Louder Than War editor-in-chief John Robb meets up with legendary producer, writer and the original manager of The Rolling Stones, Andrew Loog Oldham, for an absorbing and spirited interview in and around the impressios former trade of music culture as well as the Stones and life today. Plus thoughts on his life story being put to film, documenting Oldham’s early moulding of the Stones which in turn created the blueprint for every other cool and famed British bad-boy guitar band that came along after; from the Pistols to the Stone Roses it all came from one place – Andrew Loog Oldham.
Louder Than War: Would it be true for me to say that you invented the modern notion of a rock’n’roll manager – smarter, hipper and more dangerous than the band?
Andrew Oldham – I have to disagree with the very notion. It would be a bad example to a young manager today and might deprive him of the opportunity of working with a great band. Diaghilev was dangerous, reckless and smart – Vaslav Nijinsky was not. However his wife made up for it when it was too late. I was with part of the management of Metallica in Bogota the other day. It was an interesting learning curve or reminder of how it is today. The band is smart – you don’t get that big for that long without being so. They are an army. And they know that together, they are part of a magic that the individual members could not create elsewhere. The managers serve and protect a vision that is already there.
The Beatles and the Stones did not have a vision – unless you want to call having a laugh, playing music you love, getting laid and not having to get a regular job a vision. Of course later, they rolled with the punches and opportunities, survived getting fucked either on purpose or by default. And now they are in Las Vegas, the desert, schilling for Hilton Hotels or on a DHL van near you. And wonderfully they manage it themselves.
I’m gone, Eppy’s dead. There’s no more Allen Klein apart from the rights he tricked us into giving him, and no more Prince Rupert who like Allen Klein thought the act worked for him. Allen was right, the Stones did work for him. With Prince Rupert it was a class thing. Now it’s Paul, Ringo and Mick with Keith keeping the bad boy image afloat and Charlie holding the floor plus giving his occasional okay on the merch; with the Who still thumping it out down the road reminding us all how wonderful the mod and pill invasion really was. The Who in the beginning actually made sure the Beatles and Stones stayed fresh.
The world seems a lot more dangerous now than the sixties – do you fear for the future?
Perhaps it just seems more dangerous. I know you are younger than me, John, but to grow up in the ’40s and ’50s as opposed to the ’60s was a vastly different experience. The wars we grew up on were brought to us by the Rank Organisation at our local cinema and starred Dirk Bogarde or Stanley Baker and when the conflict was Greek/Cypriot they flew in George Chakiris from West Side Story. The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the Suez disaster of ’56, the birth of Israel … all of it brought to us on our local flea-pit screens.
The latter two untouched by movie-makers because we fucked both up royally. But what you now get in incessant wraparounds on telecable was for us a few lines in the Daily Express or Telegraph which we did not read or on the local Odeon or Gaumont screen which we did see. We grew up in the same world as now except that it was sugar-coated for us young non-participants. Money, rape, looting of assets and culture, guns, ethnic cleansing and suppression. I mean, really, was Dresden, Hiroshima or what Stalin did in the Ukraine in the ’30s that much different than Aleppo ? There’s always a justification for one side. And remember when we were growing up television ran from tea-time to 10.30 at night. but none of it is very far from Peaky Blinders is it…though the last episode was a little disappointing.
These days the manager is a background figure – the last of the very public managers/music impressio were people like Alan McGee and Tony Wilson – what were your thoughts on them and also the more business-like less creative modern manager?
Business can be very creative …ask Thom Yorke. Alan and Tony were the last episode of that original management flash. These days a manager picks up and protects the pieces; he does not necessarily put them into play. Lars Ulrich does not need to be coaxed into writing an opera. He will either do it, or he won’t.
What is your take on the Internet? The fast forward into the future that you were pioneering in the sixties come true or a dangerous mess!
Some were in the ’60s. In particular the Irish set designer Sean Kenny (of Lionel Bart’s Oliver ! and Anthony Newley’s Stop The World I Want To Get Off”) lived in the future and knew where we were going . It’s half-on half-off ….everything comes with a price, so we are faced with actual marvels, or mundane tips on grooming and paedophile groomers.
Are you still engaged with pop music and pop culture?
If you are still engaged with life you have to be. For sure pop music – that engages me every day. It’s part of my fabric… more than that, my pulse and pores. But pop culture is often as misleading as fox hunting. Actually John, your question caused me to look the word “culture” up. The first definition in Merriam-Webster states “the act of developing by education and training” …. that I can live with. The second … “refinement of intellectual and artistic taste” I’ll leave that to others who are easier in the sleeves of culture. So very often to arrive at a so-called station in life is to have got off the actual train.
Does living in Columbia give you an interesting perspective on pop culture? Are we living in the post Anglo-American dominance of culture?
Colombia, John, not Columbia Pictures …..I would have hoped so. To live in a country that has produced Gabriel Garcia Marques; Fernando Botero and Shakira is pretty neat, not to mention the occasionally good soccer team plus emeralds, bananas, flowers and drugs. It’s pretty different from Hampstead NW3. If you want to learn anything about Colombia it is better to put to one side the fact that we speak Spanish. That is totally misleading. In so many ways the day of the white man is over, so you may be right. Do you remember that Japanese group doing the Beatles in the Oasis 2007 dvd? That says it all. Music changed when the well-to-do decided to give it a go.
So where do you see music in 2016? It seems to be very complex set of micro-scenes and also a worldwide business
One big difference is the niche thing. 25 years ago if someone could fill the Albert Hall I’d have known about them and been able to decide if they rocked my boat. These days targeting is more specific – not unlike politics.
The sixties saw the live fast die young maxim of the worship of youth become the staple and yet you have survived – what does older age bring to a keen cultural mind?
It was close on a few occasions. Uterus and location is what it’s mostly about. You get to do well and fuck up in the interim then uterus and original location come back into play and become your divining rod. I mean Brian Epstein was put on earth to get his boys a recording deal . Had he not we would not be having this chat now. Brian Jones was put here to form the Rolling Stones and I was put here to uncover and launch them. The rest is detail and what you make of it. I was given a bonus, I got to live another day. As for the being older thing it brings simplicity. I’m glad I wrote my books 20 years ago. Everything now is a paragraph as opposed to an opera.
Do you think that pop culture saved the UK in the sixties and the Beatles and the Stones made losing the empire easier to bare!
I don’t think we cared about the empire. That luggage belonged to our parents. After World War 2 was like after Vietnam but without the drug rhetoric. I think that all youth naturally accepts whatever comes it’s way and gets on with it. It really was not a big deal. It was just what it was and wonderful at the same time. Those without money or an education suddenly had a way out through music, fashion, cinema and the arts. Then the Beatles opened the doors to America and our island found a footing again in the world. Ironically with guitars, songs, easels, scissors and the art of bullshit, as opposed to guns, ammo and generations lost.
Your book as a film . Do you see your life as a film? A telling the story of the post war generation through the eyes of one of its architects? Was the sixties as wild as it looked or does every generation deal with the blues in the same way?
My life has been a film. At the age of 9 or 10 I used to walk to school running credits over my entrance into the school yard humming that week’s theme. Trouble was I got caught and at lunch time I had to sing the damned thing in front of all the nerds and bullies in the school loo. It was the theme from the James Stewart western from around ’54 in the The Man From Laramie. From then on it was silent movies. I liked the recent Keith Richards BBC2 thing directed by Julian Temple. It was about him but it was also a bigger canvas. It was neat. Julian Temple later went to the same school I had to sing in; Marylebone Grammar School.
I’ve put doing a film on the shelf. I find it hard to spend that much time on that aspect of myself. Believe me I’ve tried. But if you are not in the frontline they wait until you are dead and do you for nothing. The crap on Brian Epstein is an example. A bunch of old queens at the BBC filming in wishful thinking. By the way before you e-mail me you don’t have to be gay to be an old queen. On the other hand the Lambert & Stamp documentary was very good. From the heart. Watch the Pete Townshend stuff twice and you realise he’s really told you pretty much everything you need to know about the life. Roger Daltrey too. AMY was great but of course she really helped move the story along. Her death made it possible. The father got on my nerves. Knew more about camera angles than his daughter. Worst show biz dad since Murry Wilson, the Beach Boys dad. I also enjoyed BEING MICK. It was good and it was funny.
As a big film fan do you see film as a more powerful cultural force than pop music or do they run in parallel?
Parallel. They can both still change your life.
What do you think of Mick Jagger’s films and his Vinyl TV series?
Well, Keith seems to have taken over as the spokesman, not only in America which was his backyard but everywhere. When I go back to Canada the customs people often ask me “how’s Keith ?” but I never get a “how’s Mick?”.
Maybe Mick has settled into the actuality that his real validity is on stage and as the driving exec behind the industry known as the Rolling Stones. Have you seen their Exhibitionism tie-up with DHL ? Amazing piece of naff world-wide marketing. But Keith reached more people in his five minutes with Johnny Depp than Mick did with his whole film career. VINYL was a farce. Cocaine should have sued for misrepresentation. No story, nobody to get interested in… to care about. What happens to these film geezers like Scorsese and Kubrick that turns them into salivators of young flesh?. Wolf Of Wall Street was porn-full, as was the last Kubrick thing, Eyes Wide Shut. I loved Mick in The Man From Elysian Fields. I was at a lunch recently with Angelica Huston who was great in her scenes with Mick in that movie. He was very, very good. We both agreed. He played a pimp.
Do you regret the fact that Brian Jones couldn’t write songs ? Image wise he was the ultimate Stone with his sixties take on the British dandy but a bit of a nightmare to work with.
Regrets are for the Walker Brothers. There are no accidents. You cannot write down to your audience and that was the position from which Brian Jones attempted to write. Mick and Keith had the gift. They learnt to put the street into anthems. It took a while but they had the gift, the optimism, the front and me. There came that sad time with Brian and everything he should have been for the Stones he was for other people. Ask Jerry Schatzberg, he’s the great New York photographer who took the 1966 pictures of the Stones in drag. He loved Brian. Same with Polanski. He found Brian charm itself. But he’d stopped being a team player for the Stones. They could not rely on him. I tried with the songs with him. Put him in a room with Gene Pitney, who was no slouch in the hit writing department. Didn’t work.
The Stones brought black music into the heart of culture – do you think in the light of black lives matter that modern white pop and indie bands should do the same?
Do you really think so? The same could be said for the Beatles…. and the Who. Justin Bieber is doing as much for what constitutes as black music as anyone. But in general who cares about what a white 30 year old is writing and singing about ? They only know how to write about themselves. That’s okay if you make everybody else be able to relate it to their own lives. Just listen to Mick Jagger’s phrasing and performances the first 15 years. Nobody else is that good. I wish Norman Whitfield had got to produce his solo stuff. Can you imagine that?
Follow Andrew Oldham on Twitter.
(edited by Carl Stanley)