The Amazing Radio London Adventure
The Stones, the Beatles and the 'Ringo Flush'
One afternoon an artist manager appeared at the office, and invited me to go up to Stoke-on-Trent for the weekend. He said he would pay my train fare and other expenses, and that I would be a guest in his home. All he wanted was for me to hear his group and that there would be no pressure for me to play their record on Radio London. I needed some time out of London, so I took him up on his invitation and he kept his promise and didn't pressure me to play the group's record. I remember that I had a very pleasant weekend, although I can no long recall the name of the manager or his group!
When it came time for me to go back to London, the manager drove me to Manchester to catch a late train. He advised me that there was a very good club in Manchester called the Cavern, that he thought I might be interested in checking out. So, I took a taxi there and found the Cavern to be exactly as its name implied. It was like a cave with several large rooms filled with teens and young adults. Long John Baldry was on stage and after his performance, I edged over to him and introduced myself and told him what a good show he had put on. He thanked me and turned to another young man of about 25 years of age and said, "Ben, I would like you to meet my manager, Andrew Oldham."
Right, Long John needed his Pacamac for Manchester gigs
Andrew and I talked for a while about Long John and what a good performer he was. Then Andrew said, "Perhaps you are familiar with one of my other acts, the Rolling Stones?" Of course I knew of the Stones. We had been playing them on Radio London as much as the Beatles.
Left, Manchester's Cavern had its own 'Big C Hot 20' chart – although there were a few problems with spelling.
After our initial meeting, Andrew and I had lunch a number of times in London. On one occasion, Tony Hall, Decca's exploitation manager, and I met Andrew at Tiberio's, a new and very exclusive Italian restaurant run by the owners of the Terrazza Trattoria. Andrew arrived after us in his long, black Lincoln limousine, chauffeured by a guy who looked as if he had had plenty of experience as a bar room bouncer.
Andrew rushed into the restaurant and seated himself with Tony and me. Within a minute or two the waiter, noticing that Andrew was not wearing a tie, said, "Sir, you are required to wear a tie in this restaurant." Andrew asked the waiter if he knew who he was. The waiter replied that he didn't care who he was and that he still was required to wear a tie. Immediately, Andrew asked to see the manager, who came forth and backed up the waiter. He told Andrew that he would be happy to provide him with a tie if he wanted to remain for the meal. Andrew finally gave in and the waiter brought him a tie which was a horrible match with the shirt he was wearing. I would have preferred him without the tie.
Andrew Loog Oldham was a young man who had acquired a large amount of money in a very short time. He had become like many of the wealthy people in England at the time who thought the government was trying to put the squeeze on them for their fortunes. As a result, many of them had put their money into foreign banks to avoid as much taxation as possible. Andrew laughingly told me how he had avoided paying income tax in America. He and the Stones had been on tour in the US and he was going to have to pay a huge tax bill on the money they had earned. So Andrew leased a 747 aircraft and brought the Stones back to the UK and charged the trip as travel expenses.
I knew only two of the Stones well. I used to chat with Keith Richard, who was a cheerful and affable young man at the time. Nowadays, he gives the appearance of a man who has been through some hard times; however, so do I! Mick Jagger was not an easy person to know. He always seemed to be lolling about in another world. Perhaps he was just tired of making conversation with the public. The one Stone that I knew better than any was Brian Jones. I used to spend a lot of time in Denmark Street, and very often Brian would stop me and want to chat. I was considerably older than Brian and I think he thought of me as a big brother or a father figure.
Unlike the pluggers I usually chatted to, Brian had nothing to sell. He was part of one of the biggest groups worldwide, and he knew that the Stones would get airplay the moment their records were released. It was sort of refreshing to me. Brian and I talked about Texas and England and just about anything but records, The thing that we didn't talk about that we should have, was dope. It contributed to Brian's death when he was in his early twenties. I couldn't believe that this very talented young man had left us so young. Thereafter, I always thought that if I had said something – anything – to him, I might have prevented this awful thing from happening.
Nonetheless, this was a sign of the times. Just about all the people in the business were either on drugs or alcohol. My choice of poison was alcohol. Almost every day I was taken to lunch by someone. We would start out by having a before-lunch drink. Then we would have wine with the meal. Than we would end things up with having a nice double shot of brandy. Besides the meal, some time was usually taken to listen to the plugger's discs, so very often, I would return to the office as late as 3pm. Then at 5pm, the whole thing would start over. Someone would come by to have a few drinks, then they would suggest that we go somewhere for dinner and very often we would go off to some club for the rest of the evening.
After about six months of this rigourous maltreatment of my body, I almost came down with pneumonia. I went to my doctor and he told me that I needed to cut out my evenings of entertainment and go down to Brighton on the weekends for some fresh air. I pretty well followed the doctor's orders, except for a few scheduled evening events that I couldn't avoid attending. The music and broadcasting businesses are extremely high key. Plenty of caution needs to be applied when taking the edge off the stress enveloped in both professions.
NEMS (an acronym for North East Music Stores) was a management company that Brian Epstein had set up in Liverpool soon after he became the Beatles' manager. NEMS also managed Cilla Black, Billy J. Kramer, The Silkie, The Moody Blues, Gerry and the Pacemakers, et al. Tony Barrow was the NEMS exploitation manager and one of the first people to show up at Radio London at its inception. Tony and I had lunch almost weekly to discuss his minor artists. He certainly didn't have to plug the Beatles.
Right: a letter from Tony Barrow, accompanying a pre-release acetate of 'Trains and Boats and Planes'. The Billy J Kramer single entered the Fab Forty at #27 on May 9th, the week of the intended 'rush release' date – i.e. before it had any chance of touching sale-based charts. We currently have only limited climber infomation for that period, but assuming that Ben received the acetate on April 30th, the date of the letter, it could have been on the Tuesday 4th May tender and it may well have been played on Radio London prior to the Fab Forty countdown.
One day at lunch, I asked Tony if it were possible to get an interview with the band. He said that he was not sure if they would have the time since they were working on their film 'Help' at Twickenham Studios. However, when we returned to Tony's office, he called the studios and they said it would be all right to come out to the studios, but we would just have to take "pot luck" and interview the Beatles who were not on the set.
When I returned to Curzon Street, I spotted Dave Cash and asked him if he would like to do a Beatles interview. My question was rather stupid, as it was every disc jockey's dream, worldwide, to do a Beatles interview. At the appointed time, Dave and I got a recorder and headed for Twickenham Studios. Upon arrival, I contacted the person in charge of scheduling and told him that Tony Barrow had sent us. He said that the only Beatle available was Ringo. Dave set up his recorder in the office area, Ringo came in and the interview began. Unfortunately, it soon became a disaster since Dave had set up near a gate, which George Harrison and several others others passed through frequently. Each time, it made a very audible banging sound.
Ringo, realising that things were not going well, asked Dave and me to follow him. He led us to a tiny toilet which was about three by three feet. Dave and Ringo entered, but I was a bit hesitant about going in. Ringo finally said, "Come on in Ben and close the door behind you". There we were, Dave, Ringo and me, standing nose to nose in this tiny cubicle. Dave did his interview, and as Ringo was tiring of the gig, he pulled the loo chain and said, "I think I hear them calling me on the set". When he pulled the chain, the water came cascading down from the tank above, making a terrible noise and ending with a "kerplunk" as a final note that flushing was completed. Dave looked at me and I looked at Dave and Dave said, "Oh, what the hell, I'm going to play it back on the ship just as it was recorded, flush and all."
I said as I laughed, "Be my guest, Dave. If there is anything the country is waiting for, it's Ringo Starr flushing the loo!" Dave pointed out, "Ben, you know if we had interviewed Prince Charles instead of Ringo, we would have had ourselves a royal flush!" I said, "I know just where you are headed with this. Once you and Kenny get a hold of this thing, we will have an hour programme devoted to 'the Ringo flush'."