ROCK / A close shave and no cash back: When David Bowie signed to Savage, he took a long shot - and missed. John Adams reports

ON THE evening of 5 June, a small independent record label with plush offices on New York's Broadway shut its doors for the last time. The 18 staff were being made redundant immediately. But at this point, the label's most celebrated artist was unaware of what was going on. David Bowie did not learn of the closure of his American label, Savage Records, until he opened a newspaper several days later.

The tale of Savage and its 24-year old playboy boss, David Mimran, is a sobering one, involving music, money and ego, though not necessarily in that order. Most of all, it highlights how much money can be lost trying to buy the sort of kudos that such industry luminaries as Gary Gersh and Ahmet Ertegun have spent a lifetime of hard work achieving. The label's closure ends a young man's dream of industry stardom, sees his hugely wealthy father lighter by millions of dollars, and casts a shadow over the American future of Bowie's latest album, Black Tie White Noise.

In 1986 in Geneva, the 17-year old Mimran (who is Swiss-French) persuaded his father, Jean Claude, to back his extravagant scheme to found a record label. With the family fortune (founded on a hugely successful import / export business) behind him, and offering keenly financed independent deals, Mimran hoped to cut a dashing figure in the music business and eventually to rival the major record labels.

History shows that, with few exceptions, independent labels survive by the skin of their teeth until they have some success, when they are sucked in by a major. Very few make it to the big time on their own, and those who do often come unstuck, as the closure of Factory Records earlier this year showed.

Undeterred by the long odds on triumph, Mimran initially set up in the elegant Georgian surroundings of Clerkenwell Green in London, and Savage soon gained notoriety as a label with lots of money but very little expertise. The most notable example of the label's greenness was when Savage paid the recording costs for a first single by Lisa B (a Puerto Rican model trying out as a singer), without first putting her under contract. The singer eventually used the recordings to attract another label. Such success as Savage had was down to the skill of Mimran's pugnacious sidekick, Bernard Fanin, who signed the label's biggest commercial success, Soho, gaining a British and American Top 10 single in the late Eighties.

Mimran, however, rapidly became bored with the London music scene and set his sights on America, where he saw himself mixing with the movers and shakers of the world's biggest record market.

Again with little expense spared, Savage opened prestigious offices on Broadway, but this time Mimran decided to try to leapfrog into the Big League by hiring a music business heavyweight to run the label - Michael Jackson's former manager, Frank Dileo.

David Bowie's contract with EMI ended by mutual agreement in 1991. There followed a bidding war for the right to distribute his recordings. The German multinational BMG / RCA secured world rights excluding America, where Savage beat off strong competition from Geffen Records. According to Bowie's publicist Chris Poole, it was the mixture of Dileo's impressive background and Mimran's fan-like enthusiasm that tipped the Bowie deal in Savage's favour and away from the multinational major label. This was an impressive feat for a firm open less than a year, but already observers had come to question just why a man of Dileo's calibre was working with Savage, and many came to the conclusion that he was being paid a giant salary. Dileo refuses to comment on exactly how much he was paid, but the writing was on the wall for Mimran when, on the eve of the release of Bowie's Black Tie White Noise album, Dileo left the company.

It is difficult to imagine that, with his vast years of experience, Bowie was swung exclusively by Mimran's Gallic charm. Bowie was also acutely aware that, after the dreadful performance of Tin Machine, his critically scorched back-to-roots rock band, he had to come up with something very special, and that his next album would have to be worked very hard in a difficult market-place.

The ex-Savage A&R man Bernard Fanin is frank about why he feels Bowie signed to the label. 'It was a pure money thing. Sure, other labels wanted Bowie, but David (Mimran) wanted to get among the big boys so badly he would have given Bowie almost anything,' says Fanin.

Says Chris Poole: 'The details of Bowie's deal with Savage will not be revealed. But at the time we advised he should go with a major label.'

Bowie's decision to place a pivotal album in the hands of a virtually unknown label may now have its repercussions, and the closure of Savage is likely to create insuperable problems for Black Tie White Noise in America. Worldwide, the record has been a Top 10 success in every major country, but in America it barely made the Top 40. Bowie's management may have reckoned that things were not altogether as they should have been at Savage. Despite the fact that Black Tie White Noise was receiving critical acclaim akin to that showered on 1981's Let's Dance, the record was not performing well in the charts.

There is confusion about what happens next. Bowie's management refuses to talk, save to issue a press release trumpeting the success of the album elsewhere in the world. The chances of another American label taking up the record are remote. As one Bowie camp insider says, 'The record is a proven high-profile failure in America. It's been out eight weeks, it peaked at number 39, and is now heading down towards 200.

'It's almost certainly going to get more difficult to buy in the shops and I can't really imagine another label would be brave enough to take the record on. America is a very difficult market; it's a lot less forgiving than Britain, where records can fail first time around but then get re-released.'

Officially, the label's failure was put down to the inexperience of David Mimran following the departure of Frank Dileo, and severe cash flow problems that Mimran had not seen. Others have suggested that, back in France, Mimran pere had tired of financing his son's losses. During David Mimran's flight towards the top of the music business, he had been given regular warnings by his father not to fly so high. Rather than wait for the heat to melt his son's wings, he stepped in early and clipped them.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album