ARCHIVE: The Internal Cool – An Interview with Andrew Loog Oldham

Andrew interviewed Loog in 2005. ‘When I was a roadie, I was nicknamed Loog,’ says Andrew, ‘I was vaguely aware of the real Loog. Though we share the same name, I wasn’t named after him. I interviewed him on a plane and we bounced emails back and forth, in the end we discussed the possibility of the Andrew Oldham appreciation society. A society devoted to anyone called Andrew Oldham. I remember we made a pact, I would stay out of music and he would stay out of fiction writing, that way we wouldn’t confuse anyone. It’s nice to see though then when Andrew Oldham is Googled, Loog is first and I am second’.

The Internal Cool: An Interview with Andrew Loog Oldham. Interview by Andrew Oldham

Andrew Loog Oldham was born in January 1944. His mother a nurse; his father, Andrew Loog, an American pilot from Texas. Andrew was raised in London and wanted to be in show business from the age of eight. From the moment he first went on the London underground and saw a movie poster he knew where he wanted to be. At 16 he got his wish when he was asked to leave school. His first job was with mod fashion designer Mary Quant. As gofer extraordinaire he poured drinks for the journalists, walked the models dogs and was able to hang with the likes of David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Vidal Sassoon – all part of the fraternity that was the first British pop business – fashion. After a spell bumming around France “begging, being involved in innocent kidnappings and running errands at the jazz festivals” Oldham drifted into the world of pop music publicity via early ‘ 60’s pop singers Mark Wynter and Kenny Lynch. He handled the publicity for the UK tours of Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Chris Montez, Bob Dylan and in 1963 met the Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein at a TV show in Birmingham, England and handled the group’s PR from “Please, Please Me” through “From Me To You”. In late April of that year following a suggestion from music writer Peter Jones, Andrew and The Rolling Stones met each other and they became his way of life. He became the group’s co-manager through the end of 1967. The groups first golden run that produced such standards as “The Last Time”, “Play With Fire”, “Not Fade Away”, “Satisfaction”, “Paint It, Black”, “Get Off Of My Cloud” and “Ruby Tuesday”. In 1964 at a London party, Oldham discovered Marianne Faithfull. He produced and co-wrote her first hit “As Tears Go By”.

In 1965 Oldham formed Immediate Records, the first UK indie record label. In five short years Immediate produced the early recordings of the Small Faces, Rod Stewart, Amen Corner, Fleetwood Mac, Humble Pie, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and the Nice. More than slightly burnt out at the age of 25 in 1969, Andrew started roaming the world, finally settling in Bogota, Colombia in 1983. During this time he recorded Italian stars Francesco di Gregori, Lucio Dalia and Anna Oxa ; plus Donovan in the UK and, Texas blues group The Werewolves, reggae star Jimmy Cliff and soulman Bobby Womack in the USA. Oldham then worked in Colombia and Argentina from 1986 to 1996 with Colombia’s Compania Limitada and Oxygeno; and Argentina’s los Ratones Paranoicos and Charly Garcia. In 1996 he decided to quit life and near-death on the highwire and just live. From 1996 to 2002 he produced two volumes of acclaimed biography, Stoned and 2Stoned. He may write a third. 2003 found Andrew back in the studio with Glasgow group v-twin and in 2004 he’s back in Buenos Aires producing new band los Otres and showing The Rolling Stones documentary “charlie is my darling” at selected film festivals. Andrew divides his time between Bogota, Colombia and Vancouver B.C. he still believes in the power of song and performance and is happy to be here to share his never-ending love of the game – hustle and the rhythm of life….music.

With unusual, sardonic and uncanny recall, Oldham’s presentation brings the listener in touch with the reality of the British invasion, the relationship between The Rolling Stones themselves and the Beatles; the effects of fame, money and drugs upon the musicians and the music made; the ability of The Rolling Stones to create, create again and survive and the whole wonderful history of how great Britain both won and lost world war 2 and gained it back through style, fashion, passion and music.

Let’s deal with your early part of your career, your time as the Beatles and Bob Dylan’s Press Agent and then your time as the Rolling Stones Manager and Producer. How did this era for you define Andrew Loog Oldham?

“In the late 50’s a couple of movies, Expresso Bongo and Sweet Smell of Success defined for me what I wanted to be and what world I wanted to be a part of. I became exactly that. Working for Brian Epstein and the Beatles was a defining time because I saw the new potential of music; the same applies to the four or five days I spent with Bob Dylan and his manager Albert Grossman where I saw the potential of conspiracy in management, wherein you can divine your artist into being a part of a lot of people’s world. That’s what I saw and felt anyway, and it was directly linked to the manager role played by Laurence Harvey in Expresso Bongo and the combination of the Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis roles in Sweet Smell of Success. I had first got the message when I saw Paul Scofield in Expresso Bongo on stage when I was 13 in 1957. That’s when I knew I was not alone and what was already in my mind was a reality out there in some strange wonderful world”. 

You have always been involved in not just the music scene but film and now writing. I’m thinking particularly of the 1966 documentary film, Charlie Is My Darling. How did this film come about? And, if you could re-edit it today, what would you change? 

“All the top groups were making movies, it was part of the result of the new success. Even Gerry & the Pacemakers had a movie; the Dave Clark Five as well, directed by John Boorman. I made ‘Charlie’ with the Stones to get them in the mood for meeting all the types of people they’d have to meet to get a movie going. Ironically, a ‘real movie’ never happened, and ‘Charlie Is My Darling’ remains the only document of that part of the 60’s. I wouldn’t change a thing. You have to be true to the time both behind and in front of the camera. I might improve the quality of the sound … all the Stones mumble except Brian Jones; and the Irish participants all need subtitles”.

The Stones were always seen as the bad boys of the British 60s scene; often portrayed as violent, which was misfortunately backed up with Altamont disaster (something the late Hunter S. Thompson spoke about in an interview with us late last year). But how much of this image was implied rather than on the surface? How much of that was natural, and how much came from you pulling the strings?

“You are talking about two different times. The early 60’s when the violence was non-existent, perceived and manufactured by us and condoned and promoted by the press; the Micky Mouse end of the 60’s if you will. And then the post – 68 section when the 60’s had changed, or started, depending upon your point of view, when the public had started taking drugs and the violence was real, and that’s how you get Altamont”.

What impact did Brian Jones death have on you?

“At the time, not much. I was too wrapped up in my own pain, my own possible demise and what remained of my invincibility. Later, in the 70’s, when I had managed to find the personal life here in Bogota that had eluded me, or I had eluded, in London in the 60’s I looked up from our 8000 feet plateau here in Bogota on a very happy occasion re-inforced by coca leaves towards Brian, and said, ‘Brian, you fool, why did you have to take it all so seriously. It’s all turned out all right. There’s nothing to be scared of ‘. I feel the same way today with the coca replaced by tea”.

How do you feel about The Stones today?

“Not often. But when I do, I have a smile in my heart at how they have secured their very own game that continues to repel all boarders and maintain it’s kingdom of fans”.

You seem to be an individual who loves to seize upon a moment, an idea rather than inventing life. What moments in your career where you happiest to grab and which just slipped out of reach?

“In the 60’s I was happy to grab success as sanity became elusive. I was 19 you’ll remember”.

I want to talk about The Andrew Oldham Orchestra. How we have seen the influence of your work, I’m thinking of ‘The Last Time’ becoming the basis for the Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, extend to a new generation, but what music ultimately influenced you to produce such work?

“Jack Nitzsche’s 1963 Reprise LP ‘The Lonely Surfer’”.

You spent time as a producer in Italy – you produced albums for both De Gregori and Lucio Dalla. How difficult was it to produce in a language you were unfamiliar with?  

“No, I did my homework, espresso and grappa…. no, seriously I did do my homework. I asked for the top 50 singles and albums; had RCA in Rome detail for me which recordings had succeeded solely as singles and which were double-headers, your actual career artists as opposed to the one-offs. The main difference was the meter and the importance, and how everything grouped around the words. The words had their own time, their own mission that you could adhere it from a wider birth than in English, unless you were dealing with a show tune, but even then I found the space allocated reflected the different way we and the Italians view and pace life”.

You founded Immediate Records, early home to acts like the Small Faces, Rod Stewart, Amen Corner, Fleetwood Mac, Humble Pie, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and the Nice. You produced albums for Donovan, Jimmy Cliff, Bobby Womack, and Italian stars Francesco De Gregori, Lucio Dalla, and Anna Oxa. But for you what were the defining moments of this part of your life?

“Whatever I’m doing next. I’m not avoiding your question. I have a healthy but distant respect for my body of work but what’s done is done and what’s next is what engages me. OK, looking at the list in your question. I only ever managed the Rolling Stones because you just cannot follow that energy and accomplishment – anything that follows has to be compared, and compare itself to the work I did with the Stones; and that just wouldn’t have been good for the artist or their career … or mine. Once I’d stopped working with the Stones in 67 and Immediate was over in 1970 I sort of glided between unemployment and self-employment and just kept my hand in by recording music with all these wonderfully diverse talents. I’d record Donovan and have an incredible experience then the next year I’d get the opportunity to record Jimmy Cliff live in concert in America which was just so completely different and such a learning curve on how different cultures and forms put together songs, recorded them and viewed their art and the business. Later I worked in Italy and later in Argentina with the Ratones Paranoicos and Charly Garcia. It was almost like going from one film, one script, one location to another; suffice to say I never got bored. Bobby Womack, whom I recorded in 1983 was another different occasion and forum. I’ve kinda covered the map. Womack was nuts but oh so talented and to work with his rhythm section who were just so cool about how the tracks got laid down was an experience I wish upon you all”.

What drove you to write Stoned and 2Stoned and why did you choose to write them in voices?

“I stopped dying and doing drugs in 1995. I took stock of my life and decided to see if I could write more than liner notes that copied Anthony Burgess and ‘A Clockwork Orange’. I studied the writers whom I admired and had not necessarily read; I read start to finish all of the Paris Reviews and the interviews with all those wonderful writers on how they did the work. I read both of Graham Greene’s memoirs which I admired so much for their economy and thoroughness and flight of description you find with him and in different degrees with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and to a different extent David Mamet. In other words I had built a vault of what I liked for my own reasons, I decided who I liked and made conveniences of why I liked them to suit my upcoming tasks. I devoured the lot until I was full and then I closed the vault and sat down and wrote from 1997 until 2000 and the two books were done. I had always admired Edie by Jean Stein about the life of Edie Sedgewick, the Warhol girl. That book used voices and was edited by George Plimpton who also edited the Paris Review for many, many years. Edie came out in around 1982, I remember making a mental note to use that mode should I ever be fit enough to write. I need to be entertained whilst I entertain, so hearing from old 50’s and 60’s pals and colluders helped me and helped the book. You must remember we came from a virgin time in communication. You did not play Bedford one night and see how the reviews were the next day; you were already in Leicester and the only way you’d see that review might be forty years later on the internet via some serial fan. So to hear Mickie Most’s point of view as he entered the game was as fresh for me as it was for the reader”. 

Reading Graham Greene inspired you to write, you’ve said. What is it about Greene in particular that you admire?

“The manners and the laconicity”.

You had a great admiration for Anthony Burgess – what was it about A Clockwork Orange in particular that you connected with?

“The madness, the speed and the language”.

You’re an intensely private man but are in a very public industry? How do you deal with this conflict?

“I don’t. I live in Bogota and Vancouver and that keeps me far from the competitive rub. I dive into London, New York and L.A. on occasion. I just had a great  ‘Busman’s holiday’, went up to Mexico City to meet for the first time Alan McGhee. Focused bloke. We eat crickets and went to Nine Inch Nails concerts”.

You have been described as the ‘coolest person of all time’. In your opinion, what makes a person cool?

“Cool is internal positioning at one with a healthy affection of the exterior self”.

Why do you think people think you are cool?

“Because of what they perceive as an actuality that supports their path”.

What pisses you off?

“Chairs scraping the floor whilst being moved”.

Drawing from an extensive backlog, what to you makes a good song and/or a good read?

“Transportment. A phrase, a hum or an idea that engages your mind and your body and for that while improves you”.

Tell me one thing that will surprise people about ALO?

“People is too plural for me to be able to respond to that one”.

With the success of Stoned and 2Stoned have you been encouraged to pursue a career in fiction writing?

“No. It’s a different bird and a gift I have not got a handle on thus far. I’d like to. I still look at its meat and potatoes with a jump at it in mind”.

What’s in the pipeline for ALO?

“I am A DJ for the US satellite station Sirius. A mate, Little Steven Van Zandt, who you’ll know from ‘The Sopranos’ and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, has a channel with Sirius called the Underground Garage, and he invited me to DJ. I do it from wherever I am in the world and it has been fun. I get to listen to all the music I missed in the 70’s and 80’s and my mother would have been proud. It’s nearly like a regular job and I’m good at it. I’m also writing a book three which is a dissertation on entrepreneurs and hustlers; from Diaghilev to Albert Grossman to Malcolm McLaren to Alan McGhee. It’s in the tradition of Nik Cohn from the David Mamet side of the control room”.

If you could travel in time and give the 18 year old you one piece of advice what would it be?

“I would not attempt to give advice from the structured to the invincible. Example leads, legend and myth inspire, qualifications bore”.

You now live in Bogota. There is saying that goes that during life you must live in London, Paris and Bogota but do Bogota first because you’ll need the time and your health. What drew you to Bogota?

“Never heard that saying. I did Bogota last. I met a Colombian actress, Esther Farfan, in London in 1974; we lived in Paris in 1975 and 76. We married in 77. She saved my life and gave me one I did not have and I’m happy to be in love and on probation daily. How’s that for order?”

Finally, how do you want people to remember you?

“I’ve managed to refurbish my CV by not dying and leaving a disgraceful legacy to my family and my work. I work at that and life daily. That does not include attempting to control your question though I do admit to feeding it’s potential”.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Sue Gold says:

    I will never forgive this man for what he did to Brian

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