ROCK / Trade Fair / Mixing business with pleasure: Hugh Fielder reports on Manchester's 'In the City' symposium

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'IN THE CITY', which ended in Manchester yesterday, was this country's first full-blown music-business convention. 'The surprise is that it took so long for anyone to do it,' says Yvette Livesey, the event's executive director, who says she got hooked on the idea after nobody could come up with a convincing reason not to do it.

Livesey, well-known as a television presenter in the Granada area, spent a year selling the event to the record industry - or, as the Daily Mail put it, 'Former beauty queen puts the fizz back in pop'. She was aided by financial backing from Tony Wilson, the Manchester music scene's self-appointed ambassador, and Elliot Rashman and Andy Dodd, managers of Simply Red, not to mention the support of a sympathetic city council.

Her main task was persuading the London-based companies to venture outside the M25. 'It was the obvious event you couldn't hold in London. Up here we've got the hotels and a dozen gigs within walking distance. In London everybody would be scattered and the gigs are up to an hour apart from each other. You'd lose it.'

Helped by a growing discontent with the music industry's two main annual conventions - MIDEM in Cannes and the New Music Seminar in New York - 'In the City' pulled in 1,200 delegates over four days, including record company moguls, accountants, lawyers, managers, retail executives, radio directors, DJs, pluggers and independent label owners.

There was a marked difference in attitude between the corporates and the free-spirited independents - a division played on by Mark E Smith and The Fall in their 'Not in the City' gig. In fact, the two camps mixed congenially enough in the bars and showcase gigs around town, but hostility occasionally flared at the seminars, which went under such titles as 'You Don't Need dollars 100,000 - Sorry You Need dollars 100,000' (about making a video) and 'Ready Steady Go Where?' (music television).

The emphasis at the convention was on thought-provoking entertainment. The talking- shops were spiced up with sideshows such as 'Hypotheticals', in which a cross-section of industry figures had to react to, say, the sudden death of their client in a car crash just a week away from the release of his new album, which carries a picture of him at the wheel of the same car and is called Death Sells. A seminar on dance music was enlivened by a couple of panellists who apparently dropped tablets on the platform, sending the Manchester Evening News into an outraged frenzy.

Adding to the entertainment, there was a visit by the Godfather of the British record industry, Maurice Oberstein, head of the British Phonographic Industry and PolyGram UK. In a rasping American accent, undimmed by 30 years residence in the UK, he snarled at retail stores for advertising themselves as well as the records, at the media for poisoning consumers' minds over CD prices, and at managers for refusing to subsidise the introduction of two new formats at the end of this year (although only a third of British homes have CD players).

The issue of new formats had already been aired at the first event of the convention, an 'open' meeting of managers (closed to everyone else). This had been well advertised in advance by Elliot Rashman and Ed Bicknell, manager of Dire Straits, who had announced their intention of setting up a managers' association to fight the lower royalty rates being demanded by record companies to help them launch the Digital Compact Cassette and the Mini CD. Three hundred managers turned up for the five-hour forum, but the only public result was a bashful statement about the pleasures of 'discovering each other'.

Among those at the meeting was Peter Grant, the notorious manager of Led Zeppelin who set new standards of heavy management in the Seventies. Now living in retirement in Eastbourne, Grant was the guest at an 'In the City' interviews. He lived up to his legend, much to the delight of a packed hall, and made mincement of an unprepared Paul Morley. Morley fared even worse the following day against the American lawyer Allen Grubman, a man who earns a chapter to himself in Fredric Dammen's expose of the US music business, The Hit Men. Barracked by the audience, Morley gave way to the ubiquitous Ed Bicknell - dire straits indeed.