Industry Profile: Eddie Levy
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Eddie Levy, owner Chelsea Music Publishing.
The sheer probability of Eddie Levy’s publishing career makes it a legendary music industry story.
The tale of a music industry insider from London, England who, enthralled with pop music who has always surrounded himself with outstanding songwriters.
Levy is an old-school music publisher, a self-motivated figure with enough steel to successfully operate a standalone independent publishing company for 28 years.
He is also a charmer. A man who has stories to tell. He isn’t a musician, but he is an astute judge of musical talent with an ear for a hit, attributes that have served him well for over a half a century.
Levy fell in love with music as a child. His father Morris Levy owned Oriole Records which represented American imprints Mercury, Savoy, and Motown Records in the UK. In 1965, his father sold his label/recording studios/manufacturing plant operation to CBS, and became the first managing director, and vice chairman of CBS UK.
Prior to launching Chelsea Music Publishing (named after his beloved local football club), Levy was co-owner of Heath Levy Music for 8 years. Prior to that, he was founding director for 8 years at ATV Music which then owned the Beatles’ catalog.
Among the songwriters Chelsea Music represent in the UK today are: Bill Withers, Madeleine Peyroux, Jeff Beck, Tony Iommi, Roberta Flack, and Andre Rieu.
Chelsea Music also represents in the UK the catalogs of Johnnie Wilder, Alan Lomax, and AlaBianca Publishing, as well as the music for the internationally successful Danish TV series “The Killing.”
Recent deals for Chelsea include with the family of the late Nat “King” Cole to oversee their publishing interests outside the United States.
In 2013, Chelsea signed UK singer/songwriter, pianist and violinist Joni Fuller for the world.
Twenty-eight years is a healthy run for an indie publishing company.
I can’t believe that it’s 28 years. That I somehow have staggered on for 28 years. And I am still staggering on. Well, the funny thing is that I had Heath Levy Music for 8 years previously. And I had 8 years at ATV Music which was (first) Welbeck Music with three people and Tony Hatch songs. Then it bought Northern Songs. So it’s been a long haul.
Chelsea Music started with….
Curiosity Killed the Cat.
Curiosity Killed the Cat’s 1987 debut album “Keep Your Distance” went onto the UK chart at #1, and stayed in the Top 10 for 13 weeks. You must have thought that…
I had won the pools. Yeah. They were a very early deal for me. They still could have been successful now if they had the right attitude which they didn’t, unfortunately, have. They could have been like a Simply Red. It was a very interesting publishing deal because I maximized their earnings. I did deals for them all around the world. We did an advance for America. It worked out very well. But after that (early success) things changed a lot.
The music publishing deals you have are mostly…
How does that work with pan-European downloading and streaming?
I don’t get involved, obviously. You just earn what gets downloaded, and what is accounted in this country really. I can’t be part of anything (European) because most of my catalogs are UK only. I have certain things outside the US, Canada, and the UK, but I would say that 80% are UK only.
In those instances in Europe, you don’t make the deal—someone else does—and you have to live with whatever deal is made?
Yes. A lot of the lawyers do individual publishing deals in Europe or they do a major deal for certain territories. Some don’t bother doing a deal at all. They forget about it, and it (the publishing) is left lying around, and money is uncollected.
You have had a number of enduring relationships including representing Bill Withers for 40 years.
I have been someone who sticks to my clients like glue. Whenever they do a concert, I go backstage and say “hi.” Always. I would say that 95% of all of the acts that I have represented, they have met their publisher. I have gone backstage. I have known them. I’m personable. I look after their kids if they come to London. I visit them. We have lunch. We have dinner. I collect them for the airport. All of the sort of old-fashioned ways of doing things. I think it’s very important. We do a very good job with the royalties. I work hard, and I stick to them (the clients). I don’t, in other words, say, “They only earned 50p, I better not pick up the phone.” I treat them all the same. If they earn £50,000 or £50 pounds, I treat them all the same way.
You represent several catalogs of standards in the UK.
I represent the Barton Music catalog. That’s where that Michael Bublé track (“Come Dance With Me”) came from.
You also represent songs owned by the late Nat “King” Cole’s family.
Yes. That’s a new situation. It’s from the same person (Seth Berg of South Bay Music in Los Angeles) whom I’m involved with in dealing with Peggy Lee songs. We’re handling the catalog. It was a share left to his wife, and his wife never did anything with it. The family never really did anything with it, really. We are now collecting and sorting out things.
You represent the classic ‘60s hit song “The Game of Love.”
From the (Clint) Ballard catalog which was on the Eminem album (“Marshall Mathers LP 2” as a sample. That’s what publishing is about if you have good songs. It’s a very good song.
You represent the Johnnie Wilder Music catalog including Heatwave’s ‘70s hits, “Mind Blowing Decisions,” and “Happiness Togetherness.”
I used to represent Johnny Wilder (catalog) for many years and lost it for many years. Then I regained the catalog recently.
You recently picked up the Italian catalog AlaBianca Publishing for UK representation. It features songs from a number of well-known films including “The Great Beauty” (2013) which won Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards this year (2014).
I met them this year at Midem. I am handling a lot of their film stuff. They seem to be very nice people, and I have always loved Italian music.
You have been going to Midem (the acronym for Marché International du Disque et de l'Edition Musicale) since day one. What was the first Midem in 1967 like?
There were a lot more people there than there is now. There was a lot more fun. There was a lot more laughter. There was a lot more music. In fact, there’s no music now. Midem is the only music festival where there’s no music. And if you listen to music, you are looked upon as someone who is really disturbed. It is a wonderful schmooze place. A great place to go, but there’s no music. Also the days of picking up an Italian song for £500, that’s over. You used to rush back, and give it to Tom Jones.
[Midem, the long-established international music industry festival held annually in Cannes, France is shifting the event from the winter months to spring with the 2015 event taking place June 5-8.]
What do you think about Midem shifting from January to June in 2015?
The only thing that worries me is the hotel prices. They have to keep the hotel prices the same. If they let them go up, it will then kill me. Why move it to save it just because of the sun and the hotel prices are doubled? So they will have to keep the prices the same or otherwise I don’t think that it is going to attract people. And restaurants won’t be as easy to get into as they are in January. I think it’s very very sad. Midem was a terrific event. This year it was terrific. I met a lot of people.
It was a lot smaller this year. Attendance was reportedly down 4%.
But it was nice. Really, really nice.
What business can you do at Midem today?
Well I met the AlaBianca Publishing people there. I had lunch with my “Killing” people (the hugely successful Danish TV series “The Killing,” originally titled “Forbrydelsen”). It’s a very good meeting place. It depends on what you want to do. You can go to a cheap restaurant or you can go to an expensive restaurant. You can do whatever you want there.
In 2013, Chelsea Music signed English singer/songwriter, pianist and violinist Joni Fuller for the world.
She’s an excellent talent. She plays all instruments. She’s a brilliant violinist. I put her together with (artist developer/producer) James Sanger who is involved with Keane and Dido (and who has worked with U2, Madonna, Sinead O'Connor, and Brian Eno). He has flown into France, and they are doing various tracks there. They will probably do an album. They are getting on like a house on fire. I sort of jump-started her into something very good. I haven’t’ signed many writers. I don’t have the money to risk on signing British songwriters. It’s not like giving them £500. Those days are over. The risk is so huge now...
You have to be prepared to manage and even support them.
It’s a huge risk. That is sad.
Decades ago, a publisher could walk a singer/songwriter to a label and attain an advance. With label cut backs in development, the onus is on you as publisher to develop a singer/songwriter, and you may not see any publishing income for three to five years.
Correct. It’s very sad. And they (newcomers) are very difficult. They don’t make decisions particularly quickly.
And even the most untested new songwriters only want co-publishing.
Yes unless the whole thing fits. It‘s very, very hard (to do songwriter publishing deals). Hopefully, I will get interest with her. I recently got involved with an Australian (electronic music) act called Empire of the Sun with Steven Bach who is co-writer of their new single. A big track called “Alive.” Yeah, I am doing new things all of the time. But it’s very hard. It’s a very very, very tough market. Syncs (music synchronization licenses) are very important, but very difficult to get these days.
Sync fees have also dropped in recent years.
There are big ones in Europe, still. It’s the big calling card for people who are selling their companies. “We’ve got 24 people in that room doing syncs. You must come with us.” Everybody is fighting (to get syncs). But I think that if I find myself a niche which Is what I have been trying to do for the past few years….I can’t compete (with major publishers)—forget it. I can’t always schmooze myself into a deal. There’s huge money involved (with many publishing deals). You’d be bankrupt if you did some of those deals, and they didn’t come off. So you have to find yourself a niche of dealing with film music, doing a job for people, finding things, and digging things up.
How many people are involved with Chelsea Music?
I have one very good administration person coming in three days a week. His background is that he’s an auditor who worked for Kilkenny. He is very, very forensic, and shouts a lot by email. We do get a lot of things done. I need someone very strong on my side in administration because I tend to bring in lots of business. Whether it makes any money, I don’t know, but I do tend to create lots of things.
Administration plays a principal role in music publishing.
You’ve got to because there are so many mistakes being made, Larry. Bad registrations. Complete cock-ups. Chasing cue sheets. (Handling) sync inquiries. You have a lot of these search people who are in the middle of everything, and they are not always that good at their job. It used to be a lot better when an ad agency phoned you, and you could talk straight to the person, and sort things out. You get these middle people now trying to earn a bunch (of money), and they often cause more problems than it’s worth. Unfortunately, that’s how the business has gone.
It was just announced that the Global Repertoire Database (GRD) project, an initiative by the music publishing sector to create a single point of works registration, has been sidelined.
Well, we need one. Until they get that system right for one registration…Like a car. You check a car’s registration plate. If it’s yours, you are contacted. I can’t understand why they can’t get the right system. It puzzles me. I understand the complications of registering so many songs with similar titles, but they really have to get this right because this is what it’s all about. If songs aren’t registered properly, money goes all over the place. It’s a nightmare. Registration today is a major problem.
[While Global Repertoire Database (GRD) project has run aground, there’s no question that a central database is needed that would enable licensees to identify who controls songs and musical works, and that there be a database which would efficiently facilitate the distribution of royalties to those entitled.
With no statutory obligation to register copyright works in most territories, accessing information is often difficult. While individual collecting societies have collected substantial music data, no one society has a complete database.]
Mike Weatherley, Intellectual Property Adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the Conservative member of Parliament for Hove and Portslade, recently published a report entitled “Follow the Money which addresses the detrimental impact of illegal websites profiting from advertising. Illegal downloading obviously remains a big problem in the UK.
Yep. But we live in a world where it’s easy to get away with illegal things these days. Anything can happen. Anything can go up on any site. You just have to track it, trace it, and hit them.
It has been suggested that the British music industry has been considerably hampered in the digital media environment. Is it not true that the industry there suffered from the management changes at PRS for Music until Robert Ashcroft was appointed chief executive in 2010? You fell behind on several copyright issues.
[PRS for Music--formerly The MCPS-PRS Alliance Limited--is the home of PRS and MCPS, representing the rights of over 100,000 members in the UK. The organization licenses organizations to play perform or make available copyright music on behalf of its members and those of overseas societies, distributing the royalties to them.]
The UK never did acquire a blank media levy, for instance.
No, no no. I think that we were mismanaged for many years. Lost a lot of money. Didn’t have the right staff to look after the right staff. Too many people were there (at PRS for Music) for their own interests, and I think we, as an industry, were caught by the growth of digital music... We were caught badly. We lost a lot of money. We should have had a blank tape levy, as you said, from day one. I think that was a major, major mistake.
But the performing right society (PRS for Music) is very good now. Some of the European societies are very very strong and very Bolshie. I hope that we will get more Bolshie and stronger as time goes by. But it’s a good leader.
Is it any easier today to make a pan-European licensing deal or is it still a hurdle?
They are slowly improving. But I can’t get too involved because, as I said, I don’t have that many catalogs that I handle for Europe.
A sign of the importance of streaming music is that listening data is now being incorporated in Britain’s official singles charts for the first time, starting this month (July, 2014). Streaming, however, is not a sale.
Yes. They (labels) certainly can’t deduct packaging costs from it (laughing). Over the years, most of them must have made a killing on those clauses. Controlled composition--how does it come in with streaming? I wonder.
[The Official Charts Company move away from a pure singles sales chart to a combined chart including streaming acknowledges the rise of music consumption via online streaming services coupled with the rise of the connected smartphone and tablet computers.
About 7.4 billion tracks were streamed on audio services in the UK in 2013, twice the total recorded in 2012, according to BPI, the British music industry trade body. The total number of weekly audio streams selected by music fans jumped from 100 million a week in Jan. 2013 to 200 million a week in Jan. 2014, and reached 260 million a week recently.
The chart move was made possible by the agreement of audio streaming services including Spotify, Deezer, Napster, O2 Tracks, Xbox Music and Sony’s Music Unlimited and rara, all members of the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA), co-owners of the Official Charts Company, to supply weekly streaming data. To reflect the difference in weight between streaming and purchasing, 100 streams now count as equivalent to one single (download or physical single).]
While digital accounted for 50% of UK record industry trade revenues in 2013--with streaming bringing in 10% of that revenue—many people are not convinced that digital is the be all, and the end all to the industry’s woes.
Well, I don’t think that it is the be all, and the end all. I have always believed that if you give the public what they want, they buy it. For many years, record companies ignored the middle market. They were always frightened of being uncool. Look at the sales of people like Michael Bublé or the Adele album or Andrea Bocelli or André Rieu. People didn’t download their albums; they bought them because they were great albums. When you put out poor albums with one or two tracks on them, it becomes a waste of money for people. So they download a track. But give them a great album with a great artist, and people will buy the album.
Digital favors hot new pop tracks.
Well, I think that the pop dance area is huge in downloads. Obviously, you can break a group. You can break a band. But the middle market could be the savior of the industry if the industry spent more time looking at it. You quickly turn into a middle market. Very quickly. You go and see so many acts today and you look at the audience, and it’s a middle market audience.
When someone like Susan Boyle comes along in the mainstream middle market, sales just explode.
Well, that was a typical middle market situation. And Bublé has proved that a crooner can sell millions. He’s a great artist. André Rieu and Andrea Bocelli are too. There are so many of these acts that people don’t want to go, “Oh, great” because they want to sound cool. André Rieu is the biggest (music) DVD seller of all time in Australia.
With the growth of digital music services, the recording industry has faced a seismic shift in its existing business model. Revenue from digital sources, however, remains minimal.
Obviously, if you have a big track and you get a zillion downloads, it adds up. But it’s still pennies. On our publishing statements, it goes on forever and ever because we are accounting for 2p here, and 2p there. But I will tell you something very interesting. You find out about your catalog. Suddenly, you say, “What’s that song? Somebody has streamed it 500 times. That must be an interesting track.” It (streaming) sort of notifies you about things in your catalog that you didn’t quite realize that had any interest. That is one slightly interesting point that comes out of it.
There are also individual markets where physical still does well, like Germany.
Germany, yes. A lot of European markets are more old-fashioned. They tend to stay loyal to their older artists. Germany, they still have major German acts that sell and in France they still buy Johnny Hallyday. You know, they are much more loyal to the acts.
Still in many of the European markets, physical is more ubiquitously available. Music can still be purchased more readily in retail stores. In the US, stand-alone music retail has sharply declined, as it has in the UK.
Yes. And as much as I love HMV, it’s a wonderful store, and the people working in it are very interested in music. It’s a great store.
But it’s not like having a bunch of national music store chains.
No you have to go into the supermarkets (like Tesco) to buy product most of the time which is quite sad. But you never know. The (music) retailer might come back. Vinyl has become popular.
While downloading and streaming will continue grow, the music industry, perhaps, should be wary of getting rid of physical too quickly.
Exactly. But I think unfortunately that the business was a bit caught with their trousers down, and didn’t really think that any of this was really going to happen. They were just very lackadaisical just from day one and not unit.
You are talking back to the rise of Napster?
Yes. Everything. The whole industry was caught. So I think that the whole industry was a bit slow. They weren’t united about everything.
Still the CD configuration has been around longer than most other music configurations. What’s its future?
The CD. Well, I hope that it will have a great future. I don’t want a world of just downloads. I think with the internet in a funny sort of way does create people who are interested at looking at things. That’s why vinyl has become very popular in many ways. People like to have something in their hand to look at it. I still believe that with a great album people will buy a CD. Maybe, I am old-fashioned but I do believe that.
[In his remarkable 2007 Billboard editorial, “Compelling Criteria For Quality Consumers,” Tom Silverman, CEO of Tommy Boy Entertainment, and co-director of the New Music Seminar, argued that before the CD runs its course that the industry must seek to change its pricing model to one of consumer value perception. In effect, create a compelling package for the status/quality consumer.]
You started in music publishing in the mid-‘60s at David Toff Music Publishing.
David Toff was my father’s cousin. I did live plugging. Schlepping about to musicians and orchestras trying to get a song played.
So you were an old-fashioned plugger?
I am an old-fashioned plugger.
Did you play the piano to artist and producers backstage?
No I didn’t do anything apart from playing the record player. So Dave was my kick off.
What music did his company own?
it was a small, old-fashioned publishing company that had a few hit songs. He sold out eventually to Dick James. That was the era of live plugging. It was an incredible period.
That was the era of the Dick James Organization, Gordon Mills’ Management Agency and Music (M.A.M.), and David Platz…
At Essex Music. That’s right. it was a different period for music. It really was. It was a corner sweet shop industry. People went to drink at lunchtime, and went to drink afterwards, and we plugged and got songs in shows. And it meant something.
You worked for Page One Records which had an office above Dick James Music. The label, in fact, was co-founded by Larry Page and Dick James.
Yep, I worked for Larry Page. I did promotion there in the days of the Troggs. Larry was a great person to work with. I didn’t particularly like plugging at the BBC. I preferred to plug songs with record producers. The BBC wasn’t a very pleasant experience of going around.
You had to go into small offices with program producers and make your pitch for airplay of your records.
Correct. I was not a fan of that. I preferred going to see a record producer with a song.
Page One Records had a few hits, but so many of their records didn’t do well.
Yes. He did well in Germany and in Japan. He had certainly acts that sold well like “Beautiful Sunday” (by Daniel Boone on Penny Farthing Records) which did very well in Germany and in Japan. A very big record. And he had “Blues is the Colour” which was the Chelsea Football team anthem. He had on and off things. Of course, the Troggs did very well for him. He’s living in Australia at the moment. His son Ashley Page is managing the co-writer of Lorde, Joel Little.
After Page One Records, you began working a Welbeck Music?
Yes. The MD at Welbeck, Len Beadle, was a friend of mine from Lawrence Wright Music (where he was a professional manager). He took me from Larry Page, and got me into publishing which is what I wanted to do.
[From 1959 to 1964, Len Beadle was arranger, song-writer and singer of the British vocal harmony group, the Raindrops. After the Raindrops split up, he took a job at the Lawrence Wright Music before being hired by Sir Lew Grade in 1968 to help set up the ATV Music publishing. Under his stewardship, ATV Music built up a catalog which included the Beatles' song catalog Northern Songs, as well as songs by the Searchers, the Kinks, Donovan, the Moody Blues, and Petula Clark.]
Welbeck Music was an ATV-affiliated company?
Yeah, Welbeck Music was the publishing company of Pye Records, and was owned by the Associated Television Corporation. So they wanted to do something with Welbeck. Welbeck had songs with Tony Hatch, and Tony Macaulay. We had a little office in the property that ATV owned in St. Martin’s Lane. There were three of us down there. It grew from then.
At ATV Music, you worked closely with Geoff Heath who had been the managing director of Shapiro Bernstein.
He came in as the managing director over Len. Then they brought in John Craig (in business administration). They started to beef it up a bit with the ownership of Northern Songs, and Lawrence Wright Music and everything. The company started to get bigger. We built it up to a very successful company until ATV Television, the parent company of ATV Music, went into the film business.
Was it Geoff who was approached about purchasing Northern Songs? At the time, the acquisition was controversial because the Beatles weren’t reportedly consulted. Paul McCartney and John Lennon had been out of the country.
I don’t know about that situation. All I know is that (ATV’s finance director) Jack Gill bought Northern Songs from Dick James. Jack Gill was a very shrewd, and wise financial controller at ATV Television. He was very publishing oriented. They wanted to build the publishing company of ATV. We became stronger in controlling the music from the TV series. We did all of the music for “The Persuaders,” “The Protectors,” and all these different (ATV) shows. We even changed the national anthem (“God Save The Queen”) because it was discovered that one of the producers had copyrighted it.
In those days, every time BBC Television shut down in the evening at midnight they played the national anthem. Somebody cottoned on to it, and copyrighted it in their name and they were copping the publishing. We immediately changed it to an ATV Music copyright. In the cinemas, they used to play the national anthem when the films ended as well.
[Northern Songs was a limited company founded in 1963, by Dick James, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, to publish songs written by Lennon and McCartney, as well as songs written by George Harrison and Ringo Starr. In 1965, it was decided to make Northern Songs a public company, in order to save on capital gains tax. In 1969, James and his partner Charles Silver sold their 32% share in Northern Songs to ATV.]
ATV Music also signed Barry Blue and Lynsey de Paul.
They were our early signings. Barry Blue, Lynsey de Paul, and Ron Roker. We had a whole string of hits “Sugar Me” (de Paul) and “Dancin’ On A Saturday Night” (Blue). I signed Lynsey when she was 18. Yes, it was the beginning of everything.
ATV had a partnership with Don Kirshner’s KEC Music for two years working as ATV Kirshner until 1972.
Yes, Then they went back to ATV Music.
As a song man, you must have been thrilled to have access to the Kirshner’s American catalog.
We didn’t have the classic old Kirshner catalog. The only things that we had from Kirshner was the Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield as well as Barkan and Adams, and Ron Dante. He didn’t really have much. I had a great relationship with Neil Sedaka and Howie Greenfield during the Kirshner period. We had "Is This the Way to Amarillo.” All of the big hits.
[Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield’s song "Is This the Way to Amarillo,” recorded by Tony Christie, initially reached #18 in the UK singles chart in 1971. However, it was a substantially bigger hit at that time across Europe, notably in Germany and Spain, where it reached #1.]
What was ATV-affiliated Bradley Records?
Well, I have no idea. It was a lunatic idea. The name. I don’t know what on earth we had the label for but we did have a couple of hits. We had the Goodies, and Stephanie de Sykes, and we had “Honey Honey (Sweet Dreams)” but the name was ludicrous. The concept was ludicrous.
And yet you were running Bradley Records.
It wasn’t my idea, fortunately. And I don’t think that Pye Records liked it very much either. It was fun at the time. The best record was “Honey Honey” by Sweet Dreams, a big ABBA cover that we did (reaching #10 in the UK in 1974).
There’s the story of you and Geoff visiting John Lennon and Yoko Ono at The Dakota in New York where you heard a song that you haven’t heard since.
Correct. I remember that very, very clearly. Geoff and I went up to The Dakota. They were lovely. Yoko came out with a tray with cold meats and salads, and John came out of the shower with a towel around his neck, and jeans on, and no shirt. He started at the piano, and he played this song and I have never heard of it since. It was called “Between The Lines.”
We saw them a couple of times in New York. We even went into a little restaurant, the Creperie, just off Sixth Avenue by the ATV Capitol Industries building. We were just strolling in with both of them and had lunch. Everybody there, all of the office people, were sort of looking. The last time we saw them was the day that we were leaving New York and they were standing of West 57th Street looking up at the Arista Building. Just standing there looking up in the air. And that’s the last time we saw them.
Your visits were before Sean Ono Lennon was born?
Yes. I was lucky enough to have met John three times. I met McCartney a couple of times as well. Geoff dealt with them a lot as well as people like Jack Gill. There were lots of things going on in that period. It was very exciting.
In 1982, Robert Holmes å Court acquired Associated Communications Corporation, the holding company of ATV Music with Northern Songs. A surprise. The real shocker was Michael Jackson acquiring ATV Music in 1985, and then a decade later merging his catalog with Sony Music's publishing establishing Sony/ATV Music Publishing, in which he retained half-ownership.
Well, we all knew that when he (Robert Holmes å Court) bought the whole lot, he was going to asset strip it. He asset stripped it, and sold the publishing off to Michael Jackson. He took out (Lennon and McCartney’s) “Penny Lane” because it’s the name of his daughter. So that’s not in Northern Songs.
Still a shock that Michael Jackson bought ATV Music.
Brilliant. Wherever he got his advice from, it was brilliant. I don’t know why McCartney didn’t buy the whole lot and sell off ATV Music and Lawrence Wright Music, and keep Northern Songs.
Perhaps, Paul felt ATV Music was too big to acquire on his own.
Yeah, and he didn’t want to deal with the (John) Lennon situation. But it’s very sad because ATV was a young company. The publishing was only a young company. And we left on the back of winning the Eurovision Song Contest with “Save Your Kisses For Me” (the winning song of the Eurovision Song Contest 1976, performed for the United Kingdom by Brotherhood of Man). Geoff and I felt that we wanted to go on our own (as Heath Levy Music) because all of the publishers that we dealt with in Europe were all independently-owned companies. We got backing from the late Trudi Meisel and Peter Meisel from Berlin.
["Save Your Kisses for Me" was the winning song of the Eurovision Song Contest 1976, performed for the United Kingdom by Brotherhood of Man. The song was written by Tony Hiller, Lee Sheriden, and Martin Lee, the latter two being members of the band. Released by Pye Records, it reached #1 in the UK, and it was the biggest-selling song of the year.]
Your father Morris had an encounter with the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein when he looking for a label for the group. He telephoned your dad, but he was out to lunch. A true story?
Yes it was. He just phoned around to people who were in. Who answered the phone. That is a famous story. That’s why I never go out to lunch anymore.
Was music part of your life growing up?
Well, it was. It was a huge part.
Did you have a big record collection as a kid?
Yes, obviously a lot of vinyl plus my father had the Embassy (budget) label at Woolworth’s which was the covers of the hits. It was a new hit that was covered in the studio (by a studio group) with another hit on the other side. It was a very good market.
Your father owned Oriole Records which had big hits with Chas McDevitt’s Skiffle Group featuring Nancy Whiskey as well as Russ Hamilton.
All those things. (McDevitt’s) “Freight Train” (which reached #5 in the UK in 1957). When I was at school I met people like (Columbia Records president) Goddard Lieberson, and (Motown Record founder) Berry Gordy Jr. People like that. It was a very exciting period. Goddard Lieberson was British, of course (born in Hanley in Staffordshire).
[Oriole Records was a London-based label founded in 1927 by Morris Levy as an offshoot of his Levaphone label. During Oriole's first decade, the imprint released popular music in the UK until closing in 1935. In 1950, Oriole was revived as the British licensee for Mercury Records. In 1953, the label launched its Embassy budget imprint, selling cover versions of Top 20 hits exclusively through the Woolworth's retail chain. After Mercury established a presence in the UK in 1955, Oriole focused its activities on recording British artists, and became a UK outlet for smaller European labels, and had success with Domenico Modugno's original recording of "Volare" and recordings As well Oriole began licensing Motown Records recordings in 1962, and began issuing American label Savoy's jazz recordings through its Realm subsidiary. In 1965, Oriole's studios and two pressing plants were purchased by Columbia Records in New York which resulted in the launch of CBS UK.]
What part of London did you grow up in?
I was brought up in the centre of London with a nice middleclass Jewish background. A father having a record label. A mother having a hat shop. We were living in Baker Street. Of course, the ‘50s, and the ‘60s were a very good period for my father. He had really struggled a lot. He had the Mercury label, and he had battled to get out of that rather unsavory partnership. He didn’t realize too much about it when he got involved in it. This was in the days of Irving Green (co-founder of Mercury Records). Motown, of course, was the start of something, but the BBC in those days didn’t like playing black music. Then, when my parents went to the Apollo Theatre in New York—they were invited there— they said (to Motown executives), “Why don’t you make the music just a little bit more commercial for the white market?” Then they (Motown) shoved up the option money. Oriole couldn’t afford it, and Motown landed up with Stateside EMI and then came Mary Wells’ hit “My Guy.” So from “Do you Love Me” to “My Guy” (which reached #5 in the UK in 1964), they (Motown) had softened it down. But I have great memories because I had my 21st birthday celebration meeting the Supremes at the Talk of the Town (nightclub). It was a brilliant musical period. Brilliant.
[“Live At London's Talk of the Town” is a 1968 live album released by Diana Ross & the Supremes on the Motown label, recorded at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London. This performance marked the first time that new member Cindy Birdsong had performed overseas with original Supremes Diana Ross and Mary Wilson, a year after original founding member Florence Ballard was ousted. The group performed a variation of standards, show tunes, and their own classics. Reportedly Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney were also in the audience.]
Berry Gordy Jr. was intent then on building the Supremes and other Motown acts into a nightclub attractions.
Well I was there then. I was there for my 21st at the Talk of the Town. I went backstage and met them and got their autographs. Mary Wilson was stunning. She was a beautiful. Those acts were absolutely wonderful. I was brought up on Holland, Dozier & Holland. I have always been a soul man so black music has always been my favorite.
Your father basically sold Columbia Records in New York a complete British operation. CBS had no footprint in the UK marketplace until buying Oriole.
Correct. He had the factory, the recording studios, the pressing plant, and a staff. Everything was there.
Why did your father sell?
I think that he got to the point where he felt he just wanted to. I was at school. My brother (John) was out of the business. We weren’t in the business waiting to take over. I think that it was just the strain of everything and wanting to do it. And, of course, there was usual takeover thing, “We are going to keep the Oriole label going.” Of course, five minutes later, they killed the label..
It was Columbia/Oriole for about a year.
Yes. It was.
Let’s talk British football. Will Chelsea beat Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspurs, and Manchester United this year?
We hope so. We have strengthened the team.
With striker Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid.
Yes, and with Filipe Luis and Seth Fabrigas. We’ll see. It wasn’t that magical last season. It was a bit of a disappointing season.
How have you failed to pick up the publishing of the Chelsea Football team anthem, “Blues is the Colour?”
Well it was an old song that Larry Page published. He sold the catalog to EMI. It was Stirling McQueen Music catalog.. It’s a very good song, and was a very well produced record. And it has never dated.
Do you know which Canadian music superstar is also a Chelsea football fan?
Yes, Bryan Adams. He goes to Chelsea games regularly (at the Stamford Bridge stadium). He’s a big fan. He’s got a season ticket.
[Bryan Adams dedicated “We’re Going To Win” on his 1996 album, “18 Til I Die” to the Chelsea Football Club.]
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he 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, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.