From Butlin’s to Brinsleys: The Life and Times of Stiff Records Co-Founder Dave Robinson (Part 1)

Dave Robinson gives a presentation. Photo by Milo Robinson.

By Dave Schulps

I first encountered Dave Robinson’s name in the production credits of two Brinsley Schwarz albums acquired during a visit to United Artists Records’ New York office in late 1972. In the pre-and early- Trouser Press days, Ira Robbins and I would “fortify” our record collections by showing up unannounced (perhaps following a brief phone call to serve as an introduction) at record company headquarters in Manhattan with our handful of published review clips (which was all we had at the time) and hang out in the publicist’s office for maybe an hour, leaving with armfuls of records. (Hard to believe, but there were few label publicists back then who were too busy to patiently host a couple of fledgling rock journos – that would change around the end of that decade).

This particular trip turned out to be a 10 on a 10 scale because:

(1) UA had a great catalog of the kind of British stuff we loved at the time – The Move, Hawkwind, Man and the Brinsleys, whose two 1972 albums, Silver Pistol and Nervous on the Road, I’d already seen reviewed ecstatically in a free Washington, DC arts rag called Unicorn by a guy named Bruce Rosenstein.

(2) The company’s publicist at the time was a former Warhol superstar named Susan Blond, who was (and remains) as nice as can be.

(3) While we were there, she was also visited by two of our rock critic heroes, Richard Meltzer and Nick Tosches, whose mere presence left our mouths agape. (Meltzer, for reasons it didn’t take us too long to figure out, told Susan that the records he wanted to review were whichever were shrink-wrapped and that she needn’t bother him with any that weren’t.)

Robinson, who also managed the Brinsleys, had produced Silver Pistol and Nervous on the Road, which both lived up to Rosenstein’s raves, though like most UA product at the time their U.S. sales would fall somewhere between negligible and pitiful. They would also turn out to be the band’s final U.S. releases: their two subsequent albums, 1973’s Please Don’t Ever Change (produced by the band with Vic Maile) and ‘74s The New Favorites of Brinsley Schwarz (produced by Dave Edmunds and released shortly before the band broke up) only reached our shores as imports.

For those unfamiliar with the Brinsleys, guitarist Brinsley Schwarz and keyboardist Bob Andrews subsequently hooked up with a guy named Graham Parker and became half his backing band, the Rumour; guitarist Ian Gomm eventually got a solo career off the ground, and drummer Billy Rankin quietly left the business. Oh yeah, the bassist and main vocalist was Nick Lowe, who next surfaced as the first artist on Stiff Records, a new British indie label run by none other than Dave Robinson and his partner, former Brinsleys road manager Jake Riviera (né Andrew Jakeman).

In mid-1975 Unicorn critic Bruce Rosenstein wrote a posthumous appreciation of the Brinsleys that appeared in issue 10 of Trouser Press, which gave a bit, but not nearly all, of Dave Robinson’s lengthy backstory (and is a valuable companion to this interview). It also gave us a link to the man himself, which would lead to us reviewing all his new label’s early releases (see Jim Green’s Green Circles column on this site) and snagging what we believe was the first U.S. interview with then highly touted new Stiff artiste Elvis Costello (TP 24).

So much for background. The Dublin-born Robinson’s career in music, it turns out, goes back nearly a decade before he began trying to push the Brinsleys to fame, and is, in words once spoken by Arte Johnson, “verrrry interesting,” including, as it does, brief (sometimes not so brief) encounters with the Beatles, the just-slightly-post-Them Van Morrison; Ireland’s first psychedelic band (or one of them), the Eire Apparent and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The man has been around. So, we’re starting from the beginning and just letting this Irishman with a gift for gab tell his own story with minimal interruption. And, yeah, Stiff wasn’t his last project. He’s still at it in 2022. And we’ll get to what that entails following his Stiff exploits in Part 2.

The interview was conducted via Zoom in May 2022.

Your story kind of starts, as all great stories do, at Butlin’s [a chain of large seaside resorts created to provide affordable holidays for British families. There once were ten of them; now only three.]

Dave Robinson: Yeah. That’s a good spot to start any good story.

You went there as a photographer. How did you get from there to Rave magazine?

Butlin’s was amazing for a young man like myself coming from Ireland to the UK. Butlin’s was another dimension. The crowds turned up every week. Most people came for seven days. Lots of guys, lots of girls connected at Butlin’s. And being a beach photographer, I was a kind of what they call a smudger, which is kind of slightly derogatory description.

The Redcoats were the very big hierarchy. They were the people who ran the whole place and wore brown blazers. So I was kind of a brown blazer person. It was very good experience: I had to take the pictures, get their money, and they didn’t get the pictures until the following day. So it was something new. I was about 18.

I didn’t think I was getting this job. I had applied for it four or five months earlier in Ireland and suddenly they said, “Well, can you go to Bognor Regis?”[Bognor Regis is one of the Butlin’s resorts still in operation.] I didn’t even know where it was. It was a great three months of experience and some music, a lot of drink and a lot of other photographers.

I got to Rave magazine by networking with the other photographers who came down every year. It was an annual for them and it was very good earning. The harder you worked, the more you got paid. So it was good. [It was] the first time I’d left home, so it was my experience of entry into the UK. Several of the photographers gave me contact numbers in London, which turned out to be photo agencies who then set me up with various interviews, one of which was to Rave magazine. There was also a magazine called Pop [officially titled Pop Weekly, published from February 1962 ‒ February 1966]. And I got jobs which did not involve me in processing the film.

I was sent out to do various jobs and sent the photos to them with some details of who were left to right in the pictures. It was a very important description. Once they sent me to Liverpool to photograph about 12 different groups up there, one of which was the Beatles. And I didn’t make any real connection because the Beatles hadn’t really come out, so to speak, at that stage.

I hadn’t even realized that Rave was a pre-Beatlemania publication. I’d always thought it was sort of mid- to-late-’60s.

Well, Pop was the one who sent me to Liverpool, Rave was the trendy one. When I got to Rave, (a) I got more money and (b) I got a bigger name generally by saying to people “Rave magazine,” that was a bigger cachet. So Pop was one of the early ones, and there were several. They were kind of in color. They’re mainly black and white, but with the odd color picture. The Liverpool shunt was a two-day event.

What amazed me was that most of the bands were playing essentially the same music. A British take on Louisiana rhythm and blues. I think several people did “Long Tall Sally,” for example. And I wasn’t thinking, “Wow, these are great bands…,” I was just busy getting through my 12 groups and making sure that my left to right was correct because I was told that was what the agency wanted, and if you went wrong there, you went wrong generally.

I remember [meeting] Paul McCartney briefly, because he was friendly. He was friendly and made a bit of an effort, so he stuck in my mind. The rest of them were all fairly Liverpool burly [difficult]. To this day, I am still in touch with Paul. I [just got] an E-mail with his name on it.

I started taking a lot of pictures of bands who generally have very little money, never enough to pay the photographer, and I discovered that wide angle lenses were a very key item. I bought a few wide-angle lenses and the groups liked them.

I went back to Ireland having done quite well, made some money, bought a couple of suits and went home essentially to impress my parents that I had a job of some kind and was doing something. While there, I was called by one of the agencies to cover a thing that was happening in Dublin called the Music Medicine Congress. Essentially, it was science and there were all these young doctors. The young American doctors got me to photograph the Ireland country people, and the Ireland country people got me to photograph the Americans. So I was in the midst of it, making good money and taking them to [horse] races in Ireland. After that, I was getting offered quite a bit of work, so rather than go back to London I stayed in Dublin. And I opened the first club there, the first beat club, which I called Sound City. It essentially mirrored all the English clubs that I had been to.

How big a place was it?

About 150 people, though I did manage on one occasion to get 900 into it. So, yes, a lot of condensation and a lot of moisture down the walls.

Alex Harvey came over and he had a profound effect, Herbie Goins and the Night-Timers and that kind of middle-ground English band that would prepare to come to Ireland for quite reasonable rent. But to Dublin, it was a big thing. So I became a bit of a mover and shaker, because I was involved in UK bands. That was my connection to music photography in Dublin.

Photo by Milo Robinson

Rory Gallagher once told me that, when he started, nearly all the Irish bands were what they called show bands.

Yes, yes.

What were they and did you book them at Sound City?

The show bands were seven-piece bands with a brass section. So they have two or three brass players. They played a big mixture of what was on the charts of the time. Country and Western was very big in Ireland, Jim Reeves-type people, and a bit of soul. The brass section got to do its thing. These gigs were four hours long and they took part in big warehouse-type sheds in the middle of the countryside. The reason they did so well, they were the only opportunity for men and women in Ireland to talk to one another — unmarried, talking to one another. The men were very shy, the women were quite keen, and that is the way that most people in Ireland got together. A lot of people will tell you that their parents met at a show band show. Every town in Ireland had its own show band. So in Cork, you had the Drifters or you had the Royal Showband. There were loads of them. Some were much better than the others, but all of them did four hours work on a Friday and Saturday night.

They didn’t stop; there was no interval. Half of them went to get their dinner in the dressing room while the other half swapped instruments and played different things. There was always a Chuck Berry type. There was always a young guitar player who did the rock and roll numbers and so the rest of them did the country and whatever. It was quite amazing.

I ended up photographing them, too. There was a magazine in Ireland at the time called Spotlight, and I got that gig. So that was my gig to travel to the country. I had long hair, which was unique in Ireland. And so I was an object of some pity and some pointing and hopefully some kind of yearning of young ladies who thought I looked kind of interesting. But all the bands in Ireland were in Spotlight.

It was a very good business because I ended up taking the pictures and giving them prints so they could hand them out to fans and whatever. So it got to be quite a big business. It turned out well.

So you were doing this while you were running the club as well?

Yeah. Well, before the club to a large extent. Once I had the club, I got various young guys to fill in for me. So I actually was employing people to fulfill Spotlight magazine’s criteria — getting them the cover there. There was a band called Larry Cunningham and the Mighty Avons, a very rural show band. Larry Cunningham was a very, very obese gentleman who sang country songs very well. There were huge fan followings for these people because it was the only chance of Irish people to co-mingle. The rest of the time, the parish priest and the Catholic church were very keen to keep them apart.

Those were different times, as somebody once said. I understand Van Morrison showed up at the club one day. Is this post-Them?

Yes. Yes, it is.

So he was already a bit of a celebrity.

I’d taken his picture for some of the earlier magazines. So I knew him as we were both Irish, although I was from the Republic and he was from the North. He was a very quiet guy. He wasn’t into small talk of any nature. He came down after he had fired his manager. He left his manager because he discovered that Philip Solomon, his manager, was taking all his income, some of which was publishing for songwriting, “Gloria” and suchlike, and was paying it to the band as wages. So, in essence, he got upset that the band were running on his money, and he decided to stop it. But Belfast was not a town where you went back when you’d left your manager. So he found it irritating being there and he couldn’t go out, for example, because of his earlier fame. So he came to Dublin and he moved into my flat.

I invited him into my flat. He wanted a manager, and I was kind of toying with the idea, but I really had no experience managing anything except the club. And he would come down and play there from time to time, harmonica mainly, and his ability to lift a local band to greater heights was quite dramatic. When he would get up on stage, the whole band would go from average into something great. But Van ruined my social life, I have told that story a few times. He wasn’t a great flatmate and he had a very odd habit of tapping his cigarette onto his jeans thigh and rubbing it in, for example.

At least it wasn’t your couch.

Well, a lot of it did come off on the couch, particularly where he sat. But [American songwriter-producer] Bert Berns started calling, and Van expected me to deal with Bert Berns. And Bert was very persuasive, but I really had little idea of what a contract would look like. The English ones had been two pages, which covered everything: “We have the right to collect your money from all and every source and do with it as to the betterment of your career.” It was a very general contract, two pages, and all those very early English acts all signed to this kind of paperwork.

Anyway, Bert had recorded “Here Comes the Night” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” [with Them]. And I said to Van, “Look, nothing is happening in Dublin. There is no music business here. You’d have to go back to London, which I’m not an expert in. If the guy has made two big songs for you, why not go get a good lawyer and deal with it properly?” So eventually he decided to go.

I just read that Rob Reiner is doing a bio-pic on Bert.

I’ve been refurbishing my house and I came across The Bert Berns Story on three CDs, and I’m rooting there. I mean, he wrote a lot of songs. And I’m told that he always had a bad heart when he was younger. He had some kind of medical thing. So quite a few of his songs had to do with pain in my heart and various other titles of that kind, which I was told were part of his medical thing.

Anyway, he and Van set off. Van, to give him credit, invited me to go, but I knew that Van wasn’t keen on passengers, and I didn’t fancy being a passenger at the time. Also, I got my flat back and the club was doing very well, so I felt that I would lie back in that particular place. They fell out dramatically, eventually, Van and Bert, and I think his wife felt that Van had given Bert his heart attack, but that’s another story.

Dave Robinson presenting one of his “Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll” programs. During the program, Robinson shares stories about a lifetime in rock and roll.
(Photograph by Milo Robinson)

How did Eire Apparent come into your life?

Eire Apparent came in through the club. This is a band from Northern Ireland that played in the UK for a while, particularly in the kind of Liverpool, Blackpool area — that was a part of England that had a lot of ballrooms. Henry McCullough was the guitar player, and so from that point of view of fame, one would discuss him a bit. Chris Stewart was the bass player who went on to be big with Frankie Miller and various people of that nature. And Davy Lutton, the drummer was in T-Rex [also Heavy Jelly, Ellis and the American group Trance Mission].

Anyway, Eire Apparent were called the People at that time, which seemed like a very anonymous kind of name. It didn’t resonate. But they did very well. They were probably one of the best Irish groups right then. They played a lot of American rhythm and blues, “Mr. Pitiful” and that kind of stuff. America did provide a lot of the groups in the UK with their main cover set. And they were good. So I booked them around the country a bit, but I would have them play every second week or so at Sound City.

At this point, several other clubs sprung up, so there was now a circuit. We had a club people copied, as it happened, and the People made a good living, but there’s a very low ceiling in Ireland. There was a very low ceiling as to where you could get to without going to the UK or America. The show bands were still fairly omnipotent, though. People still went to see the show bands in the country.

And so, I decided to go back into photography. I’d let it lapse a bit, but I remembered the quite decent income I’d had, and I thought maybe being a photographer was going to be my ongoing career. So I went back to London, gave up the club to my two partners, gave up managing the People and set out to make some income and buy back the quite good cameras I’d had, which I’d kind of got rid of. But after I got there, the People showed up.

I don’t know how they found where I lived, but they turned up in a very banged-up Commer van and wanted me to manage them in England. I told them that I really didn’t know anything about the English music scene, but I got three shows for them, one of which was kind of a San Francisco psychedelic party type thing. London was just discovering Haight-Ashbury and that kind of carry-on.

Procol Harum were the lead band that night, along with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. The People played at 4:00 in the morning, much to their dismay because everybody was essentially asleep, but they woke everybody up. And a guy at the back of the hall with little round glasses said, “You should talk to me before you talk to anybody else.” And he turned out to be Mike Jeffery, who I discovered much to my amazement was Jimi Hendrix’s manager.

He had clubs in Majorca, an island off the coast of Spain, and needed bands to play, but the Spanish and English were fighting over Gibraltar yet again. And so, Spain — for a bit of leverage — banned all English bands from getting work permits. So he had to get an Irish band, and he’d heard that we were Irish and he’d spent four hours at this gig waiting for us to play. And he said, “You are Irish.” I said, “Yes. Yes, we are.”

What I didn’t tell him, of course, is that we were Northern Irish and all the band had British passports. So I had to rush to Ireland and bend a few ears to get them sudden Irish passports, which they didn’t want. Much to my amazement, they said if anyone in Belfast found out about it, they’d be killed. I said, “Well, don’t tell anybody we’re going to Spain. Don’t tell a soul.”

So that was it. We ended up in Majorca for three months. And I think of it nowadays like the Beatles in Hamburg. We were the People in Majorca, because they were playing three sets a night, three different clubs, and they became very good. They were good and they became better from the constant playing. Chas Chandler, being the partner of Mike Jeffery, looking after the Animals and Jimi Hendrix, came out on holiday and he really liked the group.

[Chas] came down to the show, and said, “These aren’t bad, Dave. We should sign them.” So he and Mike Jeffery decided to sign the People and give me a third of the management. They would do all the main work, and I would be the kind of touring manager. What was delightful about it was the fact that Mike Jeffery’s girlfriend came up with a great idea to call the band the Eire Apparent, as in E-I-R-E. Mike Jeffery thought this was great, and who was I to oppose him at this point?

So, three months in Spain, lovely sun, nice apartment. Unfortunately, I got arrested and ended up in jail. The season was over in Majorca and we were returning to the UK, at which point Chas and Mike Jeffery had booked us into a very nice apartment in the UK and Chas was promising to produce the band and we were looking forward to a music career in the UK. So it was a very big moment, everything big about it. Then Chas called and said, “We’ve got a few early shows for you, Dave, you’ll be supporting Jimi.” And so that was the big one. And the British package tour of that type was every band that got a hit essentially went out on a package tour. There were lots of them. Tito Burns, I think, was the promoter of this particular one. And you had the Jimi Hendrix Experience, 20 minutes, the Pink Floyd, 12-and-a-half minutes, the Nice had 10 minutes and so on. Eire Apparent were second opener, the opener being a cousin of the promoter. We had two songs. The Amen Corner, who already had a big hit, had three. And so that was the setup for a very big and very interesting package tour.

The tour was the very first chance that the Eire Apparent had to get their toe into the water of the actual British music scene. Pink Floyd, of course, hated every moment of it and eventually got their manager to get them a car or a van so they wouldn’t have to mix with the riff-raff who were all on the coach with the Move, who were also on the tour and talking mainly about gonorrhea or venereal warts. That was a very big discussion for Carl Wayne at the time.

Dave Robinson in 1968, serving as road manager for Jimi Hendrix.
(Photograph by Davey Lutton courtesy of Dave Robinson)

It was marvelous fun. Shortly after that, Jimi did a couple of shows for which I was asked to be a roadie, they were short a roadie. Remarkably in those days, people would take on casual staff, roadies. There was no security. There were no criteria for how the whole thing worked. It was all made up on the spot really. So I was introduced to my co-roadie, Lemmy [Kilmister], who didn’t do a great deal of work and spent most of the time just out front talking to the girls. He didn’t change over the years. When Stiff started and we had him doing some Stiff stuff, Lemmy was still the man I remember — great action, very little work. Anyway.

We did the Saville Theater. Jimi did several shows. I think Brian Epstein promoted them and we played a couple of them, once with the Animals, I think once with Jimi. We were really happening now. We felt we were right in the midst of the real thing. Then a terrible blow happened when Chas Chandler said, “Well, guys, I’m afraid you’re now going to have to go and tour America.” So, when you think that the chance of a Haight-Ashbury psychedelic party, where the band had played at four in the morning, had led to this remarkable list of coincidences. Extraordinary.

Our next stop was New York and that was phenomenal. We went out with the Soft Machine who were kind of a very jazz, very odd… The audiences had very little idea what the hell they were doing, really. I think the audience in America thought Jimi was a phenomenon, but at least he was playing a guitar in a provocative manner. The Eire Apparent were Louisiana-influenced, an R&B band and a four piece, and then we had the Soft Machine in between. Robert Wyatt on drums, Mike Ratledge on keyboards, Kevin Ayers on guitar, playing a totally removed series of kind of slightly jazzy, slightly no vocal, kind of music. The audience hung on for Jimi, obviously. It was great that they were there, but the reasons for them, or the kind of music genres they were playing, kind of went over quite a few people’s heads.

Yeah. You were there with Eire Apparent or also with Jimi? Were you tour managing the whole thing?

I got to be. I was just looking after my band, but also helping with the gear. Jimi only had one roadie, so I kind of mucked in, as I had a bit of experience of it, the package tour, etc. I was amazed that there was no template for the tour. There were Marshall cabinets, four 12 inch [speakers] in each one, and the British hadn’t discovered flight cases at this point. So, this gear was on airplanes because the first tour was all by plane. We nearly missed every flight and then the cabinets would come down the chute onto the luggage bin and they all ripped to pieces. It was chaos, absolute chaos.

The tour zigzagged all over America. Because we were traveling by plane, nobody seemed to worry about the sleeping arrangements for the band or the hotels or whatever. Gerry Stickells, who was the tour manager, had got the job in England. He was a friend of Noel Redding, because in the very early stages of the Experience, there was no real income. Chas and Mike Jeffery had very little real income it would seem at the time, so he got the gig because he owned a van. He was actually a scaffolder, and they gave him the gig. He became the tour manager by owning a Commer van, which seemed to be the one that most bands were traveling by. Very good bloke and he went on to be a huge tour logistics guy — Madonna, all the big tours.

He was very highly thought of, unfortunately he’s passed away now. After about a month on the road where we were all settling into touring America with Jimi Hendrix, he had some gallbladder or some kind of medical thing and I think that because of lack of money at the time, he was sent back to England to get it sorted and he was away about six months. I’ve been a month in America and was still an infant of the music business anyway, and America was very foreign territory and I’m given a briefcase and a Beretta and told I’m the tour manager, which seemed extreme. Very extreme. Anyway, I took to it. I’d watched Gerry Stickells and I’d been doing quite a few bits with him and had talked to him. He didn’t know that much more than anybody else, because that was also his first trip in America and it was quite chaotic.

There was a situation in Jackson, Mississippi where, late at night, there was a thundering on the door. I was doing the receipts and I had withdrawn some finance from my briefcase, because I’d been collecting quite large sums of money at shows where you had to do a settlement after the show. Half the income would’ve been paid to the agent in New York and the other half would be in the ticket office after the show. We’d settled into a motel, three bands, the Eire Apparent, Soft Machine, Jimi Hendrix Experience, and about one o’clock in the morning, there’s this thunderous banging on the door and it turns out to be the manager of this small motel and he’s got the police with him.

So I get this very aggressive guy who tells me that he believes there are underage girls on the premises. In this state, Mississippi, it’s 25 years if you were found with a girl — not under 18, I think it was under 21. So he’s very bombastic. I have no idea what to do. The manager of the hotel is kind of signaling with his eyebrows a bit, so I’m kind of thinking there’s something to be sorted out here. The detective was saying, “There’s eight of us here and we’re going to be looking now, going around all the bedrooms and this is serious, so you might want to make some arrangements.” And I’m thinking, “Arrangements?” Then I flash back to my early Irish club days and I said, “Yeah, I’m sure we can sort this out. We’ve been paid cash tonight. I have some facilities, if there’s a way that we can sort this out.”

So it turned out that it cost me, there was eight of them. It cost two grand a man and four for the chief guy and luckily, I had underneath the bed possibly $200,000 or $300,000, that I had taken to do the receipts. I had taken out a quantity, which I’d pushed into my bedside drawer when the knock came on the door and it turned out that was good, because obviously he wanted to see what money I had. Essentially, he took most of what I had, the right kind of amount.

There were no laws like that in the UK. There was an age for girls, but it certainly wasn’t 21, and you certainly didn’t get 25 years if you were caught with one. So, that kind of phenomena was what you got touring in the United States.

Vanilla Fudge were to join the tour for a while, and their manager was from New Jersey. I remember his first name Phillip, but he was a member of quite a tough family in New Jersey. [According to Wikipedia, Vanilla Fudge was managed by New York club owner Phillip Basile, a reputed member of the Lucchese crime family.] He came, the gear didn’t arrive. The Vanilla Fudge did not arrive and I was just waiting. I was tour managing and waiting to give the door the nod to open the doors at 7:30, when this guy came up the hall with a very large squat individual beside him. He said, “We’ll need to use the equipment. Our gear hasn’t turned up. I’m the manager of the Vanilla Fudge.” And I said, as you would, I said, “Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be okay, but I’ll have to ask the band. It’s their gear.” As you would in England. The squat guy grabbed the front of my shirt and pulled me down and ripped the shirt down. And when I said, “What, what…” I had a very large pistol in my mouth and I’m saying, “Take whatever, whatever you like.” I’m laughing about it now, but at the time I was absolutely shitting myself. It turned out that in the morning, the manager guy slipped me an envelope with about $2,000 in it saying, “I think I overreacted last night.”

Nice of him.

Yeah. Well, the shirt wasn’t worth that, but it was good. I think at the time I was getting $150 a week. So it was ideal.

The touring was good. Gerry Stickells turned up two months later and it was good. It was the Experience that got me going on the road in America, the Animals, the Young Rascals, and of course, the Chelsea Hotel where all the West Coast bands would stay. Yeah. It was all part of an incredible story.

Were you at Monterey with Jimi?

No, I wasn’t. I had to work in New York rather than go, and it was a big success story. Everyone felt that this was the big door-opener that it was. After that, I was on the road with him for nearly 19, 20 months.

Were you at Woodstock?

No. Again, I was a logistics man and Jeffery ran the office and you got to go to gigs when you were allowed. So, no. Woodstock wasn’t a big thing though. We talk about it now as something really extraordinary, but at the time it was, like, a helicopter ride. It was a hassle. It was felt to be a hassle to go to this gig and nobody realized the size or the influence of it at the time.

I went with my summer camp.

Did you? How’d that happen?

As soon as the parents began to get wind of what was going on, we were outta there – released from Woodstock after the first day.

How many people with you?

Oh, probably a hundred or so.

It must have been extraordinary.

It was that.

Henry McCullough, who’d been in the Eire Apparent, had got busted in Canada for marijuana. He was pretty much told by the lawyers that he would do time. They wanted to get some big-name musicians and they didn’t actually get Hendrix, so getting him was going to be a big thing and he would do time. He was advised by Mike Jeffrey and Company to go back to England and skip bail. He was at Woodstock in the Grease Band behind Joe Cocker.

Janis Joplin was around. She really fancied Henry and gave him a lot of grief. And Jim Morrison was around. The Scene club in New York was the place to be, if not the Whisky in LA, and the band was starting to do things like six months in each town and tour out of the town, but be back for the evening shows. So a lot was going on. Electric Lady [Hendrix’s New York recording studio] was starting to be built. And Jimi produced Eire Apparent’s first album — not with Henry, Henry had left — but I think that’s the only album Jimi actually produced. He wanted to do it, and I was more than happy.

I’m sure. So after Jimi passed and that kind of went away, you go back to England and we’re at the start of the ’70s. Hippie is maybe starting to wane a little bit and then you get heavy into management there with Famepushers. Who were your partners Eddie Moulton and Steve Warwick?

Well, I came back with the Eire Apparent, but after the fame of America and the fact that there was nothing really big about them in the UK, they gradually tailed off. They started to fight and eventually split up. So, I’m kind of on my own out there with a great story to tell, but not a huge amount of anything else worthwhile. Steven Warwick was a film editor by and large. He was a friend of a girlfriend that I had at the time and he had met this guy, Eddie Moulton. So Steven Warwick said to me, “You’ve had experience Dave, this guy wants to start a management company, and he’s got some income. Would you be interested?” And, of course, I was.

Eddie was a very flaky individual. It turned out that Eddie Moulton wasn’t his name at all. I had several meetings with him. He had no idea how it worked, but he had several other companies that did various things. He had started a lot of companies and it turned out he was moving pretty much the same funds through all the companies. So he told me that he had £5,000 and I said, “Well, that’s not going to go very far, Eddie.” You know, we could maybe find a band, maybe get a few gigs, but that’s not management funding. We’d have to try record deals and all the other things. It’ll last us two or three months. We might find a group.

So I decided we might as well use it as this all is happening. I put an ad in the Melody Maker for a group with own equipment and van, which about 70 bands answered. The best of a bad lot, really, is how I described them, was a group called Kippington Lodge. What was good about them is they had a bass player called Nick Lowe and a guitar player called Brinsley Schwarz. It turned out that they didn’t have their own equipment or their own van. They lied to me. I got [them] a few gigs. Getting an agent was one of the real problems. The agent had a lot to do. [The band soon shed the name Kippington Lodge in favor of their guitarist’s more memorable name.]

Frank Barsalona [founder of Premier Talent, a groundbreaking booking agency] was a very key part of an awful lot that was happening on the East Coast of America. In England, if you hadn’t got a record deal, you couldn’t get an agent. And if you didn’t have an agent, you couldn’t get a record deal. In order to try and get an agent and to do something with this £5,000 that Eddie had, that was disappearing over the hill very quickly, I came up with the idea of putting the band on in New York at the Fillmore East. It was a very late-night kind of idea and plan.

I got Bill Graham to agree by flying to San Francisco, having spoken to him on the phone, I got on a plane immediately after, and I was in his office in the morning. He said, “What? You’ve just come from the UK?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, I’ll look at my calendar.” So we got a gig with Van Morrison and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Your friendship with Van didn’t have anything to do with that?

No, but what it did do is when Bill Graham wanted, because the plane was late getting to New York with the 150 journalists, the people that we had got to go and see the band. One of the charter planes had landed in foam in Shannon [Ireland] airport because the hydraulics had gone out over the UK. Aer Lingus opened a bar for them.

So they were splashed. The whole lot of them were too out of it by the time they got New York, because they’d been delayed four hours in the middle, in chaos. The band also were denied work permits by the U.S. embassy. I took them to Canada thinking I might be able to slip over the border, which turned out to be the only way we were getting anywhere.

Eventually I did get visas for them, but it was a bit late. So the Fillmore East, Bill Graham is a notorious timekeeper and our plane has just landed and we’re never going to get the opening slot. And I said, “Van, I really need a big favor here. You’re the only one who can do it. Bill Graham thinks you’re God. So can you delay things? Can you see if we can delay things?” So he did. He did put the word in and we got it. We got an execution delay. So the band, needless to say, didn’t play that great, given the pressure of it, all. The lead guitar player…

Was part of that because Brinsley had gone deaf?

Yeah. Brinsley was completely deaf. He’d never been in a small airplane and we knew that’s the only way we’d get over the border at Buffalo. So he could only see where he was [during the set] by looking at Nick Lowe’s hands. He couldn’t actually hear anything. Out of 150 journalists we brought, I think about 15 people actually got to the gig. Everyone else decided to go to a club, to go to a hotel, to throw off. Three of the limos that were taking them to the gig crashed. It was all those kind of things.

And we got column inches in England — everyone decided they were going to knock the whole thing. So we had a terrible time. And yet United Artists decided to give us a three-album deal on the basis of the story and how it looked and a few Jimi Hendrix sprinkled stories from me and we also got a publishing deal. So we raised quite a bit of money even though the band had a disaster press-wise. The record didn’t do too well, but we had a new lease on life.

How did Dave Robinson become a record producer?

Well, I had been in the studio with Jimi. I’d picked up quite a bit without particularly knowing that much about it. The actual production, at least. I knew the engineering element because I was quite good in that department. With the £5,000 we had that was becoming very small, I had to do what I could. I got Olympic Studios to give us some credit because I knew the girl who ran it. I thought, “How difficult can this be?” It’s been one of the problems of my life saying something like that, “How difficult can this be?” And we went in to do some demos because we needed to get a record company interested to find the elusive agent because that was the reason for the trip to New York.

And so it seemed good. The engineers did a lot of work. The band had some good-ish songs. They were very influenced by Crosby, Stills, and Nash at the time. I started then. I’ve made probably 40 albums in my career now and they were all based around what I learned at Olympic Studios at that time really. Stiff, who didn’t have a very big budget, had a very simple, similar pretension.

So, the Brinsleys came back, moved into a big commune all together, because it was cheaper that way, and proceeded to set up a pub rock kind of situation around the country. They got away from the prog rock, the long drawn-out songs, and got into the short dynamic ones and became quite famous for an entirely different kind of music during ’70 to ’74.

I started a studio. I always wanted to discover how to be a producer, so I thought, I’ll build a studio and that will help me. Remarkably, Brinsley Schwarz got a support slot with Wings. That was one of the heights of the thing. And Paul McCartney was very influential in getting them the slot.

So Henry [McCulloch, remember him? We left him with the Grease Band at Woodstock] had joined Wings and that gave me entrée to Paul. Paul decided he’d take the group on as a support band, and it was again a phenomenon. What happened though, was the group didn’t seem to see it as the big thing that I did.

I thought it was a great learning curve. I thought McCartney knew more about it than anybody else you could possibly talk to. They weren’t too impressed. They were in the pub a lot of the time. They were a bit jaded, maybe, after four years of being Brinsley Schwarz, and so I said, “It’s ridiculous. Here we have a big door-opening break that we can use, and you’re learning from the key man I always thought you’d learn from, and you’re not interested. As far as I’m concerned, I want to do a studio, so I’m going to pack it in with you. So I started a studio at the Hope and Anchor, which was a small pub, very similar to Sound City. You know, one goes around all the time. (One night the landlord and myself had got a bit wound up and we knocked down the pillars in the Hope and Anchor. They were big arch pillars for a beer cellar and we knocked them out one night. Every time I go to that pub, I look at the ceiling, because we never told anybody.)

So I booked for the next two years at the Hope and Anchor all the bands in London, one of which was Flip City with a lead singer called Declan MacManus. Ian Dury played there, not Wreckless Eric, but a lot of the bands played that pub circuit and I eventually signed all of them to Stiff. And they became the warriors of the independents-against-the-major-record-companies period, which Trouser Press was there for from America through that whole period.

Yeah, you actually anticipated my next question, because I was wondering if you and Jake Riviera were taking some cues about indies from Trouser Press and New York Rocker.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which Dave Robinson recalls the Stiff years and introduces his current project, Hardwicke Circus.

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