Giorgio Gomelsky helped launch the careers of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds and became the catalyst for the emergence of acts like Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity in the late 1960s. Based in Paris-for most of the '70s, Gomelsky set up an alternative touring circuit in France that not only benefitted Gong, the ever-changing, multi-national collective set up by Daevid Allen, but also established Magma, the unique French group operating at the crossroads of jazz-fusion, progressive and avant-rock.
"Music is a journey, not something mapped out by a lawyer," said Gomelsky, whose occasionally cavalier attitude towards licensing rights, master tapes and major labels could get him into trouble and which accounts for the raft of early releases by the Yardbirds and the vagaries of the Gong and Magma catalogue of reissues. "Human expression is when you make real what you feel. It's about the discovery of reality behind appearances."
Born in what is now Georgia in 1934, he was the son of a French milliner and a Russian doctor who took the family back to Switzerland, where he had trained and practised during the Second World War. He learned English from Melody Maker, which his mother would send from London after she divorced his father.
He eventually joined her there after completing his education at the Benedictine school in Ancona, Italy, and at l'Ecole d'Humanité near Bern. A jazz buff and a bohemian appalled at the lack of nightlife in London in the mid-1950s, he opened a coffee bar off the King's Road and fell in with Chris Barber and John Dankworth, two of the British jazzers he captured on film before he switched his focus to the emerging rhythm and blues scene.
Notable deaths in 2016
Notable deaths in 2016
1/33 Duke of Westminster
Billionaire landowner the Duke of Westminster, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor has died on 9 August, aged 64
2/33 Christina Knudsen
Sir Roger Moore’s stepdaughter Christina Knudsen has died from cancer on 25 July at teh age of 47
3/33 Caroline Aherne
The actress Caroline Aherne has died from cancer on 2 July at the age of 52
4/33 Christina Grimmie
Christina Grimmie, 22, who was an American singer and songwriter, known for her participation in the NBC singing competition The Voice, was signing autographs at a concert venue in Orlando on 10 June when an assailant shot her. Grimmie was transported to a local hospital where she died from her wounds on 11 June
5/33 Kimbo Slice
Former UFC and Bellator MMA fighter Kimbo Slice died after being admitted to hospital in Florida on 6 June, aged 42
6/33 Muhammad Ali
The three-time former heavyweight world champion died after being admitted to hospital with a respiratory illness on 3 June, aged 74
7/33 Sally Brampton
Brampton who was the launch editor of the UK edition of Elle magazine has died on 10 May, aged 60
8/33 Billy Paul
The soul singer Billy Paul, who was best known for his single “Me and Mrs Jones”, has died on 24 April, aged 81
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
Prince, the legendary musician, has been found dead at his Paisley Park recording studio on 21 April. He was 57
WWE icon Joan Laurer dies aged 45 after being found at California home on 20 April
11/33 Victoria Wood
The five-time Bafta-winning actress and comedian Victoria Wood has died on 20 April at her London home after a short illness with cancer. She was 62
The entertainer and former husband of Liza Minnelli, David Gest has been found dead on 12 April in the Four Seasons hotel in Canary Warf, London. He was 62-years-old
13/33 Denise Robertson
Denise Robertson, an agony aunt on This Morning for over 30 years, has died on 1 April, aged 83
14/33 Zaha Hadid
Dame Zaha Hadid, the prominent architect best known for designs such as the London Olympic Aquatic Centre and the Guangzhou Opera House, has died of a heart attack on 31 March, aged 65
15/33 Ronnie Corbett
British entertainer Ronnie Corbett has passed away on 31 March at the age of 85
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16/33 Imre Kertesz
Hungarian writer and Holocaust survivor Imre Kertesz, who won the 2002 Nobel Literature Prize, has died on 31 March, at the age of 86
17/33 Rob Ford
Rob Ford, the former controversial mayor of Toronto, has died following a battle with a rare form of cancer. The 46-year-old passed away at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto on 22 March
18/33 Joey Feek
Joey (left) passed away in March after a two-year cancer illness. She was part of country music duo, Joey + Rory, with her husband Rory (right)
Jason Merritt/Getty Images
19/33 Umberto Eco
Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco died 19 February 2016 aged 84
20/33 Harper Lee
Harper Lee, the American novelist known for writing 'To Kill a Mockingbird', died February 19, 2016 aged 89
2005 Getty Images
Vanity, pictured performing in 1983, died aged 57
22/33 Dave Mirra
The BMX legend's body found inside truck with gunshot wound after apparent suicide aged 41
23/33 Harry Harpham
The former miner became Sheffield Labour MP in May after many years as a local councillor. He died after succumbing to cancer, at the age of 61.
24/33 Dale Griffin
The Mott the Hoople drummer died on January 17, aged 67
25/33 Rene Angelil
Celine Dion's husband and manager Rene Angelil has lost his battle with cancer on 14 January, aged 73
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26/33 Alan Rickman
Legendary actor Alan Rickman has died on 14 January at the age of 69 after battle with pancreatic cancer. He is largely regarded as one of the most beloved British actors of our generation with roles in Love Actually, Die Hard, Michael Collins, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and an illustrious stage career
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27/33 Maurice White
The Earth, Wind & Fire founder died aged 74. The nine-piece band sold more than 90 million albums worldwide and won six Grammy awards
28/33 Lawrence Phillips
Former NFL star found dead in prison cell on 13 January in suspected suicide, aged 40
29/33 Brian Bedford
Tony award-winning actor and voice of Robin Hood has died on 13 January, aged 80
30/33 David Bowie
The legendary singer passed away on 11 January, aged 69, alongside his family, after living with cancer for 18 months
31/33 David Margulies
The veteran actor, most famous for his role in Ghostbusters, has died in New York on 11 January, aged 78
32/33 Michael Galeota
Former Disney child star has been found dead in LA apartment on 10 January, aged 31
33/33 Christy O'Connor Jnr
Irish Golfer who became a Ryder Cup hero after a spectacular final hole in 1989, has died on 6 January, aged 67
2005 Getty Images
In 1963 he launched the Crawdaddy Club, named after Bo Diddley's "Doing The Craw-Daddy", in a back room at the Station Hotel pub in Richmond-upon-Thames. When Dave Hunt couldn't make the regular Sunday night engagement, Gomelsky called upon the Rolling Stones, the group recently formed by Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards, who he had met at Soho's Marquee Club. Their "Rhythm and Bulse" – there was a misprint on the flyers – drew only a handful, but within three months, and thanks to articles in the Richmond & Twickenham Times and the Daily Mirror, the Beatles dropped by and the Stones signed a three-year management contract with Andrew Loog Oldham and Eric Easton.
"I felt tremendously let down," said Gomelsky who had been in Switzerland making arrangements for his father's funeral. "I thought we had a verbal understanding but Brian was determined to be a star at any price."
Magnanimous, after the Crawdaddy moved to a bar at the Richmond Athletic Ground, he still occasionally booked the Stones and turned towards potential replacements, including the Paramounts – later Procol Harum – the Animals and the Yardbirds. He gave guitarist Eric Clapton his "Slowhand" nickname, in reference to his prowess and the time he took to change strings when they broke in the heat.
Gomelsky sent the Yardbirds out on tour backing Sonny Boy Williamson, resulting in a joint live album recorded at the Crawdaddy in December 1963. The following year he signed the Yardbirds to EMI's Columbia label and produced their Five Live Yardbirds debut, recorded at the Marquee. Following the relative flop of the blues standards "I Wish You Would" and "Good Morning School Girl", he suggested they record "For Your Love", the Graham Gouldman song, which became a Top 3 hit in 1965.
However, this commercial move precipitated the departure of the blues purist, Clapton. Replacing him with Jeff Beck, Gomelsky co-produced a brace of Gouldman compositions – "Heart Full Of Soul", "Evil Hearted You" – and "Shapes Of Things", which was co-written by the Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty, before finding himself replaced as manager by Simon Napier-Bell in 1967.
With the backing of Polydor, Gomelsky launched the Marmalade label and scored a pan-European smash with "This Wheel's On Fire", the Bob Dylan song adapted by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity (in 1990, a re-recording by Driscoll and Adrian Edmondson became the theme song for Absolutely Fabulous). He also issued Extrapolation, the 1969 debut by the jazz-rock virtuoso John McLaughlin, and singles by Gouldman, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, who later joined forces in 10CC.
Moving to Paris in 1970, Gomelsky was interviewed by the French music monthly Rock & Folk, and was played a tape of Magma's eponymous debut. He fell under the spell of the group, who blended the bebop and hard bop of John Coltrane and the classical incantations of Carl Orff, and pointed towards the more unexpected avenues Public Image Ltd and Sonic Youth would later explore. "I had never heard anything like it," he said. "This was not run-of-the-mill stuff. It also wasn't commercial by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm a sucker for underdogs, so I was tempted to take on the challenge."
They were not an easy sell, until Gomelsky found 120 Maisons des Jeunes et de la Culture – youth clubs – spread across France; their potential to stage underground concerts by emerging bands was untapped. Within three years Magma were a word-of-mouth sensation, signed to A&M and able to record their groundbreaking concept album Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh at Richard Branson's Manor studios in Oxfordshire. The 1975 double set Live/Hhaï sold 150,000 copies in France alone. Generous to a fault, Gomelsky let the alternative circuit he developed be used by German groups like Can, Amon Düül II and Agitation Free, and British bands such as Caravan, Henry Cow and Hatfield and the North.
In 1978, he moved to New York to run the short-lived Utopia imprint. He discovered bassist-producer Bill Laswell, who he teamed up with rapper Futura 2000 and Labelle vocalist Nona Hendryx on the seminal avant-funk of "Bustin' Out" as Material in 1981. He seemed to discover new talent wherever he went, whether he wanted to or not: the club he ran in a Chelsea loft in the 1990s saw early performances by Jeff Buckley. No wonder he didn't find time to complete his memoir.
Giorgio Sergio Alessandro Gomelsky, entre-preneur: born Tiflis, Georgia 28 February 1934; married Brigitte Guichard (marriage dissolved; two daughters, one son); died New York 13 January 2016.
- More about:
- Julie Driscoll
- Graham Gouldman
- Brian Auger
- Eric Clapton
- Daevid Allen
- Bill Laswell
- Nona Hendryx
- Jeff Buckley
- Bo Diddley
- Marquee Club
- Dave Hunt
- John McLaughlin
- Sonny Boy Williamson
- Melody Maker
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- Giorgio Sergio Alessandro Gomelsky