Posted: July 13, 2017
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess)
Brit Stephen Budd is a cultural lightning chaser with few counterparts in music’s global village.
A director of London-based Stephen Budd Management, this music-obsessed overachiever recently oversees management of such acts as Dancing Years, and Dry the River (and until recently Songhoy Blues), and management of such producers as Rick Nowels, Tore Johansson, Valgeir Sigurdsson, Nick Zinner, Colin Elliot, Greg Haver, Tommaso Colliva, James Lewis, Sam Williams and Mike Hedges.
Budd is also creator and executive producer of War Child's Passport: Back To The Bars charity project; a partner in the NH7 Weekender Festival in India; as well as a partner in the OneFest Festival, a UK-based not-for-profit, music industry development company which supports new talent.
With Damon Albarn and Ian Birrell, Budd is co-founder of the Africa Express project, bringing together African and Western artists. Over the past decade, Africa Express has staged concerts in the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Ethiopia, Turkey, and Nigeria.
He is also a member of the advisory board of the Palestine Music Expo which took place April 4th–7th, 2017 in Ramallah on the West Bank.
Starting out as a roadie in the center of London’s punk world, Budd launched Tortch (aka Torch) Records in the early 1980s, releasing debut tracks by the Sound, Second Layer, the Directions, and the Cardiacs. He also managed the Sound, and the Directions.
Budd went on to manage American record producer Tony Visconti’s Good Earth Recording studio in London’s Soho district. This led to him launching Stephen Budd Management in1985 in order to focus on the management of record producers, remixers, songwriters, and recording engineers.
In 1999, Budd and Paul Craig, as co-managing directors, founded SuperVision Management which would go on to handle Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, Heaven 17, White Lies, the Webb Brothers, the Cribs, Crystal Castles and others.
After SuperVision Management was sold to the Channelfly group in 2001 for £550,000, Budd became a director of Channelfly until it was absorbed by MAMA & Company in 2005 and, subsequently acquired by HMV in 2010, and sold to Lloyds Development Capital in 2012.
Until earlier this month (July 2017), Budd had been co-chair of the Music Managers Forum (MMF) that represents UK’s music management community.
Diane Wagg became sole chair of the Music Managers Forum after you stepped down earlier this month. You and she were the co-chairs since 2014.
I ran for a three-year term, and the time was up. Diane agreed to stay on for an extra year. I'm still on the board.
MMF UK has over 500 members. There are now MMF chapters in 22 countries with over 1,000 member managers. While MMF America is a smaller organization, MMF UK has patched together an associate network of over 1,600 managers in America from the roadshows it has been doing there over the past 5 years.
Not bad considering we started MMF in ’92 at the (inaugural) In The City conference (organized by Tony Wilson in Manchester). I was present at that meeting.
You have successfully kept afloat an independent management company for a long time in the UK, but you seem to have recently moved away from artist management to focusing more on the management of producers.
I have done both over the years.
How much staff do you have?
Four. But each live project has its own staff in different locations.
You are down to representing two acts now, Dancing Years and Dry the River?
I’ve recently stopped managing Songhoy Blues after 3 years who I found via Africa Express when we were making an album in Mali, West Africa. I’ve just taken on a new artist that I discovered in India whom I think is absolutely fascinating called Alluri (full name Shiriram Alluri) from Hyderabad. I tend to work with artists who are a labor of love and to work with passionate project things.
(Laughing) Oh, you foolish man.
Unless I am completely and utterly passionate about the music of an artist I can’t do it (their management). I just can’t convincingly do it because so much of building an artist from scratch is the ability to sell and communicate that artist, right? And you have to do that from passion in order to be able to enroll people in the project. And if you can’t enroll people into the project, nothing is going to move forward. And you can only do that from a passion point of view, I think.
The same with representing producers?
To a degree. Producers are a very different kettle of fish to manage. Producers are not their own “project.” They have options. If this project doesn’t work out, there’s another one that they can work on. They are not waking up in the morning going, “I am the project.”
Still, to work with a producer, a manager must like or respect them. There has to be a philosophical understanding between the producer and the person representing them.
Yes. Certainly. It is unlikely that I would take on a producer that I didn’t like, but there’s not that kind of intimate day-on-day involvement in their lives as you do have with an artist. With producers, they are spending months in the recording studio. You have certain details that you have to deal with. You also have to find them the next gig, and make sure that the next gig is a good one and, preferably, a well paying one.
With artist clients, managers are also entangled in their personal lives. They tend to receive calls like, “I can’t work this week because my girlfriend left me last night.”
With a producer, a manager may not even be sure if they are married.
That’s correct. It is a completely different kind of relationship. It’s not so conflicted. I think that sometimes with an artist you are managing that if you are doing well with another artist, and they aren’t doing so well, there’s all that kind of jealousy that comes up which doesn’t seem to be the case too much on the producer side. They are very practical people.
As well, producers are placed on fee tiers set by their use to the music industry community.
Being an artist manager used to be one dimensional. The manager found gigs, an agent, and a label. Today, a manager must develop strategies around diverse lines of business and know how to engage with each of them. A more complex world for them than it was even years ago. The role really has changed.
It has changed dramatically from when I first started out in artist management back in the ‘80s. The way I describe it to people who ask me questions of how was it then, and how is it now, is that in those days it was like flying a four-seater plane. You had 20 to 30 controls you had to know in order to get the thing off the ground, fly it, and to have a successful experience. These days, I’m afraid that it’s more like flying a jumbo jet. There are 300 controls. It has become exponentially so much more about using an in-depth set of skills that you are having to take on board--even with a small artist or with a small baby artist that you are trying to get off the ground—that you are effectively having to become a CEO of a corporation, and you have to have an understanding of every single aspect that contributes to the creation of momentum for an artist.
As I said, a manager was once about get me gigs, get an agent, get me a record deal, and then...
Get me on radio.
(Laughing) and make sure the bass player’s girlfriend doesn’t show up for the gig in Soho.
Exactly, that was the fun of it.
Today’s manager has to deal with the fragmentation of innumerable income streams. Decades ago an artist knew they were being taken advantage of by the system, but they weren’t quite sure how. Today, with more transparency comes, “Oh my God....”
That’s right. We are drowning under a tidal wave of data. If you are a diligent manager, you want to make sure that you really are doing the best possible job for your artist in each area, and keeping a handle on all of that data, interpreting it, and trying to learn what it means is a mammoth task.
The MMF plays an important role in fostering relationships between emerging artist managers and veteran managers. When you started in management, you were largely on your own.
Yeah. We didn’t have people to share our experiences with and to ask questions of. The age of the mega-management companies, when you have got various managers floating around, 10 or 20 or 30 of them, or in the case of Red Light (Management), 100 up-and-coming managers attached to that particular group, that is really is something that has only occurred in the past 5 to 10 years max, and really more in the last 5 years.
Before that, management was a very fragmented industry with managers only really getting to talk to other managers backstage at festivals or in the receptions of the record companies. Of course, that is something that labels used to rather like. “Don’t let managers talk to each other, and share information about their contractual scenario for God’s sake. You don’t want that to happen.” So we launched the MMF in 1992.
Over the years, the MMF has soundly weighed in on such deep industry issues as transparency across Interactive streaming, and digital service provider services; streaming royalty splits; secondary ticketing; label contracts, and day-and-date release strategies.
Indeed. Since 1992 It’s been an enormous sea-change in the way that managers are able to interact with each other; communicate with each other; find out what’s going on in each other’s world, and learn from each other. Not just from the point of view of trying to get better management agreements or better record contracts, but dealing with a whole range of subjects, including issues as diverse as: How you deal with affiliated marketing for artists to how you deal with artist’s mental health; and what role does the manager play in the greater scheme of things; and what degree are they responsible for trying to create sanitary mental health conditions for their artists?
As well as safety issues on the road.
Well, there you go. In my day, often safety wasn’t something that you thought about.
One of the MMF’s most prominent projects was the Dissecting the Digital Dollar (DDD) Part 1 report written by Chris Cooke of CMU Insights in 2015 which looked at the entire value chain of music.
Absolutely. It was an important moment in deciding to do that, and we spent money on that. Money that wasn’t easy to come by to make that happen. We invested in that because we felt that it was just such an important point to start asking those questions of the whole industry so we could encourage, and really push forward this transparency concept.
Of course, there was quite a bit of resistance to the discussion around transparency, but now I think it’s become an adoptive watchword that people are acknowledging.
We’ve seemed to have seen a shift in terms of the majors now sharing more data, and adopting a somewhat more open attitude in their business practices.
Yes, I think so and having heard those concerns, but also having come up in the Digital Dollar Report Part 2 (also written by Chris Cooke in 2016), there are quite significant proactive suggestions about where we could go forward which has galvanized peoples’ thinking around how we can be seen to be the standard bearer of implication, and transparency. You have seen a shift away particularly the majors have started to reach out in terms of presenting their data to the management community in a much more accessible, and readable way than ever before. There is a desire to keep that on the table for a point of view of, “Let’s keep drilling down here because it’s in our interests to create a sense of trust that gets bloomed out of transparency.”
At the same time, with the number of digital retailers exploding, and with the industry having to have specific strategies around how to engage with each of them, is contributing to providing a fellowship of sorts between the various parties across the table.
Yes. We have many interests aligned, but our most significant interest as managers is to support the welfare, and the benefit of artists. And the artists’ welfare and benefit is not always 100% aligned with that of the label. I’m not telling you anything that isn’t commonly understood. These are important times, and I think, there’s a lot more dialogue going around that side of things and because a manager has to work with so many different sides of the industry, they become experts in shades of gray.
In 2014, MMF strongly criticized Sony/ATV's posture that it might withdraw from the two large American performing rights societies, ASCAP and BMI.
We did. The PROs, despite their many shortcomings, have over the years shown a much greater improved efficiency year and year, and they also act as a check and balance in that situation. If one of your commercial relationships goes through only one commercial company how do you really know you are going to get what is due? So this was the position that we took at the time.
The traditional label deal was that the artist would be taken advantage of on their first two albums and that by the third album be successful to be in a position to successfully re-negotiate their recording contracts for far better terms.
Yes, for sure.
Whereas artists today complain about unfair revenue splits from some of the digital platforms that have emerged I will tell you that compared to record club practices of yesteryear that Spotify and Apple are paragons of integrity.
For sure. That was something that was a lot more prevalent in the U.S.A. and Canada at that time rather in Europe. We didn’t have a big record club culture here. They tried to get a few things off the ground, but it never happened, but in the United States it was a much bigger kettle of fish.
New record club subscribers then were given their choice of 8 or more albums for a penny which was written off by the labels as free goods that required no artist royalties and, depending on the deal, the record clubs only paid a ¾ rate on publishing mechanicals. Record clubs also used their own masters and packaging for their releases.
Wow, wow, wow. I didn’t know that.
What do you think of the recent trend of major artists dumping their managers or shifting them to general managers or consultant roles? We’ve seen this most recently with Bruno Mars cutting ties with his manager Brandon Creed after 9 years to start his own in-house company. Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Sean Combs, and Jay Z are among those artists who have their management in-house.
Of course, I am speaking from a slightly biased position but I think that’s it’s a major mistake. With a few honorable exceptions, sometimes projects fail and suffer as a result or they don’t have the overall kind of consequences that they (artists) would like to see. A lot of managers like to think that they are an integral part of the artist’s existence--which they are. Artists cannot always appreciate the level of detail, and work that goes on behind the scenes. I know that is a cliché for me to say that.
Most likely there are pitfalls being represented by employees who don’t have as much on the line in a negotiation as if they were getting a percentage of the act’s earnings, and had built the act from the bottom up.
I think that is very true. You have hit the nail on the head there. In a sense, if they (the representative) are just working for them (the artist), and they are just employed by them on a wage as opposed to a percentage of the overall earnings, the incentive for them to make sure that the deals are the best that they can possibly be is not really there. And who is really advising the artist in a way that is ultimately for their own benefit? Artists can employ accountants and figures people, and they can employ good organizational people to organize all of the aspects of their career. For sure, they can do that, but if these people are not incentivized by the possibility of creating greater income, is this really benefiting the artist?
The other aspect of this is the number of managers that have been dismissed who built an artist to a point that they are able to have this enormous (popularity) platform, and they sort of now think, “Well, I could save 15% or 20% by getting rid of this person. Doing this, my overall overhead would be 5%.” Sure, but it’s not the same as when somebody has invested that time and love for just a percentage return with no guarantee of any income.
Few artists make any substantial money during the first three years of their careers. Meanwhile, the manager has little income coming in for his work and may be pushed out as the artist breaks.
That’s right. I’ve had this effect myself where I was managing an act who I found literally living as refugees. I spent 2 ½ hard, heavy, lifting years of getting them up to a position where they created incredible results, and they became self-sufficient earning wise and were able to transform their lives. Then we parted company on the basis that they thought they could save 10% by booting me up the ass.
A savvy manager tends to look down the road several years in an artist’s career, whereas so many artists only think about next Monday.
As a manager, you may get a client on the biggest show in the world, and the attitude may well be, “What have you done for me this week?”
Absolutely. Unfortunately, there is that kind of lack of foresight in relationships. It’s like, “Do you really want to be copied on every single email that gets sent out about every minor detail that we are having to deal with on your behalf? Well, if you want to be, for sure.” But, unfortunately, when the relationship gets to that stage, and it does become that type of question, then it (the relationship) has generally got out of control, and it’s quite often beyond the capability of the manager to get that relationship back on track. But you know, artists need education too. They need educating on how managers are working, and what is needed from a management perspective to make it.
So many artists shy away from knowing about business.
For sure. That’s absolutely true. But, at the MMF, we encourage—we have a sister organization, the Featured Artists Coalition (which campaigns for the protection of UK performers' and musicians' rights), that we are in substantial communication with on a regular basis--and we try to encourage this kind of understanding, and cross-fertilization so we can understand in a deeper way how to manage artists better, and artists can understand in a deeper way how to relate to management, and get the best out of management.
There are also managers who overprotect their clients to a degree that the artist become like a house cat with no claws to fend off the demands of their careers if they suddenly strike out on their own. They then may have trouble attracting another manager because of having unrealistic expectations.
Absolutely true. There’s an understandable momentum, and when a management relationship works really well it is very hard to replace that with somebody else picking up the reins.
Let’s go back to your teenage days as a roadie for Motörhead, Generation X, and X-Ray Spex.
Oh, my God.
You are from London. What area?
I was born in Hampton Court on the Thames, and i grew up in the Kingston (aka Kingston upon Thames) area of London which is like South West London. By the time I was 16 or 17, I had moved out of home. I got a job working for a friend of mine that lived down the road who had built his own PA system. So I was going out and helping him rig that PA system. At age 16, I had worked as junior stage manager at the Watchfield Free Festival which was a huge hippie festival featuring Traffic (actually Stevie Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Viv Stanshall, and the Afro Rhythm Section), Gong and Hawkwind (as well as The Global Village Trucking Company, Arthur Brown, Strife, Stray and others).
[The Watchfield Free Festival Aug. 23-31ST in 1975 was the successor to the Windsor Free Festival which had taken place for three previous years despite considerable public outcry. After the substantial violence that occurred at the 1974 event, there was pressure on the British government to supply an alternative site to the Windsor Great Park. Watchfield, an unused airfield in Berkshire, was chosen, and the Watchfield Free Festival became the only free festival to be government sponsored or be given official recognition.]
Out of that gig came (the request), “Would you come and help with Lemmy’s new band (Motörhead)?” They were playing a gig at The Winning Post pub in Twickenham. So I turned up, and there was this band with Lemmy (Kilmister) on bass, Lucas Fox on drums, and Larry Wallis from the Pink Fairies, who were big heroes of mine, on guitar. They did this show to 300 Hell’s Angels. It was completely punk before punk. This was in ’75. I ended up doing a few shows with them.
Moving into ’76, I was not turning up at school at this point. I kinda got thrown out of school so I had no choice (but to be a roadie). I had no earnings otherwise. I was turning up at whatever club needed a roadie. There were a few places like The Greyhound on Fulham Palace Road that put me on, and pubs around Hammersmith, and into Soho. Then one day I turned up at this club, The Vortex (on Wardour Street). I had my long hair, and they were like, “You have long hair. You must know what you are doing.” I ended up at The Vortex, and hooking up with Generation X. I remember vividly the night that Generation X played there, and (Peter) Townshend and (Keith) Moon turned up to watch them from the back of the room.
[The Vortex’ became notorious for attracting violent crowds. Events at the club subsequently inspired Paul Weller to write ‘‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street” for the 1978 album “All Mod Cons” with lyrics name-checking the venue. It is regarded as the last genuinely punk song the Jam ever recorded.]
What did your parents think of you running around with punk bands?
(Laughing) I was a totally out of control 16 year old.
My wife Anya Wilson worked for the Albion Agency in London which booked The Nashville Room with such acts as Dr. Feelgood (who were residents), Eddie & the Hot Rods, Elvis Costello, the 101ers, the Undertones, the Sex Pistols, the Stranglers, and Siouxsie & the Banshees.
I remember going to Elvis Costello’s Christmas Party at The Nashville. I seem to remember that one of the support acts was Alternative TV. The guitarist hadn’t turned up, and they said, “Does anybody want to play guitar with us?” And I said, “Fuck it, I do. I got up, and played guitar with Alternative TV.”
In the ‘80s, knowing very little about how to run a label, you launched Tortch (aka Torch) Records out of your flat. Without Geoff Travis from the Rough Trade chain of record shops advising you, you would have been toast.
Totally. Basically, I had to learn the hard way. I had seen a band that I really liked and I wanted to record them.
That was Second Layer?
It was. I ended up playing on their record “Courts of Wars.”. But I learned the hard way. There were no kind of “one-stops” (middleman distributors) for records in those days. So you had to press your records--“Oh, Christ, I need some labels”--then find some labels, and get a sleeve.
[Second Layer was a side project of Adrian Borland and Graham Bailey, members of the Sound. By 1981, Second Layer had found a home on London-based label Cherry Red, and released its debut album “World of Rubber.” Sadly, Borland committed suicide in 1999 by throwing himself under a train. He had been in the middle of recording session for a new solo album. He was 41.]
Under Torch Records, you released recordings by the Cardiacs and the Directions.
The Cardiacs had quite a meaningful career. You would be shocked to learn that the Cardiacs’ record on my label, )"A Bus for a Bus on the Bus” released in 1979), I looked it up at Discogs (database) the other day, and it’s worth about £300, that single. The Directions’ singles are selling for £200.
You signed the Sound and managed them. Being both their label, and their manager. Rather shady, mate.
Yes, I did. It is funny how the wheel has turned around that whole kind of thing. At that point the manager, unless their act was signed to a major label, would have to do everything. It has come forward again in that respect with managers investing into A&R, putting out records themselves, and management having development labels in order to get to that magical 10,000 fan point where you think, “Right, we have a bit of traction.”
We share a mutual friend in American producer Tony Visconti whom you worked with. My wife Anya, as UK radio record plugger, broke his first record with T. Rex, “Ride A White Swan” in 1970.
Good Lord, That was one of the first records I ever bought, “Ride A White Swan.” Amazing.
You worked with Tony overseeing his Good Earth Studios.
I did, yes. I got together with Tony in ’84 when I hired him to produce the Big Sound Authority. Lucian Grainge was at MCA Records, that was his first position at a record label (as A&R director for MCA Records in the UK) because up to that point he had been a music publisher (at April Music's A&R department, and as director of RCA Music Publishing in the UK). Myself and Lucian worked together on that project alongside John ‘Knocker’ Knowles.
How did you come to consider Tony Visconti to produce? With his string of successes including productions of T. Rex, David Bowie, Gentle Giant, Sparks and others, he might have been considered out of reach.
Well, that’s the whole thing you see. It’s interesting about that. I wasn’t an expert in record producers. I had recorded tracks for this band with Robin Millar (producer and owner of the Power Plant Studio) which were successful, but there weren’t that many household-named record producers around. Of course, I was an utter (David) Bowie fanatic as we all were. Any right-minded human being at that time was a Bowie fanatic like I was. Of course, it wasn’t so long after Tony had done the later period of Bowie records, and I just thought, “I am just going to reach out to him.” I discovered he worked out of Good Earth in Dean Street in Soho. I literally just turned up with a tape of the band. I knocked on the door, and I was shown in by Diane Wagg, who was indeed my co-partner at the Music Managers Forum. She was looking after Tony in the studio in those days. She promised to give Tony the tape. I then got a call from Tony, and he next arrived at my office on his motorbike. He was then a keen motorbike rider with leathers. He said, “Tell me about this band.” I introduced him to the band. We ended up working on the album. Robin Millar did most of the album, and I got Tony in to finish off the album plus some bonus tracks. He was slated to do the second album for which we recorded one or two songs, but the album was never finished as band split up
How did you come to work directly with Tony?
When Diane moved on a few months later Tony asked me, “Would you be interested in helping me run the studio, and managing me?” Of course, that ushered in the beginning of learning for me to understand what a producer really did.
There were then only a handful of people in the UK managing producers. There was Sandy Roberton at Worlds End Producer Management, Dennis Muirhead of Muirhead Management, and Zomba Management.
That’s exactly right, and there was hardly anybody else really doing it. With Tony, it was what you said was occurring. People were in awe of Tony. They weren’t approaching him. I’d go to gigs, and see the Smiths play, and I talked to Morrissey, and he said, “We’d love to work with Tony Visconti, but there’s no way we are going to call him. I’m sure he wouldn’t pick up the phone. He wouldn’t want to talk with us.” I was like, “HE’D LOVE TO WORK WITH YOU.”
[While Tony Visconti and Morrissey discussed the possibility of working together on Morrissey's 1992 album “Your Arsenal,” It never happened. Morrissey was set to record his 2006 album “Ringleader of the Tormentors” with producer Jeff Saltzman and when he couldn’t undertake the project Visconti took over the production.]
Tony was like the best looking girl in school sitting at home on a Friday date because nobody had asked her out.
Completely right. Completely a great analogy. I thought, “You know what? I’m going to proactively reach out to record labels, and start talking to them. The thing that I learned was nobody had done that. The producer management business at that point was all about incoming. It wasn’t about reaching out, “Hey, what acts have you signed? Why don’t we hook X up with Y?”
Well, Sandy set up Worlds End in 1979 and was pitching several clients, including Phil Thornaley and Tim Palmer. Dennis was working with producers Eddy Offord, and Hugh Padgham. Zomba was more self-contained with Mutt Lange, and Barry Eastmond working largely in-house.
Sandy certainly had that vision. I started talking to all of the (label) contemporaries. Of course, there were the younger A&R people, and I managed to pick up some interesting clients. I got Tony to work with the Smiths on one song which was great. I learned a lot. I wanted to expand the producer management side because I had to keep the studio busy. The studio was one of the most expensive studios in London to run because of Tony obsession to find new equipment all of the time. So I had to keep the studio busy. I thought that I needed to find producers that I could manage so I can persuade them to work in the studio. That was the original idea. Then I got on the plane, and went to New York to find Arthur Baker. He really became my first management client.
You went on to represent such producers as Chris Kimsey, Mike Hedges. Steve Levine, Gus Dudgeon, Billy Steinberg, Gary Katz, Jon Kelly, Mick Glossop, Craig Leon, Tore Johansson and others.
I’ve worked with some of the greats I would say, and I was lucky to do so. Arthur and I had a relationship that lasted for a very long time. I persuaded him to go on planes because he didn’t like flying in those days. I got him on a plane to London. I set him up with 10 mixes at $30,000 a mix. He flew over with (mixers) Junior Vasquez and Jay Burnett and a whole team of people. We ended up booking out four studios, and Arthur did something like 10 mixes in three weeks. All of that stuff was a fascinating learning experience for me, and I built a company. When the internet arrived, I had a reasonably substantial management business, but I was lucky to secure the www.record-producers.com domain name. It just kind of occurred to me, “What are people going to look in a searching for record producers?” Having that domain really helps keep that (producer) business rolling.
You must be pleased that the Passport charity concert series raised over £1,000,000 during your tenure.
Yeah. The original idea I had was back in 2004 when I was a director of (entertainment group) Channelfly, and we owned all of the Barfly clubs. I was very moved by the Iraq war, particularly with the kids caught in the Iraq war. I hooked up with War Child at that point, and I wondered, “What could we do here owning the Barflys to support War Child’s efforts?” Out of the blue, I had this idea, “Hey, why don’t we get big artists to play in the venue” which is, of course, a great idea; but “How are we going to make money out of that because U2 or Coldplay playing in The Barfly we are still only 200 tickets.” It dawned on me one day in the bath, “Let’s sell lottery tickets to do this.” I then started talking to people and running around seeing managers trying to persuade them to do it. Everybody was, “Yeah, it’s a good idea,” but nobody was committing. Then I went and saw the people at MTV here and they were like, “This is great” blah blah blah. Finally, one day in a drunken haze at In The City, I ran into Rob Holden (of Mondo Management) who managed David Gray, who was at the time, of course, a massive artist. I said, “You are going to fucking do this,” and he went, “We are fucking going to do this.” So I had my first artist and, within a space of a week, I managed to get the Cure, Amy Winehouse, Elbow, and the Pet Shop Boys as well. We ended up with 21 massive artists doing Passport: Back To The Bars and the whole idea caught fire. In 2014, Warchild asked me if I would revive the idea, and I did indeed put that back together again, the whole concept, and tied it up with The Brits
Renaming it as Passport to Brits Week.
That’s right we tied into The Brits because there was a relationship between War Child and The Brits, and we wanted to focus around that, and potentially use The Brits as a launch for bringing artists in. We got a whole array of enormously successful artists and sponsorships as well, and it became really quite significant, and it became an ongoing part of their calendar. I stepped down after the 2016 event.
This has led to your being involved with the upcoming Give a Home global concert series being promoted by Amnesty International, and Sofar Sounds for World Refugee Day on Sept. 20th.
Yeah, that (Passport) has sort of has morphed a little bit into what I have been doing with Amnesty because two of the shows we did in the Passport series were gigs in people’s houses courtesy of my relationship with Sofar Sounds. I did one of the first Sofars, and I have been involved with them since they started (in 2009).
The Give a Home global concert series will consist of 300 shows in 60 countries with VICE and Facebook Live live-streaming the concerts globally.
The idea is that it is gigs in people’s living rooms. It’s major artists playing in people’s living rooms, and it’s that lottery ticket idea again. People buy a lottery ticket to be one of the 50 people at that show. This is how we can deliver that chance to people being flat on the floor to see their favorite artist play acoustically or semi-acoustically. We are even having some of the biggest DJs doing it. We are doing it everywhere from Bogotá to Reykjavik. There will be 50 shows in London, and there should be 30 to 40 shows in New York, 30 to 40 in L.A., and all the way across North America including Canada, and in South America. We’ve got a massive line-up in India with some of the biggest artists there. Some 20 artists are doing it in Australia courtesy of Ian James and his team at Mushroom Music Publishing has put together a fantastic lineup for us there. So it’s a pretty exciting thing. Hopefully, this is the start of something that could roll out on an annual basis.
[Amnesty International and Sofar Sounds have announced that Ed Sheeran will play in their global concert series Give a Home taking place in cities all over the world on September 20th 2017, Sheeran will play a Give a Home gig in Washington D.C. with singer/guitarist Jean-Jean Bashengezi ( aka Jaja) from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was forced to flee in 1994 following the Rwandan genocide. He now lives in Washington.]
Let’s also talk about your ongoing involvement with Sandra Bhatia in OneFest that started off as HoneyFest in support of the Barge Inn community project in the Wiltshire hamlet of Honeystreet.
That came out of a BBC-TV show about local people wanting to save their pub from closing in 2012. They then rang me up—I happened to know one of the people who lived in the village—“Would you help us, and get involved? We want to find a way to try to stop this club closing.” I was like, “Well, what’s so special about this pub?” I went down to this pub, and it was the absolute epicenter of where there are all these mad symbols in the corn fields, where the UFOs supposedly came. This was the pub where all of the people congregated because the fields of Wilshire is where there would be these massive (formation) symbols in the middle of fields. Basically, it was being coordinated out of this pub. I hate to give the game away. A group of complete lunatics. I just fell in love with the place, and I said, “Sure I will get involved. We’ll put a little garden fête type festival on. I will invite a couple of my friends, bands, to come and play, and we will see what happens.” I put the word out, and I ended up with Damian Rice, Laura Marling, the Magic Numbers and a whole bunch of people. It was a real success, and we thought, “Let’s keep this going.” And we did it the following year
You had to move from the original site.
Yeah, it was to a much bigger site. Damon Albarn came and played. Raghu Dixit, and Dry the River, and all kinds of people. These things have a habit of sucking out your personal funds out of your own back pocket. It was an interesting experience for me. I learned quite a lot from it. We brought it back this year in a different format. I did it with Frank Turner (curating and headlining consecutive one-off concerts). We did four nights at The Roundhouse (in London) and used it as a mechanism to employ young people to get them into working in live music.
This year there was also a conference element.
Yes, we had a conference with workshops, panels and all sorts of fabulous people coming to talk. Just in The Roundhouse. Three days. It worked out rather well. The festival and conference together sold 12,000 tickets.
After being on a trade mission to India in 2010 with former British Prime Minister David Cameron in which you were in Mumbai judging the Indian leg of the British Council’s Young Music Entrepreneur Awards, you went on to launch the NH7 Weekender Festival in late 2010.
Yes. I help start a festival in India with (Glastonbury Festival talent buyer and co-founder of The Great Escape Festival) Martin Elbourne and Vijay Nair (CEO of Only Much Louder) who is an extraordinary man. I met him in 2009, and we hooked up in Mumbai, and we instantly hit if off. We went to a club together, and we saw some indie Indian bands play and, lo and behold, who was in the audience? (English producer) John Leckie was in the audience. “What are you doing here in the middle of Mumbai?” He had come out to check out all of these wonderful indie Indian bands. The idea (for the NH7 Weekender Festival) was, “Let’s bring some of the bands that we are involved with to India.” I was still involved with SuperVision Management which is a company I created (with Paul Craig) which was then managing Franz Ferdinand, and the Kaiser Chiefs. “Let’s bring some of these bands over.”
We set the first one up in Pune which is about a two hours drive from Mumbai. We brought over Reverend and The Makers, the Magic Numbers, and the Asian Dub Foundation for that first ever gig. That was the beginning of that festival. It has since really established itself as being the primo rock festival in India to the extent that they have brought over artists like Mark Ronson, the Flying Lotus, the Vaccines, Megadeth and this year Franz Ferdinand. All sorts of wonderful artists.
[The first NH7 Weekender Festival was held from December 10–12, 2010 at Koregaon Park in Pune. Among the top Indian rock acts included were Zero, Swarathma, Pentagram, and Warren Mendonsa’s solo project Blackstratblues. There are now editions of the festival all over India]
You, Damon Albarn and Ian Birrell are co-founders of Africa Express which promotes African music by uniting Western and African musicians for collaborative concerts. Damon first up stirred interest in African music when he recorded his “Mali Music” album in West Africa in 2002.
Yes. It was Damon who suggested that we go to Mali in 2006 as the first Africa Express kind of experience. The reason being is that he said that he wanted to see if we could create this environment for Western artists to collaborate with African artists. We were all African music fans, and we wanted to bring African music to a much wider audience. To get it out of the “world music box” that has held it back a little bit, and just go, “Either an artist is good or they are not. If they good, it doesn’t matter where they are from. Let’s just give them exposure.”
We were keen to do Africa Express because we were passionate about different types of African music. I was an insane Fela fan, and Damon was really into the whole Malian side of things. Ian Birrell was then the deputy editor of The Independent newspaper. A few of us then us got together and have worked together on this project ever since with a wonderful group of collaborator organisers. It’s about two things really. One, bringing Western artists out to Africa, and it’s also about getting Western musicians to experience first hand what an incredible continent that Africa is, and how amazing it is to work with these unbelievably talented artists from the Congo, Nigeria, Mali, and Ethiopia etc.
Including getting lost in African villages.
Wonderful adventures. Getting lost with Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in marketplaces in the desert of Ethiopia.
Flea returned home and wrote “Ethiopia” for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 2011 album, “I’m With You.”
He did indeed. A lot of wonderful experiences like that. One day there will be a book about all of this.
In 2012, Africa Express chartered a train to take 85 African and Western musicians around Britain as part of the Olympic festivities; performing nightly shows, and visiting schools, and hospitals to play impromptu pop-up gigs. Among those included were such major African superstars as Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, Malian duo Amadou & Mariam, Ghanaian rapper M.anifest (crowned the King of Ghana Hip Hop in 2017), Senegalese singer/guitarist Baaba Maal as well as such Western musicians as M-1 from Dead Prez, Rizzle Kicks, Lucy Rose, Carl Barat, Nick Zinner (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Paul McCartney, and John Paul Jones.
We made a movie (“The Africa Express”) about the train experience which was taking a (specially customized) 1970s British diesel train. The Olympics gave us the money to do it, thank God. We put on 7 nights of shows around the UK traveling by train. We built festival sites in Bristol and London. We had 85 musicians on the train. Half African, half Western. Everybody from members of New Order to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; from Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal to singer Fatoumata Diawara, rapper Kano, and Damon Albarn of course. The rehearsal studios were in the train. We stole the idea, of course, from the Festival Express train tour in 1970 in Canada.
[In the summer of 1970, a wild locomotive ride from Toronto to Calgary, documented by a film crew, caught rock legends Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Band, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, and along with the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Ian & Sylvia partying day and night, and making music in stops in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary. It wasn’t until 2003 that the film documentary "Festival Express,” capturing the longest rock and roll party in history, was released.]
(Laughing) That was a drunken excursion.
I can tell you that there was quite a lot of drinking going on our train.
You managed to attract Paul McCartney for the final night.
We did indeed. That was quite exciting because we had been rehearsing a few of his songs. We decided to rehearse some Wings’ songs. We had talked to him about doing it, and he was like, “Yeah man, but I’ve got to go to Paris because I’m getting the Légion d'honneur award (being made an officer of the Légion d'honneur, France's highest public distinction) from the French president (François Hollande).” Blah blah. So we were thinking that it wasn’t going to happen, but we will rehearse some songs. We rehearsed some songs on the train. We had rehearsal rooms. We brought a PA system into the luggage trains of the train. There’s some fabulous footage of rehearsing a couple of Wings’ songs including “Coming Up” being one of them. We rehearsed the songs, and then the last day we were coming into King’s Cross (station) coming back from Wales, and we heard that McCartney was going to turn up, right? He called and said, “Look, I’ve finished lunch with the French president. I am getting back on the (high-speed railway service) Eurostar. Can somebody meet us at King’s Cross station, and walk me around?” He turns up carrying his Hofner bass. Jesus. He was like, “Just introduce me to people.”
We introduced him to Baaba Maal, and John Paul Jones was there. Suddenly, in one corner, we had John Paul Jones, Baaba Maal, Damon, and (singer/bassist) Shingai (Shoniwa) from the Noisettes, Fatoumata Diawara and (Malian singer) Rokia Traoré all jamming out a song idea together which they went straight onstage and performed. It was a blissful experience.
Where was the final show?
We did it behind King’s Cross Station. We built our own little festival site for 20,000 people. The movie I will be coming over to Canada to expose at M For Montreal in Montreal.
You and I are on the advisory board of Palestinian Music Expo which took place in Ramallah this year. This first-time event introduced the music of 21 Palestinian acts to 20 international music industry delegates. As a result, such Palestinians as trip hop artist Moody Kablawi, rap/hip-hop group DAM, singer/songwriter Rasha Nahas, alternative rockers El Container, and the Sa’aleek crew have since been touring in Europe and the UK.
It’s very exciting. We went out to Ramallah and spent 4 or 5 days there. Three of the days were being exposed to wonderful music from Palestinian artists.
Had you been to the West Bank previously?
I had been to Israel before, but never to the West Bank.
What did you expect?
What did you expect? You know my life is so full that I don’t generally think about expectations until I have actually arrived somewhere. I go, “Do I want to do this? Yes, I want to do this.” And then I put it in the back of my mind until I am there. I am quite good at blanking out expectations when I go to new countries, and to new vistas. I am off to North Korea in November. I’m looking forward to that, but I don’t want to think about it until I am actually on the plane.
Did you have any sense of what the music would be in Ramallah?
I had been in Beirut in November, and I had a wonderful experience. I fell in love with the music there. I was obviously interested in this type of music just as a side thing. But I was by no means learned in it. I kinda got a bug for it when I was in Beirut, and from working with Northern African artists as well people like (singer/activist) Rachid Taha in Algeria, and a few wonderful Moroccan artists that we had had on the Africa Express. But I had not been to the West Bank. I imagined it being as we all do I suppose. I imagined it as a “no go” war zone and, to a degree, parts of it were. One side of the wall was like in Santa Monica (California), the Israeli side; and the other side was like being shipped back 40 years to war-torn Beirut in 1975.
Were there any Palestinian acts you saw in Ramallah that impressed you?
DAM was fantastic, as was Rasha (Nahas). Both were spectacular.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. HELLO