CARNABY CANNIBAL

27 Nov

LoogOldham

The Empire was dead some fifteen years give or take but the stale old farts that ran the country didn’t know it yet. The century had turned American and off-shore, ships beamed the sounds of American music into the grey old island of once-great Britain where for the longest time it’d seemed like 18 year-olds were in a rush to be 50 and an evening out consisted of a red-curtained cabbage-smelling creaky room and juvenile sexual innuendo; afterwards dinner and drinks, dancing to Trad. Trad, traditional jazz – polite, watered-down music for ladies and gentlemen. For shades of beige and navy blue. So grey you almost forgot who invented it.

This was the years 1962 and 3 when things changed, when they’d been changing already. The years between ‘the Chatterley trial and the Beatles’ first LP’. That record seems mild now. Recording at the time was run with all the joie de vivre of a wet Monday morning on a busted-up Brixton Hill road with the lads from the Department of Works holding a demarcation stop-work over who’s job it is to get the sewage pipes off the lorry.

Making a living as a musician was a never-ending ritual of sucking-up to the pin-striped stiffos at one of the few record companies that’d managed to stay afloat. The biggest boat in these waters was Decca – onceuponatime the greatest label in the world. Decca, run by royal old fart extraordinairre Sir Edward Lewis. To get a gig you needed an agent. To be an agent you needed certification from the London County Council. Once you were an agent you needed to get on the BBC if an impresario was going to book your band. All according to the tastes and standards held by people who thought Mahler was a bit wild. Then along came the Beatles’ first LP.

Their manager had ran the record department of a furniture store in Liverpool. The only reason people would even see him was cause they respected his status as a retailer. The band he represented not so much. “Guitar bands are on the way out Mr Epstein”, as said by one Dick Rowe, the A and R guy at Decca . Six months later he felt a right berk.

There was a lad who’d done a bit of PR work for Epstein’s band in London. He had loads of talent just not for music. He was hungry, vicious, relentless. Looking at Epstein he knew where to get it he just needed a band. He did some work for Epstein promoting the Beatles in London. He’d worked at Mary Quant’s Bazzar in Knightsbridge doing a bit of everything. He reckoned he could do everyone’s job there easy. Even Quant’s. Years later she had to agree. One day she got his resignation in a letter posted from Heathrow, from what job exactly she never really knew.

Bazaar

All this and he wasn’t even 20. He was looking for his opportunity and he wanted it before notching up two decades on the planet. Somewhere to put his chutzpah. That was the time when the boys spent their wages at the tailors. The girls cut their hair short after Vidal Sasson’s ‘5 point design’ and wore Mary Quant’s easy pants suits and mini-skirts. Red-faced blokes in bowler hats tapped angry on the windows of SoHo coffee shops railing at Modern Youth. It was the time of mid-day nightclubs and blue pills that kept you up all night. The music was rhythm and blues, the backdoor music of urban ghettos and Southern barn dances out way beyond the wrong side of the tracks. Epstein had his band, the kid wanted one too.

He found ’em one night at a place in Richmond: The Crawdaddy Club . These guys weren’t looking to be anything bigger than London’s best blues band. But the kid had worked for the Beatles and he seemed to know what he was talking about. He told ’em if four berks from Liverpool can make it huge, then… They listened, they signed.

Epstein had had every door in the country slammed in his face trying to sell the Beatles. But Andrew Loog Oldham wasn’t into that. He figured the thing was to find the one door that was right and kick it down. And who’s door was better than the poor bloke who’d passed on the Beatles. Rowe was desperate to cover up his Beatles gaff, it’s said he left a board meeting to see this 19 year-old upstart who learned everything he knew about negotiation from A Clockwork Orange. The kid wanted total control, ownership of the master-tapes, decisions about where and when and what to record – all up to the band. Unheard of!

But he got it.

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