The year is 1962. Lights flood the small performance area at Quaglino’s, a night club in St James’, London. A few people sit in the audience, but they are shrouded in darkness. Mike Hurst, at the age of 18, has come for an audition and stands like a rabbit caught in the headlights waiting to do his song. He’s auditioning for The Springfields and he gets the job. It’s a big break. Within a year, The Springfields are cracking the USA charts, being the first British act to do so. They play the Carnegie Hall. Back home, The Island of Dreams peaks at number five in a British Pop Chart dominated by American artists. They are headlining everywhere, including the Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium, a show watched on TV by 23 million people. Suddenly, a teenager has more than he could have ever dreamed of. Everyone wants to know him. How was he going to handle it, and what was he going to do when the bubble burst?
51 top 40 singles and 25 gold and platinum albums later, I caught up with Mike to find out how he faced fame, fortune and failure. It is the story of one of the most underrated performers and record producers still working today. For a young man whose mother had put him on the stage at the age of four, and who, not long after appeared on the same bill as Max Miller and Sid Field in variety, life has turned full circle. Mike Hurst still produces records, runs training courses for young people who want to get into the music business and still has a passion for theatre, including pantomime, all of which benefit from having some of Mike’s friends along who just happen to be among the most prolific and highly rated session musicians of the last fifty years.
Mike Hurst’s story is compelling, not only because almost everyone in Twentieth Century popular music knows where he fits in, but also because his career spans half a century and is a cogent narrative of the radical changes in music and culture that took place. What took place was a transition in pop, which had its beginnings in stage variety, to a culture shock of rock and roll that absorbed and reflected massive changes; about attitudes, youth, identity, and so on. At the hypocentre of this period of rapid and profound change was the 1960’s London Scene. Everyone in the business knew everyone else. They played the same venues, relaxed at the same clubs and took comfort stops at the same terrible motorway services. In those early days of liminality and mohair suits, nobody suspected that within five years the world of popular music would change forever. As Hurst says of the variety acts like Anne Shelton and Russ Conway, “They all got blown away”. This is the story of an individual who made his mark during one of the most intensely creative periods of the last century.
By the time he joined The Springfields, Hurst was already a seasoned trouper. He had done the rounds. On one occasion he sat patiently on a stool at EMI Studio Number 2, Abbey Road, waiting to do his turn and speculating on whether he would spend the rest of his working life with a guitar or a filing cabinet. Auditions; that’s what aspiring musicians did, followed by, “Thanks, we’ll let you know.” The filing cabinet beckoned. A year later, Hurst’s mum responded to an ad in The Stage for a guitarist and singer and sent in his details. He had no idea what it was about, but your mum sends you and that is all you need to know because your mum is on your side.
MH: When I finally reached the small stage at Quaglino’s, I asked the people I was unable to see behind the lights, what they wanted me to do. A disembodied voice said 'anything you like'. I sang Mess of Blues, an Elvis number, and when I had finished, the same voice asked me if I could do a song in a foreign language. Having an Italian grandfather has some benefits so I did an old Neapolitan folk song. When I finished, the same voice said, 'we'll let you know’.
MH: I’d had a four pounds ten Framus guitar. So we went to Selmer’s in Charing Cross Road. (On Saturdays, a uniformed commissionaire stood at the double doors. It was that kind of place.) So we bought a pair of Gibson jumbo country and western guitars and I still have it and it is still my favourite. It’s a living legend, that guitar! One of the pegs belonged to Dell Shannon, who gave it to me on a tour. Then Bobby Vee put his foot through it by accident, so there is a repair job on it.
There were no assistants, no entourage - nothing like that. There was a manager/agent, Captain Emlyn Griffiths, who wore a monocle. What he was doing in the pop world, I had no idea. But that was the deal and in show business you don’t say “no” to anything. As far as I was concerned I was going to go out and sing and make records. It was like a dream come true. As for pay, it was an incredibly fair thing, because I walked into that and everything was split three ways between me, Tom and Dusty. There was no question that I was the new kid.. Tom always got the lion’s share because he wrote the songs and Dusty never quibbled about anything anyway.
When the Springfields money started to come in, Hurst went out and bought a Mini. But that was the extent of any rock and roll excess at that point. Hurst was a professional. Dusty and Tom were too, and together they worked on the act and took care not only with the music, but with their stage presence.
MH: Tom was the brains behind the band as well as writing the songs. Tom sorted out with the manager what gigs we would do but it was Dusty who worked on the performance. We used to go and stand in front of mirrors in a rehearsal room off Hanover Square, and we would stand for hours with our guitars, with Dusty in the middle, working out how we would look and how we would move to the song. Everything was worked out to the nth degree. The harmonies, we rehearsed those over and over and over again. Most performers did it that way.
The year of 1962 was the Springfields’ biggest, with Island of Dreams reaching number 5 in the charts. They shared the pop charts with such luminaries as Bee Bumble and the Stingers, Frank Ifield, The Tornadoes and Cliff Richard and the Shadows but American artists like Elvis and Ray Charles still dominated them. Everyone wanted to look and sound American because the British Invasion was yet to come. They also broke into the US Charts before the Beatles did, unlike Cliff, despite his being a home-grown perennial favourite. There were also the inevitable novelty records, such as Mike Sarne and Wendy Richard, singing “Come Outside”. Already there was a tension building in popular music and breaking the US market brought that into sharp perspective. America seemed to be the key.
WW: The Springfields were professional then, but did you have any aspirations to be, erm, let us say, a bit more cool?
MH: Oh yes. Tom didn’t. Dusty and I certainly did. Dusty was really into the Motown sounds that were coming out of the States. I wanted to do Rock and Roll. I didn’t want to wear beige suits, but I didn’t argue about it. But the beginnings of a change had already begun. John Lennon presented us with honorary membership of the Beatles fan club in 1962. He could be very acerbic and sarcastic, whereas the others were just nice guys. I liked Paul very much.
WW: Did you get a sense then that The Beatles were anything special?
MH: Yes, because if you start singing other peoples’ songs in your dressing room – there we were, The Springfields, doing From Me to You before our show, the corollary to that is that we were basically dead. We tried to keep up and started doing songs with “oohs” in and we were getting rockier just before the break-up. And by this time we had gone electric. I had a Martin Dreadnought Electric guitar.
WW: Were you subjected to fan hysteria?
MH: That was something that was coming. We would go out and you would get screamed at. That was normal because that had come from Cliff Richard fans. Apart from that, you flew in from somewhere and came through passport control and they would smile at you or when you went to the bank people would tell you that they enjoyed the TV show, but it did not amount to being feted. But I saw the change in the way the fans began to react to pop stars. I saw it in one afternoon in Regent Street. I was in a taxi, coming from the BBC with Paul McCartney and he wanted to get out in Regent Street and the taxi stopped. What I saw then was something I had never seen in my life. People seemed to come from every direction and Paul and I ran across the road into Austin Reed’s and they had to hide us in the dressing room. We were eventually smuggled out of the back of the building. I was horrified. I couldn’t believe anything could be so manic. And that’s when I realised that the game had changed. Suddenly you had something that was British and the world had gone berserk.
A lot of people forget that the screaming fans stopping traffic scenario pre-dated The Beatles, although, as Mike implies, it became another ball game with them. Billy Fury had screaming fans, someone who Clem Cattini toured with. Also Terry Dene, who almost nobody remembers except Clem!
Clem Cattini: I went to Ireland and they had closed O’Connell Street because the kids wouldn’t leave until Terry Dene had come out on the Hotel balcony and sung for them. It was probably the start of the superstar thing but we never realised it. We just wanted to play rock and roll.
The Paul McCartney connection has another angle. Hurst tells me he introduced McCartney to Jane Asher, someone he had known for some time. Jane Asher came to see The Springfields perform at a BBC show in 1962 and Paul McCartney and the other Fabs were on the bill Jane asked Mike if he could introduce her to Paul and that evening Jane Asher and Paul McCartney left the BBC studio together. It kind of begs the question whether Hurst was ever star-struck himself.
MH: Nobody until I met Fred Astaire. Because I had been brought up on his movies. To me he was a legend. It was much later, in the 1970s and Astaire was recording at CTS Studios, Wembley and I was too, I was up in the bar and the guy who ran the studio came up and said, “Mike, would you like to meet Fred Astaire”. I said, “pull the other one, it’s got bells on it”, and as I turned around there was Fred Astaire looking at me. I was cheeky. I looked at him and told him I was pleased to meet him and everything else and I said, “Could you do something for me?” and Astaire said, “Sure. What it is it kid?” and I said, “Can you just walk down the bar, the way you walk when you walk into a room in those movies you made?” And do you know what? He just turned around and did that light as air walk and then came back again.
That year of 1962 past in a blur, and I had to be the luckiest guy on Earth. The papers thought I was the Springfields good luck charm, because within three months we had the first ever top 10 single by a British group in the USA. We flew to Nashville to record, the first ever group from Britain to do that. The sessions were rushed to say the least, the string arrangements being written, or scribbled, in the studio!! That, we discovered, was Nashville. Elvis's vocal group The Jordanaires, were there for additional vocals, and all the musicians were great guys, but it was obvious that the technicians and producer regarded us at best as amateurs and at worst interlopers. What the hell were these Limeys doing in Nashville?
Whilst there we met and played with Chet Atkins, Bill Black (Elvis's bass player}, and met Johnny Cash. One drunken evening at the Holiday Inn Motel in Nashville, a drunken Cash insisted I jump out of the first floor window in to the pool below. We actually held hands to do this, me....and Johnny Cash! Griff (the Captain) and our manager, was an undoubted asset in the USA. You see, he wore a monocle! Now that was pretty eccentric in England, but in the States it was a cause for incredulity and amazement. The favourite comment from our American cousins was 'Screw in you glass eye Emile and give us a show'! They called him Emile because they couldn't handle Emlyn, his proper name. Wales and the Welsh did not appear on their radar! If it did they probably though it was somewhere in Arkansas! Before we left the States, we were entertained back stage at the Golden Theatre, by the cast of Beyond the Fringe, the hit UK show. The stars, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Millar, and Alan Bennett were so anarchic and irreverent, which was appealed to all of us. But we couldn't believe how American they had become! They even had TV in their dressing rooms. Oh, and we also played Carnegie Hall in NY, with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and Merle Travis, greats of country music.
After the American tour we came back to the UK at Christmas time to a top 5 single here, appeared before the Queen at the Royal Command Performance, and toured the UK with Bobby Vee and Johnny Tillotson.
Hurst did what all performers do at a Royal Command Performance and waited in line to meet The Queen and Prince Philip. When Her Majesty reached Hurst, she asked where he was from and he replied “Oslo”. It was one of those moments when nothing is real and his answer reflected it. Prince Philip was next and said, “You are not really from Oslo, are you?”
1963, and Britain had a new Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. We met him, or rather disturbed him, on the sleeper from London to Liverpool. He came out to see what the noise was, and we introduced ourselves. He was seriously underwhelmed. On that trip, we were invited to The Cavern, where John Lennon made us Honorary members of The Beatles fan club. Considering the fact they were about to wipe us off the face of British music scene, it was the least he could do!
That year The Springfields were also voted Top British Group in the NME, and The Beatles were Best Newcomers. During rehearsals I sat in the Wembley Arena with Paul McCartney, and told him I was worried about the name. After all, what sort of a name was Beatles? I should have known. We sang their songs in our dressing room. When you do that, you are generally terminal.
Clem Cattini: The Beatles came along and killed everything for everybody. They just changed the face of music completely. Suddenly the instrumental groups went out of the window. The popularity of bands like The Shadows dipped almost overnight. The Beatles weren’t exactly bad for the business, but they were bad for some of us in the business. When they went to America I wondered what they were doing because it was like taking coals to Newcastle. They were doing American songs. But the marketing kicked in. It was the marketing that did it.
|Richard Hearne, Tom, Dusty, Mike, Sarah|
MH: In the summer of 63' we were doing a one night stand at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, During rehearsals we were 'taking' tea, as one does, when Tom came out with a jaw dropping suggestion. 'Why don't we break up?' Dusty simply said , yes what a good idea, and me? Well I was too young and too inexperienced to see beyond the moment, and I blindly agreed. For innocent read naive. How could I have even suspected that Dusty, our Manager Griff and the record company had already planned this? Tom didn't care: he had never cared about performing, and generally doped himself up to the eyeballs to get through a show. I just thought I would have no problem with a solo career. I was foolish and young. It was agreed that the break up would be announced in September and take place in October.
We had done all the thing we wanted to do. Then there was the last gig of all. There we are at the Palladium and there were 23 million people watching the show. We got paid £375 between the three of us. Bruce Forsyth presented us with a silver cigarette box each and Dusty said to Bruce, “What’s in it? Money?”. We got paid zilch for that, our final gig.
The Springfields officially broke up in October of 1963. Mike set about building a solo career but already, doors were closing and phone calls were not being returned. As Mike says, he wishes he had realised at the time that nobody involved in the business was terribly interested.
I had met Tony Ashton already and Nigel Menday who played Drums. We called ourselves The Methods and rehearsed in the downstairs workshop of Duggie Millings in Saville Row. He was the Beatles tailor, and also Adam Faith’s. And Adam and the Roulettes and me and The Methods rehearsed alternately in this tailor’s in Saville Row. I still see Adam’s backing band, The Roulettes – drummer, Bobby Henrit (later to become a member of Argent). We went out and played country rock music, which nobody really wanted to know about. But it’s amazing how some people remember you because when I got the gold British Academy of Songwriters Award in 1998, a guy came up to me, an old time publisher, and told me he saw The Methods at the Belgravia club on New Year’s Eve 1963. He said, “I thought the band were great, it’s just that the material wasn’t right”. So, the material wasn’t right, but we went out on tour with Gene Pitney and Cilla Black and Billy J Kramer in ’64 and had a ball.
However ill-conceived the musical direction that Mike pursued with The Methods, a clear transition had taken place in the way pop acts were behaving, in particular the need to have artistic control. Mike had done The Springfields on variety bills, playing the Moss Empires and at Cinemas, as did all the acts on the Road. Now, the idea of a band, with a separate identity was getting into the public consciousness. The Shadows admit they were eclipsed because their image was still that of a variety act, where they all wore dinner jackets and took a bow at the end of the show.
Clem Cattini: The first tour I ever did in a band was on the same bill as Max Wall. (Wall was a surreal comedian and actor who had a clown-like stage outfit, along with big shoes). I felt sorry for Max because this was the start of Rock and Roll. Max tried to do a comedy turn as Bill Haley, with the kiss curl, and he just got booed. We started by doing weeks at places, like you did in weekly variety and suddenly the one night stand situation appeared and we started doing gigs in ballrooms.
Hurst had to go out on the road again as a solo act. By the end of ’64, the marriage to Sarah was obviously over, the big money was over, together with a Belgravia flat, and the E-Type Jaguar and more importantly, the career seemed to be over. All Mike could get in the way of bookings was the Northern Clubs. It must have seemed that the common understanding, that pop gave you fifteen minutes of fame and then spewed you out again back on to the factory floor or the office, was true. Hurst sold his Martin Dreadnought guitar to Dec Clusky of the Bachelors, in order to pay the bills. Money had to be made somehow.
MH: I did a week up at Burnley Casino as a solo act. I turned up and the manager said, “Have you got your dots?” and I said, “Do you mean my music? Do you have a backing band?” and he said yes, and pointed to someone in the corner, and it was Mabel, on the organ. I put my music in front of her and she played, and it was dire. So I told the owner not to bother about Mabel. So I said, “When do I go on?” and the manager said, “Between bouts four and five”. I was playing in between the wrestling and two years earlier it was the Palladium with Dusty and 23 million people. It was the pits, but I somehow never thought my career was at an end, though I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get out of playing solo between wrestling matches. I used to drive back to London every night because I couldn’t stand it up there.
There was some respite from the change in fortune and the calls to agents that somehow never got returned. Hurst was befriended by PJ Proby. Proby was another huge star at the time who specialised in scandalising his audience. After accidentally splitting his trousers during a show, Proby contrived to keep the trouser-splitting in the act and consequently got news headlines and a lot of publicity. He had had a string of hits in1964, using among others, Jimmy Page, on recording sessions.
|PJ Proby. Photo David Bailey|
He had a painting over his fireplace of himself, depicted as Jesus Christ, in the clouds, with a halo. He had a maniac servant called Bongo Wolf and Bongo took Proby’s Bassett Hounds for walks all day long. Proby’s life was a nightmare, a sort of surreal film.
There were the usual things like orgies and drugs. I got out of it when I realised that the whole scene was insane, but I was fascinated because I loved his accent and he was a great personality and I was drifting around the place and Jim was there.
Then, at the beginning of 1965 Mike met Marjorie Peers. They had narrowly missed each other at Roger Whittaker’s wedding, but Marjorie had child commitments and did not make it, though she did get to hear through friends who went that there was a really nice guy called Mike Hurst among the guests.
Marjorie: I met Mike at the studio of Ready Steady Radio, which was broadcast on Radio Luxembourg. I only remembered his name because my father had been mad about The Springfields. Very often, the artists who had been on Ready Steady Go went on to do Ready Steady Radio. I was there because my husband at that time, who was an agent, had one of his artists on the show. They had a little stage and the rest of the room was in darkness. There were no seats, you just stood and watched. Sandi Shaw came on and as usual for Sandi she was singing in bare feet. This tall person, who was standing next to me in the darkness, who I couldn’t see said, “Those feet – they’re so disgusting!” And I said, “Oh no, not at all, and by the way, I happen to have absolutely beautiful feet." And we had this inane conversation.
Despite the novel pick up line, Marjorie says, “We talked again when the lights came up and it was all forward from then.” Mike and Marjorie married in 1966. They have six children and 17 grandchildren.
The evening of the Ready Steady Radio show, Mike accompanied Marjorie and her then husband to dinner. The result was not only the beginnings of their nearly fifty years together, but an opportunity to present Teen Scene on BBC’s Light Programme. Even so, when Mike met Marjorie, he was not exactly at the pinnacle of his career.
Marjorie: I never met The Springfields because Mike had just finished with them and he was trying to make it as a solo artist. We were both married at the time, but of course it was clear that both of us had married far too young the first time, both of us had been married at twenty, but that is what people did in those days and we had divorces to deal with first. We were fairly poor when we started up together. I was a complete fool – how did I put my faith in him at that stage? I was besotted! Since then, the kids have had the most wonderful childhood because not long after we got together, Mike met Cat Stevens. The Children are all musical, unlike me. Mike would come in some days and try and get me to do harmonies and it was difficult to convince him that I was not at all musical. But the kids are. Mike’s mother came down to stay with us in Henley and started a theatre group and the family have carried that on. Four of them have their own children’s theatre groups in different parts of the country.
Hurst was still married to Sarah Hearne but it was Marjorie’s then husband Chris Peers who opened another door. Peers was a well-known agent and knew everybody in the business. He’d even seen Mike as a sixteen year-old hopeful in the days when Mike’s mother was plugging away trying to get him a career. There seemed to be an escape, at least a partial escape from the long car journeys to the North to do his “turn”.
MH: Chris fixed for me to do Teen Scene, a record and interview show on The Light Programme that tried to reflect the beginnings of Swinging Sixties London. I did an audition and the producer was a guy called Wilfred De’Ath. He was preposterous and a bit of a pseud and loved to have the big stars around. The show was done by the BBC talks department, but De’Ath loved all the models and the glamour, so Chrissie Shrimpton was called in as a co-host. London was starting to swing at the beginning of 1965 and the brief was to get people who were in the middle of it to come in and be interviewed. We used to finish the show at 10.30 on a Monday night and we would all go down to The Sands in Bond Street and drink until the place closed. Michael Caine appeared on the show, and so did Michael Crawford, Malcolm McDowell, Francesca Annis and Jean Shrimpton. Everybody was on that show. I chose the music and it went down a storm with the talks department. I was playing stuff from America; The Beach Boys, The Lovin’ Spoonful. The Talks Department hated it. We were called in almost once a week and told that this was not the sort of music we should be playing. They wanted Cliff Richard. But it they also wanted Swinging London and that was what they got, but it was a weekly battle. The BBC just did not get it, hence the emergence of the Pirate Radio stations who did get it and who later helped make my records with Cat Stevens big hits.
Teen Scene had P.J. Proby as a guest. His act was already causing a scandal, if a contrived one. Proby came on the show with a psychiatrist and Mike led them on to some dangerous ground. The shrink was commenting on how Proby’s act brought the girls in the audience to a climax and Proby drawled, “Ah don’t do that, Ah leave ‘em hangin”. This was not what The BBC wanted to do and the presenters got carpeted. Bob Dylan did the show straight from a flight across the Atlantic and though not controversial, he was monosyllabic, treating Mike to the interviewer’s nightmare of one word answers. And the questions got longer and the answers got shorter. The Dylan interview only warmed up during the last thirty seconds when Mike asked Dylan about a song that Mike had realised contained a coded message to Joan Baez, but by then it was too late. It was live and it was gone. Mike was not, by his own admission and experienced interviewer and had written and read out his questions. When he got to the bottom of the page, the air was pregnant with Dylanesque pauses. Apart from that, they were having a ball. The BBC hierarchy failed to enjoy the party atmosphere that the show had and after three months, Teen Scene was taken off the air. Eventually the show re-emerged on Television as “A Whole Scene Going” with Peter Asher as presenter. By that time it was clear, even to the BBC, that a new cultural concept needed to be addressed. After being paid £125 a week to present Teen Scene, the future looked bleak again.
By the end of Teen Scene, Mike was in a relationship with Marjorie and it was she who suggested he become a record producer.
MH: I said I didn’t know how to do that and she asked me how Johnny Franz produced The Springfields and I said “by sitting at the mixing desk reading a copy of the Daily Telegraph”. She said, “You could do that”. So I asked Andrew Oldham for some work.
Hurst had met Andrew Loog Oldham before whilst on touring as The Springfields with Del Shannon also on the bill. Oldham, in his blustering way had appeared at their dressing room door and Hurst had let him in. Oldham told them he wanted to become Shannon’s publicist.
MH: This spotty kid with red hair and sunglasses knocked on the dressing room door and asked if Mr Shannon was there, so I said, “Who are you?” He said, “I am Andrew Loog Oldham. I am the best publicist there is and I want to represent Del Shannon.” I let him in and Andrew did the spiel and in the end Del Shannon took him on. Andrew later returned the favour. He got me some work as a producer and the first band I produced was The Golden Apples of the Sun for Andrew’s Immediate label. Then there was Tony Rivers and the Castaways who I did a Beach Boys cover with. Of course, it was not as if I was an unknown quantity, due to the success of The Springfields.
|Andrew Loog Oldham|
Immediate was synonymous with swinging sixties cool and featured such bands as The Small Faces, Amen Corner, The Nice, Chris Farlowe and P.P. Arnold. Hurst was, to use a contemporary phrase, where it was at.
MH: Then I went to Micky Most and did the same thing. The first track I did for Micky was Come Away Melinda with Barry St John, which was at least a top fifty record. It’s a depressing song, but I had some fun with it. It was a big arrangement, with strings, so that was a challenge for me. Micky had the song and I found Barry St John to cover it and it was a hit, and Micky was furious; he said, “I should have put my name on that”.
Barry St John was a Scottish female singer. Come Away Melinda is an anti-war song written by Tim Rose. On this cover version it featured a little girl’s voice on it - Mommy, mommy, come and see. Oh, mommy, hurry do (St John did the little girl’s voice as well). The song Mike produced is credited to Micky Most on the label who was not above claiming credit if he thought he had a hit. It reached number 40 in the Radio Caroline Sounds of ’65 charts in December of that year. At the top of that chart was of course The Beatles with Day Tripper and We Can Work it Out. Come Away Melinda may have been depressing but it encouraged Hurst in the direction of orchestral arrangements, something he was to excel at.
MH: I used to run through the songs with the arrangers about a week before the recording, tell them what I wanted to hear and what kind of instruments, and left it to them. It gave me a respect for really good musicians and it was something I loved. I used people I believed in, like Mitch Mitchell on drums and the rest of the Blue Flames and I have to say it did me a lot of good as a producer. The session players all came out of bands, and you carry that with you. When you go into the studio as a producer you take control. You walk in there with something as unquantifiable as an artist, a song that you don’t know whether it will work or not and a bunch of musicians. You put all those things together and you are the one that has to make that work. I loved taking on that kind of responsibility.
Already the underpinnings of the commercial version of the counterculture were in place, with Independent labels like Immediate and the Pirate Radio stations such as Caroline and London. Both Most and Oldham were independent producers, part of a move away from the old fashioned “in house” style that had both stifled new talent and ironically, spawned The Beatles, more by accident than design. It was left to the independent producers to push the boundaries. Some were musically literate and had a passion for finding new talent, as opposed to sitting in a big office, waiting for the talent to come through the door. Phil Spector had made it ok to impress a production style on a record, as opposed to merely switching on a machine and hiring arrangers.
Micky Most in particular was a significant player in this respect, over in the UK. Mike Hurst describes Most as a “dyed in the wool bastard” but he could pick his songs, though was not necessarily so sure about the right artists to record them. Oldham is not generally considered to know much about music but he could spot talent and knew how to present it. With the Rolling Stones he created a bad boy image that confronted and sank the popular crooners of the time who smiled on cue and wore cheesy dinner suits and dickie bows.
This preceded the Summer of Love when the various threads of the creative maelstrom truly came together, less than two years later, in 1967. The defining ethos of the Sixties was approaching critical mass and Hurst was lucky enough, experienced enough and talented enough to be in the right places at the right time. At Deram, Hurst produced a New Zealand Band called The Human Instinct, a notable track being, A Day in My Mind’s Mind, considered to be a minor classic of the Psychedelic genre and one of the first of the British productions that were heavily influenced by the Summer of Love. Hurst considers it a failure, in terms of its lack of chart success, but it was pointing the way to more complexity in pop music and parallels the kind of approach that George Martin was doing with The Beatles, if only because everyone at that point was taking LSD. The Human Instinct also managed a creditable cover of the Byrds hit, Renaissance Fair with Mike Hurst as producer, who inspired some very taught string arrangements for it.
A Day in My Mind’s Mind is possibly one of the few 60’s rock tracks that actually contains a hidden message. Some major songs were accused by various interested parties of subverting youth. Some songs were the subject of court cases where records were played backwards and bizarre instructions to listeners were alleged to be planted. At the outset of the track, a Morse code message is tapped out, quite clearly. To the uninitiated it is just a series of bleeps, but to those in the know, it reads, Fuck off, Decca. They never knew.
For the time being, the lean times were over. Hurst was not merely reading the morning paper at the mixing desk, he was learning his craft and getting the skills that would make him a sought after record producer. Hurst was, like any artist, absorbing the vibe. At that time the vibe was still coming from the United States, and at the top of the pile, at least from the British point of view, was Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys.
MH: The biggest thing that turned me on was The Beach Boys. The harmonies were sublime. I listened to what Brian Wilson was doing with percussion and what Spector was doing with percussion. I started using things like two drum kits and playing a bass line on piano. Micky didn’t do that because Micky didn’t know about that and neither did Andrew, who only really cared about marketing. But to get a bass line and then a piano with the same bass line, playing a very low octave and then one octave up on that, and then you have something that sounds fantastic. With tracks like, She’s not the Girl I Once Knew they had the beginnings of Pet Sounds. It sounds corny now if you try and explain how you got the sounds, but there were no computers or anything digital, so if you wanted a different drum sound you would try hitting a a leather chair with a leather belt. You would put an amplifier, in front of a microphone in the Gent’s cloakroom of the studio and use the echo. There’s no drum beat on I Love My Dog, which was the recording that convinced me I could control the studio environment and consciously create hits. I used what I call a West Coast line-up; one cello, two trumpets, a trombone and a rhythm section. I just used cymbals. On the first take, when I first heard it all back I was petrified. I thought I would have egg on my face, I would lose money and it was going to be ridiculous. But then on the second and third takes, I did think it was good. The Pirate stations played it and did do well. A trick I learned from Micky Most; Micky used to have a little transistor radio on the control desk, hooked up to the mixer in order to feed the music into the radio to see how it would sound. The whole experience of producing was like piloting a starship.
CAT STEVENS et al
While working for Andrew Oldham and Micky Most, Mike Hurst came across an article in The Sunday Times Colour Supplement about an American “producer” called Jim Economides. The article had Economides claiming to have produced The Beach Boys, but as his name suggests, Economides was economical with the truth. As it turned out, he had fled the United States, pursued by the Mafia, and later left England owing everybody money. There is little evidence that he ever went near The Beach Boys, and his US production credits are sketchy to say the least, but he did manage to convince a few artists that he had.
MH: I read the article and thought it was a joke and that he had never produced The Beach Boys but I was sufficiently impressed, so I rang up the Sunday Times to find out where this guy was. I got hold of him and he made an appointment for me straight away. Jim offered to pay me a salary to produce, which seemed to be a step in the right direction, since up to that point I had just been paid on a per session basis. He called everybody “Boob”. He said, “You can do this, and I’d like you to do that and let me know when it’s finished”. And he just sent me off.
And that’s how we met Marc Bolan because he came into the office. Jim had done a deal with Decca for seven or eight thousand pounds to produce a number of singles for them, which he never did, because he got me to produce Marc Bolan and never came up with anybody else for them. Jim really liked him and asked me to do something with him. I did the first two records with Marc. (The Third Degree and The Wizard, credited to Economides) Marc was very raw when he came in. What he did was good but I didn’t appreciate at the time that it could get better. I thought it was ok but that’s it. What I recognised in him was the burning desire to be successful. If that’s star quality, then he had star quality. I do believe you have to have that burning desire to make it. You don’t have to have incredible talent, you just have to have that self-belief. Cat Stevens had it.
And that’s how we met Marc Bolan because he came into the office. Jim had done a deal with Decca for seven or eight thousand pounds to produce a number of singles for them, which he never did, because he got me to produce Marc Bolan and never came up with anybody else for them. Jim really liked him and asked me to do something with him. I did the first two records with Marc. (The Third Degree and The Wizard, credited to Economides) Marc was very raw when he came in. What he did was good but I didn’t appreciate at the time that it could get better. I thought it was ok but that’s it. What I recognised in him was the burning desire to be successful. If that’s star quality, then he had star quality. I do believe you have to have that burning desire to make it. You don’t have to have incredible talent, you just have to have that self-belief. Cat Stevens had it.
Economides had done another deal with another record company for eight or nine thousand pounds, but he never provided them with recordings. Then Cat Stevens came in.
MH: Cat Stevens walked into the office with this music publisher and wallpaper guy, Bert Chalet, who says, puffing on a cigar, “I’ve got this kid”. I thought he was really good but Jim Economides thought he was total rubbish. Jim turned him down because Jim didn’t have any ears and Bert approached me privately and asked me to do a few tracks with him and it was Chalet who financed the session. Bert could spot talent but had no idea how poor these musicians were. He had a magnificent flat in Portland Square and told me, with some incredulity, that “these kids, they’ve got no money!” And I said, “What a surprise”. Bert had seen Cat and friends pass around one “cigarette” between them and so he took pity on them and offered a cigar. I went into the studio with Cat and did four tracks, one of which was Here Comes My Baby. Actually, this was the first song I recorded with Steve at Pye Studios, Marble Arch, London, along with "Smash Your Heart," "Come On And Dance" and one other, in full "budget" mode. There were only a handful of musicians, and the arrangements were done by one of Georgie Fame's Blue Flames.
It was at that point that Steve and I parted company, until he walked back into my life a few months later, after every record company in London had turned him down! I suppose we were meant for each other. The records went nowhere. Jim Economides ran back to America owing everybody a fortune and never paid the rent on the Albert Gate Court, overlooking Hyde Park. I had no money coming in and negotiated a job in the States and was on the point of leaving for America. I was offered a job with Vanguard Records in LA who were keen to buy into the British sound. I was ready to burn my bridges and go.
The next thing I know, there is Cat Stevens on our doorstep and he says he can’t get anywhere and would I still like to do something with him. At which point, he played me I Love My Dog and that was that.
I had to get a studio and had to get musicians together, so I got a guy called Chris Brough whose dad was Peter Brough, the ventriloquist who did Archie Andrews, and got him to come up with £275 for musicians. Chris wasn’t raving about Cat Stevens, but he believed in me as a producer, which was nice at the time. So I went into Decca records and sat down with Dick Rowe to negotiate some studio time. I couldn’t tell him I had a new artist to produce, so I told him I wanted to do a song with Mike D’Abo who was with the Manfreds. I said I was going off to America, which I was, but that I would like some studio time just to make a final record over here. Rowe took pity on me and said he would give me three hours in studio two at Decca. So he gave me three hours and I went in and made I Love My Dog with Cat Stevens.
Rowe was something of a legend in the business, having turned down The Beatles.
Clem Cattini: Dick Rowe hadn’t got a clue about music, but in some ways it was a good thing because basically he was a punter, more of a music fan than a musician. He got people like Mike, who were musically inclined and had a concept of music. You have to remember that, in those days, a lot of the music producers were car salesmen.
MH: Later, I took the finished article in and confessed to Dick Rowe that I had not told the truth. He went mad, but I said, “Ok, fair enough, but have a listen to the record”. And then he went mad. He got the CEO of Decca, Sir Edward Lewis down, the Chairman listened to the recording and said, “My boy, you are a genius”, and decided there and then that I Love My Dog would launch Decca’s new label Deram. It wasn’t a major hit but it did what it set out to do and that was to launch Cat Stevens and the Deram label which became quite a cool label. It certainly made my name as a producer.
I got Dick James music to publish I Love My Dog and Dick thought he was on to a winner and that was when it all went very wrong. A lawyer rang me and asked if I wanted to be sued under my real name or my show business name.
Cat Stevens had plagiarised someone else’s song. The Lawyer sent Hurst a copy of a song on some obscure label in Asia, called Rose Petal Time that was note for note the same as the Stevens version except for Hurst’s contribution, the “na na na na..” part which Hurst also doubled up on the vocals for. It was the only original part of the song.
MH: I called Steve (Cat Stevens) around to the office and he walked in and I said, “Yusef Lateef” and Steve went white as a sheet and I told him he was an idiot. He didn’t think anyone would ever find out. And we handed away half the music publishing royalties, so he never did that again. Dick James was not happy.
(Stevens’ version differs in detail from Mike’s recollection: My buddy Jimmy Mitchell had all these jazz records — Nina Simone and Roland Kirk — and he had an obscure one, Eastern Sounds by Yusef Lateef. The song "Plum Blossom" just had this great melody, and one day I wrote words to it. And I developed it. It became an important song for me. And later, after I became Muslim, I realized I had to own up and correct that, so I told Yusef Lateef about it, gave him a big cheque and in fact started paying him royalties.)
MH: The next one was Matthew and Son. We got a lot of airplay on Radio London with I Love My Dog. The Pirates were crucial in giving the record buyers what they really wanted and without Radio London, the song would have struggled. With Matthew and Son, the station director didn’t rate it so I asked him to play it for a week and give it a chance, which he did. On one day alone it sold 80,000 copies. We recorded it in six hours including the “B” side and it has stood the test of time. John Paul Jones played bass on it and the bass is very prominent. Clem Cattini played drums, and I knew Clem from way back, when he was with The Tornadoes.
By this time, Hurst’s lifestyle had long changed for the better. He and Marjorie were able to move to a large and well-appointed house at Henley on Thames in those early days of success. The obligatory housewarming took place. Those present at the party included Simon Dee, David Frost, Manfred Mann, Cat Stevens, Paul and Barry Ryan. The guests were issued with cans of spray paint and as it was Halloween, everyone was encouraged to paint on the walls, since the place was going to be restored and re-decorated. He was still only 25 years old.
MH: The funny thing is, I have always been reticent about things – about me – and about people who are interested in me, but I am sure that I have always been able to face life and have never really backed away from anything, however young and inexperienced I was, so the success was not too difficult to handle, even at a young age and perhaps that had something to do with my mother and her theatrical background.
From then on I was producing records non-stop and doing work with people like P.P. Arnold, The Alan Bown Set, Spencer Davis and Manfred Mann, who I did Mighty Quinn with and Colin Blunstone who I did the remake of She’s Not There with.
Blunstone is on record as saying he wanted the “Mike Hurst Sound” and they made four or five singles together, none of which charted.
MH: The first session of The First Cut is the Deepest, with P.P. Arnold, she was out of it. She was so drugged that there was going to be nothing usable so I sent her home. But she was great after that, and that was down to Andrew Oldham. He sorted all his artists out, even though he always got stoned as well.
Hurst turned the odd success or two down, famously, Gilbert O’Sullivan, and particularly The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
MH: This tall gangly guy came in, with long hair and a beard. He’d written this song and would I listen to it. He had a piano player with him so the guy sat down at the keyboard and the guy with the long hair and the beard said, “I’ve just got to put my gear on”. So I thought he was going to change clothes. He went out and came back in about two minutes later with a metal cup strapped to his head. So I said, ok, off you go then. And the piano starts the first bars of Fire, and as he does, Arthur Brown strikes a match, lights the cup on the top of his head and it bursts into flames. Arthur is singing “Fire, ba ba ba” and his hair started smouldering and smoking and I was dying! I had tears running down my face. When he finishes the song, Arthur says, “So. What do you think?” and I said, “Arthur, It’s the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life”. He said, “Do you want to sign me?” and I said, sorry Arthur, I can’t. It’s just not for me. Three months later, it’s number one. What can you say?
Manfred Mann were a band for whom pop success was something of an albatross around their necks because they wanted to play the blues, something they later did as The Blues Band, apart from Manfred himself who was very laid back about it all.
MH: Tom McGuinness and Mike Hugg wanted to do the blues but the fact is they were a pop/rock band. Manfred was incredible. He was the most laid back character I have ever come across. You went into a session, from the day before or the week before and he’d taken the master tapes home and lost them. So life was quite strange. He’d sit there and read the paper most of the time as well. I didn’t want to do Mighty Quinn. They came to me and asked if I would produce it and I listened to the Bob Dylan demo and it was horrible. I didn’t think there was a hit in it. I could not hear anything in the song. Manfred persuaded me to do it, and I was doing an album with them anyway (Mighty Garvey), so I agreed to do Mighty Quinn and it was number one everywhere in 1968. They had a sound a bit like the Byrds, with Tom McGuinness’ National Steel guitar. I tried to make it sound more American. It was after all, a Dylan song. It could have been a mistake because of course they are English, apart from Manfred, who is South African, but as it turned out, it wasn’t a mistake. Klaus Voorman did the flute on it as well as playing bass. In retrospect the song had a great hook.
In 1967 Hurst met someone who was to remain a friend and musical colleague up until the present day, Ray Fenwick. Fenwick had joined Spencer Davis and later went on to work with members of Deep Purple, including touring with the Ian Gillan band. Fenwick also has a distinguished rock and music CV.
Ray Fenwick: I first met Mike when The Spencer Davis group were recording an album called With Their New Face On and the single that Mike was doing was Mr Second Class. And all these years later we are incredibly good friends. Mike’s a fabulous producer. He’s top dollar, but he’s very modest. When I first heard I love My Dog, that was such an original, great record and then he came up with Matthew and Son, also a great record. He produced The Four Tops and it is one of my Mike Hurst favourites. He did For Your Love and it’s such a good version.
After Matthew and Son, Hurst’s relationship with Cat Stevens began to go downhill. Stevens was not even 20 years old, Hurst was 24. It was not so much a mature diversity of opinion but a function of youthful ego and testosterone.
MH: You get one 18/19 year-old youngster who is now the talk of the town, who everybody wants to know, and equally so, you have a 24 year-old producer who thinks he’s the bees knees and the answer to everything and when those two things clash you have problems. I could have handled those problems if I had been older and understood more about life, but I was a bull in a china shop. Steve got his brother David involved. They came in for a meeting with me and Chris Brough and it kicked off. David pointed at Chris and said, “I know where you get your money from” and then looked at me and said, “Where do you get your money from?” I just looked at him for a moment and I said, “I know what you are saying. You think I am taking your brother’s money. Well I’ll tell you something. You see that guitar in the corner? If you are not out of here in ten seconds I am going to whack that around the back of your head.”
David Georgiou did leave the room, but a law suit followed. In the middle of this, Hurst and Stevens were churning out hits. I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun seems appropriate. Stevens wanted to sever the management/producer relationship with Mike Hurst and legal proceedings began during the production of the New Masters album, which saw the nadir of their relationship. Stevens attributed the lack of success of New Masters to Hurst’s production, a testimony to the breakdown in relations and the intractability of Stevens’ contract with Deram/Decca. One of the tracks, The First Cut is the Deepest was recorded by P.P. Arnold, also produced by Hurst around the same time. (Stevens reputedly sold the song to Arnold for £30). It subsequently became a hit for Arnold and launched her solo career, with Hurst’s homage to Phil Spector production values and his passion for the kind of soul vocal that he’d shared with Dusty, and has been covered almost every decade since. The Stevens version sank without trace, and indeed, since New Masters appeared after the P.P. Arnold hit, Stevens’ version was technically a cover. It is obvious that Cat Stevens needed to move on, regardless of the personal tensions and the contract with Deram. He joined Island Records and went on to make Mona Bone Jakon, which represented a major departure from the orchestrated hits like Matthew and Son, and the rest, as they say, is history. Somebody has to give you a break. Somebody has to believe in you when nobody else does and it was Hurst who gave Cat Stevens his break. No label would have given him the artistic freedom he needed at that time had there not been some chance that he was a marketable commodity.
The Hurst/Stevens divorce took place in court and like most divorces was messy and nasty. It was also the point when one of the most artistically creative decades of the Twentieth Century was drawing to a close. Cat Stevens did not want Hurst to manage him anymore and that formed the basis of the court appearance.
MH: Steve had Oscar Beuselinck, a former MI6 agent and big shot showbiz lawyer, who was the father of Singer and Actor, Paul Nicholas and I got Andrew Loog Oldham’s lawyer. And this lawyer said, “Whatever you do, don’t lose your temper and don’t say anything”. But Oscar Beuselinck gets up and says that his client asserts that Mr Hurst has not furthered his career. When he said that I didn’t keep quiet. I looked at the judge and said, “Ask him, ask him what his client was making three years ago. He was earning £15 pounds a week in his dad’s restaurant and now he’s earning five grand a week”. Then Beuselinck went on to say that his client was a minor when the contract was signed and that the parents did not understand English when they signed on his behalf, which was just a lie. But I lost the case. The joke was, we had to go on recording together because that was the one thing they could not get out of, the contract with Deram. It was not much fun.
As the decade was coming to an end, Mike Hurst was writing songs again. At the beginning of the Seventies, Hurst was signed as an artist with Capitol, in the USA. A solo album called Home was forthcoming eventually; Billboard and Cashbox gave it great reviews and a US tour followed. Hurst was writing a lot of songs and second album, In My Time was produced. Both had an extensive roster of fine musicians, including: Jon Lord, Ian Paice (Deep Purple), Tony Ashton, Dee Murray, Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson (Elton John Band), Rod Argent (Zombies and Argent), Ray Fenwick (Spencer Davis, Gillan), BJ Cole, Chris White and Doris Troy.
On Home, we see an introspective Mike Hurst, committing his thoughts more or less straight to vinyl. All I Can Do is Sing is a fine example, but it is characteristic of the Mike I now know a little bit that any introspection is coupled with feelings for friends and colleagues. It is also a song about a friend who went to Vietnam with the US Army and never came back. (This subject represents an entire chapter, that is, the effect that Vietnam had upon a generation and the soundtrack to that generation).
MH: A guy called Steve Vaughan who was a tape operator, but also a player - he was going to play with me on the solo album. He was American and he’d been dodging the draft. Anyway they found him and he was sent back to America. Then he was drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam and was killed out there. The song was of its time, and that was what it was about.
Doing the first solo album was introspective, but I also wanted to say, “look, I can write songs too.” I had mostly done other peoples’ songs. Home was the proof that I could. It meant a lot to me actually. My business manager took it to Capitol Records in the US and played it to Dick Asher, the President of Capitol and Dick Asher really loved it. So a deal was done.
A very strong track on In My time is Indian Tears. It has a sort of CSN feel to it and again, it is of its time, especially lyrically. Musically it stands up today, and it deals with the kind of political mores that were prominent at the time. However, the subject matter was something of a tricky issue in the US, and accordingly it was doomed as a single release, which is what Mike had wanted it to be. Marlon Brando had gotten flak at the Oscars Ceremony for making a political statement on the subject of Native Americans, as they came to be known later.
MH: Dick Asher said, “Mike, the Indians are out this year”.
If ever there is an example of how crucial timing is in the music business, and how mercurial and crass the decision makers can be, the above example is one of them. Of course, record company executives never had it all their way and more often than not would pass on a band or singer for reasons that are as stupid as “Indians are out this year”. It happened all the time. Everyone wants to pick winners in a game that throws up more misses than hits.
By 1969, the music, the magic and the mayhem of the 60’s was disintegrating. The Beatles had effectively split in April of that year, at least legally, when John, Ringo and George separated their business affairs from Paul’s. Let It Be was recorded amid a lot of quarrelling, not the least between Paul and Phil Spector who was the producer. By the time it was obviously over they got back together to do Abbey Road, with George Martin, which is paradoxically one of their finest. By August, 1969 The Beatles had done their last recording together.
It is difficult to explain, 40 or so years later, how fundamental a message the Beatles’ split sent out to the world at large. Everyone knew in their hearts that the Sixties was over, but the split, when it finally became official, was the key to the end. Musically, the game had changed. Jimi Hendrix had started out on the same variety bill with jugglers, comedians and acrobats. Groups and stars were manufactured and marketed like novelty items. Nobody thought that pop would be anything other than a fad. Elsewhere the energy of the decade had produced a manned visit to the moon and Concorde, the plane that flew from London to New York in less than three hours and with less computing power than you find these days in a toaster. It was an era of British superlatives, not just in the arts world but in industry, sport and science. I once talked to an engineer who had worked on the development of Concorde. He told me that there was an atmosphere in the drawing office of sheer optimism; that anything was allowed and anything could be achieved. It echoed the artistic freedom of the time.
It perhaps comes as no surprise then that as the end approached, those who had been at the centre of this explosion, like Mike Hurst, became at best reflective and at worst somewhat depressed. It was over, and it was never going to come back. We dressed up in clothes with swirls on them and wore flowers in our hair, but then one day they went back in the closet and a sense of mocking disassociation took their place. It was time to move on.
Hurst wasn’t idle. He was a busy producer, partly because of his penchant for rarely saying “no” to an opportunity.
MH: I made the last record with Cat Stevens in ’69. It’s called Where Are You, which is sort of poetic really. At that time I had come up with an idea for doing a remake of She’s Not There with Colin Blunstone.
(Blunstone was on the verge of going back into a straight job)
MH: Everyone always forgets how short these time-spans are. The Beatles life-time was seven years in terms of being a big name recording group. The Zombies, the first single I think was ’64 and they were over by ’67. Then they got back together again and did Odessey and Oracle which was fantastic, and my business manager managed the Zombies, so hence I was always Colin and the other guys. Time of the Season had become number one in the States and that was when I suggested to Colin that we record a cover of She’s Not There. Colin said he couldn’t do it under his own name because they had an album out and they had a big hit and they might get back together again. Colin didn’t want to compete with himself, so I said we’ll call you something else. I called him Neil McArthur, don’t ask me why! And that’s what it came out as; Neil McArthur – She’s Not There, but everybody knew it was Colin Blunstone. It was very laissez-faire, you did what you wanted to do.
WW: Why a remake?
MH: Because I loved the song. If you listen to the original it’s incredibly basic, which probably made it so successful. But I saw it in a completely different light. I saw it as a sort of big orchestral, manic sound. I honestly believe it was one of the first singles we made a video for, because we did a promo film. Europe went crazy for this. It wasn’t a huge record here but it charted, and on the strength of that we did three more singles under the name Neil McArthur. Nothing happened with them, which is a crime because a couple of them are absolutely beautiful. They have since come out on Zombies collection albums.
Mickie Most introduced me to an Australian band called New World. They were on Opportunity Knocks. (A talent show, a kind of a precursor to X-factor) So, my first comment was, “Surely, we are going to see if they win it” and Mickie said, “Oh, they will”. That was my first intimation that things weren’t quite as they should be. A guy from ATV who produced the show said, “and when they win the final..” and I looked at him and said, “How can you be so sure?” and he said, “Don’t worry, we are very sure. They are going to win.” That’s when it all came home and I realised it was fixed. The fix was nothing to do with me; I was just going to make a record. Mickie came up with the song, Rose Garden. Which Lynn Anderson had just got out in the States.
In those days, records that came out in America, by Americans, which were hits, there was a time-lag. Today everything comes out all over, instantly. In 1970, there was at least a four or five week gap in terms of release. So what happened was that, if people got wind of something that was about to become a hit in the States they did a cover version for the UK and Europe market. Mickie Most loved covers. It was an easy way, and he said, “Let’s do Rose Garden”, so I did the track. As soon as it came out, Lynn Anderson’s arrived as well. Lynn Anderson’s went to number one, and New World’s went to number five. In Europe, in Germany, for reasons I cannot understand, they went for the New World version and it was number one in Germany. The follow up singles, I really did not like them. I wasn’t picking the songs of course; it was Mickie Most at RAK Records. He’d got this song, Tom, Tom Turnaround which I produced, reluctantly, but it was a bloody great hit. There were others more or less all the same. At that point, I gave up on it. I really couldn’t take anymore and I’d had enough. It was great to have the hits, but they just weren’t my cup of tea.
Of course, the fixing scandal of Opportunity Knocks blew open and that’s what killed New World. They were at my house in Henley, rehearsing. They got a phone call and literally ran out of the house. I had never seen people move so fast. They had a car waiting to take them to Henley station. They went back to London and the next thing I heard, the band had been arrested. Of course they could never be accused of anything but they were material witnesses to the Opportunity Knocks fix. After it all got out it destroyed their career. But it didn’t bother Mickie. He just took it where it came from.
WW: It kind of reminds me that Clem Cattini said a lot of these producers were “car salesmen”.
MH: Yes! Because they don’t care what sort of condition it’s in, as long as someone pays the money and drives it away, and if it breaks down along the road, who cares. It was a bad time for music and for me. 1970 was not good. So I did the garden and I swam and played tennis.
Not every record executive was stupid enough to ignore talent or wait around for the flavour of the month to come along and ride on the back of it. Roland Rennie had previously worked as EMI’s man in America and had earlier in his career gotten the first deal for the Beatles, effectively helping them to break the US market when Capitol rejected them. When he beat a path to Mike’s door during the gardening phase, Rennie was the MD of Polygram.
MH: I knew Roland very well, he was an alcoholic, but everyone tolerated him in the music business because he was a great music man. More than that, he was such a nice guy. How he survived in the music business, I don’t know. But he did, and everyone used to laugh at him and say, “Roland’s on the binge” but he was still a lovely guy. A lot of the reason people let him be was because he was generally right about music.
But he came to see me at the house, out of the blue, and he said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “You’re wasting your time” And I said, “I’m enjoying doing the garden and swimming” and he said, “No you’re not!” He said, “It’s music, it’s your life. It’s what you do.” Everything had gone to shit. I didn’t enjoy it. My business manager had screwed me and I had been doing singles I didn’t want to do. My business manager had taken my office and he had New World and Argent. He had taken the lot and didn’t give a toss about me. I didn’t know the way back in at that point and that was why I was at home, fairly fed up with it all. Roland said he would do a deal with me. The deal was that I would go around Europe to the Polydor and Phonogram offices and find some artists who we can bring to Britain. Roland wanted to see if there was anybody in Europe who we could import and sell records. So I went around and eventually came back from Sweden. I’d been to Germany, France, Spain, Italy – all over the place. I said to Roland that the only place that will give us an artist who will sell anything in the UK is Sweden. And Roland said, “Why do you think that is.” And I said, “Their ability with the English language is much better than any of the others. They are not confused by our vowel sounds, they can do it.” I played him something by a group I had found out in Sweden and Roland agreed that they sounded English enough to sell records here. So we took the record to Wayne Bickerton, the head of A&R at Polydor and he just said, “They’re foreign. We’ve got plenty of our own”. And that was the end of it. Both Roland and I thought the guy was blatantly stupid. Two years later, along came ABBA. Again, the timing was wrong and ABBA were all in different bands at that time.
But then what Roland did for me, he said, “Why don’t you set up your own production company?” I was reluctant to put money into it but Roland offered to put up the money. It was 1972 or 3. I got an office and a secretary, financed by Roland Rennie at Polygram. So I had to come up with some material. I wanted to do “Wild Thing”. Ray Fenwick came on board and we put a group together called Fancy.
Ray Fenwick: I was doing a lot of session work in the Seventies. In 1973 Mike called me and Mo Foster to record Wild Thing, the old Troggs hit. The Fancy version was very different to the original. It was an edgy, disco record, almost a punk disco record. When we first heard the girl who was doing the vocals, Helen Caunt, she was doing the heavy breathing on it. When you are listening to something in the studio, you can never be sure what it is about a song that is going to work. All of us thought this could be a hit. Mike was convinced, and Mike knows. He knows when something is right and he knows when something isn’t. He was always able to get deals, and he got a deal with Atlantic and within weeks it was in the American charts.
Mo Foster had met up with Ray Fenwick on Mo’s first job as a session player in 1971 whilst recording with Barry Ryan.
Mo Foster: When the record entered the American charts, which is when discussions took place about putting a touring band together because we needed to go out and be it. It was decided in that Helen was the wrong person to do the tour. Auditions were held and we eventually found Annie. It was impossible and inconceivable to reproduce the records on stage and slowly we evolved into a very good, funky band, like the Average White Band or something, which confused everybody. We had a hit single with these breathing noises, and people would go to the concert and see a different band entirely. So it was a bit schizophrenic and that probably led to the band’s demise in the end, but the only way we could do it was to make it bearable for us. The audiences loved it for what it was, but it wasn’t what they had come to see. They would probably have preferred Blondie.
WW: Can you remember the point when you realised that Fancy was going to fold?
Mo Foster: Yes. About half way through 1975. It was a mixture of record company indifference and money – the usual sort of thing.
(Wild Thing reached number 7 in the US charts in August, 1973)
MH: While I was recording Fancy, I had also seen Showaddywaddy. They had been on a talent show called New Faces. Showaddywaddy had a huge following in the clubs. The Bailey Organisation were their managers and agents and they had clubs all over the North of England. So I found them and wanted to do a deal with them, at which point Phonogram came in and said they had decided to close me down because I had not gotten them any hits. So I explained that I’d got these things and I’m doing this and I’m doing that and they didn’t want to know. Roland Rennie, the Managing Director of Polygram, which was the holding company, took issue. He went into Phonogram and said, “You are not closing Mike Hurst down!” Roland Rennie threatened to resign. He did that for me. He was the only person in the business who ever put himself on the line for me. Within a year, Wild Thing was a hit in the States, Showaddywaddy were just coming up with their first single which was going to be a smash and everything worked. Roland Rennie put me back as a producer. Suddenly, after this two or three year hiatus I was back in the market place.
Showaddywaddy aren’t given a lot of credence these days, understandably, but they had hits. They were a very uncomplicated bunch and they were not very studio savvy. When we did the first record, there was a point when I pressed the talkback button and said to Buddy Gask, who was doing the vocal, “When you get to that bit in the song, it’s so loud, so would you get back from the mike.” So Buddy said, “How do I do that?” So I took a deep breath and said, “Two of us come out there, we take you by each arm and pull you back from the mike, and then put you back again”. So, anyway, we do the song again and we get to the same point and the note’s as blasting as ever. I stopped it again and I said, “Buddy, what happened?” and he said, “Nobody come out”. Russ Field, the guitarist said to me, “The Problem is, Mike, I don’t sound like Brian May.” I said, “No, Russ, you don’t”. And Russ said, “You can make me sound like Brian May” Of course, I couldn’t make Russ Field sound like Brian May, so it was really a case of putting together commercial records for them, and just hoping for the best. They were a great live act, but musically, slightly bankrupt.
Showaddywaddy had 22 chart hits altogether, with Hurst producing the first twelve. Under The Moon of Love (a Curtis Lee cover), was their only number one and sold nearly a million copies. Under Hurst’s direction, Showaddywaddy achieved six gold singles discs, two gold albums and three platinum albums representing at least 3.5 million units in the UK alone.
Hurst’s insistence that Showaddywaddy were “musically bankrupt” does not contradict the reasons for their success. They were successful because a new era had dawned, the era of Glam Rock. Showaddywaddy were successful, not because they were performing Mozart concertos, but because the public wanted a rest from the introspective, intense full-on seriousness of the Sixties. They were a sub-genre, what we now call retro. They sang and looked like a Fifties Do-Wop band, and the cover versions that Mike did with them were designed to exploit that feel. Already a similar act in the States called ShaNaNa had been ploughing the same furrow. By this time, the entire popular music scene had fragmented into such sub-genres as Progressive Rock, Folk Rock and pure teenie dreck, of the kind the Bay City Rollers were to excel at. POP, in upper case, was the order of the day as far as the singles market was concerned. Of course, bands like Roxy Music also exploited the retro wave, but with style, high calibre musicianship and creative genius. Given the fact that Roxy’s debut album came out less than two years after Abbey Road, it is easy to see there had been a massive change in the culture of Britain, and in particular, the music industry.
MH: Everything was splitting, fragmenting. In the last half of the fifties you just had Rock and Roll. In the Sixties you had the Beat Boom and Psychedelia and the Singer/Songwriter. In the Seventies it was going to Retro, to Rock and Roll, to Disco, Soul, Heavy Metal, Progressive and of course Punk. Then there were the Stadium Rock bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, etc. As a producer you had to choose which genre you wanted, you couldn’t do them all, and I chose Rock and Roll and Disco because that is what I was comfortable with.
As for Mike, he was once again flavour of the month and the Bailey Organisation who managed Showaddywaddy, quite wisely bought into Mike’s business. Chris Brough, Mike’s partner from the Cat Stevens days came back in.
MH: All of a sudden, just like it was in the Sixties, people want you to produce their records and the commissions were so diverse, it was amazing; Billy Fury, Lena Zavaroni and Cilla Black. I have to be honest, it was money business. When someone comes in and says we’ll give you x thousands of pounds to make this album, I wasn’t at that stage in the Seventies, about to say no. Billy Fury was lovely, he was great, but his biggest problem was his manager, Larry Parnes. Larry would say, in front of Billy, in the studio, “He’s quite ignorant about things, he knows nothing, he’s just stupid. You just tell him what you want”. In front of him! Parnes was with Billy all along but he was from the old school of managers and he didn’t disguise his contempt for his artists.
Then along came Philip Solomon, another horrible manager. He managed Lena Zavaroni. A lot of people remember her as a kid on Opportunity Knocks. She was so talented. She had a great voice. I made what I think was a fantastic album with her when she was fifteen or sixteen. There was certainly pressure on her at that time to keep slim, from people around her, even when she came to our home for meals. But as I said, Lena was so good and if she had been in the States she would have been a colossal star.
Lena Zavaroni died at the age of 35 in 1999, after a long battle with anorexia nervosa.
MH: With Cilla, well, Cilla was great. She always was and is a lovely person and working with her was hysterical. I got a call from EMI asking if I would do an album with her. Disco was just starting to break out, so we did Modern Priscilla. Her manager, Vic Lewis, had his own orchestra. Cilla was at her house in Spain and I had to get one key right for one of the tracks we were doing, so I rang up Vic Lewis and told him I needed a key for the song and can you get hold of Cilla. And he said, “What’s the problem?” and I said, “Vic, I need the key, the key, you know, A, B, C, D etc.” And Vic said, “She’ll do it in any key.” And I said, “Vic, no.” He said, “Oh she will, she’s very quick.” And I realised that this man who had been a band leader had no idea about music. Cilla then invited me out to her place in Spain, so Marjorie and I went out to stay with her and she cooked us bacon and eggs, every day for breakfast.
Then there was Shakin’ Stevens. I had just started with him. He wasn’t very bright but he was a very nice guy. Track Records asked me to do some recording with him, because of all the Rock and Roll stuff I was doing. One of the early tracks I did with him was a song called Never, and Eddie Cochran song, but it was not like most Eddie Cochran songs. It was quite medium tempo. We nearly cracked it with Never, and it got loads of airplay, but it didn’t happen. I had done about seven or eight tracks but we parted company. It’s all about timing. Shakin’ Stevens was not right at that time. After Elvis died there was a show in London about Elvis, around 1979, and Stevens was in it, as the middle Elvis. I saw the show and went backstage afterwards to see him. He looked at me and said, “I don’t know what I’m doin’ yure.” He was earning no money. They were paying him £300 a week. I was astonished. It was a hit show. I thought he was kidding. He said, “Well I got no manager.” So I said, “Do you want me to manage you Shaky?” and he said, “Oh, yes please.” So we agreed that if I could get him some more money I would manage him. So I went to see Brian Rix and told him I was handling Shaky and I got him a Thousand Pounds a week. Rix didn’t like the idea of Shaky’s miserable salary becoming known in the business. Of course, Shaky was over the moon. At this time nobody wanted to release his records. So I went down to Soho Square, to CBS, and I said to Maurice Oberstein, who was the MD of CBS, “Let’s do a deal with Shakin’ Stevens.” Oberstein replies that Shaky is “just a flake”. And I said, “yeah, he’s a flake who is a big star, have you seen the show?” Of course, he hadn’t, but I said to him to get his head of A&R to see it. When we came out of the show the head of A&R said, “I’ll get a contract drawn up, we’ll sign him tomorrow. With Shakin’ Stevens, I knew we had a good chance with him and it was a question of what tracks we did. I went down the Rock & Roll road because that is what he was and that is what he is. And we did the oldies, like Spooky. It’s a really classy song.
Even Shaky’s career did not start with massive acclaim. As Hurst has said, the timing was not right, but it is worth going back to that particular phase, before the big time kicked in. Stevens was signed to Track Records, whose erm, track record was incredibly cool at that time, having started out with such luminescent artists as Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan, The Who and, ironically, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, who Mike had passed on at the outset of Arthur’s career.
MH: Because of my success with Showaddywaddy, Track came to me and asked me if I would do Shaking Stevens. From about 1973 onwards, people were returning my calls again because that was about the time Showaddywaddy had their first hit with Hey Rock and Roll, so I had a hit in the UK with that, and at the same time was in the top ten in the US with Fancy and Wild Thing. I was lucky, both sides of the Atlantic at the same time and when that happens, you’re in. So it’s “Can you do this, and can you do that” and a lot of people would just say “fuck off” but I am really not like that. I don’t carry grudges and if people want you to work, even if they have been silent in the not so successful times, I don’t mind that. I will always do a song if I like it. And so Track came to me with Shaky and I thought why not. I was doing Showaddywaddy and I might as well do Shakin’ Stevens.
The thing about working with people in the business is, well, it’s like Andrew Oldham’s famous remark; “I have no intention of being nice to people on the way up, because I am not coming down.” That’s very silly because everybody comes down. Everybody. If you have made a mess on the way up, you are gonna really carry the can on the way down. The fact that people still ignore you if you have been nice to them, and you are not doing well is neither here nor there. You have to survive in this world, in a jungle, but basically it is not always kill or be killed. Sometimes, just treating people the right way is just as good and you are going to get what you get.
Being back in the world I knew from the Sixties, the limos and the hotel suites, was no big deal. It felt familiar but that was the extent of it. Marjorie sometimes questioned the glitzy stuff, but if a car was outside waiting to take you to a stadium gig what else would you do but get into it?
WW: Was there not just a little bit of schadenfreude about coming back to the big time and more or less showing the people who had ignored you at the end of the sixties, that you were back in business?
MH: (laughing) Yes of course it is schadenfreude, absolutely! Because, there it is, you have come back. You are not saying anything to people, but you roll up in a nice car and people notice. Which is nice.
WW: Was it clear that Showaddywaddy had a shelf life?
MH: Had I been brutally honest at the time, and I was brutally honest with myself, I would have thought that then, we probably had two or three hits. It wasn’t until the third record that I realised that Showaddywaddy had a longer shelf life. They had started out with an original song, written by the band, Hey Rock and Roll and it got to number two. But I hadn’t heard anything else in their repertoire that I thought would stand up. The second single, Rock and Roll Lady, (you see the theme emerging) wasn’t that good and it only got to number 15 or 16 in the charts. At that point, Bell Records were almost starting to write them off then, and maybe I was too. So I sat down with them and I think it was the band themselves who suggested we do an oldie. So we came up with Three Steps to Heaven and it went to number five. At that point, you alter your thinking and well, hey, if you get success with an oldie, and they did it so well because of their image and everything, perhaps there is longevity in this. Thirteen or fourteen records later, Showaddywaddy are still there.
I really liked the band members. They were lovably gypsy-like; wide-eyed, fancy free and it was just very nice. A couple of them were too overconfident and too sewn up in themselves and that is ultimately where it went wrong for them.
WW: How were they seen in the industry, what was the industry perception of Showaddywaddy?
MH: I know that despite the number two record, people in the industry just had a good snigger. You could tell what they were thinking; “what a load of wallys, they got away with this.” Nobody gave them a long career. Then of course, when they are shown to be wrong, they then say how fantastic they are. That’s the way it is. It’s a faithless business. Strangely enough everyone wanted them at first. Wayne Bickerton at Polydor wanted them, and I stole them from under his nose. And to get his own back, Wayne Bickerton recorded a song, that he had written for Showaddywaddy, called Sugar Baby Love with The Rubettes. There is a bit of a piss-take on that because it includes the word Showaddywaddy.
But the Shaky saga was far from over. In terms of longevity, Shakin’ Stevens’ work stands up today, largely because of his fine voice and some great songs.
MH: Shaky is the real McCoy. He might well have been doing old rock and roll but this guy believed in it utterly and completely. For instance, if someone said something in public, in front of him, about Elvis, that Shaky didn’t like, he would look at them very seriously and say, “Never speak ill of The King.” He used to say all sorts of strange things like, “I’m not happy with the key”, and I’d tell him it was the key he gave me. “It didn’t sound like that when I rehearsed it in the bathroom.” And I said, “Why did you rehearse it in the bathroom?” and he said, “It’s the echo, you see. I love the echo.” Shaky had a manager called Barrett. I used to call him legs Barrett because he was about 6’4” and gangly. He was a profound and utter Socialist and was committed to Shaky not really making any money at all. The first album for Epic was called Take One, which is solid Rock and Roll, every track. We had a hit with Hot Dog, which was his first UK hit.
Take One was released in early 1980 on the back of the success of Hot Dog, and re-released two years later with some track changes. Playing on the album was a host of top class musicians, including Albert Lee, Geraint Watkins, B.J.Cole and Stuart Colman. Hot Dog, a Buck Owens song, reached number 24, in March of 1980 and was enough to propel Shaky into the dizzy heights of stardom. At that point, Shaky’s attentions were attracted away from Hurst.
MH: As soon as someone’s had their first hit, not all artists, but most artists start thinking. When an artist thinks, you’ve got problems. They start thinking, “Perhaps I should do the next one with somebody else”, which of course is what Shaky did. You can either create a stink about it or just accept it. It’s the way people do things in the music business, such as dropping people, which isn’t particularly nice. And they do it behind your back. I was managing and producing Shaky at first and it got so I couldn’t take it anymore. If you had a problem and tried to talk to him about it on the phone he would break down in tears. And then he would disappear. And it would get to the point where I would be phoning and I would get his lovely wife, Carol, and she would say, “Oh, you can’t speak to him now, he’s in a mess, he’s crying.” And this just went on and he wouldn’t speak to me. So in the end, we were going to a meeting, and I met him on the steps of CBS in Soho Square and pulled out my contract and said, “Here Shaky, have this.” And he said, “What’s this?” And I said, “Shaky, look, you are a lovely guy, but I can’t manage you anymore because it’s just not for me. It’s not enjoyable, so you can have your management contract back.” Of course, since then, everybody tells me what an idiot I was and how much money I could have made. Of course I could have made a lot of money but my life would have been a bloody misery. That’s the way I have always done it. No money is going to make up for misery.
The next thing I know, Stuart Colman, who played bass on Take One is in the studio with Shaky and nobody’s said a word to me about anything. So I went to Shaky and said, “I hear you’ve been in the studio.” “Oh, yes, I didn’t think you’d mind.” And I said, “Really? We have a production deal. I may have given you your management contract back but we’ve got a production deal.” “Oh,” he said, “I’d really like to do it with Stuart.” When an artist reaches that point, what do you do? Do you scream and shout or what? No. By this time I had grown up. You go into the record company and you say “Shaky wants Stuart Colman to produce him. I, however, have a production contract with Shaky and with you. If you pay me X amount of money, I’m happy and I will go away and leave it.” And that’s how we did it.
After Shaky I put a group together called Sundance, with Mary Hopkin, myself and Michael De Alberquerque who had been with ELO. I put up the money to record three tracks and the band was like The Everly Brothers meets The Springfields. And they were lovely. I took them into Bronze Records, Gerry Bron, who was the sister of Eleanor Bron and Gerry had released some Manfred Mann singles. We recorded some more tracks for Bronze. Gerry had a private airline and he used to fly us about to gigs in this small private plane which was quite nice. We did the Parkinson show and the Russell Harty show and toured with Dr Hook, and for our sins, another tour with Bucks Fizz. We used to call them Tiny Impassioned People when we were on the road with them because they were very small and they jumped all over the place. We were big in South Africa! It was the only place we had a big hit, but we got lots of work because there is always a market for that sort of thing. We had a good time and then discovered Mary didn’t want to perform in public.
Mary Hopkin’s health was an issue when Sundance toured with Dr Hook in 1981, and on one occasion a gig had to be abandoned.
MH: Mary used to faint. We did the Dr Hook tour which was about thirty nights. It was great. We were doing really well. We did the Michael Parkinson show and he called us “refugees from the Sixties, which I thought was a bit unfair. We did Russell Harty and a lot of television work.
When Mary left we still had another tour to do so we got Catherine Howe and Catherine was great, but after that it all sort of petered out.
Mary Hopkin did not enjoy performing live, quite unlike her successor. Catherine Howe had achieved considerable acclaim and a singer and songwriter, getting an Ivor Novello award for her composition “Harry”.
I left London at the end of the Seventies and I was sitting in my little house in Yorkshire and the telephone rang. I’d sort of beat a bit of a retreat, but Mike phoned me and said that Mary Stävin, who was a friend of mine in London, was leaving Sundance and would I be interested in taking over.
(Mary Ann-Catrin Stävin had a brief association with the band but never recorded or toured. She was a former Miss World and an actress, who did some promo photographs. The NME announced her recruitment to Sundance in February of 1982 but her singing failed to make the grade and a replacement was sought.)
Catherine Howe: I said “Ok, that sounds good to me.” So I drove down to see Mike and we had a bit of a sing, along with Mike De Alberquerque and the three voices melded very nicely and so I did the tour with them. All through the Seventies I was working as a solo artist and standing on stage as the singer/songwriter in front of the band and I had always wanted to be just a member of a band. It was lovely for me to be part of a three harmony group and it was tremendous fun. On the tour that I did we were supporting Buck’s Fizz, so we were doing about 45 minutes on stage. I remember once that Mike drove me in my Honda Civic from Oxford to Devon at tremendously high speed and kept the car in third gear, the whole way. That was on the way to a gig and I remember we stayed in some dreadful places but I enjoyed being with the two Mikes and the two Steves (the bass player and the drummer). I stayed quite a lot of the time with Mike and Marjorie because my house was in Yorkshire. There was a little bit of talk about what Sundance was going to do next, after the Buck’s Fizz tour but that was the extent of my involvement. I think that if we had done some original material there may have been a bit more life in it, but we did mainly covers. We did “Harry” from time to time but I have to say I was really quite happy, more than happy, to be part of a band and not to be carrying the can. I think, with Sundance, I enjoyed performing for the first time, and it was also the last time I performed for twenty five years.
For Hurst, a move to Devon was on the cards.
MH: I put the house up for sale and the first interest I had was from someone who just came to the door. I answered it and he said, “You don’t know me, my name is Michael Caine.” I told him we had met in Harrods about ten years before, and he said, “Oh yeah, your one of them Springfields” etc. So Michael Caine made an offer for the house which I accepted and then he invited me to a party at Langan’s Brasserie, where I have never been so gobsmacked. I’m used to Beatles and Stones and people like that, but Marjorie and I were wandering about Langan’s and Michael would come up and say, “Michael, I’d like you to meet my friend, Roger Moore.” And “Michael, I’d like you to meet my friend, Dudley Moore”. The place was full of Hollywood people. The upshot was that Michael Caine didn’t buy the house! Ours was probably the second best house in the village and the best one had become available in the meantime and Caine bought that one. He turned up on the doorstep again and said, “Michael, can I un-buy your house?” So Caine moved in, virtually next door and we became friends because he kept asking me to come over and show him how things worked. He didn’t understand Agas. So I had to help Shakira light the Aga. As it turned out, we got a better buyer, got more money, found this incredible house in Devon and we all trolled off to live there.
While Mike was in Devon, in 1981, his mother died. She had been living with the family since ’71. She had been running a theatre group and although dying from cancer, she still carried on rehearsals for the show which was due to go on that summer. Mike took over the running of the group and has been involved in theatre work ever since.
MH: My mother was proud of her dynasty. She lived to see her grandchildren doing well and knew her work was going to be carried on. Every Saturday morning for four years, I got up at five and drove from Devon to Henley on Thames to do the Theatre Group. I couldn’t let it go, and I did it for long enough until one of my daughters was able to take it over.
Mike and Marjorie’s Devon home became a haven for kids. After accepting the care of one young person for a few weeks, the Hursts were gradually inundated with several children who would take part in a summer camp, spending their days with the animals and running wild on the land or going down to the sea. Mike was still producing “bits and pieces” as, true to form he was loathe to turn anything down.
MH: I found this duo and they were really pretty good. They wanted me to produce their records and really wanted to get into the business badly, and everything else. My ex-partner, Chris Brough, turned up out of the blue. He had a property business in Spain at that time. And I said to Chris that we should do it like the old times; I would produce them and Chris could manage them and he said, “Oh yes, I’d love to.” So the next thing I know, he has approached a big Japanese record company and he had obviously set up a deal for them. In the meantime I had finished the recording. The night I finished the recording I got a telephone call from one of the duo and he said, “We’ve decided not to continue with you.” The wind was taken out of my sails a bit and I said, “Why is this? You don’t like the music?” And he said, “We do like the music but we really want to be handled by someone else.” And I said, “Would the ‘someone else’ be Christopher Brough?” And he said yes. I told him I would leave it at that. Then I rang up Chris and asked him, “Chris, I believe you want to take the guys off by yourself, now you have done a deal with the record company?” And there was a short pause, and he said, “Yes” And I said, “Tell me something. Out of 30 odd years of knowing you and being involved with you, is this completely unknown act worth this irrevocable split?” And there was another short pause and he said, “Yeah, I guess it is.” And I said, “Look, I am going to have to see you because you are going to have to give me part of your record deal because I kicked this off and I will see you at the Hilton in Kensington on Friday, and I would like a cheque for £5,000.” So he ummed and erred a bit and finally agreed to the deal and we met as arranged at the Hilton. He had a big smile on his face, pulled out a cheque and then held his hand out and said, “No hard feelings.” I didn’t take his hand and told him I would never see him again, and walked away. Marjorie said he was always like that and I never believed her. She said Brough was always riding on my coat tails and he always resented it. The duo sank. The record never even came out and they went nowhere.
Chris Brough later entangled himself in some shady property deals in Spain and when the financial mess became too much he committed suicide. Brough’s act of self-immolation was preceded by his forging a signature on a deed of covenant using his mother’s house. He lost his mother’s house when the deals in Spain finally caught him up.
Hurst went to the funeral, but true to his word he never saw Brough again. At the funeral Mike was accompanied by their secretary of many years, Suzie. When the vicar began to eulogise about Brough bringing the world Cat Stevens, and indeed playing a Cat Stevens song, Suzie looked at Mike and raised an eyebrow and Mike said, “Even in death, Suzie, even in death.”
I loved Devon, but Marjorie wondered just what we were doing there. We didn’t know anybody because they were either Army officers or Farmers and finally I realised I missed the musicians and the business. We were in Devon for twelve years, so we lasted quite a long time. Our children were gravitating back to where they came from as well, after they finished school. So we moved back to Oxfordshire.
Mike did not sit still. After an invitation to talk about his life and work at his children’s school, further requests for his skills, not only as a producer and performer were very much in demand, but also an ability to communicate and enthuse. There followed an exhaustive schedule of lectures and eventually the formation of Rockmasters, a summer school for aspiring musicians.
By the end of the century landscape of the music business had changed radically, but it did not stop the requests for Hurst’s role as producer. After winning a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Academy of Composers, he went on to produce some tracks for Belle & Sebastian, in 2001. His son Jonas formed a band with Adrian Plunkett and Mike has been producing records for them. As Mike approaches his seventies, he is still in the studio and still encouraging new entrants to the business.
The mechanics of record making have changed beyond recognition; gone were the dependence of artists on studios, producers and distribution companies. By the new millennium anybody could make an attempt at a studio-quality record and present the finished article to a company, something that is increasingly the case. No longer can even the major record corporations afford to take an artist and develop them over the course of two or three albums. Many of the bands of the last four decades of the 1900s took years to get their first hit; they were nurtured, indulged and promoted and it is not controversial to suggest that artists who are well known today would have sunk without trace had it not been for the backing of the massive resources a company like EMI or Decca could draw on.
The way people listen and consume music is now radically different. Gone is the iconography and, largely the chronology. A vinyl album was a statement of intent and style, both for the artist and the fan. Albums littered student flats and got played to destruction. The next volume was awaited by the many, not the few. These seeming trinkets were part of a lifestyle choice based upon very few choices available at the time. They were especially crucial to the Sixties phenomenon and were a tangible and often universal symbol of the zeitgeist. The baby-boomer generation had begun by listening to valve and crystal radios, graduated to transistors and then been presented with living stereo. An album, delicate as it was, seemed to be for life. As to whether mp3s represent a step forward is for the reader to decide. Nowadays, anybody can make a record and anybody can buy it and anybody can store ten thousand songs on something smaller than a cigarette lighter. Digitized music has been shown to be retrograde, in emotional impact, sound quality and in terms of its symbolic value. The era of that next album from your favourite artist becoming an event is gone. The only queues you see outside the shops are for games consoles and phones. Nobody will pay to see unknowns and very few A&R people will travel across the country to discover the next big thing because the next big thing happens every ten minutes and vanishes almost as soon. A lot of popular music coalesces not around a company or a producer or even something as nebulous as a cultural epicentre, it is now without boundaries and consequently, its identity no longer performs the same cultural or artistic function it once did. The era of the Phil Spector, the George Martin or the Mike Hurst, is, to a large degree, over.