Justin de Villeneuve
Justin de Villeneuve
The following paragraphs have been excerpted, with permission, from Justin de
Villeneuve's entertaining kiss 'n' tell documentary An
Affectionate Punch. The legacy photos appearing throughout the essay were
taken by Nancy Wilcox.
"Another project I was involved in was taking a couple of singers, Tony and Gaynor, to America and producing an album with them. In the States I have a cousin, Gil Markle, who owns a rock and roll studio called Long View Farm. Gil was only a cousin by my marriage to Jan, but we were kindred spirits and both enjoyed similar larkins. We formed a company called Cousins with headquarters in offices at the Worcester Airport, in Massachusetts. The airport was on the top of a mountain, where Gilbert had an air travel company. Oh, by the by, Gil was a multi-millionaire. He, like Terry Knight, had his own private airplane standing by.
Gil and I had a marvelous scheme. I would bring English bands to the studio and Cousins would unofficially take a percentage. Naughty boys! Well, I had to earn a crust, didn't I? Over the course of a year I took five different artists to Long View. Another incentive, apart from the Nelsons, was that I was having a romance with the lead singer of a band Gil and I managed. She was a girl, by the way, Nancy, her with the laughing eyes. I also now managed Bill Halverson, so Bill produced most of the English artists I took to Long View. You will have gathered that Long View was a very attractive proposition. I was earning four ways. Well, three, and a little Jolly Rogering!
Tony and Gaynor were obviously not going to set the musical world on fire. The staff and musicians couldn't work out why he spent so many hours every morning in the bathroom. The only conclusion we could reach was that he plucked the hair out of his body with tweezers. He always looked scrubbed and shiny and didn't have a hair on his head. He loved a big hat!
I was officially an executive producer. What qualifications did I have? Reader, you're quite right, nishta clod but here was my secret. Whenever I was asked what the track needed I had a stock answer. There I was sitting next to the producer and engineer behind the control panel. The artist was giving it plenty behind the glass panel of the studio. Looking very studious and scholarly, the words of wisdom would come from my north and south. 'Colour. It needs a brush of colour through the track.' What a load of Bollo! That old colour trick took me through about six albums. What did it mean? I never found out, but it satisfied everybody!
Another artist I took to Long View was Clifford T. Ward. Mr. Halverson was producing. Apart from drinking a bottle of brandy a day, William loved a snort. Toot, toot coke, cocaine. One evening William worked through the night, throughout the whole of the next day and the next night. In the early hours he collapsed, unconscious, after staggering out into the garden. He'd worked poor Clifford ragged, doing the vocals over and over again. The problem with coke is that when one is on it everything seems fabulous. Bill could have worked on for days.
In the cold light of day when the tapes were played back, they were dreadful. Three days wasted. Thousands of dollars down the pan. Cough, cough. Gil and I weren't complaining, mind you! We were both on a percentage. Let me tell you, most albums are done this way. I even know bands that are paid in cocaine. Musicians are always the first to hoot about being ripped off, yet when they are starting off, they are so feverish to succeed they would sell their souls. The slightest glimpse of success and it's on with the rip-off chorus.
Aerosmith recorded at Long View. I happened to be visiting Gil at the time. This was a popular American heavy Bollo band, a poor man's Rolling Stones, and they arrived with their 'ladies', wives and girlfriends. Now that's a phenomenon, a rock star's lady! A specialized breed. A super groupy. Definitely more Bristol than brain. Yet they usually lead the poor old rock idol around by the nazer. Ferocious greedy brutes, the lot of them. This little team were no exception. There was a fleet of Ferraris parked on the lawn. The road managers, gofers or roadies, were dispatched every ten minutes by the 'wives' into the local town for any sort of nonsense. Gil had his own herd of cows, but the wives wanted 'proper' milk, so roadies were sent at 150 miles an hour to North Brookfield. The way they carried on you'd think that they were off to get anti-snake serum!
Throughout the recording the rock stars stayed in the studio or their rooms. Food and dope were shoveled in to them. Yet months later I'd see our heroes on a TV programme like 'The Johnny Carson Show' sprouting on about the meaning of life and why they were humbled by the awesomeness of nature. Americans love the word 'awesome'. You've never heard so much Bollo in all your life.
Whenever I see bands or rock stars being interviewed on the box giving meaningful answers, I have to laugh. They are the least qualified people to discuss anything. They couldn't organize a bunk-up in a whore house. They will pontificate on about miners' strikes, unemployment or politics, yet they are completely out of touch with reality.
Another specialized breed is the roady. The roady usually gets more benefits than the star. The funniest sight I've ever seen is the fleet of Jags outside the Bay City Rollers' headquarters, off Regent Street. A roady behind the wheel of every car, doped out of his brain (what brain?) or drunk as a skunk. The roadies had the pick of the screaming fans, who were happy to be near anyone close to their idols. The irony was that apart from the manager and the band, quite a few of the people there, apart from the roadies, were Berties! There were a few females in the building, but they were usually more concerned with their nail varnish. God forbid the phone should ring and they have to work.
Gil and I had a safety valve for our sanity. For lunch we'd hop onto Gil's plane and fly to Nantucket. Nantucket is a beautiful island, with wonderful weathered clapboard houses. (The Americans pronounce that 'clabbord'. Well, that's what it sounds like to me.) On the roofs there are widows' walks, little circular balconies.
Here wives would wait for their husbands to return from the whaling trips. A Nantucket sleigh ride is when the whale, after being harpooned, drags the rowing boat through the water. J., you've come over all historical!
There are exceptions to my theory of rock stars' wives, of course. Mary Frampton, ex-wife of the Face of 1968, Peter Frampton, is one of them. I love my Mary. She is such a nice, thoughtful and very independent lady, with brains as well as brawnsies. As has Maureen Essex, wife of young David. Maureen is the funniest lady I know. Her sprout is a female equivalent of Tommy Roberts. There's also Jan Jones, ex-wife of Kenny Jones of The Who, and Maureen's friend. The two of them are funnier than Elsie and Doris Walters. Jan is brilliant at the game of 'Name that TV Tune'. Throw her any TV show, either English or American, and she or Maureen will hum the answer. 'I dream of Jeannie.' That sort of thing impresses me no end!
* * *
When we first lived in the country I used to drive up to town every day. I bought myself a Firebird Trans-Am to make the journey easier. It was exhausting, but I needed to be around and about on the streets. I stayed at Uncle Len's for a while, but I soon met a young lovely. She had an apartment, so I moved in. I was living with a young model during the week and in the country at weekends. A good system.
In 1980 I took on Clifford T. Ward as a client. He was now off the label at Phonogram. I did what I thought was a brilliant deal. I did a joint signing for Clifford with Warner Bros. and K-Tel. Warners were the best rock and roll label and K-Tel were TV promotion specialists. At the same time I signed Clifford to Intersong for his music publishing. My liaison A
& R man at Warners was Dave Dee, he of the DD, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Digger band. Dave was OK. The problem was Clifford. Clifford had a self-destruct button. Whenever things looked good Clifford would blow it.
Managing Clifford was like having teeth extracted. He had a few hits at the beginning of the seventies, but had gone off the boil. His previous record company and music publisher had squabbled with him. He was his own worst enemy.
I sweated blood to get him a deal. He didn't help matters by sending the record company rude letters. Now, despite all this, I quite liked old Cliff. We had some funny times.
I took him to America twice to record. We started the second album there and finished it off in a studio in Cornwall. The studio was up a creek, literally. After arriving at the local station and then getting to the nearest village, we had to schlap our cases a quarter of a mile along a railway line and then up a creek. It started to rain. Clifford put down his luggage. Being as always a slave to fashion, old soppy Bollos here had two cases the size of sofas full of clothing. White-faced, I staggered to a halt.
'How's your pacemaker?' asks young Cliff, taking the wee-wee. Around that time I was in the gossip columns a lot, appearing to live a life of glamour. 'If only your public could see you now,' giggles a delighted Mr. Ward. What was I doing? Hot and bothered, schlapping deuce and aces+ about? I didn't even like the music. It was time to knock it on the head. I should have done, but I'd been into this one too long.
The record became a mess, what with Clifford being difficult and the record company bringing in new producers to remix the album. To my knowledge, it was never released. My management of Mr. Ward dragged unhappily on.
I had a call from a promoter. Cliff was very popular in Ireland. With Clifford's approval, we set up a tour. Posters were printed and backing musicians were auditioned. At the last minute Clifford got cold feet. The guitarist couldn't play, was his excuse. The guitarist, incidentally, was part of Van Morrison's band and a little while later had a hit record of his own. Clifford T. Ward couldn't clean the boots of Van Morrison, yet here he was slagging off his band. Still, that was no problem; we could easily get another guitarist. Wrong! Clifford wasn't going to do the gigs at all!
The promoter went berserk. So would I! He had spent a lot of money hiring concert halls and having posters printed. They were already up! I was three years into managing him with very little earnings to show from it. I was reluctant to throw the towel in after doing such a good record and publishing deal. If Clifford had behaved, he would have had a marvelous career and we would have made a lot of money.
For a little while I worked from Byranstone Court. I shared the office of a friend called Susie de Jong. Susie owned the apartment the office was in and we shared expenses, phone bills and so on, but Susie, to her credit, was very generous. Her husband had produced a TV show called 'Supersonic'; sadly he had died young. Susie was pals with
Lynsey de Paul, and thus I became Lynsey's manager.
Lynsey's boyfriend was the actor James Coburn, so she spent a lot of time in America. Lynsey, like Clifford, can be difficult. The only difference is that she is funny and pretty. She knows she's difficult and always comes round later with an apology and a big smile.
Her record company, Polydor, were reluctant to renew her contract. Then I got involved. The big problem was to find a top producer who would work with L. de P. I thought the best production would be by someone like Streisand's producter, so I gave Rupert Holmes a call in New York. He agreed to see me if I flew to America. Polydor, with the prospect of the involvement with Holmes, agreed to up the budget. Lynsey was in South America, where James was making a film with Sophia Loren, Fireball or some such Bollo. I gave madame a call. She couldn't believe I'd got Rupert Holmes. I think a lot of her previous managers had talked big but had not delivered the goods. My strength is that I know an awful lot of people, both here and in America. Cocky sod! I flew to New York and concluded a deal with Rupert's manager. Where do you think I booked a studio? No prizes. Long View Farm!
Lynsey was so pleased, she actually cried on the eau de Cologne. We met up in New York. She booked in at the Plaza. Fortunately I had a pal who had a fortieth-floor apartment in the Olympic Towers, a fabulous block on Fifth Avenue. I could look down on St. Patrick's Cathedral. The glamour, the glamour!
When I met up with Lynsey at the Plaza she asked me what I thought of the suite? It was the size of a football pitch. What did she mean? She didn't like it. In fact, she changed suites three times! I should have been warned. Every suite was fabulous. You could have got a tribe of sixty into each of them.
We took off for Long View. Rupert had booked musicians from Bob Dylan's backing band, the Travelling Thunder Thighs, or something like that. Anyway, they were tasty musicians and we started to record. Dear, oh dear! Lynsey began to berate the bass player, telling him that he couldn't play. The guy didn't blink; he just shrugged, packed his bag and left. The other musicians looked at each other uneasily, as did I. Fasten the old safety belt, it looked like we were in for a rough ride.
After a couple of days, I came across Rupert on the veranda. 'Justin,' he sobbed on my shoulder, 'she makes Barbra Streisand look like a pussy cat.' She'd reduced the poor man to tears.
Things weren't going easy, to say the least. Rupert was having a nervous breakdown, mumbling to himself. 'Do I need this?' He was right, he certainly didn't need it! It was weird, things couldn't have been better for her career and she was blowing it. Why? Perhaps she was insecure. Who knows? Things became so bad that Rupert phoned Normand Kurtz, his manager in New York, and Normand flew down to Long View. Now, Normand is a very large Jewish New Yorker and, to be honest, my sympathies were totally with Rupert, who was being subjected to the most offensive abuse by the diminutive Lynsey, so when Normand came face to face with Lynsey, I went misso! It wasn't an act of cowardice; if Rupert had been my client I would have pulled him off the job.
Normand took Lynsey to the cleaners. This is where Lynsey is remarkable she didn't bat an eyelid Normand ranted and raved, hurling the most unpleasant verbals at her. A truce was called and we carried on recording. The next disaster struck. Lynsey got hay fever and couldn't sing. My old budget was going out of the window. There is nothing worse to a professional manager than to waste a budget on nonsense and, believe me, we were now in the realms of nonsense. It didn't please me to have to phone the record company in London and ask for another twenty gees, especially as I wasn't on an earner.
Because of Rupert's schedule, we had to put on the vocals in New York. The first thing Lynsey did on arrival in the New York studio was to tell the engineer he didn't know his business. Dear, oh dear! This guy, the week before, had mixed Frank Sinatra's album, as well as doing all Streisand's records. All the engineer would say was, 'Get the eyes front out of my studio.' My diplomatic bent was doing double bendo! How I straightened that one, I don't know!
I could never work out how Coburn put up with Lynsey, talented and successful as she was and continued to be. One evening we were all together at dinner in Long View Lynsey, Rupert, Gil, Justin and James, who had just flown up from South America. Lynsey starts to berate James. He stands up. We all hope he is going to hit her. No such luck. 'Lynsey,' he says, 'you're not talking to Rupert, you know.' Silence. I thought Rupert was going to cry. Someone should have hit James. Not me, though; have you seen the size of him? He could do a Magnificent Seven with the knife.
Gil had a brainwave. Why not take James off for an outing in the plane so the artists could carry on working? The only prob was that by the time we arrived at the airport the weather had changed. The pilots advised Gil and James to forget it. Forked lightning streaked all over the sky. I sighed with relief. But Gil and James insisted we go up. The pilots tut-tutted and shook their heads in disbelief. Gil, James and myself buckled ourselves in. To say my bottle had gone was the understatement of the century. I think the pilots were nearly as scared as I was. Steady on J., no one's that scared of flying. The two nutters insisted that it would be great jollifications flying through an electric storm. My trembling hand went to the Jack Daniels; I gulped down half a pint. The sky was now black.
The plane started to taxi along the runway. I couldn't take it. As the plane started to build up speed I started to unbuckle my seat belt. The pilots shouted at me to buckle up. No way. If I didn't die from a plane crash, I was sure to die from a heart attack! As the plane got to about 50 miles a hour I opened the door. Screaming 'Geronimo', I jumped and rolled over on the tarmac. I stood on terra firma. He who leaps and runs away lives to fight another day! Back in the studio I was a bit ashamed of myself, and when Gil and James returned I was very sheepish. They, on the contrary, thought my leap brilliant.
Eventually the record was finished. It never saw the light of day. Lynsey said that Rupert didn't know his business. All I know is that six months later Rupert had a colossal hit personally with the
Pina Coloda song and Lynsey subsequently had other successes of her own.
I threw in the towel with Lynsey but I must say she was never rude to me. In fact, I adore her but, like many artists, she's difficult to handle. Perhaps I had the wrong approach? I don't take life too seriously, as you must by now have gathered. Life's too short, and to be a successful manager one has to be a bit of a bully. I'm not; sometimes I wished, with artists, that I was.
My Mind" A brief interview with Twiggy's ex-boyfriend and
Markle's distant cousin, Justin de Villeneuve. Producer Hugh Murphy and
engineer Jesse Henderson are seen in the then-state-of-the-art Control Room "A",
working on an LP for Clifford T. Ward. Dennis Allen produced and directed
the clip for Wave.
1980. 3:59 studiowner/insp_h[l].rm?usehostname
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