Thursday, 20 October 2011

An interview with Andrew Loog Oldham

The larger-than-life manager is one of my less-favoured pop archetypes: I think of Colonel Parker putting Elvis through the Hollywood mill, or Peter Grant fleecing Led Zeppelin fans who could only afford one 45 a week. Andrew Loog Oldham took some cues from Larry Parnes, but crucially based himself more on a fictional character - Johnny Jackson from Wolf Mankowitz's Expresso Bongo. Maybe this why the Rolling Stones he created, virtually from scratch, were so much more exciting and genuinely dangerous than the proto-corporate rock act they were from '68 onwards. All right. In his words, and his own capitals, say 'ello to ALO.


BS: Do you think that, like the Stones, you were “born in England, made in America”?
ALO: I WAS MADE BY AN AMERICAN. THE GENT I’M DOING THE E-BOOK WITH LOCATED A PHOTO OF MY FATHER’S (LT. ANDREW LOOG) GRAVE IN BELGIUM. HE WAS FROM LOUISIANA, SO IN SOME WAYS I WAS MADE IN AMERICA IN MORE WAYS THAN THE DIMMER TWINS.

It seems that when you started out working for the likes of Mark Wynter, you were more interested in the minders/managers than the artists, almost saw them as more romantic than their charges. Did you get to meet Brian Hyland, for instance, or form any opinion of him? Or was his “show-me-the-money Jerry Maguire via Damon Runyon” manager of far more interest to you?
THE MANAGER… THE MANAGER…. A GUY NAMED SAM GORDON, WHO WAS A BLACK SUITED AGENT FROM WILLIAM MORRIS SENT OVER TO MIND THE HYLAND STORE. BRIAN HYLAND WAS NICE ENOUGH IN A JIMMY CLANTON/MARK WYNTER SORT OF WAY, BUT IT WAS SAM GORDON THAT INTERESTED ME. PURE OFFICED UP TONY CURTIS IN “MR. CORY”

I think you met Joe Meek a couple of times (Tony Calder once told me that you went to Holloway Road in ’64 by which time he “didn’t look like a man who could buy you lunch”). How important do you think he was in early 60s UK pop? And did he attempt to make a move on you? (You don’t have to answer that last one).
HE WAS TERRIFYING. ALL THE HOMOSEXUALS I HAD MET THUS FAR HAD BEEN OBVIOUSLY INSANE BUT WELL-MANNERED. JOE WAS A LOOSE OOZI. I THINK HIS INFLUENCE IS OVERBLOWN. MAINLY BECAUSE HE’S BRITISH, NUTS AND DEAD,. IT’S REALLY “TELSTAR” AND “HAVE I THE RIGHT?” AS FAR AS HITS GO. THE JOHN LEYTON RECORDS WERE AWFUL. THEY WERE MADE HITS BY AN EARLY TRIANGULAR BRIT VELVET MAFIA. IF MEEK HAD LIVED ANTHONY HOPKINS COULD HAVE SOURCED HIM IN HIS HANNIBAL LECTER RESEARCH. WHAT HELPED HIM GET BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION WAS THE END OF THE RECORD COMPANIES CD RUN, WHEN THEY ALL WENT BOX SET BALLISTIC. MY WORK, THANK GOD, IS PROTECTED BECAUSE IT WAS WITH THE ROLLING STONES.

How would you stack up Joe Meek’s contribution to record production alongside Phil Spector’s?
RECENTLY SOMEONE TOLD ME THAT, SHORTLY BEFORE HIS DEATH, JACK NITZSCHE WAS ASKED ABOUT PHIL’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE SONGS HE GOT A THIRD OF. NATCH THE MAJORITY OF FOLKS CHOSE TO BELIEVE THAT PHIL JUST TOOK A THIRD COZ HE COULD. I MEAN, HOW MUCH CAN YOU ADD TO GOFFIN & KING; MANN & WEIL; GREENWICH & BARRY? IT WOULD SEEM A LOT. JACK, TO HIS CREDIT, COZ HE WAS A BITTER SOD FOR SO MUCH OF HIS LIFE, LEFT NO DOUBT THAT WHEN PHIL PUT HIS MARK ON A SONG IT IMPROVED. THAT’S THE DIFFERENCE. A SONGMEISTER. AS REGARDS MEEK IT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE. THE IDEA IS TO BE UNIVERSAL…..

How would you rank Nik Cohn as a writer? (I think, at his best, there isn’t a better pop writer – he translates the sound of Rag Doll or Da Doo Ron Ron or The Last Time into prose). Do you still see him? Am I entirely wrong to think of you as kindred spirits?
I LOVE NIK COHN AND HIS WRITING. THE ESSAYS IN “20TH CENTURY DREAMS” AND “TRIKSTA” ARE BRILLIANT. “TRIKSTA” IS SO GOOD, SO DARING. HE REMINDS ME OF DUSTY SPRINGFIELD, A STRAIGHT AND JEWISH VERSION. I MEAN, HE CAME FROM IRELAND, DID HE NOT? OR LIKE PETER O’TOOLE DID HE REALLY COME FROM LEEDS? WHATEVER. HE CAME INTO OUR LIVES AT AN IMPORTANT TIME, AS AN IMPORTANT VOICE. I HAD TEA WITH HIM JUST OVER A YEAR AGO. WE WERE THINKING ABOUT TREADING THE BOARDS TOGETHER BUT NOBODY WOULD PAY FOR THE EXCESS BAGGAGE.

You talk about meeting Ken Hughes, who directed Gurney Slade. But what did you make of Anthony Newley? I’d have thought his career path – a London boy involved in music, acting, TV, working with Lionel Bart, marrying a film star, going to Hollywood – would have seemed quite a desirable blueprint to you.
ANTHONY NEWLEY WAS GREAT AUDITIONING TWINS, I ASK YOU. “IDOL ON PARADE” – LOVED IT. HELL, I EVEN LIKED MARTY WILDE IN “JET STORM” BECAUSE IT MEANT “POP PEOPLE” WERE GETTING A LEG UP ON THE OTHER SIDE. AWFUL FILM. STANLEY BAKER, SAW IT AT THE ESSOLDO KILBURN. I WANTED MY MONEY BACK. “BEAT GIRL” WITH ADAM FAITH AND MUSIC BY JOHN BARRY WAS THE GUV’NER. NEWLEY WAS STRANGE, I AM NOT SURE IF IT WAS WORK OR MARRIAGE (JOAN COLLINS?) THAT TOOK HIM TO HOLLYWOOD BUT HE NEVER HAD ANOTHER ORIGINAL THOUGHT. HIM AND DAVID HEMMINGS. THE LAST TIME I SAW HIM WAS WITH DON ARDEN. WE WENT UP TO LAS VEGAS TO SEE NEWLEY AND BURT BACHARACH. IT WAS A WONDERFUL NIGHT OF SONG. LISTEN, IF I’D BEEN BORN WHERE NEWLEY CAME FROM I MIGHT HAVE SAID YES TO HOLLYWOOD.

Were you jealous of Andrew Wickham following his surfer boy dream and going to work for Lou Adler? Kim Fowley describes him as a “genius” – would you agree? I have to say I’m impressed by an old Etonian signing Joni Mitchell and becoming head of Warners in Nashville. And he got to hang out with Michelle Phillips.
BEING DESCRIBED AS ANYTHING BY KIM FOWLEY IS DANGEROUS LET ALONE “GENIUS”. ONE, I NEVER WANTED TO SURF AND TWO, HE WORKED FOR ME. PLEASE! MY ENVY WAS ABSTRACT, LIKE ABOUT THE FACEL-VEGA I KNOW NOW I WILL NEVER HAVE. I DON’T THINK WE HAD ENVY IN THE 60′S; THAT ONE CAME WITH THE 70′S. ANDY’S SUCCESS I REGARD AS A CLUE TO HOW GOOD TONY CALDER WAS AT SPOTTING TALENT. I’M TOLD THEY NOW GO TO FUNERALS TOGETHER, TO SAY GOODBYE TO THE TALENT, I SUPPOSE. GOD BLESS HIS REIGN AT WARNERS – A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT AND THREE BALLS IN THE OCEAN FOR HIS LEAVING US AND FOLLOWING HIS DREAM.

Can you recall some of the times you spent with Pete Meaden? It sounds like he had a major effect on you. Were you fast friends, or did you see him later on in the 60s? He seems like a tragic figure to me, though I know he’s a hero to suburban mods.
PETER MEADEN. SOMEBODY HAS TO OPEN THE DOOR AND LET YOU IN. MARY QUANT AND HER PARTNERS, ALEXANDER PLUNKET GREENE AND ARCHIE MCNAIR DID THAT; RONNIE SCOTT AND PETE KING DID THAT AND SO DID PETER MEADEN. WE WERE FAST FRIENDS, HE HAD THE LOOK OF LUNACY I RECOGNIZED. WE FELL OUT ONCE I HAD THE STONES, OUR FRIENDSHIP DID NOT SURVIVE THAT. HE WAS NOT TRAGIC, HE JUST SAW TOO MUCH, TOOK TOO MUCH, TOO SOON. A MORE PERFECT FRIEND YOU COULD NOT IMAGINE. THE MIND, THE VISIONS, THE ENTHUSIASM. NOT TOO MANY GET TOUCHED BY THAT SPEED OF SPIRIT IN THEIR LIVES. HE BLESSED MINE. HE TOOK CARE OF ME, I WAS JUST A N.W.3 KID UNTIL PETER. HE TOOK ME INTO TOWN. WE HAD FUN.

How did you meet David Whitaker? I think As Tears Go By was literally the first arrangement he ever wrote.
DAVID DID NOT ARRANGE “AS TEARS GO BY” – MIKE LEANDER DID BOTH VERSIONS, MARIANNE AND THE STONES. DAVID DID A LOT OF THE ANDREW OLDHAM ORCHESTRA STUFF INCLUDING “THE LAST TIME” THAT THE VERVE TOOK AND TURNED INTO “BITTER SWEET SYMPHONY”. BRILLIANT MAN. HE ALSO WORKED WITH ME IN ITALY WITH FRANCESCO DI GREGORI AND ANNA OXA AT THE END OF THE 70′S.

In what way do you feel Marianne Faithfull “embarrassed” you? I’m surprised that you let her go so quickly, and let Tony Calder manage her, when she was such an obvious star.
PERHAPS EMBARRASSED IS TOO STRONG A WORD. I HAD DONE IT. I HAD HAD A HIT IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT STYLE THAN THE ROLLING STONES. I SAW NO POINT IN TRYING TO REPEAT IT WITH MARIANNE, SO I TURNED HER OVER TO CALDER WHO HAD TWO HITS WITH “COME AND STAY WITH ME” AND “THIS LITTLE BIRD”. I GOT BORED. NOT HER FAULT, NOT ANYBODY’S.

I like the description of Tony Calder as having “slot machine” eyes. Was he as much of a caricature East Ender as he sounds? Do you still see him? Are either of you still thinking of remaking Expresso Bongo?
ACTUALLY TONY WAS FROM SOUTHAMPTON, HE JUST ENDED UP WORKING IN THE EAST END FOR JIMMY SAVILE. YES, I STILL SEE HIM. HE TELLS ME ALL ABOUT THE FUNERALS HE AND ANDY WICKHAM GO TO. IT’S SO PINTER. JET HARRIS WAS A BIG ONE. I HAVE WRITTEN THE FIRST EPISODE OF A FOUR-PARTER TV THING THAT IS “EXPRESSO BONGO” WRITTEN IN A WAY THAT ADDRESSES STUFF THAT WAS BOUND NOT TO BE DEALT WITH IN 1956. IT’S MORE VIOLENT, SEXUAL, MORE KNOWING AND MORE MUSICAL. I JUST HAVE NOT LEFT HOME ENOUGH TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT AND I PROBABLY WON’T.

Vashti Bunyan got you in “quite a flutter”, but she remembers having to paint the walls of the Immediate office. What do you remember of her?
WE HAVE JUST WORKED TOGETHER AGAIN. SHE HAS DONE A GREAT VERSION OF “BITTER SWEET SYMPHONY” FOR MY “ANDREW OLDHAM ORCHESTRA & FRIENDS PLAY THE ROLLING STONES SONGBOOK VOLUME 2″. VOLUME ONE WAS IN ’66. THE FUSION GUITARIST GARY LUCAS DID THE TRACK FOR IT IN BOGOTA. I’M MASTERING THE WHOLE THING IN VANCOUVER NEXT WEEK. SO, AS FOR THEN, I REMEMBER HER NOW.

I think The Poets are possibly the most underrated British group of the 60s. I like what you say about the Scottish drone sensibility. Did you feel shafted when Spencer Davis’s Keep On Running got to number one after pinching the bassline from That’s The way It’s Gotta Be?
NEVER KNEW THEY HAD NICKED IT. GUESS THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS HAS RUN OUT ON THAT ONE. SHAME I CANNOT CALL ALLEN KLEIN……

 You say that Brian Jones’s voice “shared none of the joy and mirth of the rest of the group”. Do you recall him ever trying to write songs to ‘fit in’?
“LORD OF THE FLIES” – THE MUSICAL VERSION. I PUT BRIAN IN A HOTEL ROOM WITH GENE PITNEY, WHOM AS YOU KNOW WAS A GREAT WRITER, TO TRY AND DRAG SOME OF THE SONGS OUT OF BRIAN THAT HE HAD BEEN MOANING HE HAD IN HIM. THEY WERE AWFUL. THE THING WITH POP OR ROCK IS THAT YOU CANNOT WRITE DOWN TO THE PUBLIC, YOU HAVE TO BE AT ONE WITH THE PUBLIC. THEY CAN SMELL IT WHEN YOU ARE NO LONGER ONE OF THEM, AND THAT’S WHEN YOUR RUN IS OVER. BRIAN NEVER STARTED A RUN, HE LOOKED DOWN ON POP WHILST WANTING TO BE AS BIG AS THE BEATLES.

Did it always feel like you and Mick were looking for the same thing with the Stones? It seems to me, through the changing productions, that you were constantly pushing forward looking for something new; I’m wondering if he was.
IN ENGLAND, APART FROM “NOT FADE AWAY”, RECORDING IN ENGLAND STILL HAD THEM JOINED AT THE HIP TO THE R’N'B THING. YOU MUST REMEMBER THEY STARTED OUT THINKING THAT WHITE ENGLISH MIDDLE CLASS KIDS DID NOT WRITE THE BLUES, LET ALONE SONGS. IT WAS AMERICA THAT SET US FREE. FIRST CHESS STUDIOS , THEN RCA IN HOLLYWOOD. I CANNOT SAY ENOUGH ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTIONS JACK NITZSCHE AND DAVE HASSINGER (ENGINEER) MADE AND IAN STEWART CONTINUED TO MAKE. WHAT DID I PUSH? AMBITION, STYLE, ATTITUDE, RECKLESSNESS, INDEPEPENDENCE. THE SONGS MICK & KEITH CAME UP WITH WERE WHAT GOT SERVED. I NEVER EXPECTED AN “AFTERMATH” OR “BETWEEN THE BUTTONS”. THE LATTER WAS ALMOST A COLLISION WITH RAY DAVIES. IF YOU IMAGINE HEARING SOME OF THE SONGS JUST ON ACOUSTIC GUITAR. IN THAT IT WAS ABOUT ENGLAND, DISPOSABLE INCOME, THE LUXURY OF DISPOSABLE GIRLS, FIRST LOVES, WISING UP… THE WHOLE SCHMEER. I THINK THAT, YES, MICK AND I WERE LOOKING FOR THE SAME THING. I GUESS IT WAS ALMOST ELVIS & THE COLONEL. I’VE NEVER HAD THAT THOUGHT BEFORE. MICK CONCENTRATED ON THE STAGE, I CONCENTRATED ON BACK STAGE. KEITH WAS KIND OF THE IN BETWEEN RUNNER, HE WANTED TO PLAY IN BOTH WORLDS. HE WOULD WANT THE STUDIO, THE ROAD, AND HE’D STILL WANT TO GO CHECK OUT SONNY & CHER AT THE DORCHESTER. MICK WAS ABOUT BEING MICK AND WE GOT ALONG UNTIL I COULD NOT SERVICE THAT PARTICULAR MICK.
FRANK SINATRA USED TO SWIM A LOT; I WONDER WHETHER HE TOOK THE RUG OFF. BUT HE USED TO SWIM TO BUILD UP HIS LUNGS AND POWER AND CONTROL OF HIS VOICE ON STAGE. A FRIEND OF MINE ONCE WENT INTO MY OFFICE BATHROOM IN BAKER STREET IN ’65 AND MICK WAS THERE PRACTICING HIS MOVES FOR THAT NIGHT’S “READY, STEADY, GO!”. THAT IS WHAT SINGERS DO. I DO NOT CARE HOW MANY TIMES HE STRAPS ON THE GUITAR, HE’S A SINGER. AND ONE OF THE GREATEST INTEPRETERS IN THE WORLD. DO NOT LET THE APPEARANCE FOOL YOU. THE VOCALS WERE ACE. FROM ’64-66 THEY WERE A POP BAND – SURE, R’N'B/ BLUES UNDERPINNINGS, BUT A POP BAND. SAME AS THE BEATLES WERE A POP BAND WITH CLUB/CABARET LEGS. DURING THAT TIME MICK, KEITH AND I WERE A CONSPIRACY. I TOOK HIM TO SEE NICHOLAS RAY ONCE ABOUT DIRECTING A MOVIE. RAY WAS BURNT OUT, ALL HE COULD TALK ABOUT WAS JAMES DEAN. THAT DID NOT SUIT MICK. AS WE LEFT AND WALKED TO MARBLE ARCH IN THE RAIN MICK SAID TO ME “DON’T EVER PUT ME THROUGH THAT AGAIN”.
THE NEXT PERIOD, THE THIRD VERSION OF THE 60′S , I JUST DID NOT BELONG TO. THE PUBLIC WERE NOW TAKING DRUGS. SO WAS THE BUSINESS. JOHN PEEL RULED. FOR A WHILE IT WAS ALL ABOUT THE ALBUM. I’M A THREE MINUTE MAN. BUT THOSE RECORDINGS SPOKE FOR SO MANY AND SOME OF THEM STILL PUT CUCUMBER SANDWICHES AND TEA ON MY FAMILY TABLE. DRUGS, DEAR. IT WAS THE NEXT STAGE OF THE REBELLION. THE AUDIENCE LOVED SEEING THE STONES AS STONED OR MORE STONED THAN THEY WERE.

I’m wondering which Immediate record you are proudest of. And also, whether signing Amen Corner was a purely commercial decision (I love If Paradise Is Half As Nice, but they do stick out as an overtly straight “pop” act).
THE FIRST ONE, “HANG ON SLOOPY” BY THE MCCOYS. WE PAID $500 OR $2000 TO BERT BERNS, ONE OF THE GREAT RECORD MEN OF ALL TIME, AND GOT A NUMBER ONE RECORD. THAT SAYS IT ALL. THE REST OF IT WAS DOWNHILL. YES, IT WAS NICE HAVING THOSE HITS WITH THE SMALL FACES, BUT APART FROM STEVE THEY WERE ALL MOANERS. AMEN CORNER WERE WORSE, IT WAS LIKE MANAGING TRADESMEN. STEVE WAS AS NEUROTIC AS BRIAN JONES, EXCEPT HE WAS A LEAD SINGER. HE HAD THE KILL FACTOR AND THAT’S WHAT SAVED HIM… FOR A WHILE. IMMEDIATE IS AS OVERBLOWN AS JOE MEEK. IT WAS MY WAY OF STAYING ALIVE AFTER I LEFT THE STONES.

What can you remember of Duncan Browne? I know next to nothing about him – I love his Immediate album.
I LOVED DUNCAN BROWNE. I OFTEN SAY THE JOB OF A PRODUCER IS TO HELP THE ARTIST FILL UP SPACE CORRECTLY. IT WAS A PLEASURE TO WATCH DUNCAN FILL UP THAT SPACE. SON OF A NORTHERN R.A.F FAMILY. NICELY CALCULATED, TALENTED, WHIMSICAL HIPPY. PLAYED EVERYTHING EXCEPT THE BASS AND DRUMS ON HIS RECORD. A PLEASURE TO OPEN THE DOOR FOR.

It seems in retrospect that you and Immediate bailed out at a crucial time in pop history, around the same time Nik Cohn wrote Awopbopaloobop, when humour and flash were pushed aside by heaviness and overt sincerity. When you tried to get back on the horse in the Glam era with Brett Smiley, did it feel as exciting?
NO, IT WAS AWFUL. THE WORLD HAD CHANGED. WE ENTERED THE FIRST TIME SPAN OF THE RECORD EXECUTIVES GETTING CASUAL AND DECIDING THEY KNEW MORE ABOUT THE MUSIC THAN THEIR ACTS. OF COURSE THERE WERE EXCEPTIONS – CHRIS BLACKWELL AND BOB KRASNOW IMMEDIATELY COME TO MIND. I HAD BEEN SPOILT, SO HAD THE STONES. WE WERE BORN INTO A TIME WHERE NOBODY KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING, EVERYBODY WANTED TO DO IT ANYWAY, AND WE WERE GIVEN A CHANCE TO LEARN ON THE JOB. A CHANCE GIVEN BY BOTH THE BIZ AND THE PUBLIC. THEN WE BLEW IT BY BECOMING EXPERTS.

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