Chris Stamp: The Who's co-manager who also helped launch Jimi Hendrix in the UK
Wednesday 28 November 2012
Chris Stamp was the streetwise half of the management team behind The Who's rise from Mod heroes to one of the biggest and most influential rock groups. With his business partner Kit Lambert, son of the composer Constant Lambert, he encouraged the flights of fancy of songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend as the band evolved from their repertoire of covers via the stuttering teenage angst of "I Can't Explain" and "My Generation" to the grand concepts of the rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.
The pair managed The Who from 1962-75, through the band's glory years, and also founded Track Records, the label which helped launch the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the UK and issued the British chart-toppers "Fire" by the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and "Something In The Air" by Thunderclap Newman. According to singer Roger Daltrey, "Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp were the fifth and sixth members of The Who: Kit, with outrageous behaviour and ideas on how to manipulate the media, and Chris, the expert in cool, menace, and scams! Their contribution to the band should never be underestimated."
Born in 1942 the son of a tugboat captain, he grew up in the East End. Like his older brother, the actor Terence Stamp, he was mostly brought up by his mother, grandmother and aunts since his father was often away at sea. In the early 1960s, intent on following his brother into the cinema, he worked at Shepperton Studios, where he met Lambert, who was five years his senior. They shared a flat and worked on the kitchen-sink dramas The L-Shaped Room and Of Human Bondage while planning a documentary about the beat explosion. "Our idea was to find a group that somehow represented the emerging ideas of our time," he said. "They would be rebellious and anarchistic."
In summer 1964 Lambert saw the High Numbers – Daltrey, Townshend, bassist John Entwistle and madcap drummer Keith Moon, at the Railway Hotel in Harrow. He was so impressed by the "hypnotic effect" their feedback-drenched performance had on the audience that he rang Stamp, who was in Dublin working on a Sean O'Casey biopic. They attended another gig, at Watford Trade Union Hall, established arapport with the musicians and decided their involvement would stretch beyond a documentary.
Within weeks, they had ousted manager Peter Meaden – who received £200 for a contract whose validity was disputed – and took over the band for 20 per cent of their earnings. They restored The Who name the group had used and turned them into the ultimate Power Pop outfit.
The Who were arguably second only to The Beatles in their mastering of the album as an art form with the pirate radio tribute concept The Who Sell Out issued in December 1967. The Lambert-Stamp partnership played an important part in the blossoming of Townshend as an ambitious composer willing to confront his demons and keen to make a deep and lasting connection with his fans.
Despite their lack of experience, Stamp and the public school-educated Lambert showed a remarkable flair for managing the artistic side of The Who and learned from their business mistakes, moving them on from the Decca/Brunswick deal they had made with producer Shel Talmy in 1965, via Robert Stigwood's Reaction label in 1966, to their own Polydor-backed Track venture in 1967.
Track got off to a flying start with its first two releases, the second Hendrix single, "Purple Haze", and Are You Experienced?, and helped the careers of Marc Bolan, then with John's Children, Marsha Hunt, and the Parliaments, featuring George Clinton. As well as the The Who in the 1970s it also provided a UK home for the Dutch rock band Golden Earring, the wacky duo of John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett and Shakin' Stevens, and issued a series of Backtrack compilations – now very collectable.
However, Lambert and Stamp fell for the rock'n'roll lifestyle as much as the anarchic Moon, and became liabilities rather than assets to The Who. "We were out to lunch, no doubt about that," Stamp admitted. In 1972 Daltrey requested an audit and found a "black hole". Stamp claimed: "None of the money had gone missing, it just wasn't in the books. Keith Moon used to grab a big bundle of cash, so did Pete Townshend, so did John Entwistle and so did Roger Daltrey. You knew there was drugs money, booze money and madness money, and that's where it went. This was years of madness and mayhem on the road, smashed cars and paid-off chicks and so on. Anyone in rock'n'roll knew that."
Stamp was executive producer of the albums Magic Bus, Tommy, Who's Next and Quadrophenia – on which he was story consultant – and Ken Russell's Tommy film, but in 1975 he and Lambert were replaced by Bill Curbishley, an East End figure with a fearsome reputation who had worked at Track. They moved to New York, renewing their association with Labelle, before mothballing Track and dissolving their partnership in 1977.
Lambert died of a brain haemorrhage four years later while Stamp eventually kicked a drug habit in the late 1980s. He emerged from rehabilitation with a renewed zest for life, becoming a therapist and addiction counsellor in New York alongside his second wife, Calixte. In the mid-'90s he was reconciled with The Who and contributed liner notes to archival projects including the re-release of the 1966 album A Quick One. In 2008 he reminisced in the BBC series Pop Britannia. He died of cancer.
I first met Chris Stamp in 1977 when we at Albion were agents for Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, who were signed to Track, writes Ian Grant. I admit to being in awe of him because, like Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham, Chris and his partner Kit Lambert, were larger-than-life figures as much as the artists they represented. True movers and shakers. The Who were the first band I ever saw, in 1967 and from that night on, I wanted to be involved in the music business. Chris and Kit were inspirational.
Christopher Thomas Stamp, rock manager and therapist: born London 7 July 1942; twice married (two daughters); died New York 24 November 2012.
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