Monday, 19 September 2011

Shovelling medieval sewage..

I have often said that managing bands can be both the best and worst job in the world.

If you are lucky enough to have a successful band then there is genuinely no job quite like it. Your clients will of course have convinced themselves that their creation of a work of unparalleled genius is solely responsible for their new found largess, but no matter, because their agent will actually return your phone calls for a change, your bank manager will become a real person again (as opposed to being an Asian call centre), the youngsters at the record label may actually remember who you are for once and you will suddenly find you have a large and interesting circle of new friends.

When things are not going so well however, being an artist manager is a little like being a medieval sewage specialist: lonely, labour intensive, hazardous, smelly and ultimately pretty unrewarding.

I have been lucky enough to experience both sides of the job, although like most of us rather more of the latter than the former, and what follows (with my tongue firmly lodged in my cheek) is a distillation of some of the lessons I have learned.

1. Nigel Lawson once said that there are only 2 kinds of Chancellor: those who get fired, and those who get out just in time. Same thing applies to Managers.

2. Management is a risky business. The odds that your act will cause the BBC to suddenly remember that their job is to play decent records as opposed to championing the latest bunch of musically incompetent teenagers masquerading as the industry's newest buzz band (god how I hate that term) would give any self respecting adrenaline junkie pause for thought, yet most of us stand loyally by our acts through thick and thin until... well see 1 above.

3. It is ALWAYS your fault. There are no exceptions. Get over it.

4. If you are expecting a pat on the back when things are going well, you will be waiting for a very long time indeed. Once again, get over it.

5. An accountant I used to know once said to me "If you are talking to a merchandiser, imagine he has a large red neon sign above his head. The sign is flashing and spells out the following message: I am stealing from you. You cannot stop me you can only limit the damage". This piece of advice took on ironic significance some years later when the accountant in question was convicted of embezzling large sums of cash from several of his clients to feed his drug habit. You really could not make it up.

6. Get a signed contract with your artist before you lift a finger, take a call or draft an email. Resist your natural inclination to get on with the job whilst your deal is being agreed. Remember, anything you manage to achieve on your artists behalf during the negotiation can only weaken your position. The more successful they become thanks to your selfless diligence, the more you will find yourself desperately trying to defend terms which your client and their lawywers would have agreed to without a second thought had you not been so trusting.

7. NEVER EVER represent your friends, because after the business relationship breaks down (see 1 above) you may find that you feel very differently about the people concerned, no matter how long you have known them.

8. Always issue your invoices on time and make sure you get paid. You may think that you are helping your act by deferring money which you are owed, but all you are doing is providing an unsecured loan to a business which (statistically speaking) is almost certain to fail.

9. In management, he who makes the fewest mistakes wins. The odds against your act succeeding are so steep, and there are so many ways they can fail which are beyond your control (to quote John Malkovich), that to add to them by arseing up stuff which IS within your ambit is careless at best and flat out suicidal in most cases. I once stupidly upset a very powerful promoter and it cost me my business. No matter that I had been ill, or that my wife was in hospital, nobody cares, and rightly so. The odds are just so long that you simply cannot afford errors. I made a mistake and I paid for it.

10. Hunter S Thompson once said "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side". I have always tried to be neither a pimp nor a thief, and on the whole I feel I have succeeded. Whether or not I've been a good man is for others to judge, but I certainly feel, in so far as my dealings in music are concerned. that I have occasionally been treated like a dog, even if I have not as yet died like one.

Monday, 12 September 2011


A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about my father. Recently I was looking through my old documents and I found the following tribute to my mother which I wrote after she passed away, and read at her funeral. At a time when my life seems so full of anger and disappointment, I felt the need to spread some love, so I would like to share this with anyone who cares to read it.

"My mother was the bravest person I have ever met.

During the last 25 years of her life, she endured a bewildering succession of life’s cruellest tricks, whilst maintaining, at least outwardly, a quiet but stubborn sense of optimism, and, given some of the blows she was dealt, a quite remarkable lack of bitterness about her lot in life.

Most of the people who knew her during the last 10 years of her life will remember her as a kind, sweet, funny, caring, lovable, occasionally feisty but endlessly entertaining person. Someone who was full of life, and full of fun. Very few of those people however will ever have seen the depths of despair from which she repeatedly extricated herself with nothing more than sheer will and cussedness.

For myself, I would not say that I really knew my mother in any normally accepted sense of the term, until 1986. Even then, it was not until I had lived through some very difficult times with her that I truly began to appreciate either her strength of character or her incredible ability to bounce back from seemingly hopeless situations. It was during those first few years of getting to know her well that I learned something which helped both of us on numerous occasions. I found that if I could make her laugh, no matter how grave the situation seemed, she would generally be back on her feet in pretty short order. In fact it was only when I realised ten days or so ago that she could no longer raise a smile, that it dawned on me that this time there may be no way back.

I have to confess to not being any sort of an expert on the etiquette of these occasions, having thankfully not had to attend too many, but when I read through the cards I received both from Mum’s friends, and indeed my own, it struck me that it might be a nice thing to do to share some of those people’s thoughts with you.

With that in mind, here are a few examples:

“Dorothy had amazing spirit and determination and loved being surrounded by people. She had the ability to make friends with people of all ages because she was genuinely interested in what they had to say. She was warm and sincere and liked to laugh”.

“We are very glad that we had the chance to meet her, and were full of admiration at the way she coped with her illness… She was so full of fun and good spirit it was hard to realise how ill she really was”.

“You Mum was such a great woman, so wry and sharp, amusing and inspiring. We miss her”.

“Your Mother was a wonderful friend to me and I already miss her”.

For myself, I am happy to say that I have an abundance of great memories to treasure, amongst them some of the funniest and most memorable times of my entire life. Some of my fondest of them concern her unique talents. For example, her ability to sustain a conversation, seemingly for days on end, by questioning me on the minutiae of the restaurant menus I encountered on my business trips abroad was genuinely awe inspiring.

I think though that if one story sums my mother up then this is it.

One Friday afternoon, probably around 1994/5, when she was living in Dymchurch, I got a call at the office. “You have to meet my friend”. “Oh, OK” I said, “who is she and where did you meet her?” “I picked her up in my cab”. “Ah.” It turns out that during her days as a cabbie, Mum had arrived at Charlton station in the pouring rain to collect a fare. Unfortunately whoever it was had long gone, and the only person in view was a young woman in floods of tears. Having established that this person (a) was not her fare, and (b) she did not have any money or place to stay, anyone might have been excused for making the appropriate sympathetic noises and driving on. Not a bit of it. “Well you’ll have to come home with me then” was the predictable response. Ingrid remains a close friend to her to this day, having invited Mum to visit her in Vienna on at least a couple of occasions.

I know of very few people better at making and keeping friends, and none who are or were more universally loved by those close to them. In her own gentle way, she set me an example which I hope I can live up to, and I certainly would not be half the person I am if it were not for having known her."