The book wot I am writing and the pop star who lives in my house

One of my favourite anecdotes has Peter Cook asking a party guest what they’re up to.

“I’m writing a book,” says the guest.

“Ah,” says Cook. “Neither am I”.

Which is brilliantly witty, because most people who say they’re writing a book aren’t really. Or if they are, it never gets published, or they never finish it. I know, because I’ve been there, not done that.

Well, now I am writing a book, and this time I have to finish it, because it’s commissioned, and scheduled for publication. Although it might appear as an iTunes app, because that’s where the action is these days. Don’t ask, because, no, I don’t understand either.

The book is a guide to making a living in today’s music industry, which brings me to….

The pop star who lives in my house, for whom it’s been a momentous fortnight.

Not that she realises it.

She’s become a fully signed-up songwriter member of PRS, the agency that collects money for songwriters and music publishers from broadcast and live performance.

And we’ve registered eight songs as her sole work (which they are; just saying), and the registrations have been accepted and confirmed. Those are eight giant steps to being taken seriously as a professional songwriter.

You’d have thought she’d be jumping for joy, but she’s not that impressed.

Seventeen-year-olds, eh?

Anyway, the pop star who lives in my house – we’ll call her Grace, ‘cos that’s her name – is entering a very different music industry to the one I encountered at first hand for 20 years from 1967 on.

For a start, she has to learn to deal with instant reaction in the online world: “Dull”. “Voice lacks originality”. “Looks Forced”.  “First Line Soooo Cliche and Cringey”. These are verbatim YouTube comments about her.

I remember taking my music to A&R men at record companies. I developed a sixth sense for those not paying attention. I’d rather they’d stopped the tape and said, “Rubbish”. But face to face, people are not so keen on confrontation.

In the digital world, they’re on you like lions on a wildebeest.

In the book wot I’m writing, social media looms large and Grace has to learn to deal with that.

You won’t want to believe this, but it’s true. Radio One looks at social media stats when it’s preparing the week’s Playlist. Record companies are unlikely to pay any attention unless you’re a) huge live, or b) have thousands of Facebook ‘Friends’ and followers on Twitter.

At the moment, Grace works alone. The YouTube comments I quote above are about a song she wrote when she was fourteen. Of course it’s cliched, kwaku Mason (whoever you are, with your ridiculously lower cased first name. What have you done lately?).

On his YT channel, kwaku has posted a song by Tiana Major which he says “jams” (that’s ‘jolly good’ to you and me). But Tiana Major has had 2,349 views in two months. Grace’s “dull and cliched” song has had 6,631 views in under two weeks. Which of the two do you think a record company is likely to take more interest in? Tiana has had 100 “likes”. Grace has had 196.

Not that I’m being protective of the pop star who lives in my house. In the world she’s about to inhabit, 6,660 views and 196 likes don’t even count as chicken feed. One video alone for Lorde’s Royals has had 338,905,434 views. In case you think you didn’t read that right, that’s three hundred and thirty nine MILLION views, give or take.

If you look at the lyrics to Lorde’s song, it’s really impressive to think that a 16-year-old wrote it. It’s not incredibly profound but it is interesting.

Thing is, almost as soon as she was signed, Lorde was ‘paired’ with Joel Little, a Grammy-award winning songwriter and producer. So she didn’t, as such, write it – not alone.

Collaboration is the byword today. No-one is going to sign Grace Carter and start releasing her solo efforts. What they will do is get her to collaborate with more experienced writers, who can look at her primitive efforts, and then start helping her to make them more interesting, more sophisticated. The way Guy Chambers did with Robbie Williams.

And when her first single is released, no-one is going to say, “Dull” or “Cliched”, because – although she hasn’t yet found a surefire way to channel it – she has an interesting take on the world, proper angst-filled reasons for the way she feels and a natural way of performing. This is what she was born to.

And her future development will be nurtured and overseen in ways that never existed when I was 30, let alone 17.

People say to me, “Oh, it must be great for her to have you around, with all your experience”. So let me tell you how much help I’ve been. When I first met her, she was full of X Factor shit – “it’s my dream”; it’s all I’ve ever wanted”. That’s what Simon Cowell’s taught today’s thirteen-year-olds.

So I called her bluff. I bought her a (very cheap) guitar. I taught her a bunch of chords. And then I said, “Go and write a song”.

Now unless you’re someone who thinks they can write a song (and Grace didn’t), that’s a really daunting instruction. I told her how to get started. Most of all I said, “Don’t go writing love songs. You’ve never been in love”. Six months later, aged 14, she stood on a stage in front of 500 people and played and sang three of her own songs.

And that’s the kind of thing that sorts out the wheat from the chaff.

I’ve been a bit of a help here and there since then. But the most significant thing I’ve done for her lately is sign her up to PRS and register her songs. In other words, her bloody secretary.

Anyway, see for yourself. Sixteen when she did this; 17 when they put it up on SB.TV.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the pop star who lives in my house.

And, apologies to disappointed readers last week for whom the WordPress audio player wouldn’t bloody work, eh WordPress? Wotcha gonna do about that? Here’s a YouTube link to Misstra Know-It-All.

Sweet Home, Kokomo: fear and loathing in the record industry

*If anyone from Kokomo, or anyone who knows how to contact them, reads this please get in touch. Six great tracks recorded at Apple are yours for the asking.

This is a story about the mistreatment and exploitation of artists and an insight into the sort of cynicism that gets the music industry a bad name.

I have changed a couple of names to protect myself from getting sued.

So, once upon a time there was a group called Arrival.

No, there really was. That’s not the bit I made up.

Ok. Let’s get this straight. All of this story is true. A couple of names are omitted because the bastards are still alive and might sue me.

Can I get on now? Thank you so much.

Arrival had a hit with a song called Friends on the Decca label in 1970, but recent success had not followed.

I met Arrival when I went to work at CBS, where they had recently been signed.

I fell in love with them. Frank Collins and Paddy McHugh were very out gays. Paddy sometimes wore a dress on stage. He was very beautiful.

Tony O’Malley was very huskily hetero, with soulful sandpaper where his vocal chords should have been.

And then there was Dyan Birch.

Oh, Dyan. She was that most exceptional kind of singer who simply transformed in performance into a repository for all your right-brain longings.

Offstage she was slightly terrifying. Tall, ramrod straight and utterly dignified, her default expression was a sneer of disdain and distrust. If you could make Dyan smile, it would light up your year.

I’m supposed to help them find new songs that will resuscitate their career.

Except, they don’t care. As far as they’re concerned, Arrival has departed. They’re now part of a new band called Kokomo and they want to enlist my help in getting them out of their Arrival contract.

Personally, I couldn’t give a toss one way or the other. I just want to work with these people. Not only are they an utter joy to be with, but they sing like angels. One night I offered them a lift home. I was raving about a Joni Mitchell gig I’d been to and, right there in the car, they began to run through Joni’s latest album Court & Spark, in three part harmony. That’s 30 minutes of heaven stored in my memory mansion if I ever get stranded on a desert island.

I went to see Kokomo, just to check out what I was being asked to fight for. Oh my God. An obsession was born. There were Frank, Paddy and Dyan front of stage, Tony O’Malley hunched over his keyboard, and – wait a minute – isn’t that Alan Spenner from The Grease Band on bass? Yes it is, and another Greaser, Neil Hubbard, is on guitar. And there’s the legendary Jim Mullen on lead. And Mel Collins from King Crimson on sax.

There were 10 people on that stage, everyone of them Google-able today. And no-one who saw them around that time has forgotten the experience.

So, back at the office, I set about the task of persuading CBS that this is the future, not Arrival. Which is where I get my first lesson in the artist as an asset, not a creative force. Apparently we ‘need’ an Arrival single, and then an album. Kokomo will have to whistle.

Fast forward a few months and the situation is getting desperate. Frank, Paddy and Dyan are broke, and CBS still doesn’t have the hit record it wants out of them. I’m pushing hard, (and making enemies).

And here’s where I see one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in my life, all the more appalling because it’s completely unnecessary, and just involves a record company executive proving who’s boss.

CBS is refusing to sign Kokomo. The guys from that band who are signed to CBS want to be released from their contract.

We’re in a room, and the guys from business affairs are shouting at the members of Arrival. Seriously. Shouting at them. And waving contracts at them. This is what you signed. This is who you are. Kokomo can go fuck itself. You. Are. Arrival.

Look, I say, these guys have moved on. Arrival is over. And they’re broke. They’re our artists, and the rest of Kokomo is happy to become part of their deal. Let’s go with what’s happening, not with what you think should be happening.

And the shouting starts all over again. Frank, Paddy, Dyan and Tony – these wonderful, wonderful people, these brilliant artists – sit there like broken children. Their future is not their future. It belongs to CBS.

And then, the pièce de résistance. “Right. You need money. We’ll give you £50 a week each, for the next six weeks. But you have to sign this contract.”

This ‘contract’ is a single piece of paper that says that Dyan Birch, Frank Collins, Tony O’Malley and Paddy McHugh are signed to CBS Records in perpetuity. In other words, for the princely sum of £300 they sign away their lives.

I left the room so that no-one would see my tears of rage and frustration.

The saga dragged on. In the meantime, I used Arrival as session singers at every possible opportunity, partly to keep their rent paid, but mostly because they were simply the best. I also used other members of Kokomo from time to time – including, I think, her first paid session for the fantastic percussionist Jodie Linscott.

And, as I recounted a couple of posts back, I brought the whole band into Air Studios for a memorable session recording backing tracks for Asha Puthli.

But I also, against all orders from within CBS, took the band into Apple Studios where the great Phil McDonald set them up to record live. And that’s my track this week – one of six songs I recorded with them on January 23, 1974 in the hope that they might attract a decent manager who could negotiate a way out of this mess.

And you know what? That’s exactly what happened. And so, another unsavoury chapter begins, where the manager of a massive global band (MGB), whose contract with their longtime record company was up, dangles MGB in front of CBS’s US executives. “You can have this band, MGB, if you sign this band, Kokomo.”

But, good for Kokomo. They made two albums at that time which you might like to check out. They were slickly produced and the first, at least, was well received. But the raw funk and soul that I admired could only really be heard when they played live. And that’s what we’ve got here. Kokomo, live at Apple Studios.

This track, a version of Bill Withers’ Lonely Town, Lonely Street, cuts in at the beginning of the second verse. Remember, this was a hit and run session. We weren’t even supposed to be there, so there certainly was no chance for a mix session.

And here’s Arrival on Top Of The Pops, Dyan Birch on lead vocals. Check out Frank Collins (on the right, dark hair) unable to suppress a “look at us, we’re here!” smile. And a brief mention of Carroll Carter (between Paddy and Frank) who gets forgotten, but was there.

George Martin STILL owes me that favour

The phone rings. I pick it up.


“Yes. Who’s this?”

“Paul. It’s George Martin.”


I’m 25 years old. There aren’t many people who can make me feel like a slavering child. But on the top 10 list of those who could, George Martin holds at least three of the places.

“Hallo George. How are you?”

Oh, come on! Did you expect Oscar Wilde?

“Yes, I’m fine, thank you Paul. I need a favour from you.”

Double gulp.

George Martin. Needs A Favour. From Me.

George left EMI after having it thrust in his face that a) he was just an employee and b) that he was responsible for a huge percentage of the company’s profits.

The employee thing came up because he had tried to persuade the management that the farthing a record they were paying The Beatles was, in the circumstances (world domination), perhaps a little too parsimonious?

He was made to feel he was being disloyal, and should be a good soldier.

The final straw came over lunch with head of the company Sir Joseph Lockwood. George thought he deserved a rise.

I’m not going to re-read the whole of his autobiography, All You Need Is Ears, for confirmation of this (go read it yourself) but as I remember it Lockwood agreed to only a part of the rise George thought he was due.

And in doing so, he tried to pep George up by telling him what a great job he was doing. All those hits. All those albums on the chart. All that lovely money rolling into EMI.

As a motivational talk it ranks up there with the very best, don’t you think?

So in 1965, George left EMI, taking with him his colleagues John Burgess and Ron Richards. Together with Peter Sullivan from Decca they built AIR Studios. They also managed to keep most of the acts they were producing for their previous employers – most notably, of course, The Beatles for George Martin.

Now it’s 1974 and I have a session booked in at AIR Studio One with CBS signing Asha Puthli, the only woman I’ve ever known who mistook rudeness for desire.

“Dahlinng. I know why you insult me so. You want to FUCK me.”

I digress. Here’s George’s problem. At the same time I’m booked in with Asha, he now has a session booked with The Mahavishnu Orchestra, jazz guitarist John McLaughlin’s ambitious multi-ethnic and cross-genre project.

Trouble is, as well as the members of The Mahavishni Orchestra, McLaughlin wants to get the London Symphony Orchestra involved. Suddenly, a session that would comfortably fit onto 24 tracks in Studio Two, requires Studios One and Two, and 48 tracks. George is going to sync the equipment in both studios and make the first 48-track recording I’ve heard of. Didn’t know such a thing was possible.

On top of all that, to pull it off he needs Geoff Emerick to engineer, and I’ve specifically booked Geoff on my session, in Studio One.

“So, Paul. Is there any way you could move your session to another day?”

This is tougher than it sounds. I’ve booked my favourite band, Kokomo, to lay down the backing tracks, and Kokomo has some busy session musicians among its nine members.

To add to the logistical problems, Asha Puthli is struggling with work permits and may, at any time, be asked to leave the country.

On the other hand, George Martin is asking for a favour. So it takes me about 30 seconds to pretend I’m really struggling with it, and, gosh, this is hard. But, “Yes, I can do that, George”.

“Paul, thank you so much!”

And then he says: “I owe you one.” Gentleman George, as always.

The Mahavishnu recordings, released as Apocalypse, made history. My recordings with Asha Puthli, not so much.

But those sessions did go ahead a week later, with Kokomo and Geoff Emerick. Geoff took such pride in setting the studio up for a nine-piece band, who were going to play live. He was thrilled. So thrilled, he thanked me for booking him!

You have no idea, he said, what a pleasure it is to hear musicians playing together like this, rather than building the tracks one or two instruments at a time (which had become the norm as producers sought more ways of taking the ‘room’ out of recording, separating each instrument completely from its bandmates).

They were a joy those sessions. As for Asha Puthli, her work permit failed to materialise, so I took her to a studio in Cologne, West Germany for some of the most miserable vocal overdubs I’ve ever been involved with.

By this time I think she detested me, and I can’t say I blamed her. We simply couldn’t establish any rapport, and having had to drag myself to Germany, I just wanted to get it over with.

Still, the four songs we recorded made it onto an album that was released as She Loves To Hear The Music, where my name appears alongside the producer legends that are Teo Macero and Del Newman.

And to give her credit, the song I’m putting up this week is Asha’s own, You’ve Been Loud Too Long. Listening to the track, Kokomo’s fabulous funk and John Barham’s trademark strings combine to great effect.

Asha’s vocals, after all this time, bear testament to her professionalism. She could have phoned it in, but she didn’t. At one point, during the German sessions, she was struggling with Neil Sedaka’s Laughter In The Rain. “I hate this song! I never want to hear it again”, she said. Amen to that, I thought. And then on we went, two stubborn pros, looking for magic and refusing to be defeated.

Forty years later, despite its tortuous genesis, the album, I’m astonished to discover, is available on iTunes. And it’s ok.

And George Martin? He never did repay that favour.

Well, unless you count the kudos every time I tell this story.

Actually, yes. That’s payment enough.

George, you’re off the hook.

And Kokomo? More about them in another post.

Red Letter Day for The Driver: a new record deal!

On the day the entire Driver 67 oeuvre is reissued and appears on iTunes, I’m arguing with the pop star who lives in my house.

She insists a publishing deal is essential to being a successful songwriter. I disagree. Music publishers in my experience are the least useful component in the artists’ toolkit. I’d go so far as to call them parasitical.

I hope someone sees this who can change my mind. I’m happy to post a mea culpa if you can convince me I’m wrong.

Meanwhile, the thing is, you know what record companies do. They finance, distribute, market and promote your music.

You know what booking agents do. They book your gigs, arrange your tours, ensure the sound is set up.

You know what managers do. They negotiate with everyone else, get the best possible deal for you (and themselves, naturally) and try to create an environment where you are protected from the daily bullshit so you are free to create and develop your music.

Music publishers – well, what do they do?

In my experience they mostly just collected publishing royalties and kept 50% for themselves. As I got smarter, I got this down to 25%, which today appears to be more of a standard.

But in 2014, you can spend an hour online, register your song(s) with PRS/MCPS and direct 100% of the money into your own bank account.

So what are they for, music publishers?

Here’s what I would advise the pop star who lives in my house to do: challenge any publisher who makes an approach to explain exactly what added value they will bring to her career.

They will say: Well, we’ll get other artists to cover your songs.

Ok, I would say, I’ll contract to assign you any song you get a cover on. But you’re not getting my publishing willy nilly on the basis that you reckon you can get covers on one or two of them.

They will say: We’ll introduce you to other writers and producers with whom you can collaborate.

Ok, I would say, I’ll contract to assign you any song that results from any such collaboration to which you introduce me. But again, I will not, willy nilly, give you all my publishing based on a nebulous possibility that may never come to pass.

In other words, make the publisher work for you, and let them benefit from the fruits of their labour.

This is all the more important to me because today, May 21, 2014, is a red letter day for The Driver.

It is the day that Cherry Red Records reissues the Driver catalogue. (Digital only, I’m afraid. You cd and vinyl fans are out of luck, at least for the time being).

It’s a good time to reflect on the mistakes I made and the contribution I made to the demise of my own career. I hope to be useful in helping the pop star who lives in my house to avoid at least some of the same mistakes.

In fact, The Driver’s career – such as it was – is an object lesson in how not to do it. It was a car crash (pun intended) more or less from beginning to end.

The biggest mistakes were that I handled my own negotiations (no manager) and produced my own records.

A manager, for instance, would have insisted that Driver 67’s one top ten hit would appear on Driver 67’s first album.

In fact, there never was a Driver 67 album. After the failure of the follow up, Headlights, and the third single, If You Were Going My Way, Pete Zorn and I reverted to our Tax Loss moniker, insisting that the album be released under the Tax Loss name. Worse still, we didn’t put the hit single on it. We replaced the Brummie controller with an American voice (Bill Zorn, Pete’s brother) and put that version on the album.

A producer, on the other hand, would never have let me (and it was me, not Pete Zorn) get away with the single version of If You Were Going My Way that more or less killed off The Driver as anything but a one-hit wonder. Listening to it now, it’s one of those “what was I thinking?” moments. Fortunately for my sanity and the song’s reputation, the original version remains intact on the album.

The album itself was at least 20% a career suicide note. It started with the song Hey Mister Record Man, which I wrote about here a couple of weeks ago. The record company didn’t want it on the album at all, let alone as the first track. To add insult to injury, we segued Hey Mister Record Man into the American version of Car 67, which seemed to suggest (given the satirical message of Record Man) that we thought Car 67  was a piece of pop crap.

Then, at the end of the album is a truly weird montage of end-of-the-world conspiracy theatre, rounded off with Pete Zorn and I lambasting cassette jockeys: “We liked your record so much, we taped it off the radio”.

Now, lest I am making the whole thing sound unattractive, let me say – without undue modesty – that in amongst all this career mayhem are some great songs. There’s also the one and only Tax Loss single, The Secret, which Capital Radio play listed because they suspected it was Bryan Ferry on a side project.

And then there are the Pete Zorn songs. If you’ve never heard Pete sing I urge you to listen to My Crazy Friend, Folk Like Us and Spare Me The Sad Eyes.

But this week I’m putting up another Driver 67 oddity, because there’ll never be a better opportunity.

Tail Lights was the B-side of Headlights. It’s a joint effort between Pete and his brother Bill and is a wonderful satire of a certain type of country song that was prevalent in the 70s. To my shame, I can’t remember who plays the fiddle, but the marvellously precise guitar is from Mart Jenner, and the short but very, very sweet banjo section is Bill Zorn himself, now fronting the legendary Kingston Trio in America.

I’m pretty confident the pop star who lives in my house will never make a record like it…


How Frank Zappa helped me negotiate my record deal

So I’m hunkered down with Frank Zappa.

He’s already shown me his new toy – a portable piano keyboard he can take anywhere. He demonstrates how it works.

He shows me how he can write and compose on an aeroplane! Who would have believed such a thing possible?

And now he’s telling me this story.

Seems Frank had been signed to a  deal with MGM Records which was going nowhere and he wanted out.

Being Frank Zappa, he hadn’t just signed any old deal without reading it. He knew that, on a particular date, the record company had to formally advise him they wanted to continue with him.

He also knew that the contract was locked away, as he put it, “in an old filing cabinet in the basement”. Nobody was left at the label who was there when he signed; he calculated no-one would remember to let him know they wanted him to stay at the label.

So he kept his cool, waited for the day. No word from the label. Then he served notice that he was no longer under contract, and no longer wished to record for them. He was free!

This is a rare story in the music industry – one where the artist uses the contract to his own advantage. I kept this story in my metaphoric back pocket for five years until I was negotiating my own record deal.

Record companies always ‘recoup’ artists’ costs. You spend £500,000 recording an album, filming a video, releasing a single: the record company is going to recover those costs from your sales before you see a penny.

Of course, if you don’t sell any units, that’s their loss, although you will carry that debt for the term of the contract and possibly beyond. According to the last royalty statement I received, I still owe somebody £22,000 for an album I made over 30 years ago.

So here’s what I did in 1978, employing the ‘Zappa Strategy’.

I negotiated an initial three month deal for one single – Car 67 – after which the record company would have what’s called ‘an option’ to pick up the deal for an album.

My calculation was that by the time we recorded the single, it was scheduled for release, made its way onto the Radio 1 playlist, and started to chart, we would be way beyond three months.

What this meant, in practical terms, was that if Car 67 was a hit, I would get paid. The album would be under a new contract at the record company’s risk.

For their part, the record company was not going to commit to an album until they knew the single was selling.

And I was right. The deal was signed in September, the single was released in November and it didn’t hit the top 30 till January.

So when the letter arrived telling us the record company was “picking up its option” for an album, I had the great joy of telling them they were out of time. And I offered a silent prayer of thanks to Frank Zappa.

We renegotiated, got a small advance, a much higher royalty, and off we went to record the album.

Of course, it didn’t end happily ever after. Never underestimate the power and sheer venality of the record industry. When pay day came, no cheque. Instead, a statement showed that we owed the record company money.

And this is the reason they gave: the second contract was simply an extension of the first, and as such was the same contract.

In reality, as the managing director said to me, quite baldly and blatantly: “Look Paul, we’ve got the money and you don’t. So why don’t you just go and make some more records, and the money will follow”.

I’d seen some stuff in my time in the record business that had, literally, reduced me to tears. The way struggling artists were treated was beyond belief. I had been determined to avoid this pitfall.

But greed and incompetence were the order of the day. One of the industry’s most beloved figures back then – and rightly so – was a guy named Maurice Oberstein.

One of the cleverest people I have ever met, Obie (as he was known to everyone) had, for instance, foreseen the oil shortage in the early 70s. Crude oil was a vital ingredient in making vinyl. So what Obie did was, he bought up pretty much Europe’s existing vinyl stock to ensure CBS Records would outride any oil shortage.

And yet, this brilliant man once said to me, vis a vis the record industry: “You know, Paul, this is the only business I know where you can be wrong nine times out of ten and still be a genius”.

Is it any wonder, then, that far from being starry eyed and naive, I was cynical and sceptical? Which brings me to this week’s song. It was the title track of the only album I made before I walked away from the record industry disgusted and defeated in 1981.

The song is Hey Mister Record Man and the lyrics are self-explanatory. It is an artist more or less begging just for the opportunity to play a song to a “record man”.

As the song progresses, you will hear the artistic integrity disintegrating until, finally, the “record man” is bribed with “co-authorship” on a piece of dross he wants, that the artist will hate himself for recording.

And if you think this is satire, believe me, it’s impossible to satirise the record industry. Then or now.

For those who are interested, Hey Mister Record Man will be reissued on May 12, along with 20 other Driver 67 and Tax Loss recordings. I’ll keep you up to date with that.

If you listen to the end, you’ll hear that the song segues into Car 67, which is how it is on the album. But I haven’t let that song play out. There’s a limit to your patience, I know!

The Beatles were very badly managed. Discuss

You look at The Bee Gees now and – setting aside the tragedy that only Barry is left – you’re looking at a stellar career that started 55 years ago. In retrospect, it all looks golden.

You certainly don’t hear anyone complaining that Robert Stigwood did a shit job of managing them.

But there’s a lot of hindsight and second-guessing when it comes to Brian Epstein and The Beatles.

When The Bee Gees started out, there were five of them. In addition to Barry and the twins, Maurice and Robin, there were Vince Melouney on guitar and Colin Petersen on drums.

Colin Petersen had an extraordinary career until he met me.

After that it all seems to have gone pear-shaped.

In 1973, shortly after I joined CBS Records, Colin turned up to work alongside me in the a&r department. No-one told me he was coming, but I knew who he was.

He was instantly recognisable as the kid who had played Smiley in the hugely popular 1956 film alongside Ralph Richardson. It had always been slightly disconcerting to see that famous face behind the drums on New York Mining Disaster and To Love Somebody.

So, after a career like that, what the hell was he doing working for peanuts at a record company?

I say peanuts – CBS had doubled my Music Week salary and given me a car. I was a pig in shit.

But surely that wasn’t comparable to being a film actor, or a pop star?

Some say Brian Epstein was a poor manager of the Beatles. Here’s what I think: anyone who, in hindsight, says they could have done better is a fantasist or a liar.

And in support of this view, I give you Robert Stigwood.

Fully five years after Epstein signed the Beatles to EMI, Stigwood negotiated a deal every bit as bad – or indeed good – for the Bee Gees at Polydor. The previous year, 1966, he had negotiated a similarly good/bad deal for Cream, the first ‘supergroup’, with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.

Now, I don’t know this for a fact, but Colin Petersen told me that both the Bee Gees and Cream started on a royalty rate of 1.5% – that’s 0.3% for each of the five Bee Gees, 0.5% for each of the ‘superstars’ who made up Cream.

At the time I had no reason to doubt it. I still don’t. Ten years later I was offered a starting royalty of 3% for myself and Pete Zorn as Tax Loss. I turned it down and walked away. It was another year before I finally signed a deal for Driver 67/Tax Loss at a rate of 8%.

The penny a record that EMI paid the Beatles (one farthing each) in their early career was absolutely par for the course. Every deal Brian Epstein constructed – whether it was for record sales, concerts, television or merchandise – was either par for the course, or trailblazing.

It’s easy to look back now and say that the 90% he gave away on Beatles merchandise was stupid, but – pre-Beatles – where was the business model? The fact that five years later managers like Stigwood were still following or, perhaps, slightly improving on the Beatles model puts Epstein in a better context than looking back 25 or 50 years later and second-guessing him.

When I met Colin Petersen, he had accepted £10,000 to buy him out of his contract with Robert Stigwood and to relinquish all rights to anything Bee Gees for ever more.

Now, if you want to be a clever dick, you can look back 45 years later and say, “Wow, that was stupid”. But consider this: only two years after they had their first hit, the Bee Gees consisted of Barry, Maurice and Colin.

Vince Melouney had already left, and Robin had huffed off complaining that Robert Stigwood was favouring Barry as the front man. Stigwood was also trying to get rid of Colin.

A year is a very long time when you’re young, and a year in pop was even longer back in the 60s. Even the Beatles didn’t expect to last more than two years.

As for an afterlife of Golden Oldies, 24-hour a day pop radio and royalties in perpetuity – these were way off in the future, unforeseen by all but the most prescient. You certainly wouldn’t want to bet your livelihood on it. It really did seem to be all over for the Bee Gees.

So who among you would like to have been the one to advise Colin Petersen not to take the £10,000 on offer in 1970?

And who among you would now like to present the case for the prosecution against Brian Epstein?

And remember – no hindsight, no second-guessing.

You have to imagine yourself managing the family record store in Liverpool, mad about the boys, being turned down by every record company you approach.

And then you find yourself in charge of a phenomenon, the like of which has never been seen before. (Don’t use Elvis as a prosecution exhibit. He never left America, and Col Tom Parker, his manager, was no role model for anyone but sharks and charlatans).

All of which leaves me no time to construct a clever link to this week’s song, Slip Away, except to say that that seems to have been what Colin Petersen did, slipped away. Looking around the internet, what little information there is about his life more recently suggests a man who bitterly regrets his decisions.

The only YouTube clip for a Colin Petersen is here, but it’s a different guy, talking about religion and his local Church.

Slip Away, on the other hand, is about getting drunk and ending up with the wrong person – nothing to do with God, nothing to do with Colin Petersen. Get over it.

And here’s a clip of The Bee Gees in happier times, as an intact five-piece. That’s Colin Petersen on drums, Vince Melouney – looking for all the world like he also could have been a Gibb brother – in the white trousers, on guitar.


From Dylan to The Sugababes: art and the production line

Did you ever imagine there would be song factories? Poor saps writing in teams and dreaming of getting one of their lines on a big hit, so they can share in the writing royalties?

Cold as this sounds, the results can be phenomenal. Xenomania, for instance, has produced 20 top 10 hits for Girls Aloud alone; others for Sugababes, Kylie Minogue and The Saturdays.

These factories model themselves on the old Motown concept, including having a house band ready to provide backing tracks for new material.

Motown, in turn, modelled itself on New York’s Brill Building, where songwriters like Burt Bacharach & Hal David, Carole King, Leiber & Stoller and Neil Diamond banged away at pianos all day turning out hit after hit.

Many of them turned out to be pop classics. The factory approach can work artistically as well as commercially.

At the other end of the spectrum, Bob Dylan would sit at a typewriter and hammer out words for hours on end. His ‘stream of consciousness’ was carefully crafted. Lennon and McCartney used to bunk off school and sit with their guitars, trading ideas. Less than a song a day was considered a wasted day.

Others, schooled in the art of composition, will go about it in a more formal way. My old music partner Pete Zorn can notate a song (write it down, to you and me) like the old composers. My son Noel taught himself composition and approaches it all with a Frank Zappa-like contempt for the factory approach. But he maintains a sense of wonder for the occasional dazzling pop record, the most recent of which was Happy, by Pharrell Williams.

There’s still room, though, for the old instinctive method. The pop star who lives in my house writes her own songs. She is also keenly sought out by producers who not only want some of her writing magic – which she can produce seemingly at will in the studio – they also want her voice on their tracks. She’s 16 and completely unschooled in music theory or technique.

It’s all a long cry from the notion of some tortured artist with a guitar, pouring his or her feelings onto the page – James Taylor say, or Joni Mitchell. That used to be my model. Sit at the piano until inspiration hit.

But if you open your mind, songs can come at you in surprising ways. This week’s example emerged from a very different process.

It started with an exhibition of paintings by the artist Veronique Maria.

I know nothing about visual art, so my response to paintings is visceral and subjective. Mondrian, Pollock and Rothko affect me in ways I don’t understand, but the feelings they provoke are deep and profound.

Veronique’s series of paintings under the heading Orogeny set me back on my heels, took my breath away. The exhibition walk-through included a video in which the artist explained the process that went on in her head as she created these works.

I was so struck by the poetic nature of her words that I asked if I could put them in a song. She didn’t hesitate to say yes. Not because she was flattered, nor even much cared, but simply, she said, “They’re out there” (the words) “so they’re no longer mine.” I found this an extraordinarily generous response.

The first two verses of this song, then, are Veronique’s words, pretty much as spoken in the video (link below).

The third verse is me marvelling at the way “she works paint on a canvas“. As you watch the video you will see new universes appear. “She surrenders to the unknown“, a state of mind I can only dream of.

As luck would have it, about two years before I was inspired by Veronique Maria, I had been doodling on the guitar and fallen on a rather lovely picking pattern, which I quickly recorded and then filed away.

I wrestled with Veronique’s words for some time, and then one day I found this forgotten guitar pattern tucked away on my computer and I instantly knew the two belonged together.

So that’s how this particular song came into being.

It’s fair to say that Veronique, having been so insouciant about her words being “out there” reacted quite differently when she heard them in this new context. She finds it, she says, “strange”, partly because she hadn’t expected me to quote her word for word. But also, oddly, she sees no connection between her work, her intentions, and my use of her words. Which, for me, makes it a more generous act on her part to let me go ahead.

Click here to see the interview and film that inspired this song. The film maker is Mark Birbeck.

At the beginning of 2014, Veronique put up a new video work, and threw out a challenge – which I took up – to write a soundtrack for it. So this week, you get two of my recordings for the price of one, and you get to look at two sides of Veronique Maria – the painter and the video artist.

I’ve never done anything like this before. The soundtrack piece is ‘ambient’. It follows the film, and works hard not to be intrusive, but at the same time attempts to be interesting enough to enhance your enjoyment of the film. You be the judge.

Watch the video here, particularly if you’re stressed. The combination of images and music is something like meditating.