Sunny with Occasional Rain
I met Bill during the interim job phase at Music for Pleasure. He was an imposing looking guy, early fifties, tall, rugged featured with a slightly shuffling gait. He was quite fearsome in some ways, often dressed in casual, safari type clothing, looking more like a backwater hunter than a record producer, but a producer he was –if of a somewhat different genre. Actually, he knew very little about music, but an awful lot about making heaps of money through music.
He had left Australia, his country of birth to look for opportunities in England. I don’t know why he left; he was never ready to discuss that time of his life. He was just here toying with an idea that he wanted to try. During this germinating period, he needed an income so he somehow managed to make a deal to take and sell Polaroid pictures of tourists shaking hands with a cardboard cutout of the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey. A very successful venture – the entrepreneurial spirit in action. He was raking in a substantial income, which gave him the wherewithal to remain unencumbered and free to launch his big idea.
The idea was simple yet nauseatingly clever. He proposed to Pye Records that together they launch a label called Top Six – which became hugely successful and made him a fortune. The idea simply was to record every week, fortnight or month, cover versions of the top six songs in the UK charts, put all six tracks on one record, release it, sell it cheaply and promote it with the slogan that ‘you cannot tell the difference between this and the original’. Great value for money for the buyer who just wanted to listen to the songs and didn’t care too much about the integrity of the content, good business for the distribution company and big bucks for Bill. He was laughing all the way to the bank, whilst the producers of the original recordings wanted to string him up. Bill was thick skinned enough not to give a damn. He was paying all due royalties and was 100 per cent legal. The only creativity lay in the idea and execution. Pure marketing.
So when Music for Pleasure opened its doors with a similar model – cheap albums, re-releases, new marketable ideas, it was easy for Bill to slot the Top Six formula into the mix as a monthly cover version album of the top selling singles and set about making his second fortune. Which is when I met him, at the MFP offices and he one day unexpectedly suggested I go and work with him.
I was happy to leave my first and last regular employment but quite what my new job description was I never really fathomed out. Bill had a stunning mansion in Surrey where the office was set up in a sumptuous outhouse. There was me plus a secretary; and Bill who liked to hold impromptu ‘meetings’ whenever he drifted haphazardly into the office to discuss new product or just random ideas. I think he enjoyed shooting the breeze about our business and the people in it. He was not naturally a social person and only really let his guard down when he felt relaxed and not around perceived threats. Occasionally we would take his speedboat out and I would drive while he ski- ed. All part of the job spec apparently. Of course I attended all the regular recording sessions and met a host of good singers, musicians and music directors. But it was all quite surreal really, the whole world of just copying music was so against my intrinsic aspirations and being around an absolutely single minded and commercially oriented person was about as new and different an experience as I could have. Plus the money that this whole concept was generating seemed somehow immoral. . But it was in its own way fascinating and I had first hand insights into how an entrepreneur’s mind works, calculating the risks and rewards, how a simple idea can work and the shrewdness and ruthlessness that is required to execute it. I certainly learnt a lot about marketing, negotiating and the blunt realities of the business of music.
An intriguing chapter in my life. Unexpected but definitely a learning curve. Eventually though I desperately needed to get back to my own world, away from the sunny climes of millionaire Surrey and to the grubby familiarity of Ladbroke Grove. I essentially felt more at ease in this gritty and arty urban landscape, more familiar and edgy.
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.