From the archives - Brian Gibbon talks to TWR about his career with Charisma Records and Steve Hackett. Photographs and memorabilia: TWR archive.
TWR: Well, obviously you have worked with Steve and the band for quite some time, how did you first get involved with them and Genesis, during the Charisma period…
|BG: I was at Sony/CBS at that time and what actually happened was I was head of the Finance Department at CBS and Strat wanted to leave Polygram and came to us for a distribution deal and Maurice Oberstein my boss at the time asked me to have a look at it, He had already had a meeting with Strat and had actually shaken hands on a distribution deal. So, basically what happened was, I looked at it and I said to him we can’t do this, there is no way in the world we can structure a deal around this. And he said, well I have shaken hands on it and I said well, you will have to go and tell Strat that we don’t want to do it. And he asked why don’t we, and I said well, the company is in trouble and so what happened basically he went off to see Strat at La Chasse in Wardour Street and told him he didn’t’ want to do the deal but Strat thought he had come to sign off on the deal and at the end he said well I am very disappointed and at that time the pair of them (Oberstein and Strat) owned half a racehorse and he was none too pleased and at the end Strat wrote an extremely funny letter and I can’t remember all of what it said but it did say I am glad I sold you the back end of the horse! (laughter) it was actually funnier than that but I can’t remember how it was worded. Then it transpired that about three months down the line Strat gave me a call and said, you were right. I told him in black and white and everything and he didn’t join the group which then consisted of GMT Records, Goldcrest and I said no. It just happened that at that time CBS were run, they always had an American head and I didn’t see that changing at any time in the near future in the financial position and I had a boss here and another in the US and an opportunity came up for me to run the national side and so that is basically how we started and I was their financial controller and that is really how it all started.|
I wasn’t involved in the business affairs but it got me into the position of negotiating all the Genesis Charisma renewals and in fact I was the main contact for them because they couldn’t get hold of Strat! (laughs). Gail (Colson) was more involved in the marketing side but what really happened was that Gail was secretary and then she got more involved in the recording aspect of Genesis records although there were a fully supportive staff of press officers and promotional people it was just, I suppose to make up the balance of running the record label. Strat was able to retire or to take one of the back seats and that was the situation with Gail and myself and so she ran one part of the company and I ran the business side of it. It was always very difficult for a record company at this time with one or two big artists such as Island and Chrysalis. I mean, we were independent back then and it was always very tough to have big artists and to support them and promote them and we were always looking at that time to refund and get advances and distribution deals and that was the way it went. And all three of us would have been doing exactly the same thing because in the early days we had to fund tours because the band themselves couldn’t do it and that was why we had these one pound Charisma tours and who paid for that? The whole thing was funded by the record label and that is quite an expensive thing to fund. It is all that aspect of promotion that people actually forget about and at that time Lindisfarne and Genesis weren’t doing enough gigs and they needed funding to actually perform and they WERE performing.
You know, Genesis and Lindisfarne if they weren’t performing we wouldn’t have broken the records and they needed somebody to fund them, to actually do it. Those are the sort of things that people tend to forget about. And in the early stages they were actually funded to go on the road which, to us, was part of the promotion and there is no record company that doesn’t want to have a hit! If something charted at number twenty, we would want the next one to come in at number ten. It is completely naïve to think that any record label with any commercial sense would not want to do the best for their artists in commercial terms. It didn’t follow through, there was no luxury for us, we weren’t an EMI and they could bury singles if the artists didn’t behave themselves ! But Charisma and Island and Chrysalis weren’t in that position and every single act we had we had on commercial terms and a lot of artists if they weren’t on the label, it would have meant nothing to people because in those days people bought “the label” and that was even stronger than Island or Chrysalis. And on that label you had the Pythons, John Betcheman, to Alan Hull and you were guaranteed quality and that was what differed about the label and so you would buy everything on the “Charisma label” so therefore I had a tough time funding all of that! Because some of that stuff was commercially difficult initially, and you always knew you were going to have limited exposure and the label voice was that.. When you look at a business, you have to look at the full chain of the product you have got and the artists you have got and the thing is, at that time there were some very exciting artists who were doing some very different things. That was the interesting thing about the label (Charisma) it was so different. It is along way of saying that we were sympathetic to all our artists a d if there was any label that listened, it was us, and we probably listened TOO much, because we were not totally commercially driven, it was more an art form and as much of one as you could afford to do.
That’s what I find surprising about the way we actually dealt with artists because we spent a lot of time with them and you didn’t have to make an appointment, you just walked in the door and ask ’can I see Brian?’ and you couldn’t do that with Strat as he was probably racing (laughs) but it was never a problem it was open house and that is exactly what happened with the other staff as well, if they wanted to see the press people, they didn’t have to make an appointment. They normally DID but if they were in Soho they would pop in and see THEIR record label and talk about whatever they wanted to talk about. So, we were a very hands on label and very sympathetic towards the creativity or whatever the artist wanted to talk about, and whatever they wanted to do.
So when it came to actually planning the promotions and things they were involved in that and if we were talking to them about the promotional side we would have everybody there and I would always invite any of the artists to come to the presentations that I made to the record label. So, either they want to be there or they don’t want to be there and when there were Genesis playbacks, the sales promotion people and the studio people because it was so important that they feel part of it and there aren’t many labels that do that. And all of the Phonogram boys loved that whatever artist it was, they would be invited to the studio and listen to it and the artists would be there as well and they would talk to them and that was the way it was. That was the way we ran it, basically an open house.
Of course, you would always have your creative arguments but in most cases, and I can only tell you at the top level and, as you know, life is politics, and I can’t tell you what the marketing guys said or the promotional guys or what the press guys said but what Tony (Strat) and I would say is that we would always try and be constructive. And take on board comments and we would either achieve it or no, that’s not the right way. Nobody wants to hear bad news but I think particularly if you are an artist, it makes it even worse and there was very little difference of opinion in terms of their musical input but that was very important for us to let them get on and create their own music. It was always at the point where we thought we could do better, because that was our job, we knew how to plug, we knew how to do the press, and if you wanted to come to those meetings, you were welcome.
Even Island had something similar, they had an engine room where all the promotional and press people used to get together and the artists could come and hear first hand how it was going to work. That was a similar philosophy to ours, it was a partnership. I find it a bit difficult to acknowledge some of these things..’ he was only an accountant’ …
TWR: What was your involvement with Steve when he decided to leave Genesis?
BG: Well, the thing is that we always accepted Steve as an entity, as an artist and we did the first solo album with him so there was no confusion in terms of his solo career as there was no confusion with the things we did with Tony and Mike later it was only with Tony Smith and I think this was a political thing more than anything else who wanted Phil to go with Virgin and I think that was more of a business thing because that was a time when we were going to renegotiate the Genesis contracts and there was this pull and I can’t prove it but I think I made a better offer than Virgin did to keep Phil in house because it made sense but that’s what Smithy decided and I would have probably done the same thing.
I never had any problems with any of the guys doing solo things because they weren’t on the road they were all doing it in downtime. This still goes back to the bitterness, and I don’t know if bitterness is the right word, caused by people being out on the road with the boys and Tony Smith wanted to be the mouthpiece for the boys and at that point I don’t think a solo career was a problem. They hadn’t got around to it; he had because that was his escape and we would do it, we were his record label and we didn’t want anybody going shopping round because we were his record label, so we put it out;
There was NO doubt that we would put out Steve’s stuff,we wanted to and encouraged it. We didn’t discourage him or any of them from the record company’s point of view. As I have said going back for a moment, all independent record companies had a hard time funding the entire operation because they came from nothing, it wasn’t as if all these guys were multi millionaires and even Virgin at that time, we were all entrepreneurial and we were only as good as our last hit. And we didn’t have that because a lot of our artists didn’t have singles. Island had all their Reggae stuff, and Chrysalis had all their single hits which was a real cash flow driver. So, if you are waiting a year for an album and with Peter Gabriel three years for an album of you are lucky! (laughs) how do you run a business? So we didn’t grumble if we had a Brand X album or a Steve Hackett album or a Mike Rutherford album because basically we needed releases every month. So that was never a problem.
I think the whole thing became a problem stems from Steve thinking maybe he wasn’t getting a big enough share of the writing and I think the underlying thing is that perhaps he was asking more than the boys (the rest of Genesis) were prepared to give at that stage even though they did accept him as a full member of the band, there was always this underlying resentment and I think this, unfortunately had to do with his relationship and it again proved so with GTR. I knew this, Smithy (Tony Smith) knew it, and Steve just has to perhaps acknowledge it and some people wouldn’t confront it but I would and Smithy would, but what he would do is play around it to try and keep the whole thing together. You would do it in a diplomatic way and do you think we should do this, or do that? The thing with Steve is you get an initial agreement and then two days down the line, you get the verdict. So I think some of the things did revolve around that and then it went to becoming a commercial reason and stuff like wanting a cut of the publishing. There was always this undercurrent that would give them a reason to find another excuse to do it but I don’t ever believe that they wanted Steve to leave the band … ever. Without a doubt they never wanted him to leave. Neither did Smithy and we tried to talk him out of it but it was a bit different to the Peter Gabriel scenario because Peter wanted to LEAVE and because of that and it was only because they were going in different directions artistically whereas Steve wasn’t going in a different direction, he just wanted to do what he wanted to do. They wouldn’t have allowed him to make an album already and any of them could have made solo albums, it was written into their deals. Their deals said that if they were going to make a solo album they had to offer it to us first, obviously, as the label but if they don’t offer it to us, because we had to have the option. I mean, Smithy might say ’one hundred grand for a Brand X album’ and I would say ’on your bike, if you can get a hundred grand for a Brand X album… great!’ (laughs). You see what I mean? It’s a commercial thing and solo albums are always written into an artists’ deal for two reasons: first because is the artist WORTHY of a solo album? Because some of them aren’t, and if so, we would like to have it and then if we don’t want it then at least we would like to HEAR it. And then also it is a control, in the fact that you have to ask for consent to do it because you don’t want them to do a solo album too early in their career so there are lots of controls in agreements and the other reason you have, of course is if they break up as in the case of Peter Gabriel leaving, and its like Ronaldo going off and trying to start Real Madrid (Laughs) so it is a contractual control because you have given the GROUP money to make their album not for the lead singer to go.. "Cheerio…"
The key thing though wasn’t entirely an artistic thing, it was a contribution thing here was an undercurrent created because of this situation and then it lead to other things and then you have the final excuse to say ’you’re not having that’ because they knew that would upset him and then he would start thinking.. If I haven’t got a future here… but it was nowhere similar to the Gabriel thing. The Gabriel thing was a huge thing, in terms of the band because he was the front man and that was to do with music and that was to do with wanting different things and the great thing was that another career was set up. Another big career was set up. And the same with Phil and we would have hoped that that would have happened to Steve as well.
So, I think there was this undercurrent that then caused… and then you start looking at other things and you get ’I need a share of this, I need a share of that…’ and I think that was really what happened because I don’t know if Steve would acknowledge this, but he should never have left Genesis, he could have done, and I told him this, that he could carry on doing this and remember I am the record label, I wasn’t managing him at that time and I said to him, ’you can do whatever’ and within the confines of touring and making records with Genesis I said to him what’s stopping you having a solo career as well? And if you think about this logically, they aren’t stopping you, they might say, you can’t do your tour if Genesis are doing a tour but that’s just logistics …
TWR: Moving on from that to the time towards the end of Steve’s time with Charisma and the one thing Steve has said about that is the battle he had with them about the live album …
|BG: Charisma weren’t in dire straits but Strat was getting fed up of the business and he wanted to get out as well and so if you are at the sharp end of running something you get all the down side. The objection to the live album was that I thought it was too early. I thought that he had more creative stuff to come out before a live album and to me it was as simple as that. He had more creative work and we could always release alive album because that’s what you do. You know, it’s a bit like putting out a Greatest Hits too early, you know like Wayne Rooney writing his life story when he is only twelve years old! (laughs\) you know there is a flow with what a record company does, it puts out four or five albums for as long as you can. If there is a huge gap, such as if the artists isn’t going to write for a couple of years, then you can put out a live album but there has to be a reason for it and if you are still making albums then why? You can always bring a live album out any time. I didn’t think people were crying out for a live album, I think they were crying out for a new Steve Hackett album! We may have had the argument but mine would have been ’why? Why are we doing this Steve, why not bring out a new studio album, the live album we can bring out any time’ and I can’t remember the exact details but sometimes you are contracted for four or five albums and usually a live album or a hits album is part of the obligation. I don’t think the live album was part of getting out of his contract but I don’t remember but I think we would do five studio albums and then a live album or whatever would be written into their contracts and that would always be a plus because you never knew if you would ever get one!|
TWR: So with Highly Strung effectively being his sixth studio album, what was the situation after that?
BG: I think we renewed the deal but I can’t remember when we renewed it. I know we had a renegotiation somewhere along the line and I think we renegotiated it but I can’t remember the terms but we signed Genesis for five years and then obviously, as the five years go along there is also the possibility of solo albums and so it might be that we did three and then we might have renewed the \Genesis agreement for maybe three years and then we captured another three solo albums under that. My feeling is that we did a deal with Steve for a solo deal and then we renewed it somewhere along the line for two reasons: first of all he needed tour support at the time as this was when he came out of the band and it made sense to renegotiate. And then things obviously changed when we decided to sell the company (Charisma) and I did some of the negotiations in terms of the sale and then I had several meetings with Richard Branson and that went through and then we were subsequently sold to EMI. I had left by then.
TWR: So Steve has an unexpected hit single and album and then we have Bay Of Kings, how did your involvement come about with that album?
|BG: When I left Charisma Steve approached me and he was effectively out of contract and I still had all the contacts with all the record labels and John Ager was managing Steve at the time and he was a very good lad and a friend so he was somebody that Steve trusted but basically he had no experience in our business at all. So I think there was a gap in terms of the management and then I left Charisma and I managed Steve and tried to get him a deal with one of the majors and he was with Chrysalis in the States and I had great difficulty trying to get a deal in England and it was difficult for any artist at that time to get a deal but I didn’t see a great opportunity for it with a major so … did I do it with Lamborghini? Which was an independent company with loads of money and I thought, is this another little Charisma? Which might be right for Steve so we basically signed to them and they basically didn’t fulfil any ambitions for themselves or for us really but it kept things ticking over for a while. I suppose really they didn’t have the wherewithal to promote it. It was run by a chap called Mike Hurst who had worked with Dusty Springfield so it was more of a poppy background. It basically just didn’t work out and I couldn’t get it with any of the majors and I think acoustic albums are so far away from what they thought Steve Hackett should be. Trying to sell that to a record company… That record would have been fantastic on Charisma, on the old Charisma as a statement and I think that would have been accepted but the thing is, to try and actually SELL it to a new company who were thinking his is an ex member of Genesis and that was their marketing strategy but how do you do that with an acoustic album? I had a tough time anyway.|
We didn’t fall out, we have never fallen out in any way but this was just the difficulty of marketing the thing and then it got to the position where I was talking to Brian Lane and he asked what Steve was doing at the time and I don’t know if there was a party at Steve’s house when Laney came along because he was managing somebody else but I can’t remember who suggested it, it might have been him suggesting that he wanted to do something with Steve but that is really where GTR came from, at least the initial idea. In principle it was the two of them in the studio, two guitarists, and they employed everybody else around them and I don’t think Brian (Lane) had much input in that project. They very much left the music to the artists. So I don’t think in the studio there was a problem between the artists, so to speak, it was again, when they got on the road and Steve sometimes took Kim with him and that got a bit difficult with only one wife on the road, you know… you can’t go to the bar etc and that made things perhaps a bit difficult and then you got the situation where that impinged on things to an extent but it was only the two Steves that mattered anyway and then you had the situation where things were done separately and then you have the undercurrent again and it was very successful and it should have worked and they are two very different people. The thing was at that time you couldn’t really have two managers where Steve had a personal manager and Laney was running the group so, I was around, and I was almost like a policeman, you know (laughs). And it was the right time for me to leave and management wasn’t really for me but it was an interesting episode.
|What I decided to do was not go back into fully fledged record company and what we started was basically a singles company called “Old Gold” and what that was, in the UK there were about six or seven thousand jukeboxes, and Old Gold used to service these and first of all we started off buying them in as stock and then we had to start producing them for a programme to change them every month and they would want to keep Jim Reeves all the time ! So I thought why aren’t we licensing songs but we only ever licensed them for jukeboxes and then we found … and people started asking us for jukeboxes and we didn’t supply them and so there was a demand for it and so we became a seven inch single vinyl company and we drove that business from a turnover of nothing to over five million and we sold it to Pickwick Records so at that time as I still wanted to keep in touch with the business, we started a company called START and so I was running that in tandem with Old Gold and we were putting out new artists such as Richard Clayderman and I was just playing with things that I wanted to do and it was a bit like Charisma in a way and doing things that I was interested in.|
Then we sold that in about 1992 and we sold that to Pickwick which became part of Castle Communications and then I carried on with START and basically what we did with START was, it was a marketing company and dealing with compilations because they can’t get into the majors and now we have quite a big mail order arm as well but it is all nostalgia music. We service the over fifty five market now! (laughs) but we buy some of them and we make some of them and put them in there and we have an export company as well which buys and sells product and we have this mail order operation and that is basically what we do now.
My involvement with Steve effectively ended after the Momentum tour in 1988 when Kim and Billy (Budis) effectively took over the management and Steve went and did his own thing. Steve moved from Holland Park to where he is now (Twickenham at the time - AH) and I remember sorting out some of the details on that and I don’t think that he had a studio at that time, not that I know of. And he built the studio in the house in the basement and Kim had her own art studio and I don’t think there was anything in between.
And there we wound things up folks. I am sure you will find this look behind the scenes interesting and my thanks once again to Brian for giving up so much of his time to talk to us, and his son Paul for all his help in organising it and a lot of other things over the years.