This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Rob Hallett, CEO, Robomagic.
Rob Hallett is back.
Boy is he back!
The wily, seasoned London-based deal broker who exited as president of international touring, AEG Live in April, 2014 after a decade, has launched a formidable boutique music firm.
Hallett’s AEG portfolio is filled to the brim with unprecedented (if unlikely) triumphs, including: Global tours by Leonard Cohen, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Bieber, Usher, and Black Eyed Peas; three Bon Jovi stadium tours of Europe; a record-breaking 21 nights of Prince at The 02 Arena in London; the Barclaycard presents British Summertime series at Hyde Park; and the Capital Radio Summer Time Ball.
Hallett’s recently-announced new company, Robomagic, is a 360-styled operation.
A promotion unit, Robomagic 360, seeks to strike 360-styled deals with emerging artists, encompassing recording, publishing, artist management and brand management, while making use of strategic partnerships.
Robomagic Capital offers financing to emerging and established artists to help them grow their businesses.
Finally, a live promotion company, Robomagic Live, will oversee arena and stadium tours on a national and global scale.
A follower of Brighton’s punk scene while growing up, Hallett began his music career booking bands into such local clubs as The Hungry Years, and The Alhambra.
A brief spell at March Artists in London led to Hallett working with the Clash, and then managing, and touring reggae artists.
Next Hallett worked at The Cowbell Agency, where he handled UB40 and was introduced to a new band, Duran Duran—his career break. The band became his global calling card, and he continues to work with them today.
Hallett’s move from being agent to promoter came during a prolific decade stint with Marshall Arts, working with Keith Sweat, R, Kelly, Mary J Blige, and Back Street Boys, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake.
Hallett joined Mean Fiddler Music Group in 2001, and subsequently managed the live music firm's international touring, and promoting arm. In 2004, he was responsible for the UK and European tours of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Usher.
Hallett arrived at AEG Live UK following a takeover bid of Mean Fiddler Group by Live Nation, and Irish promoter MCD Promotions.
What staff do you have at Robomagic?
I have 6 people. It took me awhile to find people. I’ve got mostly a young staff that has just left university. Young promoters. Svetlana Scheck, my head of marketing, though, has been with me 10 years. Then there’s a pool of production people that I have worked with over the years such as Kahren Williams, Keith Morris, and Keith Wood. Keith Morris, I have known for over 30 years.
That’s more staff you had when you launched AEG Live in the UK.
The time at AEG was good for me. It enhanced my reputation, undeniably. I’m starting out now with more visibility, and with a bigger vision. A better vision.
You have taken various components of your career to forge this new company.
I have always been enamored with the entire (music) industry. I think that it’s very hard to de-compartmentalize an artist’s life. I have tried, when I’ve been able to and when I have been in a position to, to have an overview of the whole thing. That is what I have kind of done all my life. It’s not that I can’t decide what part of the industry that I want to work in. An artist is in all sides of the industry. Why shouldn’t their reps be?
You have been an agent, a promoter, a manager....
I’m 55. I started when I was 17. So I have been around forever. Yep, I’ve been a manager, and I had a label back in the ‘80s with Andy Taylor when he left Duran Duran. We had a little label with SBK Records and Charlie Koppelman. It was called Equinox.
In essence, Robomagic is a three-tiered company.
Yes, it is three-tiered, basically. There’s (the promotion unit) Robomagic 360, which is set up to sign new talent; to invest in new talent in ways that record companies don’t. With revenue streams across the board, I can sign an act, like a label signs an act for three years, for touring, and for production. I’m not going to be a label. It’s going to be series of partnerships. That’s how I built up my global business at AEG, and before with Mean Fiddler.
Still, you are acting as a label in that you are funding acts while controlling their musical rights.
We don’t own any music rights. Basically, we provide capital. There are variances (with the different licensing deals). It sort of switches to a record company deal a little bit with the developing acts. We lend them money. It’s guaranteed against the income. Once they repay the mortgage, they own their material, however.
Rights revert back to them?
The rights go back to the artist.
Your intent is to make your investment back?
Yes, and have an override. It flips the (traditional record deal) model on the head. Instead of it being 80/20 in the favor of the label, it’s more likely to be 60/40 or better depending on the artist’s sales base in the artist’s favor.
Will Robomagic be involved in recording, publishing or management activities where there may not be an early reversion of rights?
Yeah, on the developing side. Basically, making a fair deal for the artist is at the heart of the company. Artists should always own their own art. It’s hard to own stuff. In this day and age, very few artists sign for perpetuity for anything.
Perhaps, with their publishing.
Any act that is hot, they don’t.
Of course not. The traditional template for the music industry is that developing acts get screwed over for three album cycles and then hammers the label and/or music publisher in negotiations for futures, and tries to regain ownership of their full catalog.
I would rather do a fair deal, and save on the legal costs. Do a fair deal in the first place. Do the 10 year license, and then get screwed with the new advance to keep it (the licensing deal) in 10 years’ time. You are making the majority of the income in the first 10 years of a song anyway, unless you are very lucky to get a band that is....
I don’t know if that’s true. For recording income, yes, but not necessarily on the music publishing side.
Yeah, but how many songs are there that can be placed in syncs? Can be chosen to be in movies, and for other things? I hear you. There are songs that can earn money for hundreds of years or for the life of copyright. But that number is small, and I’d rather be fair. Give them back (rights) after 10 years and, because you are being fair, you hope that they will give you a fair deal to extend the license.
You are going to be a music publisher, however.
We are going to be a music publisher in a new model. I wouldn’t be signing life of copyright. I think that artists should end up owning everything once they get to a certain level. It’s their pension, you know. It’s going to be strategic partnerships. Everything is going to be strategic partnerships. You can’t be all things to all people.
Are there different licensing time periods with some of the deals?
No. As long as we have a good relationship we will be able to work together. I am still working with Duran Duran 35 years later.
For emerging bands?
It’s all down to negotiation, if anything else. But the heart of the model is that the artist at the end of the relationship will end up owning their own stuff.
How far away are you from announcing your first project.
Not far. Very close.
Anything you can mention?
No. It’s bad luck to talk about anything before it’s real. You will be surprised. It’s multifaceted. There’s quite a few different projects that I am working on at the moment across the board.
It took you 9 months to set Robomagic up. Obviously, you set it up carefully and as your own vision connecting the dots in the industry.
That’s the plan. It took me 9 months because I wanted to get it right. I didn’t want to come out half-cocked. Having worked at the level I had worked at I wanted to maintain that (level). In this day and age, the independent promoter working with his own check book, it is virtually impossible. The big boys have come in. The big money is there. Without the right backing, I just would not have been able to work at the level I have been in the past 10, 15, 20 years or whatever it is. I didn’t want to become a club promoter.
Or a manager?
No. I want to be a manager. I love managing. Being part of Usher’s management team was great. I really loved, and enjoyed it. It was one of my favorite times in my life. So management is something I aspire to again.
[Hallett has promoted Usher since he was 14, and was brought on as part of the management team for the album “Raymond v Raymond” in 2011.]
How did you attain the financing for the company?
Through my own endeavors. One thing that I have learned is you can’t sit back and rely on other people. I just kept knocking on doors. Every meeting that I had, I listened to what they said, and I tweaked the business plan a little. I had another meeting. “Well, we like this, but you really need a little bit of that.” I tweaked it again.
Did you meet with bankers and venture capitalists?
I met with everyone. I spoke to venture capitalists, and to equity investment companies. The first thing they said was, “What’s the out in five years?” I said, “What do you mean what’s the out in five years? I don’t want an out. This is my life. It’s my career.” I spoke to banks. I spoke to private individuals. In the end—a magician never gives away his secrets—however, it’s (the financing is) a combination of private individuals, and private banks; depending on the capital (for projects). I put together a jigsaw of investment people who are like-minded, and who want to be in our industry. They see the opportunity (in the music industry). They see it as a growth area, unlike some of the pessimism that is out there. And I really do see our industry as a growth area.
I have never known so much talent being around. The artist being able to make music without a recording studio has really moved the talent hunt leaps and bounds. People on an iPad can make music, can make hits in their bedrooms. So the amount of talent that is emerging is staggering. Artists don’t have to spend 1,500 or 2,000 bucks a day in a recording studio. The kind of talent that is emerging because of the home recording studio is just incredible.
As well, with the use of social media, their potential audience reach today is global.
And this is what I specialize in, and this is what I want to do. I’ve got on my (office) wall a plaque that I am looking at with Leonard Cohen; where he played three continents, 30 countries, and 372 shows. Jennifer Lopez, 5 continents, and 65 cities. That’s what I do. As you said, social networking and everything else has made it much easier to get a message across, and for an artist to make music and to immediately put it out. If we had had this in the punk rock era, the music landscape would be very different today. The whole thing then was everybody wanting to do it yourself, but you couldn’t.
Nor did punks want anything to do with branding or corporate sponsorships.
The punk ethos could have gone more global with these things. Now major corporations want to get involved with rock music. There was a time when I was knocking on corporation doors, and they’d be saying, “You guys are a bit dangerous with scandals and drugs. We’ll stick with sports.” In the post Tiger Woods era, it’s kind of, “Hang on a moment, you think we are dangerous? Look at them (sports celebrities). We are actually squeaky clean (in comparison).”
Within the music industry, it’s argued that there’s too much money either being left on the table or being siphoned off by others.
Yes. Absolutely. One of my roles for the company is to help guide new artists through the jungle with my 35 year experience of where all of the landmines lie. I hopefully can use that experience with a young team to guide people through that minefield
A few years ago, Ted Cohen, managing partner of TAG Strategic, told me about Ovation Towers in Los Angeles developing an efficient live recording process. The show you are seeing tonight, you can purchase as a CD or a download on your iPhone on your way out the door. Labels and managers weren’t then interested.
I would have a concern about supporting that. When you have a long tour like Justin Bieber doing 124 shows, an artist is not going to be great every night. They really don’t want that as being a legacy. They want their best work out there. I’m not a huge supporter of taking a CD from a show. Anyone I love I want them at their best.
Sure, but look at the shoddy bootlegs available.
They are fun. Some of them have mistakes which make them fun on that level. Once you start commercializing that (live music), it’s no longer fun, is it? I used to sneak a little cassette player into the Brighton Dome under my greatcoat when I was a kid. I’d press “record,” and I’d get it home and hear the conversation of the guy next to me. The sound wasn’t all that good. It was fun. It was atmosphere.
The concepts behind Robomagic resemble the development strategy Live Nation had been planning with Live Nation Artists, and Live Nation Recordings. Yes, big acts like Madonna, Jay-Z, Shakira and Nickelback and others were brought into 360 type deals, but emerging acts like the Zac Brown Band were being developed as well. That grassroots development strategy, however, didn’t go forward.
To be honest, Larry, I’m not that familiar with that model. I obviously know about the Madonna, Nickelback and Jay-Z deals. The smaller ones (deals) I’m really not aware of. I was distracted doing other things. Trying to build a company called AEG Live. I know that it didn’t last very long and I don’t the reasons why and I don’t know the deals that they were making.
Live Nation’s 360 deals with Madonna, Jay-Z, Shakira and Nickelback encompass future music and music-related businesses, are based on performance, but the money discussed got scary.
Yes, they (the deal figures) got scary, but the Jay-Z deal paid off in spades.
And the Nickelback deal seems to have paid off.
And the Madonna deal has paid off.
We all sat back, and said, “Wow, that was dumb!” But, actually, it was smart. Michael Rapino (president and CEO of Live Nation) is a very smart man. He’s built up a huge empire with balls of steel. Not many people have had the balls to throw that type of money at (artists’ careers), and everything else. And it has just worked for him. But not everybody wants to be part of the giant multinational. When I was fundraising, everybody said, “How can you combat Live Nation? They are huge. They are everywhere.” Blah, blah, blah.
Back in the ‘70s when I was growing up as a music fan there was Capitol EMI (in the UK) that had everything from Cliff Richards to Bing Crosby (with a Grace Kelly duet “True Love” in 1956 and 1983) right through to Queen, Duran Duran, and Dexys going into the ‘80s, and right on up to the Rolling Stones. There was also Chris Blackwell, who had this little company (Island Records) that had a dozen of the greatest acts that you ever heard. The artwork was done to perfection. And we had Richard Branson building up (Virgin Records) that was more across the board.
Island and Virgin were boutique-styled labels that made their way into the mainstream.
Yes. They managed to compete and have great businesses, healthy businesses against the multinationals. I don’t see it as any different in this day and age. I don’t want to be as big as them (the multinationals). I am not trying to be the world’s #1 promoter or the world’s #1 anything. I am just trying to be an alternative as a boutique operation for artists who are interested. Ironically, I’m in the Virgin Building (actually the RB Building). So the Virgin analogy is quite a good one because I’m sitting in Richard Branson’s old office, the one on (557) Harrow Road.
Labels, music publishers and managers are all trying to do 360 deals. I don’t think that labels can quite pull them off well because they don’t understand live music business.
They say they don’t. Of course, they understand it. It’s not rocket science. What they don’t like is the fact that you can lose a million bucks each time.
Manager Peter Rudge and I recently discussed that if you go back 15 or 20 years ago, few label executive are in the business today, but almost all of the promoters are. Live music is just a different world.
I think it is, but I think also there’s different ethos. Record companies don’t value people over 40. They don’t value experience. I have friends in the record business who, just as they were getting great at their jobs, and they knew everybody, they got fired, and it’s, “We’re going to bring the kids in.” We, in the live industry, may not have been as good a success as them because we like our jobs and we hang on to them. Until the advent of companies like Live Nation, and AEG Live we could because we owned our own businesses. The live music business until the advent of Live Nation wasn’t a corporate business. It was a cottage industry.
Up until the time when Robert Sillerman rolled up all of the regional North American promoters into SFX in the late ‘90s.
He put everybody in a box and said, “I’m going to make you rich.” Well, thank you. Even the biggest promoters were often living hand-to-mouth. So we weren’t corporatized until Sillerman came along. We didn’t have these methodical guys making decisions on who to hire and who to fire. That was never there. And we (in the live music sector) valued experience, and we still do as an industry, whereas the record industry, to my mind, never has done that historically.
[The consolidation of America’s concert market came as Robert Sillerman’s SFX Entertainment spent about $2 billion buying promoters and other entertainment properties, including snapping up 11 regional companies and 82 venues. Such legendary American concert companies as Delsener-Slater Presents, Cellar Door, Pace Concerts, Bill Graham Presents, Don Law Presents, Sunshine Promotions, Contemporary Productions, Evening Star, Electric Factory Concerts, and Avalon Productions came under the same corporate umbrella. Sillerman then sold the company to Clear Channel Entertainment for an estimated $4 billion. In 2005, Live Nation was formed from a spin-off of the subsidiary, Clear Channel Communications.]
Today, the landscape is littered with former A&R executives without jobs. According to Ritch Esra, co-publisher of The Music Business Registry, 37 A&R executives exited their A&R jobs in 2014. Out of that 37, not one has managed to get another A&R job.
Because with record companies, once you hit 30 they think that you are old. They don’t value age and experience. They really don’t.
One of the best periods you had at AEG was 2012. You had big tours with Bon Jovi, Justin Bieber, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones, and the Who.
It was a huge year for me. One of the biggest of my life. One of the biggest for AEG.
Did the departures of AEG CEO Tim Lieweke and AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips, as the company posted its first billion dollar year in 2013 influence, your decision to leave AEG Live?
Ahhh, how do I put this diplomatically? Tim brought Randy in. Randy has been my friend for 25 or 30 years. They were no longer there. It’s a different place.
You had a relationship, of course, with Jay Marciano who was named chairman of AEG Live.
I’ve known Jay for years but Tim and Randy brought me in and they were no longer there. Everybody has their own visions of the company, I guess.
[Jay Marciano had only been COO of AEG 7 months following the exit of AEG founding CEO Tim Leiweke. Marciano had been CEO of AEG’s European operation, a position he took in 2011 after a 6 year stint as president of Madison Square Garden Entertainment.] An industry joke is that Live Nation is awash with Canadians. At AEG Live, senior VP Debra Rathwell is a Canadian, and both Jay and John Meglen (co-president/CEO of Concerts West/AEG Live) worked in Toronto for years.
So America gave you one American back which was Tim Leiweke. I’m sure that Tim is causing havoc in Toronto. I love Tim. He’s an unstoppable force. He’s an amazing executive, and an amazing individual.
[Tim Leiweke, who joined Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment as CEO in 2013 after working for 13 years for the Anschutz Entertainment Group, said in Aug, 2014 that he planned to leave MLSE by June, 2015. Since New Year, Leiweke has been acting as a consultant to the MLSE board, not the company's CEO. He has confirmed to Bloomberg News that he has talked with former Live Nation Entertainment chairman Irving Azoff about starting a joint venture.]
Who at AEG Live pitched the 02 Arena residency series to the late Michael Jackson?
It was Randy Philips. I can only take credit for the promotion.
Michael. I think that Michael knew that he was loved here He wasn’t being hounded by the press as much here as he was there (in the U.S.). He knew that he had a home here and that people loved him here.
[“This Is It” was a planned residency show of 50 concerts by Michael Jackson to be held at The O2 Arena in London. They were scheduled to begin in July 2009 and continue through to March 2010. By then there had been considerable use of AEG’s multiple-show residency concept at O2 for such acts as Prince, the Spice Girls, and Bon Jovi. Speculation was rife that the London comeback gig might kick-start a global Michael Jackson tour, including shows in China.]
Did you attend any of the Michael Jackson rehearsals in Los Angeles?
That was Mr. Philips and Mr. (Paul) Gongaware (co-president/CEO of Concerts West/AEG Live). I simply sold the tickets.
Do you recall your reaction when you heard about Michael‘s death on June 25th, 2009, just two weeks before he was to arrive in London?
Devastated. Totally devastated. It took me days to recover. I wasn’t in the office for three days. It was devastating. Not just for me and the AEG folks, but for the whole world. Michael was loved. If only he knew in his lifetime how much love there was out there for him.
Originally only 10 concerts were announced, but the tickets were sold out in less than an hour and the public demand for tickets resulted in 40 more concerts being added, making 50 in total. Tickets sold like crazy.
Crazy, crazy, crazy. Nobody has ever done anything like it. Crazy, crazy, crazy. If only the shows had happened.
What initially led to Michael Jackson's ticket sales exploding?
The thing I was most proud of was that I came up with this idea of taking a whole ad break to launch a tour. So on (ITV’s) “Dancing On Ice” we took the full 30 second ad in the final break. The ad (viewed by 11 million people) just started with his greatest hits edited it together with live video with no (apparent) reason. In the ad, you didn’t know why you were watching Michael Jackson’s greatest hits on video. Then, at the end it was. “Michael Jackson Coming Live To London” with the website (address). That was the match that set sales off.
Did you have difficulty with your AEG Live associates in convincing them about Leonard Cohen doing a world tour starting in 2008?
Yeah, they all looked at me. At that point I was still being indulged and Randy was very much my friend. He was like, “You’re not going to be able to shut him up.” It really didn’t take too long to prove the point. In respect to my American cousins. They really don’t know what‘s going on in the rest of the world too much. I knew there was a market. Leonard’s poetry has been translated into Polish, Greek, and so on. I just knew that there was a market for him. I was convinced. Convincing Leonard (about touring) actually was harder than convincing AEG to be honest.
Prior to the tour—his first in 15 years---Leonard did 18 warm-up dates. There were two reasons. One, Leonard was unsure if he would be any good anymore. And secondly he didn’t know if people would want to see him anymore. We basically called the tour, “First we take Fredericton, and then we take Moncton.”
[After Leonard Cohen stepped onto the stage of the 700-capacity Playhouse theatre in Fredericton, New Brunswick on May 11th, 2008, the audience responded by giving him a standing ovation before he had sung a note. He rewarded them with a three hour show.}
For those dates you were working with veteran Montreal-based promoter Ruben Fogel.
Having a meeting with Ruben, and André Ménard (co-founder of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal) you better take a day off. I don’t know who talks the most between the two of them. I love them both. André can talk for Canada. If they ever have a Talking Olympics, just put André in and you’d win all of the events.
When Leonard came to Europe with his “Old Ideas World Tour,” you were busy trading off dates there with Bon Jovi.
Probably. As you say in 2012, I was flipping between Bon Jovi, Leonard, Rod Stewart, and Justin Bieber. I had a hell of a year. The Who were out as well that year.
People thought you were crazy putting Leonard in the 16,000-capacity O2 in London, but tickets sold out in 24 hours. In all, he did three shows there.
Yes. That came about because at some point I said to Leonard, “I want to do an arena tour, but I don’t want to scare you.” With a glint in his eye, he said, “Well, maybe, one or two arenas.” Then, in Manchester, we were playing at the Opera House. It was beautiful, and everything. He was playing “Closing Time.” I was in the audience, and I got up and danced to “Closing Time” and people were saying, “sit down.” I was like, “This isn’t a church. This is a celebration of the man’s music.” So I thought we’d give it (an arena) a shot. I love the opening shot of “Live In London” (DVD) with Leonard’s face when he comes out and sees 16,000 people there. His little face, it light ups. He looks shocked almost. It became a party that I had imagined. It wasn’t reverential. People were singing and getting up and dancing. Standing up and dancing to “First We Take Manhattan,” “Closing Time,” and “Take This Waltz.” In Dublin, I remember people waltzing in the aisles in the pissing rain. It was just wonderful. When you play small venues, it becomes too reverential.
As a young punker you were moved by the music and poetry of Leonard Cohen?
You have said that he’s written lines that you have lived your life to. What lines?
“I will not be held like a drunkard under the cold tap of facts.”
That’s “What Am I Doing Here” from Leonard’s 1964 collection of poetry “Flowers For Hitler.” Obviously, Leonard profoundly influenced you early on.
Leonard has been a force in my life since I was about 13 when I first heard him and through my punk, reggae, and my pop years. Leonard Cohen has been the consistent through my life. I love the man. I’ve read every poem that’s he’s written, and heard every note he’s written. I have every record he’s released, including bootlegs and cover versions. The man is an artistic God in my eyes.
Leonard has been described as “The King of Sorrow,” “Poet of Loneliness,” and “Prince of Anguish.” In person, he’s a very funny man.
He’s hilarious. I can never understand people saying, “Oh, he’s a merchant of doom. He’s so miserable you want to slit your wrists.” Listen to the motherfucker. As a Canadian, you must have seen that (1965 National Film Board) film “Ladies and Gentleman...Mr. Leonard Cohen” (that shows Cohen at 30 on a visit to his hometown of Montreal). I keep saying, “Why don’t you write another novel? Your novels are great.”
Leonard started his musical career as a country singer.
There’s still a lot of country in his music. In the last couple of albums there’s a lot of country, and blues.
[As a child Leonard Cohen was touched by the music he heard in his Montreal synagogue. The first singers he listened to were the folk singers Pete Seeger, and Josh White, and country stars George Jones, and Johnny Cash that he heard on radio station WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia. At McGill University, he began writing poetry, and formed the country and western trio, the Buckskin Boys.]
There are pockets of international support for Leonard in cities like Dublin and Paris.
Ireland for sure. Belgium is huge. I have a plaque on my wall for selling 100,000 tickets in Belgium. There are tons of places (where Leonard is popular).
Not bad for an old guy in a bad suit.
No. As Leonard would himself say, “Lazy bastard living in a suit.” My favorite film is “Bird on a Wire,” the (1972 documentary) made by Tony Palmer where he was playing decent-sized venues. I got them all. “Bird on a Wire,” I remember watching that when I was a kid. They called him a “prick hero.” Leonard Cohen, to all of the women, is like a prick hero. I defy anyone to watch that movie and not become a Leonard Cohen fan.
How did you come to elbow out the competition for British Summertime at Hyde Park, starting out with the Rolling Stones in 2013?
We pitched it. In this business, you need a bit of luck. It was an anniversary. The Stones hadn’t played there since 1969. We showed them the site plans, and we came up with a compelling offer, and they went for it. It was serendipity. The first year that we had Hyde Park was the first year that they were looking to work for awhile. It all made sense.
[The Rolling Stones performed at Hyde Park in 2013 during the band's 50 and Counting Tour, celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary. The 65,000 tickets were sold out in three minutes.. In 1969, the Rolling Stones had performed a free concert in Hyde Park two days after the death of founding member Brian Jones, with the gig also serving as the introduction to new guitarist Mick Taylor.]
Let’s talk about some of you great moments at AEG Live.
My proudest thing at AEG Live in the UK is the fact that I started out there in the corner office in the corporate building with just me.
You really did build AEG Live UK from the ground up?
Yes, from the ground up. My international network today is exactly the same as when I joined AEG Live. AEG had to have offices in Los Angeles, and in London. I was doing global tours for the same partners that I had been using since the Marshall Arts days.
Didn’t you have another company, Megafactor, affiliated with AEG Live? Within a month it was announced you were actually joining AEG, and would be running its European touring operation.
Well, we sold Mean Fiddler to Live Nation. In the interim I started a little service company Megafactor. It didn’t trade more than six months.
So AEG Live had no footprint in the UK or Europe before your arrival?
No. AEG had no footprint. It was my Mean Fiddler footprint. My Marshall Arts’ footprint. Barry Marshall was my big mentor in the ‘90s. He turned me from an agent into a promoter.
During your decade at Marshall Arts you worked early on with Keith Sweat, R. Kelly, Mary J Blige, and the Back Street Boys.
When I first joined Marshall Arts, I had nothing. My whole Duran Duran period had gone up in smoke. Andy Taylor and I had bought a recording studio that went bankrupt
Don’t forget you managed Private Lives.
Oh God, you’ve done your research.
Well, there aren’t that many bands that did as poorly on EMI America, having just the single album, “Prejudice and Pride,” in 1984.
Ironically, Gary Gersh signed them to EMI America, and he’s now president of global talent at AEG Live. So the irony of ironies.
That was after you had left Derek Block Artistes Agency where you worked with UB40, Duran Duran, and Adam and the Ants. What led you to move to Los Angeles to manage a band?
‘Cuz, I couldn’t work in England. I had an injunction against me when I left Derek Block When I left Derek Block he slapped an injunction on me preventing me for working for a year there. It took a year to get rid of it. I was young and impetuous and he wasn’t paying me enough money. I said, “Fuck you. I’m leaving.” I was joining Apollo Leisure at the time. He kind of went, “No, you’re not” and slapped an injunction on me. So I couldn’t work for a year in the UK. So I said, “I will go to L.A. and work.”
You returned to the UK to work with Barry Marshall for a decade.
Yeah. I love Barry. A great guy. After Private Lives, I came back to England and Andy and I bought a recording studio, and we had Equinox Records and it all went tits up. I went to Prestige Talent for a moment with Miles Copeland and Phil Banfield. Personality clashes. That only lasted six months.
Then, I was at the ILMC (International Live Music Conference) and I was standing at the bar, and Barry Marshall was there. He said, “I haven’t seen you for years. What happened to you? One minute you were a bright star in our industry. You had just come from nowhere. The next minute, you had disappeared.” I said, “Long story, you know?” He said, “Well, why don’t you come and work for me?” It seemed like an eternity at the time to make a deal with Barry. It took about three or four months. I made a deal, and it was the smartest thing that I have ever done in my life. Barry kind of brought me back onto the straight and narrow. I didn’t have any acts. He said, “Here’s Al Jarreau who I have done for awhile. Why don’t you help me out with that, and book him for jazz festivals.” Then he had Marcus Miller and (David) Sanborn. I started getting heavily into jazz musicians. I took on Herbie Hancock myself, and a few others. I became Mr. Jazz. I could make a living whilst I was looking for the next pop break.
Previously you were Mr. Reggae.
It was back in the day. I love music. I really love music
The stint at Marshall Arts gave you further opportunity to work in America.
I was always working in the States, from the Duran Duran days.
Yes, but you had more on your plate now, and more opportunities.
I always knew that America was a place that I needed to get some credibility to get the American acts. It was too hard working with the English acts. All an act had to do in England was get on the front cover of NME in those days, and they had every agent in the world fighting to get them. Whereas not many people (in the UK) were looking to America. I got there at a very early age with Duran Duran, and I wandered around and found out that everybody wanted to do business with the new breed of English acts so I was dealing with Wayne Forte, and Dennis Arfa. They were like, “Why don’t you give me this, and we will give you that?” Wheeling and dealing. Suddenly, I was hearing, “You should pick up some American acts.”
Many Brit acts were at a loss about working in America at that time.
You could sign British acts for the world as an agent for 15%. They would leave you to sort out the space for them. It was wonderful.
You had started working with Duran Duran at Cowbell did you not?
It was at Cowbell. That’s when I picked up Adams and the Ants. Before that I was....
You were at March Artists for about 5 minutes.
Yeah. How do you find out all this stuff.
[Having made the decision to move back into the mainstream after managing reggae artists, Hallett was offered a job at Cowbell Agency by Martin Hopewell and John Jackson. One of his first acts was UB40 who told Hallett about a band in Birmingham rehearsing in the room next to them. That was Duran Duran. One Friday night Hallett got a telephone call from the booker at the Marquee Club in Wardour Street telling him that the Associates had pulled out of the Sunday show, and asking if he had a replacement. Hallett told him about the demo from an unsigned band that he liked, maybe he should book them? The booker agreed. As a result, Duran Duran played its first London gig 48 hours later. Two weeks later Hallett had the band open for John Cooper Clarke/Pauline Murray and The Invisible Girls at the Lyceum. Duran Duran became Hallett’s calling card for years.]
At March Artists while working with the Clash, you tracked down Jamaican reggae DJ Tapper Zukie for an opening gig slot, and everybody then began to think of you as the reggae guy.
Do you know about Manic Artistes?
Manic Artistes was my reggae agency after March Artists. I also had Manic Records.
[Check out Militant Barry’s (aka Barry Dunn) 1979 Manic Record track “Pistol Boy,” questioning of the death of Nancy Spungen and the following drug overdose by her boyfriend, Sid Vicious (Youtube Link).
I know that you were involved in managing and promoting reggae acts.
I went to Jamaica. I managed a couple of reggae bands and a couple of other things including managing Tapper Zukie. I persuaded every act in Jamaica that wasn’t Bob Marley that I could tour them in Europe. That there was a market for them there. I came back (to the UK) and I toured I Roy, Prince Far I, the Gladiators, the In Crowd, Gregory Isaacs, Culture, and the Mighty Diamonds.
This was after you left March Artists?
This was after March. The punk world had taught me about reggae. (March) didn’t want to do reggae. They thought it was dangerous or whatever, so I got on a plane to Jamaica, and signed everybody.
Did Cowbell offer you a job because of your reggae connections?
Cowbell offered me a job on the basis that I dropped all my reggae.
But Cowbell had the reggae/pop band UB40.
I got UB40 because they contacted me saying, “You are the reggae guy. We want to work with you.” They were the acceptable face of reggae because they were from Birmingham, and not from Kingston I guess.
Aren’t you from Brighton?
Yes and no. I was born in London. As a very young child of 6 or 7, we moved to Sussex, originally Uckfield. Then, at 14 or 15, we moved to just outside Brighton. Then I came back up to London when I was 18. Brighton seems longer because I was there for four or five years in my formative years. The years when you are growing up, and going out to see bands like T. Rex, Quintessence, and ELP at the Big Apple in Brighton.
There was a great local music scene in Brighton in those days.
Yes. I used to manage a band called Isabella. Then I worked with a (British funk/rock) band called Krakatoa. When (singer/keyboardist) Maggie Ryder left Krakatoa, she was replaced by Hans Zimmer. Then Krakatoa signed to Polydor for one record in 1975, I think, and then off we all went.
What did your parents do?
My mum was a school dinner lady when I was at school. When I was born my dad was a lay preacher and later he went on to be a national sales rep for a company called Howson Algraphy that was in the printing industry.
You attended the Uckfield School, and then Lewes Tertiary College. Why didn’t you go off to university?
Because I discovered rock and roll. I was waiting to go to university when I read this article on the Sex Pistols article in ’76 or ’77. I then came up to London, and I’ve never looked back. My parents wanted me to go to Magdalene College (in Cambridge). I did my A levels in a year because I was considered bright. So I got my A levels at the age of 17, and I was going to university that summer. Then I discovered rock and roll.
You saw an article in Melody Maker featuring the Sex Pistols’ manager, Malcolm McLaren?
Yes. Malcolm McLaren was saying that they couldn’t find an agent for the Pistols. I found his number and called up and said, “I’m an agent.” I was 17 running gigs in a pub in Brighton called the Alhambra. I kind of knew what an agent was.
You also booked shows at The Hungry Years too.
(Laughing) You know too much.
This was when you were operating as Domino Promotions?
Yeah, Domino Promotions. I got my business cards printed at Quick Print. I remember to this day it had my mum’s address. I was still living with my mum. So it was my mum’s phone number of the business card.
You met Malcolm, and he gave you the job as the Pistols’ agent. However, you only managed to get the band a pub date for a £50 fee, a third of the fee he was seeking.
Yeah. I got fired within a couple of weeks.
Were the Sex Pistols signed at that point?
No they weren’t signed at that point. They were just making a tour around London. Glen Matlock was still the bass player. It was before Sid (Vicious) was in the band.
What were they like live?
One of the most exciting things that I’ve seen in my life to this day, probably. Steve Jones is a fantastic guitarist. He’s one of the best guitarists out there. With the power that he played, he just shook the room. (Bassist) Glen (Matlock) was a proper musician, as was Cookie (drummer Paul Cook). Glen, Steve and Paul Cook--when they were very young--you wouldn’t see a better rock and roll band. That’s what it was. There’s was the punk attitude, but it was rock and roll. One of the greatest ever, I think, in my mind. Your memory is a wonderful thing. I remember being blown away as a kid.
Were the Sex Pistols better than the Clash?
The Clash was more than a rock and roll band. They were a reggae. They were also a rock and roll band. There was much more musicality in the Clash. A much different group. Will history even think of the Clash as a punk group?
You became immersed British’s punk scene.
Google the Cheltenham punk festival, City Rock ’77. That was the punk festival (Sept. 17th, 1977) that I did when I was about 17. Did you know that? Bob Marland was the promoter of City Rock ’77 at the Chelmsford City Football Grounds, and I was the booker. I used to manage a band called Eater as well. I remember them having a 14-year old drummer called Dee Generate (aka Roger Bullen). I got turned on to them by Rat Scabies. Fruit Eating Bears is another band I managed who I put on that festival.
Just looking at that bill. There was Eddie and the Hot Rods, Doctor of Madness, Chelsea, Slaughter and the Dogs, Fruit Eating Bears, the Lew Lewis Band, Aswad, Glory, and Solid Waste. I don’t remember Solid Waste. When I look at the crowd, it looks more like skinheads than punks.
By then British punk was at its peak with the Clash, the Damned, the Boomtown Rats, and the Adverts happening, and such London clubs as The Vortex, and the 100 Club, as well as Sundown, Red Cow, and Hope and Anchor supporting the genre.
After the Pistol thing (concert promoter and manager of the Damned) Ron Watts invited me down to the 100 Club. We talked about the first punk festival (The 100 Club Punk Festival) from the day before. I started working with him and the band (the Damned). Then I started working with quite a few different punk acts.
When I was at March Artists I was given the job of booking The Vortex. Every act that played The Vortex had to come through me. That’s when I picked up for the agency, Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers, and a few other (American) things. A lot of New York things coming over there.
What was your football team growing up?
Chelsea all the way. My dad took me to Stamford Bridge in 1967 after England won the World Cup. I was inspired by football. My father really wasn’t into football. My uncle was a Chelsea fan. But my dad took me to Stamford Bridge, and we beat Manchester United 2 to 1. That’s when they had George Best, and we had Pete Osgood and Peter Bonetti and Bobby Tambling.
There’s speculation of Chelsea picking up Lionel Messi from FC Barcelona. Unlikely.
Yeah, there has been talk. I don’t know if we need him. If you bring him in, he could destroy the dressing room with the players because he’s going to come in and want 200 grand a week wages. Almost a million a month. I think it’d be bad for Chelsea. Do we really need him? You only play a handful of real games a year, probably. Do we need him on a wet Tuesday night? Do we need to pay 200 grand to have someone play that game? (With all the big money) it is so corrupt, football, isn’t it? It’s not the game I fell in love with as a kid.
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.
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