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Celebrating the 70th birthday of Wizard Promotions founder Ossy Hoppe, IQ talks to those close to the veteran promoter to recount a life and career spent entertaining
By Gordon Masson on 08 Jun 2020
Trying to keep a secret from one of the best-connected people in the business has not been easy. However, with the help of some of Ossy’s family, friends and confidantes – and some historical information taken from an anniversary feature that appeared in IQ in 2015 – we hope that when this issue of the magazine landed on Ossy’s doorstep, this feature came as something of a surprise.
When IQ spoke to Ossy Hoppe, on the pretext of a coronavirus story back in March, the enigmatic promoter was at home in rural France, near the village of Cotignac in Provence. “I’m in the middle of nowhere, four kilometres from the nearest supermarket, where there are never more than four or five people in the shop, so I’m used to being in isolation,” he reported. “I’m with my donkeys, dogs, cats, and the wife. In that order,” he laughed. “This is a novelty to all of us – it’s like we’re in a science-fiction movie – and nobody ever expected we’d be in this kind of situation. But I think this will change people’s attention toward appreciating some of the things we’re used to taking for granted. We’re delighted when a bird sings, at the moment.”
While millions of people around the world struggled to come to terms with the enforced – and long-lasting – house arrest situation, Ossy had unwittingly been in training for the past few years, since stepping back from being the boss at Wizard Promotions to taking on the role of consultant for the company. “Normally, these days, I’m in France for three weeks and then Germany for one week of the month,” he said. “A lot of the business can be done by phone anyway, so it doesn’t really matter where I am. The nitty-gritty is taken care of by the team in the Wizard offices, while I’m tasked with getting the clients, alongside [son and Wizard MD] Oliver, and making the offers.”
At that point, Ossy dropped off the line to pick up another call. “That was my boss, Oliver,” he said on his return, before addressing what has happened to the live music business in the wake of the spread of coronavirus.
“I’ve never seen anything like it – and I’ve been doing this a long, long time,” he stated. “We’re in a very fortunate position because our insurance covers this, so our costs are covered.” Even at this early stage in the crisis, Hoppe foresaw that a lot of smaller promoters, as well as some of the bigger ones, would run into problems, with suppliers and smaller acts in particular likely “to suffer”.
“It’s crucial that everyone keeps talking so that when things do start to return to normal, we’re all ready to go”
Hoppe also predicted that the business might not get going again until next year. “It’s crucial that everyone keeps talking so that when things do start to return to normal, we’re all ready to go,” he said. “Nobody knows when that might be – if you talk to three people, you get four opinions. So, I’m trying to remain optimistic and look forward to better times.”
A Born Entertainer
Life on the road for Ossy is literally in his blood, as he was born into a circus family that was touring their native Germany at the time little Oskar Hoppe junior made his first appearance, on 28 April 1950. “I was born in Munich because that’s where the circus was performing at the time,” recalled Ossy in IQ issue 59. “After the war, the allies were very careful about who they trusted, but because my father, Oskar, had hidden Jewish friends from the Nazis, the Americans gave him the authority to grant entertainment licences. He married into a circus family, but then he met my mother who became his fourth wife.”
Ossy was immersed in circus life and by the age of five, he was already a star attraction, billed as the youngest elephant trainer in the world alongside his pachyderm co-stars, Bounty and Chandra. Despite that fame, Ossy’s mother, Apollonia, was determined he should receive a proper education, so initially he attended the first permanent circus school, established by his father, before enrolling at boarding school.
Sadly, Ossy’s mother died when he was just 15, and by the time he was 19, he was an orphan, as his father passed away in 1969. Those circumstances saw him move in with his grandparents in Frankfurt, where he studied law at university for a time, before deciding it was time to get a job – taking on roles including nightclub doorman, building site labourer, delivery driver, and a printing plant worker.
Fate, combined with Ossy’s love of football and outgoing persona, intervened. As a team member of Makkabi Frankfurt, Ossy had already befriended team-mates Marcel Avram and Marek Lieberberg, who were the founders of new promoter business, Mama Concerts. So when Ossy picked up an injury and was looking for work, Avram employed him as his driver before trusting him to take on the role of tour manager. “Ossy was the best player in the team,” states Avram. “He was twice as fast as me and made us all look good, so we liked him.”
Always ready to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in, Ossy’s can-do attitude quickly earned him a lot of friends in the live music business
Always ready to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in, Ossy’s can-do attitude quickly earned him a lot of friends in the live music business, so when he volunteered his services to help out with Deep Purple’s impending 1973 American tour, one week later he found himself on the other side of the Atlantic. But not before meeting the love of his life, Barbara, on the eve of his departure to the United States.
Given that the couple now have a menagerie of animals, including their donkey sanctuary, at home in Provence, it won’t come as a surprise to many that Barbara worked for a veterinary surgeon when she first met Ossy. But they had one significant question to answer before they could start dating. “Barbara’s name was also Hoppe,” states Ossy. “It’s not a common name in Frankfurt, so I had to check on her background because my father was married five times in total…” The outcome of those investigations obviously worked out, as Ossy and Barbara have been together now for 37 years and celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary this year.
Back in 1973, Ossy found himself in the role of Ian Gillan’s assistant on that tour with Purple, but having impressed all who were on the road that year, he soon climbed the ladder to become the band’s tour manager, kick-starting a relationship rivalled in length only by the one with his wife.
Indeed, Purple were so impressed by Ossy that when the band split, they persuaded Ossy and Barbara to move to England, and even arranged a mortgage for them so that Ossy could look after various solo projects and acts. “The house, in Amersham, near London, became the headquarters for all of the Deep Purple spin-offs,” says Ossy. “So I looked after Whitesnake, Rainbow, Paice Ashton Lord, and the Ian Gillan Band as they took off.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 89, or subscribe to the magazine here