Tony Calder obituary
Music promoter behind 60s hits by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull
Among the young visionaries, hustlers and chancers who emerged from the art colleges, advertising agencies, record company mailing rooms and photographers’ studios of postwar Britain with a mission to reshape popular culture, Tony Calder was one who maintained some of the characteristics of the previous generation. The business partner of Andrew Loog Oldham, who moulded the surly, iconoclastic style of the new-born Rolling Stones, Calder looked and acted the part of swinging 60s cultural entrepreneur, but he was the one tasked with counting the money and paying the royalties.
Calder, who has died aged 74, and Oldham were in the forefront of those who set themselves up in opposition to the “straights” running the major record companies: Decca, EMI, Pye and Philips. They took many of the cues for their modus operandi from their opposite numbers in the United States, where the boy genius Phil Spector – whose style and Svengali-like powers made him Oldham’s hero – was part of a scene also populated by more shadowy figures who ran the music business according to a particular ethical code and with a certain exotic glamour of their own. One of them, George Goldner, the Mob-connected boss of the Red Bird label, was Calder’s own exemplar.
When the two young men formed Image, their own pop PR company, in 1963, among those who joined the staff was the 19-year-old Andy Wickham, recruited from the EMI press office. In the first volume of Oldham’s memoir, Stoned, Wickham remembered Calder as a character who might have been played by the actor Sydney Tafler – “like a dog-track bookie … he had a confiding manner, hand-on the-knee sort of thing, and he sported a dark Caesar haircut, glasses with outsized black frames and a rolling Hampshire burr. He seemed to think only in terms of deals, and he reeked of danger. Tony ran the business side of things and bills were rarely paid. Furniture was always about to be repossessed, electricity to be cut off, phone lines to be disconnected. The girls kept us afloat by fending off our creditors with charm, ingenuity and an occasional favour.”
The “girls” were three secretaries conforming to the dolly-bird template of London in the mid-60s. One of them was Chrissie Shrimpton, not only the younger sister of the top model Jean Shrimpton, who was David Bailey’s muse and Terence Stamp’s girlfriend, but the companion of Mick Jagger before Marianne Faithfull came along. For a year or two, Image’s office in a Marylebone penthouse was an epicentre of life in young London.
The duo’s next venture was the creation in 1965 of the Immediate label, set up to record hip new acts such as the Small Faces, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the Nice, PP Arnold, Chris Farlowe, Amen Corner, Vashti Bunyan, and the German model Nico. After their breakthrough came with a Top 5 single licensed from an American label, the McCoys’ Hang on Sloopy, their home-produced hits included Farlowe’s Out of Time, the Small Faces’ Lazy Sunday and Amen Corner’s (If Paradise Is) Half as Nice. Immediate’s splendidly arch slogan proclaimed it to be “part of the industry of human happiness”, but the company’s chaotic accounting procedures led to unpaid royalties and the project disintegrated after five years, with huge debts, the business side taking decades to untangle.
It was with Faithfull, whom he managed for a while, that Calder made his only foray into record production, which was otherwise Oldham’s speciality. Two songs supervised by Calder, Come and Stay With Me and This Little Bird, were Top 10 hits in 1965. After he and Oldham eventually parted company, he continued to work in the music business, managing artists including Scott Walker and Eddy Grant.
Calder was born in Surbiton, Surrey, and grew up in Southampton, where his parents, Peggy and Jed, ran a pub. Keen on pop music from an early age, at 13 he witnessed Bill Haley’s Comets disembarking at the start of their historic UK tour in 1957, and after leaving grammar school he moved to London to take up a job as a trainee in the Decca press office. Within months he decided to go freelance, shrewdly taking his former employer’s list of media contacts with him.
In 1962 Brian Epstein invited him to help publicise the Beatles’ first single, Love Me Do. As well as sending free copies to ballrooms around the country, Calder is also said to have given the record its first public performance while moonlighting as a disc jockey at the Lyceum theatre in London. He had learned his DJ skills from Jimmy Savile at Mecca ballrooms.
Once he and Oldham had forged their alliance, it became apparent that they made a formidable combination even though their tastes and talents differed. It was Oldham who, in November 1964, insisted on releasing the Stones’ Little Red Rooster, a copy of a slow, mournful blues recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, as the group’s fifth single. Calder believed it had no chance of commercial success but bowed to his partner’s insistence and exploited his mastery of the dark arts of chart-influencing by sending teams of fans to buy the record on the day of release at shops known to contribute sales figures to the compilers of the national hit parade. It went straight to No 1. “I was staggered,” Calder remembered. “I hated it.”
After his association with Oldham ended in 1969 (partly because Oldham discovered that Calder was having an affair with his wife, Sheila), Calder briefly managed Scott Walker and the Bay City Rollers. In 1978 he found new success with Eddy Grant, formerly of the Equals, and 10 years later he had a hand in the success of Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, a cartoon-based novelty act from Rotherham who had No 1 records in the UK with Swing the Mood, That’s What I Like and Let’s Party.
His first wife, Jennifer, had been one of the office secretaries. The marriage ended in divorce. In 1980 he married Karen Richardson, a model; they separated and divorced after 10 years. He is survived by the children of his second marriage, his daughter, Georgie, son, Anthony, and stepdaughter, Harriet.
• Tony Calder, music industry executive, born 27 June 1943; died 2 January 2018