Magherafelt mogul: how to keep Van Morrison and Tom Waits happy
Derry man Paul Charles has been at the coalface of music promotion since the 1960s. He talks about the punk economics of The Undertones and The Buzzcocks, how Van is just misunderstood, and the ‘amazing imagination’ of Waits
Punk bands weren’t at all business focused, he remembers. But he admired their collective sense of community and supportiveness.
“The Undertones, for example, would pay their support acts more money than most people I knew, and if they thought the support act wasn’t covering their costs, they would foot the bill. Buzzcocks were the same – that ‘one for all and all for one’ vibe was something I got from a lot of bands at that time. But the money? I can clearly recall at the end of some gigs that bands would be so excited about having just been on stage they’d forget to collect their fee.”
Van the difficult man?
Within a few years, Asgard was flying, and one client after another was signed up. Loudon Wainwright III introduced his good mate Paul Brady to the agency, while the signing of Van Morrison widened the network even more. Van’s tour manager knew Jackson Browne’s manager; someone in Browne’s office knew someone who co-managed Crosby, Stills & Nash; and so on.
Charles is well-placed to shed light on some of rock music’s more interesting figures, including such luminaries as Van Morrison.
“Van?” The query is greeted with amusement and in full knowledge of the public perception of Ivan George Morrison as being just a tad irritable. He says that Morrison is “an incredibly professional person, one of the most, in fact, I’ve ever dealt with in my life.
“He’s very easy to get on with; he knows the music business better than anyone I know. Off stage – certainly in my time with him – he was friendly, sociable, funny. He loves his privacy, and when he’s afforded that, and when he’s allowed to do what he does on stage, then what you see is what you get. I have a lot of time for him.”
And what about Tom Waits, one of contemporary music’s most highly regarded mavericks, who has been with Asgard for more than 30 years? Charles recalls a business trip in the early 1980s in Los Angeles, when he popped into the book store Book Soup. While browsing, he clocked posters for Francis Ford Coppola’s movie, One From the Heart, the soundtrack of which had been composed by Waits.
“I went to the checkout, asked the person at the desk if there were copies of the album,” says Charles. “She said they had just sold the last one to the person a few feet away from me. I turned around, only to see Tom Waits with the album in his hand. I went over to him and introduced myself; he was with his wife, Kathleen Brennan, who luckily enough knew my name from various people in the music business we were both acquainted with. So we left Book Soup, had a few cups of tea in a nearby cafe and enjoyed a great chat. Four hours later I was his agent, and have been ever since.”