Giorgio Gomelsky: The Man Who Sold The World

Giorgio Gomelsky was a pioneer of British rock in the sixties. In the second part of an interview with MM he talks about managing Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll and his ill-fated Marmalade label

MM: HOW DO you think business success has affected English rock musicians?

GIORGIO: Nobody puts anything back into the business. The musicians pull blankets over their head and build 75 track studios in their country mansions. Nothing goes back.

Musicians should play but the structure of the business now tends to say: “Don’t play unless you are top of the bill.”

Every manager of every group in England now insists on top billing. Do away with all this nonsense about grooming people for record company deals. There should be no politics in music.

People should pay their dues before they record. It should be much more difficult for people to record! Groups are sent off on an American tour before they are ready… this is the greed of the business, and there’s not much care given to the music.

It’s what’s functional and what sells, and it’s a shortsighted policy. I was very disappointed when I came here after two years abroad.

I came to see what was going and felt the spark had gone out completely. That’s why so much is coming from the Continent now.

It will be interesting to see how it affects the Anglo-Saxons!

A couple of years ago it was unthinkable that a Dutch group would win the Melody Maker poll. You see — it’s happening already.

MM: Could you tell us about your experience in management, your days with Steam Packet and the Yardbirds?

GIORGIO: Well I was in a pub one night many years ago when I was going on about rhythm and blues and a young fellow came over and said: “Can I help you?” And he was a trombone player called Dave Hunt.

He formed a band with which I helped. It had incredible people in it, including Ray Davies, who played guitar and Lol Coxhill went through the band. But after a while it didn’t work out.

I was walking about propagating rhythm and blues and Brian Jones came up to me and said: “Oh Giorgio, you’ve got to help us. We’ve got this very good band, you must come down.”

So I went down to the rehearsals and it was really good. So I said okay fellas, we’ll do it together, all right, here we go.

I never knew about contracts, but Brian said please we must have a contract. I said let’s just work and see what happens. That’s how it all evolved, just helping them. I think the Stones in the beginning were really incredible. They rehearsed like buggery, they did wonders with very little equipment. It was really fantastic. And they’ve never played as well since.

This went on for a year, until things began to happen for them, and Peter Jones went and raved about them to Andy Oldham, who signed them.

I carried on, this time with the Yardbirds. They met me because they used to come to the club. And one day I said to Keith Relf, why don’t you do a support set?

So eventually I got involved with them. I don’t regret having got into management. My vocation is really getting things to move, rather than being a business man. I really hate the business side.

All the falseness and all the hype that goes with it. And anyway, it’s old fashioned. In two or three years people will do business in a totally different way, and artists will be more aware of what goes on.

MM: Didn’t you have a stormy relationship with your artists?

GIORGIO: I was handicapped. It was weird, the English were so seduced by Gomelsky. People thought there must be something there. I kept producing things, and that was enough for me.

The only regrettable part of that period was that I didn’t have enough experience of business to get organised to get lawyers. But on the other hand I feel that working with musicians, especially young ones, is really quite difficult.

The Yardbirds were very young, and things happened to them too early, and they needed so much discipline and hard work. When success was happening, it was like a total general freakout.

Julie Driscoll was one of the girls who used to come to the clubs. She was fifteen, and one day I gave her a lift back home and I turn the radio on and she starts to sing along with the radio. I said: “Hey, Julie, you’ve got a fantastic. ear. You’re dead in tune.”

And she said: “I told you I wanted to be a singer.”

In fact she had made a record for EMI, when she was 15, and she was singing with her father’s band in Murray’s Cabaret Club.

Then Brian Auger came along, and Brian was managed by Alan Bates. You see, I didn’t want to manage. Brian had a week in a club and he had sold his Lesley speaker. He needed 500 quid to get another, and rang me up at 5 pm and said he was playing that night. So I gave him a cheque to get his Lesley, and he played that night.

I do have intense relationships with people and I get impatient probably with the rock lifestyle of musicians. The price is so high and the issue so important in terms of communication.

I didn’t want to be a spoilsport but if you are in charge you see much further than the moment.

MM: But you still have a percentage of Julie Driscoll?

GIORGIO: No, no no. The only thing I’ve managed to have for myself are the tapes I produced with the Yardbirds from ’63 to ’67. And that is the only thing I had out of the whole business.

MM: What happened to Marmalade, your label released through Polydor?

GIORGIO: The original idea was for the record company to invest a lot of money without accountants interfering on a five-year plan to develop the company and the music. I said buy big names right away to get them into the shops and get the whole industrial aspect going.

MM: Weren’t there a lot of layabouts up there eating up the bread?

GIORGIO: Oh, it was an open door. The first year we gave all kinds of chances to people who wanted to work. But it did get ridiculous.

The publicity office was called Paragon Publicity and then we had a design department which did posters.

Yes, we thought that image was most important, but we could economise as well and we had press parties that cost only half the normal costs. The Otis Redding reception cost about £120. We were not extravagant. We were in partnership with Polydor — 50-50.

We had a budget of £20,000 for the first year to run the label, so Polydor didn’t do us any favours.

Around the time I was making John McLaughlin’s LP I resigned. In fact, I resigned three times, but they wouldn’t let me go.

Incidentally, McLaughlin was then working in Berlin. I said come back to England and get yourself together.

I gave him £25 a week, and the result was Extrapolation. Then he got the offer from Miles Davis and things started to happen.

MM: What happened in the end to Marmalade?

GIORGIO: The label was never wound up — it still exists.

Yes, it’s true I gave artists £200 a week to live on and put them into studios. But the artist is king and my dream was to develop their talents.

But I became disillusioned and it all got too much in the end. My personal life was in schtook so one day I went off to France and never came back.

In France I found a very serious and bad scene. The youth there are very oppressed. In France the music business is centred on the radio, which is state controlled.

The only way I found to get groups to play to the kids was through youth centres and there are now a 100 venues in France where my group Magma and bands like Gong can play.

But it’s a battle to put on a concert because you need the permission of the police and the Minister of the Interior.

But music is the only uncensorable form of communication. We play in gymnasiums, underground, anywhere we can.

© Max Jones, Chris WelchMelody Maker, 3 November 1973

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