Spencer Kirsch and Young. Amazon Music
Rob Young was a truly gifted musician. In virtuosity and orchestration he was in a special class but I had a flair for melody and we gelled well together as a writing team. We wanted to produce some of our song but needed a partner with access to funding if we were to form a production company and finance professional recordings. Rob knew a certain Charlie Spencer, young guy around town whom he thought might like the fit and who was also an aspiring songwriter/artist. He was driving a status symbol Mini Cooper (the trendiest car of the day) which maybe said something about his bank balance! We met, he was confident and showy – I think there was a certain wariness in the initial relationship between the three of us but I liked his songs. They were different, imaginative, mature and well structured. I was impressed. Little did I know at the time that I would go on to form a lifetime working relationship and friendship with Charlie despite many ups and downs over the years.
And so our first production company was formed- Amazon Music. We had a capital of 500 pounds, a fortune at that time, invested by Charlie. We would record some of Rob and my songs and some of Charlie’s. We had a loyal friend, Ivan Chandler, the repertoire manager in a major publishing company, April Music, a part of CBS. He was a mentor and critic, always ready to help and advise. He signed us to a publishing deal with April, we felt we were on the ladder of the industry. First rung but off the ground. Today, Ivan is a recognized musicologist and rights supervisor as well as a very fine performing jazz and soul pianist.
We had been knocking around small studios as musicians prior to the formation of Amazon and settled on a studio in South London to record. It had the right feel and was fairly priced for the quality it offered. The second day we were there, a strange looking man armed with all kinds of wires, gizmos and electro- pulse boxes was doing unusual gestures and manoeuvres in the live room. Intrigued, we asked if he was analyzing the acoustics. No he replied quite matter of factly. ‘I am a professional ghost catcher and have been employed to try to catch, subdue or eliminate the ghost that haunts the studio and interferes with sessions at night’. There was not much we could say to that. Just another day in the twilight zone.
But the sessions went quite well, despite the presence or not of the ghost. We left after a few days recording and mixing with 5 finished tracks. Two songs of Charlie’s, two songs of mine and Rob’s and a 5th that was an instrumental featuring two pianos called Fairy Tale. We really only recorded that piece for vanity. Instrumental hits were so few and far between- the odd theme from a movie or tv show and in earlier days, the music of the Shadows – Cliff Richard’s backing group.
And then came the hard part. Trying to get to see the decision makers in the record companies. These people (known as heads of A&R within the company hierarchy) were demi-Gods. The future of so many aspiring artists lay in their taste and judgement. It is fair to say that their careers also depended on good decisions and successes. Some of this clique of star makers were genuinely gifted with an innate ability to hear a hit – or the ingredients of a hit perhaps with some reworking by a clever producer. Some were simply unapproachable, some were clouded by their own taste, lacking in commercial savvy , some were just unpleasant but a few were good guys, encouraging, totally understanding of the problems of getting on the ladder and ready to try to help.
Defining a hit is easy. Catchy chorus, good title, interesting voice, great production. But many songs have all these qualities. That extra something, the indefinable something that catches the imagination and makes that song succeed is where the good A&R person’s judgement sits. And only a fraction of the thousands of songs released achieve success. Two observations from my own experience are interesting. Jonathan King, hit maker extraordinaire said once ‘ you cannot underestimate the public enough’ – his mantra for hit making. And one time, my future publisher to be, Wayne Bickerton, a great songwriter, said that only one time in his prolific writing career was he sure, absolutely without doubt that he had penned and produced a number 1 hit, when he finished the final mix of ‘Sugar Baby Love’ by the Rubettes.
We were lucky to finally connect with one of the really great heads of A&R at Polydor records, a highly respected label of that time. He liked us, must have seen something in what we were trying to do and listened carefully and critically to our work. He wanted to forge a relationship and offered to start by licensing one single for the princely sum of 250 pounds advance against a royalty of 16%. We were over the moon. We had done our first licensing deal. The extraordinary part of it is that the track he wanted to run with was the instrumental – ‘fairy Tale’. It was a strange and unexpected choice. Later however, Charlie would get a deal with EMI and one of my and Rob’s songs would be released on DJM ( the label that launched Elton John) . So maybe the universe was playing out in the right way at that particular moment.
That was the beginning of what I think of as the ‘production phase’ of my career. Just being in London, working in music, your first song licensed by a major label and hanging out with others with similar aims was the stuff of dreams. Strolling down the King’s Road or Carnaby Street, you felt you were in the center of the world, privileged, alive, unshackled.
You can find the record at Popsike. Fairy Tale by Arabesque on Polydor records
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.