Released today in 1981: We’re All Grown Up (Cover Plus)

Albion ION1018

Albion ION1018

Active throughout the 1980s, Hazel O’Connor’s career as a hit-maker was limited to a period of just over a year, from the late summer of 1980 to October 1981. Her lack of chart success had little to do with the quality of her recordings, and rather more to do with so-called ‘business matters’ which were discussed in detail in a chapter of Simon Garfield’s excellent book Expensive Habits (Faber & Faber, 1986; now sadly out of print). What follows is a summary of Garfield’s look at the business relationship between O’Connor and the record company that first signed her, Albion, with reference to the frustrations she experienced while trying to get her music to the masses. It was a similar story for so many others.

① In the autumn of 1978, O’Connor signed to Albion on one-single deal, although she had been looking to use them principally as a bookings agent for live work. Albion were building an artist roster to prove to Arista (the major that was marketing and distributing their records) that they could sign a hit act, and O’Connor recorded an album’s worth of songs for them on joining. In January ’79, she was approached to audition for a role in a new movie project called ‘Breaking Glass’, and ended up getting the lead. With this confidence boost, she talked to Albion about a longer term deal and briefly gave consideration to the Albion team managing her. In the end, recording and publishing deals were drawn up which O’Connor was told by her legal advisor to reject. But she was short of money: receipts from gigs were low and Albion took 10% leaving little for O’Connor and nothing for her four-piece backing band, which included her brother Neil. So on 30 March 1979 she signed anyway:

• Recording agreement
This had an exclusivity clause and carried an expectation that she would produce nine albums over five years. She received no advance, and was entitled to a royalty of 5% of 90% of the retail price on sales of her records in the UK. (A royalty of 12-14% for established artists might be typical; O’Connor’s lawyer got her an extra 1% on the original deal if releases reached certain sales thresholds.) A packaging clause reduced it to 83.5% for releases with picture sleeves, 80% for gatefold LPs, and 78% for tapes. As LPs had to be available in picture sleeves to be marketable, those were her real potential earnings percentages. Her recording budget was slim (£500 for a single and double that for an album; it was usually three to four times that for new artists) and while it was funded by Albion, they took their investment out of O’Connor’s royalty percentage before passing on any remainder to her. Albums had to be ‘commercially satisfactory’ to Albion and delivered to them by deadlines, but they were not obliged to release the works to a timescale, or in fact at all: they agreed only to ‘consult’ only with O’Connor on the pressing, promotion and release of her output.
• Publishing contract
This had options at a yearly intervals up to five years, with a 60:40 split for royalties in O’Connor’s favour, increasing to 70:30 in the fourth and fifth years. Albion had rights to everything she wrote in the period of the contract, plus anything prior to it that hadn’t also been signed away to another company. An advance would be paid out in the form of a wage for a year at £40 a week, but it was recoupable against royalties due.

② With the plot of ‘Breaking Glass’ revised for a female lead in spring 1979, the idea of a various artists soundtrack was changed to having one composed and performed by O’Connor herself. Albion was offered the soundtrack if they invested £70k in it, but as a small label they couldn’t afford this so major label A&M stepped in instead; O’Connor’s contract with Albion was amended to allow one album with A&M on the understanding that her recording royalty was to be halved allowing Albion to take a cut, leaving her a 2.5% per album royalty. Her earnings potential was further reduced in September when she appointed Alan Edwards as her manager for her entire professional career, who took a 20% cut of all her gross income. But at last she had some money coming in: ‘Breaking Glass’ was filmed from that November to February 1980 and she received a £6k fee. It opened in August 1980 and the soundtrack was released at the same time, A&M launching it with suitable fanfare. O’Connor decided that was how it should be done, and expressed interest in having her first studio album proper, Sons And Lovers, released by a major. A&M were keen, but backed out when Albion said they would only release her if A&M took the rest of their artist roster as well. A consequence of remaining with Albion was that O’Connor couldn’t afford her choice of producer. Tony Visconti, who had produced the ‘Breaking Glass’ soundtrack at her suggestion, declined to produce Sons And Lovers as Albion, contractually responsible for paying producer advances, couldn’t come up with the minimum fee he commanded for committing to the project.

③ O’Connor’s singles Eighth Day and Give Me An Inch sold well and the Breaking Glass soundtrack went platinum, but the earnings statement of £34,470 was all retained by Albion for recording costs and advances. O’Connor was left with around £5k from her publishing contract for writing the material, after advances, VAT, manager’s cut, paying off debts etc. Edwards advised her not to fight Albion but to renegotiate. A new recording new deal increased her UK royalties to 12.5% and advances were made available, but Albion no longer covered producer royalties and advances: in future, these would come out of O’Connor’s own cut. A new publishing deal was less favourable than the original, reduced to a 50:50 split. Some good news was that she was selling out dates on her Christmas 1980/New Year 1981 tour, but touring came with costs that she was ultimately liable for – wages for Megahype, her backing band, for example. Whatever support she received from Albion was ultimately recouped by the label at a later date from royalties they owed her. (Similarly concerts the following year including large venues like Hammersmith Odeon which she sold out still left her with a £20k personal loss. On a European tour cash was scarce and the band turned on O’Connor when money ran out for basic subsistence: neither her management nor her label accepted responsibility.) For most artists, good ticket sales usually meant more sales in the shops, but the only commercial product selling for O’Connor were the A&M releases, on which she made next-to-nothing in royalties. When Albion released a new single by her, Time, it flopped. She blamed Albion’s promotion, Spartan’s distribution, and the Nigel Gray production; Albion blamed the song but did agree to bring in Visconti to re-produce the next single D-Days. With Visconti back on board O’Connor had another hit, but it might have done even better if she hadn’t been in America touring when it charted: Albion couldn’t afford to send over a film crew to record an appearance to be used on ‘Top Of The Pops’. Also, despite this single’s success it did little for the prospects of parent album Sons And Lovers, which failed to chart.

④ To date Visconti’s involvement had always brought her hits, so for her next album Cover Plus O’Connor insisted that he produce, with his minimum fee to come out of her publishing royalties. Unfortunately, the album sold only marginally better than its predecessor and two singles failed to make the Top 40. O’Connor claimed the failure was due to Albion’s inability to promote a major artist and wanted to sue the label to release her from her contract, but Edwards was cautious. This hesitancy, together with some other decisions of his she disagreed with and news from her accountant that Edwards stood to make more than three times what she had herself in the period he’d been managing her, led to her firing him in January 1982. On 7 May, she pushed ahead and served Albion with a termination notice that she no longer recorded with them. Albion put in an injunction to stop her recording with anyone else. (This was unlikely anyway, as deals with EMI and WEA that had seemed possible over the past six months never came to anything). An interim order was granted but later relaxed: O’Connor could make a master recording for anyone she chose but it couldn’t be released until the judgment on the case was made. This was a risk, because if Albion won, they’d have the right to release whatever she had recorded and she’d be back to square one. As no company would take that risk, O’Connor didn’t record. The case was finally settled on 3 December 1982. O’Connor was released from Albion, but they were awarded a 22.5% cut on all advances and a 3% royalty override on all UK sales at retail price for her next six albums, whichever label released them.

• Footnote
In November 1983, O’Connor signed a new deal with RCA with better terms: she received a £20k advance on signing and £65k on the delivery of her first album minus recording costs; royalties were 15% for albums and 14% for singles on 100% of sales, reduced by 4% which was new producer Martin Rushent’s cut. Unfortunately, in 1984 RCA just threw the album Smile out there and it flopped. Subsequently, they passed on their six album option and dropped her. More on her late ‘80s career to follow in later If You Were There articles.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Jul. 17
1981
AZTEC CAMERA (Roddy Frame) Mattress Of Wire (Postcard 81-8)
Paul GARDINER (Gary Numan) Stormtrooper In Drag (Beggars Banquet BEG61)
Hazel O’CONNOR We’re All Grown Up (Cover Plus) (Albion ION1018)
SOFT CELL Tainted Love (Some Bizarre BZS2)

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