A Personal History of the British Records Business #16 part 1

The Hound is delighted to post, for our readers delectation,  the first instalment by EMI’s very own David Hughes MBE A Personal History of the British Record Business.

Wayne Bickerton – #16 – part 1  

First posted on vinyl memories December 10, 2015

I really needed a strong nudge to resume these unpublished interviews after such good intentions ….The death of Wayne Bickerton was the biggest nudge I could have received. Wayne, a scouser and one of the gentlest and least ego-struck music business folk I ever met, was head of A&R at Polydor when I joined in the 1972 as the company’s press officer. I think we got on well – certainly we never fell out over anything – and his signing of Billy Connolly was a hard fought masterstroke. This interview dates from around 1999. – David Hughes

Wayne Bickerton

What was your first exposure to music?

I was in Liverpool groups in the late 50’s/early 60’s. I was in the first Liverpool group to come to London, (Steve Bennett &) The Syndicate. Eventually I joined a band called Lee Curtis and the Allstars.. I was bass player and vocals and for two years we were probably the most popular band in the North West, according to Merseybeat. We made records for Decca. That was my introduction to Decca Records where I ended up working when I came back from The States.

How did the group get that recording contract?

It was the Liverpool thing, the same time as The Beatles. Every A&R man was running around Liverpool trying to find the next Beatles and we ended up being signed to Decca. Peter Sullivan was our A&R guy and he came to Liverpool. It was also the first time I met (Tremeloes etc., manager) Peter Walsh. The band was managed by a guy who wasn’t going to let anyone encroach on his patch. That was the first taste I had of the record industry and I was fascinated, the studios and all the rest of it. We recorded in London, but with Pete Best we had previously recorded with Joe Meek. God knows what happened to those recordings. We were dotted around his house – someone was in the toilets – the usual thing with Joe. The band unfortunately never quite made it. Pete Best joined having left The Beatles and we then left Lee Curtis and formed a group called the Pete Best Five (actually Four!) which also recorded for Decca. We had a wonderful record called I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door which did absolutely nothing – the cover of an American record.

Wayne is third right below..and Pete’s mum was the manager!

Did being billed “Decca Recording Artists” help the bookings?

It did, yes, and we had all those little Decca handout postcard pictures, provided by the Decca press officer.

Did you have dealing with the press office?

Yes – Brian Gibson, a great guy. So I went through all that Liverpool scene, did all the things with Pete Best..we eventually ended up in America. We made the recordings that were subsequently released to hang on the coat-tails of The (Beatles) Anthology series.

They weren’t released earlier?

No, they were bootlegged extensively across the world. We were the last people to receive a royalty; in fact it’s only recently I’ve seen anything from those recordings which I have to say were highly embarrassing – they’re atrocious. We did about an album’s worth. We came back (from America) eventually, reopened the Cavern and met the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. I loved New York, one of my favourite cities. We were a Beatles link. These guys had a so-called marketing plan so we were flown across to New York with The Undertakers and played at places like The Peppermint Lounge. One day these guys stepped up; they were from the Immigration Department and said ‘OK, you’ve been here for 9-10 months as tourists, you’re going to have to deal or leave.’ The deal essentially was that they would put us down for a Green Card. ‘What does that mean’, we asked. ‘If you’re down for a Green Card you have to do things like the rest of the American people are doing, and what we’d like you to do is to volunteer to play for the troops.’ So it was ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ – I was up for it, Tony Waddington was up for it, but Pete wasn’t and neither were a couple of the guys, so we left for Canada, did a tour with Roy Orbison and then came home. I had basically become disillusioned with the band.

Were you doing all this under the auspices of a manager?

Basically through Pete Best’s mother! The problem with bands is that it’s the most undemocratic platform you can ever be involved in – your life’s not your own; other people do things and make commitments and you find yourself somewhere you don’t want to be. So I’d had enough. I decided I wanted to get on the other side of the industry. I got the taste of being a producer. (In New York) I loved being in the studio; it was a great experience, ending up on a demo session with Charlie and Inez Foxx, meeting heroes like Luther Dixon who wrote The Shirelles’ hits. James Brown’s band used it a lot, and great drummers like James Purdie. It all rubbed off and I got a taste for it.

The funniest thing that happened in New York when we were there as musicians, was when all the lights went out. We were in the studio, and of course in England it wasn’t unusual to have a power failure; in New York the lights didn’t just go off, they went down gradually and we went to emergency lighting. The Guy who owned the studio came upstairs and the and the guy who was producing the record was Bob Gallo who was the first cousin of the Bobby Gallo of mafia fame – it was that kind of set up. Someone said to the engineer ‘Christ, what have you been doing this time?’, so they went out into the hallways and opened the electrical boxes to see what the problem was. There was a huge window on 42nd Street and they looked out and all of a sudden the lights just went out, bang bang bang, all down the street, and there was total darkness. Then we were getting static through the speakers from the emergency power and within five minutes the Americans had convinced themselves they had heard the sound of approaching Russian bombers. Within minutes there were police on top of police cars to stop looting. There were people out on the streets – talk about commercial enterprise – with trays selling candles which a few minutes earlier were 5 cents and now were $5! It went on all night, the first time it had ever happened all up the coast – 1963 I think.

(According to Wikipedia-The Northeast blackout of 1965 was a significant disruption in the supply of electricity on Tuesday, November 9, 1965, affecting parts of Ontario in Canada and Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Vermont in the United States. Over 30 million people and 80,000 square miles (207,000 km2) were left without electricity for up to 13 hours.)

Was Decca your first port of call, and were there still House Producers?

Yes.

I did cabaret gigs in Liverpool for a while, which I hated, but I’d met my wife, got married and we had a small flat. My actual profession is an engineer which I hadn’t practiced since I’d left Liverpool, so I went back to being an engineer during the day, played cabaret, and sat in the toilet of the flat until 2am writing songs. Survived – God knows how – on about four hours sleep. I used to go down to London and a friend of mine, Tony Booth, used to let me sleep in his flat, so I took days off work, went down (to London) with my tapes and did the rounds. That was when I first met Dick Leahy for example when he was at Philips. I did EMI, Decca, Pye. I was offered a job at Pye and at Decca, as a producer, joining the staff and making the tea. People like Peter Sullivan had moved on because of Tom (Jones) and was on a different planet. I found out later that word had got round that Dick Rowe had hired an American producer – of course it was a scouser who had been to America! Today it’s difficult to get a job in the music business, and years later I was talking to Dick Rowe and asked him why I’d got the job – all those letters that he must have received week in and week out, He’d had too much to drink and he said ‘Well I’ll be absolutely candid with you, I thought you were a very interesting engineer. I thought about not having signed The Beatles and thought I’d give this guy a chance.’ That’s why I got the job, the Liverpool connection.

To be continued – Deram label, Sir Edward Lewis, Tony Hall and many more names along the Bickerton path.

Text ©David Hughes 2016, photographs sourced by Google for illustration purposes only.

About David Hughes Mini Biography 

In 1966, David began working for a local Kent newspaper, starting a music column alongside the more traditional elements of cub reporter life, before later joining weekly music newspaper Disc & Music Echo in 1967. He became a press officer for Polydor Records in 1972, working alongside artists such as Slade, The Jam and The Osmonds, before moving to EMI Records in 1978. There, he was general manager of the Tamla Motown label, working with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and later with Duran Duran, Nigel Kennedy and the NOW That’s What I Call Music series

After 15 years, he moved back to public relations in 1993 becoming the company’s Vice President of Communications and External Affairs and assuming responsibility for EMI’s calendar of corporate events until retiring at the end of July 1998.

In 2014  David Hughes was appointed MBE for services to the UK music industry and charities the EMI Music Sound Foundation & EMI Archive Trust.

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Gaisberg’s Travels #2

“8-8-1898”

The young Fred Gaisberg arrived in Liverpool and made his way to London to set up his studio. Despite the long journey and unfamiliar country Gaisberg was in high spirits and recalls

“Arriving in London at the tail end of a strawberry glut of which I took the fullest advantage.”

– Fred Gaisberg

Before any recordings could be made he needed to find the correct space for the studio and purchase all the necessary materials and chemicals. His Notebook is filled with a long list of items such as:

        A gallon of coal oil

        Jars and pitchers of earthenware and glass

        A soldering iron

        Acid

        Gasoline

        An etching tank

        Scissors

        Oil cloth

        Linoleum

        Cotton cloth

        A bucket

All parts were necessary to make the discs after the recording.

The studio was based in the basement room of the dingy Old Coburn Hotel.

 

  Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust


Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

“Yes, grimy was the word for it. The smoking room of the Old Coburn Hotel was our improvised studio. There stood the recording machine on a high stand; from this projected a long, thin trumpet into which the artist sang. Close by on a high movable platform, was an upright piano.”

-Gaisberg’s description of the studio

Although it was grimy it was very well placed near the theatres, concert and dance halls of London’s west end, which made finding artists to record easier for the young American.

 Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust


Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

By the end of the first week of August all the necessary materials were purchased, the studio was set up and began recording.  The records were made in Hanover at Berliner’s bothers factory.  The earliest discs issued are dated

“8-8-98”

One of the first recording artists was Syria Lamonte, an Australian singer working at Rules Restaurant in Maiden Lane.

Gaisberg’s Travels

On the 23rd of July 1898 Fred Gaisberg, at the age of 25 set sail on the 9 a.m. SS Umbria Cunard ship from New York to Liverpool. He was sent by the inventor of the Gramophone, Emile Berliner to London as one of the first sound engineers to set up a recording studio in London to cater to the European market. GAISBERG_DIARIES_11.pdf - Adobe Reader

Fred’s personal preparations for life across the sea were simple. “My baggage consisted of a complete recording outfit plus a twenty-five dollar bicycle with pneumatic tyres, and a notebook stuffed with receipts addresses and advice… “

GAISBERG_DIARIES_1.pdf - Adobe ReaderAt only 25 years old one can only imagine the excitement, curiosity and fear Gaisberg would have felt as his cousin, Carrie, waved him goodbye from the New York harbour. He must have wondered…would he like the new people? Would London be welcoming? Would the journey be comfortable?

Gaisberg (L) and Joseph Sanders (C) aboard the SS Umbria en-route to Liverpool, July 1898Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Gaisberg (L) and Joseph Sanders (C) aboard the SS Umbria en-route to Liverpool, July 1898Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Although he must have been anxious he was certainly ambitious, taking the opportunity to meet potential contacts and artists while aboard. During his journey he met the music hall comedian Bert Shepherd, whose wide repertoire and contagious laugh drew in Gaisberg. The two became friends and before leaving the SS Umbria Gaisberg  secured a promise from shepherd to visit the studio in London once it was set up.

Fete intervenes 54 years ago today. Lennon meets McCartney.

There are dates in pop history that we most likely all remember, Elvis’ death, Live Aid, Woodstock, but what about July 6, 1957? The late fifties – Cliff Richard was yet to emerge, Elvis was King, Bill Haley was still having hit records and Teddy Boys greased back their hair in the embryonic coffee bars. In Church Road, Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool, it’s the day of the St. Peters Church Garden Fete. Starting time 3.00pm, all proceeds in aid of church funds. The Fete is preceded by a parade down Church Road – scout and guides, Morris Dancers, the Rose Queen Sally Wright and on the last lorry, a bunch of six young skifflers, The Quarrymen – guitarist Eric Griffiths, banjo player Rod Davis, tea chest bassist Len Garry, washboard man Pete Shotton, Colin Hanton on drums, and singer-guitarist John Lennon. Arriving at St Peter’s Church field, the lads from their lorry play covers of Lonnie Donegan, and Gene Vincent and traditional skiffle numbers like ‘Maggie Mae’. Looking on is another young music hopeful, his guitar perennially round his neck, probably for no better reason that that is where it lives. He watches The Quarrymen. That evening, the boys repeat and extend their performance in the Church Hall. The spectator is there too, and eventually John Winston Lennon and James Paul McCartney have their first conversation.

It is a date we should all remember as the moment that changed pop music forever.