The Story of Be Bop Deluxe's Bill Nelson and How His Record Label Ripped Him Off
Some Day, Artists Will Unite and Put a Stop to This Nonsense
For many years, I've been trying to discover why I have never received any royalties from EMI records for the sales of my Be Bop Deluxe recordings. I've had neither money nor accounting from them since the 'seventies, despite constant re-issues of the product on both vinyl and CD. In the 1980's, when my business affairs were managed by Mark Rye, (expletive deleted,) I attempted to get to the bottom of my non-existent EMI royalty payments. Rye, who was himself an ex-EMI employee, supposedly checked with EMI on my behalf and came back with the answer that the Be Bop Deluxe albums had not yet recouped the advances paid by EMI to the band during the band's career in the 1970's and therefore no royalties were due. Fair enough, I thought. They're bound to recoup before too long and then, perhaps, I'll be paid something.
Time passed and any further enquiries made by me were simply brushed aside with the "not yet recouped" answer. Eventually, I parted company with the troublesome Mr. Rye, finding myself severely financially 'distressed', a situation which had contributed to the rapid deterioration of my marriage and also damaged my health. To put it simply, I ended up in 'a bit of a state.' I was generously helped by a caring friend, David Sylvian who suggested that his own management, Opium, would be prepared to look after my affairs. I had a meeting with David and Richard Chadwick, (David's manager), and Richard eventually became my new manager. Amongst several problems hanging over me at that time was the ongoing non-payment/non-accounting from EMI in connection with Be Bop Deluxe royalties. (And Red Noise too, for that matter.) Richard eventually made enquiries and came back with a similar answer, that the records hadn't recouped yet. Meanwhile, the Be Bop Deluxe catalogue was being regularly re-issued by EMI without any accounting being provided to myself.
A few years later, EMI decided that they would like to make a double 'best of' CD compilation available and contacted a friend of mine, Kevin Cann, whom they employed to oversee the design and general direction of the project. Naturally, Kevin then contacted me to get my input. I explained that I was wary of the whole thing because I was not receiving any royalties for Be Bop Deluxe product. Kevin said that he would enquire at EMI on my behalf as he had a good relationship with one of the staff there. Eventually, Kevin came back to me with the news that, apparently, the records were still unrecouped BUT, the proposed double album 'best of' compilation would tip the balance in my favour and then I would begin to see some royalty payments. In view of this, I gave the project my blessing and liased with Kevin on the development of the package which became known as 'The Air Age Anthology.' This double album duly appeared in the shops but any accounting from EMI was still not forthcoming, nor were there any royalty payments.
Sometime later, a Harvest Records box set was proposed by EMI to document the history of that label, for which many bands, including Be Bop Deluxe, had recorded in the past. EMI wanted to include some Be Bop Deluxe recordings as part of the package. They even went as far as asking me to contribute a written piece for the book that they proposed should accompany the boxed set of albums. The cover of the box featured an especially commissioned painting of many of the musicians and artists featured on the collection of recordings, myself included. I thought that this release would further assist the recouping of royalties and so I agreed to contribute a written essay on my involvement with Harvest and EMI.
Meanwhile, I had been regularly complaining to Richard about the lack of accounting from EMI and he eventually contacted a firm of music business lawyers to look into the matter. Over a period of two years, a very strange story emerged. The first communication the lawyers received from EMI said that they HAD, in fact, been paying royalties...to 'the band.' My response to the lawyers was..., "Ask them which band," as I certainly had not received any royalty payments from the record company. After a long time and further prompting from the lawyers, EMI said that they actually had been making royalty payments to Nick Dew, Ian Parkin and Rob Bryan. The amazing thing about this is that these three people were NOT on any of the Be Bop Deluxe albums except the very first one, 'Axe Victim.' All the other albums were recorded with different musicians, (Charlie Tumahai, Simon Fox and Andy Clarke), under a different contractual set-up. It seemed that the first line-up, who only ever recorded the ONE album, had been receiving royalty payments from EMI for ALL Be Bop recordings, including re-issues... Recordings in which they had taken NO part, either as performers or otherwise. The really damning thing about this is that none of the original members of the band ever spoke up about it and said, " hang on a minute, I'm getting money here for music I didn't even make!" (It would be evident from the royalty statements they received that the payments were for various albums from the Be Bop catalogue, and not just the 'Axe Victim' album.) Record company cock-up aside, what does this say about people you once regarded as your friends?
Anyway, after I had explained to the lawyers, via Richard, that these people had not earned royalties on anything except the band's first album, letters were then sent to EMI requesting an explanation. Again, some months went by before any reply. I seem to remember that there was some muttering about EMI not knowing where to contact me to send royalties, (and me the only member of the original line up to have continued with a professional and public career in music), but, at a later date, they seemed to change their story and said that they hadn't paid the other members after all. Actually, they said, EMI were only obliged to pay a company called 'Be Bop Deluxe Ltd,' which had been set up by Be Bop's manager Mike Dolan and which no longer existed. As the company no longer existed, there was, EMI claimed, no legal requirement for them to pay any royalties generated by the product. (Despite earlier claiming to have paid money to the band's first line-up.)
Whilst trying to decide what to do next, I suggested that the lawyers should ask EMI to at least let me know how much my 'lost' royalty figures would have been. This would help me to decide whether it was worth pursuing EMI further. The legal costs are, of course, prohibitive, very much so for me. A major company like EMI can easily afford to spin things out until any opponent breaks under the financial strain. I, as they well know, can't.
Again, time passed, further reminders were sent to EMI and they finally replied. It seems that they had now gone back to their first story, that they HAD made payments but only to the three other members of the 'Axe Victim' line-up, excluding myself. A circular argument? Since then , further communications have been made between my side and theirs. These communications have always been marked by a painfully slow response from EMI. Spinning it out as long as possible, hoping that it might go away, perhaps? Eventually, an offer came... EMI would pay me any future royalties generated by Be Bop Deluxe product, provided, one suspects, that I didn't cause any more fuss. Basically, they said that they were under no legal obligation to pay me anything at all, (due to the 'Be Bop Deluxe Ltd' company's demise), although they do admit to paying royalties to the wrong members of the band. An administration mistake, apparently. Does that make it OK then?
The news I received today, from the lawyers via Opium, is that to pursue it further would be horrendously expensive and a long drawn out affair with no guarantee that it would be financially worth it. As EMI have still refused to divulge the details of how much they've paid to the 'wrong members' of the band, I have no idea of how much I've lost. I've been told by the lawyers, yet again, that my only other recourse is to sue the other three members of the first line-up of Be Bop Deluxe for the royalties they retained unlawfully. Of course, this isn't a pleasant thing for me to do, even though it could be argued that those ex-members have unfairly taken advantage of the situation to their own financial benefit and to my own detriment. (My poor old school chum Ian Parkin isn't even with us anymore.) Anyone who knows me knows what a dilemma this would put me in and also what torment it would cause me. How could I follow this course of action? It would make me almost as desperate as them.
I'm just terribly disappointed and disillusioned with the whole thing, with both EMI and with so-called 'fellow musicians' alike. At 54 years old, after a 30 year professional life in music, it's sickening to realize that I've been denied the fruits of the most commercially successful part of my career, thanks to the machinations of a huge, fabulously wealthy global company who prefer to make cheap excuses rather than say, 'o.k., lets be fair, we made a mistake and we'll reimburse you.' It's unethical, it's mean and it's cheap and nasty. Paying me whatever royalties I was originally due wouldn't hurt EMI's financial resources a bit. (How many millions did they pay Robbie Williamsrecently?) However, it hurts ME a hell of a lot, and I don't just mean financially. What is the incentive to carry on when this kind of thing is considered acceptable practice? No wonder there are so many sad stories of artists being ruthlessly exploited and driven to fatal despair. Poor bastards...it's not just me this stuff happens to.
Well, that's it. I'm supposed to roll over and die like an obedient dog, don't rock the boat and all that. And people wonder why I seem to be bitter about the music industry. I perhaps should not have written about this in a relatively public diary. I'm sure Richard would advise me against it but, damn it... This is the reality of a musician's life, this is the kind of thing that happens on a daily basis, not just to me but to many others. Those who think it's a cushy number should think again. I'm angry, I'm deeply saddened, I'm sickened...what can I say? I'm bigger than the whole lot of them? Maybe, just maybe I am. Fuck 'em all...