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The Managers

John Gould

Article from International Musician & Recording World, July 1985

Level 42's Svengali gets his comeuppance

Bass supremo Mark King once offered some cautionary words of warning to his prospective manager. "At least we know you're going to rip us off," he breathed calmly, "because if you do — then you've got your mother to answer to."

Far from intimating that the mater in question was some breed of fearsome, finger-wagging ogress, King was simply pointing out to John Gould the futility in even attempting to stitch up either of his two brothers, Phil and Boon, whose careers would be in his hands were he to accept the task of managing Level 42.

Five years on and Gould seems to have survived without falling foul of harsh words from any family quarter. No doubt his success has been the product of some solid experience in the music industry.

Curiously, Gould began his working life when he signed up for a hefty stretch of service with the Royal Air Force as a 16-year-old. Six years later, and by now a senior aircraftsman, he spread his wings, parted with £250 and bought himself out of the RAF — with a remaining three years otherwise to serve.

Next followed a stint grafting for his uncle's electronics firm, while at the same time he began moonlighting as a disc jockey in assorted Isle of Wight clubs. When the rigours of this double life proved too much, Gould jacked in the day job and concentrated on the Pop picking.

Shortly after, he invested in a record ship and started managing the entertainments side of a string of nightspots — frequently booking Radio Luxembourg DJs up for gigs. Often they would willingly stroll along to Gould's shop to do free PAs.

"One day one of the DJs said to me 'Look, there's not much more you can do on the Isle. There's a record company called Magnet in London that's looking for a promotions person — why don't you apply?' He told me Magnet wanted people who hadn't been involved in the music industry before but had some kind of knowledge of it. I applied and got the job, thanks to Radio Luxembourg."

Fab 208, indeed, and Gould's spell at Magnet found him plugging the likes of Alvin Stardust, Guys and Dolls and Chris Rea. It wasn't too long before he moved to EMI Publishing and then EMI Records, where he was head of radio promotions for Pop and worked with the megas like Queen, Pink Floyd and Cliff Richard.

Further on down the road, Gould went to MCA, dealing mainly with American bands. While there, Pop Music became a hit for M and singer Robin Scott asked Gould if he knew of a drummer he could enlist for his band put together to promote the record. Naturally, Gould suggested brother Phil — who subsequently played on two M albums. He was joined on one of them by Mark King, who'd got roped in through his contact with Phil.

Around that time, Level 42 had just released their debut single and asked Gould to manage them.

"I actually took the band to MCA first," Gould recalls, "but they passed on them. I said to the managing director 'Do you mind me being involved with a band?' He said as long as it was low key and there was no conflict of interest, then it would be fine.

"But it got to the stage where things were getting internationally busy, so I had to leave MCA. In fact, my secretary at MCA, Sarah — who's now my wife — left about 18 months before I did just to with the day to day running of the Level 42 thing — simply so there wasn't too much of a conflict of interests, so that I wasn't doing it from the office."

Gould quit MCA to become marketing and sales manager for the video company CC but quit that too after a lightning period of just a few months.

"It's very good now with Level 42", he says. "They know what I've done in my life and they know how much experience I've had; 12 years in the music industry.

"We all have respect for each other, and it's not a 'You will do THIS' situation. It's more 'Listen, I think it might be a good idea to do that; these are the alternatives.' It's very democratic, we all have a say.

"However, there are some things over which the band — because they're musicians and their main interest is in writing and playing music — will say to me 'We're not interested in this, John. Why don't you do what you think is right.' But, nevertheless, I always put it to them anyway and give them the opportunity to speak their minds.

"Sometimes, because you're managing a group of individuals — and not because there's family involved — you'll have some people wanting to go one way and other people another way. You just have to talk things out. That's true for any band, I should imagine, not just us."

But Gould who, at 39, is the eldest of his parents' offspring — the others are Paul, Gillian, who used to be the A&R director's secretary at Phonogram and now works for Big Country's management office, Level 42 guitarist Boon and Phil — confesses that working with your own blood can be sensitive at times.

"It's not been too much of a problem," he explains, "because we talked about it from the beginning and we knew that it's always difficult working with family. Things do get taken personally, no matter what — especially if you're quite a close family, which we are. You can't help it. But at least you can trust your family — you hope!"

Rather than brotherly squabbling, Gould considers the co-ordination of events the hardest aspect of management.

"It's not having to be on people's backs all the time," he muses, "but being aware of everything that's going on all the time.

"You work with professionals — I'm talking about record companies, publishers, tour managers, whoever — and I suppose it was my training in the Air Force which taught me to be quite organised about things. Being a manager is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together so that it all fits at the end of the day, so that people's efforts aren't wasted.

"Whatever the record company does must have a knock-on effect for the band or vice versa, and so on down the line with whoever you're dealing with. It's got to be done that way.

"I just didn't realise how much you had to know to be a manager."

"Level 42 aren't a Duran Duran — but they work bloody hard for their success and they've got it because they've kept a tight ship and haven't frittered money away or anything. They know where they're going; we've always had a plan. It's essential in management that you do. I know what the band will be doing — in terms of touring, recording and stuff — as far ahead as the spring of '86. We've even made allowances for the time when Mark's wife will be having a baby.

"By planning things out in advance and getting record company cooperation, things can work out a treat. What's difficult is controlling it all and, dare I say it, making sure that everybody is working at the same level as you are. Because if you're working really intently and somebody isn't then it's no good.

"If one person is slacking, then the whole thing can get completely cocked up. You have to motivate people constantly, make sure they're doing their job. I always say 'Look, as long as everybody does their best, then that's all I ask. I don't care if you do your best and it doesn't work — because then perhaps it wasn't meant to work."

What makes Gould's attitudes all the more convincing is that he actually knows what he's talking about; he's probably done that job he wants somebody else to do.

"I'll tell you something," he confides, "when I first started managing Level 42 it was a real shock to me. I just didn't realise how much you had to know to be a manager.

"At first I thought 'Great, I've all this experience in promotion, publishing and all the rest of it.' But that was just the tip of the iceberg. When you manage a band you have to know about everything, just everything there is to know about.

"You have to learn about PA systems, lighting systems, trucking companies... I mean, you can hire somebody to work for you and take care of all that but we didn't start off like that. Level 42 began on the ground floor and, over the years, just sort of worked their way up the ladder of success, as opposed to becoming stars overnight.

"We had to do it all ourselves. In fact, in the early days, I was Mr Tour Manager as well. That was great because at least I learned the pitfalls involved. So when somebody else is out there tour managing the band, I can understand what it's all about. You don't learn about those things unless you work your way up the ladder yourself. That sort of experience is invaluable.

"Nowadays, we are in a position where I can delegate some responsibilities to others — but I can help, I can be their back-up because I understand. Knowledge of this business can save a band a lot of money because you don't have to pay others to take care of things."

Gould comes across as in control and relaxed — but he's had his moments.

"I think we all knew that it wasn't going to be easy to break Level 42," he says, "but for me it was a personal crusade; I just believed in the band and still do. That kind of dedication helps a hell of a lot, it's got to.

"I've worked for record companies, met a lot of managers and, while most of them are pretty good, some don't seem to care too much about their artists. With me, because this has been my true goal in life — I've felt that if nothing else before I die, I've got to break this band — I've sometimes tended to be a bit over the top with people. You've got to watch yourself and be sure that you don't get too heavy with people.

"In the early days, I had to sell the band to the record company and the people working on them before they were enthused enough to sell the band to the general public. Nowadays, we still have our disagreements from time to time but, more often than not, both parties respect each other.

"I know what Polydor can do, they know what I can do; you don't have to bang your fist on the table out of anger or frustration too much — but you have to keep an eye on what's going on, of course."

Gould's obviously been keeping a close enough check on business for him to expand the whole Level 42 set-up — he's recently moved the operation from his home in Surrey to new offices in Wimbledon — and consider taking on other acts. The first new customer with John and Sarah Gould's Absolute Music Company being one Nick Van Eade.

The Gould's also handle Level 42 merchandise and Sarah runs the band's fan club. It all boils down to an expensive affair.

"A lot of people think that management companies don't have many overheads," says Gould, about to prove them woefully wrong. "But what I've got for one band is the same as I would have for a dozen; you still need the same set-up.

"I've got a telex machine, a franking machine, a photo-copying machine, computers — just everything. My overheads work out at about £35,000 a year, which is quite a lot. So, as a manager, you don't just sit there raking in all this money.

"You have expenses and when you actually sit down and start adding everything up, you can't believe how much it's costing you."

It's all a long way from the days when Gould used to play bass guitar in bands to kill time when he was serving with the RAF in the Middle East.

"It didn't take long before I owned up; I was never very good," he concedes. "I'd never even dare pick up a bass now while Mark King was around — would you?"

Perhaps not.

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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Jul 1985


Music Business


John Gould



Related Artists:

Level 42

Feature by Mike Hrano

Previous article in this issue:

> The Prefab Four

Next article in this issue:

> Workbench

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