Arts: Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Sir Elton John and his manager John Reid have been friends for years and suffered their fair share of rows. So why have they split up for good?

Pierre Perrone
Tuesday 12 May 1998 23:02

THE ANNOUNCEMENT yesterday that Sir Elton John had parted with long-time manager John Reid may have surprised most people but the writing was probably on the wall at the beginning of the year.

Back in January, disclosures of Sir Elton's lavish lifestyle and spiralling expenses made the Daily Mirror front page. Trainee solicitor and obsessive Elton aficionado Benjamin Pell had hacked into various computers connected to the singer's organisation. Pell had also sifted through dustbins outside the offices of John Reid Enterprises and obtained credit-card statements.

The tabloids had a field day, highlighting an occasion when Sir Elton had spent more than half a million pounds in 24 hours. Visits to jewellers, designer shops, florists and auction houses were all taking their toll on the superstar's finances. A warning letter from accountants Price Waterhouse to Sir Elton's management rang alarm bells. Despite an upcoming world tour, a sponsorship agreement with Citibank and a multimillion-dollar deal to write more Disney soundtracks, the singer was said to be eight weeks away from running out of cash. Sure, money was still rolling in, but with earnings from all his single releases going his AIDS foundation and the huge royalties from Candle In The Wind earmarked for the Diana Fund, he had to slow down the rate of his spending.

Reid, a long-time associate and confidant, probably read the singer the riot act to try to help him get his finances and his act in order. The pair had a tumultuous relationship over the years and even fought physically before kissing and making up. This time, however, there seemed to be no going back.

Coming from a working-class background in Paisley, Reid can be blunt at times. He studied to be a marine engineer and for a while, he performed with a folk group around his native Scotland. In 1969, when he was only 20, Reid moved to London to work for Ardmore-Beechwood, a music publishing firm which was part of EMI.

Keen and knowledgeable, Reid became UK manager for the American Tamla Motown label, then distributed by EMI. He would select releases for the British market and work on their promotion. His business acumen led him to pick "Tears Of A Clown", a 1967 Smokey Robinson and The Miracles album track, for single release. When the song reached number one in Britain, the American company followed suit and the US release sold more than a million copies in 1970.

Elton John, then a struggling performer but already a big soul fan and compulsive record collector, visited friend David Cocker at EMI. Reid's office was the next one along the corridor of EMI old's Manchester Square headquarters and all three would chat away about music for hours. Soon Reid and Elton became more than pure flatmates. Reid arranged for Elton to meet one of his idols, Stevie Wonder. Later, Reid accompanied Elton on his first American tour. Over the years, the singer had been advised and managed by the likes of Muff Winwood, song publisher Dick James (who was later sued by Elton for control over his publishing), Steve Brown and Ray Williams. In March 1971, the singer appointed Reid as his manager in place of the latter.

Within a year, the businessman formed John Reid Enterprises. As Elton took off around the world, he negotiated a huge American deal with MCA Records. for $8m dollars over five years. In 1973, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones before him, Elton decided to form his own record company: Rocket Records.

Reid was heavily involved, along with Elton associates, such as lyricist Bernie Taupin and producer Gus Dudgeon. The Rocket team helped mastermind the mid-1970s comeback of Neil Sedaka and gave Cliff Richard his first Top Ten hit in the US with "Devil Woman". However, the label's biggest success came in 1976 with "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", Elton's infectious duet with Kiki Dee. Other acts to appear on Rocket included Judie Tzuke and The Lambrettas, but rumoured link-ups with Queen and 10CC, which would have put the label on a stronger footing, never materialised.

Over the years, Reid has acted as manager and consultant for various artists including Queen, Kiki Dee, Simple Minds, Billy Connolly, Barry Humphries (and his Dame Edna alter-ego), George Michael and, until the end of last year, Riverdance star Michael Flatley. Yet, Reid never quite managed to establish a powerbase away from his main artist and major client.

Sometimes difficult, always neatly dressed, something of a gourmet, bon vivant and an amateur cook, "Reidy" (as his associates are allowed to call him) seemed to have overcome his drinking problem around the sale time as his charge fought his various addictions. Reid often defended Elton to the hilt. In 1974, he even served three weeks in jail after punching journalist David Wheeler in New Zealand. Reid has already earned a fortune put at a conservative $100m.

For Sir Elton, a possible way out of the financial mire and undoubtedly huge financial settlement coming Reid's way would be a stockmarket listing a la David Bowie. Investors could buy shares in him and profit from investing in a song catalogue which is reportedly worth more than pounds 100m. Lyricist Bernie Taupin will have his say on the matter.

hard men: managers with attitude

Don Arden

Over the years, represented The Small Faces, The Move, Black Sabbath and Electric Light Orchestra. Not averse to dangling rival managers from windows. The late and infamous Peter Grant, who oversaw the rise of Led Zeppelin, learned most of tricks from him.

Bill Curbishley

Helped The Who sort out their finances after they left Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert. Now looks after Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, as well as surviving members of The Who, Judas Priest and Curve.

Roger Davies

The Australian single-handedly resurrected the careers of Tina Turner and Joe Cocker. Now handles M-People and Janet Jackson in Europe.

Allan Klein

In the late 1960s, renegotiated deals for The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Was later sued by Paul McCartney over the break-up of Apple. Recently managed to secure for his ABCKO company the whole of the publishing of The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" after the band admitted to sampling an orchestral version of "The Last Time".

Rod Smallwood

Nicknamed small-wallet, the Iron Maiden manager has cornered the heavy metal market (Bruce Dickinson, Wasp, Helloween) but shows signs of diversifying with Catherine Wheel and Feline. Recently floated his Sanctuary company on the stockmarket.

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