The Stranglers’ debut album Rattus Norvegicus was unleashed on the public 35 years ago in April 1977. To mark the anniversary, we tracked down the man who actually got the band’s signatures on a recording contract.
Back in mid 1976, due to the persistance of Albion Management and their rapidly building reputation as a live band, The Stranglers became the focus of interest from the A&R departments of various record companies.
Having already made some big signings in his time in A&R, he was very keen to secure one of the leaders of the current New Wave explosion…
How did you career in the music business start?
I really wanted to be in the music business but I didn’t know particularly what. I moved to London early in 1965 to try to get a job. I’d been at home in Hartlepool sitting there watching ‘Ready Steady Go’ and thinking ‘this is what I want’. All I could think of was to try one of the music papers but I had no success. In Denmark Street, I saw a place called Southern Music which was a publishing company. On the off chance, I went in and said ‘I’m looking for a job’ and the guy replied ‘how did you know there was one? Can you do invoices? Seven pounds 10 a week plus luncheon vouchers and that’s your desk over there’. It was an amazing piece of luck!
Southern had a little studio in the basement and lots of bands that I knew of came to record there. Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck would come and record there and, as a fan, I would chat with all these people. Whenever I could afford it, I would go to the Flamingo or the Marquee or the 100 Club and I’d see my favourite groups like The Yardbirds or the Pretty Things. Kind of R&B groups really. Being in Denmark Street, we were slap bang in the middle of everything with lots of people around who went on to be in bands and it was a really happening place…
You then got into managing a band didn’t you?
While I was still at Southern, me and another guy ended up managing a group and getting them a record contract. They were an R&B band from with a black singer called See Jam Blues and we got them a deal with EMI. Because we had a black singer, we’d get booked into ‘black’ clubs which took us to all sorts of strange places. We get phone calls at work asking if we could provide supports for gigs and Southern got fed up and turfed us out.
In early 1967, a friend of mine worked in a record shop and an American guy came in and said ‘I’m starting Liberty records over here’. My friend told me about it and I rang up the guy and said ‘I’d love to work for a record company, I’ll do anything’. After a couple of meetings, he said ‘I don’t know what you’re going to do but you’re so keen to do it so you better come onboard’. This was right at the beginning of Liberty and we didn’t even have an office. It was almost as lucky as the first break I got with Southern. I was just in the right place at the right time…
My first job with Liberty was radio promotion, getting records played on the radio and it coincided with the beginning of Radio 1 in September 1967. I used to speak to John Peel and his producer who were the only people that I could really talk about music to. By a stroke of luck, the label manager got fired and I decided somebody needed to do his job so I started doing it without asking. After a while, the American guy said ‘you’re doing such a good job as label manager that you might as well do it’.
So how did you get into A&R?
At the same time that I became the label manager at Liberty, Transamerica Corporation in the States had bought both United Artists and Liberty. Both of the companies didn’t get on as Liberty was very West coast, Los Angeles based whereas UA was very East coast. It was a major culture shock for the two companies. The American guy didn’t want to work with UA so he decided to leave. All of a sudden there was no one running the company. I was offered a job at Apple at the same time but the head of the American Liberty company said ‘you’re not going anywhere’ which I took as a compliment.
Liberty then closed and it all became United Artists with only a few of us moving over. I had big brownie points as I’d signed Credence Clearwater Revival for Europe who went on to do really well and tat meant that I kept the job. As there was already a really good guy called Alan Warner who was UA label manager, I started to do some A&R instead. Soon after, the head of A&R at UA left so they offered me the job. Suddenly I was head of A&R and I was only 22, it was ludicrous!!!
I had an office which we painted up like a Western saloon and it had a fan to suck all the marijuana fumes out. Soon after, we signed the Flamin’ Groovies and some other oddball bands, things that did fairly well without really hitting the charts.
Yes, Hawkwind led us into some strange areas, almost like an English underground version of what was happening in San Francisco with free festivals and playing on the backs of trucks. Hawkwind had a real vibe about them. For me, Man were also big players and they were musically tight as hell. They would have been huge but they kept changing line ups.
In their recent interview for the website, both Wilko and JJ described you as a dedicated music fan. This clearly must have helped in your A&R work?
I was a fan first and I ended up doing it for a living, which was great. That made a big difference. Obviously, talking to musicians, I felt more akin to them than I did the record companies. I was in the middle trying to make it work for the bands and, if it sold lots of records, then the company were very happy. It was a nice mix really.
You were responsible for signing various Krautrock bands. Was it difficult to get labels to be interested in this German movement?
The German Liberty company in Munich was good and they got a great guy in to run it. He produced lots of beat group stuff and some blues festivals. He was a particularly hip guy. He’d tell me about Amon Duul, then Can came through. They’d already made their first album, I listened to it and it blew me away. It’s still a pretty stunning record. Later on I did Neu! and Dusseldorf and that kind of thing.
You were an early champion of the pub rock scene, signing several influential acts like Dr Feelgood. What enthused you about the whole scene?
We had Brinsley Schwarz but it was very difficult to get them gigs as we were competing against the prog rock people. They needed places to play, as did Ducks Deluxe, so we started an agency Iron Horse with Nick Lowe to get these bands bookings. This started to get the whole pub rock thing going. We were consciously trying to build another scene up as these groups couldn’t get gigs any other way.
Dr Feelgood came to me through Nick Lowe. I’d put a compilation together with some Pirates tracks without Johnny Kidd. I told Nick and he said ‘You’ve got to go and see this band, they sound just like the Pirates. They’re called Dr Feelgood, you’d love them’. This was in 1974. I went to the next available gig and thought it was fantastic!
Having been an avid music fan through many styles, what did you think of the ‘punk’ explosion?
Once I got over the violence thing at the gigs, I thought ‘this needs to happen’. I think, probably because the Feelgoods were a kind of half way house, a friend had signed Eddie and the Hot Rods, Chiswick had the 101’ers, I thought all these things were leading up to it. The ‘fan’ thing with me again was predominant.
At what stage did you become aware of The Stranglers? Was it via Albion?
Yes, it was. Definitely. I knew Dai (Davies, half of Albion with Derek Savage) through Brinsley Schwarz, although I met him first when he was doing PR. We always got on very well. He really took the initiative telling me ‘We’ve got this band and you’ll really love them!’ This would have been in very early 1976.
To draw attention to the band, Hugh often drew cartoons of their music business targets at that time. Were you a recipient of one of his cartoon as Albion had been?
I did later on, but not actually before signing them.
I can’t remember which Roundhouse one it was, either the Patti Smith (16th/17th May ’76) or the Flaming Groovies/Ramones one (4th July ’76). There were also gigs at the Red Cow and the Nashville, which Albion used to book. I was a bit confused at the outset of punk rock as The Stranglers didn’t quite fit in with the scene.
What were your first impressions of them?
I thought ‘These guys can play, they’re writing songs and they’re bright. They’re not bozos. They have actually come from somewhere (musically) and know what they’re doing’.
Having said that, weren’t many of your early attempts to see them thwarted by equipment problems?
Yes, I kept going to see them but every time turned out to be a disaster, the equipment broke down or the PA was shit. I’d go to a gig and Jean Jacques’ bass amp would blow up or something else would go wrong but, because it was Dai, I didn’t stop trying to see them.
Did Dai keep pestering you about the band?
I wasn’t really getting it, I said ‘I’m doing my best here Dai, but I can’t really see it. It sounds a bit like the Doors gone wrong!’ He was so persistent, urging me to come and see them again and again. Each time something went wrong so I finally said ‘I don’t think it’s for me Dai’.
Eventually, a personal ‘gig’ was arranged at the band’s rehearsal room for you by Dai & Derek using hired equipment. What were you thoughts when you heard the band in full flow, unimpeded by poor equipment?
Dai rang me and said ‘Look, one last go. I’m going to book a studio, we’ll hire proper equipment so you can hear the songs. If you don’t like it, I won’t bother you again’. So I went down and it was just me there, which I didn’t really like doing as I felt a bit self conscious. I thought they’re doing this just for me and what if I still don’t like it! It was a bit uncomfortable.
But, of course, I loved it and I thought ‘God, I had no idea it was this good!’ Every track was memorable and had a hook. Before I’d even left the room, I said ‘We’ve got to do this’. Eureka! I’d finally got it, mainly thanks to Dai bashing away, and I’m really glad he did…
After their successful showcase to you, how quickly did you sign the band to UA?
It was really quick, gotta do it straight away. It helped because it was Dai and he knew everybody in the company so it was quick and all pretty painless. Back then, things were moving so fast. Every week there was a new ‘punk rock shock horror’ story, The Clash are this week’s big band, then it was Generation X…
So, was there a pressure to sign a ‘punk’ band to UA’s roster?
No, not really. There was definitely no pressure, apart from the usual selling enough records to pay the bills. UA had already put out the Damned’s first single through Stiff, so we were kind of ‘in there’. I’d had quite a negative vibe about ‘punk’. I knew Nick Kent (music journalist who was attacked by Sid Vicious) who was beaten up by a Sex Pistol and I thought ‘he’s a harmless drug-addict music-fan, leave him alone’.
It was all relentlessly new then, there was something going on and you couldn’t help but be interested in it. I was friendly with a guy wo was head of A&R at CBS at the time and he was full of himself as he’d signed The Clash. Almost at the same time, I signed the Stranglers. He rang me when the chart position came out for the first Clash album and said ‘we’re at number 12!’ A week later, I did the same to him with Rattus and he said ‘Number 4! What the fuck did you do to get that?!!!’ That was a wonderful moment…
It was purely again being a fan, if the Clash record comes out, I want to hear it. All those bands, if a single came out, whoever it was, I wanted to hear it. The Lurkers or whoever.
(Note: Once the band were signed, one of Andrew’s first actions was to record a gig at the Nashville Rooms in London on the 10th of December 1976. More details can be found here).
Were you surprised at the speed of the band’s rise to fame, from supporting Patti Smith at the Roundhouse to a record breaking 5 night headlining run there a year and half later?
Yeah, I think everybody was surprised really. When you get enthusiastic about something, it’s never quick enough. If you look back it, it was pretty breathtaking, things happened very quickly. Also, the interest from Europe was amazing, probably because The Stranglers were quite musical, people that couldn’t relate to the other bands, could relate to The Stranglers. They’d played a hell of a lot and knew what they were doing, which made a big difference with Germany, France or Italy, who couldn’t quite relate socialogically to the Sex Pistols or The Clash.
The Buzzcocks weren’t that easy. I loved the first EP but by the time we got interested, the singer Howard (Devoto) had left. As I came from the North East, I was keen to sign a band from the North. I kept interest in the Buzzcocks although I thought, ‘Howard’s gone, it won’t be the same’. What was even more odd was that he became their manager. I stayed with them as there was no one else in the North at that point apart from Slaughter & The Dogs who I thought were pretty poor.
I went up to the Electric Circus to see the Buzzcocks with Penetration, John Cooper-Clarke and Joy Division when they were Stiff Kittens. It was a different atmosphere to a London gig, and being a football fan, I found it like a music meets football meets Northern crowd. A totally different vibe.
I had quite a few meetings about Siouxsie & The Banshees, but that was the same time as I wanted the Buzzcocks so decided I was only going to get one of them. There was a brief flirtation with the Sex Pistols after they had left A&M so one night I had a late meeting in the office with (Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm) McLaren. For a brief period, although they were infamous for being hard to deal with, I thought ‘I can do this’. I then realised it would be a horror story, especially as I knew The Stranglers would hate it. I rang him the next morning to tell him ‘No’ but for five minutes it seemed like a good idea!
Soon after the band had achieved commercial success in early ‘77, you left UA to pursue other projects. Did you feel that you had achieved all you could with the company?
No, I didn’t want to leave. I’d heard that EMI was going to buy Liberty/UA and I didn’t want to work for them. I left and set up Radar records and wanted to take some of the bands with us, especially as you feel responsible for them. That was one of the hardest things was leaving The Stranglers, Buzzcocks and the Feelgoods behind. It was tough but I really didn’t want to work for EMI…
In retrospect, who do you consider to be your favourite signing?
That’s a difficult one, as there were lots of different bands for different times. The Groundhogs were the first that I did totally by myself. Hawkwind were a big one, it was so of the wall but then we had a hit with ‘Silver Machine’. That was great fun! The Feelgoods were a biggie, musically I loved what they were doing and ‘R&B’ and Blues is still my favourite music.
The Stranglers-huge! Buzzcocks, I’m hugely fond of. Moving on to Radar, it was Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Then the Stone Roses on Silvertone which was a roller coaster ride and a whole other story.
Have you seen The Stranglers live them recently?
Yeah, I saw them in Cannes in September last year. They were great, really good. There was a big crowd and they were seriously good. Baz looks good and I really like him. I met him and when I realised he’s from Sunderland, we got on very well. He came in a just the right time to keep the vibe going. They’re still a serious band…
Are you planning to write your memoirs as you have had a long and varied career in the music industry?
Yeah, I am actually. I’ve already started working on it. It was my New Year’s resolution to get cracking with the book. Thinking back to my time in the early to mid Sixties around Denmark Street, which was a very small area but was incredibly important in the whole scene at the time. I’d like to document that era. We never realised how important it was at the time.
Has your move to the South of France distanced you from the ‘biz’?
I still get excited about new music and get packages of CDs sent out from friends still in the business so I keep up to date. I’ve really come to appreciate my time in the music business by stepping outside of it and moving to the South of France. Being out here has really put everything into perspective.
Thanks to Andrew for his time and his fascinating insight into his career in the music business. Thanks also to Judith, his wife and JJ for the inital contact.
UA signing pic courtesy of Alan Edwards