Tony Stratton-Smith was not a member of the staff at the Marquee, he was just a regular, but he was indeed one of the most influential and relevant figures in the history of the club.
Born in Birmingham in 1933, Tony Stratton-Smith is mostly known for being the creator and chairman of Charisma Label Records, one of the most influential independent record labels in London. Always hunting for new music talents to be discovered, Stratton-Smith's jolly and charming presence would be easily spotted at Soho clubs like the Marquee, the Speakeasy, Ronnie Scott's, and La Chasse. Before entering in the music scene he had worked as a sports journalist for the Birmingham's newspaper Gazzete.
During the 50's, Stratton-Smith landed right in the center of capital of the journalism in London's Fleet Street, becoming the youngest sports editor in the business while working for the Daily Sketch.
Stratton-Smith's passion for football led him to edit the International Football Annual magazine for several years and after a meeting with the legendary Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim during the Chile World Cup he started growing an interest for music publishing.
Some of the first artists managed by Tony Stratton-Smith during the late 60's were the Creation, the Nice and Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. All of them performed at the Marquee. After his frustration at the incompetence of the record labels for lack of deserved attention to the artists, Stratton-Smith decided to create Charisma Records in 1968, which was opened with Rare Birth's international hit single "Sympathy".
During the next years, he established the label's offices in different premises in Soho, including Dean Street, Brewer Street, Soho Square and Old Compton Street. Charisma Records became the home of some of the most distinctive talents of British music who were carefully and friendly supported by Stratton-Smith with an unique level of respect for the artist's vision and creativity. He would usually send bands like Genesis and Van Der Graaf generator to his "reputedly haunted" cottage in Luxford House, Surrey, in order to write their new masterpieces.
As he stated himself in the sleeve notes of the "Charisma Disturbance" compilation album released in 1973, "A recording label is the sum of its artists". The first releases of the label included the works by bands like Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator, the Nice, Lindisfarne, Capability Brown, and Audience. During this period Tony Stratton-Smith was a regular personage at the Marquee club who would usually recommend new artists to the club and very often provided new talents to the club's program.
By 1970, he got a special "Marquee Sunday Special Nights by Stratton-Smith", where bands like Genesis, Osibisa, Lindisfarne, Van Der Graaf Generator, Audience and Junco Partners where showcased. Other distinctive artists that were released on Charisma Records throughout the years were Peter Gabriel, Julian Lennon, G.T. Moore, Tuxedomoon, Hawkwind, Malcolm Maclaren, Rick Wakeman, Birth Control, Steve Hackett, Peter Hammill, Patrick Moraz, Atomic Rooster and Brand X.
Tony Stratton-Smith was also a pioneer in the market of comedy albums, releasing the early works of Monty Python, for whom he financed the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", and Vivian Stanshall. Apart from his musical activities he was also deeply involved in the British sports world. He owned several race horses and sponsored the Charisma Gold Cup at Kempton Park.
In 1985, Tony Stratton-Smith sold Charisma Records to Richard Branson's Virgin Records. During his latest years he was involved in film projects and eventually he moved to the island of Las Palmas, Spain. In 1987 he fell sick during a visit to Jersey and died. At the service of Thanksgiving at St Martin in the Fields Keith Emerson played his "Lament to Stratton-Smith". The day after his cremation Jack Barrie, manager of the Marquee club and who once called him "my first real friend in the city", attended the scattering of his ashes in Newbury.
In 1993 a special tribute 4 CD box ""The Famous Charisma Box" was released by Virgin Records containing a compilation of the label releases which included songs from artists such as Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator, Lindisfarne, the Nice, Vivian Stanshall, Praticj Moraz, Rare Bird, Unicorn, Rick Wakeman, Audience, G T Moore, Gregoty Isaacs and Julian Lennon. It also contains a nice booklet with memories from different people about Tony Stratton-Smith and the Soho scene.
If you'd like to share your memories about Tony Stratton-Smith, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I worked as Strat’s PA for 4 years until 1981. I always remember him very fondly – he was incredibly generous to those around him, a real gentleman and a truly nice guy.
Lynda Roskott, 14 Jan 2010.
Tony Stratton-Smith was my cousin. I remember him when we lived in Birmingham. He was a warm person with a wonderful humour.
Pat Widdows, 8 Jan 2009.