Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I get a phone call from Ken East. Ken is a music industry legend, having been MD of EMI in the heyday of The Beatles. Ken has taken over as MD at Decca and invites me to be his Marketing Manager.

After a brief chat we make an appointment to meet next day in his office. Ken ends the call with a strange request; “Promise me one thing; you will make sure you do see me. Don’t get depressed by the Decca environment on arrival and bugger off”. With that he disconnects.

Decca had been along with EMI at the top of UK record companies and the home of The Rolling Stones and The Moody Blues. Decca was now (1975) an "also ran" and slipping further behind EMI and a host of newer players.

Next day I get a train to London and make my way to the Decca building on the Albert Embankment, over the Thames but in sight of Big Ben. Now I find out what Ken meant. The reception people are uniformed “Commissioners”, all aged about 70 plus and rude. The decor is 1930. Eventually I’m escorted up to Ken’s office. The office is bare except for a desk, chair, phone and a guest chair. “Spartan it may be” is Ken’s opening remark. “But it’s staying like this until we turn this company around”.

After agreeing salary and a company car I get advice from Ken; “This place is a political nightmare with a bunch of upper class old fogies who used to be in charge now spending their days trying to stuff us new guys up. Don’t get involved in trying to politic these guys. You run shop and leave that to me. When you arrive Monday and until I sort out your car park, just park the car in the main yard”.

On Monday I arrive in the Decca main yard in the sporty Ford hatchback I have chosen. I park the car and make my way to the entrance only to be confronted by a uniformed oldie who shouts, “You can’t park there, get it out of our car park”. I explain to him that I’m the new Marketing Manager of the recording division and he exclaims, “That’s not an executive car”. Ignoring him I make my way to the main foyer and call one of the two elevators.

Another uniformed oldie shouts, “Where do you think you’re going?” Again I explain who I am. “Well then” he says “you must take the left elevator: that one on the right is for non-managerial staff”. I am entering the world of class division as advocated by the company’s founder and Chairman, Sir Edward Lewis.

My fun with the uniformed oldies continued for a couple of weeks until evidently it was accepted I was who I said I was.

As much as Ken tried to change the culture at Decca it was still something from another age. The English class system was rife, or at lest the Decca version of it.

If I went out of the building with any of my team I was not permitted to travel with them in the staff elevator but had to go in the one reserved for management. Several times I tried to join my team but either got shouted at by the Commissioners or sent a note from one of the "Old fogies". Being the son of a Wellington waterside worker I found my new “status’ very strange.

There were three dining rooms where staff had lunch; one for the non-executive staff, one for senior executives and one for Sir Edward and guests. In both the executive and Sir Edward’s venues a superb lunch with the finest of wines was served at no cost to the executive. Sir Edward always referred to his staff by their surnames, so I was just McCready and Ken, just East.

We were encouraged to invite guests to lunch in our executive dining room rather than spend money in restaurants. If our guest were important enough we would be upgraded to Sir Edward’s venue and Sir Edward himself would attend. These were awfully stilted occasions, which we tried to avoid: the “clubby” atmosphere and our guests being talked down to by our upper class chairman didn’t exactly give us the image of a go ahead, risk taking and modern record company.

Despite the “old guard” doing their best to stop the new team we had a fantastic year and improved our market share and number of chart singles and albums significantly. Decca became a player again in this competitive market.

But, unbeknown to me Ken was not happy at Decca: despite our success, Sir Edward was still interfering too much and letting some of the old guard continue to frustrate Ken.

I’m requested to meet with Ken and on doing so he tells me he is sorry but he has resigned to take up the position of International President of Motown Records, to be based in London. I’m asked to join him as Marketing Director for Europe and MD of Motown UK. After thinking about it don’t want to change jobs again so soon and would prefer to see if I can carry on here at Decca. Ken warns me that on his leaving the old guard will regain control and I will be frustrated to hell. He offers to keep the Motown position open for me for a period just in case I find the going at Decca too tough.

Ken East was, in my view, one of the great “record men” and working with him opened up doors for me that I simply couldn’t have opened without his help. Ken knew every important player in the business and made sure I was introduced and promoted as his number two at Decca. He was the best guy I have ever worked for; tough, fair, and knowledgeable plus he was an inspirational leader. I knew without him at Decca it would be hard, but not how hard.

I meet with Sir Edward who appoints me General Manager of the companies' Popular Music Division. I go back to work but as Ken predicted the old guard starts blocking decision making at all levels and soon staff morale is just awful. Sir Edward seems content to see our progress halted and turns a blind eye. After a month of frustration I phone Ken and he is delighted I will join him.

Sir Edward and I meet and I advise him that I’m leaving and why. He becomes very agitated and standing up from his desk points at me shouting, “You are just like that East, you...you.... bloody colonials”. I leave that day.

Whilst my short time at Phonogram UK saw me contribute by way of signing Thin Lizzy and Kraftwork it really was a period of education rather than achievement. At Decca I really felt we had made a great success of the company and our improved market share testified to that. I was proud of what we had achieved and certainly was now accepted as a UK record man, even though still “a bloody colonial”.

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