Old rockers never die - they go on to make even more millions

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Paul McCann

Media Correspondent

As a financial wheeze, David Bowie's launch last night of his own art publishing company is more Tin Machine than Ziggy Stardust when compared with his release of a "Bowie Bond" earlier this year. That innovative plan to cash in on future royalties from his back-catalogue made the Thin White Duke a cool pounds 34m.

On the other hand, 21, his partnership with Sir Timothy Sainsbury, gallery owner Bernard Jacobson and the editor of Modern Painters, Karen Wright, is likely to see more modest returns. Its first book, Blimey! From Bohemia to Britpop: The London Artworld from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst, will do more for the Bromley boy's art-world credibility than his bank account, but the hype his association brings to the book should help sales and add that little extra to his fortune.

As a devotee of Marcel Duchamp and collector of modern British art, Bowie's latest venture springs from his own interests, as all the best rock-star brand extensions should.

Peter Gabriel, who in the Seventies was one of the few singers to compete with Bowie for downright weirdness, has translated his interest in world music and the new media to create his own mini-empire in the West Country. His Real World label and studios in Wiltshire helped launch the careers of the Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour and Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, while his Womad international music festival has helped convert thousands to his taste in music.

Less obviously lucrative has been Gabriel's interest in virtual reality. Real World's Eve CD-Rom, retailing at pounds 39.99, is a combination of computer game, music video and build-your-own-album that may be a bit ahead of its time. Eve can take 60 hours to play and is made up of 22,000 photographs, 80 minutes of video footage and chopped-up Gabriel songs. When the information revolution really arrives, he will be one of its most glamorous anoraks.

More conventional rock entrepreneurs have invested in what they know about too. U2 is doing up hotels, in this case the pounds 5m refurbishment of the Clarence Hotel in Dublin, rather than wrecking them, like less financially astute bands.

But it takes true rock dinosaurs to come up with the tackiest of deals, like the Rolling Stones' ultimate over-priced merchandising gimmick: the Rolling Stones limited edition Volkswagen Golf, part of a sponsorship deal that netted the Sanatogen rockers pounds 4m.

The more naive-looking Sir Cliff Richard is arguably even more financially clued up. The bachelor boy personally invested pounds 2m to get the musical Heathcliffe off the ground. This wasn't a way of making sure he got the lead part but a smart business decision.

He market-tested the songs in the musical by Sir Tim Rice and sold 200,000 copies of the soundtrack album before opening the show. This helped sell pounds 8.5m in advance ticket sales and the critically panned show is due to travel the world.

Pete Townshend's experience of musicals has been more mixed. As poetry consultant at Faber and Faber rather than The Who's lead guitarist, he prepared a musical version of Ted Hughes's story The Iron Man for the West End which was later picked up as a film idea by Warner Brothers. However, 1995's stage version of his 29-year-old rock opera Tommy closed before the end of its run.

"By the time these guys reach 50 one of the reasons they are still there is because they've picked up some business acumen," says Matt Snow, editor of music magazine Mojo. "They learn by being ripped off by accounts and managers. And by learning about the music industry they learn about other aspects of the media and showbusiness world."

Mr Snow believes Dave Clark has shown the most natural flair for business. Having never seen a Dave Clark Five revival, he made himself a millionaire by buying rights to footage of the Sixties music show Ready Steady Go and investing in musicals like the other Sir Cliff vehicle, Time.

Adam Faith ran Faith, a celebrity management consultancy and became a star writer for the Daily Mail's financial pages. But he invested in fraudster Roger Levitt's company and found himself bankrupt at the beginning of the Nineties. He has now paid off his debts and claims he is sticking to showbusiness for the foreseeable future. But for some of rock's entrepreneurs time spent in the board room is proving more successful than time spent in the recording studio.