FORTHCOMING AUTOBIOGRAPHY EXCERPT:
HOW WE MADE “BRIGHT EYES” INTO A HIT AGAINST ALL THE ODDS
Only weeks earlier, (while I was making Tarot Suite) CBS had dropped my song “Bright Eyes” (sung by Art Garfunkel) off their promotional priority list because it was not getting radio play. BBC Radio One said it was too slow for them. “Fuck Off round to Radio Two with it” said a Radio One producer called Dave, using exactly those words. This was in the days when only Radio One really had any hit-making power, - or so we all thought, - but that bred an arrogance in many of Radio One’s (then) producers and DJ’s which is characteristic of many influential industry decision makers, particularly ones who don’t get paid much but suddenly have a lot of power.
Neil Ferris, a young promotion man at CBS’s music publishing company, April Music, was angry because Norman Stollman, a director of CBS would not authorise a Ford Escort company car for Neil. Neil was going to walk out. “Don’t go yet”, I said. “”Stay and let’s try to break “Bright Eyes together. The record company have dropped it but I think we two can break it. I’ll try to twist some arms at TV, and you see what you can do with Radio Two”. So he agreed, and we went off on our separate missions. I secured an interview spot for myself on Noel Edmonds’ Saturday morning show “Swapshop”, where I knew the producer because I had composed the theme music. We showed a clip from “Watership Down” and ran a competition, and I gave away some soft toy rabbits from the merchandisers of the film. I also managed to get on one other show. Meanwhile, Neil had cracked Radio Two and they started playing it. It was a couple of weeks later (while I was in the studio recording Rory Gallagher for my “Tarot Suite” album) that I got the phone call in the studio about having suddenly jumped from selling 60 records a day to 60,000 copies in one day. It was unheard of. Something about that record just got to people and we couldn’t sell enough of it. Radio One started playing it. Ha!
The record did 60K copies a day for six weeks, making it CBS’s first million seller on this country. It was at number one in the UK for 6 weeks, and also went to number 1 in six other countries. A few months later at the Ivor Novello Awards , where I picked up two awards for “Bright Eyes” the Controller of Radio One, Derek Chinnery, passed by my table and said “OK, Mike, maybe there’s room on Radio One’s playlist for ONE slow record.” Again, this missed the point completely. Programming records for radio isn’t ALL about tempo; you have to know which ones will grab people, and not think in terms of tempo alone, something that Paul Walters proved as Wogan’s producer years later. Morning drive time used to be frantic. The idea was “Let’s keep up the pace, they’re all driving into work and we want to keep them from switching over at the beginning of the day”. It’s twaddle. Driving is stressful enough. A drive-time show can and should cater for those moments when your heart needs warming and you can relax a little. This is the sort of stuff we have to battle against in our business; but the worst part of this story is that CBS had dropped the record. It would never have been a hit if I hadn’t persuaded the publishing company’s young promo man to join me in an effort to turn it around. You have to be prepared to grab the steering wheel and get on with it yourself if you believe in what you have.
Neil Ferris went on to become Managing Director of EMI Records, and later managed Alfie Boe.