POP MUSIC / What did George know?: The judge's findings in the George Michael case imply the singer had an information problem. Giles Smith reports

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The Independent Online
It's probably not much consolation for George Michael after his defeat in the High Court on Tuesday, but at least the judge liked him. In his 273-page summing up, Mr Justice Jonathan Parker described Michael as 'intelligent and articulate', and commended him for the clarity of his evidence. This must be right up there with Michael's best reviews.

Unfortunately for Michael, the evidence he so winningly produced failed to convince Mr Justice Parker that there was anything untoward in the terms of the contract by which Sony Music can retain Michael's services as a recording artist for another 10 years. The judge dismissed the claim of restraint of trade, ruling that Michael had re-affirmed his contract in the process of several re-negotiations over the years and had access to top legal advice at every turn. He knew what he was getting into: there was no getting out of it.

At the same time, flattering though it is in some respects, the judge's summary threatens to cloud slightly a common picture of Michael as a smart music industry executive, utterly in control of every detail of his business. This would have been an unpopular thing to think about a pop star two decades ago, when musicians were less intent on having a career than having a good time. Think of the scorn which descended on Paul McCartney, whose interest in the commercial possibilities of The Beatles was noticed early on.

On the day Lennon was busted for possession, McCartney was at Thomson's discussing advertising strategies. This was often levelled at McCartney afterwards in the form of an accusation. In the 1980s, when George Michael was rising to prominence, we actually encouraged calculation and control in our pop stars; these things seemed somehow became incorporated in their glamour, part of their cool.

In his summary, though, Mr Justice Parker claimed that '(Michael's) views of Sony's attitude, motives and competence derived less from first-hand experience and knowledge than from reports to him by his closest advisers.' And the judge then singled out Rob Kahane.

Kahane, an American, is Michael's manager and the judge claimed the manager's evidence was coloured to a significant extent by his 'obvious and intense dislike' of Sony and all its works. The judge said he could not help feeling that, 'had Sony seen rather more of the star and rather less of Mr Kahane from 1990 onwards, events might have turned out differently'. He said that he found Mr Kahane to be a 'thoroughly unreliable and untrustworthy witness' who had consciously distorted Sony's dealings in reporting them back to his client and who was interested in finding another lucrative deal for Michael in order to secure his percentage.

'I found him to be motivated to an unacceptable degree by self-interest and a desire to protect his own position,' the judge wrote. Which must be up there with Kahane's worst reviews.

Kahane is described by an associate as 'volatile', though this could hardly be thought an unusual characteristic in a top rock manager. Yesterday he was clearly disquieted by the judge's assessment. 'I am stunned,' he said. 'I've had my integrity and reputation questioned. It felt almost like a personal attack. As an American you really look up to the English justice. But I feel there was no balance in this judgement.'

Kahane reasserted Michael's hold on his career. 'He's a detail freak. Ever since I've managed George, he's called the shots. At many times he was interfacing with the label at the same time as I was.'

Naturally, he explained, with a business as complex as Michael's, there are more details than a single person could be expected to keep in his head, while continuing to hold down a day job as a pop star. 'But what his advisers passed on to him about his projects and about Sony's actions regarding his projects was not discoloured. When George has a record active, I might speak to him on the phone a dozen times a day. It's a blow by blow account he gets.'

He also re-stated that the court case was Michael's idea. 'The people around him, without question, were advising him against going to court. But he's a big boy - he drew his own conclusions.'

The costs will be decided this morning and the case then goes to appeal. More money, more time. 'Look,' Kahane said yesterday. 'I'm an optimist.'

Incidentally, during the 77-day hearing, Sony Music called as expert witnesses an array of present employees and business big-wigs including the American label boss and husband of Mariah Carey, Tommy Mottola. The judge liked him, too, so would presumably enjoy Frederic Dannen's book on the music industry, Hit Men, if he hasn't already read it.

(Photograph omitted)

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