December 11, 2013
I have a friend who has just joined a fast-rising and very fashionable band. My delight about his success is tempered with worry about how it might all turn out. It’s been said often enough, it’s a nasty industry. We punters and journalists can just sit back and enjoy it, but for those at the cutting edge, trouble is always lurking round the corner. This particular band is so sparky that there is major potential for a Libertines / Vines style implosion, and then where will my friend be? He doesn’t have a manager and I’m sure as hell that the band is in the same position as any other newly-signed act has ever been in: feeling temporarily and thrillingly rich but in reality in massive debt that will only ever be resolved if they have a highly successful long-term cereer.
Or not even then. Seeing little Ian McLagen onstage recently with his Texan Bump Band reminded me that it took the Small Faces over thirty years to salvage any of the royalities due to them, by which time, two of them were already dead. And that, remember, is a band which had many, many major worldwide hits. Avid consumers of music biographies will be delighted with the publication of a long overdue acount of the life of Steve Marriott (“All Too Beautiful”, by Paolo Hewitt and John Hellier), but the best book to read in preparation for the moment when your son / daughter announces that he / she intends to enter the music industry, is “Without You”, the tragic story of Badfinger, by Dan Matovina. Two members of this highly influential band, Pete Ham and Tom Evans, hanged themselves as a result of their treatment by the music business – and these, lest we forget, were the writers of “Without You”, which over the years has sold multi-millions in various versions.
It can’t get any worse? It can, actually. Last month, a UK TV channel showed a documentary entitled “What Happened to the Bay City Rollers’ Millions?’ Actually, it was revealed that in today’s terms, the band’s record sales actually reached a value of over a BILLION dollars. Singer Les McKeown was seen playing tiny cabaret gigs to avoid the destitution into which all the other remaining band members (apart from the dead one) have sunk. Les was granted an interview with Rollers manager Tam Paton in his mansion, but the only answer to his question was, “There is no money, it’s gone.” This didn’t explain how Les, in another scene, was able to go into a London record store and fill an an entire basket with Bay City Rollers compilation albums for which he would receive not one penny in royalties.
Anyway, the other day. I popped into my local small-town gig and was astonished to find it full of people, despite the fact that a little-known local band was playing. “What’s up?” I asked the promoter. Ah, he replied, bursting with apparent pride, “It’s an A & R feeding frenzy.” This rather upsetting phrase apparently refers to the fact that these creatures invariably hunt in packs, mainly in the fear that someone else might sign a hot new act that could have made money for them. Little matter that the image conjures up a picture of a bunch of rabid hyenas chewing over the bones of some hapless wildebeeste, because, if you’ve read the above, that’s in fact an accurate picture. The band was weak and the A & R pack were so drunk and inattentive that, by the end of the evening, they had probably all signed each other. The band, assuming there was any vestige of good taste in the A & R boys (no girls, for some reason), remained unsigned. They had a lucky escape, I reckon.
And yet, there’s nothing like the thrill of a rumour going round town: “Hey, guess what, so and so’s been signed by the such-and such label!” You can’t help but be impressed and excited. But, if you’ve read enough rock biographies, the awful reality will soon hit you. “Love and Poison”, David Barnett’s fascinating story of Suede, is full of dimly-remembered names of bands which once hit the front page of the NME in a flurry of techicolor publicity but were quietly dropped after a couple of singles and an album: Menswear, Adorable, Spitfire and Kingmaker, to name but a few. Remember them? Thought not.
From Amplifier magazine