Dennis Munday, first generation Mod and Polydor A&R who signed the Jam and other stories : an interview
Dennis Munday, first generation Mod and Polydor A&R: a career inÃÂ music business.
I met Mr. Munday while I was working on another piece about The Jam. Mutual internet friends introduced me to Dennis, the Polydor A&R who took care of the band for a couple of years. Incidentally, I found out he lives in Italy now, the same country where I’m from. We started a little conversation, so the idea for an interview took shape. Dennis has surely some stories to tell, and, as a music industry insider, he has some statements as well. This is the result of our chat.
1) Hi Dennis, first of all I’d like you to please tell me how your work as a Polydor A&R started… how did you manage to get into the music scene back in the days?
Thank you for asking me to participate in this interview, especially as it is in Italy, where I now live. Incidentally, the reason I live in Ronchi Dei Legionari (Gorizia, Friuli Venezia Giulia) is, my mother and her family come from this town.
After leaving school in July 1964, I drifted from one office job to another, with a brief interlude as a tree pruner with the Greater London Council parks department. It lasted a couple of months and I decided to look for something that didn’t require you getting up early, and preferably, in the warm.
After quitting the parks job, I was left with time on my hands to contemplate my future. However, my Mother had other ideas and threw me out of the house, insisting that I find a job. I headed for the West End of London to visit a few record shops and a chance conversation in one shop, would irrevocably change my life. I then commenced working at the HMV record store at 363 Oxford Street, which at the time, was the biggest record shop in Europe.
During this period, many of the big record companies offered me a position with them as a salesman. However, I was desperate to get a job in a record company, as I wanted to be involved in the ”Ëglamorous’ side of the record business. It is difficult to break into the record industry, and it was an enormous stroke of good fortune, to land a job at Polydor in 1973. My first job was the assistant to the Tape marketing manager, and although it wasn’t what I expected, I stuck at it; after all, I was on the first rung of the ladder.
After a year, I was elevated to become Polydor’s Jazz A & R manager. This promotion offered me the opportunity to meet and work with musicians who were legends; artists I’d idolised as a teenager, when I first heard jazz music. Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, & Zoot Sims are just a few of the musicians that I met. Another great jazz name I worked with was the legendary producer, Norman Granz, and he had an immense influence on me. He was an exceptional, inspiring, and an enlightening man, who taught me everything I know about dealing with artistes.
2) The Jam: you are the man responsible for their Polydor years. How did you decide they could become a breakthrough act and which word did you use to convince the Polydor men it was time to sign them up?
During the late seventies, Polydor was downsizing, and my position was being phased out. I was promoted to become a Senior Product manager, looking after the acts that were signed by the American arm of Polydor. I can’t say I enjoyed this promotion, as I wasn’t into American rock music. After about nine months, a colleague left to work for UA records, and I saw the chance to take over his position.ÃÂ This was around June 1978, and it bought me into contact with Polydor’s ”ËPunk’ bands. Sham ”Ë69, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and of course, The Jam. Chris Parry had signed them to Polydor in 1977, and along with Vic Smith, produced their first two albums.
I should say at this point, that Polydor had failed to sign The Clash, and The Sex Pistols, and only signed The Jam to a contract for two singles, with an option for an album. They were given an advance of ÃÂ£6000 [Ã¢âÂ¬7600], and it’s possible that as The Jam were not a ”Ëpure’ punk band, Polydor thought they might not last. If my memory is correct, The Clash signed to CBS for ÃÂ£30 000 [Ã¢âÂ¬38000] an album, and the Pistols for even more money.
I took over The Jam when they were about release ”ËDavid Watts’, and were recording their third album, which turned out be ”ËAll Mod Cons’. During the recording of this album, Chris fell out with John Weller and The Jam so, as well as being their product manager, I was now their A & R man. This lasted for a couple of years, but as the workload was too heavy, and the hours too long [60 to 70 hours a week], I decided to concentrate on A & R on all my bands, which by now included The Chords, a second-generation Mod band.
The Jam first single and album were hits, and the one tune that stood out on the album In The City, was ”ËAway From The Numbers’. I was genuinely amazed that a teenager was capable of writing such an accomplished tune. The structure of the song is far superior to the rest of the album, with lyrics that belie Paul’s relative, lack of maturity.
However, early success is always difficult to follow and many people were disappointed with their second album, This Is The Modern World. For me, it was recorded too quickly, and rushed out the same year as their debut album. It would have made no difference to Polydor when the second album came out, and they should have realised that the band would have been better served, if it was released later. They should have released a new single, and postponed the album, until mid-1978. This would have given Paul the time to write more songs, and the band to play them in before recording a second album. By doing this, Polydor could have ended The Jam’s career, before it had started.
If you ask what the defining moment in the Jam’s career was, it was the album All Mod Cons. With the release of this LP, Paul, and the band came of age. Whenever I am asked what my favourite Jam song is I reply, ”ËIt’s Too Bad’, and no matter how many times I hear this tune, I never get bored and often play it repeatedly. It’s a nod to the Who’s ”ËSo Sad About Us’ and The Beatles, with its ”Ëyeah yeah’ guitar riff.
Following All Mod Cons, and the relative failure of the next two singles, the company lost interest, and saw the album, as the apex of The Jam’s career. I didn’t and was very angry, I wrote to my bosses with regard to the company’s attitude towards The Jam, and I bluntly pointed out that, unlike the other bands on the label, The Jam had a long-term future. I suggested comparisons with artists from the past, listing the two or three that went on to have careers that lasted 3 decades or more. I was lucky not to be fired, but fortunately, ”ËThe Eton Rifle’s’ saved the day. All Mod Cons laid the foundation to the greater success that The Jam later achieved in their career.
3) A&R dept always sounded something like “business meets art”Â to me, something like a wonderful job with some compromises. Which part did you like the most in your job? Was there something you hated in that too?
A&R stands for, Artiste and Repertoire, a title, which was coined in the thirties or forties. Originally, an A&R man would sign a singer, or a group, and then find a song. He would then book the studio, the arranger, and the musicians, as well as sometimes producing the sessions. From the sixties onwards, A&R men became talent scouts, whose job it was to search out new artistes and groups.
I really enjoyed being in the studios with the bands when they recorded, whether they were famous, or not. I hated the meetings and the office politics, something I wasn’t very good at.
4) Are you still in touch with people in the music biz? How did you see it change during all these years?
I am still in touch with quite a few colleagues I worked with at Polydor, some I have known for more than 40 years. Thank God for Facebook, as I found quite a few people, who I haven’t spoken to in years. As for the artists I worked with, I keep in touch with Steve White and Mick Talbot from The Style Council, as well as Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler. I also keep in touch Brett ”ËBuddy’ Ascott from The Chords. Paul Weller called me a few years ago, but I haven’t spoken to him for quite a while.
When I started in the business, it was all about music, whilst now it’s more about sales, marketing, and product placement. This is the biggest change I have noticed. It is very sad, as I have spent a great chunk of my life working in the record business, and I am not happy with the direction it’s taken.
5) What’s your opinion on contemporary pop music? Is there a band or an artist you’ll bet your two pounds on?
Since I took up writing, I haven’t listened to music like I used too. Prior to coming to Italy, I listened to music night and day. I am fortunate that I like most genres of music, so there’s always plenty to listen too. I can’t say that I have kept up with what’s going on in the biz, as I said, writing takes up most of my time, and the music scene here in Italy is different to the UK.
I like Elisa who comes from nearby Monfalcone, and for me, she is like a female version of Paul Weller. I have always been surprised she didn’t make it in the UK, as she is a very good song writer, and her English is excellent. A band that I liked when I first came to Italy is Velvet, and their second album Cose comuni. I first heard the single, ”ËUna settimana, Un giorno’ (feat. Edoardo Bennato), and it knocked me out, so I acquired the album. There’s not a bad song on the album and it also turned me on Bennato.
If you look back, you can find good bands in every decade and it is no different now. I don’t really have an idea of what’s going on in the UK, as until this year, I hadn’t been back for over 3ÃÂ½ years. One of the problems for bands [all over, the world] is, the record business is shrinking, and because there are only 4 or 5 giant record companies, it’s difficult to get a recording deal. When I started in the business, there were probably, a hundred different labels you could get your demo tapes listened too. Nowadays, the record companies are only interested in groups and artists’ from TV shows, like the X Factor. Unfortunately, these kinds of shows only highlight people with a limited amount of talent, who make disposable pop music. They won’t discover another Paul Weller, The Beatles, or a Bruce Springsteen.
One thing I like about living in Italy is, there are plenty of places to see live bands. Whether it is in a bar, or at one of the many festa’s that go on through the summer. Having said that, I noticed it is difficult for bands and artist to get gigs, who want to do original material, which is shame. My advice for any young artist is to have a go themselves, via the Internet, as it is a good way of exploiting yourself and can lead to great thing’s, as it did with Arctic Monkeys. I think there is an enormous amount of talent throughout the world, but it has become much harder to get exposure. The record business will change over the next decade, and I don’t think it will be for the good.
6) The Jam, The Style Council, Paul Weller solo… it’s a kind of legacy which still gathers thousands of people around the world. It’s part of a bigger picture, Mod culture started from a youth movement and became something more from the early 60’s on. Why, in your opinion, all the Mod thing was and still is such an important story?
I was first generation Mod in the sixties, although, I wouldn’t ride a scooter, as they were too dangerous in the wet, and as you know, it rains a lot in the UK. Since the ”Ë60’s, every generation of teenagers thinks of themselves as being elite, and they’re the first to find sex, drugs, and Rock ”Ën’ Roll. All this goes with territory of being a teenager. However, we were the first generation of teenagers to be educated, we also had a freedom that no other generation had and, we had no problem finding employment. It was much easier for my generation, than the generations’ that followed.
For me the Mod look, which was based on American ”ËIvy league’, with a hint of Italian and French thrown in for good measure, was a classic look, and it will never go out of fashion. However, the most important part of being a Mod was the music. Yes, the clothes, the haircuts, and the shoes were important, but the music we listened too, transcended all of this and still does to this day. Paul Weller was inspired by my generation’s music and style, and now, he’s gone on to inspire other bands and by doing this, he’s passed on the Mod baton; as they say, once a Mod always a Mod.
7) What are you actually working on Dennis? I know you’re busy writing…
The last project I worked on in the music business was in 2002, and it was The Sound Of The Jam. There wasn’t anything else for me to achieve, and if I am going to be honest, I’d had enough of the people who were running the record companies. In June of that year, I moved to Italy and I decided to try my hand at becoming a writer.
The first book I wrote was semi-autobiographical, but the manuscript was bloody awful. Every publisher turned it down, though one commented that had I been famous, it would have sold a million copies! Following this, I wrote my second book, Shout To The Top, a bio on Paul Weller and The Jam, which was published by Omnibus in 2006. I then wrote another biography, Riding On The Granzwagon, which is about working with all the great jazz musicians, I met in the ”Ë70’s. This was due to be published in 2012, but problems with the publisher led me to withdraw the book, but hopefully, it will be published next year.
I have been an avid reader of books all of my life, and one of my favourite genre’s is, ”ËPulp Fiction’ [romanzo giallo], and particularly the works of Raymond Chandler. For my first novel, I created the [very] English Private Frank King and wrote a short story [racconto giallo], and it’s title is, Che Razza Di Maniera Di Guadagnarsi Da Vivere, [What A Way To Earn A Shilling]. Wholepoint Publications have published the story, as an eBook, in English and Italian. Later this year, it will be published as a book [libro], in the Bisachi dialect, something I am extremely proud of, being meso Bisaico / meso Inglese! (half Bisiaco / half English)
The book is part one, of three-part trilogy, the second part is called, Per Qualche Lire In PiÃÂ¹ [For A few Shillings More], which is virtually finished. The third part has only the English title of, All This For A Florin, and I have written about ten chapters, but hope to have it finished by the middle of next year, and an Italian title. The stories are set in the ”Ë60’s in southeast London where I grew up as a Mod.
Dennis’ brilliant short story What A Way To Earn A Shilling is currently available on these ebook outlets. Check it!
(by Fabio Pasquarelli)