Record rivals – the producers

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Aug 2018 Record rivals – the producers

By John Firminger

RESPONSIBLE for creating the hits – with probably just as many misses – one of the most important, if not THE most important, person in the recording industry is the record producer.

Some of them, like George Martin, (top)Norrie Paramor, and even Joe Meek, (centre) have become equally as famous as the artists they’ve worked with. These men were usually assigned to their various record companies, such as EMI, Decca, Philips, Pye, Decca, etc., except in the case of indie producer Meek.

As seen on film, and in the studio, record producer and arranger George Martin was a reserved man, who would both advise and encourage the artists as they put their songs down on tape. EMI’s group of labels, Columbia, Parlophone and HMV, had allotted different recording managers to run their different outlets.

Pianist, arranger and band leader Norrie Paramor oversaw Columbia’s output with Columbia. Norrie Paramore had brought success to the label with big hits for names like Eddie Calvert, Michael Holiday, Ruby Murray, Frank Ifield, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, among others.

At Parlophone, George Martin handled most of the sessions, and before The Beatles, George had worked with such names as pop singer/comedian Jim Dale, comedians Charlie Drake, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, Scottish dance band The Jimmy Shand Band, and The Vipers Skiffle Group.

It was Vipers leader Wally Whyton who persistently claimed that it was the vitality of The Vipers which had prepared George to work with The Beatles, although this claim could be seen as cashing in a little on the ‘fab four’. George scored his first No.1 with The New Vaudeville Band and their novelty record You’re Driving Me Crazy.

It appears there was considerable resentment between Norrie Paramor and George Martin, despite their efforts all going into the same EMI pot. Norrie was the first one to enjoy a run of hits with Helen, Cliff and The Shads, while George looked on enviously. However, he had the pleasure of ‘re-discovering’ Matt Monro via his contribution (as ‘Fred Flange’) to the Peter Sellers’ album ‘Songs For Swingin’ Sellers’ and followed it up with Matt’s first big hit Portrait Of My Love.

After The Beatles were turned down by Decca Records, George was the next person to hear the band and their songs, and was certainly in a privileged position. Working with the band, George’s own musical prowess expanded with theirs, as their musical efforts progressed together.

By early ’63, George had superseded Norrie and was having phenomenal success with The Beatles and other Mersey-beat artists. According to world authority on The Beatles, Prof Kenneth Womack, while George’s income was the salary that EMI paid him, Norrie had discovered how to make more money by way of authorship on several of Cliff’s B-sides under various names.

This practise certainly didn’t meet with George’s ethical approach to the business. He then gave these disclosures about Norrie’s songwriting activities to David Frost who broadcast the information on his TV show ‘That Was The Week That Was’. Apparently, Norrie himself missed the show, but arriving to work the next morning, he was approached by other members of EMI’s staff who demonstrated their disapproval of his songwriting tactics.

But, such practises of adding weren’t new within the record industry. Norman Petty had added his name to some of Buddy Holly’s songs, and Country star Webb Pierce would generally only record a song if he could also get some of the action via the songwriting credits.

But in terms of success, George left Norrie standing somewhat, with the success he helped to achieve with The Beatles, (and others) which probably intensified their disregard of each other. It appears that when Norrie died in 1979 he still had the resentment towards George over his actions.

Pianist Wally Ridley handled production duties at HMV, and recordings from the US RCA label which included him taking the brave step of unleashing Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel On the British public. Ridley worked with popular crooners like Alma Cogan, Ronnie Hilton, Malcolm Vaughan, while he passed Johnny Kidd and The Pirates onto his assistant Peter Sullivan.

Another HMV signing was The Swingin’ Bluejeans, who were also maybe a little out of Wally’s musical comfort-zone, but enjoyed a modicum of success.

Over at Decca, Mike Smith helped to launch the careers on disc of people like Dave Berry, Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, The Applejacks, but scored an
own-goal when he and Dick Rowe turned down The Beatles.

He subsequently went on to CBS where he enjoyed hits with names like The Tremeloes, Love Affair, Georgie Fame, and Christie. Before Mike, Dick Rowe guided early sessions with artists like The Stargazers, Jimmy Young, Lita Roza, Dave King, Dickie Valentine and later, Billy Fury, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, Engleburt Humperdink and not forgetting Neil Reid’s mawkish hit Mother Of Mine.

At Philips’ Records, it was the job of producers like Johnny Franz and Norman Newell working with names like Shirley Bassey, Frankie Vaughan, The Beverley Sisters, Ann Shelton and The Kaye Sisters and later The Walker Brothers, The Four Pennies, Susan Maughan and Dusty Springfield. Franz also over-saw the recording of novelty items by the like of Max Miller, Norman Wisdom, June Whitfield and comedian Dave Allen.

Philips’ sister-label, Fontana, also had a wide range of artists under the supervision of Jack Baverstock. These included the earlier efforts by Dusty Springfield as one of The Lana Sisters. Other artists included Al Saxon, Matt Monro, The Allisons, Eden Kane, Wayne Fontana and Kiki Dee. The label also catered for more specialist tastes with artists like jazz musicians Dave Brubeck and Buddy Greco, Tubby Hayes, Cleo Laine, and folkies Wally Whyton, Martin Carthy and The Spinners.

Fontana also issued Aretha Franklin’s first UK single in 1961, with more early releases by Marty Robbins, Johnny Mathis and Screaming Jay Hawkins.

In the 1950s, Pye Records two biggest stars were probably Lonnie Donegan and Petula Clark, with other names of the era like Joan Regan, Marion Ryan and Edmund Hockeridge who were produced by Alan A Freeman. Moving into the 60s, Pye sessions were produced and arranged by young pianist and songwriter Tony Hatch.

Working with artists like Miki & Griff, Petula Clark and The Searchers, Tony also wrote songs for them, as well as producing their recordings. In 1968, Hatch produced an overlooked and unissued London session with Don and Phil Everly and their band. He later went on to be one of the panellists on the TV talent show ‘New Faces’, earning the nick-name of ‘Tony Hatchet’, due to his often harsh criticism of some of the performers.

When it came to doing things his way, eccentric independent producer Joe Meek certainly went against the grain producing records. He was besotted with the different sounds and effects he was able to achieve, which would range from playing a track backwards to dropping a coin down a stair-well into a bucket of water! But of course some of his wayward ideas paid off with hits like “Johnny Remember Me” “Tribute To Buddy Holly”, “Have I The Right” and “Telstar”.

A fierce control-freak who would explode over any kind of criticism of his work, he also had a penchant for good-looking young men singers, some of whom would get on record thanks to Meek. Unfortunately his lifestyle got the better of him and he shot himself on February 3, 1967.

Acknowledgements to Spencer Leigh and Prof Kenneth Womack, The Beatles authority and just about everything to do with them.