Alan Edwards, CEO of Outside Organisation, has represented some of the biggest and best known names in entertainment. These include The Who, the Rolling Stones, the Spice Girls, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Robbie Williams, Naomi Campbell and the Beckhams and David Bowie.
In April 2015, Alan hosted Always Print The Myth, a series of discussions which reflected on the evolving role of PR within fashion, culture, media, entertainment, sports and politics over the last 40 years, at the prestigious V&A. He was joined by a range of influential guests including Dylan Jones – Editor of GQ magazine, Lord Tim Bell and Sir Bob Geldof.
For well over 30 years, he handled publicity for rock music’s greatest chameleon, the iconic and legendary David Bowie, right up until his recent untimely passing.
Alan is due to feature and narrate the third part of BBC 4’s Music Moguls which will take viewers on a revealing tour of the music industry in the company of hugely influential insiders and their artists. Between them, they have shaped the face and sound of popular music loved by audiences around the world, cultivated new bands, managed crises and maintained the reputation of their longstanding clients. They feature alongside artists Debbie Harry, Ozzy Osbourne, the Sex Pistols, Uriah Heep, Brett Anderson and Hugh Cornwell. This is the untold history of the pop and rock world from the mouths of the men and women who pull the strings from behind the scenes – the unsung heroes of the industry.
We put a few questions to Alan:
How did you come to represent and work with the Rolling Stones?
I was introduced to Mick Jagger via the promoter Harvey Goldsmith. It meant flying out to New York for an interview in which he questioned me in great detail about the media. I then had a subsequent meeting at Shepperton Rehearsal Studios with Keith Richards who quizzed me in equal depth, but this time on my knowledge of music.
What were the roots of music PR and would you say it has changed much over the years?
The roots of music PR are really from Hollywood in the late 50s / early 60s. The publicist became very powerful and adept at developing and marketing movie star images. This then got picked up in London in the 60s, particularly in the music scene, with managers and entrepreneurs like Andrew Loog Oldham for the Rolling Stones, Brian Epstein for The Beatles and Lambert and Stamp for The Who, who all put enormous amounts of energy, ideas and creativity into getting their clients noticed. In some ways, music PR has changed a lot but in other ways, it remains the same. Obviously, the media is far bigger now and there are many different ways of getting your message out there. Also, it’s a millions times faster but from a PR point of view, it’s still about the story, the content and the narrative.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to build a career in music PR?
I would start with the basics. There’s a lot you can learn yourself by studying the media closely. The more magazines and newspapers you read, the more TV you watch and radio you listen to, the more you see patterns emerging, so you can start to think in terms of where you would fit a particular client into the media. I would say a lot of PR is hard work; it’s about following through, attention to detail and simple things like returning people’s calls and e-mails with the odd flash of creativity along the way. Try and think like a journalist and apply that to your future clients.
Nowadays, it seems that talent is promoted strongly mainly through being found and signed via reality TV talent shows, but do you still see bands developing from the grass roots music scene?
I think it would be great to see more bands developing from the live music scene. The Stranglers, for instance, did something like 350 gigs before they got a record deal. That meant their songs had really been honed down and developed in front of all kinds of noisy, disinterested crowds, so by the time they finally got to put them down on tape, they had more depth. There’s no replacing that ground work.
What would you say is the essence of Music Moguls – what do you want people to take away from the programme?
One of the messages is that PR is an integral part of music. After all, when we invite someone into our headphones and music systems, we want to like them. The personality, character and of course, looks can be just as important as the music itself. Some of the examples we use in the programme, particularly from the pre-social media age, are interesting. For instance, the group Slade adopted a very strong skin-head style and that attracted fans even before they heard the record – probably similar to One Direction, but in a different sort of way.
What were the highlights for you working on Music Moguls?
Working with Francis Whatley, who directed the incredible David Bowie documentary Five Years, was a very creative and rewarding experience. I learned a lot from him, so I really enjoyed watching some of the interviews that they had put together themselves; for example, listening to members of Uriah Heep laughing about a publicity stunt with such good humour and in joyous fashion – they seem like such nice guys. Also fascinating was when Hugh Cornwell and Jean-Jaques Burnel (when they were The Stranglers) discussed whether or not the punky aggressive publicity detracted from the songs or gave them a platform to be noticed.
The world has been devastated by the loss of David Bowie – what would you say is his enduring legacy?
One of the things I think the music world took from David Bowie was his incredible versatility and vision. After all, he made an impact on the worlds of art, film, design, fashion, theatre, as well, of course, as music, with the breadth of his abilities. It is unrivalled; something for new artists to aspire to.
Finally, after all this time and with all the successes, do you still feel the same excitement that you did in the early days of your career?
Yes, I still get the same excitement when the phone rings with a new assignment or client. I often feel like Sherlock Holmes with his famous “the game’s afoot, Watson” line. Must be the thrill of the chase!
To learn more about BBC’s Music Moguls, click here.