One door closes

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By 1980 I was quite fed up. I was recently married and that was good. What was bad was that our first venture into business, Rent-a-Ferrari, had fallen foul of the law when our French partner was discovered to have stolen several cars and forged insurance papers. The business was sold off and my music career was going nowhere. I hadn’t yet forged the plan to open my own place and my stint as guitarist with Nico had come to a sad end with her drug dependency taking over.

My wife Ellen was American and she had a good friend Barbara Charone. Barbara was a music journo writing a biography of Keith Richards. Ellen ran The Stones office in London so we all three hung out a lot and never missed our weekly ritual of Dallas and fish at Barbara’s attic flat on Sloane Street in Chelsea. Barbara had been played my old songs by Ellen and she wanted to help.

With £300 given to me by Barbara, I booked Gateway Studios for a weekend and recorded five songs with friends. What to do next? I needed contacts. The only person Barbara could think of was a young record plugger Clive Banks. Clive went on to head up Island Records and manage Elton John. At that time he was the hottest young radio plugger in town. He agreed to see me in our Bayswater flat.

I played Clive the results of the weekend and he looked mystified. ‘Why did you play me this exactly?’ Not the response I had expected. ‘Er, well, er, to see if you can help me.’ I stammered. ‘To do what?’ ‘To get my career moving’ I answered.

Clive said nothing for a full two minutes then looked at me. ‘You haven’t got a hit voice’ he said flatly. I was appalled and deeply hurt. ‘That’s just your opinion’ I countered. ‘I don’t agree’ he responded at once ‘How long did you tell me you have been trying to make it?’ ‘About ten years’ I answered hesitantly. ‘Well it’s not just me then, is it?’

I was ready to end this very unpleasant exchange and got up. As Clive followed suit he casually asked ‘By the way, who produced those tracks?’

‘I did’ I replied sulkily. ‘Where did you do them?’ ‘Gateway, a little 16 track.’ ‘Who did the engineering and arrangements?’ ‘I did it all’ I muttered. ‘Play me some other stuff you have produced’ said Clive, sitting down again.

I dragged out a box of cassettes unopened since my return from France the year before and ran through a variety of punk, African and French tracks. After about twenty minutes he stopped me by raising one hand like a traffic cop. ‘If you want to produce I’ll manage you starting now. You’re brilliant...but if you want to be an artist I’ll resign.’

When Ellen came home I was in despair. ‘God I hate that guy! Do you know what he had the cheek to say? Etc etc.’ Ellen waited until I had finished my ranting. ‘Rob you are brilliant but you are also a brilliant producer and maybe that’s something you could do at the same time?’

The rest, as they say….

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