Music

The Rise And Fall of The First UK’s Independent Record Label

IMMEDIATE

IMMEDIATEImmediate: The Rise and Fall of the UK’s First Independent Record Label by Simon Spence

Published by Backstage Books 2023 (paperback)

A very nicely produced update on Simon Spence’s 2007 book. Backstage Books are an exciting new paperback imprint. The faithful repro of the Immediate label’s jagged typeface on the cover is a good omen of what’s to come.

Simon Spence recounts the story of the extraordinary Immediate record label. In many ways, it was the definitive – and first – mid-60s indy label, when singles and the charts still ruled supreme. Immediate was foremost in leading the break away from the old guard of EMI, Decca and co and heading into the future.

It’s the story of the extraordinary Andrew Loog Oldham – with all due respect to Immediate partner Tony Calder – who’d blazed a trail as a publicist and then manager for the Rolling Stones while still in his teens. He was also an arranger, talent spotter, producer, and artist in his own right. All this while living a mega decadent lifestyle awash with champagne, Black Russians, hash and coke. For a contemporary equivalent, I guess a pre-sobriety Alan McGee at Creation comes closest, and I’d suggest a certain punk manager learnt a lot from Oldham’s flair for confrontational publicity stunts – but really they don’t make ‘em like that any more.

His management of the Stones arguably produced the most out-there music of their career, the golden run of singles from Satisfaction to the churning alienation of Paint It, Black. Earlier as a kid I’d loved Oldham’s beat jive sleeve notes on the albums – sure, it didn’t always make a lot of sense but made you feel part of something the grown-ups just wouldn’t understand.

The list of other artists discovered and promoted is incredible: the Small Faces, PP Arnold, the Nice, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, a pre-VU Nico, Humble Pie and chart acts like Amen Corner, Chris Farlowe and the McCoys. The Small Faces left behind any traces of their Teeny Pop phase with stunning singles like Here Comes The Nice and Itchycoo Park, culminating in their masterwork album Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. It’s interesting to see how Steve Marriott has nothing but praise for Oldham, and the musical freedom and personal support he got from him.

These are just a fraction of the people who passed through Immediate – thanks to the author I’ll be looking for the Duncan Browne and Twice As Much albums for my collection. And if you thought Talk Is Cheap was Keith Richards’ first solo album… No, there was an Oldham-curated orchestral album of Stones-related material, along with a series of now long-forgotten albums under his own name. This might sound self-indulgent, but in fact, it shows how canny Oldham and Calder were in understanding that retaining publishing on Immediate artists’ songs would be a steady source of income alongside the record sales.

Sadly it was inevitable that there would be an Icarus-like crash and burn at some stage. There were always problems with US distribution and promotion, caused initially by the Small Faces’ unwillingness/inability to go over and ride the momentum of their hit singles. As time went on Oldham locked horns more and more with the alpha predators of the US music biz, heavyweights like Clive Davis and Allen Klein. By then the various intakes were starting to affect him badly. The author doesn’t duck the issues of how the Party Hard 24/7 lifestyle took its toll, but I was still shocked to read that he’d undergone ECT and week-long deep sleep treatments. All this came together in a perfect shitstorm trying to rescue Immediate’s US position with a $7m case against CBS impending, generating a cash flow crisis and old debts coming home to roost with fatal results for the label. Where Immediate had been the definitive mid-60s label, outfits like Chris Blackwell’s Island label were to be the defining early 70s label as the market switched more and more to albums.

Simon Spence is well placed to write this book, having worked closely with Andrew Loog Oldham on both books of his Stoned! autobiography and written Steve Marriott’s biography. But there are revealing and perceptive interviews with nearly all the main players studded throughout the book, from the usual suspects like Marriott and Peter Townshend to Del Shannon and even the legendary/notorious Don Arden – sometimes giving contradictory views on people and events, which all adds to the intrigue. The Postscript and Afterword rounds up – as much as possible – the ongoing legal story, and there are liberal notes throughout the text expanding on events since the 2007 edition.

I’d recommend this to anyone who cares about the ’60s music scene and the real nitty gritty of so-called Swinging London for a great evocation of a time when however briefly anything seemed possible.

Available at all good bookshops.

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All words by Den Browne, you can read more on his author profile here:

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