What’s the secret of an artist’s success? Talent? Sure. Hard work? Of course! Yet in order to make these two factors gel into something really good, there must be carefully steering hands of producer and manager, steering hands with a magic touch. If an artist succeeds, those behind the scenes often get left behind and nobody remembers them; if an artist fails, it’s never their fault, it’s always those who led him who’s guilty. That’s an ungrateful position – but Gerry Bron, whose Bronze Records label was home to such different acts as URIAH HEEP, COLOSSEUM, MOTORHEAD and THE DAMNED and where he often acted as both producer and manager, doesn’t complain. He doesn’t dwell on the glorious past, preferring to look into the future with bright-eyed optimism. Having re-launched the label a couple of years ago, Mr Bron is happy to have a nice new roster but is also glad to cast a glance back, and sipping tea at his warm home, with gold discs adorning the staircase and grand piano gracing the living room, turns into a real travelling in time.
– You were both a manager and a producer – quite a unique position.
My feeling is that by being a manager and a producer you get better results, because part of production – if it’s good production – is management. You’re managing the artist, you’re telling him the right songs to record and how to do the writing. Actually, they ought to go together, and I’ve never worked any other way. In the old days, when I had MOTORHEAD on the Bronze label, we would do a management, really; although they had a manager, we always helped him guide their career. So, it works very well together. It may be unique in the sense that not many other people do it, but it isn’t unique in terms of the idea. In a way, they overlap, because if you made a record right then the management is easy, and if management is good then you get an artist to record the right songs. That’s good for the artist: the artist benefits, there’s no question, because the artist gets the best guidance, the guidance from one source. Their whole career is being mapped out, everything’s to do with records – if you don’t make a record you’re not an artist! – the right gigs, the right performances. The way they perform [on stage] is not the evidence of a way they should perform in the studio as well. There’s no separation [between management and production] I think: it’s not the same, but from a guidance point of view it works very well. I’ve always been very comfortable [with this], and my biggest successes have always been when I managed and produced.
– Don’t you think that some external influence might be useful too?
It could be if it is good, but it’s not always good; the trouble with external influences is they can be bad, and you don’t have a good result that way. We had external influences as well, which had actually made the career not as good and more difficult, because they interfered.
– What human qualities did it take from you to be involved so much in the lives of your charges?
I think that simple answer is passion. It’s like a religion: you have to believe in the artist, you have to believe that they are so good that they came to succeed. I guess, that’s what it takes! Once you have that belief, it’s very easy to get the right guidance, and then I don’t stop, I will do anything I have to do to make it.
– A father figure?
Yes, in a way. A father figure in the sense that he wants his children to do well and he believes his children are able to do well, but not in the sense that I tell them what to do. I’m not a svengali but I do believe in what I’m doing.
– But with you being involved so much in the artists’ lives, did they ever complain about it?
I think they wanted my help, I don’t think they would complain. They would have to complain if they thought that my being involved was stopping them or holding them back, but everything I did was to help them and pull them. I don’t want to mention any names, but over the years I helped people with their divorces, buying houses, selling houses, buying cars – everything. I was like an uncle! I helped them with all the things that they couldn’t do themselves. I never heard them complain about what I did with their lives.
– There’s a quote from Mick Box, saying you “was very, very open minded about everything. If you wanted to try something and it was in the realms of what he considered to be sensible, he’d try it and sometimes to great effect, or sometimes you’d try it and he would develop it”…
That confirms what I’m saying, but that’s production in terms of… I’m no good producing those who have no ideas, I have to hear what they play, and then I go, “Oh, that’s good! Let’s use that”. And if they come and say, “Let’s try this”, I will always give it a try. I won’t reject it because it’s not my idea. If they are making good records and they’re successful, it’s a team work, they have to listen to other people, they can’t do it by themselves.
– Where does this open-mindedness come from?
Where does it come from? I think from my background. My brother is a professor of medicine, my sister’s a well-known actress (Eleanor Bron – DME), my father was the best in the world because he used to hear the songs and know what to do with them, so I have a very good background that made me able to discuss things. It’s the dialogue, you have to listen to people, and I think my family background was very good from that point of view.
– But why did you choose to go into the music business?
My father used to sell music by the post and he had a shop as well. He always wanted to be a publisher – he was just a seller for the other, biggest publications – so he went into publishing, and one of the artists that he published was Gene Pitney. So I started to get a press for Gene Pitney and I arranged for him to do a tour, and I put him on television, and I went into a studio with him, and it grew from there. I was about twenty-eight then, I was young but I’d been in the business for a while. I think I have an empathy with the artist, I understand what they want to do and I help them do it, so that’s where it started.
– Well, to do so you must’ve had had a very a very good musical background, too.
Oh I found it easy! I played clarinet, I used to play in the orchestra, and I used to play chamber music. I’m no good on the piano, although I learned to play piano from [when I was] about ten years old. And when I was about twenty-one I studied to learn harmony, composition, orchestrations, so I studied music in a student, scholarly way.
– And what about your way with electronics and all those studio appliances?
Well, at school I did physics, so I love gadgets, machines and so on, and I took to it. It’s a good combination to have a musical background and a technical background.
– I asked you about your qualities, but what qualities should an artist have for you to believe in him?
I think they’ve got to be determined to make it: if they really want to make it, then they’ll make it. They have to have talent but they don’t have to be great… You know, URIAH HEEP were not the greatest musicians but they were very good, and as a team – it’s like a football team – they succeeded, whereas other groups who had better musicians didn’t succeed as they didn’t really want to. URIAH HEEP were absolutely determined to make it and they made it because they had their passion: my passion was putting them together, their passion was to be successful. I don’t think it’s just the money – they wanted to be successful because they believed in what they were doing. They were one of the most determined [of the label’s acts]. I don’t think you can succeed unless you want to.
– What do you think of today’s short-term policy in handling artists?
Terrible! Terrible! What they’re doing today is terrible! It’s mediocrity. What they’re doing is they’re making ordinary records, they’re spending a lot of money promoting them – on publicity, press, videos. They spend more money on the videos than they do on making records! And it doesn’t work, they won’t make their third album, while I made fourteen records, fourteen albums of URIAH HEEP, and that was at the end of it. But today people do their second, their third album, and that’s it – it’s gone.
– How long do you think it should take for an artist to make it?
Three years – I don’t think that you can do it in less than three years, I think it takes time. You know, to be successful quickly is not a good thing, because if you get up there, there’s only one way you can go: it’s down. If you do it slowly and have a very broad fan base and sell records in Israel, in South Africa, in Sweden, in England or America, you have a good foundation. So it’s good that it takes time to build there, it’s not good if it happens immediately.
– When talking about that short-term policy, I always think of Kate Bush. With her it was the longest build-up of all.
Absolutely! In those days I was very friendly with the managing director of EMI, and they said that they wanted to take time to build her to get it right – and they’d worked with her for two years before her first album came out. But that’s right, that’s a good policy! To try and get there quickly is like trying to get rich quickly.
– That makes an artist value his work more as well.
Yes, if you have to work at something to succeed, you prize what you’ve done, because it’s hard. You can’t be successful just because nobody spent a million pounds making video and a million pounds on publicity – it’s not a good way of working, I don’t like it at all.
– I’d say visuals are a part of this art thing. You had Roger Dean doing the artwork.
Oh yes, we started Roger Dean! Roger Dean did the very first OSIBISA album – the flying elephant – and then we used him to make a cover for PALADIN – a knight on the horse, you remember it! – and then for URIAH HEEP. I was quite surprised: I went to a musical evening on Saturday and they had the PALADIN album. I haven’t seen it for years, and I looked inside and the cover was by Roger Dean – I’ve forgotten it.
– Where did you find him?
I didn’t find him – a chap who worked with OSIBISA on MCA found Roger Dean, but we took him off and then we kept him going. Then he went to work for YES, and that was it.
– Did he work for Bronze or was it just a commission?
He didn’t work for us, we just said to him, “Could you do a cover for “Demon’s And Wizards, please?”, then “Magician’s Birthday”. We must have asked him to do a cover for “Charge!”, the PALADIN album. I didn’t know that he did so many [covers ] for us, actually! But it was always on a commission base.
– How do you feel about working with other producers?
For me it’s very easy, because I can tell you immediately whether they’re any good or not: if I walk into a studio and there’s another producer working, I can tell it within fifteen minutes.
– I mean, working together with others, as I have a specific person in mind, Tony Reeves.
Tony Reeves… We never worked well together. He has just sent me an e-mail saying, “Welcome back!” Tony was presented to me as someone who was an experienced record producer, but in the end he didn’t have a lot to do with COLOSSEUM. Without wishing to sound like I’m boasting, most of what we did with COLOSSEUM was what I did. I mean, I involved Tony – but I involved everybody in the band. I don’t make decisions exclusively on my own. I tell people what I think they should do; if they’re happy that’s good, but if they’re not happy, then I’d say, “Okay, we’ll make it work another way”.
– Was it difficult to work with COLOSSEUM with such very strong-minded people as Jon Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith?
Jon Hiseman’s the strongest. Jon is very strong. Dick’s pretty good (the interview has been a month before the legendary sax player died – DME), but Jon is the governor, he was the leader of the band. In the end, when you work with a band, when you work with a group of people, you have to work with the man that represents them. It’s a democracy in a way: they don’t always vote for the leader, but in a band there’s always one person that’s the leader. So there was no problem [for me], I can always argue with someone – I like debate. I like to say to people, “If you don’t think that’s good, or good enough, what would you do?”
– URIAH HEEP played hard rock, OSIBISA, let’s say, world rock…
They’re wonderful! They had wonderful rhythm.
– They played with HEEP a couple of days ago, on “Look At Yourself”, and HEEP wanted Manfred Mann on “July Morning”.
Oh really? That’s fantastic! OSIBISA wanted to work on the label when they were on MCA still. They were great on percussion which URIAH HEEP weren’t good at, so that was a good idea. But when Manfred played on “July Morning”, Ken Hensley was not very happy about it. I think Ken was jealous of Manfred. But the reason we did that was “July Morning”, before Manfred came in, had taken very long and nothing was happening, so I suggested to them that we get Manfred to come in and play on his “Moog”, because that was something new. He came into the studio and heard the music and went, “I can’t do anything with this, it’s just one chord!” But I said, “No, Manfred, I know you can do something. Go down in the studio and play something”. So he goes down and he plays, he comes back up again – it was one of those studios downstairs – and says, “No, it’s not going to work”. I said, “Manfred, what you played was absolutely fantastic!” He said, “Really? Do you think so?” I said, “Absolutely! That’s terrific!” He said, “Oh, it was nothing, I can do much better than that”. So he went back down again, played another solo, and he said, “What do you think?” And I said, “Well, that’s pretty good but, actually, the first one was better”. He said, “Oh no, no, was it better? No, no, I can do it better than those two”. And he played five different solos! Each one was different, they weren’t anything like each other. So he came back again and said, “What do you think?” “You just played five amazing solos, and what we’ll do is use a bit of this one and a bit of that one, and that will be the record”. But he was never convinced he could do it.
– Was Hensley really jealous of Manfred?
I never found out. We did one gig in America with URIAH HEEP and Manfred Mann, and Manfred Mann went on first and then URIAH HEEP followed, and they were booed and had to stop playing. Ken was in tears, he absolutely hated it, so whether it’s because of that or whether it’s because of what happened with “July Morning”, I never found out, but they didn’t get well together.
– Maybe it was just the keyboard players’ thing, but, as a person, was Ken the strongest in HEEP?
Oh yes, by far long. No question about that. You’ve got to remember that Ken was not only an outstanding personality, he’s a great looking guy – long hair, right way down, very, very long hair – he looked fantastic, he sang as well as David [Byron] and higher, he wrote all the songs, he played guitar, he played all the keyboards, so he definitely was the strongest person in the band. No one [came] anyway near!
– By bringing Hensley into HEEP you surely augmented their music…
It didn’t augment it – it changed it completely. URIAH HEEP would’ve never been successful without Ken Hensley. They don’t like I’m saying that, but it’s absolutely so much true.
– Yet by bringing Ken in, didn’t you kind of steal the band from Mick?
Well… I know what you’re trying to say, but if I was Mick Box and I was faced with a prospect of having my own band that was never going to be successful and being a part of a band that was successful all around the world, very, very successful all around the world, I’d take the second choice. But it wasn’t Mick’s band anyway: when I first saw them, it was Mick and David, so I never thought of it as Mick’s band. When you talk about Mick and you talk about Ken, Mick never really expressed anything, he never said very much, whereas Ken was always talking. Ken had an opinion about everything.
– You mentioned the gig abroad. Were you, while working with the bands, discovering the world for yourself, too?
Oh yes! Yes, of course! It was good for me, I enjoyed that very much. But, you see, the way that URIAH HEEP were organized was that we planned their touring around the world, so they sold records around the world – and we did it for everyone: that’s what the record business is about. We just have sent Paddy Milner to South Africa and we’re interested in Paddy playing over there, and it’s terrific! I mean, not that he sold very, very many records in South Africa, but it’s good that we’ve got somebody who may go out there and do two or three gigs, and he may want to do it once every two years. That’s good because for two or three days every two years he’s not in England already or anywhere else, he’s in South Africa – it’s great, I think it’s the way everyone should go.
– Did you have a big say in changing musicians, like James Litherland for Clem Clempson in COLOSSEUM or, for HEEP, to find the right combination by bringing Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake into the fold?
Well, I’ll tell you how that was. Lee Kerslake was THE drummer, no question about that, and we’d never had the right drummer until then, so that was good, that worked very well. The way I work is I say something like, “We’ve got to find a drummer”. I didn’t say, “You have to take Lee Kerslake”, or “You have to take Gary Thain”. I said, “We have to find a drummer. We have to find a bass player”. And I would say, “Well, I heard, Gary Thain is very good. Why don’t you rehearse with him, practice with him? And if you like it and get on with this person…” But there was never a question when I said, “James Litherland has to leave”, it was a mutual [decision] – they had a big say in who they were going to work with. It wouldn’t work, of course, if I said to somebody, “You’ve got to work with this guitarist”, if they all hated him or thought he played badly. You have to let the band have a big say – but they would’ve never made some of the changes they had to if you didn’t say to them, “Look, the bass player is not good, you’ve got to change him”.
– What about Mark Clarke, who was not only a bass player but also a very good singer? Whose idea it was to bring Chris Farlowe in?
Chris Farlowe is a much better singer. I would never have used Mark Clarke as a lead singer, whereas Chris has a fantastic voice. Mark Clarke sings well, [but] it’s much better to have Chris Farlowe as the lead singer and Mark singing harmony in the background than the other way around. I mean, Chris Farlowe was in a strange situation: in a way, they’ve [COLOSSEUM] never really found the right lead singer – what they wanted was a lead singer who had a fantastic voice and was a very good musician, and Chris is good but he’s not fantastic [as a player]. COLOSSEUM were at the top of the tree: they had the best musicians in the country, and to find a singer of that level was never easy. James [Litherland] was not the greatest singer but he was the better musician; in the end, he was too young, probably, and it never really worked.
– When a musician left or a band broke up, did you feel like having to back the offshoot project, as with COLOSSEUM II and TEMPEST?
Yes, I think that I had a sort of moral obligation to try and help Jon carry on. But COLOSSEUM were very successful, and COLOSSEUM II and TEMPEST never really worked – and we had Gary Moore. I can’t remember, Gary Moore was in COLOSSEUM II or in TEMPEST… He was in TEMPEST, wasn’t he?
– No, in COLOSSEUM II.
Then, Gary Moore became a hugely successful guitarist, but he didn’t work for COLOSSEUM II, so that’s interesting, really, we have to think about it.
– Then, there were Allan Holdsworth and Ollie Halsall in TEMPEST.
Oh yes, they’re all very, very good musicians, so when Jon – it wasn’t me! – found them, and they went on, all of them, to be successful as not just part of a new COLOSSEUM they were really worth it.
– As I said before, on your roster there were bands of various styles: hard rock, African music, progressive, jazzy, even metal. So what kind of music do you prefer to work with?
It’s all the same. I just love music, and if it’s good I like it. I mean, I like certain types of music more than others, but my interests lie in music… I’m interested in Stravinsky, in Bartok – I like difficult, complicated music, I don’t like simple music. My interests are very broad: I like Tchaikovsky, but Tchaikovsky is simple in comparison to Bartok, and I still like both of them. It is melody and passion in music that I like.
– Was it through Gene Pitney that you became interested in rock music?
No, no, there’s no connection at all there. Gene Pitney was part of my pop music background. But Gene was very good! Gene was dramatic in the music that he sang, he sang with great theatrical drama – I like that, so there’s a connection. I wouldn’t do simple pop stuff, I’m not interested. COLOSSEUM and MOTORHEAD and URIAH HEEP, they’re all good, but in different ways. I’ll tell you what I think started it, because it wasn’t part of my background. I suppose it was my classical musical interest. The story I always tell about COLOSSEUM is that they told me what they were going to do: they told me it was going to be a blues band – I didn’t think it was going to be what it was. And the first time I went to see them at the rehearsal and listen to what they were doing, they played two or three numbers, then stopped. Jon came up to me and said, “What do you think?” I said, “Absolutely fantastic! I think it’s wonderful!” He said, “Now what do you really think?” (Laughs.) He thought I was being flattering, but it was. I mean, it was terrific! So I’m just trying to remember: COLOSSEUM came before URIAH HEEP, and I think it evolved. I worked in the studio with URIAH HEEP for nine months before we put out their first record. I liked what they played – I just liked it. I might have found some other music I’d like, but I liked what they were doing.
– What do you listen to at home?
At home? Mostly classical music. To me, music is music, I don’t say, “I like this” or “I don’t like that”, I listen to everything. My wife – Penny and I have known each other for twenty-four years now – and when I first knew her, she didn’t like Stravinsky, she didn’t like Ravel but, gradually, I’ve taught her what to listen to, what was good.
– I think it’s impossible to not like “Bolero”!
Ah you see the trouble with “Bolero” is I think that’s the one thing that Ravel probably wished he’d never written, because it’s like every artist – there’s an analogy in pop music – has one thing that they have to play. URIAH HEEP have to play “Gypsy”, Manfred Mann has to play “Blinded By The Light”, and they all have one thing that they wish they didn’t have to play, ’cause they have to play it every time. And “Bolero” is a very good example of the composer who became famous for a piece of music – it’s a terrific piece of music, but he wrote lots of other things that were very good – and everyone thinks of him as the man who wrote “Bolero”.
– Well, it became music for mobile phones: everyone recognizes Mozart’s “Rondo” and only a few know it’s Mozart. And many of them say they listen to classical music!
You’re being a bit of a snob, you’re looking down at people, as soon as you recognize that you know more about music than they do. Lots of people can say they love classical music and they really don’t know what they’re talking about, but you should encourage people like that, because they will find more things that they do like. I always ask questions when people say they love classical music, who do they like? which composers? Then, when they say which composer, I ask them, “Which piece of music?” and you can tell immediately if they really like classical music or they’re just saying that they do.
– Sometimes they can work their way from pop music to classical – from BLACKMORE’S NIGHT or RENAISSANCE; Steve Hackett and his flautist brother even recorded an album of Eric Satie’s music.
Really? Satie, actually, I don’t like very much. (Laughs.) You know, I’m very keen to encourage people to listen to all sorts of music, introduce them to it. COLOSSEUM well understood it when they first started playing, nobody in the record industry was interested at all, they didn’t understand the music, it just was beyond them, so I found it very difficult to put the record [“Those Who Are About To Die Salute You”] out, but eventually we got there.
– HAWKWIND’s music, I guess, was even harder to dig.
I don’t think we would have signed HAWKWIND if it weren’t for MOTORHEAD, I can’t say I was that interested. When you have a record label, you get to a point where you have MOTORHEAD, the manager of MOTORHEAD manages HAWKWIND, you know they are – and you hear it – quite good and you can’t put them down. When you get to that level, you haven’t the same passion for every artist, because it becomes commercial. Although we never lost any money on HAWKWIND, we never made any money, so it was okay. It was okay. Once you run a record label and you’re employing people, you have to make good commercial decisions – you can’t turn away business, even if the business isn’t what you particularly want to do: [you] can’t always find that many people that you like.
– Did you actually like the music of MOTORHEAD and THE DAMNED?
I signed MOTORHEAD because I think they had… There is something unique about MOTORHEAD – there isn’t another MOTORHEAD, they have a fantastic following! Some of what they do, things like “Ace Of Spades”, are not my cup of tea, and I can’t say that MOTORHEAD is something that I play all the time, but it’s good in its own area, no question about that. You’ve got to remember that when we reached our height, when we were very successful, we had MOTORHEAD, URIAH HEEP, Manfred Mann, Sally Oldfield – they’re all completely different – but everyone thought we were a rock label. And I said, “Listen to what they’re doing, they’re not the same at all, they’re not like each other”.
– By the way, how come you signed Sally Oldfield? She must have been the obvious choice for Richard Branson who picked her brother.
I don’t know why Virgin never signed Sally. It’s very strange. I would have thought that would have been the absolutely automatic thing to do. But I think maybe she didn’t want to sign to Virgin, that’s possible; maybe she thought she’d be in her brother’s shadow.
– A “Moonlight shadow”!
They’re all very talented! She’s got a brother – is it Trevor or Terry?..
– Terry, who’s doing new age.
They’re all tremendous musicians! Sally’s a terrific musician! Her ear… She had one big hit on Bronze, called “Mirrors”, and we did it on the “Top Of The Pops”, a programme that, in those days, had an orchestra, and she sang to the orchestra. They had the arrangement done but somehow they’d left out the vocal part, the vocal backing for their choir, so the girls said, “We don’t know what to sing”, and she said, “Oh, it’s not a problem”, and sang each one of their individual parts! There are not so many people who can do that.
– This anecdote is not on your site yet! And about these anecdotes… Do you think your sense of humor influenced the records you produced?
Probably… I have a theory about making records which is, if you don’t enjoy them and you don’t have a good laugh while making them, they’re not going to be any good. And I naturally try, when I’m in a studio as a producer, to make people happy and enjoy what they’re doing, so it probably does influence the music. I mean, we don’t make parties making music, but it’s the love of what you’re doing, and I think you’ll find that musicians all have a sense of humor. I think they have to. I think you have to see the funny side of whatever it is you do. And my sense of humor has that influence.
– Still on anecdotes. Do you have a diary?
No, it’s in my head. I wrote the anecdotes because a friend of mine said, “You know, you’re always telling me stories, so you should write them down and put them on your website”. So it’s not that I’m telling these stories from memory: I’ve been telling these stories forever. I don’t know if you read the story about URIAH HEEP dressing up in sash cords – that’s a true story! Whenever we go out for dinner, my wife always says to me, “You must tell them that story about URIAH HEEP”. And I say, “I’m fed up with telling it”, but I always tell it. I actually didn’t think I’d need to write it down, ’cause I tell it so often. You don’t forget things like that at all, and they’re all true, I haven’t changed one bit. I’ve read somebody said that these stories, I’m always making them up, but they are true. I don’t make them up.
– As for me, I believe them as, working with musicians for many years I’ve seen many funny things happening, like somebody stealing the only bottle of vodka from URIAH HEEP’s dressing room, in Haifa, when it was a Shabbat and everything was closed.
I remember when we toured America, where most of the incidents happened, very successfully for five years, every day something happened, so there’s a lot of stories. There’s a lot more that I’m going to add to [the Bronze site] when I get the time, it takes a lot of time to write them all and put them down.
– Now what about visual material: many people wonder if there’s anything left in the Bronze archives that was recorded but never released.
I think everything that’s ever been recorded has come out – it was a long time ago. Well, there might be something… I used to produce and manage back then THE BONZO DOG DOO-DAH BAND and their lead singer, Vivian Stanshall. They made a programme about him and they phoned me up and asked if they could interview me, and they had clips in that programme that I’d forgotten about, I’d completely forgotten we’d done it all those years ago. So there might be things out there that I don’t remember. It’s more than thirty years ago!
– But you have a good memory for those stories!
No, no, no! The stories, they stay with you, you don’t forget them, unlike the little things that we did. Like on Saturday, when that chap showed me “Charge!” by PALADIN with that Roger Dean cover I’d forgotten. If somebody said to me, “How many covers did you do with Roger Dean?” I would’ve completely forgotten about PALADIN. You don’t remember everything, it’s impossible! Nobody remembers everything anyway.
– PALADIN… I’m working on an interview with Pete Solley.
Oh, Pete Solley, he’s in America! You know, the reason I took Pete Solley on was his parents were very good friends with my parents. They didn’t like a nice Jewish boy getting into the music business but they thought if he was with me, I would look after him – which I did, but it wasn’t very successful. He’s a good keyboard player, but there was something that wasn’t quite going to make it [for PALADIN]: I think in a way they were too sure of each other, they were convinced that they were very good at what they did. On Saturday, we played their track – I can’t remember which track it was – it went on and on and on, it was so indulgent. It never stopped, with the drum solo and then a guitar solo it just went on. It wasn’t commercial.
– For that age, it could’ve been. Ah, why was – and is – the label called Bronze?
Well, we didn’t think up the name, [it was] the drummer in URIAH HEEP who thought up the name, Iain Clark – we gave him twenty-five pounds for that. I mean, we’d had a competition, we said, “Anyone who comes up with the name, will get twenty-five pounds”. But he said, “Your name is Bron, and bronze is a metal, so this is the idea”. Great idea!
– And the logo?
That’s somebody else, we had nothing to do with that. The chap who did the “Look At Yourself” cover (Douglas Maxwell – DME) invented the man going round in a circle, that’s supposed to be a reference to the Bronze age. I knew nothing about the Bronze age.
– Why have you re-launched the label now?
Oh, ’cause I just think that we’ve got a lot of good music in England that isn’t coming out. The music that England is producing now is a sort of manufactured pop music that’s not very good. I think we’ve got musicians today that are as good as the people I found in the Seventies. I think there’s another Jon Hiseman, another Manfred Mann, another Dick Heckstall-Smith – there are people of that ability, of that talent out there, but they’re not getting record deals. I think we could make their records and sell them around the world – they deserve to be heard.
– How will you find them?
They’ll find me in the end, once they know what we’re doing. It was the same with COLOSSEUM: in the end they really came to us. And people just have phoned up to say, “If you could do what you’d done to Jon Hiseman, then you can do it to me”. They weren’t as good, of course, but… I think, once it gets out that we’re looking for good music, good musicians, that there is a market out there in the world for the best, then we will find those artists. We’ve only just started. Paddy Milner is a very good example: he’s a virtuoso – he’s a virtuoso keyboard player, he’s the best keyboard player I’ve ever had anything to do with, and given a year or so, we will be selling records all around the world.
– Who are the others?
We’ve signed a guitarist, a flamenco guitarist playing just instrumental music [GP Hall], we’ve got two jazz albums coming out [by John Altman] – you’ll hear and see if you look at out website – and we’ve got a Christmas album by Rockford the dog, so we deal with all sorts of music. If it’s good and people like it, that’s what we should be doing. But it’s British, it’s to do with what we can find and what we can do in Britain. I don’t think, thirty years later, that there’s no longer any outstanding talent to be found like back in 1970: it’s still there – we’ve just got to find it. Or it’s going to find us.
– What you said about your desire to produce new acts was generally speaking, yet was there anything specific that has made you decide, “I want to do it again”?
Yes. “Pop Idol”! (Laughs.) There’s a television programme called “Pop Idol”, which’s just the worst… They have all these singers, and they compete and they’re voted for, and the winners have these fantastic record deals worth millions. And none of them are really any good, none that we could produce! I thought, “This is ridiculous”. If I did “Pop Idol”, it would be successful, because I would only have great singers. The reason it became popular is [because] it’s a television programme, and they have someone called Simon Cowell who says, “You’re terrible”, and they burst into tears. That’s television!
– Look, before you re-launched the label, there was some other Bronze site that I’ve seen.
That’s my son! My son has got some label, but we’re doing different things. That is Bronze Records Inc. in America, and the real Bronze Records is what I’m doing – I hate to say that.
– Is there a competition?
I don’t mind, but I hope he does worry: if he finds some good things, I’d be happy.
– How did you hook up with Pete Brown?
Just bit of luck there. I’ve known him for a long time, probably for forty years, and he’s into the same sort of thing, you know: he’s looking for good music, good performances. I used to manage him – he says I didn’t, but I remember managing him. We were his publishers forty years ago, he had a band called PETE BROWN & PIBLOKTO!
– BATTERED ORNAMENTS too?
I don’t think BATTERED ORNAMENTS was him. I remember them but don’t remember whether he was in it. You might be right, as I cover a lot of ground, I cover fifty years of music business, and I don’t remember everything. I remember a lot of people but not everybody.
– COLOSSEUM did a version of “Theme From An Imaginary Western” written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown. Was it your idea?
No, it wasn’t mine. You’ve got to remember that Jon Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith always worked with Pete so to do something like “Theme From An Imaginary Western” was a natural thing.
– Will Pete be releasing his albums on the new Bronze as well?
There’s no plans to do that, because he’s not really playing, but we might do. If he makes a live record, we’d think about releasing it.
– He’s just released one, on Voiceprint.
What I talk about is he’d done a deal on the live album, it’s a quite a good album actually, so he could’ve released it.
– Who of your former charges was the most interesting to work with and who was the most fun?
That’s a good question, I have to think about it… I think, probably URIAH HEEP, in the sense that I got on very well with Ken, and we had a lot of laughs and we toured together and so on, so I enjoyed working with them. Manfred Mann was difficult to work with, he’s not an easy person to work with, so I can’t say I enjoyed working with him. Who else that I worked with? Jon Hiseman was difficult and very insistent on what he did. So URIAH HEEP… and OSIBISA were very funny, they were great fun. Going back, Gene Pitney was great to work with. I liked working with Gene, I got on very well with Gene. He was good not only on the musical side, but the touring and the whole pop side of what he did, I enjoyed that. But that was my start! I really started with Gene Pitney as a manager, and the record side grew from there. And musically? Probably, Manfred. I think, musically, Manfred was the best of the people I worked with.
– In which part of his career: with MANFRED MANN the band, CHAPTER THREE or THE EARTH BAND?
Well, MANFRED MANN, because I made “Ha! Ha! Said The Clown”. I enjoyed that, I thought they were really great. I didn’t make “Blinded By The Light” and that sort of records by the EARTH BAND but I did like them musically, I think they’re really good. They had a terrific band, but Manfred’s fabulous: he’s a genius when it comes to finding songs and making something out of them. So, probably, MANFRED MANN… You’re asking this question, but in a two-days’ time I might say that I think so-and-so was better. You’re asking me to remember fifty years of working, and it takes something to trigger off the recollection. Still, I think the answers I give you are the right answers, although sometimes I can’t remember whether it was in 1975 or 1985.
– Did you ever think about writing a book of recollections?
I’m going to write a book! I’m either going to call it “The Bar That Changed My Life” – and I’ll show you the bar in a minute – or “The Professional Amateur”, because everything I’ve ever done has always been a hobby that I turned into a business. And here’s the bar… (Goes out and fetches some sheets of music.) I was a member of the youth club in the synagogue, and they had a big hall that was used to rehearse symphony orchestras – I didn’t know this. I turned up at the club [one day], and we couldn’t get into the hall and were told to go up the stairs that were at the side of the hall, and I heard this music which was absolutely fantastic! The hall has a balcony, so I opened the door and went on there and saw this conductor conducting the orchestra – and this is the music they were playing. What stopped me was this chord (points to the specific place on the sheet): the hairs on the back of my head were standing – it was absolutely amazing. And at that moment I said, “Okay, I want to play in an orchestra”, and I got to learn about music to play in an orchestra to make that sort of sound. I was probably about nineteen. [Before that] I wasn’t interested in classical music at all, and the conductor – a very well-known conductor, his name was Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – said I was going to play like this… So my life changed. That one bar changed my life, ’cause I learned to play the clarinet and I studied music and, because of that, when I produced URIAH HEEP I had the musical background to do something about that; if I hadn’t that background, I may have not been able to do it. Now I printed this out, and on Saturday I was going to share it with everybody and play the music – and I forgot to take it! (Laughs.) The score is Richard Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel”. Richard Strauss’s written terrific music, he wrote an opera called “The Rose And Cavalier”, which is quite frequently performed in England. But this piece of music set off my inspiration, if you like, so that may be the title of my book: “The Bar That Changed My Life”. But most people think the “bar” is where you drink! (Laughs.)
– Do you think your work has also changed many people’s lives?
Probably… I always say that one of the disappointments of being a manager – not a producer – is if the artist succeeds, they think it’s because they’re that good, and if they fail, it’s ’cause their manager’s no good. I think that’s the problem: in all the years that we’re talking about I don’t think that URIAH HEEP, COLOSSEUM, THE BONZO DOG DOO-DAH BAND would have been successful at all, if I hadn’t got involved. That sounds conceited, but I knew what I had to do to make them successful. So I have changed their lives. If Ken Hensley hadn’t joined URIAH HEEP, Ken Hensley would never have done well, nor would URIAH HEEP. If I hadn’t found the BONZOS in a club that I’d been to in Manchester, nobody would’ve known who they are today. But I never get any credit back. In a way, managers can change – and do change – people’s lives, but they don’t always receive credit for doing so.
– Are you in touch with the people you worked with earlier?
Not particularly. I would love to talk to Ken Hensley, just because we used to go out for dinner together and it wasn’t just music and music business. I’d be very pleased to see him, he’s a great character. Everyone complains, “Ken does this, or this guy does that”, but we all do things that people don’t like.
– Would you want any of your former artists signed to the new Bronze?
No. You’ve got to move on. The fun of the business for me is to find somebody that isn’t well-known and create somebody who deserves that success over a period of time. To take people I work with for years is not fun. Most of the things I’ve signed were not successful before I signed them, the one exception, probably, being Manfred. I don’t think even MOTORHEAD would have got anywhere if we hadn’t signed them to Bronze. I mean, nobody wanted to signed them: they tried to get a deal, to get a single out and they never got anywhere. But I wouldn’t sign MOTORHEAD again, or URIAH HEEP, because I want to do new things.
– Is there any record you feel proud of the most?
Of those that I made? Very difficult question. One of the best records I’ve made – and it was successful – was “Easy Livin'” by URIAH HEEP. And the one that I probably am the most proud of is Gene Pitney’s “Something’s Got A Hold Of My Heart”, because nobody wanted to finish that record off properly. Mark Almond’s [version] is an exact copy of the record that I had made twenty years earlier, from beginning to end, and it’s amazing, as it did go to number one, whereas the one that I made went to number five. (Laughs.) When that record was being made, Gene put his voice on a demo track, and they were going to put it out, and I said, “You’re completely mad! It doesn’t sound like a Gene Pitney record! It needs strings and brass and choir”. They said, “No, we’re going to put that out”, and I said, “You’re not, I’m not letting you put it out, it’s terrible!” Eventually, they said, “Okay, if you’re really that sure, you do it”. And I did it! And I’m proud of that, because it was a very successful record, and I’m convinced it wouldn’t have been successful without what I did, so that’s a good choice of something that I’m proud of.
– Are there any regrets, any mistakes you wish you hadn’t made? Would you change anything in your life?
The one mistake I really do think that I’ve made was when Jon Hiseman came and said Clem was leaving the band, I accepted that and I didn’t try and say to him, “Look, there’s got to be another guitarist out there that could replace Clem”. And they broke up the band, which I think was a mistake. I mean, I made a lot of mistakes, but that was a bad mistake. As a manager, I should have said then, “No, no, no, no, hang on, let’s take three months and find somebody”.
– What do you think is your greatest achievement in life?
It’s very hard to say, very hard… I don’t know. I suppose that when you die, when you finally leave something behind, I feel I’ve made a series of records that were successful and I think it’s nice to have success. I’m very keen to see other people succeed, I get a lot of pleasure out of people doing well. And I feel I’ve done a little bit of that myself as well. But my greatest achievement – I’ve never really thought about it. Keeping my wife happy, probably.