As I relate in another post here on Just Backdated, the impresario Robert Stigwood, who died yesterday aged 81, had the unusual distinction of being the only man in the world ever to have propositioned me, at least as far as I can remember. New York in the seventies was often a bit of a blur after dark when the work was done and the bottles opened, hedonistic too if you were lucky enough to work in the rock trade. Amongst my friends were two or three gay guys, one a noted music writer, who were usually great company, not least because free-spirited models liked to hang around with unthreatening men. When the night drew to a close, however, such girls were unlikely to be offended if a straight but gay-friendly escort offered to squire them home. These friends knew I wasn’t gay, of course, but Robert Stigwood wasn’t to know this when, in the summer of 1976, I was at a party at his apartment on the West Side, a luxurious duplex which in the 1940s had been occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Chez Robert was a penthouse on the corner of one of those huge mansion blocks on Central Park West, actually the building next to the Dakota where John Lennon lived. I think the party was thrown to celebrate the forthcoming release of Saturday Night Fever, the disco movie for which his clients The Bee Gees had provided the music. The Gibb Brothers were riding on the crest of a wave, with albums and singles everywhere on the charts, either by them or with artists who’d recorded their songs, and earlier the same day they had opened their own shop selling BG merchandise on 57th Street. Robert was there and he invited me to the party personally. He was famous for throwing good parties, and I’d been to one before, at a massive house in Stanmore in North London, back in 1971.
The NY apartment was crowded, as I recall. The Gibbs were there, along with many who worked for RSO Records, Robert’s label that was distributed through Atlantic. Champagne corks popped and the pleasing smell of marijuana lingered in the air. Cocaine was being snorted by record company men with open necked shirts and small spoons around their necks. Beautiful girls danced to disco music in a spacious living room furnished with huge leather sofas. It wasn’t long before I was as high as a kite, and in search of a loo I wandered down a long corridor, the walls of which were covered in what seemed to be original artworks by famous painters, Magritte, Matisse and Picasso. It was then that I realised the host had crept up behind me and was being rather too friendly. I explained as nicely as I could that I preferred girls, whereupon he led me into a bedroom where a statuesque redhead from among his staff – or so he said – was sat on a bed, reading a magazine. “This is…,” he said, and though I cannot remember her name, the implication was that she and I might become enjoined while he watched. She didn’t demur and in different circumstances I might have done just that but something in my Yorkshire upbringing told me this was unwise and that was the end of the matter. Robert smiled graciously and the three of us returned to where the action was.
Robert Stigwood – known to one and all as Stiggy – was a massively successful Australian-born music entrepreneur who as well as managing The Bees Gees also managed Eric Clapton and went on to produce several hit musicals. I met him several times between 1970 and 1977 and – aside from the encounter above – found him strangely diffident for a rock manager, slight of build and rather hesitant. Perhaps this was an act to cover up his astuteness in business, for he amassed a fortune that enabled him to buy a yacht that was eventually sold to the Getty family and live in a former royal residence on the Isle of Wight. In later years he lived quietly in the South of France.
Among his theatrical successes were Hair and the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. As well as Saturday Night Fever, he was behind The Who’s Tommy movie, Grease and – probably his biggest flop – the dreadful Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band movie in 1978. Born in Adelaide, in 1955 Stiggy hitch-hiked to England via India and set up a theatrical agency in the Charing Cross Road supplying actors for TV commercials. One of his clients, John Leyton, wanted to be a pop singer so Stigwood somehow got Joe Meek – the British Phil Spector – to record him singing ‘Johnny Remember Me’, one of the great pre-Beatles UK singles and a number one hit in the summer of 1961. Stigwood was up and running, setting up a booking agency and record label and though he had his ups and downs it was the beginning of a phenomenal career wheeling and dealing behind the scenes in the music business.
He was pally with Kit Lambert, of course (John Entwistle said he found them in bed together), and became The Who’s agent and, with the Reaction label, offered them a refuge after they fell out with Shel Talmy. When he somehow overstepped the line with regard to The Small Faces it is generally accepted that their manager Don Arden held Stiggy upside down from an office window several floors up. He helped Cream to form and managed them, made an alliance with Brian Epstein but The Beatles declined to be managed by him after Epstein’s death. It didn’t matter. By then he’d discovered The Bee Gees whose career he handled thereafter, simultaneously producing the theatre shows and films as well as running RSO Records. His last real success before he retired was the Evita movie starring Madonna. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall when those two were negotiating percentages.
RIP Stiggy. I forgive you for that night in New York.