As in keeping with an idea that I introduced in my book, ‘Then Came the Great Divide’, I have decided to continue the concept in the form of a Blog. I don’t have a great memory; this is nothing to do with age, more to do with how my head has functioned over the years. I have enjoyed, appreciated and sometimes mentally documented a lot of the things I have done and experienced, but I don’t have an automatic recall of things, and would have to rely on prompts of some form, or things that would instigate a recollection.
Writing the book, I was able to recall images, situations and happenings as I was concentrating on the issues being discussed, and then every now and again, I would have a flashback that would burst from nowhere, off topic or randomly relating. But even then, I still had to seek out memories from others (particularly Ian Grant, who has an extraordinary memory for names, places, people, occasions and dates etc). The Internet was another good resource for details that were not forthcoming to me (thank you John Gouveia for bigcountryinfo.com).
Earlier this week, IG and I went to London to meet with our new friends at Pledge Music, to discuss the next phase of the ‘My Time’ album pledge campaign. Another meeting arranged by Ian Grant was a lunch date with the man who originally signed Big Country to Phonogram Records in late 1982.
Chris Briggs is a Leicester University Alumini who went on to discover rock music via working at festivals and learning the ropes of the music industry hanging out with the ‘unknown legends of tomorrow’, at that time’.
By the time we met him, he was a most respected A&R man at Phonogram, with an incredible roster of successful bands (pop and rock) such as Def Leppard, Tears for Fears, Dire Straits to name a few.
To me, he was the archetypal A&R man a young rock musician dreamed of getting involved with. He was in my mind, a passport to success (as long as the band could come up with the goods); but still not really knowing what it was an A&R man actually did, but I made it my mission to find out.
After signing, I remember listening to him intently during meetings; made difficult at times, due to the fact that Ian Grant had known Chris previously, they would enter a diatribe of names, faces, other influential or important people that they knew or thought needed to be involved domestically and internationally.
I won’t discuss how we got signed as that is in the book, but Chris was always around whatever recording studio we were at, keenly listening, having discussions with all involved in the making of the music. Chris and Steve Lillywhite were old friends and I guessed they had worked together before, which I believe increased Chris’s confidence in the fact we would make a great record. There was a first attempt at recording ‘The Crossing’. Just previous to me getting involved with Big Country, I had a little dilemma, as I had been working with Chris Thomas (originally on Pete Townshends’ ‘Empty Glass’) on a single with The Pretenders called ‘Back on the Chain Gang’. I harboured an idea that I would become a Pretender but BC became a better prospect, as I would be involved from the start (Chrissy Hynde was The Pretenders and a legend in her own right). What I did not know was that Chris Thomas and Chris Briggs were really good mates. So when it came to choosing a producer for BC, when Briggs suggested Thomas, I was shocked, as I knew and worked with him. I thought the prospect really exciting originally, and started to think I was in tune with Briggs. Unfortunately, yet fortunately, it did not work out with Thomas, but because Briggs could (in his A&R capacity with a budget) and wished to develop the band, went on to link up with Steve Lillywhite (a producer IG was also keen to get on-board; IG managed Steve’s brother who was in the band ‘The Members’). Boom.
Chris is not a musician, but he not only has a great ear for music, but a great understanding of music, music trends, music quality and production.
After we completed ‘The Crossing’, Chris kind of disappeared from our horizon. The album was done; the promotion and touring had begun as the natural next phase. He re-appeared when we were invited to industry celebrations, record company conventions, awards and other back patting glitzy occasions (which he hated with a passion), but none the less, enjoyed maybe a bit to much, like the rest of us did.
What was special for me was that I learned a huge amount about the industry, recording, production and his role in the corporate record company world, and how it related to us a band.
By the time we started work on Steeltown, Chris’s involvement with us became less and less for whatever reason. He was not as involved in the nuts and bolts of the recording as he was on The Crossing, plus the fact we were in Stockholm working at ABBAs’ studio (I don’t actually remember him coming out to be fair, more to do with my state of mind), but it was a strange time for all involved. By the time we got to ‘The Seer’, he had gone to other pastures. I knew we all missed his input and presence, but we had to carry on, but it was tough.
Briggs re-emerged some years later with his own label (Compulsion) through Chrysalis Records, as we were about to start on what would be ‘The Buffalo Skinners’. At that point in time, Mark Brzezicki was not with us, and it was the suggestion and the influence of Briggs to harness the services of Simon Phillips. I’d worked with Simon before on Townshend stuff, but even I did not think that he would be interested in working for us, but that was the power of Briggs.
It was great to see Briggs back sitting in his usual position in RAK Studio 1, with his ‘this sounds great’ smile on, a throwback to The Crossing days. I felt for Mark at the time, as I knew that Simon was one of his heroes. Having Briggs back in the fold made us (Stuart, Bruce, IG and myself) feel as though we were going to get back on track. This coming together was to be short lived, but I do remember spending a bit of time chatting with Briggs on stuff that made me more aware of the industry. It was around that time, I was getting really interested in production.
So, to be sitting at a table in a very nice Soho restaurant with Briggs and IG was a real pleasure. I realized again, during that lunch, how much this man had taught me. After leaving Phonogram and eventually Chrysalis, he went onto EMI where he re-ignited Robbie Williams’s career and is now head A&R guru honcho at Sony. During the lunch, he spoke fondly about most of the bands he achieved success with during the heady days, and to the lay-man, there would have been a lot of class records we would not have got to hear hadn’t it been for him; that also goes for a lot of record producers that he encouraged along the way as well.
When I was teaching my Uni students, when discussing the role of the A&R person, I would always use Chris Briggs as the role model (not that the students would know), but he is the greatest exponent of the role that I knew.
Big Country (as it was) will probably never fully appreciate his contribution to the early success of the band, but I do and still do.
It was a good lunch as well.