I wake up in my house in Hampstead, where I live alone, and have a bath. That’s my daily 20 minutes of meditation time before sitting down to look through my e-mails. As chairman of Gut, I oversee our seven labels but try not to get involved in the daily grind. Nor should I: I’m 46. This is a kids’ business and once you get this old your music tastes are no longer as relevant, so I have excellent people working with me who have better taste than me.
I’m incredibly privileged in what I’ve done, where I’ve been and who I’ve met. By 23, I was head of promotions at Island Records and I’ve worked with everyone from Stevie Wonder to U2 and Michael Jackson. I remember playing The Stranglers’ records at school discos and then three years later I was plugging them (with their 1982 Number 2 single “Golden Brown”) in my first job as a promotions man at EMI, and also looking after Duran Duran. I moved on to Arista Records and then Island Records, where I stayed for five years when I heard it was being sold. I’m not the type for major labels as I’m pretty vocal so I decided to set up my own independent plugging company, Gut Reactions. I took Robert Palmer and The Christians with me and built it up with indie bands and rap groups such as Salt-N-Pepa.
I arrive at our office in Maida Vale and have a quick meeting with the head of A&R before heading to a board meeting at Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) in Soho. They collect the revenue from public performances of music, including on radio and TV, and distribute it to the artists and their labels. I’ve been doing that for a few years, though I’ve stepped back from a lot of my industry roles. Right now, I’m concentrating with a few other indie label friends on how the independent music business can adapt to stay successful.
Gut is doing quite well, partly because we have shrunk the overheads and partly because we have an ear for what sells. My background is in promotions, and that’s my passion, which is why I don’t feel guilty about inflicting that awful Crazy Frog on everyone.
I got stuck in the tsunami in Thailand and saw the advert for this stupid frog ringtone over and over again on MTV. I walked back into the office and said, “That fucking annoying ringtone would make a great record.” Unfortunately, it’s now on my CV; though I gave up on credibility a long time ago. Maybe back at our very first record, Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy. I heard that coming back from a night out with this very cute girl I fancied – who didn’t fancy me unfortunately. She was sitting drunk on the back seat and said she managed a band. I said, “You can’t even manage yourself, let alone a band”.
She put the cassette in and there was I’m Too Sexy, an awful rock demo version. It was clear it would make a great dance record though. Radio 1 loved it but no major would touch it. I thought bollocks to them and put it out myself – it sold six million singles and five million albums. Not that that made us a proper record label – I don’t think we took it too seriously all through the Aswad and Space years. Maybe not even until the Tom Jones duet album Reloaded. And that was just as we’d put so much money into it we had to sit up a bit.
I have lunch with a friend, Dutch film producer PJ Sandwick who wants me to sign the soundtrack to his movie, which is in edit. I love doing film soundtracks, among others we did was Crash which was hugely successful.
It’s nice being offered projects. That’s what happened when the Sheikh Abdullah of Bahrain approached me in 2005 to do the Michael Jackson comeback. I went to meet Michael and turned it down at first as I thought he had too much baggage. But I eventually agreed. Michael’s an extraordinarily intelligent man, but sadly his moral health is far worse than one could imagine. He ran off and reneged on his contract and now there’s a court case.
Every great artist I’ve ever met is slightly difficult. Space, for example, were just great, so quirky, but a difficult bunch of bastards. From Liverpool, they hated everyone and sadly they self-imploded as a consequence.
I have a meeting with the internet team to choose images for the site they are building for our new diva Jesse. She is 18 and has a voice like Aretha Franklin. We’ve had her in development for the year since we signed her and she’s working on her first record with Guy Chambers, releasing mid-summer.
Fergal Sharkey, former member of The Undertones, and I do a Q&A at the House of Commons with 300 young music entrepreneurs. I’m keen to nurture the next generation as the music industry is in big trouble. Sadly, the four major record labels have shown little or no vision in moving forward the industry’s business model. And, given that they control in excess of 80 per cent of the world’s recorded music market, it is they that are in the driving seat. But they think the world needs them and block opportunities to save the industry.
Take the internet for example. In its simplest terms the music industry was born from the technology seed, i.e. vinyl and the CD. Then the internet came along and what did the music industry do? Ignored it. iTunes had to come along and tell us what to do with it and now it controls the price. The internet has disembowelled the music business and it seems to be our own fault. Price deflation for CDs last year in the UK was in double figures and I do not believe there will be any recovery for at least five years.
The problem is that everyone just wants music for free and piracy is rife. So, Fergal and I asked these entrepreneurs, who wish to be part of the future of the music business, to honestly admit how many of them download music for free and almost all hands went skyward.
Straight after the meeting I head to see Fenech-Soler play at 93 Feet East in Brick Lane. They have a brand of quite off the wall eclectic rock music and are really good. But I can only commit to signing one or two artists per year so I’m not going to sign them at the moment.
This is the third gig of the week so I make sure to get in by 11.30pm and flop into bed.Reuse content