: the autobiography of Paul Korda
by Paul Korda
© 2010 Paul Korda Music
(Not to be reproduced without authors permission)
The Biz Beginnings
that time, my mother had returned to live in a flat in
nearby Stanmore, on the outskirts of London, and I had
received my test results from Victoria College, to find
that I had failed in everything but AO level and O level
English Language and Literature. That meant that I
didn’t qualify for the Photography Department at Harrow
Technical College, which I had applied to from Victoria.
It was a harsh reality that saw me go to work at Dixons Cameras on New Bond Street at the age of 16. After my third day there, I was trying to extract some humor from the event, by replying to US tourists request for a couple of rolls, with suggestions like “Ham”, or “Ham with cheese?” At lunchtime on my fourth day, I really blew it. All the kids working there were as bored out of their minds as I was, so I suggested we get out the most expensive ‘colour’ 8mm film of some bimbo going through the motions. I remember that the film cost 50 pounds, and while we were watching, laughing our heads off, the film got suck in the projector gate and started melting on screen, as the manager came into the darkened basement room, asking what we were all doing! He had come to tell me that he had had a call from Harrow Technical College faculty, who had informed him that I had been accepted based on the quality of my photography and should report to them immediately. As he had turned the lights in the basement on, the burning film was just an acrid smell, that he begun asking everyone about, as I quietly slipped out, shaking his hand goodbye as I left!
Life in Stanmore while going to Harrow Technical College everyday was very ordered, except for my need to escape at the weekends. My mother who had got a regular job, dying shoes at Dolcis, which she termed, having been a music artist, that she was “Dying for a Living”. We would both get up early and go our separate ways, and then see each other in the evening.
My learning the chemical engineering of photography, in the negative film and in printing, as well as the lack of individual expression in the advertising field, I found to be stifling my individual expression, so to balance it up, I took over the running of Harrow Techs Folk Club, while at weekends I would go down to Les Cousins, an all night folk club on Greek Street in London’s Soho District, often staying with my friend and one time co-writer Alex Spiropulous, who helped put the English band Nirvana together. I began playing my songs acoustically at Cousins, after I had practiced them at Harrow. It was at the Harrow Tech Folk Club, I was approached by a manager of a band called Bluesology. I can’t remember his name, but he was impressed by my work and asked me if I would like to meet some of his friends in the music business. At first he took me to a recording studio that was owned by US actor and record producer Steve Rowland. When I met him I was surprised to recognize his face from an American movie I had just been to see, called “The Battle of the Bulge”, a war movie, and Steve was one of the co-stars. He seemed a nice person and I remember he was producing a band called “The Family Dog”. Then the manager said he wanted me to meet Dick James son, Stephen at the Beatles publishers office, where some of Bluesology were doing a session. I met Stephen, and then went into the studio, where I helped a short, round faced guy called Reg Dwight, with carrying his keyboard down to his car. I saw Elton, as he later became known as, a couple more times, and I was surprised when he approached me a few years later, remembering my name, for I wondered if a person who meets so many people on their way to success, how can they remember their names? I suppose it’s the ones they knew before their success they remember most, for they treated them like a normal person, and not with overblown adoration. I must admit that when I met Reg he was chubby, shabbily dressed and possibly the last person one might imagine as having star quality. Then as I saw his media image being created, with the ever changing eyewear and flash suits, I could see his persona being groomed for public consumption.
Around that time, my mother had contacted an old publisher friend of hers, who published the music of one of her songs called “Only Yesterday”, and she said he wanted to retain me as a songwriter for his company, on 15 pounds a week,. Well bless his heart, Eddie really had given up publishing full time, so that he could run his bar situated below his offices, called the A&R Club. I asked him if I could make the office with the piano, my office, as no-one ever used it. I had many ideas for my future freedom, around this office as well as Eddie’s roulette wheel in the A&R Club. Eddie agreed and the office became my centre of music business communications, and I ordered business cards and began handing them out on nearby Denmark Street, otherwise known as “Tin Pan Alley”. My office became my home away from my mothers, where I could impress a date, and even fit in an occasional sexual activity! I didn’t have the back of a car, so I had to be creative. As 15 pounds really didn’t add up to much, I would put it on the roulette wheel, and sometimes double it, and then really live it up! In the A&R Club, I met a lot of ‘old school’ showbiz types, and I’ll never forget the afternoon that Freddie Lennon told me his whole story about his relationship with John. He told me he never wanted to leave John with his aunt, but he was a merchant seaman, and he had to make a living, so while he was away he put John with her. He was very sad that John resented him, for he dearly loved him, for he was his only child. Well I understand, because my parents put me in boarding school, because there jobs were music gigs, and I couldn’t go along. Such are the misunderstanding of children and their parents, but sooner or later we all find out about working parents.
Once I was firmly planted in the central music business area, things began to expand at a rapid rate for me. I was recording songs at Central Sound, and Regent Sound, and continued playing Cousins and The Crypt, as well as the Marquee Club. At Cousins Sandy Denny and I became good friends. She liked the nitty gritty side of life, so they were no barriers in our expression with each other. Al Stewart used to play his songs about the Russian Civil War, which prompted Sandy, a singer called Beverly, and some others, to go for coffee close by, as Al would be comfortable doing that for at least an hour, and as the weekends were all-nighters, we would leave and return later. Often I would go home to Stanmore on the Northern line tube at around 2am, and see Long John Baldry, a singer with Bluesology, riding the train home too.
One night I missed the train and had to walk most of the 12 miles in mid-winter without warm clothes. In those days I accepted my fate, though in the last 2 miles a motorcyclist gave me a ride and that was almost a fate worst than death, with the icy wind at 40 miles an hour!
Sometimes I would visit nightspots like The Cromwellian and Blaises. At the Cromwellian I became friends with singer Tom Jones, who I found a likeable and not a judgmental type.
Back on Denmark Street, I would have lunch at La
Gioconda, for there was always a characterful crowd that
would gather there. I’ll never forget the day a very
slick Afro-American drove a 50’s Cadillac with rear fins
up onto the pavement outside, mainly due to the car
almost being too wide for the narrow street. He came
into the café, dressed in a shiny silk suit and ordered
a ham roll. I asked him who was, and he replied,”, ” my
name is Jack Hammer and I wrote “Great Balls of Fire””.
What an entrance!
Often I would meet up on Denmark Street with a young man dressed in a brown duffle coat, who looked as if he had just got out of classes. He’d be carrying tapes under his arm, and I asked him where he was going today, and he’d say Southern Music, and I’d reply with some other publisher, as I too had tapes and was on my way to another publisher. His name was David as in David Bowie.
Another day I suddenly got mobbed by a bunch of young kids who jumped out of a hired bus and rushed up to me and began cutting pieces off my scarf with small scissors, asking me for my autograph. I was shocked, saying to them, who do you think I am? They all chirped Bob Dylan. After learning that I wasn’t, I was left with a tattered scarf whose trimmings were all around me and the fans were all gone as quickly as they had arrived!
TO BE CONTINUED