Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Robert Stigwood RIP

Obituaries of music impressario Robert Stigwood, who has died aged 81, are focusing on his involvement with the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton. But his central role in the development of pop music in the UK and elsewhere goes much deeper than that. Australian by birth, he first became involved in the UK music scene when he managed actor John Leyton in the early sixties. After a
couple of flops, the Joe Meek produced Johnny Remember Me became the first of a number of pop hits for John Leyton. Stigwood did a deal with EMI which led to further successes with Mike Sarne and Mike Berry. Although acting as agent, manager, producer, publisher and concert promoter his extravagant lifestyle eventually led to financial problems, not least as a result of his efforts to promote the career of Simon Scott. The crunch came when he promoted a concert tour by Chuck Berry which also included the Graham Bond Organisation, Long John Baldry and the Moody Blues on the bill, which led to financial problems and forced his newly formed company into administration.
Stigwood quickly bounced back by attempting to take over the management of the Small Faces from Don Arden, The notorious Arden hit back by going to Stigwood's office with four heavies and hanging Stigwood out of his fourth floor window threatening to drop him. Stigwood turned his attention to the Who and lured them away from Brunswick and their producer Shel Talmy to his newly formed Reaction label. He put together the first super group Cream, with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce and arranged for them to play a nine day series of shows in New York. Around this time he merged his company with Brian Epstein's NEMS company and shortly after that he launched the career of Australian group the Bee Gees with Polydor. Moving into theatre production he staged Hair! in London, followed by Oh Calcutta and Evita, among others. After a slow period in the early seventies he revived Eric Clapton's career and moved into film production with Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy, followed by the incredibly successful Saturday Night Fever.
Stigwood remained active with the hugely successful Grease, and other less memorable films such as Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (with Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees) and Times Square. I won't attempt to cover his career in full but suffice to say that Stigwood was a major figure in the world of pop music with a fascinating life story.
Another death, just before the end of 2015, was that of Natalie Cole. The daughter of Nat 'King' Cole, she had success in the seventies with This Love, Inseparable and Our Love before fading from the scene with drug problems. She is probably best known for her interactive duet with her late father and successful later albums Everlasting and Unforgettable...With Love. Natalie's vocal style was a little too bland for my taste, but her death, at only 65, is a sad one.


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