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Interview: Geoff Gillespie (Majestic Rock)

Heroes... of Majestic Rock (home to M.IL.LION & WAYSTED to name but two) and before that Geoff worked at Phonogram, Zoom Club, Pinnacle and was a member of two bands. Over to Geoff...

How did you first become involved in the music business?

It seemed like the most natural thing in the world, really. I was working for Our Price Records, and a mate of mine (George Michael's cousin, actually!) went to work at Pinnacle distributors, at the time the biggest independent distributor in the UK - still are, I think, and he called me and said 'they need someone who knows about rock over here'. I went there and was soon in charge of labels like Roadrunner, Music For Nations, Neat records etc. The rest, as they say....

What are you currently up to music wise?

I'm here in Tokyo running the Japanese arm of Majestic Rock records, I co-own the label with Adrian Clay, who runs stuff back in London. Busy, busy, busy

What were the highlights of your time at firstly Pinnacle Records and then Phonogram?

The thing I remember best is how exciting it was watching Music For Nations begin to take off. I had known the company's owner Steve Mason for a while before going to Pinnacle, and he would often ask me over to listen to their new releases and give an opinion.

It was such a cool label, and it was during this period that I got to know Lars Ulrich pretty well. Haven't spoken to him now in a couple of years, and I avoided seeing the band when they were in Tokyo earlier this year because I dislike 'St. Anger' so's hard being honest with someone like Lars, but I would have had to tell him just how much I thought that record stank!

As for Phonogram, being close to the Black Crowes on those early UK shows was magical. Tom Araya form Slayer was such a good guy (big Elton John fan...sorry, Tom). It was Tom who first turned me on to the Simpsons. He gave me the tape that the band had on their tour bus of the very first season. What a guy!

But, ahead of everything would have to be the Dan Reed Network. I was very close to those guys, and I toured the UK with them twice. Fantastic band and really nice guys.

How did you become to be involved with Zoom Club Records?

In mid 1996, things had got to be pretty bad at East West records, part of the Warner group. The Wildhearts had left the label, the record we had made with Entombed wasn't going to get released, the label dropped Send No Flowers - one of the very best British bands of the nineties - and our efforts to sign Cradle Of Filth (yes, really!) were stomped on.

I had had enough of major labels, so I left and contemplated my next move. I had already tried to get a classic rock re-issue label off the ground and had net with Brian Lane (Yes's manager) with a view to putting something together, but that came to nothing. Eventually., I was put in contact with a guy who wanted to put a label together who had a wholesale operation up and running. He funded it and I was effectively a waged employee. I put everything together and he sold it.

We released some truly great things - I'm most proud of getting the first three Legs Diamond albums and the classic but mega obscure Marcus album released - but it eventually became obvious to me and everybody looking on that the guy I was in business with wasn't the right guy at all. It all ended rather nastily in the autumn of 2002. Back to contemplation for a month or two...

What made you want to set-up Majestic Records and what have been the musical highlights for the label so far?

To be honest, survival and revenge where the things that motivated Majestic Rock records. Survival because, apart from a few consultancy gigs, I had no money coming in and revenge because I wanted to prove to my ex partner that I could do it without him.

I had known Adrian Clay since my Our Price days, and he was now in a top position at Prime distribution, a dance distributor who wanted to get into rock. Adrian has always been a big rock guy and was just taking a sabbatical away form it all. When he approached me about staring a new label, I jumped at the opportunity.

We released our first titles in March of 2003, but when Prime went bust at the end of October, we were faced with either watching it go down the pan or doing something about it. Adrian and I bought the company, I moved out to Japan and we haven't looked back since.

Highlights so far have been the new M.ILL.ION and Waysted albums, getting Tytan's 'Rough Justice' and Waysted's 'Save Your Prayers' finally released and releasing the latest Magnum album 'Brand New Morning' album in Japan. 2005 is gonna be outrageous....!

You filled in for the legendary Tommy Vance on his then Radio 1 Rock Show. What was that like and would you like to be a rock DJ again sometime?

Seriously nerve wracking!! Tony Wilson - Tommy's producer at the time - asked me to fill in, and I though 'hey, why not?'. It was fun but, in all fairness, I don't think I could do it full time. It would be OK if you turned up and played what you wanted to play, but at least 50% of what had to played was already decided before I got to the studio. The best thing about it was meeting John Peel afterwards, he was a God. Still can't believe he's gone.

As well as working with record labels you've also been in bands. Who were the bands and how did they fare?

Sabre was - strangely enough! - a highly rated NWOBHM act that actually only released one single on Neat records - 'Miracle Man' - and had a track on the label's '60 Minutes Plus Metal' sampler. That's the track that we're remembered for, a full tilt Maiden-esque rocker called ' Cry To The Wind' that was absolutely nothing like the rest of our material - we were more Thin Lizzy than Iron Maiden!

I later played bass in Snowblind, a British style AOR band who recorded a Friday Rock Show session and released an album through Mausoleum records. The album sounds pretty tame these days, but we were a rocking live act, and played a hell of a lot of shows. The guitarist Andy Simmons was a complete schenker clone, right down to the long blonde hair and flying v.

I nearly got him into UFO as Schenker's replacement in the late nineties, but Phil Mogg wanted something totally different to Schenker. He ended up working with UFO keyboard man Paul Raymond on his 'Man On A Mission' album.

... digi-packs. The work of Satan. Lose them immediately!

Have you noticed your taste in music changing down the years? Any band/album you raved about in the past that you can't believe you liked in hindsight?

No, not really. I've watched all of the guys I grew up with turn to jazz and stuff, and here I am basically listening to the same music I listened to when I was 14 years old! It would be really sad if I hadn't managed to make a living from it!

I absolutely detest most of what passes for rock these days. Our teenagers are being short changed. I have a twenty year old daughter who - thankfully! - grew up listening to real rock, so she can tell the real thing from the ersatz rubbish.

What makes for a successful CD release in your view? I.e. What are labels doing right/could be better at.

Well, you've touched on a sore point here. I got into trouble on the forum a while back because I criticized Wounded Bird records in America for their woeful lack of attention to detail in their re-issues - most of which I've tried to license from Warners here and been refused because they say they can't license them out without the American label's permission. Then I see these really poorly packaged discs coming from Wounded Bird - that hurts, 'cos I'd do the job properly. Packaging is so important, especially with re- issue.

Secondly, just because you can squeeze close to 80 minutes onto a CD doesn't mean you should, We fell in love with these records on vinyl, and they were under 40 minutes - hell, the first three Van Halen albums all clock in at around half an hour! OK, if there are B - sides of singles or unused tracks from the album sessions, use them. But don't feel obliged to pack the disc with crap. Less can sometimes mean more - it's quality over quantity every time.

Lastly - digi-packs. The work of Satan. Lose them immediately!

Who are your musical heroes and why?

Glenn Hughes is a God - you need to ask me why? I greatly respect Stevie Salas, who is a master of his instrument and one of the most focused people I have ever met. You gotta love Pete Way. Robin George is a genius, pure and simple.

My late friend Paul Samson could be a pain in the arse, but I think about him every day. I loved Phil Lynott, he was rock n' roll personified. I saw Thin Lizzy many times as a teenager, and he was always so cool. He would let us into the dressing room, and I once touched his midnight blue Rickenbacker bass. That may have been a huge turning point for me - I ended up having two or three Ricks myself - one midnight blue!

What have been the best bands you have seen live and why?

Kings X the first couple of times they came to the UK - almost a spiritual experience. The very first time I saw the Dan Reed Network at the Marquee in London in November 1988 - probably the single greatest gig of my life. Deep Purple in London in 1974 and Sabbath in Croydon in 1973 were both pivotal moments, as was Queen at the Croydon Greyhound in 1974. Also saw AC/DC support Back Street Crawler (after Kossof's death) at the Greyhound - they played to an empty hall!

Seeing the Hughes Turner Project in Tokyo earlier this year was superb, as was being Dream Theater's guest at their Budokan show - what an experience!

What have been the highlight(s) so far? Anything else you still want to achieve?

Highlights so far: Working with Kings X, Dream Theater and the Dan Reed Network when they were nobodies and watching them grow as bands and as people. Releasing the first three Legs Diamond records on Zoom Club - loved those records for so many years! Being able to call the likes of Lars Ulrich, Pete Way, Carl Palmer, Robin George, Stevie Salas, Mike Portnoy, Dan Reed, Paul Raymond, Bernie Marsden and so many others 'friend' - that's pretty special!

Still to achieve: Everything - I've barely even started!

Your top five albums of all time and why?

Shit - tough question. I'll have a crack at it.

Deep Purple - 'Machine Head' - Simply the best hard rock album ever made...and they recorded it in an empty hotel!

Genesis - 'Selling England By The Pound' - Beautiful record, I never get tired of playing it - and you'd think I would have after 32 years! ELP - 'Pictures At An Exhibition' - The perfect marriage of rock and classical.

David Bowie - 'Ziggy Stardust' - Like Sgt.Pepper, it defined the times perfectly.

Le Roux - 'Up' - I thought long and hard about this fifth one - Journey's 'Escape', The first Storm album on MCA...I guess Le Roux will do!

What in your view makes for a good band and what attracts you to a sign a particular band/artist?

In a word, integrity. When M.ILL.ION approached us, we knew straight away that we wanted to work with this band. They have an honesty that shines through, there is nothing at all contrived about the band. That makes a record company's job so much easier.

You know what you're dealing with, there are no nasty surprises lurking around the corner. It's important to understand what it is that motivates the people you're working with, that really is the key to it all.

Which bands/artists do you think will break big in the next couple of years?

The next Masterplan record is gonna be awesome, you just know it. Whether or not they break through is another matter. I'm also a big fan of Sonata Arctica, but I think they've probably missed their opportunity.

I'd like to think M.ILL.ION will have their day in the sunshine...we'll see. Tell you one thing, though - I can't abide Nightwish, it's the girl's voice. Can't deal with that at all!

What has been your most embarrassing moment? would have to be getting blind drunk with the Black Crowes bassist Johnny Colt in Nottingham a few years back and then puking in the back of a black cab on the way back to Phonogram's offices in Hammersmith from Euston station. I was with the band's female product manager and another girl from the office, and they were horrified!

Any good rock 'n' roll tales to tell?

The one that always springs to mind is the one about going on an MFN bus up to Victoria Halls, Hanley to see Waysted support Iron Maiden in 1985. On the way back, the band had managed to add boxer John Conteh to their entourage. He was incredibly drunk and he proceeded to want to fight everybody on the bus!!

It was very scary, I can tell you - even a drunk John Conteh could have done some damage! When we pulled into a service station and he got off for a piss, everybody started shouting ' drive off, drive off!' but Pete Way, being the guy that he is, said 'nah, ya can't do that to the guy....'.That was the longest three hours or so of my life!

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

Probably a guy called Dave Thorne, who was at the time a product manager at Phonogram and is now part of the management team at Sanctuary.I think it would be true to say that Bon Jovi would not have had the success they have had without Dave. He pleaded with Mercury in the states to hang on to the band after the first album, as they were intent on dropping them.

I have heard Jon Bon Jovi thank Dave for that on more than one occasion. It was Dave that brought Metallica to Phonogram when nobody there was interested. The money that company has made from that band is astronomical. Joke of it is, after all this, they 'let go' of Dave in '91. It was him that brought me to Phonogram in the first place, and for that I'll always be eternally grateful. He manages Arch Enemy, and we had a good time when they were in Tokyo earlier this year.

Interview © 2004 Jason Ritchie

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