Legendary agent Kenny Bell remembered
A host of the international live music industry’s leading lights have shared their memories of legendary agent Kenny Bell following his passing.
Bell, who died last month aged 89, was a jazz trumpeter prior to entering the agency world in the 1960s, initially as a booker for Terry King and Reg Calvert’s Kings Agency at 7 Denmark Street in London.
He later relocated to a flat formerly home to the Moody Blues’ managers at at 79a Warwick Square, Belgrave Road, Pimlico, which was frequently visited rising musicians such as Cat Stevens, Marc Bolan and a certain David Jones.
“I remember coming home early one afternoon to be informed by David that he had decided to change his name to David Bowie,” Bell once recalled. “I told him that was a stupid name as it referred to a bowie knife used in early days in the USA. Oh well! What’s in a name?”
Departing the firm following a falling out with Calvert, Bell began promoting a Sunday Club at the 2,000-cap Pavilion Ballroom in Bournemouth, adding a Friday Club during the summer months.
He then had a spell as a pop agent at EMI Records’ new West One Entertainments agency, before befriending a young agent called Richard Cowley. The pair teamed up to launch a company called Universal Attractions before Chris Wright and Terry Ellis, then of the Ellis-Wright Agency, approached them to join their new venture.
“He was a ’no-nonsense’ character, and kept an eye on everything that we bookers did with our time”
“They were going to form a management/record company/agency and asked if we would like to run the agency,” remembered Bell. “We agreed a deal and Chrysalis was formed and we ran Chrysalis Agency Ltd, starting in late 1968 with our artists and theirs, which included Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Savoy Brown Blues Band and Chicken Shack.”
Over the next few years, Chrysalis Agency would represent clients such as Led Zeppelin (whose manager Peter Grant’s office was on the floor above), AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, Iron Maiden, T. Rex, Procol Harum, Roxy Music, King Crimson, The Pretenders, The Jam, The Cure and the Sex Pistols.
“In the early ’70s I applied for a job advertised in the Melody Maker to leave my work running a record shop in Brighton,” industry veteran Allan McGowan tells IQ. “The ad required an experienced ‘booker’, later to be referred to as an agent, to join Chrysalis Agency. I was interviewed by the long experienced Kenny Bell, who was obviously aware of my lack of experience, but allowed me to pretend to be very knowledgeable about Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Chicken Shack and various others signed to Chrysalis.
“He and his partner Richard Cowley took me on and along with other youngsters such as Simon Brogan, John Jackson, and sometime later Martin Hopewell, taught us to build up an extremely professional agency. Kenny allowed me to concentrate on booking UK clubs, whilst others concentrated on colleges and universities – the main venues at that time. He also introduced me to international venues.
“He was a ’no-nonsense’ character, and kept an eye on everything that we bookers did with our time. When I moved on to Virgin Agency and learned more about international touring and promoting, I had Kenny to thank for learning many aspects of the business. So, RIP Kenny Bell!”
Bell, who co-owned popular music industry hangout La Chasse Club in Wardour Street, also became a director of London’s renamed Rainbow Theatre (previously Finsbury Park Astoria) after the Chrysalis Group took over the lease. In conjunction with his agency work, Bell booked the likes of David Bowie, The Who, Liza Minnelli and Roxy Music into the venue.
“Kenny’s passing is the end of an era and I am pleased to say I will use his advice as often as possible”
“I first met Kenny in the Spring of 1972 as he was interviewing me for the job of club booker at the Chrysalis Agency,” says K2 Agency founder John Jackson, speaking to IQ. “I didn’t get the job but I was invited back and in July 1972 he gave me my first proper job as college booker.
“I had absolutely no idea what was expected of me but my extensive knowledge or rock music clearly helped. The other bookers and I shared one office room with Kenny and partner Richard Cowley and I was happy to listen to how Kenny worked especially his unique way of dealing with promoters. I remember him many times advising, ‘I never want to deal with that c**t again… until I need him.’ Kenny’s passing is the end of an era and I am pleased to say I will use his advice as often as possible.”
Chrysalis Agency was renamed Cowbell Agency and then World Service (which merged with Station Agency to form Primary Talent International in the 1990s), while Bell added promoting to his bow in the ’80s for clients such as Rod Stewart, Bryan Ferry and Jethro Tull.
“Kenny was one of a handful of people who laid the foundations for the modern agency business in Europe,” Primary Talent’s Martin Hopewell tells IQ. “He was also the only boss I ever really had.
“It would almost be an understatement to say that he was a key figure in my lifetime, because if he hadn’t given me a job half a century ago – and for some weird reason not booted me straight out of it again – then pretty well everything in my life would have been different. Although he would never have acknowledged it, I owe him a lot and will always be grateful to him for his support, advice and friendship.”
Bell exited World Service in 1995 but carried on working from home, looking after Jethro Tull until 2005. The band’s singer Ian Anderson paid tribute in a website post.
“Kenny was very important to me. Without him, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today”
“Kenny began working for us as part of an arrangement to handle the agency booking of acts signed to the newly-formed Chrysalis Records in 1969,” says Anderson. “Kenny went on to represent pop and rock artists as a manager and then international agent at that special time which was to become the most important in the development of major UK talent in the ’60s.
“For the next 36 years he continued to book Tull around the world (except the USA/Canada) and also to actually promote our UK concerts in all the established venues around the country.
“When he finally retired in 2005… my son James took over with the benefit of the many contacts forged by Kenny over the years. Kenny was one of the true greats of the UK music business and will be missed by many artists and managers who counted on him for the building of their careers.”
Tributes also poured in from outside the UK. Spanish promoting great Gay Mercader, who first encountered Bell in the mid 1970s, says: “Kenny was very important to me. Without him, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. He gave me my first break with Jethro Tull, which kept us going for ages. They would always sell out even when Spain wasn’t a big touring market.
“Kenny was a very calm person – extremely fair and very funny and sarcastic – and he showed us that you have to cooperate. Nowadays, some agents seem to think that the secret is to fight with your promoter. That is not true – the agent and the promoter have to work hand in hand to solidify or establish the artist’s career, and that was the way you worked with Kenny.”
Thomas Johansson, Live Nation’s chairman of international music and Nordics, worked with Bell on concerts in Scandinavia by acts including Rod Stewart, Procol Harum and Jethro Tull, who supported Jimi Hendrix at a Stockholm gig in the late 1960s. The duo also co-promoted a show by ABBA at Glasgow Apollo in 1977.
“Kenny would have been a fantastic teacher,” Johansson tells IQ. “He was a marvellous guy and we got on very well together. I actually last spoke to him only about eight or nine months ago and we had a good, long conversation. I liked him a lot and he became one of the mentors who made me understand the business a little bit better.”
Former Mojo Concerts director Leon Ramakers adds: “Kenny was the most ‘British’ of all agents, phlegmatic, special sense of humour and just a nice guy. Good memories.”
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