Forays into production
We had gained enormous confidence from the Polydor deal, but other plays were also in motion. As we were writing and looking for new ideas to develop, Rob was becoming much in demand as a musical director, Charlie was on the verge of signing a deal as an artist with EMI and I had broken into the world of production. It was a combination of chance and perseverance that I had met and gained the trust of of one of the industry’s truly great personalities, a gentleman ( in the real sense of the word) by the name of Roland Rennie. He was the head of A and R ( creative) of Phonogram Records, a major label of the time. In one of our early meetings he played me a few songs by a new artist they had just signed. I was blown away. ‘ remember this name’ he said, ‘this young man will be a big star.’ It was an unknown Billy Joel.
Everyone needs a break in life and I had connected with someone who was big enough and strong enough to enable it. The immediate and strangely symbiotic situation that Roland entrusted to me was Phonogram’s contractual requirement to produce a second single by a formidably beautiful artist called Maya Fernik. She was married to a French entrepreneur and was herself a fluent French speaker, as was I. We hit it off immediately. Maya was a terrific singer, stylish, beautiful, soulful. Although we didn’t know it at the time, her husband, Bernard, was to become a big part of my future, as a later investor in our developing production projects.
Roland had enabled my first foray into professional producer role. It was a dream really, the big league. I had access to the Phonogram studios and the budget to record the music with any musicians I chose.I was determined to do the best by Maya, Roland, Bernard and finally myself. I had the knowledge and the understanding but having carte blanche to an extent was a turning point.
Working together with Maya, we searched for songs we felt were suited to her style and had a chance of chart success. We found and produced a song called c’est la vie, which was duly released on Phonogram, had reasonable airplay but failed to chart. But I had done a good job and was rewarded with more production contracts from Roland. I did sessions with, among others, Marsha Hunt, legendary singer and star of the hugely successful and controversial musical ‘Hair’ and Paul Jones, the original and adulated singer of the Manfred Mann group. Paul was a really great artist with a highly individual and recognizable voice, a phenomenal harmonica player as well as a truly nice and extremely intelligent man. It was a critical lesson for me working with these kind of singers. What became clear was the magic that a good voice could give to a song and how that song could change from almost ordinary to great just by the individual’s phrasing and interpretation. It sounds trite and obvious to say that. But until you have heard a song, recorded just as a song for consideration by an artist and then heard that same song in the hands of a real singer, you cannot understand the magic that happens. For me, these early production experiences made me understand much about the art of creative production and in my future songwriting career, I would always try to ‘hear’ the songs I wrote through a voice other than my own.
I had not known Maya long before she suggested that I might like to listen to a young singer/ songwriter, living near her house on the south coast who was working as a hall porter in a hotel. She said she felt he might have some songs worth listening to and was happy to introduce us. Charles Gilsenan was his name and I arranged to go down and see him. There are certain moments in life that remain fixed for eternity and this was unquestionably one. Charles was a fairly unprepossessing guy, shy, not a great singer but the songs he had written and played to us that afternoon were quite simply extraordinary. I believe to this day that he was the greatest talent I met in my life who went unrecognized. Such is the way of this business. Despite several years of trying to get him a break, it just didn’t happen. Eventually we lost touch, I think he went to the US. By then we had reinvented him as Kit Russell but whether that was an improvement in branding , it certainly didn’t help him launch a deserved career. There was much interest but never the commitment that would be required. His song about the Beatles ‘Pepper’s Last stand’ was clever, catchy, witty and super melodic, a masterpiece of songwriting structure. Equally the haunting ‘Leaving England’ a song about someone standing on a boat, departing the shores of their country of birth for a far away land, is so deeply moving that I can still hear it today as I write these words.
We recorded Charlie’s first single ‘it’ll all be over’ at Abbey Road Studios. A journey back to my even younger days. Rob wrote the musical arrangement, conducting members of the London Symphony Orchestra and Charlie and I produced it. It was sensational, a big production, my first with a major orchestra. We were all on a high. We were in it. Early 70s London.
Then two events occurred that were to change the picture yet again. Charlie met a guy called Colin Thurston and I went for a brief trip to the South of France.
Sunny with Occasional Rain
Sunny with Occasional Rain is a blog series written by BKP Media Group CEO, Barry Kirsch, highlighting moments from his intriguing career.