Obituary:Denny Cordell-Laverack

Pirate Irwin
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:56

The three Rs are normally associated with painful experiences at school. Denny Cordell-Laverack was master at the more enjoyable alternative three Rs - rock and roll and racing. His first master-stroke came in 1965, when he was 21, a simple stamps-on-envelopes boy working for a firm marketing Beatles products. He discovered the Bessie Banks song "Go Now" and placed it with a new band called the Moody Blues. Contrary to normal behaviour in the industry, he persuaded them to sign a business agreement. The song was a great hit, and Cordell made £36,000. No matter how hard the Moody Blues tried, they couldn't get out of the piece of paper they had signed.

Cordell produced two other classic hits of the Sixties: "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (1967) for Procol Harum, and Lennon and McCartney's "With a Little Help From My Friends" for the soul singer Joe Cocker in 1968. Cordell launched Cocker in the United States, taking the Grease Band, which included J.J. Cale and Gary Busey, now a movie star, on their notorious Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour of the United States, culminating in their appearance at Woodstock.

In the Seventies Cordell set up his own independent label, Shelter Records, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and signed Leon Russell, J.J. Cale and Phoebe Snow. He was also the man who through his friend Simon Miller-Mundy turned a band called Mud Clutch into Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Sadly, by the end of the Seventies they were in court together, Petty claiming bankruptcy although he hired all seven of the top music lawyers in California. Cordell was left with a top criminal lawyer, Harry "the Hat". When they met in the antechamber it was a bit like a Mexican stand-off until Petty approached Cordell and said: "Nice tie, Denny." They collapsed into hysterics and their bemused lawyers, seeing them sitting together in the courtroom, were left to argue over the contract.

Cordell, weary of court battles, set his sights on the more pastoral job of breeding greyhounds, initially in the United States, and in 1978 set up a roller disco called Flippers in Los Angeles, with Ian "Flipper" Ross, one of the founders of Radio Caroline.

It was, however, to Ireland that Cordell turned for his highly successful training and horse-breeding career. He was a breath of fresh air compared to the Tipperary-dominated fake glamour set. Suddenly Ireland had a genuine star bestriding its proudest stage - from the Curragh to Gowran Park, his local track. With his mop of grey curls, a Marlboro dangling from the lip and a charismatic clan of his children and stepchildren he could not but add real style and eccentricity to Irish racing. He bought a lovely property, Corries, in County Carlow, and in a typically wry touch, had the house painted in the Argentinian national colours - at the time of the Falklands war.

For a small trainer he had some very impressive results, including those with his home-bred colt Baba Karam who was the highest-rated Irish two- year-old colt of 1986. In a memorable race he was just touched off by Lockton in the Group One National Stakes at the Curragh. Considering that Baba had won at Naas only five days earlier in a rather less than average race, it was some training feat.

As one can imagine from this man of such diverse background his owners were a colourful lot, from Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones to John Daley, the producer of Platoon and The Last Emperor. Although even they must have been slightly taken aback at being transported to the gallops by Cordell and his German pointer Clyde in a pony and trap.

On the breeding front, Cordell had a measure of success, although sometimes he was a little too trusting of those whom he chose to work for him. The Servant it was not, but at times it was precariously close to being so. He accepted occasional financial misfortune with very good grace. One such episode was when he broke an arm and, encased in plaster, arrived at Goffs sales to bid on a mare. He started to itch and the arm developed a Dr Strangelove urge to raise itself; and lo and behold the horse - and the wrong one at that - was delivered to him at £40,000. He could quite rightly have raised a genuine medical objection but instead it was a laconic "Hey, man, well, we'll see what she produces."

Eventually, rejuvenated by the Irish country life, he returned to his first love, music. The money too was running a bit thin but the magic had not left, and Chris Blackwell, of Island Records, a friend for many years, put him back in as his Artists and Repertoire man. Cordell did not fail him, as he and his eldest son, Barney, discovered in Cork in 1993 the Cranberries, the only non-American band in the present top 30 albums in the United States. He was most recently associated with Marianne Faithfull on her album A Secret Life, which is due out next month.

Pirate Irwin

Dennis Cordell-Laverack, record producer, horse breeder and trainer: born Argentina 1 August 1943; twice married (three sons, one daughter; and one son by Marina Guinness); died Dublin 18 February 1995.

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