Industry Profile: Carl Leighton-Pope
By Larry LeBlanc
This week In The Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Carl Leighton-Pope
Carl Leighton-Pope knows how to pee out the window of a moving van without it stopping; how to change drivers without stopping; and he knows the motorway stops in Britain where band managers meet up for late-night grub.
These are just some of the many experiences Leighton-Pope learned as a manager coming up through the ranks in England in the ‘70s.
No doubt these experiences help him today to juggle the diverse roster at The Leighton-Pope Organisation, the London-based firm that oversees international bookings for such acts as Bryan Adams, Michael Bublé, Keith Urban, Mica Paris, Billy Ocean, Basia, and Alain Clark as well as the Harlem Globetrotters, and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
It is, perhaps, an unlikely career for someone born in Gilfach Goch, a small, former coal mining village located in the Ogmore Valley of South Wales. English-born author Richard Llewellyn claimed he had based his 1939 novel, “How Green Was My Valley” on Gilfach Goch after spending summer holidays there with his grandfather.
Leighton-Pope comes from a long line of coal miners but after a tunnel roof collapsed on his father, he relocated his family to Swiss Cottage a suburb of London when Leighton-Pope was five.
Two years after leaving school, Leighton-Pope snagged a job in the cloak room of London’s legendary Marquee Club. From this cat-bird seat, Leighton-Pope saw first-hand the development of Britain’s contemporary music scene.
The typical week's program at the Marquee would be Manfred Mann on the Monday night, and New Band Night on Tuesday night when the Who, The Moody Blues or the Spencer Davis Group might be featured. Wednesday was Long John Baldry’s Invitational Evening with Rod Stewart on hand. The resident band on Thursday nights was Gary Farr and the T-Bones. Friday, it was the Yardbirds.
In 1968, now with a wife and young son, Leighton-Pope started a car hire company, Park Cars. The firm had a slew of celebrity accounts including with actors Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Michael Caine; TV host David Frost; and celebrity photographers Patrick Lichfield and David Bailey .
In 1971, when an old school friend offered him a half-share in Ddraig Studios in Cardiff, he jumped at the opportunity to be in the music business.
Soon, he was also managing the engineer's band, Sassafras. He bought them a PA system which got stolen at their first gig. However, Sassafras soon became a staple on the U.K. tour circuit. In 1975, the band toured the U.S., opening for Ten Years After.
Saddled with debts from the studio, Leighton-Pope went into bankruptcy the following year. However, NEMS Enterprise boss John Sherry hired him on as a booking agent in London.
It was here that Leighton-Pope discovered his true calling in life.
Within a year he was representing 20 acts, including the Motors, Styx, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Simple Minds, Camel, UFO, and Dire Straits.
Following defections of key agents at NEMS, Leighton-Pope and two other agents there founded the Perfoming Artists Network Agency. In 1981, after three years with the agency, UFO approached him to manage them, and a year later, he signed Matt Bianco for management and for bookings.
Next, with Saga’s manager Clive Corcoran, Leighton-Pope set up Bonaire Records, a publishing and management company with offices in London, Los Angeles and Munich. During this time he signed booking agreements for Bryan Adams, BonnieTyler and Huey Lewis .
In 1991, Leighton-Pope launched the Leighton-Pope Organisation. The company may have enjoyed substantial success touring Bonnie Tyler, Van Morrison and the Chippendales around Europe but after Bryan Adams’ album “Waking up The Neighbours” (powered by the global hit "(Everything I do) I Do It For You") launched him as an international mega star in 1992, Leighton-Pope became one of the music industry’s few power brokers.
Leighton-Pope’s power and clout developed further in the millennium years with the global break-outs of Michael Bublé and Keith Urban
Your hometown of Gilfach Goch means what?
The little red valley. Before the coal came, there was a stream running through it always red with salmon. The coal dust killed the fish and (the population) all moved into an industrial area in the ‘20s, 30s and ‘40s.
My father was a coal miner. He was one of 13 children. He was one of six generations (of coal miners). My great grandfather, my grandfather, everybody worked in the pit. My father had a bad fall when a (mine) roof collapsed on him when I was 5. It killed the guy working next to him. When they dragged my father out by his ankles, he said, “My boys aren’t doing down there.”
The family moved to Swiss Cottage, a suburb of London.
My father got a job as a chauffeur driving a Rolls Royce for a wealthy guy. We grew up in a normal working class environment. I went to school in St. John’s Wood (district). I had a sensational childhood which culminated with my rugby teacher coming to me at 16, and saying, “You haven’t a hope of passing a single exam. If I were you, I would leave now.” I asked what he considered now to be. He said, “Well, it’s Tuesday. Friday would be ideal.” So I was 16 in January, and I left school in March.
It was a great time to be growing up in London.
It was sensational, and music was everything. You bought a record every Saturday morning and that record determined what you looked liked, how you dressed, what clubs you went to, the girls you knew and what parties you were invited to. Your whole life was all about “Hey! Baby” by Bruce Channel or “Runaway” by Del Shannon. Those songs told people who you were. In those days, identity was vital to your survival in the city.
With the Beatles emerging in 1962 in England, everything changed.
Yes. By the time the Beatles released “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (on Parlophone Record in Nov. 29, 1963) in the United Kingdom, we were all on our way.
But ’62 and ’63 was the time when we were all finding out who we were. In 1962, you’d walk a girl home 10 miles for a kiss goodnight. By the end of 1963, you were sleeping with the girl, and maybe didn’t know her name. That is how fast our lives were whizzing past.
You were a mod?
Our favourite band in 1963 was the High Numbers (later renamed the Who) which we followed passionately. We all got jobs in the city because you could wear a suit to work. In those days there were a ton of jobs. You could get a job anywhere. We all had scooters, and we were fighting on the beaches.
Surely you didn’t go down to Brighton and fight the rockers on the beach?
I’m afraid so. A little bit. I fought in Littlehampton (a seaside resort town in West Sussex) and a couple of other places.
Did you identify with Sting as the mod character Ace Face in the 1979 film “Quadrophenia” based on the 1973 album “Quadrophenia” by the Who?
Of course, he was our guy. But there wasn’t as much fighting as people think. They weren’t real battles. The police would decide they wanted to clear the beaches. It was more of a battle than we were actually fighting. At the same time, when (this rocker) and his two friends came to our youth club dressed in leather boots, leather trousers, leather jacket and a crash helmet, looking for me, I hit him with three snooker cues. He still beat the shit out of me. We were seriously outnumbered by fashion. We wore Hush Puppies (brushed-suede shoes with the lightweight crepe soles) for Christ’s sake.
In 1964, your life changed when you got a job at the Marquee Club, starting the day (Feb. 13 1964) it moved to 90 Wardour Street from Oxford Street.
The day the club opened, I arrived to get my job and a guy was on a ladder focusing some lights so I gave him a hand. He said, “Okay, you’re in the cloakroom.” I had a quick look out around 9 P.M. and the guy who had helped focus the lights was Long John Baldry and he was onstage playing with Rod Stewart.
[The first act to perform at the new Marquee Club was the supporting band the Yardbirds followed by Long John Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men, and U.S. bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson.]
Working there changed my life. There’d be the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton on Fridays. There was always Manfred Mann. New bands came in on Tuesdays including the Who, the Moody Blues, and the Spencer Davis Group. Suddenly, the whole music scene just exploded in my face through ’64 and ’65.
There so many happening London clubs then, including The Flamingo, The Roaring Twenties, The Q Club, The Scene, and La Discotheque.
Saturday night was very important. We’d dress in tailor-made mohair suits with shirts, and ties. I used to get my boots hand made in Camden Town by a Greek guy who always made them a size smaller than you asked for because they looked better. Pointed shoes with Cuban heels. There was a lot of pain but the look was sensational.
We would start our evenings at the Marquee Club which closed at 11 P.M. Remember, none of these clubs had(liquor) licenses. You couldn’t buy a drink in any of them. So we’d start at The Marquee. Then we’d go to The Scene (in Ham Yard, off Great Windmill Street, in Soho) onto the Mod Club where Reg King (the singer with the Boys and the Action) would be playing. Then we’d go to The Flamingo where George Fame and the Flames or John Mayall (and the Bluesbreakers) would be playing.
We’d finish at 3 A.M. in The Roaring Twenties on Carnaby Street, a black club owned by Count Suckle. It was the only black club north of the Thames in Soho. The music was amazing. “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, ska and reggae, brilliant Jamaican music.
You did acting, standup comedy, even tried running a bar.
I tried everything.
Were you any good as an actor?
No. Useless. I was lucky because my father had a pub, The Crown and Two Chairmen in Soho in Dean Street. When I was out of work I had a bedroom upstairs and I had a job behind the bar. So when I was unemployed I worked for the old man. He kept me alive during periods where my film stardom moved further and further away.
Then you started a car hire company, Park Cars .
I had married and I had a couple of kids. I was 22 or 23 years old and I started a car hire business with two other guys. I was the salesman. The first accounts we opened were with Richard Harris, Michael Caine and with the Royal Family and fashion photographers like Patrick Litchfield. David Frost and Peter o’Toole had accounts with us. We did the cars for the 1969 film “Anne of a Thousands Days” with Richard Burton as well as for “Cromwell’ (1970) which was Richard Harris’ film.
I still wanted to be in show business. I wanted to hang out with people that were in that business. I was always very close. I was never going to be in the car hire business for the rest of my life. The car hire business was going to get me to where I wanted to be but I wasn’t sure where that was.
In 1971, an old school friend offered you a half-share of his recording studio, Ddraig (Dragon) Studios in Severn Road, Cardiff.
I got a call asking me if I had some money. I said “Yes.” We then opened up a little recording studio in his shop in Wales. This guy had worked on the Seven Bridge Development (connecting England with the Principality of Wales in 1966) and stolen all of the bricks and blocks we needed to build the studio. He built the studio but he had no money.
You ended up managing Sassafras.
This 18 year old (guitarist) Dai Shell, who was our studio engineer, was in Sassafras. I didn’t know anything about bands. What I did know is they needed £1,000 for a PA, and that they were on the road. I became their manager even though I didn’t have a clue about management. I drove the van. I bought the PA. We started playing clubs. I thought it was all fantastic.
I said to Chris O’Donnell who was co-managing Thin Lizzy at the time, “They write all of their songs.” He said, “They are singing ‘I've Seen All Good People.’ They didn’t write that.” (Performed by Yes, and written by Jon Anderson, the song was included on “The Yes Album” in 1971). Well, it turned out that they didn’t write all of their own songs. The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus" was their big encore number. However, I got them signed to Chrysalis Records (in 1975).
Chris O’Donnell was also handling Gypsy then.
That’s right. He had Gypsy; I had Sassafras; and Paul Charles had the Irish band Frupp. We all had bands and we all ate in the same motorway services all over England on our way back from gigs. Birmingham was curry town. If you wanted a curry at 2 a.m., Birmingham was the place.
Many North Americans don’t realize that you can drive England bottom to top within a day.
If the money was £75 as opposed to the £50 we were usually getting, we’d drive to Newcastle and back as a one-off (date). We had a van with all the gear in the back. We knew how to pee out of the window without stopping. We knew how to change drivers without stopping. We were a band and we were on he road.
You didn’t get £75 or even £50 most nights.
No, we were getting £20, £25 and £30. if a big gig came along, we took it wherever it was. Denis Desmond would book four or five clubs in Ireland and we’d go there two or three times a year and play. And we played in Eastern Europe. I went to Yugoslavia when (President) Tito was there. I went to Romania (also behind the Iron Curtain). All with Sassafras.
You went to the United States with Sassafras in 1975 when they played St. Louis, Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, and Buffalo.
And Topeka, Kansas. We were playing arenas as the opening act on the last Ten Years After tour ever. (Fronted by guitarist Alvin Lee, the British band broke up after touring the 1974 album “Positive Vibrations.”) The middle band was Peter Frampton who was recording the album “Frampton Comes Alive!” (which stayed at #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart for 10 weeks in 1976).
You were 29. It was the first time you’d been on an airplane. What was your impression of the United States?
I loved Americans. I loved the size of the country. I loved the history. I loved the fact that we were in Missouri and so were all of these cowboys. It was, “Wow, I’m in Philadelphia.” It blew us all way. We had had a good laugh on the road with Peter Frampton who is English. We did some dates with Fleetwood Mac and hung out with Mick Fleetwood and all of those guys. It was just a great. We were a young band. I didn’t have a clue. None of us had a clue. But when a band walks onstage and plays for 10,000 people and the most people they’d play for up to that point was 500 people, it is sensational, even if we didn’t make any money.
The first gig of the tour was in Topeka, Kansas.
We got to Topeka on a Sunday and we walked up the main street, six of us, and there was not a single person. I see this big sign that says, McDonald's. We’d never seen a McDonald's before. We had the Wimpy's hamburger chain in England. The McDonald's sign said, “Ten million hamburgers sold every day.” Do you know what (guitarist) Ralph Evans said? He said, “I’m not going there. We won’t get a fucking seat.” The place was empty.
They were Welsh and they were so funny.
That night we went in the dressing room and there was a big deli tray, and beer forever. The following morning (singer) Terry Bennett is dragging this suitcase out of the hotel. He’s dragging it on the floor. He stole all of the beer we didn’t drink and put it in his suitcase. We carried it all the way to St. Louis. When got into the dressing room in St. Louis, there were more beer. So we stopped stealing beer.
In Baltimore there was a riot.
There was a riot and a car was on fire in the street. They gave us this big black guy in a white suit with a bald head (as security) to walk us back to the hotel. Ralph Evans said, “You must have looked after some famous people.” The security guy replied, “Sure mac, I looked after the Kennedys.” Ralph turned around, and said, “They are fucking dead. I’m no going with him.”
Despite so much touring and releasing three albums, Sassafras never made it big. By ’77, Sassafras had split up.
Sassafras never sold any records. It was a business that went on and on. They were never going to be a big band. But I made a lot of friends.
How did you become bankrupt?
We owed money from the recording studio. I didn’t know what was going on. Suddenly, a guy turned up one day and padlocked my office. It was actually a good thing for me. It made me grow up real quickly and become a responsible businessman. We had four children by then. I was bankrupt. I had no money. I had no bank account or credit cards. I said, to my wife Pamela, “I have to get a job.”
After you travelled to London from Wales, to repay a £200 debt to Sassafras' booking agent John Sherry at NEMS, you ended up working for him.
I said to Pamela, “Look, I owe John Sherry £200. I can’t owe people money.” So I got on a train, and I went to London. At exactly 5 P.M., I walked into John’s office and I gave him the £200. He asked me what I was going to do. I said, “i'm packing it in. I might as well get a job as a lorry driver. I’d be making more money than I am now. I’ve got a wife and four kids. I have to look after my family.” He said, “Why don’t you come and work for me? You could be an agent.” He gave me back the £200 and said, “That’s five weeks salary. £40 pounds a week. In five weeks time if it hasn’t worked out, then leave. I think it’s going to work out.”
[Leighton-Pope came to NEMS when the agency included such powerhouse agents as Ian Copeland, Ian Flukes, Ed Bicknell, Ian Sales, Norman Dugdale and Phil Banfield.]
Did you move to London?
I left the family in Wales. My mother-in-law lived in an apartment in Notting Hill (London) and she had a living room with a sofa in it. I slept on the sofa for a year. I would go home on a Friday, and return on a Monday. I did that for a year.
You were soon busy?
I got lucky. One of the first bands I signed was the Motors which Richard Ogden was managing. I knew Richard because was he was the press officer (with his company Heavy Publicity) for Black Oak Arkansas. Sassafras had done some dates with them.
One of Richard’s friends was Charlie Levison who was then running Virgin Records in New York. I met Charlie and he said I had to meet Ina Meibach She was managing Patti Smith who was about to have a big hit with Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Because The Night” (from the 1978 album “Easter”). I met Ina and we really got on. So, I booked the Patti Smith tour of 1978 where she headlined the Reading Rock Festival.
Suddenly, the phone was ringing. Derek Sutton called me with Styx. I got Journey from Herbie Herbert. REO Speedwagon from John Barratt. Simple Minds from Arista Records. Dire Straits came in the office. Ed Bicknell said he really wanted to manage them. He asked if I wanted to be their agent. So I booked Dire Straits for the first couple of years. I also got Camel and UFO. Both were very big in England.
Suddenly, within a year of being at NEMS I was representing 20 acts. All of which were flying. Every time I met someone, they’d suggest that I work with this or that band. I suddenly thought, “I can do this.”
You obviously had what it takes to be an agent?
I think it’s about (developing relationships) with people. The deals are the deals. Learning the deals took awhile but once I got the deal, I realized I could fight anybody for the money. John Sherry was a good mentor for me. Ed Bicknell was really helpful. Ian Flukes was really great. And I was very lucky. I knew that I was in the right place doing the right thing.
What was important to me, after having had an (unsuccessful) act for four years, was being involved in the success of an act. I’m suddenly in sold out Hammersmith Odeon with 3,500 people watching Styx and thinking, “This is brilliant!” And then you go back stage, and they all love you. “C’mon to dinner.” That’s even more brilliant. Instead of going backstage, and the band is going “augggh.”
Within two years, however, you left to form Performing Artists Network.
John Sherry came to me and said, “I am leaving NEMS to start my own management company with Wishbone Ash and I want you to be the agent. You should leave NEMS.” So Phil Banfield, Norman Dugdale and I sat down, and had a cup of coffee. I said, “Norman if you manage the company, Phil and I will sign (and book) the acts. So we formed Performing Artists Network in 1979.
By this time you were a well-known booking agent?
I was booking all of these bands so my name got around. I wasn’t looking for publicity in those days. I was looking for money. I was looking to secure the future of my family. We had moved back to London. I had a real nice roster. I was doing well. I bought a little house for £18,000. I was going home every night. It was great.
That didn’t last long.
In 1981, I did the big Styx tour of Europe. (Germany's leading concert promoter) Marek Lieberberg really liked Saga. PolyGram Europe liked Saga. So I put them on a Styx tour and started working with them.
In 1982, I got a phone call from UFO saying that they had sacked their manager. They needed a manager quickly. They were about to go on tour in America with Ozzy Osbourne for 30 weeks. They needed someone to look after them, so I became UFO’s manager and we did the big Ozzy tour. But I never liked (management). I never enjoyed the experience. It was a lot of work. I made a lot of money but (by then) I was an agent.
A pivotal moment for me at PAN was when Gerry Lacoursiere (then president A&M Records Canada) came into my office. He said, “Derek Sutton speaks very highly of you. I have a band that, I think, is perfect for your roster called the Payolas.” He played me a cassette and I said I couldn’t get them on a tour unless he got a lot of support from A&M (UK). I told him I might be able to book them in some clubs. Gerry said “great.” Then he said he’d put me on his mailing list for new releases. That’s when I first got my first Bryan Adams’ record, “You Want It You Got It.” (released by A&M Records in 1981).
There was the perception back then that American-styled rock acts couldn’t break in the UK or Europe. This included Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, REO Speedwagon, Journey and others. The same was said about Adams then too, even though he was a newcomer.
Well, I certainly was having a problem ( booking American rock bands). Journey and REO Speedwagon didn’t do any business over here. The American band that did do business in the U.K., and Europe was Styx because they had a big UK hit with “Babe” (reaching #6) and they had a hit in Europe with “Boat On The River.’ So we were able to put them in arenas straight away
The problem for (American bands) was the image. The spandex trousers, the shirt tied up and all of that stuff. The Steve Perry look. It was a horrible look. And nobody over here liked it. We were coming out of punk and going into the new Romantic era which started in ’82 or ’83. So there was this hiatus where these bands didn’t work here. Everybody was losing faith, as I was, in American acts.
Still, you wanted to work with Bryan Adams in 1983?
I got a call from Marek Lieberberg who was doing Rockpalast (a music television show broadcast live on German television station Westdeutscher Rundfunk). He said he had a Canadian band called Loverboy and I should come over and see them. Before I left England, I had a meeting at Sony and I was told that Loverboy was managed by Bruce Allen who also handled a kid called Bryan Adams. I thought, “Wait a minute.” I came back to the office and went through my albums. I found “You Want It You Got” and “Cuts Like A Knife.” I played them again and thought “This is great.” I loved the imagery of “Cuts Like A Knife.”
So I flew over to Westfalia Dortmund (Germany) to meet Bruce Allen. I didn’t fly for Loverboy. In fact, I knew that I didn’t want Loverboy because Journey and REO Speedwagon were both non-starters here
I walked in. I had a quick look at Loverboy and thought, “Nope. Not for me.” I went backstage and met (Loverboy’s co-manager) Lou Blair first. He said to me, “I guess you’ve come for Loverboy?” I said, No. I’ve flown over for Bryan Adams.” Bruce Allen, standing next to Lou, said, “What.” I said I’ve flown over to meet you. I’ve come for Adams.” We then drove from Dortmann to Düsseldorf to the Intercontinental hotel where he was staying, sat in the bar, drank and told road stories all night. And we shook hands on working together. And that was it.
Bryan Adams broke in the UK and Europe opening for Tina Turner but with little support from A&M Records.
In ’84, Bryan did some club shows in the U.K. It wasn’t that there was a resistance from A&M (UK). The company here was phenomenally successful in its own style. with the Supertramp and Joan Armatrading (international) stories, and with “Frampton Comes Alive!” A&M was a boutique label that you would have loved to have your act signed to. Gerry Lacoursiere and Bruce Allen worked hard but the Europeans (A&M in Europe) weren’t really up for it.
Bryan’s nightly duet with Tina Turner of “It’s Only Love” later released on his 1984 album “Reckless” was the key to breaking him there.
Bruce called me and said, “We’ve got to get on this European tour with Tina Turner. We called Marek who was doing most of the dates. I took a meeting with (Tina’s agent) Barrie Marshall (founder of London-based Marshall Arts) who I’d known for years. Everybody got together, and we made the deal. I think it was Bruce who came up with this sensational idea during the negotiations that Bryan would play his show, and Tina would do her show, and then Bryan would play the first encore with her every night. It was a fabulous idea. Every night they sang “It’s Only Love” together, and the crowds went crazy. We all knew he was here to stay.
Bryan is the ultimate live artist. You put him on a stage with two people or two million people, and Adams does it. Every single night.
Your relationship with Bruce Allen led to you working with him on Michael Bublé two decades later. How did the relationship develop?
Bruce and I connected on a number of different levels. We are both passionate (about music and the business). We aren’t afraid to speak our minds. I got on well with (Bruce’s North American team) Terry Rhodes at ICM (International Creative Management) and Don Fox (of New Orleans’ Beaver Productions).
Bruce is a fantastic marketer in his own right. He keeps everybody focused. He builds. (With Bryan) Bruce made the right decisions in terms of TV and interviews and radio. Then we worked all the right people. Of course, Bryan made a great record with “Waking up The Neighbours” (in 1991) which launched him (as an international star) in ’92.
One of the reasons I am still here, at the age of 63, is my relationship with Bruce Allen, and his artists. He has demonstrated many times his loyalty to me, both privately, and publicly. These are the values that I wish were more prevalent in our industry.
To launch Michael Bublé internationally in 2002, Warner Music International devised a showcase campaign around his self-titled debut album on 143 Records/Reprise that targeted 13 countries in nine months. If I recall, he was in England 8 times in 8 months
There are only two taste maker markets in the world, America and London. Michael came to London. We won the battle (for him) to play Ronnie Scott’s Club. They were queuing around the block. Then there was the relationship between Michael and Michael Parkinson who was a powerful personality in radio and TV. Within 11 months, Michael went from playing Ronnie Scott’s to playing his (two) sold out shows at the Royal Albert Hall.
What is Michael Bublé's appeal?
One of the most interesting things about this style of music is the message (of the song) is still there. What had been missing over the years were the message carriers. They were either dead or almost dead. When Michael played the first showcase for Warner Bros. one of the girls who works at the company came over to me after he sang (the jazz standard) “All Of Me” and said, “So, he writes all of his own songs.” I said, “I wish he did, honey.”
I thought it was cool that Keith Urban opened for Bryan Adams on the 2005 UK and Ireland tour.
That was Bruce Allen who also manages (American country star) Martina McBride. He called me and said when we did the next run of UK dates he wanted Keith Urban. I spent a lot of time looking at Keith Urban. I was friendly with Gary Borman (head of Borman Entertainment which handles Urban) who’s a very smart guy. I reached out to him. I now represent Keith and have a sensational relationship with Gary Borman.
Keith Urban could be a mainstream rocker.
I think that Keith is in a transition period. He’s a country superstar but, inside his heart, I think he’s a rocker. He is like a Jon Bon Jovi locked into country. But he’s harder, more cutting edge than most country acts.
How did you come to work with the male revue, the Chippendales?
In 1990, I was contacted by an American guy representing them. He came to London, took me around, and then kept sending me Chippendale stuff. I kept throwing it in the bin. It just went on and on.
In those days, I played squash every morning with choreographer Anthony van Laast. Subsequently, I told Anthony about them over breakfast, and he said “Why don’t you make it a theatre show? Don’t put it in clubs. Choreograph and direct it properly and turn it into a show only for women.” And that’s what we did. We got them on Terry Wogan’s nightly television show. (“Wogan”). They sang one song and the my phones melted.
My son Andrew now works with them here. They are having a resurgence. They are playing the Edinburgh Festival in August, and they’ve got a 60 date tour across Europe that is doing great business. With a new generation of girls, they are popular again.
All your children work in the business.
I’m so proud of them. Andrew came to work with me in 1984 when I started Bonaire, and he stayed with me. Lara manages all of our family business, our properties and our investments. Jake is at CAA, and Toby is at Live Nation.
In Europe, and the U.K., independent promoters still thrive.
Absolutely. I’ll tell you why. Nobody’s got a monopoly here. Even the promoters owned by Live Nation here still do business with anybody and everybody.
Is that because they don’t own their own buildings there? The power of Live Nation and A.E.G. in the U.S. is that they own the sheds.
Anschutz is hoping to build in Europe. But we don’t have successful indoor sports here. We do not have ice hockey or basketball. If you build an arena, you have to put in as much stuff as you possibly can whether it is exhibitions or concerts. Just get it filled. It is not like a (North American) ice hockey arena where 150 dates are already taken by the ice hockey team. So it means that these people would have to deal with everybody.
Secondary ticket reselling is becoming an even bigger business worldwide. With recorded music sales dipping, managers, acts, and agents are looking for other streams of revenue.
The secondary ticketing market is a fact of life. It has been a fact of life all my life. There’s always been touts outside of the building trying to sell or buy tickets. Because of the Internet, this is now a massive business.
The problem is if you multiply the ticket price by the (venue’s) capacity that’s still the gross. Once you have maxed out your ticket price—which I think we have now in the industry—then you have to look inside the deal to find out what you can do. Whether that is a merchandising deal, a sponsorship deal, or whatever.
The fact is the secondary ticketing deal has arrived. This money is being generated with or without you. Then why would you say no to it? If you do say no, then do something with the money (like giving it to a charity) but if you say yes, to cover costs or to make a larger profit, then yes is okay.
That money is being generated whether or not you want to be involved.
With great respect to Bruce Springsteen and Jon Landau, if they don’t want to be involved in secondary ticketing, that’s up to them, I perfectly understand. But I think for somebody to say, “I want nothing to do with that, I don’t want to be involved” then that is slightly irresponsible. That money should go to a good cause. It should not go into somebody’s pocket who is not interested in the business, doesn’t contribute to the industry, and simply buys a bigger car.
Do you still get a “buzz” from a live show?
The sad thing is probably not. If you are in the music business, one of the things that you do lose is that excitement.
I’m a Chelsea (Football Club) season ticket holder. When I get invited to the dressing room and stand there with all of those players and talk to (midfielder) Frankie Lampard, that is a massive buzz for me. I ran into Paul McCartney recently in Hyde Park. It was nice to meet Paul again but I’ve met him four or five times. He’s just another guy in the music business.
What I haven’t lost is the enjoyment of sharing that (event) excitement with others. I’ll take a couple of Bruce Springsteen fans and I give them VIP passes for backstage. Then they go out front and see Bruce and come back with their faces aglow. You have no idea the pleasure and the power you give to those people.
You still get excited by new artists though?
Oh yeah. I was recently a guest speaker at a Dutch event. That evening they showcased three acts. Each played one song each. The middle act was a guy named Alain Clark. He’s 6 foot 4 and he sang a sensational song. I signed him for the agency. I was excited by the music and by the opportunity. I couldn’t say no. (Clark’s debut album “Live It Out” has recently been released on Warner Bros. in the U.K.)
What is the status your musical “Carnaby Street" that you wrote with the grown-up character of Jumpin' Jack Flash looking back over the ‘60s?
It opens in the U.K. in February. We’ll take it out on the road for 12 weeks and, hopefully, we will bring it into the West End (in London). It was 12 years of work. I’m a Capricorn. We just keep going.
Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.