It was the year when times definitely were 'a-changing' in Britain. The year when The Rolling Stones, the Beatles and a few other aspiring groups, were setting the UK music scene alight; while in America, Elvis was about to be launched as a Hollywood film star in a series of rather dubious musicals.
Meanwhile, in a large Edwardian pub in Blackheath, South East London, a small group of avid jazz aficionados were hatching big plans. They had been running a pretty successful jazz club called the "Jazzhouse" in the first floor 'banqueting suite' of the Green Man public house, an imposing early 19th century building at the top of Blackheath Hill (long since demolished to make way for an apartment block). It opened every Sunday evening and featured a resident band of five or six semi-pro musicians, with 3 other guys taking care of the management side. After running for a while, they had decided to up the ante a bit by featuring a 'star' guest each week. Some of those names are now legendary - saxophonists Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes & Joe Harriott, for example. Others 'name' musicians, though well known on the jazz scene, wouldn't get much recognition outside of the relatively small, but fervent, followers of modern jazz. Talented musicians like Don Rendell, Ian Carr, Shake Keane, Bob Efford, Tommy Whittle, Jimmy Skidmore etc. could all be relied upon to draw an enthusiastic audience of....oh, around a hundred fans. Not exactly big-time, but it meant that the club could afford to pay the guest musician a reasonably competitive (at that time) £5 fee; hand over £3 rent to the pub landlady and pay for a small ad in Melody Maker each week. This usually left around £1.50 each for the house band and the club managers...one of whom was me.
After a while, we decided to open a second club, in nearby Bromley, at the Hackwood Hotel, but this venue turned out to be much less successful and folded after just a few weeks. Another venture, this time a bit further afield, at the Hilden Manor Hotel in Tonbridge, initially went quite well, but then some severe winter snows put the 'kibosh' on attendences and it too folded. These disappointing events put a bit of a dampener on the 'big plans', so we re-grouped and decided to concentrate on building up the original Blackheath club. This was helped indirectly by the timely intervention of Manfred Lubowitz, a local jazz pianist in the process of morphing into a pop-star whose group was collectively known as Manfred Mann. Starting out as a jazz/blues group called the Mann/Hugg Blues Brothers, it soon changed musical direction to join the rapidly burgeoning rhythm & blues movement, (though ultimately, real commercial success wasn't achieved until later, when they became an out-and-out pop group). Anyway, Manfred turned up one night with a suggestion that we open an R&B club on a Friday night, which would feature his band every other week, alternating with similar outfits like the Graham Bond Organisation (at that time featuring Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker), Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, Alexis Korner, the Downliners Sect etc. So confident was he that it would be a success, he offered to play for a straight 50% of the door take, with no guaranteed fee. Initially, we were slightly sniffy about the concept and didn't jump at the idea right away, but his suggestion came at a time when we had been thinking of forming a rehearsal big-band to give young musicians a chance to gain experience of reading parts and ensemble playing. If we could make a bit of money from the R&B night, with its wider audience appeal, it could be used to help fund the project.
To cut a long story etc etc...we did open the club and yes, it was a success and actually also made money, as Manfred predicted, but unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, it had to close after just a few months. Nevertheless, in the brief time it existed, we banked enough money to get the rehearsal band up and running. After several sessions the members of the band felt so confident of their progress that they felt ready (and eager) to present their music to a live audience. This eventually happened at the Jazzhouse, on the 22nd December 1963...and thus, the New Jazz Orchestra was born. . The rest is history - albeit a relatively brief one. The NJO went on to greater things..with appearances at the Richmond Jazz & Blues Festival and other venues; recorded a couple of (now very sought-after and collectable) albums "Western Reunion" in 1965 and "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" in 1969...then a ground-breaking concert in combination with jazz-rock group Colosseum at the Lanchester Arts Festival in 1970, which was so successful and well-received that it was followed by several more concerts around the UK, all to critical and audience acclaim.
But I digress. The main point of this story is that the responsibility of booking those other groups for the short-lived R&B night fell to me, which meant my having to contact the various Agencies who represented them, thus I quickly learned how to negotiate fees - mostly percentage deals whenever possible, as they reduced the financial risk to the club. This eventually led to one of them (the London City Agency) offering me the chance to get into the music business as a 'booker', which I jumped at.
After learning the ropes, I took to the role like the proverbial duck to water, quickly developing a good relationship with most of the other agencies and, more importantly, with the many club promoters, as well as the Social Secretaries at the colleges and universities around the country. Over time, I developed an especially good rapport with one promoter, Art Chisnell, who ran the very successful club at Eel Pie Island in Twickenham three nights a week, eventually persuading him to appoint me his 'sole booker'. This was an extremely valuable coup, as it meant that every band that played the venue thereafter had to be booked through me...much to the chagrin of the other agency bookers, as they had to split their 10% commission with our agency!
However, after about 15 months or so, out of the blue I got an offer to move to the much bigger-league Rik Gunnell Agency, where I would be booking out much better known artists like Georgie Fame, Geno Washington, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Long John Baldry, Zoot Money's Big Roll Band etc., as well as the very first dates for Fleetwood Mac, at that time an out-and-out blues band. The time I spent working there helped to establish my standing among the other agencies.
At the end of 1967, I was offered the position of General Manager at the prestigious Bron Organisation, which was an agency, management and publishing company representing international stars like Gene Pitney, as well as the ubiquitous Manfred Mann (who by now had a string of chart hits under their belt), the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Uriah Heep, Osibisa, Gentle Giant and jazz rockers Colosseum, with whom I had a personal involvement, due to my long-standing friendship with drummer and founder-member, Jon Hiseman.
My career continued through the rest of the '60s and and into the '70s, including four great years working as International Manager for Charisma Records, an independent record label run by Tony Stratton-Smith, who was something of a music biz maverick. (I have written about this episode in a separate 'post').
My last few years in the music business were spent as a freelance journalist, working mainly for European magazines, interviewing a variety of interesting artists like Harry Nilsson, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winters, Spencer Davis, Bob Weir, most of Genesis and Lalo Schifrin (an eminent composer of film scores), all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, with the birth of a daughter early in 1979, I decided I'd had enough of the nomadic music biz life and headed westward, out of London, to the beautifully scenic and peaceful Wye Valley, where, for the next 20 years, I ran an antiques and collectables business, which didn't exactly make a fortune..but it was less stressful, quite enjoyable and also gave my cholesterol levels a chance to return to normal!
So, to recap...1963 was most definitely a momentous year...not just for those four 'mop-topped' Liverpool lads, but also for a naive young music-loving South London boy who always wanted a career in music, but never dreamed that it would become a reality for him!
CODA: Do I miss the music biz? Yeah, a bit. But, as the Rolling Stones once sang: "It's all over now..."