|Tony Stratton Smith (R.I.P. 1987)
Early VdGG Manager and Owner of Charisma Records
|"...All credit to HB; eventually he wrote (on the Hendrix notepaper) to say that he had put an ad in the International Times. London had An Underground Newspaper in those days, of course. "Bassist, drummer and manager wanted for Underground Group". Somehow as a result of this Hugh ran into Tony Stratton Smith (RIP). He was fired up by the tape and suddenly we had a Real Manager. I came down to meet Strat in La Chasse, a Wardour Street drinking club. Soho, now, not Knightsbridge - things were definitely getting more real by the minute...
...Strat, after all the grief, decided to start Charisma records and sign us up himself rather than go through it all again. Cue Lindisfarne, cue Genesis among others..."
- Peter Hammill (from The Aerosol Grey Machine CD sleeve notes)
Strat, as manager of the Koobas, watching Hendrix in Switzerland in 1968.
Strat managed various other bands including Genesis, The Nice, Lindisfarne, Audience and The Bonzo's.
|Tony Stratton Smith's personalised Christmas card from 1970, created by Paul Whitehead.|
"...We live in a time when record company executives seem to be getting greyer with each passing day. Managing a label is increasingly perceived as no different from, say, managing a vacuum cleaner company. It is a situation that Tony Stratton Smith would have certainly decried before returning to consider his racing form over a glass of wine. Or 12.
The man who signed Genesis was as far removed from today's business school-educated bean-counters as can be imagined. Originally a sports journalist, in 1958 he narrowly escaped losing his life in the Munich air disaster when he decided at the last minute to cover a world cup qualifying match (from that point on until his death in 1987 he would never board the flight that he was actually booked on). Inspired by a meeting with Brian Epstein, he began managing such acts as The Koobas and The Nice and established Charisma in 1968. By then his CV also included a biography of the martyr Mother Maria Skobtsova and, rumour has it, a spell with MI5.
"Charisma was really a one-man show" says Glen Colson (a press officer at Charisma). "Strat signed all the bands and we just sort of ran around listening to him. He was a drinker, you see. He was out every night until five in the morning. He was hanging out with MPs, he had racehorses. He was a homosexual as well so he used to really get around. I was into Jimi Hendrix at the time so I didn't think much of Genesis. But he just said, 'I like the look of these guys, I'm going to sign them.' Strat wanted one of everything. He wanted a classical band, a jazz band, a rock band, which used to confuse the shit out of everybody that worked with him. Because you'd come in one day and he'd have signed something that you knew nothing about, like Monty Python or John Betjeman. But he just wanted to sign acts that were the best of their kind. That was always his dictum."
Genesis may not have known it at the time but in Stratton Smith they had found probably the one person in the world both willing and capable of supporting their vision - regardless of the cost. "Genesis nearly bankrupted the company before they took off", says Colson. "But Strat never gave a shit what anyone else thought. You know, there were all kinds of people screaming at him day and night - to get out of bed, to stop drinking, whatever. But he did whatever he wanted."
"Genesis weren't all that popular among some people in the Charisma office," says Paul Conroy, who was handed the responsibility of booking gigs for the band, "because they were seen as a bit posh and Richard was always coming in begging for money to fix up their van. But Strat adored them. He was convinced they would succeed - and after a lunchtime spent in the pub he would become even more convinced. And he was prepared to put his money where his mouth was."
Colson:"They were very polite people. They all sounded like Prince Charles. They'd say, 'One does this, one does that. One buys first editions here. Blah-de-blah.' I guess Genesis would have been a couple of hundred thousand pounds in debt when they actually broke. And he would have literally spent treble that to make them. He had a bee in his bonnet about it. He was the only bloke who ever believed in them."
"It was a nice label," says Mike Rutherford. "Full of new bands - Van der Graaf Generator, us, Lindisfarne, The Nice. We were on £10 a week each for the first year, I think. But the main thing was that they supported us - suddenly we became their problem."
Genesis would repay that commitment by sticking with the label until Stratton Smith sold it to Virgin in the early '80s. "Strat was a really important part of our life," says Rutherford. "You'd always come away from a meeting with him feeling that there was hope after all. He was very much a good viber, which we needed at the time we signed." ..."
- Clark Collis (from an article about Genesis in Mojo magazine, March 2001)
|Tie up with
|Charisma Disturbance LP
"Sir, in my heart was a kind of fighting, that would not let me sleep"
Hamlet (Act V, Scene II)
|"A recording label is the sum of its artists.
What Charisma has required of its artists is material, performance, and the ability to 'get it on' with an audience.
Artists have required of Charisma a situation in which they could 'happen'.
In its best aspect the thing has worked that simply, and that well. We should avoid the truancy of words such as 'taste' and 'intuition': faith and hard work would be better.
Now we are four years old.
A small 'boohah!' to those who thought we couldn't make it. A blessing on all those who helped Charisma make it; especially a marvellous staff.
Above all, the artists. The artists on this album are the sum of an exciting beginning, the parts of an affectionate history. One day such happiness should be celebrated with a book."
- Tony Stratton Smith (sleeve note)
|"Peter (Hammill) has written himself into the literature of English rock, without ever having the bright dust jacket of public aclaim"
After reading Strat's letter (on left), read this one from David Brown. He got someone else to do the dirty work!
|"It was not unknown for me to do ad layouts on the back of envelopes..." (Music Week, 29th September 1979)|
|(Pictures from Peter Gabriel by Spencer Bright)
Gail Colson was involved with Charisma from the beginning as Label Manager and Joint Managing Director. It was a blow to Strat when she left in the late Seventies to form her own management company.