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R.I.P. TONY HALL, UK MUSIC INDUSTRY LEGEND

R.I.P. TONY HALL, UK MUSIC INDUSTRY LEGEND

Tony Hall
Tony Hall
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Tubby Hayes & the Jazz Couriers
Tubby Hayes & the Jazz Couriers
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Tony (far right) with the Ronettes, Phil Spector, and George Harrison
Tony (far right) with the Ronettes,
Phil Spector & George Harrison

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Loose Ends and The Real Thing
Loose Ends & The Real Thing
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London, June 2019: Many people in the music industry get to wear many hats over the course of their career, writes Peter Robinson, but it is doubtful whether any have worn as many as Tony Hall, who died on Wednesday (June 26) at his Brighton home aged 91 after a period of illness. In a career that spanned more than 65 years, Hall was a jazz critic, the booker at legendary London jazz venues Feldman Swing Club (later the 100 Club) and the Flamingo, producer of seminal British jazz albums, co-host of Jack Good's groundbreaking TV series Oh Boy, Radio Luxembourg DJ, promotion executive at Decca, compere at Brian Epstein's legendary Saville Theatre concerts, founder of the leading UK independent promotion company in the late Sixties, music publisher, artist manager and, in recent years, jazz critic again.

"I've been blessed", he would modestly say of a career that began in the early '50s when, on discharge from national service, he got a job working at Feldman's Swing Club at 100 Oxford Street, the premier UK jazz club. His early work as a silver-tongued compere led to his being recruited by Jeffrey Kruger, founder of Ember Records, to advise on booking the acts for his new Flamingo Club. In 1954, while he was still at the Flamingo, Hall began writing record reviews, including for Musical Express, the forerunner of the NME, and this led to a job as one of the first promotion men at a major label, Decca Records.

Jazz was Hall's first love so, to keep him happy and motivated, Decca reactivated the Tempo label and invited him, despite his lack of any A&R experience, to produce British jazz albums by such then unknown musicians as Tubby Hayes, the Jazz Couriers - co-led by Hayes and Ronnie Scott - as well as Victor Feldman."Thank goodness I was the only person at the label who knew anything about jazz, so I was able to record all my personal favourites without any second-guessing by the management," he recalled. He also produced an album by Jamaican trumpeter Dizzy Reece which came out on Blue Note and was reissued several times, which he cited as one of his proudest career achievements. He was dating Jackie Collins for about three years and she graced the cover of several Tempo albums.

Hall's work as a jazz club compere led to his becoming co-host of Jack Good's groundbreaking 1958-59 ITV rock'n'roll showOh Boy, and in the early '60s he became a Radio Luxembourg DJ, presenting one of the Decca sponsored shows and developing a huge following. He wrote a weekly column for Record Mirror and also did some radio presenting on the BBC Light Programme, mainly band shows like Joe Loss and jazz shows. "I was the first person to use the word 'funky' on the BBC", he recalled.

By the end of the '50s Hall was Promotions Manager at Decca, at the young age of 31, working with artists such as Buddy Holly and Brenda Lee. His enthusiasm for black music was responsible for Atlantic achieving many hits in the early and mid-'60s and he worked closely with Jerry Wexler, often calling him collect from a phone box on Brighton Pier. He convinced Wexler that Otis Redding's album track of "My Girl", which had not been a major hit for the Temptations when first released, should be a single, and it duly became a No. 11 UK hit for him. "When Otis and his band arrived in Britain they had to learn the song as they had never performed it live", he recalled.

Among other US artists Hall was responsible for breaking during his time at Decca were the Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner (Phil Spector's "River Deep Mountain High" flopped in the US but became a UK No. 3 with support from pirate station Radio London) and the Ronettes. The UK music industry was small in the early '60s. Hall and his then wife Mafalda lived in the same Mayfair street as Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr, and they frequently hosted parties for artists, media and industry colleagues. Ronnie Spector recalled that on the first night of the Ronettes' first visit to London they were taken to a party at Tony and Mafalda's home and John, George and Ringo were present. John Lennon took her on a tour of the house.

After Brian Epstein leased London's Saville Theatre in 1965 Hall compered many of the legendary Sunday concerts at the venue, including a memorable Four Tops concert, where he got everyone up out of their seats, which led to Hall hosting a nationwide tour by the group. He was a huge champion of Motown, despite the label being signed to EMI. He once said: "I became a Motown fan largely thanks to the Beatles. When they lived across the street from me, it was Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvelettes all night, every night. I repaid part of the debt by introducing them to Marvin Gaye, who they were strangely unaware of". He tried to bring Motown in to the Decca fold, but was thwarted by the Decca "suits" Sir Edward Lewis and Bill Townsley, and had to settle for a 1965 private visit to Detroit where he received the keys to the city from Berry Gordy and attended a Holland Dozier Holland recording session.

After leaving Decca in 1967 Hall formed Tony Hall Enterprises (THE) with Ray Kane and Liz Clower, the UK's first independent promotion company, and worked on records by Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Dusty Springfield, Scott Walker, the Zombies, among many others. When a Sheffield school teacher sent him a tape of a singer by the name of Joe Cocker, Hall took the demos, which included "With A Little Help From My Friends", to producer Denny Cordell, and launched Cocker's career.

Hearing about a Birmingham blues band called Earth, who renamed themselves Black Sabbath, Hall signed them via an association with Midlands manager Jim Simpson and got them a deal with Olav Wyper on Phonogram's Vertigo label. "That first album cost about £1800 to produce and went on to sell millions", he recalled. He set up publishing company Brampton Music and among his major hits were Madonna's "Borderline", Mtume's "Juicy Fruit" and the Acker Bilk instrumental hit "Aria". The company was later sold to Sony Music.

One of his first management clients was arranger/artist/composer Paul Buckmaster, best known for his rock orchestral arrangements on the early Elton John albums and on Bowie's "Space Oddity", who also worked with Miles Davis as a result of Hall's friendship with Miles. He represented Buckmaster, a close friend, for his entire career until his death in 2017. In the '70s he began managing Liverpool band the Real Thing, who enjoyed a series of major hits, and continued his involvement with them throughout his life. In the '80s, working with co-manager Jeff Toms-Smith, he discovered and managed Loose Ends, guiding them to major US success on MCA, where they became the first British black artists to hit No 1 on the Billboard R&B chart, and in the UK on Virgin. In the late '90s he discovered soul singer Lynden David Hall, who enjoyed several major hits including "Sexy Cinderella" before his untimely death at the age of only 31.

Hall had remained active in the industry until the past couple of years, coming full circle by reviewing jazz albums for Jon Newey's Jazzwise magazine, as well as continuing to represent the songs of Chris and Eddie Amoo of the Real Thing. His second wife Billie, a Trinidadian-born jazz singer, his partner and then wife for more than 40 years, passed away in 2018. I first met Tony in 1964 when he was managing a Brighton band called the Cyan Three, and got to know him well in the '80s when we worked together on a number of projects. He was a uniquely gifted record man and a lifelong lover of jazz and soul music. We are unlikely to see his like again.

Peter Robinson

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