The (Late) Breakfast Meeting: Peter Rudge
Host: Ed Bicknell
Over the past week, the UK media has been filled with stories alleging that minister Priti Patel has been bullying bureaucrats. And were it not for The Who’s rock opera, Tommy, it might even have been Peter Rudge who ended up being in the firing line.
In what was billed as Ed Bicknell’s valedictory Breakfast Meeting, the veteran manager revealed that he had had planned to take the exams to become a civil servant, but took a job at Track Records while he waited for the date of the test.
However, the career in government administration was jettisoned when he was dispatched to New York, tasked with finding a venue to stage Tommy. Still in his early 20s and with no contacts in the Big Apple, he consulted the yellow pages, found the number for the Metropolitan Opera House and then managed to get a meeting, which led to the prestigious concert hall hosting the show,
A hand-written proposal penned on a flight then resulted in The Rolling Stones hiring him to run their 1972 US tour. But despite the flying start, his unexpected career was hardly an easy ride.
The interview included stories of infantile demands by entitled artists, coming to terms with the fact that he was originally due to be on the fatal flight with Lynyrd Skynyrd, and being the focus of the Hell’s Angels’ grudge against The Rolling Stones.
After a gang member called ‘Big Vinnie’ hung Rudge from the sixth-floor window of his New York office (while “Mick Jagger hid in the toilet”) – and in a separate incident, two bikers sandwiched his son’s pram between their Harleys – he was persuaded by the FBI to wear a wire and entrap his tormentors.
“They [Hell’s Angels] were talking about how they were going to boil me,” he recounted of the fateful meeting with the gang at their Lower East Side HQ. “I look back and think, ‘What the fuck was I doing?’, I was 28 years old. ‘Why trust the FBI?’”
Rudge stressed that his sense of humour had kept him going through some of the challenging times and the inevitable separations with several clients.
Having managed Il Divo’s rise to multimillion-selling act, his refusal to entertain the notion of one member becoming the next Justin Timberlake let to the end of their relationship. And his split with Alfie Boe arose from his inability to appreciate the performer’s quest to realise his rock pretensions.
When Rudge was unable to get a publisher or label interested in what became Duran Duran’s comeback hit, ‘Ordinary World’, he took the decision to walk away, only to see Allen Kovac triumph where he had failed.
Bicknell recounted a more short-lived relationship with the band, when the original line-up got back together. “John Taylor said, ‘Do you think the audience will scream for us?’ and I said, ‘Only if you’re really, really bad.’ And then I lost them.”
In talking about his long-term clients, James, Rudge displayed a deep admiration and fondness for the Manchester band he has worked with for decades. He also revealed that he was inspired by Elvis’s manger, Colonel Tom Parker, and that Bob Dylan was the one artist he would have liked to have worked with.
“A manager earns his stripes when he is confronted by his artist’s failure,” he mused, describing the job as “very lonely”. “The industry moves on. You’re left with that artist and have to pick them up… and then you have to motivate the record company.”
With regards to the modern industry, he ruled out signing young acts to major labels, and believes the live industry could have ended up looking very different.
“If Bill Graham or Frank Barsalona had lived longer, I don’t know if there would be a Live Nation now,” he said.
And if Peter Rudge had taken those civil service exams, some of the world’s biggest acts might never have enjoyed global success.