Still determined to move on from auditing, and undaunted by the previous job rejection, I managed to get accepted as the accountant in a small music company. In hindsight I can see that every other applicant was probably sensible enough not to go there.
For me it was perfect and over the course of the next 18 months I had an amazing experience. I don’t think I could possibly have found anywhere else better. I learned to manage a small team, to make the accounting more efficient, to hire, and fire, to negotiate, support and, more than anything else, to survive. If I got near anything that looked like a comfort zone, I stepped out of it.
It all happened over 40 years ago but I can picture it as if it were yesterday.
The business was called Art and Sound and was located just north of Notting Hill. It felt like it was 100 miles away. In a grimy factory backing onto the canal running through Kensal Rise, the company was a micro version of the music giants. It had catalogues and artists in classical, contemporary and reggae. It made everything on site, 7 inch singles and 12 inch albums. In the stores were thousands of records waiting for dispatch, with that distinctive damp cardboard smell that would follow me for years.
There was even a separate building where the powder was delivered from ICI that was mixed with carbon black, heated and extruded into long strings before being chopped into pellets, from which the patties were made to be pressed into records.
The noise was deafening. The ‘granule’ production was run by a delightful, if very grumpy, Tim Linehan. He could only communicate, in the local pub, after a few pints. The record presses were serious machines, all over 25 years old, dangerous with no safety guards, very loud, hot and smelly. The factory was run by ‘Quashie’ a six foot six West Indian who was feared by all. Except, and I don’t know why, by me. I respected him and, to my surprise, he did me.
Apart from a small classical output run by Ted Perry, all the new product was reggae. Trojan Records had gone bust and all the back catalogue was acquired along, as it seemed, with all the artists who hung around having nowhere else to go. John Holt, Ken Booth, Nicky Thomas, and Big Youth, turned up every now and again, usually looking for money.
One of them, and I cannot say who, turned up one day with a machete and another day with a can of petrol.
They did mean well though.
The first ‘sacking’ I had to carry out was only after a couple of weeks. Danny, the delivery driver, was caught stealing stock. He wasn’t very upset and asked if he stay on, working for nothing. The stock was clearly more valuable that his minuscule wages. When I fired Neville for being impossibly lazy, he thanked me. He thought it might encourage him to work in his next job.
I could write a book about all my experiences at Trojan. For this blog, I will keep it short. The owner was a very difficult man called Marcel Rodd. At the time I thought he was in his eighties but with help from Google, I now see he was only 62. He nearly died a few times when I was there, all because so many people wanted to kill him, and failed.
We had a young artist on our books called Louisa Mark. She was 16 and lived on her own with her two year old daughter. Aged 15, she released a successful single called ‘Caught You in a Lie’. It went on to be regarded as the first lovers’ rock single.
Marcel’s deal with her was that he would pay her £25 a week and she would provide him with more hits. I arranged for her to collect the money from her local bank each Friday. Marcel then decided she wasn’t doing enough (he flew into rages regularly) and he told me to stop any further money being paid. I had no way of telling her. She wasn’t on the phone and I didn’t know where she was living. Her temper was equal to his and, on being told she’d been cut off, she left her little girl with someone and got on the next bus to Kensal Rise.
We had recently built a partition with a locked door to stop anyone walking past reception into the offices. I had told the receptionist not to let anyone in without my permission, but she was not the brightest. Louisa was just a 16 year old, what harm could she do? What indeed?!
I heard shouting from Marcel’s office and ran in to find them ranting at each other across his table. It was a bizarre sight. Neither of them was much over five foot tall, and the desk between them was huge.
Once Marcel saw I was there to back him up, he picked up one of those large heavy glass ashtrays with 4 sharp corners and flung it her, like a discus.
Thank goodness he missed. She then climbed on the table and attacked him with one of her high-heels. I dragged her off and she spun round kicking and screaming, throwing us both off balance. As she went down, her foot went through the front of a glass bookcase.
As I looked up from the floor, with her bleeding next to me, I saw an ambulance man coming through the office door holding a straight-jacket out in front of him, closely followed by a policeman.
The receptionist had dialled 999 saying that everyone had gone mad and it was dangerous!
Louisa went on to do reasonably well for a niche area in music. I never came across her again and I now know that she died 9 years ago, shortly before her 50th birthday. I’m listening to her as I write this. It’s rather sad.
As for Trojan, I decided to call it a day. But I did stay in the music business.
Next time: Then and now.
P.S. the three girls in the photo worked in our offices. The photo is from Manwatching by Desmond Morris and it is an example of standing with attitude. There was plenty of that!
Mike Jones has been a Chartered Accountant since the early 1970s and has been Finance Director of many well-known brands including HMV, Argos, and Southern Water.
His full profile is here: LinkedIn Profile