Wednesday 8 March 2023

Georgio Gomelsky - For your love

When I turned 30, I stopped reading fiction. My tastes turned to history and biographies. Initially, the subjects I chose were drawn from my heroes. Books about Brian Clough, Lou Reed, The Pogues, Keith Richards, the various John Lydon tomes, to name a few that I've enjoyed. As I read these, I noticed a pattern. The best part of all of these, for me, was the part of the book before they became famous and it became "I did this, I met him/her, I drunk/took this". Perhaps the best book I've read recently was "Just Kids" by Patti Smith. It documents her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Previous to reading the book, I had little interest in Mapplethorpe, although I am a big fan of Smith. The story it tells is fascinating and it doesn't descend into an endless list of banal celebrity encounters or debauched party culture (although there is a fair bit of debauchery in it). I came to realise that maybe the best stories are not the ones with a 'happy ending' of stardom.

As such, I was intrigued when I was contacted by Supernova books, to review a biography of Georgio Gomelsky entitled "For your love" and written by Frances Dumaurier. Gomelsky was the first manager of the Rolling Stones and a legendary music producer, mostly known for his work with the Yardbirds and the prog rock scene. I have to confess that prog rock isn't really my thing, but as someone who has been involved in running a music studio for over 40 years, clearly there would be many fascinating insights.

What I wasn't expecting was quite such an interesting book and such an interesting story. Born in Tbilisi in 1934, displaced by WWII, a journey through Syria, Iran, Egypt,  Italy, heading for Switzerland and France. Gomelsky developed a love of Jazz. In 1954, he tried to organise a Jazz festival in Zurich, only to be blocked by City Hall. A group of rather middle class families organised a protest, baring their backsides at the Town Hall in protest. The permit was granted. 

Arriving in London, he fell in with Stones Drummer Charlie Watts, who was working with Alexis Korner, making a film of the band. Through Watts he fell in with the Rolling Stones. Organising early gigs, making a film and becoming friends with Brian Jones, he managed to found the Crawdaddy club as a platform for them, get the band publicity and raised their profile, only for Brian Jones to stab him in the back and sign a management contract with Andrew Loog-Oldham. Something he never forgave Jones for. 

Seeking a band to replace the Stones, he fell in with The Yardbirds, learning the lessons of not having signed contracts. The chapter is a fascinating insight into the music scene in the mid 1960's. Gomelsky went on to found Marmalade records, an iconic 1960's label. Gomelsky's career and story gives a fascinating insight into how the UK music business evolved during this period. By 1976, he'd been tempted to NYC and started Utopia Records and Zu records.  There is one passage that sums up the difference between US and European music scenes
The experience taught him that America was way too big and culturally diverse to be able to create the same kind of youth network as he had initiated in France. Nor was he able to build an audience by word of mouth and with different radio stations serving each state, it was challenging to get media attention for his new band, Zu. In Los Angeles, he tried to create another Zu New Music Manifestival similar to the one he had successfully organized in New York the year before, but the tour and the Los Angeles event both made a big loss. Whereas others might have given up, Giorgio shrugged it off. His main regret was that he had not documented the tour on video, as it produced several remarkable moments. His belief that he had to think on a global scale while acting on a local level, even if things did not always work out as planned, was ahead of his time. He would say that change was the only constant in the universe, even if the thought of change is frightening. 
The journey through music continued until 2016. If you have an interest in the way the music industry evolved, an interest in the 1960's British blues and 1970's Prog scene, then I'd thoroughly recommend this book. The author does a wonderful job bringing the story to life. It benefits from no real happy ending and is journey. I'll wrap up with how the book finishes

 I hope that he has now found his own planet of peace, where music reigns and where “the train keeps a-rollin’ all night long.”

No comments: