"Of course there has been a wholesale change in the structure of the record industry over those years, but while we can lament the loss of certain aspects, the new order creates exciting opportunities and if we remember that ultimately nothing stimulates the listener to purchase music than a great song. It's the one thing that was as true as when I bought my first single in WH Smith in 1978, as it is to my daughter downloading from the comfort of home. Working in this industry is a labour of love, those cherished slots garnered on Saturday morning TV, the 48 hour weekend trips with a journalist to Los Angeles to nail that crucial interview are great experiences on the one hand, but maybe not so great for your children, although certain opportunities give you a bit of slack!"
Where my passion for music most directly came from is debatable. Born in Bushey, Watford, but Luton bred from an early age there was no obvious musical heritage. I'd left school when former Streetband and Q Tips singer, Luton's very own Paul Young successfully embarked on a solo career and that's where my town's pop stars begin and end.
The town had hosted The Beatles in 1963 and witnessed one of the two 'trouser splitting' incidents that curtailed PJ Proby's career in the mid 60's, but Luton had no significant venues in the 1970's, relying on the Queensway Hall in nearby Dunstable (my first gig, April 14th 1980, Secret Affair) and the legendary California Ballroom which had made way for a housing development before I ever had a chance to attend a show there.
My mother had sung with the highly rated Luton Girls Choir conducted by Arthur Davies, cutting a single for Parlaphone, the year before the label signed The Beatles! Despite this I've never heard my mother sing in the flesh and I'd also never seen my father play piano, although I'm now aware he had a regular engagement at the Mecca Ballroom in Ilford in the late 50's. However he did give me an early introduction to the joys of Fats Waller and others through his impressive collection of 78's. In years gone by I may have been lured into the town's millinery industry, but straw boaters and hats in general had declined in fashion by the early 60's and the prominent employer was Vauxhall Motors where my grandfather worked for many years up until his retirement in 1970.
Although I can claim to have been alive ( by 11 weeks ) when England won their one and to this date, only significant international football tournament on July 30th 1966, my passion for the beautiful game was nurtured on the Oak Road terrace at Kenilworth Road in the late 1970's watching the sublime Ricky Hill and co. However any thoughts of gracing the hallowed turf were dashed with a knee injury incurred in a Sunday league game in late 1978.
Box 11 was a home from home from 1997 through to 2006 as a guest of Rob Stringer, then Director of Luton Town (now Chairman, Columbia Records in New York). It was always a roller coaster ride and we went through many a promotion and relegation as the fortunes ebbed and flowed until the 'unfortunate' events that led to unparalleled points deductions and a decent from the Football League. Fortunately our return to the 'promised land' of League Two was realised in 2014. I think I probably still owe Rob a few quid for those memorable afternoons with other guests being the great and the good of the music industry dropping by if their team was sharing our league status. Also, my now teenage daughter will present him with a packet of chocolate biscuits for the ones she denied she ate before half time each week!
My earliest memory of a song entering the psyche was when I saw the film piece ( video would be a premature term) for the haunting instrumental from Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac,'Albatross', which topped the UK charts in December 1968 ......even to this day I have to be in the right mood to listen to it......and there defines the difference between songs that you just like and those that provoke genuine emotion for the listener.
Although sonically a world apart, to me there is one song that defines my (post Beatles) generation. If 1955's 'Rock Around The Clock' had pushed the door ajar, Heartbreak Hotel' would the following year open the door fully for a new generation , shaping a post war world and in Elvis Presley the defining artist possibly of the 20th century. Youth culture was born and the 'to be seen, but not heard' adage was gone forever. Twenty years later in a relatively staid musical environment suffering a post 60's hangover, a single was released that charted at No 38 in late 1976 ,which with particular irony I worked on a 1992 reissue which peaked six places higher. ' Anarchy In The UK ' spoke to a disengaged youth growing up in tough economic times and certainly resonated if you grew up in a tower block on a council estate. The cultural revolution of mid 50's America inspired a generation of musicians, John Lennon and Paul McCartney for starters, while the initial impact domestically of the Sex Pistols was hugely evident,particularly in the Jubilee year of 1977 and the subsequent new wave movement , even 15 years later it inspired the Seattle based Nirvana who reference the solitary Pistols studio album with their landmark 'Nevermind' album and defines the era's grunge movement. In fact I remember visiting John Lydon (having previously got to know him while working on a Public Image Ltd album) at his home in Marina Del Rey in 1994 and him telling me that that 'Never Mind The Bollocks' had just achieved Gold status sales wise in North America 17 years after its initial release.
Recently Noel Gallagher commented in a BBC documentary that he would swap his recorded output to have recorded that seminal album and many years ago the peerless broadcaster and music historian Paul Gambaccini contextualised the significance of the Sex Pistols, saying many artists will have sold millions more records and rightly deserve a line in the history of rock'n'roll , while the Pistols require a whole paragraph !
However despite all the above , the chart stats of 1978 will reveal that two of the most dominant albums emanated from the stable of the legendary impresario Robert Stigwood. The soundtracks of both 'Saturday Night Fever' and 'Grease' both starring John Travolta ,dominated the charts around the world. In 2011 , while working with Robin Gibb,he was asked to present a life time achievement award to Travolta at the Berlin Film Festival at which the actor spoke of his recognition of the significant contribution the music of The Bee Gees had played in his first major starting role.
In 1982 with unemployment rushing with indecent haste towards three million, further education seemed an attractive option. Although I was no threat to the academic community , if I had a educational leaning it was to the 'arts' subjects and particularly language and literature , which in subsequent years became useful for press releases and general promotional presentation. (Un)fortunately I parted company with further education , which was of huge disappointment to my family who had hoped I'd follow in the footsteps of my supremely gifted and talented uncle . Robert Whymant had come from the same austere roots, but had achieved a scholarship to Cambridge and by 1972 was the Tokyo correspondent for The Guardian. His liberal politics certainly helped shape my outlook and perspectives and his death in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 while in Sri Lanka ( he had been in the process of writing a book on the Tamil conflict ) has undoubtedly left an irreplaceable hole in our family and I only subsequently realise how influential he was on my life.
Well it didn't in the end! ...... With the benefit of hindsight it all seems rather inconsequential in comparison to the challenges faced in the embryo years of the Internet.
My first job was at the HMV record store in Luton's Arndale shopping centre where I soon became singles buyer , a hugely important responsibility in that period. By the end of 1985 I was appointed assistant manager of the Our Price shop in Watford High Street,leading in early 1986 to the managers role in Southampton city centre.
An opportunity arose to join the sales force at Pinnacle Records that summer, where I was managed by none other than former Electric Light Orchestra violinist Mel Gayle.
I joined Polydor in early 1987 and relocated to the Midlands for a two year tenure on the road with an area of responsibility from the Welsh border in the west to East Anglia,and then Derbyshire down to the Home Counties. Although perhaps seeming archaic now,the sales forces or 'strike forces' were an integral part of the music industry mechanism. From dressing the stores with your product so as to be displayed in prominent positions , to ensuring adequate stocking,competitive pricing , crucially in shops that returned sales data to the chart panel ,it cannot be underestimated the influence of this activity .
After two years and thousands of miles driven I took a sabbatical in 1990 to travel and ended up waiting tables in a diner on the Upper East Side of Manhattan , at which point I decided to return to London having been notified of an opportunity to join Virgin Records. Working with the talismanic Tony Barker we embarked on a remarkable decade of success.
In many ways this year was a watershed year for two organisations integral to my working life.
In the years since its inception in 1967, BBC Radio 1 was arguably the most influential single factor in the domestic fortunes of popular music in the UK. Often wrongly maligned now, the public service corporation was hugely responsible for the rich diverse nature of the chart where it was not inconceivable for a host of genres to sit side by side on the playlist, disco and new wave for example in the late seventies , in stark contrast to to the commercial genre formatted stations prevalent across the Atlantic. While in 1992 audiences were still very healthy , impressive considering the emergence of increasing numbers of commercial stations such as Capital Radio in London.
It was widely argued that it was losing sight if its core demographic (15 to 24 year olds) and its presenters (the daytime schedule in '92 had held firm for the best part of a decade). Taking into account it has a remit and promise of performance to adhere to as it is funded by the tax payer there was a question mark over its very survival. Following a now infamous cull of 'older' presenters, BBC Radio 1 had a number of turbulent years. The ratings slide was considerable, and while the station would never enjoy the dizzy rajar figures of the 1980's, it successfully reinvented itself into a relevant youth orientated music station. The other benefit of this 'revolution' was to facilitate a more gentle evolution of another 'sleeping giant' at BBC Radio 2.
Suddenly there was room for a new dynamism at the station to cater for the post Radio 1 generation and it remains to this day the biggest radio station in the UK , this despite it having the same remit issues as Radio 1 and the wide choice of research driven hit radio available in every locality. This formed the landscape of my Virgin Records decade......our radio and television promotions department achieved outstanding success during this period, but 1992 was also the end of an era at another iconic institution.
Back in 1973, Richard Branson, Ken Berry and Simon Draper had formed Virgin Records,achieving spectacular success initially with the unlikely 'Tubular Bells' composed and performed by Mike Oldfield.
..and then later further cementing its success when signing the Sex Pistols in 1977 following their short tenure at A&M Records and the fallout from the controversy surrounding the release of 'God Save The Queen' in the middle of the Silver Jubilee. It would be almost incomprehensible all these years later to imagine the shock value of putting a safety pin through Her Majesty's nose as depicted on the iconic Jamie Reid sleeve artwork...
Although coincidental, the 21st anniversary of Virgin Records in 1994 marked the beginning of the second great A&R period for Virgin , from a department headed by Ashley Newton(think the diversity of Massive Attack and the Spice Girls,both now embedded in the DNA of 90's culture). Together with the 'dream team' Paul Conroy and Ray Cooper, Virgin Records was a hugely exciting and vibrant company to work for and certainly one of those special moments when the chemistry of the personnel and the creative output were combined at an optimum level.
The years that followed saw major successes from the A&R department helmed by Draper(think Culture Club,Simple Minds,The Human League to name just three) but by 1992 , and following the sale of several legendary independent record companies (Island, Chrysalis, A&M), Branson sold Virgin Records to EMI .
In 1999, legendary public relations guru Alan Edwards invited Tony Barker and myself to join the Outside Organisation as directors of a new radio and television division. Alan, alongside his experienced colleagues, notably Julian Stockton and Stuart Bell, provided me with an invaluable insight into the newspaper and magazine industry. It was during this period that with Simon Fuller at 19 Management, they were instrumental in the rise of the David Beckham phenomenon.
Coming from a successful media family (father Chris Lycett, former Head of Radio 1, mother Annie, senior executive of The Princes Trust and brother Daniel, successful label boss), it was little surprise that younger brother Charlie would follow a path into the industry. He first came to work with me at the Outside Organisation and it was soon clear he was a unique and exceptional talent. In 2003 I asked Charlie to join me in creating Lucid Public Relations coinciding as it did with the Radio Academy Award bestowed on me that same year.
Charlie has continued to excel in developing the Lucid Media Group, also finding time to become the youngest record company MD ever during his period at RCA.
With Shakira prior to leading her to the stage for her performance for Capital Radio's Party in the Park in London 2002.
The sheer diversity of the clients has ranged from legendary musicians and songwriters, actors , sports men and women and this has led to meetings with members of the Royal Family and even US Presidents.
With Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States, following a speech at the Royal Albert Hall in London for his Clinton Foundation in 2007.
With David Bowie in a recording studio in Greenwich Village , New York after conducting an interview with the BBC in support of his 'Reality' album in 2003.
I'm particularly proud of the wonderful team of people I worked with during this period and honourable mentions and gratitude are due to Sarah Adams, Neil Ashby, Ton Barker, Michelle Barrett, Phil Christie, Alison Davidson, Joe Etchells, Adam Fisher, Ian Goddard, Jaqui Heyward, John Keane, Paul Kennedy, Helen Knox, Loraine McDonald, Alison Parry, James Passmore, Mathew Racher, Emily Smith, Rupert Tracy, Felicity Venton, Sacha Wilkinson, Pete Webber, David Wille and Leanne Wood.
In 2007 , possibly the greatest promotions man ever and by then a friend of long standing, introduced me to Robin Gibb, one third of the most successful song writing trio ever, The Bee Gees.
The man in question was David Most, a warmer and more generously spirited man you could not hope to meet. Without doubt, his knowledge and advice in my early days visiting Egton House (then the home of Radio 1), assisted my swift acceptance by a lot of the 'older heads' in the production department at Radio 1.
Together with his wife Dorothy, an industry legend in her right ,what they didn't know was probably not worth knowing . For many years he had been Robin's (and Maurice's up until his sad passing in 2003) closest friend and confidant, but by 2007 he had decided to spend more time with his family and thought I'd fill a 'vacuum' created by this. In true David style our initial meeting was in Cardiff Town Hall at his daughter Suki's wedding and his instincts were correct and Robin and I went on to spend five unforgettable years working together both here and around the world. In September 2010, David Most passed away, but his influence on my career in so many ways will last forever.
My closing mention is for Robin... To work so closely with him and his wonderful family was a honour and his death in May 2012 was such a huge loss to the world of music, but no where felt more acutely than by his devoted wife Dwina and his son Robin John who had only recently completed their first classical release to immense critical acclaim.
There have been many memorable events over the years including the years of representing the key awards shows including many years at The Brits. Then there was Net Aid, Pavarotti In The Park and way back Radio 1 road shows around the coastline of Britain. One special event was a concert the legendary Tony Panico and I put together for the Outward Bound charity ...with Bill Wyman providing his Rhythm Kings as the house band, guests such as Beverley Knight, Valeriya, Natasha Hamilton, Mark King, Lulu, Melanie C and more, joined Charity Ambassador Robin Gibb on stage to sing songs from the Gibb brothers songbook.
Vanessa Brady is the renowned interior designer and consultant who has achieved an impressive haul of awards to testify to her position as a leader on the global design stage. Additionally she is President of The Society of British Interior Design (SBID) and it was her choice of Robin Gibb as their inaugural Ambassador that led us to work together. Robin's tireless work as President of The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) in the defence of copyright and intellectual property, struck a chord with Vanessa's own campaign to represent Britain's fertile creative interior design sector. Unfortunately Robin's health deteriorated through his tenure, but there have been opportunities to work with Vanessa as she pursues increased media roles such as her regular contributions to Sky News. Expect to see that media profile increase as she considers further offers in the business and economic spectrum. The formation of West One Pacific is in no small part a result of the confidence and support she has shown, for which I'm extremely grateful.
In a Music Week feature from 2001, one memorable quote described how the record industry woke up to the new century following the millennium festivities with a massive hangover. The benefits of the Internet were not immediately embraced in an industry that had lost control of its own intellectual property. In a frighteningly swift couple of years a generation emerged who the concept of paying for music was alien. 2004 saw a record low in singles sales (31.4 million), but the issues have been and continue to be addressed as technology produces continuing challenges. Without doubt the way music is marketed to, and consumed by the public, has undergone a seismic shift. By 2008 single track downloads were surpassing the pre digital peak of 1979 so there is plenty to be encouraged about as we move forward.
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