Helping to develop even further the services provided by Quite Great aiding bands to grow and release music in the UK from all corner of the globe has brought back memories of my Virgin Records days with the news of the latest Virgin branded sell off (Virgin Active )from Sir Richard Branson evoking personal Recollections of the 1992 sale of the founding company of his empire, Virgin Records.
Since then his reputation as an astute deal maker with a sense of timing has led to the departure from his portfolio of Virgin Radio , four years after its arrival , in 1997 , Virgin Mobile, percentages in Virgin Rail and Virgin Atlantic and a stream of lavishly launched products from finance to cola that have performed successfully to a lesser or greater degree over his illustrious entrepreneurial career .
But it was the launch of his label in 1973 that will forever be part of British music folklore. The astounding success of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells still feels like a strangely unique and eclectically English creation. That the ‘hippy’ would play a significant part in the development of Punk in the mid seventies , speaks volumes about his maverick ‘ outsider ‘persona. The Sex Pistols having fallen foul of the establishment EMI , hastily despatched by A&M prior to the release of God Save The Queen , slap bang in the middle of the Silver Jubilee in the summer of 1977 was an opportunity too good to pass up for the soon to be recognised master of publicity. The wonderful irony of his Knighthood bestowed by the very target of that debut single for Virgin was not lost on anyone.
The announcement on a dank morning at the Kensal Dock conference room with fellow directors Simon Draper and Ken Berry marked the end of an era for the independent labels such as A&M and Chrysalis that had all been swallowed by the majors previously. It was surely the rock’n’roll glamour that the label gave him that helped his popularity and rubbed off on every brand he launched, and he seemed more ‘one of us’ when engaged in his long running disputes with British Airways chairman, Lord King.
Sir Richard Branson helped change the face of the music industry as well as the way entrepreneurs within music have helped keep the UK at the forefront of all styles and trends , with our efforts to help fill a void between labels and helping to drive structured development campaigns for artists growing in the domestic market , the guys at Quite Great hope to in some way always take a leaf out of Sir Richard’s maverick approach…
It is so good to hear that the legendary BB King looks like he is back on the mend after going into hospital, I was lucky enough to work with him and the experience of touching such greatness has certainly helped me and the guys who work at Quite Great to understand how to work with all levels of talent and the understanding of how to represent them correctly. Although it was back in my label days when I headed up the PR teams at Polydor, MCA etc covering the likes of Geffen through to Motown and many more imprints, it was not just the feeling of being in the presence of a legend like BB King, but the small details of those around him.
His manager has always left an impression on me for the small details of how he operated, not only perfectly understanding how to represent such talent but also the tiny details like every time he met someone new – certainly when I was with him meeting label executives – he would always reach into his pocket and pull out a BB King button badge and pin it on the person he met , it had the feeling of being initiated into a club and was a great bonding exercise and it is a tip to all managers to focus on drawing people into what you wish them to do and make them part of your team. This feeling of joining the club when working with a major act was multiplied by the caring factor of Cher, who really knew – and I am sure still does – how to make a person feel like part of her team. I remember her coming into a company meeting when we hit Number 1 and thanking everyone there for their help then spending a long time signing mementos for all the staff, this simple act bonded us to her for an incredibly successful period in her career, so much so that I still have a wonderful signed poster which she made out to my son , who had not even been born at the time but was a few weeks away from being born hence a totally unique and memorable thing that will live with us for many years to come.
The point being, it doesn’t matter what stage you are in your career people who work for you need to feel part of the team and needed so by giving them a pat on the back or leaving them with something they cannot throw away too easily means you have them on your side and that as an act or a manager is really where you need your team through the tough times and the good times.
It has been a sad morning for the Quite Great team having received the news yesterday evening concerning Steve Strange’s untimely death in Egypt of heart failure. We worked with him and his label on numerous projects from new Visage albums to a major anniversary event for the Blitz club and discussions relating to books and exhibitions. Vicky our Head of PR dealt with Steve regularly and she fondly recalls not only the serious PR aspects of what we carried out but the lighter side as well .
‘We would speak for hours literally most days when we were working on a project, and he always had the time to explain all the details of what he wanted to be done .’ explains Vicky , ‘ He would always make us laugh and he was always a true drama in a very positive way and we found ourselves helping him with all matters from projects to how best to use his mobile phone which always seemed to cause him problems. We always looked forward to hearing from him and we will all miss him.’
Steve was always someone who did not want to let anyone down and therefore always was happy to do as many interviews in a day as was possible, he even would be very specific , as would be expected, to look great for interviews and sometimes look great when he was only doing a phone interview. He lived and loved fashion and had great respect for his fans , who were very , very loyal to him and always wished to know everything that was going on . It has been a busy day today just dealing with fans contacting and asking for any further news, it has been a very touching day for us all.
Everyone who understands fashion and understands music , will also understand how much Steve and the Blitz club brought these two things together , there was perhaps never a musical and fashion movement outside of punk that intertwined so closely and many will see Steve and his entrepreneurial spirit as the glue that bonded both elements of this defining scene…………….we will miss him.
Sometimes the blog will have interesting music tips and advice and sometimes I am just in the zone of looking back at a life in music and sometimes there is room for a confession. Given the worrying headlines that seem to proliferate in the media, I have to make sure my confession is out there so in future there will be no repercussions, and if any of you have any similar stories of rock n roll child excess then let us know. When my son was born, two months after, give or take a week or so, we took him to his first rock concert. At the time I was overseeing the Guns ‘n’ Roses PR promotion for Use Your Illusion 1 and 2. I felt it was vital that he became acquainted from a very early age as to what his dad did for a job, ok maybe two months might have been pushing it but we took him all the same. Even fitted him with ear plugs and sat him in the press box. The gig was one of the greatest shows I have ever seen from a rock band, with the greatest Guns ‘n’ Roses line up, some of the greatest rock songs from one of the greatest series of albums ever written, and the weather was just perfect, not a cloud in sight. What a night a night, never to be forgotten, other than the fact that throughout the whole show my son never woke up, honestly not once, not until and I kid you not, we got back to the car then if I remember correctly he wouldn’t be quiet until our two hour car journey was over, rock n roll child cruelty indeed.
Memories From A Life In Music to be continued…
I recently sat down with a nice cup of cocoa and settled into reading Donald Passman’s fantastic , ‘All you need to know about the Music Business’ and came across the section relating to touring your band, having been deeply involved with many touring situations from publicity to management I couldn’t help but stop on the pages that referred to early stages of touring . The section stated that amongst other things it makes more sense for a metal band to tour than a singer songwriter or ballad type act. I found this fairly debatable as if you are infront of an audience and your music is strong – the most important part of the jigsaw – then why should metal be different to a solo artist? If the crowd is the same does this actually stack up?
Anyway the style of music is open to debate but the question of tour support will always at some stage raise it’s head , by tour support it actually means the shortfall between the costs layed out and the return from the shows but in reality the budget for the tour, to support a headliner , or the ‘buy on’ fee is critical . The fee to appear as a tour support is there to reduce tour costs for the headline act primarily and you must make sure that you are certain that when you go on stage , the audience will be in the venue and not in the bar, kind of obvious but very relevant. Rule 1 of building a fan base via tour support is knowing that there will be people watching you and then that you have something to sell whether it be merchandise or donuts- only go for the donut option if your merch is really rubbish as it is easier to wear a t shirt than a donut- anyway once Rule 1 is understood , make sure you have a good idea as to the average attendance at the venue in terms of ticket sales as again why pay to support a badly promoted tour.
It all seems obvious but sometimes you are so blown away by supporting one of the bands you have idolised, that you forget to make sure the obvious is not overlooked.