(Nearly) Bigger than The Beatles
In 1968 only The Beatles sold more singles in the UK than The Love Affair.
However, the success of their single, ‘Everlasting Love,’ one of the great pop songs of its era, came at a cost when the band members admitted on national television that, apart from singer, Steve Ellis, they had not performed on the single.
While this was not atypical in the sixties’ recording business — the growing cadre of studio session musicians was evidence of this — The Love Affair were the first to publicly admit such deception.
The controversy surrounding the single found the Musicians’ Union (MU) in an invidious position and navigating uncharted waters. For some of their members, such practices were an affront to the musical profession, while for others they were the source of a healthy livelihood.
This dichotomy, played out in the pages of the music press and committee rooms of the Musicians’ Union in the months after the single’s January 1968 release, therefore, offers considerable insight into both the workings of the late sixties’ recording industry in Britain and the Musicians’ Union’s conflicted part in it.
To explain this, it is necessary to unravel the story in three parts. The first provides the context, looking at both The Love Affair (as a band in their own right and as part of the sixties’ pop process) and The MU’s attitude at the time to both recording and pop music. The second tells the story of the controversy surrounding ‘Everlasting Love’ and the third considers its impact on five parties involved: the MU, the recording industry, session musicians, pop groups of the era and, not least, The Love Affair.
Part 1: The Love Affair, The Musicians’ Union and the Sixties’ Pop Business
In many respects, The Love Affair were a text book example of contemporary recording industry practices. While The Beatles had opened the doors for artists who wrote their own songs, by the time the Love Affair formed in 1966, this was still the exception rather than the rule. Instead, the model pioneered by the likes of Joe Meek and Mickie Most still dominated the pop charts. This usually involved svengalis (either producers, record companies or managers in some permutation) putting together the performers, songs and musicians before launching them on the general public. In the late fifties and early sixties these tended to be solo acts; by the mid sixties, the same formula was being applied with equal vigour to groups. The deal was effectively this: the entrepreneurs put up the money and the acts bought in to the promises of potential stardom. Any contracts ensured that in the event of success, it would be the business men — and they were almost entirely male — and not the acts who reaped the rewards.
In the story of the Love Affair the entrepreneurs in question were John Cokell and Syd Bacon.
Cokell had worked as an artist liaison manager with Decca, while his business partner, Syd Bacon, was described by the Melody Maker as a millionaire and “one of Britain’s top manufacturers of ladies’ handbags.” From a musical family and having failed in his own aspirations towards a career as a musician, Bacon sought to find a platform for his son, Maurice, an aspiring drummer. This combination of industrial know-how and wealth seemed conducive to their charges enjoying a modicum of success.
The management’s approach to the project was also typical of the times, beginning with an advert for musicians to complement Bacon in the Melody Maker. This recruited the remaining group members — Rex Brayley (guitar), Lynton Guest (organ), Mick Jackson (bass) and Steve Ellis (vocals) — and in 1966 the then fifteen year old Bacon and new found associates began playing regularly in and around London, including a number of headline appearances at the Marquee Club. They were briefly known as Soul Survivors.
During this period Bacon Senior invested some of his fortune on equipment. According to Laurie Henshaw he spent £10 000 with a further £3000 earmarked for “additional electronic equipment,” the article described how the handbag magnate splashed out “money like King Farouk on a spending spree.”
Initially, this investment appeared to be leading somewhere. Within a year of forming the group had signed a short term seal with Decca Records, which saw them cover the Jagger/ Richard song, She Smiled Sweetly, in 1967. However, its lack of success meant that they were soon discarded by the label. Again this was hardly unusual: pop acts in 1967 had an extremely short lifespan, and it was a result of band and management’s persistence and resources that they were afforded a second chance courtesy of Mike Smith at CBS Records.
Steve Ellis picked up the story of their career recording in a remarkable thread on Tom Ewing’s Popular blog which was to reunite many of the musicians involved in the recording sessions some thirty one years later. He recalled the band’s own, abortive attempt to record ‘Everlasting Love,’ a song written by Buzz Cason and Mac Gaydon and a US hit for the southern soul singer, Robert Knight, for CBS, and the subsequent re-recording with his vocals backed by some of London’s top session players.
“We learnt it (‘Everlasting Love’) and recorded at Island Records but the management decided it was not good enough, although I hasten to add we were a pretty tight band having played the Mod & Soul Clubs & Allnighters. Keith Mansfield was brought in to arrange it & Mike Smith to produce. I did it in two takes (with session musicians). It sounded so good.”
For the re-recording, Ellis was accompanied by some well known session musicians, including Alan Parker (guitar), Russ Stableford (bass) and Clem Cattini (drums) as well as Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan and Kay Garner on backing vocals, although their performances were not credited at the time. As with other studio recordings of the period, few (if any) records were kept as to who played what and the musicians were paid in cash at the end of the session, leaving few paper trails.
Such studio musicians were increasingly in demand by the burgeoning pop industry, backing solo artists like Lulu and Tom Jones on many of their recordings, most of which took place in a handful of London studios, which were often owned by the record labels. By way of illustration, Mansfield, as well as working with The Love Affair, was a prolific producer of TV themes and library music, and worked, with his orchestra, on tracks for Marmalade and Dusty Springfield in the same period.
While the reasons for the deployment of session musicians varied, in the case of inexperienced groups it was often one of simple economics. Given the hourly rates for studio recording, it was often cheaper to record professional musicians who would capture the song in a small number of takes, rather than run the risk of the less experienced musicians taking much longer to achieve the same (or a poorer) result.
Faced with the possibility of Knight’s version of the song charting in the UK, this was used as pretext by the band’s management and label for speeding up the recording process by using the session players.
Thus far, the story of The Love Affair has little to differentiate it from the experiences of many other sixties’ pop groups in the UK, but, prior to assessing the impact of their televised ‘confession’ it is also important to consider the Union’s attitude to both recorded music and the types of popular music that had emerged in the period since 1955.
The Musicians’ Union and Recording
On the surface, it would appear that the proliferation of studio work for the professional musicians involved in making pop records with the attendant (high) fees (£9 10/- was the rate for a three hour session in 1967) would have been considered a good thing by the MU and its members. But this was not necessarily the case. To understand why, this has to be viewed from the perspective of the wider membership of the Union and its leadership.
At the time, the Union’s membership still comprised predominantly musicians who made a living from performing live in orchestras and dance bands and whose places of work included concert halls, ballrooms, theatres, town halls and, occasionally, further afield in seaside resorts and on cruise ships. This had changed little in the period since World War II, and while some musicians had started to earn a living from recording, for the majority, the emphasis was still on playing live, something that was reinforced by the Union’s Keep Music Live campaign.
It is also worth remembering that the Union’s leaders were part of the same pre-War generation. Both the General Secretary, Hardie Ratcliffe and his Assistant General Secretary, Harry Francis, had been active in the Union before the War and were approaching retirement (Ratcliffe retired in 1970, Francis three years later). Their public utterances during the ‘Everlasting Love’ dispute did little to challenge perceptions held by some pop musicians that the Union was obstinate and behind the times. Ratcliffe and Francis were of a generation of musicians that were, at best, suspicious of, and, at worst, openly hostile towards both recording and popular music.
Since it became an issue in the 1930s, the MU had been ambivalent, towards the business of recording, seeing it as a threat to live performance, but by the 1950s and 1960s having to recognise it as an increasingly important source of revenue for both members and the Union itself.
The MU benefited as, when faced with the increasing sales and use of records, it had been forced to come to a number of agreements with the organisations representing the record companies. These resulted in increased payments for musicians taking part in recording sessions, but also the payment (by the labels) of what the MU considered compensation for those musicians put out of work by the broadcast and public performance of the records.
The most important of these agreements were with Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL), an organisation formed by the record companies in 1934 to manage the rights surrounding public performance of recordings. Initially, and in order to assuage musicians, PPL offered to pay 20% of its revenues from public performance directly to the musicians who played on them. This deal was superseded in 1946 by a new agreement between PPL and the Musicians’ Union, here representing recording musicians, which saw the former paying the latter 10%, and, subsequently, 12.5% of its net revenue to distribute as the Union saw fit among musicians.
Significantly, after much internal debate, the Union decided that rather than distributing these funds to members who played on recordings they would be used for what a future Union Assistant General Secretary, Stan Martin, would call “the benefit of all musicians.”
This meant that during the period that the agreement held (1946-1989), the Union took the view that monies generated by the performance or broadcast of recorded music should be shared among all its members and not just those who had actually performed on the recordings. This was underpinned by the belief that such public performances and broadcasts were taking work away from live musicians. In short, in the MU’s view, the benefits accrued by a few were to be used to alleviate the potential harm done to the many.
While the Union’s use and distribution of these funds was a matter of controversy both internally and externally for forty three years, it is worth noting for the purposes of this story, that the Union’s Executive Committee decided in 1959 that “a large proportion of the Phonographic Funds should be utilised in the direct promotion of employment for members.” For the Union this meant employment in live music — thus funds were directed towards existing places of employment (for example, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) and in the form of the Keep Music Live campaign.
The Union and Pop Music
However, this sense that live performance was the most (or, even, only) authentic form of music making was only part of the MU’s problem with recording at the time of The Love Affair’s ascent to the top of the charts. A significant element within the MU also had a more fundamental problem with popular music itself. At the crux of this was that many older musicians saw what the Union’s publications referred to as ‘beat groups’ as an inauthentic form of music, likely to be nothing more than a short lived fad. In addition, most MU leaders and their members were of the belief that such ‘beat’ musicians were technically inferior players.
Some of the more famous proclamations on the issue included those from Ratcliffe, who, in an appearance at a Performing Rights’ Tribunal in 1965 proclaimed that “pop music bears as much resemblance to real music as bingo to higher mathematics.” Francis, the Union’s Assistant Secretary also wrote extensively in The Musician about ‘beat’ groups and the challenges they posed to the Union’s ways of thinking. In the January 1965 issue he asked if “the beat sound is dying” and whether “its death would be a matter for regret or for celebration.” Despite the mask of neutrality, Francis could do little to hide his own views on the subject. Claiming, again with some justification, that the groups were routinely exploited by record companies and concert promoters, he goes on to refer to “the beat slump” and paint a gloomy picture for those working in the field.
Despite this, in the same article, he also refers to some of the musicians coming to the Union for help and advice, so, in some respects, the rapacious nature of the early pop music industries could be seen as a source of new members for the Union. Regardless of the mutual suspicion between both sides, membership of the Union grew substantially in the 1960s, in no small part due to the number of ‘beat’ groups who either chose or were forced to join.
Of course, many of the ‘beat’ musicians were not unionised, but as the number of professional pop bands increased so too did the number in the Union. Records from the Central London Branch from 1964 show the likes of The Who and The Zombies becoming members, though this was often as a prerequisite for taking part in either television or radio performances or for the exchanges of bands which allowed British groups to perform in the USA. However, in the early sixties, the MU’s influence in pop was diluted as many musicians, especially singers, were members of either the actors’ union, Equity, or the Variety Artists’ Federation.
So, while successful ‘beat’ musicians were members of the Union, the combination of existing industrial practices and union inertia meant there were inevitable culture clashes, of which the controversy surrounding the recording of ‘Everlasting Love’ was but one example. Nevertheless, its significance was reflected in the sheer volume of column inches it attracted in not just the specialist music papers during the early part of 1968 but also in the tabloids and in wider discourse.
The issue at stake was what became known as ‘ghosting’ — where session musicians played the parts of group members — on a number of recordings of the time. Despite being paid for the sessions, the Union’s argument was articulated by Ratcliffe when he said that “it is wrong that one group of musicians should benefit from the work of others. If the groups aren’t up to standard, then the recording companies should not sign them.”
Part 2: An ‘Everlasting Love’ story
While the practice of ‘ghosting’ was commonplace across the recording industry, it was the naivety (or honesty, depending on your preference) of the members of The Love Affair that was to bring the issue to the fore and force the Union to state and reappraise its position. The success of ‘Everlasting Love’ and the band’s pronouncements merely brought to the surface an issue that had been simmering (and largely overlooked by the Union) for some time. Perhaps their belief, as suggested in the proclamations by Ratcliffe and Francis, was that this was a passing phenomenon and that sitting tight would result in the problem going away without their intervention. By 1968, the success of a new generation of pop groups had ensured that this was not the case.
On 27th January 1968, the front page of Melody Maker reported that ‘Everlasting Love’ had made it to the top of the charts, selling over 200 000 copies while the band continued to tour around the UK to ever larger audiences. Reflecting on their new found popularity in the same article, guitarist, Rex Brayley said that “suddenly everything is happening. I was pulled off the stage in Kettering last night, my clothes were ripped to pieces. At the moment, I am the same simple lad I was half and hour ago. Tomorrow I’ll probably be a big head.”
Reaching the summit of the charts mean that the Love Affair were being booked to appear on television programmes, and this was where their problems with the Union began. They came as a direct consequence of an appearance on the Jonathan King show during which bassist, Mick Jackson, admitted that the band had not played on the record. While this was common industry practice and tacitly accepted, it had never been discussed in such a public forum. The result was a predictably sensational response from the tabloids which forced the Union to be seen to be taking action.
Here is the appearance that sparked the controversy with a subsequently recorded introduction from King (the observant may spot his mantelpiece picture with Margaret Thatcher . . ):
Steve Ellis later described the reaction to the appearance on King’s show:
“It was 1968, people only had two channels in the sixties, BBC and ITV. So half the nation were watching when King, who was a clever bastard, asked the bass player, Mick Jackson, if the group actually played on the record. He knew they hadn’t and that I had sung on it, but utilised session musicians like the great Clem Cattini on drums. Anyway, the bass player stumbled his way through after being caught on the back foot. Jonathan King got himself and us headline news in the Sunday papers and the band got a bad reputation.”
In the aftermath of the confession, the Union, producers, record companies, artists, fans and the session musicians themselves waded in with their views on the practice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, while the Union was opposed to the practice, the other interested parties seemed far less concerned.
For the MU, there were two issues at stake: the authenticity of the performance and the nature of the payment for the musicians involved.
By way of illustrating this point, Ratcliffe told the Daily Mail that “recordings should not be based on deception. For too long groups with a minimum of talent have climbed to prominence on the backs of really talented musicians. We feel bound to do something.”
The following week, Harry Francis told the Melody Maker that “it is not just a question of extra payment for the session men. There is a general feeling — and I have been saying the same thing for years — that this thing should be stopped where people who can’t play have to call on real musicians.”
Inevitably, with such proclamations came talk of a ban on the practice, although it is unclear how this would have been enforced and how it would have played out among the Union’s members, especially the growing number of both group members and session musicians who benefited from working on such sessions. Nevertheless, the Union’s wrath was widely reported. The same Melody Maker article claimed, under the heading, “Ban on Ghost Recordings Considered by Musicians’ Union,” that the Union’s Executive Committee was to meet the following to discuss either a ban or increased payment for the musicians. That the Union was apparently considering both reflected the difficult position it found itself in: while the instinctive response of the leadership was to implement such a ban, they must also have been aware that doing so would have considerable financial implications for a proportion of their members.
Of course, with the Union leadership indicating that it was minded towards some form of ban prior to the meeting of the executive committee, the recording industry and fans were encouraged by journalists to have their say and a considerable volume of newsprint and airtime was devoted to voices from within the recording industry seeking the preservation of the status quo.
Most prominent among them was the producer, Mickie Most , who debated with Ratcliffe on the BBC programme, 24 Hours, and argued “so what. My attitude is that like any other business you’re selling to consumers so you give them the best product. If the record requires someone to play the part a bit better, then you use them.”
Other reasons were posited by the record companies as to why they used session musicians — mostly reiterating the claims that it speeded the process of recording up and that it was common practice.
When interviewed by King, The Love Affair claimed that they could (and did) play ‘Everlasting Love’ and had done so live and on the previous recording. However, to do this would necessitate them being “given time,” something that their managers and label were not prepared to do. Mike Smith explained that CBS engaged the session men because the track needed to be recorded in a day, largely to beat off the competition from the Robert Knight version. He claimed that “there just wasn’t time for the group to learn the arrangement in time, so we used session musicians.”
Adrian Rudge of Page One Records was quoted in the same article as claiming that “we are doing it all the time. On the Troggs’ new single there are four flutes. None of the group can play flute. When one does these things it is to embellish the record, make it better.”
While this was perhaps not comparing like with like (The Love Affair members could, at least to a decent level, play their instruments, and the Union had no problem with bands supplementing their own playing with session musicians), King also claimed that he was aware of three records in that week’s top twenty where session musicians were used when the bands in question claimed that they had performed. King applauded The Love Affair’s honesty, and his views were shared some other contemporary chart artists and those who played on their records.
Melody Maker interviewed Manfred Mann, who told them, in another of 3 articles on the controversy in the 24th February edition, that “it is perfectly reasonable to use session men. Think how many records come out each week and how many are hits. Most session men are doing better than people in groups. They earn much more money. I know one guy who earns £150 a week. He can live at home and work in town, whereas the guy in a group shares the money and has to go on the road.”
Mann also reserved some condemnation for Ratcliffe and the Union’s view of popular music, arguing:
“It is absolutely stupid to make remarks like pop has no more relation to music than bingo has to mathematics. It’s such a ridiculous thing to say when you consider trying to get a group of session men together to play something like a Beatles’ track and get the same creativity and feeling. Pop is not rubbish anymore and I don’t know if it ever was. The whole attitude towards pop appears to be punitive. Instead of being punitive, the Union should be trying to make more money for their members. Why not higher rates for session men, why not a fee for miming on television?”
Of course, the notion of higher rates for the session players was one that found favour and a selection of them were interviewed in another article in the same edition of Melody Maker entitled “Session Men Say-it’s all in a day’s work.” This drew extensively on an interview with Alan Parker, the 23 year old session guitarist who played on ‘Everlasting Love.’ He differentiated between what he called ‘standing in’ for a group and ‘backing up’ a solo star:
“It’s all in a day’s work,” he said. “But there is something of a difference between, say, backing Tom Jones or Petula Clark and standing in for a group. I feel something should be worked out by the Musicians’ Union so that we would get a scale payment above the £9 or £9 10s for the session if the record becomes a hit. I don’t think it would hurt a hit-making group to show a bit of gratitude in this way. They can afford it if they make thousands from a record.”
Parker went on to argue that “I believe in the States session men do get an extra payment if they stand in for groups. And the musicians deserve it, but I can’t see it happening here.”
Other session men joined the debate in either opportunistic or apathetic tones. Big Jim Sullivan sought gratitude (“they could give you a thank you now and again”) while Scottish session guitarist Joe Moretti argued for a small percentage of the royalties being paid over to the Musicians’ Union as per the model agreed between the record companies and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) in the USA, but only where the musicians in question “actually play solos on the hit record — not if they are merely booked in a backing role.”
Perhaps more telling were the views, in the same article, of Ike Isaacs (another session guitarist) and drummer, Ronnie Verrell. For them, the sessions were a chore carried out purely for financial reward. Isaacs noted: “the music is often not very exciting, and many groups would be quite capable of playing it themselves. And they do when they appear before the public.”
Opportunistically, some session musicians were using the debate to both play to their credentials as ‘proper’ musicians and also to pursue a chance to earn additional financial reward. Brian Mulligan, reporting in Variety, summed up the complicity between the session musicians and the recording industry thus: “generally, they are prepared to pocket their fee and accept that while the greater financial rewards of a hit record do not come their way, neither do the expenses nor the traveling.”
This seemed to chime with the view of the Union, which leant towards the belief that the monies being made should be shared more heavily in favour of the songwriters and the ‘real’ musicians rather than the stars who fronted the records.
Having sought the opinions of all the other stakeholders, by the time ‘Everlasting Love ‘ had left the top of the charts, Melody Maker was left asking fans what they thought of the issue. While most of the those questioned in a survey conducted in a London record store acknowledged the practice, views seemed polarised as to whether it mattered. Christine Brill, a 17 year old schoolgirl, told them “I don’t think it matters, so long as they make a good record. Anyway, it usually leaks out in the end, whether they have played or not. The result is all that really matters.” Paul Mendelle, a 21 year old clerk, offered the opposing view and said: “there is nothing new about this. But I think it is disgusting for groups to get credit for work done by other musicians. To purport to play something you don’t is dishonest.”
Part 3: Outcomes
For all the Melody Maker reported (and generated) much of the “hysterical nonsense” around the issue, there was surprisingly little by way of immediate change to the practices that had caused the controversy in the first instance. This says much about the internal dynamics of the Union, but also serves to highlight the fact that issues surrounding authenticity of performance, relations with broadcasters and record companies and the payment of session musicians were all ones which existed prior to ‘Everlasting Love’ and continued to trouble the Union in subsequent years.
It is, however, worth reflecting on what the wake of the ‘Everlasting Love’ saga meant for the MU, the recording industry, session musicians, pop groups and, specifically, The Love Affair. To take each in turn:
(a) The Union
The Union’s response was bellicose but not promptly followed by action. The ‘ban’ on ghost recordings first mooted by Harry Francis in Melody Maker never properly materialised. In line with Union procedure, the issue was referred to the next meeting of the Union’s Executive Committee, which took place on 28th February and 1st March 1968. The discrepancy between what was minuted at the meeting and what was reported in the music press is perhaps of most interest.
The minutes give little prominence to the issue. In the midst of a two day meeting of the Union’s executive, they only refer to a “discussion” of a ‘Code of Fair Practice’ and that the issue had been delegated to ‘the recording group’ (a sub-committee of the executive) “with full power.” Tellingly, some six months later (the meetings were held four times a year), Francis reported that “it had not yet proven possible to call together the committee appointed to prepare ‘a code of fair practices’ but that he hoped to be able to call the meeting “fairly soon.”
There is no subsequent minuted evidence of the meeting ever being convened — though this could simply be down to a lack of documentation. It would appear not to have been discussed again at Executive level and other issues, primarily the advent of independent local radio, relations with PPL, management of the branches and the use of the Union’s ‘Phonographic Fund,’ dominated future discussions, overtaking or obscuring the ‘ghosting’ issue.
However, the Melody Maker issue following the initial meeting spoke of the decision “by the 35 000 strong Musicians’ Union to ban session musicians from standing in for pop groups.” This was accompanied by a statement from Ratcliffe which said: “The Union’s national executive committee have today adopted a code of fair practice to be presented to the gramophone recording industry for agreement. Pending discussions with the industry, we think it would be improper to give details of the Code except to say that some parts of it are designed to bring an end to what has been described as ghosting — the practice of using highly skilled freelance session musicians to stand in for those members of groups who cannot do the work themselves.”
The statement went on to announce that “a separate Code of Fair Practice will be presented to the ITV companies and the BBC with a view to regulating the manner in which special records are used by pop groups and certain artists in radio and TV productions.”
In many respects, the desire of Melody Maker to keep the story running and provide a sensational headline meant that the detail of Ratcliffe’s proclamation was lost, but the claim of a ‘code of fair practice’ being adopted was, at best, premature. While press articles indicated that a ban was a fait accompli, the detail highlighted the problems the Union would face in implementing it. Besides any inertia caused by Union organisation, any such deal was entirely reliant on the co-operation and support of the record companies, broadcasters and the session musicians members of the MU.
The initial responses from representatives of these groups suggested that this would be far from an easy task. Mickie Most was again the most vociferous in his objections, telling Melody Maker that “the whole thing is childish — when half the world’s at war and the other half is starving to death, why worry about who is playing a drum on a record? The Union must have nothing better to do. I can’t believe it is putting its own members out of work.”
(b) The recording industry
Record companies were also quick to condemn the Union’s move. Tony Macauley of Pye Records warned that it would have a negative impact on British artists and the session musicians.
“American products will beat British cover versions into the charts,” he said. “For the last couple of years we have been able to keep the American versions at bay. Now I can see the British version being too late. Cover versions are an important part of the business, although I don’t like them too much myself.”
“The first people to suffer from this will be the session men,” he continued, “but session men have been used in the past not because the groups can’t play but because it’s an economy measure — to save time.”
Mike Smith of CBS, whose decision to engage the session players on ‘Everlasting Love’ started the controversy, was also unimpressed, again standing up for the hired hands. He argued that “this is going to lose a lot of useful and lucrative work for a section of MU members and it looks as though we might have to go back to the glorious system of working on the Continent again. I don’t want to interfere in matters of MU policy, but this is an unwarranted intrusion into our business. We employ MU members; we are not here for their benefit.”
EMI were similarly dismissive of the Union’s proposal, issuing a statement saying that “this ban will not affect any EMI artists. The sound heard on records by any of our groups including the Beatles, Hollies and Shadows, is their own sound. We employ session musicians, naturally, to back our solo musicians, but all our recording groups are quite competent to cut their own records.”
The broadcasters were hesitant to pronounce on the proposed ban prior to seeing the Code of Fair Practice, but the BBC noted that a ban on miming on television imposed by the Union in 1966, meant that the issue of deceiving viewers over who was performing was largely irrelevant and any new moves by the Union would be only “a matter of formality.”
Even so, the point to note here is that the relationship between the MU and both the record companies and the broadcasters was a complex and mutually beneficial one, and changes to the existing agreements were always negotiated, both formally and informally, over a long period of time. While the MU exerted considerable influence in 1968, due to its large membership and operation of something resembling a ‘closed shop’ among professional musicians, it was not able to simply lay down the law to the record companies and broadcasters without negotiation. Tellingly, the BBC and ITV were major employers of its members and the record companies, via PPL, contributed to the Union’s funds, while all three parties were involved in the “needletime” arrangements which controlled the use of recorded music, largely at the behest of the Union.
The complexity of the relationship between the three parties meant that the issue surrounding the use of session players was perhaps less important to the Union than the bluster of the proposed “ban” suggested. In addition to the lack of action detailed in the minutes, Maurice Bacon noted that while The Love Affair had been “responsible for this in a way because we brought it out into the open — the Union had known it has been going on for years. But they were caught with their pants down and felt they had to do something.”
Having been seen to do something, the key issue for the Union in its relations with the recording industry and broadcasters soon turned to the BBC’s announcement in 1969 of a plan to reduce the number of staff orchestras and the advent of independent local radio with the accompanying pressure to increase needletime. the BBC’s Broadcasting in the Seventies was published in July 1969; while the election of a Conservative government in 1970 accelerated the proposals for commercial radio which the Union had always opposed. In the circumstances, it was perhaps unsurprising that no Code of Fair Practice was implemented specifically as a direct result of the ‘Everlasting Love’ affair.
Indeed, the real consequence of these debates were more visible in the working lives of the session musicians and group members than they were in the machinations of the recording industry and the Union. The size and nature of payments to session musicians, however, remained an issue for both parties for the remainder of the twentieth century.
(c) Session Musicians
As previously noted, some session musicians used the furore to lay claim on additional payments, feeling that they were under rewarded when they played on hugely successful records, although this had to be weighed up against good rates and a guaranteed fee on the many unsuccessful records to which they contributed.
However, the issue of rights for performers was one which had, and continued to, occupy the MU for a number of years both before and after the release of ‘Everlasting Love.’ Under the PPL agreement, prior to 1989 any payments from record companies on and behalf of non-featured performers were held by the MU and used for activities of benefit to the wider musical profession rather than being diverted to individual musicians.
Two events subsequently changed this — the Monopolies and Mergers’ Commission Report on Collective Licensing (1988) and the implementation of the Performers’ Right, first agreed a part of the Rome Convention in 1961 but only enshrined in UK law via an EU Directive in 1996. These meant that for the first time the sixties’ session musicians received both recognition in law and began to receive individual payments for the public performance and broadcast of records on which they played. While this presented some with an unexpected windfall in later life, it was also to become a source of rancour within the Union as members argued over the fairness of payouts and its use of the PPL monies. This, however, is another story for another time.
(d) Pop Groups
Given the hyperbole in the music press surrounding ‘Everlasting Love,’ the matter had surprisingly little by the way of wider impact on pop and rock bands of the time. Session musicians were, and continued to be, a part of the pop music making process. Any outrage seemed to be limited to a small number of (mainly older) consumers and among some musicians, hence the Union’s aggressive response. However, by 1968, there was a general acceptance of the practice.
There are two things worth commenting on about this. The first relates to the development of popular music in the period post-1955 and the second to the greater importance given to the authenticity of the voice over that of the music.
Initially, the type of singing stars generated by the fledgling record business were not widely viewed as being of the same calibre as those musicians to be found in orchestras, dance bands or even in the jazz and folk worlds. By the time of ‘Everlasting Love’ this was beginning to change. The Beatles had paved the way for the success of pop musicians who wrote and performed their own material and who could be seen as artists in their own right, rather than mere performers. Tellingly, their spokesman, Tony Barrow, was dismissive of any potential ‘ban’ on session musicians, highlighting the musical talents and authenticity of his employers:
“We are not worried about the ban,” he told Melody Maker. “It does not affect The Beatles or any of the artists we handle. Session musicians used on the Beatles’ recordings are used to augment the Beatles’ own instrumental line up. Often The Beatles themselves augment by providing their own double or treble tracking effects. For instance, on their new single, Lady Madonna, Paul not only plays bass guitar, he is also heard playing piano. The session was augmented by four sax players. There would never be any question of session men playing for the Beatles or replacing them.”
As an accomplished and successful pop group, it was perhaps unsurprising that Procol Harum’s manager, Tony Secunda, was supportive of a ban on session musicians, again on the grounds of authenticity. He argued that “in the last ten years, pop music has matured, grown up. The standard of the average pop musician today is high enough not to have somebody playing for him. If pop musicians can’t play, they shouldn’t record — otherwise they are cheating the public.”
So, while the quality of pop and rock musicians may have been improving to the level that session musicians were less of a pre-requisite, another factor here was that history suggests there is a greater sense of being cheated when the vocals are not by the advertised singer than when the musical parts are played by someone else.
Such (false) accusations surrounded The Monkees whose records were not inconsiderably bolstered by famed sixties’ session musicians, The Wrecking Crew, and in subsequent years by Boney M and Milli Vanilli, both projects associated with the German producer, Frank Farian. Famously, when it was revealed the two members of Milli Vanilli neither sang nor played on their records, Arista Records was forced by the courts to offer a partial refund to those who had purchased their singles, albums and even concert tickets.
The attitudes of consumers towards towards these types of controversy imposed some limitations on what producers and and record companies thought they could get away with when it came to augmenting or even replacing the featured artist. An MU ‘ban,’ were it to have been put in place, would have required a type of policing beyond the scope of the Union’s officials and may even have reduced the income of at least some of the Union’s members — especially those session musicians who played guitars, drums and bass.
Perhaps in the wake of the debate around ‘Everlasting Love’ the MU realised this and quietly let the matter drop, or simply viewed it as one of the less important or immediate threats to the music profession. Their response did, however, highlight some lingering prejudices against popular music on the part of some elements within the Union, and these were only substantially addressed in the 1970s after the retirement of Ratcliffe and Francis, when the Union organised a number of ‘Rock Workshops’ and in 1977 appointed Mike Evans, a former member of Liverpool bands The Clayton Squares and The Liverpool Scene, as rock organiser.
(e) The Love Affair
As the fuss over ‘Everlasting Love’ died down, the MU, producers and record companies moved on to other business, something The Love Affair seemed unable to do without the baggage attached to their huge hit. Even so, the success of ‘Everlasting Love’ provided a platform for its two follow-up singles, ‘Rainbow Valley’ and “A Day Without Love” to both reach the top ten. Yet by the end of the following year, the band had split, with singer, Steve Ellis departing after the failure of another single, “Baby I Know,” to pursue a solo career. The remaining band members continued for a while as L.A. and then Love Affair without any notable success.
When “Rainbow Valley” was released in May 1968, Melody Maker claimed “few groups have been subject to such an impassioned stream of invective, condemnation and criticism.” In the same article, band member, Mick Jackson was bemoaned the legacy of their huge hit, which included ‘Rainbow Valley’ having to be performed in front of “an invited press audience” to prove that the band could actually play. He said:
“At first we didn’t worry that much when the story about us not playing came out. We announced it ourselves because there were rumours about it in the business and we heard a Sunday newspaper was going to blow the story. Then the thing escalated and people all over the place started slagging us. We got to regard it as a terrible nuisance, every time we opened a paper there was someone having a go at The Love Affair.”
Though “Rainbow Valley” did slowly climb up the charts, Jackson noted that television had been reluctant to embrace the song, perhaps a consequence of the Jonathan King appearance.
“One of the worst things about it was that people didn’t regard us as a group — they weren’t prepared to find what talent we had — or whether we had any. I remember when we were banned from the Tony Blackburn TV show, people said it was a publicity stunt — as if any band wanted to be banned from the television. That’s the only plug medium there is.”
The band’s debut album, “Everlasting Love Affair,” released at the end of 1968, was a victim of such prejudices. Despite containing three hit singles as well as a some self-penned tracks and cover versions, it failed to make the album charts. The band had been tagged as inauthentic regardless of their abilities, back story and desire to prove otherwise. Indeed, Maurice Bacon later reflected of the band’s involvement in their 1968 output:
“We didn’t play on any of the singles. We’d only have three hours so the easiest, most efficient way was for Keith Mansfield to score the whole thing, bring in session guys like Clem Cattini on drums and Herbie Flowers on bass and do it in two takes. Mansfield was only involved with the singles, when we used orchestras. Otherwise, it was John Goodison. We were allowed to play on the B-sides and the album and write some tracks for the LP.”
The Love Affair’s experience of the sixties’ recording industry may have been similar to that of many other bands of the time, but few were singled out for the level of opprobrium which The Love Affair received. Their quest for recognition for what they were — a solid sixties’ pop outfit with a great singer — found them obstructed on all sides: by the industry practices of the time; a hysterical and sensationalist media and the Union leadership’s snobbish view of pop musicians at the time.
Found guilty by all sides, their ‘crimes’ were merely being honest and in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Article taken from website of Musicians’ Union: A Social History