Ferris Wheel had good reasons for calling a halt: We’d ridden the crest of the “soul boom,” and had fun doing it; we’d traveled all over the UK and Europe, played festivals with the likes of The Who and Cream, solidified our reputation as a fearsome live act, and survived a possibly fatal change in personnel, to reinvent the band and give it a second go-round. So there was a certain professional pride in quitting while we were ahead. Linda and Dennis were at the thresholds of their careers, full of talent and ambition, George and Dave had been on the road since the late fifties, their children were now adolescents, and George wanted to pursue a “stay-at-home” career as a session musician and hired gun, and Terry Edmunds’ indisposition had left us playing with a string of fill-in guitarists in the last few months of the band’s existence.
For me, there had been significant changes, both professional and personal over that four years. After Patti Dyer returned to the States in the autumn of ‘65, I’d started writing to her, at first with no reply, but after a while I did get a casual note or postcard now and then. Over time, as I mounted a blitzkreig campaign of letter-writing, basically begging her to return to England, her replies were as brief and succinct as mine were long and effusive … I felt I wasn’t doing too well. Then, in the spring of ‘67, I received a note asking me to meet her at Heathrow Airport on a certain day in the immediate future, just like that! From that moment on, we were a couple, and were married on 31st August 1967. Three years later, to the day, our first child Celeste was born. With a baby around I didn’t want to be away all the time, which would have been reason enough to get off the touring grind, but I was also increasingly drawn to the “back room” world of songwriting full time and the studios, both as a player and, hopefully, a producer. I knew that to achieve any of that, I had to be in town.
The other factor was that Doris Troy was back in London, with a mews off Baker Street, a recording and publishing deal with Apple, no less, and George Harrison set to produce her. She had been in touch before she came over to check if I was free to become her musical director/pianist, which I couldn’t commit to at once, but of course I wanted to renew our musical partnership, and needed to be free of long-term commitments in order to do that.
The band had been very up front with the Gunnells, which was always the safest way to deal with them, and as I was signed to them for publishing as well as management, they offered me a job as professional manager of their publishing division, St. George Music, so I could learn the ropes of publishing and the studio and have some guaranteed money coming in, while giving me a schedule flexible enough that I could freelance some, and also prepare a solo album (the singer/songwriter vogue being the “next big thing”). It was, in retrospect, an extraordinary gesture on their part, and I was determined to justify their faith in me. We’d always got along well with those guys, despite their scary reputation, and rather than being pissed off at losing a solid commission earner, it was very cool of them to approach the situation the way they did.
The Gunnell Group had been a completely independent entity when they signed Ferris Wheel, but a couple of years in, with the profits resulting from their near-monopoly of the soul touring circuit making them a prime target for a takeover, they’d merged their operation with RSO (The Robert Stigwood Organization), which was riding high with The Bee Gees and Cream. So when I first reported for work, it wasn’t to the slightly frayed Gunnell office in Chinatown over a takeaway, but rather to the grandness of Mayfair, directly opposite Claridge’s at 46 Brooke Street. No. 46 was actually completely Gunnell turf, while the main Stigwood office was up the street at No. 67, which was fine by me as I was a Gunnell man through and through, and I had little dealings with the RSO operation at first. I had my own office, and my first (modest) expense account as I set about using all the time no longer devoted to traveling to writing, pitching songs, cutting demos, and familiarizing myself with the catalogue, which represented the compositions of John Mayall and Manfred Mann lead singer, Michael D’ Abo, some Georgie Fame titles, and various other odds and sods in addition to my stuff.
I got lucky early on, because there still wasn’t any strictly formulated way to pitch a song, and certainly no book to tell you how to do it. The network of Denmark Street/BBC connections was closely guarded, so I just hung in the clubs until I saw some artist I knew, then I’d go over and slip ‘em a tune, which back then involved a 45 rpm acetate, so you had to have big pockets if you were off for a night on the pitch. I ran into Colin Blunstone one night at the Speakeasy, and after a drink or two, during which he told me he was back in the music game after a spell as a civilian, following The Zombies sad demise, I gave him an acetate of a Michael D’ Abo song called “Mary, Won’t You Warm My Bed,” which he went on to record on his brilliant solo debut “One Year.” Needless to say, that was a feather in my fledgling cap, when the album became a critical favorite, and a big seller, due to the single, the astonishing string-quintet version of the Denny Laine song “Say You Don’t Mind,” which made the top ten. That pleased the brothers Gunnell, thank god, so I felt I was doing OK right there at the start of this next chapter.
I had a free hand with supervising the St. George demos, so as Patti and I had moved to Wimbledon, after our first idyllic year in a lovely Victorian garden flat in Putney, I started to book demo sessions into R.G. Jones, which had been the first serious independent studio some years before, and was literally around the corner on the next street. Old R.G. had long ago blown out his ears, and while a lovely bloke, was deaf as a post. But his protege Geoff was a very able young fella, and we got on famously, especially as I soon made St. George a significant account for their business. That studio had also become the favored rehearsal space for The Stones, who all lived in that neck of the woods, more or less, so I would occasionally wind up a session as Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (always the first!) would be getting set up, and very nice they were, musos first, no bullshit, and up for a chat and a laugh.
I started putting together a bit of a session team, as I knew that the great recording centers in the US all seemed to have studio “house bands” and the only real equivalent, within the newer breed of session musicians, was Barry Morgan’s team in North London, who would go on to record as Blue Mink, featuring Roger Cook and Madeline Bell on vocals. George Ford was naturally my first choice on bass, and depending on availability, Dennis Elliott, Rob Townsend from Family, or Tony Knight took the drum chair. I shared guitar duties with Steve Kipner of Tin Tin, and I handled keyboards. The office was pleased with the heightened quality of the demos, so I started supervising demos for No. 67 as well.
Doris, being Doris, had got herself installed in her own office at Apple, and one day, soon after I started at No. 46, she called me, inviting me over to see her new quarters. I took the pleasant stroll from Brooke Street over to Savile Row and was ushered into her office. Resplendent in a high African head wrap and a floor length dashiki, she stretched her arms wide … “I gotta desk, you gotta desk, all god’s children got desks, baby … Thank you, Lord!” Summed it up, really.
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