My First Publicity Gig

by richardflohil on 20/06/2015

(Originally published on February 28, 2011)


It’s 1956, and we’re in York, a picturesque city in the north of England, at a nearly empty Rialto Cinema on a Sunday afternoon.

We’re at the sound check of a new band, which plays Bill Haley covers. As the band rehearse, a tailor fusses about, making the final alternations on the identical powder blue suits he has made for the musicians. This is an important gig, because the band will make a surprise appearance tonight at the first showing of a Glenn Ford movie called Blackboard Jungle

The word has spread — Bill Haley’s hit song, Rock Around the Clock, is featured in the movie, and audiences have been known to “riot” in frenzied dancing whenever the song is played…

I have been paid a princely sum (3 pounds) to ensure that a review will appear in tomorrow’s Yorkshire Evening Press (a newspaper on which I am a lowly apprentice reporter).  The owner of the Rialto is a tall Irishman called Jack Xavier Prendergast, a striking figure in grey post-war York in a rakish trilby hat and a full cloak, who seemed to present himself an American show business mogul.

The Bill Haley cover band is led by Prendergast’s son, Barry, a likeable 22-year-old trumpet player. They have all the hits down perfectly — Shake Rattle and Roll, See You Later Alligator, Crazy Man Crazy as well as Rock Around the Clock. This is going to slay the packed house at the Rialto tonight…

One problem: Barry Prendergast needs a name for the band. As the tailor fusses around and the soundcheck rehearsal goes on, various names are suggested — but, counting the players, the answer comes quickly: The John Barry Seven.

The show is a huge success. The audience dances in the aisles. The blue suits look very show business. And the newly named John Barry aced his first major professional gig.

That was the beginning of a career that led to a long list of Academy and Grammy Awards for his scores for the early James Bond films, not to mention Dancing with Wolves, Out of Africa, Born Free and Midnight Cowboy,

Aged 77, John Barry died three weeks ago. He’d had a marvelous career, he’d been married to Jane Birkin, he’d been elected to the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, he had scored and written the music for more than 85 films, and only last year he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Soundtrack Academy.

But I remember how it all began.

A couple of postscripts:

Yes, it was naughty of me to accept payment to have something placed in the paper where I worked, and when they found out I was given a strong talking-to — and I’ve never exposed myself to that sort of conflict again.

And, no, I never met Barry again.

Finally, A brief clip from a 1960 British film, Beat Girl, for which Barry wrote the music, and appeared (briefly) as the trumpet player in the John Barry Sevxen. The kid in the plaid shirt is a very young Oliver Reed, but the stars were the pop idol of the day, Adam Faith, and Gillian Hills, now married to rock manager Stewart Young.




There are three “community” radio stations in Toronto, loosely associated with the University of Toronto, York University, and Ryerson University — and they are typical, one supposes, of campus stations across the country.

A couple of weeks ago, the CRTC, listing a huge dossier of faults and failings at CKLN, the Ryerson-affiliated station, actually yanked the license, putting the station off the air on February 12.

The hue and cry on local Toronto list-serves and other on-line media was massive. Mostly generated by on-air DJs who would soon be off-air, listeners, fans, and concerned industry people in the music niches covered by the station, the uproar managed to earn the station a reprieve — at least until a court challenge winds its way through the system.

Meanwhile, the station is trying its best to mend its dilatory ways. One memo, urging on-air people not to say “motherfucker,” “pussy,” “shit” and many other words that the lateGeorge Carlin hadn’t thought of, was circulated. Petitions were signed by several thousand, Jack Layton weighed in with a letter asking the license be reinstated. The board of CKLN is looking for a professional manager.

The hope is, of course, that the political infighting is over — the station was off the air for three months last year, playing a tape loop while board members locked each other, and the staff, out of the premises.

Steve Fruitman, a DJ at CKLN’s rival over at the University of Toronto, CIUT, wrote:

“CIUT was also in a similar bind with the CRTC in 1999. We also went through our dismal period of in-fighting and debt. We also didn’t comply with CRTC regs. And we almost lost our license for it. Our problems were minuscule compared to those that CKLN has been going through and yet we were only given an 18 month license renewal – that’s next to losing it altogether. We had to piece together many issues to satisfy the commission.

“Thing is, we did it. We did our homework, we survived, and now we thrive. We got a 7-year renewal next time out, and not only that, but the CRTC stated that we had were a model campus / community station.

“One of the things we banned from CIUT was political in-fighting. Cross that line and yer out. Our mission statement states:

“’…we provide an alternative to mainstream media, provide community access to the airwaves, and offer programming that reflects the diverse elements of the communities we serve. We draw on the wide-ranging talents and global interests of students, faculty and community members, and provide opportunities for volunteers to learn about and participate in radio-related activities.


“’Above all, CIUT exists to serve its listeners. We seek to stimulate, educate, entertain and challenge our audiences, and to meet listener needs that are not currently addressed by other broadcast media.’”

If CKLN can clean house and manage that, it may possibly just survive. Two final points: Other “community” stations across Canada are on notice, given the CRTC’s decision. And every city in this country needs alternative radio voices.



The Juno press conference was very subdued a couple of weeks back. The nominees were announced — Drake, who is hosting, is up for every award he could possibly be nominated for, and there were few surprises, although he didn’t show up to the presser.

Usually, this is a CTV promotional opportunity with half the network’s brass hogging the spotlight. This time, though, there was only a brief and subdued appearance fromSuzanne Boyce, the “president of creative, content and channels” — the CARAS folk did most of the talking.

Two weeks later, we found out why. Ms. Boyce, and half a dozen other head honchos at the network were shown the door last week, and are now either retiring with their packages, or looking for work.

They presumably weren’t surprised.  As I wrote in my very first column here, back in September:


“So I’ll start with the BCE takeover of CTV. $1.3 BILLION dollars it cost. So, somehow, they’ve got to get this money back. And if I worked for CTV – or any of the other TV properties involved — I’d be scared shitless. Because the first thing big corporations do when they buy something is lay people off. ‘Cutting overhead’ they call it, but there’s a huge human cost involved.”




Ah, yes, what happened to Skylark? Well, we all know that David Foster went on to fame and considerable fortune, but he’s hardly visible in this video, from 1973. The vocal isby Donny Gerrard, who now sings backup with Mavis Staples. That’s a very pregnant B.J. Cook on backups with Carl GravesDuris Maxwell on drums and Doug Edwards on guitar…


And if you want more (how could you not?) here’s Ms. Cook singing Joni Michell’s anthem to that festival in upstate New York…

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