Obituary:Tony Secunda

Chris Welch
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:56

Tony Secunda was one of an lite corps of pop group managers who galvanised the Swinging Sixties and helped shape the course of popular music. Among them were astute publicists and wheelers dealers like Andrew Loog Oldham and Kit Lambert, the men behind the Rolling Stones and the Who respectively. But Secunda was perhaps the wildest and toughest of them all. He was the driving force behind some of the biggest hit-makers of the era, including the Moody Blues, the Move, Marc Bolan and Marianne Faithfull.

Secunda, a dark, brooding and somewhat menacing figure, thrived on taking risks, and he was not afraid to indulge in the most basic scams and publicity stunts. But he achieved results for his artists and took the ethics of the underground hippie scene into the boardrooms of the music industry.

Secunda, who came from Epsom and was educated at public school, first came to prominence as the manager of the Moody Blues, the Birmingham R&B group fronted by the vocalist Denny Laine. They needed a London-based manager in their quest for success and Secunda secured them a recording deal with Decca. They had a No 1 hit with "Go Now" in 1965.

Secunda then took over the management of another promising Midlands group, the Move. They brazenly set out to rival the Who with a wild stage act involving their own brand of "Auto Destruction". Encouraged by Secunda, the band adopted a violent gangster image, complete with Chicago-style suits, while their lead singer, Carl Wayne, indulged in smashing up television sets and effigies on stage with an axe. Secunda worked in partnership with the producer the late Denny Cordell-Laverack.

Secunda signed the Move to Deram records and they released their first record, "Night of Fear", written by their guitarist Roy Wood. The song was a pastiche of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and went straight to No 2 in the charts. On the B-side, "Disturbance", a song about a mental hospital, Secunda could be heard supplying maniacal screams. With the Move, Secunda gained notoriety as a sensationalist in 1967, when he circulated bizarre postcards which showed a nude caricature of the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, in the bath, The cards were supposed to promote the Move's latest single, "Flowers in the Rain". The innuendoes made about Wilson on the card led him to sue the band successfully and in a settlement all the royalties from the record had to go to charity. The record hardly needed the publicity as it was the first record ever played on BBC Radio 1 and got to No 2 in the charts on its own merits. In the wake of such needless controversy the band and Secunda parted company. The Move enjoyed a few more hits but petered out at the end of 1971, paving the way for the creation of the successful off-shoot bands ELO and Wizzard.

The Move and ELO drummer Bev Bevan recalls that the Move went to London looking for a manager: "At the time Secunda was involved with a band called the Action and ran a company with Denny Cordell called New Movement. He had such incredible self-confidence we were swept off our feet and signed a management contract. We were green lads from Birmingham and he took us shopping in Carnaby Street and immediately changed our image. A stunt with a fake H-bomb was very funny. We went through the streets of Manchester hoping to get arrested. We were tramping up and down for two hours with this wretched bomb and nobody took a blind bit of notice. Eventually a copper told us to move on. A photographer took a picture and the papers said we had been arrested making an anti-Vietnam protest.

"The biggest stunt of all just got out of hand and caused us to part company. That was the Harold Wilson postcard. We didn't even know he was going to do it, and while the other stunts were fun, this was beyond a joke and we were terrified. We were taken to the High Court and he got Quintin Hogg to defend us. Roy Wood was particularly pissed off with him because the settlement was all the royalties from `Flowers in the Rain', and the songwriting royalties, too, which are still going to charity. We were frightened of what Secunda might do next and we split with him."

Secunda continued his involvement with another ex-Move member, Trevor Burton, when he helped set up and finance a band called Balls, in 1969, with the singer Denny Laine from the Moody Blues. But this venture failed to emulate past success.

Secunda set up the classic Procol Harum record "Whiter Shade of Pale", based on Bach's "Air on a G-String", produced by his partner Denny Cordell, which topped the charts for six weeks in 1967 and eventually sold 6 million copies.

The rock journalist Nick Jones describes Secunda as "a Svengali figure who bridged the gulf between the old-style Tin Pan Alley music biz people and the hippie underground. He was part of a heavy King's Road scene that included people like the producers Denny Cordell and Tony Visconti. All the bands he managed were products of the blues scene and as a sharp operator he knew just how to give them a strong image." Secunda's reputation as a deal maker made him attractive to many artists in search of a tough negotiator. In 1971 Marc Bolan, then emerging as a big star, asked Secunda to be his manager and help him re- negotiate a new recording and publishing contract with EMI and to set up his own T. Rex Wax label. Secunda and Bolan went to the United States in late 1971 where the T. Rex record "Get It On" was climbing the charts. They celebrated by throwing dollar bills off their New York hotel roof on to the streets below. But, when Bolan went on tour the following year, American hard-rock fans did not much like his music or image and preferred his support band Uriah Heep. A demoralised Bolan responded by getting drunk at an important Carnegie Hall concert and fell over on stage during the first number. Secunda parted company from him shortly afterwards and perhaps in retaliation briefly took over the management of Bolan's old Tyrannosaurus Rex partner Steve Peregrine Took.

In the mid-Seventies Secunda remained active, and managed the folk group Steeleye Span who had a surprise Top Ten hit with "All Around My Hat" in November 1975. After a hiatus, Secunda resurfaced in the early Eighties, when he became briefly involved in the management of Marianne Faithfull. But his combative style in dealing with record companies was not deemed appropriate, and within a few months the partnership ended. On one occasion her record producer Simon Miller-Mundy was apparently instructed by Faithfull to hand over £3,000 in cash to Secunda at a London bank. They walked out into Trafalgar Square where Secunda announced: "The funny thing about people is they don't like money." He proceeded to demonstrate this by offering passing students bundles of notes saying, "Here, take it." They refused, supposing skulduggery, and Secunda strolled on, having made his point.

For the past few years Secunda had been living in San Anselmo, California, where he remained active in music publishing and promotion and developed an unexpected interest in the ecology and green issues.

Tony Secunda was respected as one of the last of the great Sixties mavericks, without whom British pop music would have been much duller and less vibrant - as indeed it became.

Chris Welch

Tony Secunda, music manager, publisher: born London 1940; died San Anselmo, California 12 February 1995.

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