The RCA Records logo had changed by the time I arrived and not for the better. The RCA in a circle with the live electric bolt was superseded by a rather bland modern font with square letters, which they retain to this day.
Nevertheless, I settled happily into my new job there. As well as David Bowie my roster included the Elvis Presley Estate, The Average White Band (old friends of mine from New York), Hall & Oates (whom I also knew from NY), Alex Harvey, Al Stewart, John Denver, Bonnie Tyler, Sad Café and a slew of small bands who had singles deals and never got anywhere. During my tenure RCA signed The Tourists, with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, who would metamorphize into Eurythmics.
On the opposite side of the YMCA on Bedford Avenue, down a winding staircase, was the Sportswriters Club and an arrangement was in place whereby RCA staff were automatically granted membership, which meant we could drink there in the middle of the afternoon when pubs were normally shut. It became our local, and I played pool there often. Once I was taken for £10 by the athlete David Bedford, also a member, who hustled as well as he used to run. It was a handy place for me to take journalists who needed somewhere to interview the acts I represented.
From time to time my old friend Nick Kent would come into the offices for a chat and peruse the promo records on a shelf in my office. “I don’t have copies of these,” he’d say, implausibly, as he pulled out old LPs by Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, three acts he’d written about at great length in NME. “Help yourself,” I’d say, knowing full well that within the hour Nick would be exchanging them for cash somewhere in Soho, and that the cash would then end up in the hands of a drug dealer. I didn’t mind. We both knew it was a game. I took the view that Nick Kent had served his profession well, and also served Bowie, Reed and Iggy well, so he was entitled to help himself to a few freebies.
I soon learned that RCA was owned by the same US conglomerate that owned Hertz, the car rental firm, which meant I could rent cars for business use free of charge so long as I produced my RCA business card at the Hertz offices in Edgware Road. No one really monitored this, so ‘business use’ could be interpreted quite loosely, which more or less meant I could invent a ‘business use’ and have a car for a weekend that might just include a trip to Yorkshire to see my dad.
At RCA I went to Paris with Bonnie Tyler, to the Loch Lomond Rock Festival with the Average White Band (in a Hertz car), to Glasgow with Alex Harvey, to Sheffield with Sad Café (in a Hertz car), to Amsterdam for RCA’s European sales convention, to Leicester for an Elvis Fan Convention (in a Hertz car), and, in August 1980, to Chicago with David Bowie to watch him perform as The Elephant Man at the Blackmore Theatre, of which more later.
Sad Café, from Manchester, had a few hits during this period and were nice guys but it was a bit of a slog getting them press as they were deeply unfashionable, sort of half way between the old and the new. I was with them when I had a close encounter with the loathsome Jimmy Savile. They’d been invited to perform on a TV chat show that was filmed at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith in West London, and among the other guests was Savile and, if I remember rightly, George Wendt, the chubby actor who played Norm in Cheers, one of my favourite TV shows.
I was in the backstage bar with the group when Savile and his minders arrived. He was dressed in his usual downmarket yellow track suit with gold medallions dangling from his neck, smoking his big cigar and giving it his usual “guys and gals I’m Jimmy Savile me everyone and all right how’s about that then top of the pops I’m doing this for charity me” patter to everyone within earshot even though he was off stage. Then he walked up to the bar and ordered a glass of milk. “Jimmy Savile doesn’t drink alcohol, it’s bad for you,” he said, strangely referring to himself in the third person and somehow suggesting that his abstemiousness implied a higher state of morality – Jimmy fucking Savile of all people! – than Sad Café and myself who were all drinking beer. He walked over to our table and introduced himself. We did likewise. “Sad Café, great band, fab gear,” he said, or something like that, implying that he had some knowledge of the group and their music. I thought this unlikely. I also thought he was an idiot. And only children drink milk.
Alex Harvey was a handful. In the autumn of 1979, shortly after he released his The Mafia Stole My Guitar LP, I went on a brief UK tour with him and his band to help with promotion. It was an onerous task because Alex, bless him, liked to stay up half the night boozing and wasn't one for getting up in the morning for pre-arranged interviews at local radio stations. The radio promo guy at the RCA office in London was yelling at me because Alex hadn’t turned up, and Alex was yelling at me for waking him and trying to drag him out of the hotel. It was a no-win situation. The saxophone player in his band was the jazz giant Don Weller, a huge man of few words, who kept a bottle of Scotch in the same case as his horn. I held him partly responsible for the situation with Alex but felt it unwise to raise the issue. On the coach somewhere between Glasgow and Birmingham Alex told me that back in the fifties he once toured the Scottish Islands billed as ‘Eddie Cochran’ and no one caught on.
I also had a ‘look after’ Gerard Kenny, a likeable American singer songwriter in the Billy Joel mould who had written ‘I Could Be So Good For You’, the theme tune from the TV series Minder. I decided Gerard could do with sharpening up a bit, so, armed with about £500 of RCA’s cash, I took him to trendy South Moulton Street and kitted him out with clothes that didn’t look like they’d been designed in 1970; drainpipe pants, Italian jackets with narrow lapels, slim ties, shirts with neat little collars. He wore his new outfit for a show at the Croydon Fairfield Hall but for some reason chose to discard the trousers I’d bought him and wear a pair of black flares, and when he sat down to play his piano they shot up to reveal white socks and a bit of calf. Backstage after his set I told him he looked daft in those trousers and socks but this was overheard by his manager, an old-school type called Deke Arlon, who objected strongly to the way I had addressed his client. Sharp words were exchanged and, as a result, I was no longer ‘looking after’ Gerard.
Something similar happened with Hall & Oates. The band they brought over for a UK tour included the sensational guitarist GE Smith and after their show at the Venue in Victoria their manager, Tommy Mottola, overheard me telling Daryl Hall how good I thought he was. Mottola, who would go on to marry Mariah Carey and become CEO of Sony Music, bristled and told me that as their PR I should be complimenting H&O and not their guitar player. I apologised with a smile on my face but deep inside thought he was being a dickhead and that my admiration for Smith merely reflected H&O’s wise choice.
I made at least two trips to Bristol, both of which involved romantic encounters. On the first – I think one of the smaller bands was playing support to someone – I somehow befriended the receptionist in the Holiday Inn where I stayed and enticed her to my room when she got off duty, and for the second – AWB at the Colston Hall – I brought along a girl called Jenny, newly recruited as manager of RCA’s personnel department, who would soon become my live-in girlfriend.
Jenny and I would stay together for the next two and a half years but our relationship was not looked upon kindly by the powers that be at RCA. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, she was hot – she’d done some swimsuit modelling in her home town of Bournemouth – and this inspired a degree of envy amongst my superiors. Secondly, she was the personnel manager and this gave rise to notions that I might have access to confidential files of them.
It was the beginning of the end.