photo above: KEN EAST
So here I am in London with no employment, no income, the family to provide for and having just recently taken on a large mortgage. Was I worried? For some inexplicable reason I wasn't. It was though, an odd feeling departing Phonogram in London at the age of 34 after joining them as a 16 year old in New Zealand.
One day, the phone rings and on the line is Ken East. Ken is an industry legend, having been MD of EMI in the heyday of The Beatles. “I had a hard job finding you”, he says. “Those bastards at Phonogram told me you had gone back to New Zealand and it was only by chance I bumped into a guy who had your phone number. Any way I have taken over as MD at Decca and want you to be my Marketing Manager”.
I first met Ken in New Zealand when he looked me up when he was visiting EMI there. A big and tall, softly spoken Aussie he has a real presence about him and although warm and friendly you know this is not a guy you cross. He treats everyone with total respect until they deserve otherwise.
Next day I meet with Ken and we agree a salary and responsibilities. My job is overseeing the pop music division with the emphasis of choosing product and marketing it to media and the public. The Retail Sales Division is under him and he will have final say on local recordings. This is OK by me as the brief is right where my skills are.
Ken asks me to review all artist contracts and make some decisions about terminating those that were not working for us and those we didn’t think had a future. What do you know, I find that, exactly like the Phonogram “arrangement”, Phil Solomon has a contract to deliver Decca six singles a year. And just like the Phonogram recordings all those delivered are duds.
I bring this to Ken’s attention and once more I’m told to terminate the contract with Phil Solomon. I arrange a formal legal letter and send it off. Phil is soon on the phone to Ken. Unlike AJ Morris at Phonogram, Ken does not back away and tells Phil that we at Decca don’t want to deal with him and the contract is cancelled. Ken tells Phil that he is fully behind the decision and that I have his total confidence and support.
A couple of weeks later Ken calls me to his office where I meet a friend of Ken’s who is a music publisher. This guy was brought up in London’s East End and is still in touch with old friends connected to the seedier side of the music business. He informs me that there is a contract out for me to receive a beating and a few broken bones. Of course Ken and I feel we know who may be behind this.
I’m terrified and worried. Ken advises me to stay away from anywhere that is not busy with people. We arrange to have my car parked in the Decca yard, rather than the company garage, which is located in a rather dark back street a five-minute walk away.
So, I keep a low profile and stick with plenty of people around me when out at gigs. The scary part was getting into our home late at night from parking the car, as the only resident parking in our Barnes street is out on the street itself.
A couple of weeks later Ken gives me good news: His friend has had discussions with East End contacts and a deal has been agreed. I’m off the hit list and safe. I’m only safe thanks to Ken and his powerful influence and standing in the UK music business: and to his music publisher friend for using his boyhood connections to pull a favour.