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Rising Star: Charlie Simmonds

The biz's brightest new talents their stories. This week it's the turn of Charlie Simmonds, bookings manager at The Dome/Boston Music Room. What’s your favourite thing about working in music? “My favourite thing about working in the music industry is ...

The Aftershow: Neil Hannon

After 30 years as the frontman and songwriter behind The Divine Comedy, Neil Hannon has just had his highest-charting studio album with Office Politics. Here, he tells Music Week about Father Ted, his cricketing side project and being censored by Top Of The Pops... I rather fell on my feet in the early ’90s... “It just so happened that the music listenership around that time was quite open-minded. Also, it was a weird synchronicity that I started getting interested in beat groups, easy listening and movie soundtracks from the ’60s, which resulted in [breakthrough album] Casanova in ’96. It seemed to hit the nail on the head for what people were into at the time. That was just dumb luck, really.” I really miss Top Of The Pops... “It seems like the idea of the single has completely disappeared. Obviously in the music business sense, there’s no physical single. Without Top Of The Pops, it takes away any of the motivation for me. I think we must have done it four times, possibly. I grew up with that show, so to have made it on there was all I really needed in life. ‘Arse’ was edited out of National Express, which is incredible considering the shenanigans that R&B tracks got up to. You have a nice word like arse, and it gets edited out. Never mind! There was one where we were introduced by Kylie sitting on the stage in front of me, and that was quite a thrill. I’m easily amused.” Signing to Parlophone was a bit of a disaster... “It was 2000, we thought that’s what you do when you’ve released five records – go up to the big leagues. But we didn’t sell any more and we were a disappointment. After three records, they were getting rid of a lot of bands and we were thinking we needed to go elsewhere anyway. In the ’90s, we had been on a tiny independent label, Setanta, which was basically the irascible Dubliner Keith Cullen. I wouldn’t say there was an awful lot of largesse. Occasionally he would splurge money on videos, but then he wouldn’t pay for you to take the obvious ferry route to the continent, so you’d have to take the long way round for no apparent reason other than to save 50 quid. It was a bit silly, but I think the fact that I released five or six records in the ’90s and had hits means that he did a good job.” The Duckworth Lewis Method was fun while it lasted... “But that’s just because we were cricket fans, me and [bandmate] Thomas Walsh. We met a lot of our heroes but, to be honest, it ran its course and we made two albums too many. We did the clever move of having Henry Blofeld on the second record, so that gave us an in on Test Match Special. It was all just blissful insanity and quite stressful in many ways, because we didn’t want to look stupid in front of our heroes. It was a great laugh and people keep asking whether we’ll make another one. But we dredged the bottom of the barrel for creative references on the second one, so no – I’ll just watch cricket now.” Writing the music on Father Ted came at the right time... “I’m not one of these people that denies their past or biggest hit because they’re fed up with it. Father Ted was a remarkable stroke of luck. I did it at the same time as Casanova, and there’s nothing the media like more than an angle. The show became a cult classic, so people kind of associate it with me, happily. I just wrote some music for it. So I’m very lucky – and it means I’m involved in the musical, which we are concocting at the moment.”

A perfect tenor: Team Pavarotti on the documentary and music campaign

Once upon a time, Harvey Goldsmith CBE received a lovely gesture from the late, great Luciano Pavarotti. Well, kind of... “I’m partial to the odd chocolate,” begins the legendary promoter who first met Pavarotti in 1985. Goldsmith – who, for 23 years, enjoyed a highly successful business relationship and friendship with the tenor – goes on to recall the time he entered a room to find a tray of luxurious chocolate truffles laid out before him. “I’ve bought these chocolates for you, try one!” implored Pavarotti to his friend, who proceeded to get stuck in. Something seemed immediately off. It wasn’t just the peculiar taste. It was also the change in Pavarotti’s face as Goldsmith chewed. “I tried it and he just pissed himself with laughter,” chuckles Goldsmith. “Of course, it was charcoal make-up for his eyes!” It’s just one of many occasions Goldsmith recalls fondly. “He was a terrible cheat at poker,” he laughs again. “Or rather I was set up to be cheated on. That’s how he was: he was a character, he was a diva, he was a prankster all at the same time. He had a serious side but we had a lot of fun together as well. He loved life.” And the Italian legend’s life is the subject of a major new documentary film directed by Ron Howard [Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, Rush] and backed by Imagine Entertainment, White Horse Pictures, Polygram Entertainment and CBS films. Christened simply Pavarotti, the global film event – released in UK cinemas on July 15 – is a celebration of the superstar’s life, from his childhood years in Modena, Italy to his meteoric rise on the global stage, including his work with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras in the Three Tenors. And lest we forget, their 1990 In Concert record became the best-selling classical album of all time and is 5x platinum in the UK according to Official Charts Company data. “I must have seen the film six times now, and each time I walk away with tears in my eyes,” says Decca president Rebecca Allen. “The most powerful moments for me were the bookends of the film. It opens with Nicoletta [Mantovani], his wife, asking Luciano how he wanted to be remembered. The film closes with his answer. It kills me each time!” Fear not, you are in a spoiler free zone here, but suffice to say that the impact on those involved in the story has been considerable. “It is never easy to see your life, or part of your life, rolling on a big screen!” Nicoletta Mantovani, who also serves as president of the Luciano Pavarotti Foundation, tells Music Week. “But I have to say that Ron Howard was very respectful and truthful in dealing with all the material, he tried to be honest in returning a presentation of Luciano which is very authentic. What Ron tried to depict was a truthful image of the man, not just the artist whose story is pretty familiar to so many people. Luciano is considered a real icon – this movie tries to confer a human nature to his myth.” On paper at least, however, the arrival of the Pavarotti film may seem peculiar: it is not timed to coincide with a notable anniversary. “There isn’t a specific reason to release the film now,” says Mantovani. “But after a long time [working] together with Universal, we thought it would be a worthy thing to share this human portrait of Luciano, and the right occasion came with the proposal of White Horse and then the extraordinary availability of Ron Howard.” Plus, when it comes to introducing a new generation of fans to Pavarotti’s music, there’s no time like the present... The mere mention of the name Pavarotti conjures no end of superlatives, especially when it comes to his voice. “He was the best,” lauds Dickon Stainer, president and CEO, Universal Classics and Jazz/Verve Label Group. “He was awe-inspiring, really,” agrees Goldsmith. “He was the most important tenor of our generation.” “There is no tenor in the history of music who left the extraordinary legacy of Luciano,” adds Terri Robson – MD of TR International Management Associates – who served as Pavarotti’s manager between 2001-2007. “His voice was unique, there is no opera singer whose voice can be recognised within a few seconds of hearing it.” Yet his impact was much greater than the ubiquity of his voice: he was a democratising force in classical and opera music. In the words of Rebecca Allen, he was “truly the people’s tenor”. “What he wanted to do from the get-go was to popularise classical music,” says Goldsmith. “He felt, as I did, that at the time opera was a closeted culture; that if you didn’t know, you weren’t allowed to know. You could follow it if you wanted to, you could buy records, but to see opera live was really quite difficult. What he did was open the doors for millions and millions of people to hear the great arias performed. And subsequently when he got together with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras and did the Three Tenors it became even bigger. He was, really, the world’s first rock star.” Goldsmith backs his claim by pointing to the immense impact Pavarotti had on the live music business across the globe. “There were cities and places where he would sell out 10,000 people and I had to look on the map to see where they were!” laughs Goldsmith. “If we talk about rock stars today, they might sell Madison Square Garden out, but not many of them play in Manaus. The opening sequence [in the film] is him going to Manaus, which is up the Amazon, to play an opera house. We once played in Taiwan in a town at the end of the island where there were more people there than lived in the town. That’s how popular he was. The only other person that had that kind of magnetism was [Enrico] Caruso, who in the ’20s and ’30s would draw half a million people. They obviously couldn’t hear him, they just wanted to be there…” Much more than “The King Of The High C’s”, Pavarotti was also the master of the classical crossover. Yet there is a particular emphasis that needs to be placed here. “The unique thing about Luciano was that it was his audience, rather than the music, which crossed over,” says Robson. “Unlike the crossover tenors and artists today, the repertoire he sang – even in arenas – was strictly made up of opera arias and conventional Neapolitan songs. Aside from the Pavarotti & Friends annual charity concerts, he actually refused to perform popular music.” The question now is what can those in charge of overseeing Pavarotti’s legacy do to ensure future generations keep coming on board? The new film should help... “When the world is full of noise, how does one cut through and capture people’s imaginations?” says Allen. “The art of visual storytelling has become so much more powerful, it aids discovery. The emotion of seeing great artists making mistakes, witnessing their growth as artists, as well as men, brings a relatability to audiences.” “Pavarotti is a documentary which is distinct from Hollywood blockbusters like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman,” says Dickon Stainer. “But both types of film bring a new visual storytelling to truly iconic artists and that enables the narrative to be re-told in a new way, so that these artists can be discovered afresh. This film will reignite the memory of a legendary artist. It may be that the first appeal is to ‘lapsed’ fans ahead of a new generation, but I believe that bringing Pavarotti back to centre stage will lead to new fans and create new opportunities for Pavarotti’s legacy to be celebrated.” Terri Robson agrees, saying the film can “undoubtedly also create a new generation of fans for not only this legendary artist but for opera and the tenor voice”. It’s not just the film that’s set to do that either... To coincide with the documentary’s release there is not one, but two different album releases from Decca. The first is Pavarotti: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack, which follows the documentary’s narrative arc in capturing career-defining milestones – including his grandstanding version of Nessun Dorma. The second is the three-disc Pavarotti: The Greatest Hits, a 67-track collection of his best known collaborations (including duets with Bono, Elton John, James Brown, Lou Reed and Frank Sinatra). This dual-release strategy was something of a necessity. “Luciano had a 40-year recording career with Decca,” says Rebecca Allen. “To truly represent his life’s work, we felt that we needed to offer the audiences something special. The soundtrack album highlights the unique career highs, but the greatest hits gives you the definitive recordings across the four decades.” Compiling such releases, however, is not an easy task. In December last year, Music Week took a comprehensive look at the challenges involved in overseeing the estates of fallen icons such as Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Chris Cornell. In particular, the difficulty of making decisions when the artist is no longer there to guide them. “Luciano was a very direct person,” explains Mantovani. “Living at his side – or working with him – you could get a very precise idea of what he liked or didn’t. He was always very authentic in expressing his opinions, both if it was good or bad. He never wore masks in conveying ideas, opinions and main values. So, today, it’s not too hard to follow that pretty clear path.” Mantovani believes that in spite of his perfectionism – Pavarotti, she says, “always found something to improve on” in his recordings – the new Greatest Hits set would have his blessing. “This huge selection made history,” she says. “I’m sure Luciano would have been happy with it. It is a gift to his public.” As to the future of his legacy, before he passed away in September 2007 of pancreatic cancer, Pavarotti did have unfulfilled dreams. “Right toward the end of his life, the one thing he wanted was to find his successor,” says Goldsmith. “Just before he passed away he was coaching 10 students and he said to me, ‘I don’t think we’re going to find my successor – it may have to skip a generation or two before somebody else comes around’. He did introduce me to [Andrea] Bocelli, who I still work with, but he is a different kind of singer.” While Pavarotti never found his successor, one of his dreams is still coming to life in 2019 and beyond. “Luciano taught hundreds of young students during his life and he never asked them for a penny, remembering that when he was a young student with no financial means he received lessons for free from his teachers,” Mantovani explains. “Now, the foundation I run and named after him offers masterclasses and opportunities to emerging singers without asking for any money. Our aim is to build a ‘Pavarotti Academy’ based on the same features and values.” The question of what is still to come from Pavarotti’s discography also remains an interesting one. Dickon Stainer tells Music Week that global interest in the film is sparking a lot of other creators to want to work with the Pavarotti Estate and with Decca “to further extend and deepen the storytelling around his legacy”. Plus, there are new horizons to conquer that didn’t exist in Pavarotti’s lifetime. The advent of streaming has opened up new ways for people to hear his mesmeric voice. He currently has 1,937,059 monthly listeners on Spotify alone. “Pavarotti is one of Decca’s most important streaming artists,” says Benedict Curran, head of streaming at the label. “We’ve watched his streaming audience grow considerably over the years and in early 2019 we made sure to approach DSPs to build unique and comprehensive plans around the Pavarotti movie and OST album. Since album release last month, Pavarotti’s daily streams have jumped between 25-50% across streaming services and we’ve unearthed reams of unseen video content which we will be dropping across streaming services throughout the year.” “Our job is to keep his legacy alive, and his legacy was bringing people together via music,” adds Rebecca Allen. “We have already seen incredible critical acclaim for the film in the US, and we are now looking forward to the film rolling out globally. The response from the teams in the markets around the world has been phenomenal and, with a staggered release over the next nine months, we feel extremely excited about keeping his legacy alive.” “My strong belief is that Luciano’s voice is something so inspirational that everyone should listen to it,” concludes Mantovani. “Decca is doing very well with the new devices and technologies. I just hope that the immense heritage that Luciano left through his many recordings can be available to everyone, in all means and ways, so that it can reach new generations.”

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