Tony Smith: “Artists need the truth from their manager”
Legendary manager Tony Smith has granted a rare interview with IQ after wrapping Genesis’ The Last Domino? Tour.
The legendary English rock band returned to the road at the end of last year following a 13-year hiatus.
The reunion tour kicked off last September in the UK, making stops in the US and Europe before culminating with a three-night stand at London’s O2 in March.
As the name of the tour suggests, it may well be the last time Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford – Genesis’ most commercially successful line-up – perform live under the pseudonym.
The tour would mark the end of a 50-year chapter for Smith who has managed the band since 1973 and played a crucial role in Genesis becoming one of the world’s best-selling artists.
Though Smith tells IQ that interviews are his “least favourite part of the job” (gulp), Genesis agent John Giddings managed to twist his arm for a rare conversation.
Here, Smith shares his philosophy on successful managers, reveals the motivation behind his extraordinary career, and sets the record straight on his age…
IQ: On a personal level, how are you feeling about this being Genesis’ last-ever tour?
TS: I’m not sure how I feel, actually. I mean, life’s gonna carry on afterwards. There’s still the Genesis catalogue and everything else to still deal with, but it might change. Who knows? Never say never but that was probably the last show. Probably.
The three-night stand at London’s O2 was postponed four times. Did those delays contribute to the anticipation in the arena?
The audience has obviously been waiting a long time so there was a lot of anticipation. But it’s interesting actually – I’ve noticed that in some places the first-night audience are the hardcore fans and they’re a bit in awe, so sometimes you don’t get the same reaction as you do on the second night. But [the opening night at the O2] was really good. The audience stood up all the way through.
“I think the role of a manager is to be the one person the band can hear the truth from”
How successful has The Last Domino? Tour been?
It has been very successful. Reviews have been great, the tour completely sold out – it has been a really good turn. In terms of numbers, it’s probably not as big as the tour in 2007, which was all stadiums. We wanted to keep this one to arenas. Given Phil’s lack of mobility, I don’t think a stadium show would work that well for him.
Even with Phil seated and not playing the drums, he’s still quite the showman…
He’s still got that entertainment spark. The voice is still there and he’s still got the sense of humour and stuff like that. It’s just a drag that he can’t move very much. I think it’s more difficult to sing properly when you’re seated but he seems to have overcome that.
Phil’s son Nic filled in on drums. How was it bringing him into the fold?
He’s fantastic. He played on Phil’s last solo tour which was in 2018/2019. He was only 16 and was good then but now he’s beefed up and is really strong. Phil has said to me on different occasions that Nick is doing things he didn’t do. Also, he’s a very nice guy! When a kid grows up in that environment, they could go either way but he’s really grounded.
“A manager is a bit of a father figure, in a way”
You’re 83 –
I’m not 83! Wikipedia is wrong. I’m 77 – I was born in 1945. It’s really annoying because you get someone to go in and change the Wikipedia and then someone changes it back! I’m glad you’ve straightened that out. Although, it’s always impressive when people think you’re 83 and still on tour.
Apologies! You’re 77 and probably the longest-standing manager in the business. What’s your motivation?
Well, first of all, I love the music and I love being in this business. I like the logistics of it all – putting things together, planning things out and having some kind of agenda. When you see all that fall into place, it’s very satisfying.
And I enjoy being a leader – it’s great when you’ve got a big team. I think we’ve got 100 people on the road and it’s good to be able to put a great team together that works really well – that’s very satisfying.
I like all the elements of management. There’s a little bit of creativity. You get involved with the setlists, the artwork, the marketing and the albums. Ultimately, the band will make those choices but they bounce off everyone. Plus, I like the challenge of managing a band and being able to follow it all through.
“How we ever did tours without mobile phones and computers, I cannot remember”
In the 50 odd years since you’ve been doing this job, how much has the role of a manager changed?
I think the role of a manager is to be the one person the band can hear the truth from – that hasn’t changed. I think the role of a ‘proper’ manager is to help guide the artist and help them to make choices, provide encouragement and discouragement at the right times. A manager is a bit of a father figure, in a way.
What has changed is the technology and everything that goes with that. How tickets are sold, how music is delivered. How we ever did tours without mobile phones and computers, I cannot remember. It all worked but it was probably a bit slower.
The other thing that has changed – as far as touring is concerned – is that the budgets and the finances are much larger than they used to be because there are bigger venues now. When I was a promoter in the late 60s/early 70s, the biggest venue was Wembley Empire Pool for 8,000 people. Most of the venues were for 2,000 and 3,000 people at the most. It was a very different kind of business. As a promoter, I did a Led Zeppelin tour which went on for two months around England and it was all town halls and theatres – those were the venues.
“You can’t look after more than one major act properly”
Do you get as much satisfaction out of the smaller shows as you do out of the big ones?
Yeah, absolutely. When Mike + The Mechanics [Mike Rutherford’s band] go out on tour we’re playing 2,000-seat theatres. And the same with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, which I look after, as well. It’s just as satisfying. In fact, in some ways, it’s more satisfying.
Back in the 80s, you said all the most successful managers very rarely look after more than one major act. Do you stand by this philosophy?
I still think that’s true. A good relationship with a major actor should be an intimate relationship and you can’t have that with too many artists. I’m lucky insofar as Genesis has always been great and there have been lots of solo spin-offs. The only other thing is, when Steve O’Rourke [manager of Pink Floyd] died, Nick Mason [the band’s drummer] asked me to look after his interest in Pink Floyd. But [Steve] and I were always mates because of motor racing so that was easy to manage.
In the main I still believe that the management relationship is special. You can’t look after more than one major act properly. I look after every element of Genesis, including things like personal finances, so it’s more of a holistic approach. Whereas I think there are managers out there that have got 234 acts but they’re more like agents than they are managers.
“A good relationship with a major actor should be an intimate relationship and you can’t have that with too many artists”
What’s your take on modern management?
I don’t know about younger managers and what goes on. I’m not involved in that kind of business anymore but I suspect it’s very different. I think a lot of managers these days tend to be more employees almost. They don’t direct, they don’t manage in the same way. They’ll take instructions from their artists. If you ask a question about something they’ll always say, “I’ll get back to you”. In most cases, I instinctively know what the band are going to be okay with.
I think a lot of that [bureaucracy] is due to when lawyers started getting involved with management contracts and insisting on minimum earnings for the artist. If the manager had to get in X amount, that compromises the manager’s decision straight away because he’s going to go for his money or think short term and won’t think about the career. I’ve never had a management contract and that has worked for the last 49 years. I don’t believe in contracts; it’s either going to work or it’s not going to work and that’s the end of the story. The only thing I have is a piece of paper in a file somewhere that says what happens if we part ways.
“Aside from interviews, dealing with bureaucracy is my least favourite part of the job”
What’s your least favourite part of the job?
Interviews. I do very few. Aside from that, dealing with bureaucracy is the main thing. I don’t mind the shitty bits of the job, like when you’ve got to give people bad news – it’s part of the job and it’s what’s expected of me really. The rest of it is fun, apart from dealing with John Giddings…
Tell us your best John Giddings anecdote.
John and I go back a long time. It has been a very good partnership. There was one tour that John was booking and he called me up all worried about the mileage between one city and another. I just turned to him and said [indignantly]: “John, do you drive the trucks?” That quote comes back to haunt me all the time.
“John Giddings and I go back a long time. It has been a very good partnership”
What are some of your highlights from the 50-year journey with Genesis?
We played Rome in 2007 with half a million people in the audience – that was pretty spectacular. Knebworth is a highlight. Also, we sold out four shows at Wembley Stadium back in the 80s. At the time, that was a record – which I think has subsequently been beaten by Ed Sheeran. The first time went to America in 1973 and played the Roxy in LA at Christmas was a highlight – that was the West Coast’s first experience of Genesis.
With Genesis retiring from the road, which other projects will you spend time on?
I’ve got lots of other interests, aside from Genesis, so I’ll be just as busy. There are a couple of other Genesis projects in the background at the moment – we’re looking into orchestral stuff and things like that. I don’t know what Phil’s gonna do – the same with Mike – but there are always things to do. I start on the road with Nick Mason in two weeks’ time and that’s running through the summer. I’m also one of the producers of Bat Out of Hell the musical and I’m one of the four managers of Pink Floyd ‘industries’ so that’s a full-time job on its own.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.