Industry Profile: Harvey Goldsmith
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Harvey Goldsmith, managing director of Harvey Goldsmith Productions.
Harvey Goldsmith rides roughshod over anyone who tries to get in his way and he isn’t scared of anyone.
Still, you have to admire him.
Over a four decade career, this pint-sized British character, with a gruff demeanor and an almost impenetrable north London accent, has tenaciously carved out a place for himself in live music history.
Goldsmith, managing dir. of Harvey Goldsmith Productions, has promoted dates and tours by almost all of the world's leading music acts, including Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd, and Luciano Pavarotti.
He helped to organize both the Live Aid, and Live 8 concerts; produced the Concert for Kampuchea, and the first Prince’s Trust Gala; and oversaw spectacular productions of the “Lord of the Dance" musical featuring Michael Flatley. He has overseen Cirque du Soleil’s annual treks to the UK since 1994.
It was Goldsmith CBE (Commander of the British Empire) who spearheaded the reunion of Led Zeppelin's surviving members in 2007. Last year, he began managing iconic British guitarist Jeff Beck ahead of a new album “Emotion & Commotion” and his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has previously managed Van Morrison, and Mick Jagger.
Born in Edgware, North London in 1946, Goldsmith entered the live music sector while studying applied pharmacy at Brighton Polytechnic. As social secretary of the student union, he launched its weekly Club 66 night, which made so much money that he was put on the finance committee within six months.
As Alfandary Associates, Goldsmith and his partner Mike Alfandary then began promoting Sunday night shows at Camden's legendary Roundhouse venue, featuring such bands as the Move, and the Moody Blues.
The pair built up a circuit for their shows at a local club, and a community hall. There was also their series of legendary garden party concerts at Crystal Place.
Next, working as part of John Smith Entertainment, Goldsmith promoted shows by the Rolling Stones, and the Who.
In 1976 Goldsmith formed Artiste Management Productions to produce and manage artists. It was soon followed by the holding company Allied Entertainment Group, and its subsidiary Harvey Goldsmith Entertainment.
Throughout the late ‘70s and ‘80s, Harvey Goldsmith Entertainment averaged 500 concerts a year. The company promoted tours for Wham!, the Grateful Dead, Paul Weller, the Cure, Luciano Pavarotti, Barbra Streisand and large outdoor concerts by the likes of David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones, as well as such arena opera productions as “Aida” and “Carmen.”
Along the way Goldsmith became like a father-figure to exuberant rockers as they rampaged their way around the circuit.
On one tour rider, Queen demanded a mud wrestling ring outside the dressing room to provide them with some after-show entertainment. It was Goldsmith who sorted out the mud wrestlers.
Alice Cooper did a show in Glasgow, Scotland and instructed Goldsmith to book a warm room at the hotel. Goldsmith assumed it was for a member of Cooper’s band. However, while checking the band into the hotel, the receptionist enquired when “Mr. Snake” would be arriving. Someone opened up a case, and a massive python slithered out. The receptionist fainted.
Goldsmith was with the late Keith Moon the first time he threw a TV out of a hotel window. The Who’s drummer figured that if he dropped a TV and a feather from the 5th floor of the building, they’d hit the ground at the same time. The feather landed fine, but the TV set crashed to the ground.
Despite triumphs, Harvey Goldsmith Entertainment and its parent company Allied Entertainments Group succumbed to bankruptcy in 1999, and many of its senior people left.
Goldsmith had overextended himself through the decade by investing in films.
Red ink had flowed after the 1996 film “The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace” stiffed (following actor Pierce Brosnan dropping out to play James Bond) and continued with the failure of a rock festival Goldsmith had promoted in Cornwall to coincide with a total eclipse of the sun, entitled Eclipse 99 Festival.
This was only the latest in a series of setbacks for Goldsmith in those years. An earlier attempt to float Allied Entertainments Group through a reverse takeover and merger with the classical music promoter Raymond Gubbay had failed. "We were saved a fate worse than death," Gubbay said in retrospect in The Guardian in 2003.
[DEAG Classics, a subsidiary of Deutsche Entertainment in Berlin and Sony Music Classical in Munich, has just increased its shareholding--from 75.1% to 100@ of the shares-- in the British classical music promoter Raymond Gubbay Ltd (RGL). The shares were acquired from chairman Gubbay, who founded the company in 1966, and managing director Anthony Findlay. The purchase price was not disclosed; it was paid for in cash. Gubbay has extended his chairman contract to 2014 and Findlay has signed on to remain as managing director until 2018.]
As well, competition from the Vince Power Music Group and others, coupled with the departures of several long-standing staff, including Pete Wilson (3 'A' Entertainment) and
Andy Zweck (Sensible Events) to set up their own companies, also took their toll. Despite these setbacks, Goldsmith flourished.
In 2006, he presented the dance spectacular “The Merchants of Bollywood” that toured the UK. A six month tour of Europe followed in 2007.
The same year, in front of an industry audience at London's Grosvenor House Hotel, Goldsmith received the Music Industry Trusts award—bestowed annually to an individual deemed to have made a lasting contribution to the British music industry.
As a consultant for Anschutz Entertainment Group, Goldsmith has spearheaded the development of a new permanent exhibit called the British Music Experience in The O2 Arena in London.
Today, Goldsmith has numerous concerns about the health of the live industry, not least is the soaring price of the concert experience.
Is there any day for you that isn’t busy?
What do you have on your plate for this year?
I am continuing with Jeff (Beck). We have quite a few things in the pipeline for him coming up. We just shot two shows in New York which is a (TV) tribute to (the late guitarist) Les Paul that is going to be fantastic. It’s coming out at Christmas with a DVD and a CD in March. I’m working (as Chairman of the BME Trustees & Management Board) on The British Music Experience, our Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is just a year in. I’m determined to make that a big success. And I’m on my way down to South Africa to do the finals’ gala for the (FIFA) World Cup (being staged in Johannesburg on July 9) with Andrea Bocelli with a big (60 member) orchestra and choir with Bryan Adams as a guest with a lot of South African content. I’m pretty full on busy to be honest.
[The British Music Experience, opened on March 6, 2009, is a permanent exhibition, installed into The O2 Bubble in Greenwich, London. Spearheaded by Goldsmith, designed by Land Design Studio, and funded by O2 owners AEG, it features a retrospective look at the British music industry since 1944. It contains such music memorabilia as the trumpet that Humphrey Lyttelton played on VE-Day, David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust costume, Noel Gallagher's Union Jack guitar, and the outfit that Roger Daltrey of The Who wore onstage at the Woodstock Festival.]
Have you started the planning for the F1 Rocks concert series yet?
No. We came into this in the middle of the (Formula One) season. We are still in discussion with everybody. If we are going to do it, we are going to do it right. It is going to take another two or three weeks before we have all of the ducks in order, and everything on the table in order to move forward. We have an outline plan of what we want to do, and where we want to do it this year, which will be at the end of the season. But, (the planning is) really for the future,. and, if we are going to do this, we want to get it right.
Your remarks over merch charges for a recent Jeff Beck show at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia were extensively discussed in The Lefsetz Letter. A contract was signed accepting the date with 35% for merchandising charge.
I did not see the contract. As soon as I was made aware of the merch issue three weeks before (the date) I asked them to change it.
In 2006, you unsuccessfully called for the UK Office of Fair Trading to intervene in the Live Nation/MCD alliance bid for a controlling stake in the Academy Music Group. Were you afraid that such a merger would have created a dominance in London?
Yes. Purely and simply, knowing that they had, at that time, deals with Ticketmaster, is precisely what is now going on (there).
The fact is, we don’t need Ticketmaster anymore because there are much simpler, more transparent systems with better manifest operations and information for the promoters. We don’t need their cumbersome, old-fashioned system that is too expensive; where it leaks like a sieve so anybody in the scalping business can go out and buy 50 or a 100 tickets and sit on them until there is a market. We don’t need it. And we certainly cannot have a dominant player like Ticketmaster controlling (here) as in America. Then, the game’s up. That is what I have been fighting all of the time. We need choice. The promoters need to stand up and say, “It’s my money that I’m putting up. I’ll control where my tickets are being sold.”
A year after its chairman John Whittingdale published his influential report on ticket touting in the UK, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in England launched industry consultations on ticket touting last year. What has happened since?
Basically nothing. The previous government suggested that the business police itself, and asked the secondary ticketing market to work closely with us. All that means is literally selling more (secondary) tickets. It’s bullshit.
A million tickets were resold in the UK in 2008, with the Madonna shows at Wembley Stadium having the biggest turnover of tickets.
It is a complete total outrage. And furthermore, it’s down to the business. It needs artists to stand up and stop it. If the artists don’t want to stand up and stop it, at the end of the day, it’s pretty apparent that there is nothing else that we can do.
How can artists stop it?
‘Cuz they can turn around and say, “We don’t want our fans to buy secondary tickets,” and they can say, “Fans, don’t buy secondary tickets,” and “Business, don’t let them get them.” Then they are outlawed. Then everybody can get on with it, and deal with it the way it should be dealt with. It is the same with the mess that America is in this year. If the artists don’t stand up and stop the mess that they have let themselves get into, then there won’t be a business in a year’s time.
You are against premium tickets and auctioning off tickets.
It’s pure total and utter greed. And let me tell you something. A long time ago, I made a speech at a Billboard convention where I said that “There are two things that are going to kill our business. One is called Ticketmaster. The second thing is called sheds.” Currently, that is precisely what is happening. They are killing the business.
What has to happen for the live business to survive?
We have to get back to sensible ticket prices. We have to stop having a thousand add-ons. The Hospitality Ticket; The Front of the Line Ticket; The Golden Circle Ticket; The Stand On Your Head Ticket; and, if you buy a bottle of Coca-Cola and £15,000 of food, you get another ticket. Let’s sell tickets at face price. Let’s fix the commission that the ticket companies are going to earn so that it is perfectly transparent. Let’s sell regular tickets to regular fans and stop all of this crap. That’s the only way that this business is going to survive and thrive.
Fans complain that the person with a gold credit card or who has deep pockets always has the best seats.
It ain’t right.
The average punter doesn’t feel he has a shot at a good ticket. It’s not only about money.
It’s not about money. People are now voting with their feet. They are fed up with it. I believe that this is probably going to be the worst summer in history for U.S. touring. The knock-on (impact) effect is not only just America, but it is going to knock-on everywhere.
How bad is European touring this summer?
It’s not, but it will be.
You have worked with paperless tickets.
Then, I read that some smart-assed senator or congressman in New Jersey said, “Well, you have to give people the chance not to have a paperless ticket.” The whole point of a fucking paperless ticket is to stop the scalpers from having them, to stop the secondary market from having them and for the people who bought the ticket to be able to be the people who turn up for the show. That’s the whole bloody point of (paperless ticketing).
[On June 3, 2010, the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Investigations and Government Operations held a hearing on whether or not state lawmakers should require ticket sellers to offer customers a paper ticket. When the New York state law that allowed for ticket scalping expired in May, Governor David Paterson indicated he would not sign an extension without a requirement for paper tickets that would give consumers the choice to re-sell their tickets. Paterson has since proposed a law that would make paperless tickets one of several options a consumer can choose from when buying tickets to an event. During the hearing representatives from Live Nation, Madison Square Garden, the Broadway League, Veritix and the New York Yankees spoke against any limitation on paperless ticketing.
On June 10, 2010, the New Jersey Assembly's Regulated Professions Committee unanimously passed a proposed new law, A373, that would ensure that new ticketing technology is easily transferable. New Jersey Assemblymen Gary Schaer, Fred Scalera and Elease Evans, the sponsors of the bill, want paperless tickets to either be easily transferable or prohibited in the state, a similar stance that Paterson has taken.]
Does paperless ticketing work?
Of course it works. It’s not the total answer, but it’s a solution. For the fans, it takes a little longer to get in but, once you get used to it, it works quite smoothly. What this is about is saying, as a fan, “I want to buy a ticket at a regular price, and I’m prepared to stand up and be counted. This is my identification. I’m the guy who bought the ticket. I don’t want the fifth person down the line who has paid $500 for a $50 ticket going to see the show.”
And that’s not what I’m in the business for either.
Someone needs to do an analysis of the average Live Nation/Ticketmaster inventory and find out how many real tickets are available to real fans at face value plus the ticket margin at cost. I would think that there’s a fair chunk of the tickets that come out of the marketplace before (most consumers) even get a look in. That’s why they are not buying.
Shows are also becoming spectacles because of the elaborate staging.
That’s not true actually. There have always been certain acts who have become famous for the stupendous productions. You can go back to Genesis; the early Pink Floyd shows, in fact all the way through Pink Floyd; the Grateful Dead shows; and the Rolling Stones. So really, (bands) are just following those acts that were into that type of presentation. They are following those traditions. That’s nothing new. Technology has changed. That’s for sure.
That doesn’t alter the fact that the method, that people get tickets to go and see (concerts) is completely wrong, unjustified, unnecessary and needs to change.
Within a three year period, the O2 in London has become one of the world’s most popular arenas.
I think it’s the best arena in the world. Just the fact that it’s built underneath a massive umbrella. It is part of a destination, and an entertainment district, so there are fantastic independent bars, restaurants, clubs, small venues, and cinemas that are part of a whole complex. You are not going to some concrete jungle at the end of the town or somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The care and attention when they built the whole set up in the arenas was fantastic, and everybody loves it.
[The O2, a 28-acre development, located in the eastern part of London along the Thames River, includes a 20,000-seat arena and over 650,000 sq. feet of leisure and entertainment use.]
Led Zeppelin’s 2007 reunion at O2 benefiting the Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund was a difficult night for you because your father-in-law passed away.
It was very difficult, yeah. Very difficult. It was quite odd really. I went onstage and introduced the show. As I was walking offstage, my phone kept ringing. I kept switching it off. It’d ring again. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I picked up the phone, and there was a call saying that my father-in-law had just died. I had to go and find my wife (Diana) and tell her the news. She was upstairs watching the show. You can imagine the decision. Do I go? Do I stay? What do I do? Fortunately, my wife is quite strong. She said, “You have to stay here, I’ll go.” My head was all over the place as you can imagine.
[In 2007, AEG Europe CEO and president David Campbell told Music Week, “My best memory of the year was taking Harvey Goldsmith and Led Zeppelin up to the top-most level of the arena during Elton John’s performance and standing with them, watching the show from behind the lights. No one could see that we were there and I could tell, as soon as I saw the smiles on their faces, that the show was going to happen.” Led Zeppelin headlined a bill that also included Paolo Nutini, Mick Jones of Foreigner, and Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, who backed those two acts as well as playing themselves.]
How difficult was that show to put together?
I have a belief in life that if something is meant to be, it will happen. This was meant to be, and that was it. I was very close to Ahmet. (His widow) Mica asked if I would do something in London with all the British acts. So, I set about with (former Atlantic Record executive) Phil Carson, who had worked with Ahmet; Bill Curbishley, who manages the Who; and Robert Plant about putting a show together. The original idea was to do two days and to reflect all of those British acts (with Atlantic), from the Rolling Stones to Phil Collins to Cream to Eric Clapton. We even looked at ABBA. All sorts of things.
When I went to the memorial service (for Ahmet in New York on April 17, 2007), I saw all three of the Zeps there. I went up to them and I said, “You are the only guys who didn’t perform at this.” They said, “no no no.”
[Wynton Marsalis opened the Ahmet Ertegun memorial tribute in New York with the jazz standard "Didn’t He Ramble”; Eric Clapton and Dr. John performed "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee." Solomon Burke, Ben E. King, Sam Moore, Stevie Nicks, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Phil Collins all performed.]
Then we got back (to London), and we talked about it. Bill said it’d be hard to get (Led Zeppelin members) together. I suddenly thought, “This is ridiculous. The one act that Ahmet adored was Led Zeppelin." He loved the Stones and he loved other acts, but Led Zeppelin was his love. So I just dropped them all a note and said, “Forget about what everybody has said about touring and just do this one (show) for Ahmet.” All I asked them to do was to play for 15 minutes or a half-hour.
What response did you get?
One after another, they came back immediately and said, “We should do this.” Then, they said, “Well, we don’t know if we can play yet. We’re going to go away for two or three days of rehearsals without anybody else with us. No management. Nobody. Secretly. Just to see if we can play.” A week later they called me up and we had a meeting. Everybody was there. Jimmy (Page) came into the room, and he said, “Well, we tried it out, and we’ve thought about it. We decided,”—and I’m thinking, “Oh, no,”—and he said, “We want to do the whole show.” I just looked at him, aghast. Thereafter, the rest of it (a bigger artist tribute) didn’t make any sense. Everybody had seen everybody else. It wasn’t that those other acts weren’t important, but it just didn’t make any sense because it would be such an anti-climax. So that’s how it came about. It was as simple as that.
You had worked with Led Zeppelin previously.
So I had to put the show together. I had to put everything together. I came up with the idea of the screen, staging, everything. They did the music. I brought the complete crew in. Everything from scratch. It was a great experience.
You have done numerous charity events. Do you insure that the money raised at the concerts you present goes directly to the charities involved?
Yes. Not just to the charities, but for any of the defined projects which we then monitor.
Live Aid in 1985 raised a reported £145 million. At what stage did you realize that it was turning into a global event?
When the BBC agreed to transmit 17 hours on TV and have a telephone (call-in).
Over the years, you have managed Van Morrison, and Mick Jagger. Why take on the management of Jeff Beck last year?
It was just a timing thing. Jeff Beck just came into my life when I wanted to do something different. I was getting sick to death of all of the wranglers, the competition and all of the aggravation that was going on and the fact that (the concert business) wasn’t developing. Jeff walked into my life. He’d been a friend. I had worked with him over the years. I did all of the BBA (Beck, Bogert & Appice) shows and so forth. I sat down with him, he told me what he wanted to do, and I said I’d help him. I realized pretty quickly that this is the most underexploited genius on the planet. The only way it could go was up. There was no down. It’s been the most successful partnership. It’s been fantastic.
What did you see as a challenge working with him?
Just that this is the most underexploited star I’d ever worked with. The challenge was simple. It was, “How do we get him out there?” And, “What should he be doing?”
Did you know about his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Shortly thereafter, yeah.
Who had the idea of Jeff and Eric Clapton touring together?
It was just a coincidence, really. They were both on tour in Japan (last year). It was Udo (Seijiro Udo, president of Udo Artists) the promoter in Japan who said, “You are both in Tokyo at the same time, why don’t you do something together?” I thought, “What a great idea.” (The show) worked so well. Eric then phoned Jeff up and said, “I really enjoyed this. Why don’t we do some more?” So, we both agreed to do just a few shows so they would enjoy it and it wouldn’t become work.
What was it like seeing them onstage together in the first round of shows? They were rivals back in the ‘60s.
It was interesting ‘cuz at first, neither of them wanted to outplay each other. They kind of stepped back from it. But they both knew that wasn’t what they wanted to do. Then they found a kind of rhythm, and a choice of material that worked for them both. I suppose, to some extent, they held themselves back, maybe more than some people wanted, but they were doing it because they were enjoying themselves. It came over that they were enjoying it. I think that if it had gone on, if they had done more, they would have looked at it a different way. They’ve become friends.
You knew what you were getting into when you agreed to manage Van Morrison in 1976, but you overcame your reluctance.
Bill Wyman sent him to me. Van was trying to get himself back into the business. He hadn’t been around for awhile. He had been cleaning himself up, and he wanted to make a (new) start. He was my kind of music hero. So that came about quite nicely.
Your management relationship with Van was brief.
He’s a genius. My deal with Van was that I’d manage him for as long as it worked. If it didn’t work, I didn’t want to end up with a load of aggravation. I was concerned about how our relationship was set up so if it didn’t work, how could we separate in a very easy manner. And that’s what we did.
["Every single person that had been involved with him, be it record company, publishing, promoting, agency or whatever, had a tremendous respect for him but everyone also said that he was the most difficult person in the world to deal with," Goldsmith told Johnny Rogan in an interview for Rogan's unauthorized Van Morrison biography, “No Surrender,” published in 2005.] Did Van Morrison break your heart or did you split on good terms?
He didn’t break my heart. We parted on pretty good terms. I was upset that at first, he chose to base himself in England, which is how (my management) all came about, then he felt he couldn’t live in England, and he went back to America. So, I went to Bill Graham and said you’ve got to help me out here (with Morrison’s management), because I can’t keep going back and forth to California every three weeks. It drove me nuts. That’s really what happened.
[Goldsmith, in fact, contacted former Door’s manager Bill Siddons to keep an eye on Morrison’s American interests, an experiment that soon resulted in Morrison parting company with both of them in favor of representation by Bill Graham Management.]
I enjoyed (management) for a period, but I was always drawn back to promoting and producing. Being free to go from one act to another and being able to travel around the world, and the rest of it.
Van and I kind of remained friends. He loves my wife Diana. Every time he sees her, and he’s done some shows with me, he plays better.
You met up with Queen when they were selling jewelry in the local market. Did you have an idea they were special?
No, none at all. They were talented people. They were unusual in their dress and their style and they were great designers, but their musical tastes? Who had a clue what they were about?
How good of a showman was Freddy?
The best. I’d put him in the Elvis Presley stakes. It didn’t matter if you liked the music or not, that guy had a presence that would spin through 80,000 people. If you were at the back of the 80,000, you still felt it.
Does David Bowie have that power?
Different, but yes. He’s the complete opposite of Freddie: understated, and he performs quietly. His presence is demanded in how he performs and what he does. He has an innate presence, but it’s completely different. Freddy was Mr. Flamboyant. I loved it. Every minute of it.
There aren’t many new superstars being created these days.
The only kind of stadium star or arena plus star act that has come through recently is Muse. That’s it. Both here and in America. We need more of them. We need to have—as I have said it time and time again—new promoters with new ideas, building new acts up so they become the new superstars. Without that, within five years’ time, there will not be a business.
Part of that build-up has to be distinct marketing.
Absolutely. The style of the marketing says it all. I have spent my life trying to highlight our marketing from everybody else’s. Doing things slightly differently and in a more avant-garde way; always trying something new; and looking for different ways of doing it. Marketing is how you sell an act. The front face of it is what (consumers) see in the ads. Whatever the ads.
There has to be an aura around a show. The concert business shouldn’t be like the fast food industry.
They just shovel it out.
You are probably the only UK promoter people can name. Among your peers was Maurice Jones who passed away last year at the age of 64. He was the co-promoter of the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium with you.
A smashing bloke. A nice chap. We were mates. We were rivals. We’d go drinking together. That was the camaraderie (in the business). Today, there’s isn’t camaraderie. It is just enemies, which is horrible.
We were partners. (Tony Smith) and I were partners with his father (John) and Mike Alfandary (in John Smith Entertainment).
Mike was your original partner?
My original partner. We were all partners (in John Smith Entertainment), and we built a really good business up. Then we took on Genesis and Family for management, but (the other partners) didn’t want to be part of an entertainment group. Tony took Genesis; Michael took Family; and I wanted to promote. So I took the promotion business. John carried on doing the club business until he passed away.
Why did you and Michael feel you needed partners? You had been doing the series of garden party concerts at Crystal Place in London, starting with Pink Floyd. Did you need the financing?
When we first started (with Alfandary Associates), we had left college, and we had about £50 each left over from our grants. When the idea of Crystal Palace came up, we took a risk for quite a lot of money on the bet that it would work. We felt that we wanted to have a financial partner. We couldn’t get bank finance, so we felt that we should go to someone in the industry. So we went to John.
With John Smith Entertainment, you promoted shows by the Rolling Stones, the Who and so on.
Yep. I was more into events. I was doing a lot of open air events. They weren’t. They were just doing straight touring. We built that whole (event) business up and had a fair share of it.
Afterwards you had Artiste Management Productions before launching Allied Entertainment Group with its subsidiary Harvey Goldsmith Entertainment.
Artiste Management Productions was formed in 1976, when we broke up the John Smith Entertainment empire.
Under your new company, you did The Concert for Kampuchea with Wings, the Clash, Queen, and the Who?
The first thing I did as my own company was Lynyrd Skynyrd. The next thing that went on sale was the Rolling Stones at Earl’s Court. Then the Concert For Kampuchea came up.
A 1985 booking of six Bruce Springsteen shows at Earl’s Court that fell through led to you working with Luciano Pavarotti. Springsteen decided to play 3 sell-out shows at Wembley Stadium instead. But you were sitting with these Earl’s Court dates?
Yeah, which you had to four wall (pay for). We tried everything and someone mentioned Pavarotti. We looked into it and then I just chased and chased. He came over the following year. That was the start of a 27-year relationship.
Were your mother and dad still alive when you played Pavarotti at Hyde Park in 1991, to celebrate his 30 years in opera? A crowd of 100,000 turned out and stood in the rain, including Princess Diana, Prime Minister John Major, and Michael Caine.
Yeah. When my parents used to go to meet Pavarotti after a show, he would literally throw everybody out. I’d bring my parents in, and Pavarotti would throw me out. They would sit there and talk for about 15 minutes. My mother would always come out in a flood of tears because he would sing some aria to her. She just couldn’t cope with it. He did that about three times. It was quite amazing.
I know that Bryan Adams’ father was impressed when Bryan sang with Pavarotti.
I remember bumping into Morrissey in Ireland. He came up to me, and said, “I’d love to take my mother to see Pavarotti. She would just adore it.” I said, “Sure. No problem.” You would be surprised how many people in our business went to see Pavarotti.
Your parents took you to see Louis Armstrong at the Gaumont State Theatre in North London early on.
I was quite young at the time. He was a genius and for a kid to see someone like that is something that you remember all of your life. It was pretty fantastic.
What did your parents think about your career? You were going for an applied pharmacy degree before you began booking Fleetwood Mac, the Moody Blues, and the Move at Club 66.
They thought I was on sabbatical for the first 8 years.
In 1967, you went to America.
I bought a $99/99 day Greyhound bus ticket and saw more of America than I think I’ve ever seen since. I had a great time. A wonderful time actually.
You went to San Francisco. Did you wear flowers in your hair?
I did get spiked out on acid with the Grateful Dead. That was three days of my life.
You made a deal to sell psychedelic posters from San Francisco in the UK through Big O Posters?
There were two people in San Francisco that were controlling the (concert) marketplace. One was Bill Graham who ran the Fillmore; and Chet Helms who ran the Avalon. The posters that they used for marketing just completely knocked me out. My interest in pharmacy was in cosmetics and perfumery and how they were marketed. This was me looking at these great poster designs for shows, not having a clue of who the artists were and saying, “I don’t know what this (show) is but I am going to see it.”
What agents and promoters did you become close to in America when you began promoting?
The two people that introduced me to America were Ahmet Ertegun and Frank Barsalona. I was very close to Frank. I still talk to (his wife) June a lot because Frank is not very well. There was, of course, awful news about Barbara Skydel recently (passing away). All of the English acts that Frank signed, I promoted. So we were very very close. I watched how he built the whole American territorial (booking) system up. I met Barry Fey, Ron Delsener, Bill Graham, Larry Magid, Don Law, Arny and Jerry (Arny Granat and Jerry Mickelson) in Chicago. That whole gang. We were all kind of mates. We all agreed that we wouldn’t cross each others’ territory. That’s how we stayed friendly.
[Frank Barsalona, who opened New York-based Premier Talent Agency in 1964, basically created the regional promoter model in America, building acts with the promoters in each market. Among Premier’s acts were Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, the J. Geils Band, Grand Funk Railroad, U2, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and Van Halen. In 2002, Barsalona merged Premier with the William Morris Agency and after briefly serving as a WMA consultant, he retired.
Following the merger, Barbara Skydel, who had come aboard in 1968 as Barsalona’s assistant, was named senior VP within the WMA music division in New York. She remained with the talent company through its merger with Endeavor last year. Her clients included Tom Petty, the Pretenders, Marianne Faithfull, the Who, Keith Richards, and Suzanne Vega.]
Did your bankruptcy in 1999 hinder your career in any way?
In 2008, you promoted the Polish Music Festival in London. Was it a success?
Yes, I think it was. I was quite surprised how many people turned up for it. It was funded by a Polish bank. They wanted to establish a presence (in London) because there are so many Polish workers and emigrants here. We brought over some really clever Polish acts to see and for people to pick up on.
Is there a market for international non-English acts in the UK?
There are some really talented and clever people doing brilliantly in their own territories. I have always encouraged them to come over to England; and I have always tried to bring them over, because (this country is) the gateway to the rest of the world. It works occasionally, but most of the time it doesn’t work. I can’t tell you why. You can bring over a Greek artist, play them at the Palladium and it will sell out in three seconds, and nobody will be any the wiser. The same with those other (ethnic) groups. It can go wider, but it happens very rarely.
Are there markets for Western acts in China, India and Russia?
Russia is a very successful market. No problem at all. Very successful. China will be. We just have to be patient. There are millions of millionaires there. (With) the kids, on the internet, there’s a thirst for music there. They will develop their own (stars). We just have to be patient. The authorities are very nervous about (Western music) but slowly and surely they will open the door and let things develop. They will develop at their own pace. They are not going to be told how or when. It will develop. It will become an enormous market.
The Chinese don’t know Western acts.
You would be surprised by what they know. The thing you have to understand is that the Chinese have grown up on a style of music that we would find abhorrent, and they find rock and roll music abhorrent. They love classical music. Classical music has always been successful in China. They like Sarah Brightman. They like middle-of-the-road stuff. The kids there like Linkin Park. So, like every other territory in the world, you have to work it. If you are prepared to work it, you will conquer it.
What were conditions in China when you took Wham! there for 10 days in 1985?
More controlled than now. The venues were fine. Security was a major issue. There were issues at the venues of kids getting up. But you have to respect the way they work. If you respect it, you can work with them. If they want it, they will let you do it. If they don’t want it, they won’t. The same as in Russia.
[Director Lindsay Anderson documented the tour in his film “Foreign Skies.”]
India is developing. All of those markets are. I’ve always been a bit of a pioneer going out to these markets. Why not? Music is an international ambassador. It cuts across all barriers, and all boundaries. We are there to entertain.
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.