I worked for Tony Stratton-Smith (known generally as 'Strat') at Charisma Records for four years - from 1972 to 1976, most of that time as International Manager. This meant that I travelled a lot, mainly around Europe, liaising with the various label licensees and their press/promotion departments. I also made several trips to America, once with the boss (more of which later). The label's main artist at the time was, of course, Genesis...who were just beginning to take off when I joined in June 1972. These were exciting times and I thoroughly enjoyed working with Strat, as I had a lot of respect for his way of operating, which was often bold, frequently unpredictable and sometimes risky...but always interesting. His musical (and business) maxim was "anything good of its kind" and he gave many artistes a chance who wouldn't have been given the time of day by most of the other labels. Because of this policy Charisma released many 'off-the-wall' albums, like those by Sir John Betjeman (Banana Blush, Late Flowering Love etc.); Bo Hansson's "Lord of the Rings", as well as the quirky albums by Vivian Stanshall of Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band fame, plus, of course, those hilarious offerings from Monty Python's Flying Circus, . It was great to have the opportunity of working with such a variety of original and unusual artistes, especially the last two, as our paths had already crossed back when I worked at Bron Artiste Management ('68-'71). In particular, I have very good memories of touring Germany with Genesis, ably supported by the Phonogram press and promotion staff on many of the lesser known Charisma acts like String Driven Thing and Capability Brown.
Working with Genesis was both interesting and exciting during those years, as their star was already in the ascendant at that point, albeit mainly in the UK. However, word of their original and ground-breaking theatrical stage show was already beginning to spread further afield, with Italy being the first foreign audience to recognise their unique talent. Part of my brief was to extend that breakthrough to the other European countries, in particular Germany, the most important European market as far as record sales were concerned. So, I broached the idea of a Charisma Tour package to Strat, which would feature Genesis, Lindisfarne and Capability Brown. I had to stress that we would need to obtain some serious financial support from licensee Phonogram for it to be viable, as no German promoter would be prepared to take on such a expensive and risky venture, given that none of groups were exactly well-known there back then. Strat agreed the project without hesitation...typical of his readiness to back his acts with hard cash. I then took the idea to Germany's top tour promoters Lippman and Rau, as I knew them well, having worked with them a few years before (with jazz-rock band Colosseum) and rated them highly for their experience and professionalism.
A brief tour of four German dates was quickly put together, which opened on 13th January 1973 at the Congresshalle Hamburg and a sell-out crowd got the tour off to a good start. The following day we travelled to Heidelberg, where they were to play the Stadthalle on the 15th. However,soon after our arrival, Fritz Rau came to me with some surprising information. A message had been awaiting him at the hotel from the producer of an important German TV show that was being filmed in Frankfurt that evening as part of "British Week". It transpired that the featured group had pulled out suddenly for some reason and he wanted to know if Genesis could take their place. Fritz hardly needed to impress on me the importance of such a TV show and what a lucky break this was for them. I quickly related all this to the group and they immediately agreed that it was too good an opportunity to miss...so off we went. The show was being filmed at the Festhalle and they performed two numbers - "Watcher of the Skies" & "The Musical Box", both of which went down well with the live audience. The next day Genesis rejoined the tour for the Heidelberg concert and the two remaining dates - the 16th at the Stadthalle, Offenbach and the 17th at the Philipshalle, Duesseldorf. They then had a couple of days off before starting the Italian dates at Reggio Emilia Palasport on January 20th.
It was some time later when I heard that a couple of the guys in Lindisfarne were a bit miffed that the TV spot hadn't been offered to them, especially as they had a couple of chart successes under their belts, which Genesis at that time hadn't. I tried to explain that unfortunately, their UK hits didn't count for much in Germany and that the producer had specifically asked for Genesis. I think they eventually understood that I couldn't have played it any other way and didn't hold it against me. For Genesis, the TV show was a very important step toward their eventual breakthrough in the German-speaking territories and they went on to play many more concerts and TV shows in the following years, thus building an incredibly strong and loyal following, which remains today.
I suppose it could be said that Genesis, at that time, weren't very "rock 'n'roll", in that they took their music extremely seriously and worked hard finessing their stage performance, both musically and theatrically. Though they appreciated the value of promotional activities..press receptions, interviews, photo shoots etc., they didn't concern themselves as to whether they were perceived as 'stars'. Thus, it can also be said, that parties and room-trashing weren't high on their list of priorities either. Indeed, I don't know of many other groups that usually took their wives and girlfriends with them on tour or requested to go skiing, as they did on one snowy visit to Oslo, Norway.
I have many other good memories of my time at Charisma . One is of a Scandinavian tour with Lindisfarne (which I write about in another post) and a slightly manic promotional vist to Copenhagen with the two Terry's (Jones and Gilliam) from the Monty Python team. I also remember TV shows in Zurich, Switzerland with Clifford T. Ward, where the Phonogram label manager, Louis Spillman treated all the Charisma bands royally, whatever their status. Another TV show, this time in Amsterdam, with Gary Shearston, whose hit "I get a kick out of you" brought forth requests from the show's producers for Gary to dress up in 1930s 'Noel Coward' style, a cigarette holder! Requests that Gary politely (for an Australian) declined.
However, I think one of the best memories of my time at Charisma has to be the trip I made to New York with the boss...Tony Stratton-Smith, when we were trying to forge transatlantic relationships with record companies, management and agency execs. and the music press. Strat being Strat, he insisted that we did it in style! Forget seats in Economy Class...we flew First Class to New York on Japan Airlines. He also decreed that we book a Suite at the famous Algonquin Hotel, partly because of its literary connections (it was the site of the famous 'Round Table' where the legendary "New Yorker" writers James Thurber, S. J.Perelman, Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker met for their editorial meetings). He also suggested that I get the hotel management to set up a well-stocked bar in our Suite, so we could entertain (and impress) our music biz guests, who came in their droves. I have no idea how much (or indeed, whether) the trip influenced subsequent events with regard to any actual deals being done, but we certainly had a great time!
In the summer of 1976, however, I sensed that things at Charisma were changing somewhat. Strat didn't seem to be around quite as much and eventually it became apparent why this was. One day he brought the Charisma team together and announced that he was planning to bring in someone to be 'him' on a daily basis, as he wanted to spend more time on his other love - 'horse-racing'. Now, this didn't sit too well with me, as I couldn't see how I could run the International Dept. the way I felt it ought to be run if I had to report to anyone but Strat. So, to cut a long story short(ish!), around this time, with its air of uncertainty, I was approached by Bruce May, who was managing Bert Jansch (a Charisma artiste back then) as well as Ralph McTell, John Martyn and a couple of other less well-known singer/songwriters. He invited me to join his company in a similar role to the one I had at Charisma and after a couple of meetings to discuss details, I decided that maybe the time was right for a move. Strat understood my reasons for leaving and was very encouraging..saying that Bruce and I would make a good team! So, after four incredibly interesting and pretty exciting years, it was with much sadness that I left Charisma...the most original and unusual record company around. Do I regret my decision? Well, yes and no. As time went on, later events 0ccurred that would probably have seen a parting of the ways anyway. But I will never forget working for Strat's maverick label...nor do I regret a moment of my time there.