The Marquee Club - A tribute site dedicated to the history of the legendary Marquee club at London's 90 Wardour street.

Interview with publicity manager Greg Tesser

Greg Tesser

Greg Tesser worked as a Publicity Manager for some of the most reputed British artists from the 60's, including The Yardbirds, The T-Bones, and Georgie Fame & Zoot Money. He was witness to the days when the music business was still to be invented. The days when the newspapers would declare London the hip capital of the world, deals would be signed on paper napkins, music managers looked like gangsters and their offices used to be above strip clubs.

Greg Tesser remembers about The Yardbirds and their manager Giorgio Gomelsky, Julie Driscoll, Jeremy Fletcher, Hamish Grimes, Ian Gilchrist and other people from the business.

What is the first image that springs to your mind when you hear the words Marquee Club?

Friday nights and a The Yardbirds gig. The place would be packed to the rafters back in �64, with mods really jumping. Once (Eric) Clapton went bananas on a riff, the crowd just went wild.

Do you remember the very first time you ever visited the club?

Yes, I do. It was early �64, I think. I was doing a bit of PR work for band called The Cheynes. I had got to know a guy called Peter Bardens, and basically it was his outfit. I remember the evening pretty well, The Cheynes were two or three on the bill, with John Mayall the headliner, he was terrific. Pete Bardens later joined Them, Van Morrison, etc.

...and let's not forget Camel!
So, which was your first work related with the world of pop music?

It was the spring of 1964, and I joined a PR company called Press Presentations, based in London�s Denmark Street, known as Tin-Pan-Alley. I was aged just eighteen, and as green as grass. We looked after the publicity for many groups, most notably Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages, The Yardbirds & Zoot Money's Big Roll Band. As I say, we handled all their publicity. In fact in those days we were known as Publicity Managers. My big break came in May of that year. Lord Ted Willis, a Labour peer, but probably more famous as the creator of TV mega-hit series �Dixon of Dock Green�, had got up in the House of Lords and denounced the music of such bands as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones as �Candyfloss Culture�.

Greg Tesser and The Yardbirds
Greg Tesser (in the back) and The Yardbirds

It wouldn�t last five minutes, he intimated. Now, through my father, I knew Lord Ted �in fact I attended his ennoblement party at the Caf� Royal. So, my plan was to get The Yardbirds down to his house in Kent and get them to do their �Marquee� act in his garden, with all the media in attendance. The stunt worked like a dream, and the band made all the papers big-time, even �The Daily Telegraph�! Their manager Giorgio Gomelsky was so chuffed with my stunt that he said to me I should go out on my own, which I did, taking The Yardbirds, Georgie Fame and Zoot Money with me.

How important was the presence of a club like The Marquee for a music manager in the sixties?

Well, I wasn�t really a music manager, my role was as publicist or Publicity Manager. In those exciting days, The Marquee meant many things to many people. Essentially, in London terms, it was the centre of all that was innovative in rock and R n� B. Just down the road, of course, was The Flamingo, which had all-night sessions featuring Georgie Fame and Zoot Money, but the fan-base there was completely different to The Marquee, which was in big way sowing the seeds that led �Time� Magazine in 1966 to tell the world that London was the hip capital of the world. Within the feature, the writer coined the phrase �Swinging London�.

Can you give a brief description of what your job as a publicity manager was like at the time? What kind of things did you do?

My main brief was arranging interviews in the likes of �The Evening Standard� �the Maureen Cleeve interview was a real big thing then� the music press, �Melody Maker�, �NME� and �Record Mirror� plus the teen mags. Obviously, when a new record was launched I had the task of setting-up a press reception, making sure everybody who was anybody was in attendance, and getting the band members to play ball with these people. When Jimmy Nicol (Georgie Fame�s drummer) was asked to replace Ringo Starr in The Beatles for a Far-East tour (Ringo was indisposed), I had the daunting job of organizing a big Press Bash at the EMI Studios, with the three remaining Beatles.

Did you have any kind of collaboration with the management of The Marquee in order to provide them with publicity material for their newsletters or whatever?

No, I never worked directly with The Marquee management, but as I�ve already stated, The Marquee was often featured in my own Press Releases.

Which other important music managers you remember hanging around The Marquee at the time?

The two people I came into contact with most during this period were Giorgio Gomelsky, The Yardbirds manager, and The Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who was an incredible character �like something out of a Hollywood movie.

In 1964, you worked as a publicity manager for The Yardbirds. Was this your first job in the music business?

No, I had already worked on some publicity stuff for The Cheynes on a freelance basis.

How was your relationship with The Yardbirds?

I got on particularly well with lead singer Keith Relf, he was a really nice guy. When, some years later, I learnt that he had died, I was very upset indeed. (Eric) Clapton was a bit of an enigma. On occasions, he was very chatty, but sometimes he seemed withdrawn. Chris Dreja was always pleasant, and the guys were always cooperative when it came to interviews, etc.

Other important artists that you managed during the sixties were Georgie Fame and The T-Bones.

Greg Tesser, Giorgio Gomeslky
Giorgio Gomelsky, Lord Ted Willis and Greg Tesser (in the back)

I didn�t actually manage these people, I was their Publicity Manager. Georgie Fame and Zoot Money were �handled� by the late Rik Gunnell. Rik had the look of the gangster about him (to my 18-year-old eyes anyway!), and he scared me witless. I enjoyed being The T-Bones� publicist because their lead singer, Gary Farr, was the son of British boxing legend Tommy Farr. Gary was a great guy, but his dad just didn�t dig his music at all, and when we tried to rope him into some publicity stuff, he told me to fuck off! The contract I had with The T-Bones and their manager Giorgio Gomelsky was written-up and signed on a paper napkin in an Italian restaurant in Brighton, following copious amounts of wine. They had been appearing with The Yardbirds, The Animals and The Cheynes at big gig at the Brighton Dome put on by Harvey Goldsmith.

The performance of Georgie Fame at The Marquee for the first time was considered by the club's management as one of the important milestones in the history of the club. Can you remember this?

I really only saw Georgie Fame at The Flamingo club. The Friday night sessions, in particular, were sensational. Lots of illicit booze and drugs plus �interesting� people like the two main players in The Profumo Affair, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. The Profumo Affair was, by the way, for people who don�t know, a massive story in the early sixties that essentially brought down the Tory Government.

The T-Bones were one of the bands that played the most at The Marquee, probably around 92 times. How much was The Marquee associated to the image of the band and vice-versa?

The T-Bones and The Marquee go together like strawberries and cream. I know Gary (Farr) just loved the ambience at the club, and I think that the band gained a great deal from appearing at such top-notch venue.

John Gee used to be the manager of The Marquee club at the moment. What do you remember about him?

I must have met John Gee, but in all honesty I don�t remember much of any meetings we had.

Which people did you get friends at the time?

I made loads of friends in the Sixties. One of them, photographer Jeremy Fletcher, is still a great pal. Mind you, we went some thirty-seven years without any form of contact. When I began researching my book "God & The Wizard", I �found� Jeremy again on the Internet. These days he lives in Australia, but we email almost every week, and have met-up a few times in Soho. I liked Julie Driscoll a lot �she worked with us in the office.

She used to run The Yardbirds Fan Club, before becoming a reputed singer, right?

Yes, Julie, worked at Soho Square with us as The Yardbirds Fan Club Secretary. She was a very quiet girl and greatly fancied by all the males, including me.

...Giorgio Gomelsky�s creative sidekick, Hamish Grimes, was also a friend. And another guy I really liked was freelance journalist Ian Gilchrist. He later read the news on �LBC�, but got sacked for making some sarcastic comments about the Pope. Later in the Sixties, I became pally with international photographer Terry O�Neill. Pete Bardens of The Cheynes (later Them) was pretty close as well.

Do you remember using The Marquee venue for any publicity purposes, such as photo calls?

I know that we did use The Marquee once or twice, I think Giorgio organized it. But on the whole, our Press Receptions etc were held at The Flamingo. We did a big media thing for Georgie Fame�S 21st Birthday Party, but that was held at Rik Gunnell�s office.

As a member of the audience, which gigs at The Marquee do you remember enjoying especially?

No one particular gig at The Marquee stands out. But, as already mentioned, I will never forget as long as I live Eric Clapton strutting his stuff on the guitar during one of The Yardbirds� Friday night shindigs.

During the 60's, you had offices in Denmark Street, Old Compton Street and Soho Square. Which is your personal memory of the Soho scene during those days?

The Soho scene in those days was unique. It�s gone downhill in recent times basically because it�s become too respectable. My office in Old Compton Street was above a strip club, which for an eighteen-year-old was nice because I could get a regular glimpse of all that was going on! Below my office was what used to be called a Clip Joint �you know the sort of thing, hostesses, violently expensive apple juice masquerading as champagne. I remember one morning in particular when I arrived at the office to find a posse of policemen outside my door because the Joint had been fire-bombed. I think it was the work of the Mafia. In fact I�m sure the Maltese guys who owned the strip club were in some connected with the Mafia!

Which places do you remember especially as hot spots in the music business?

Obviously The Marquee and The Flamingo. But Eel Pie Island was great as was The Crawdaddy Club in Richmond. The Crawdaddy, which was the baby of Giorgio Gomelsky had regularly headlined The (Rolling) Stones during the early Sixties. It was based at the Station Hotel then. Later it moved to Richmond Rugby Club because of numbers of people trying to get in. There were flashing lights, and a fantastic atmosphere.

You also shared offices with Giorgio Gomelsky. What do you remember from that period?

It was magical, unpredictable, often madcap, but always good fun. After leaving my offices in Old Compton Street, I shared a work-place with Giorgio Gomelsky and Hamish Grimes at the National Jazz Federation Offices in Soho Square. Giorgio loved the blues, but he was certainly no business man. He never seemed to have any money, so it was always a big breakthrough for me when he coughed-up with my monthly consultancy cheque. I stayed a few times at his fabulous pad in Lexham Gardens, Chelsea. We would often go there after attending a Yardbirds gig. It was all booze and philosophy and late nights, with Giorgio regularly getting ultra-enthusiastic about something and exclaiming to the world that such-and-such was "a knockout!"

When did you quit working in the music business and why?

It's difficult to be precise, but I would say that I 'left' the music business in about '67 to concentrate on my other passion: football. Late-on in 1968, I became a football agent, representing such soccer superstars of the day as Chelsea's Charlie Cooke and Peter Osgood, plus Rodney Marsh of Queen's Park Rangers. In a way, my involvement with Chelsea FC of the late Sixties and early Seventies brought me back into the world of show-biz, as so many celebs of that period supported Chelsea. I got to know photographer Terry O'Neill really well then, and through him, we got Raquel Welch down to Stamford Bridge as well as getting Charlie Cooke a big piece in 'Vogue'.

Is there any particular anecdote from The Marquee that always makes you laugh?

No, nothing really hilarious. But I do look back with extreme embarrassment at my attempts to be both efficient and sophisticated one Friday night at The Marquee when entertaining some media people, following numerous large vodkas, not clever!

What did you think when you heard about the demolishing of the original building at 90 Wardour street in the 90's?

To me the knocking-down of the original club meant the end of an era, an era that will remain as the most vibrant and exciting of modern times. Some people knock the Sixties, but in my view it was a period when Britain (and in particular London) re-discovered itself, thanks to the liberal rebellion of the young. And The Marquee was very much at the centre of this cultural revolution.

If you had to define the effect that the Marquee club had in your life and in your career, how would you put it into words?

It made me realize, from watching all these great bands and singers at the club, just how much their music emanated from the soul: it came from the guts. It was not contrived at all, which is certainly not the case in these bland times. For me, The Marquee encapsulated these words: freedom, innocence and rebellion. What a cocktail!

Interview by K. Barroso, August 2007.
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