry market in Cannes, France. We met current and potential Motown licensees and completed some excellent business deals. However the standout of the convention for me was an incident which forever remains etched in my memory bank.

On my final evening in Cannes I was sitting with a colleague in the lobby bar of the Cannes Casino sharing a quiet drink. Suddenly the door of the Casino gaming room burst open and a thick set guy came sprinting out of the gaming room moving fast towards the Casino main entrance, which was just beyond our table: he was chased by another chap, sprinting even faster.

Just as the lead runner reached abreast of our table, he was caught by the chaser and pounced upon in a classic rugby style tackle. Both men landed on our glass table and it shattered into thousands of pieces.

The chaser then grabbed the runner by the shoulders and commenced to pound the runner’s head, over and over, into the floor. It was so quick and so violent.

I thought the runner was going to be killed and without thinking dived on the chaser and started to pull him off. All three of us were now on our feet, me hugging the chaser and the chaser still wrestling the runner.

Suddenly, a fourth combatant, a young woman joins us. The woman starts to tear and scratch the face of the chaser as I still endeavour to pull him off and away from the runner.

We are then all pounced upon by several French Gendarmes, separated and held. After a discussion by the police with other onlookers I am released and thanked for intervening and the other three are taken away.

Next morning I’m on a flight back to London travelling in “the back of the bus”. From business class the “The Runner” from the previous evening emerges and walks down the isle to me. “Hello” he says and shakes my hand. “I’m Don Arden and I just wanted to thank you for intervening last night. If you hadn’t I could have been seriously hurt. I found out who you were and if ever you need anything, give me a call, here's my card”.

Apparently the “The Chaser” was from a rival artist management company and the dispute was over rights to the group BLACK SABBATH. The young woman who joined the affray and started to attack “The Chaser” was Don’s daughter Sharon (now Sharon Osbourne).

In later years I meet Don several times, mainly through contact with his group ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA, which we then distributed. Don was always welcoming to me and ever grateful to me for intervening at our first “meeting”. I was invited and attended a party at his Beverly Hills home on one occasion, though I didn’t stay long, as it was just too wild and over the top for me.

From Wikipedia. Don Arden (4 January 1926 – 21 July 2007), born Harry Levy, was an Englishmusic manager, agent and businessman, best known for overseeing the careers of rock groupsSmall Faces, Electric Light Orchestra and Black Sabbath.

He achieved notoriety in England for his aggressive, sometimes illegal business tactics which led to him being called "Mr. Big", "The English Godfather" and "The Al Capone of Pop".[1]

He was the father of Sharon Osbourne (father-in-law of Ozzy Osbourne) and David Levy, by his wife, Hope Shaw, a former ballet dancer/teacher, who predeceased him, dying in 1999.[2]

Arden's success story turned sour when his violent 'negotiating' methods and questionable accounting caught up with him, and he became estranged from members of his own family.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

MARVIN GAYE: I WANT YOU


LONDON 1976

Ken East has moved to Motown as International Managing Director and I have joined him as UK Managing Director and International Marketing Director. This is my first "non-line management" job and my task is to promote the famed Motown artists and their recordings throughout Europe. What is different is that we have licensees in each country who do the actual marketing and my role is one of "arms length" encouragement, persuasion and if necessary "kick butt" to ensure success. The only real power we have with our licensees is that ultimately we can change them at contracts end. However if things go wrong it is Ken and I who will take the heat from Motown head office.

Marvin Gaye has a new album out, “I WANT YOU” and as part of the promotion he is in London and will play The Royal Albert Hall. We have a press conference at a Knightsbridge Hotel and it all goes well. After many one on one interviews we have organised for Marvin with reporters from the more important music newspapers, the last interview remaining is with a very attractive lady from a major daily newspaper. After we introduce Marvin to the lady he immediately requests we move this one to his suite as he is tired of being in the conference room. We organise that and leave them to it. Ken and I wait at the bar and about an hour later the young lady, now with a slightly embarrassed look on her face, comes back and joins us for a farewell drink.

That evening Ken and I have dinner with Marvin and he spends most of the meal complaining about “unpaid royalties” and even Ken’s excellent diplomacy is tested. Thankfully the conversation gets diverted when from a nearby table a gentleman gets up choking for breath, with seemingly something stuck in his throat. Marvin is quickly on his feet, grabs the man from behind and squeezes him hard; amazingly getting the man’s throat cleared. Marvin becomes an immediate hero of the restaurant crowd and we no longer have to talk about difficult money matters, over which we have no knowledge or authority.

The next evening we host special guests at a private box with bar service at Marvin’s Royal Albert Hall concert and we witness a master singer/songwriter at the top of his form. In my memory this performance remains as The Best of any artist I have seen. What a loss to music when Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father in 1984.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

JOHN MILES: MUSIC

1975 Decca Records UK

A component of my job as Marketing Manager at Decca was to work with A&R to find new local talent to sign.

Every weekend I would take home the tapes that had come in from producers and artists seeking a contract. One Sunday I’m home and I put on a tape by an artist named John Miles; it is just in a tape box titled “John Miles: Music” with a name and address of the sender. I have already listened to a couple of dozen awful tapes so I’m not expecting anything startling.

I start the tape and I can’t believe what I’m hearing: a full orchestral demo of the most amazing song.

Music is my first love and it will be my last

Music from the future, music from the past

To live without my music would be impossible to do

In these times of troubles, my music sees me through.

I play it over several times and tingle with excitement. I can hardly wait for Monday to arrive. First thing Monday I’m in Ken East’s office early and raving about this tape. I play it to him and he gets excited too and I’m given authority to try and sign John Miles to a contract.

I phone the guy whose name is on the tape, a Cliff Cooper, and arrange for him to call in for a discussion. We meet and Cliff gives me his card; he is the owner and MD of Orange Amplification and John’s manager.

Cliff is quietly spoken. He tells me about john and I enthuse over the demo tape, the song and the singer. I say we would like to sign John to Decca and he says, “OK, but what sort of advance are you offering?” I porcupine him and say, “How much do you expect?” he replies in a whisper; “One Hundred Thousand Pounds”; I say, “What was that again?” Cliff says again, very quietly, “One Hundred Thousand Pounds”.

So it’s time for me to enthuse some more and tell Cliff I would have to get him to meet Ken, who would need to approve that amount of advance on royalties. We agree to stay in touch and I will arrange a meeting with Ken.

Ken is seeing Elton John that evening (they are close friends from his EMI days) and will take the tape and ask Elton for an opinion. Next day he brings me up to date. Ken put the tape on for Elton and after just a couple of bars Elton says, “That’s John Miles, he’s great.” Apparently all the musicians know and respect John and it is only record company people who don’t know of him yet. Ken and I meet with Cliff and a contract is agreed.

We get Alan Parsons to produce the album (Rebel) and over the next few months I get to know John well. I go to many gigs, including one at a small function in a hotel in Piccadilly: John sings “Music” with just him on piano. It was spine tingling.

Our A&R team want “Highfly”, a straight pop song to be the single but I want “Music”. I bow to their wishes and we go with “High Fly” which becomes a minor hit and makes the chart.

“Music” is our 2nd single and is a huge hit reaching No3 on the charts and breaking John in Europe.

The album containing the two singles, REBEL, was a top ten UK album in 1976.

John later became part of Tina Turner’s touring band and her musical director on tour and on several of her albums. He often sang duet on stage with Tina.

John started touring again with Tina in 2008.