The world according to Harvey

Wednesday 27 February 2013

This month impresario Harvey Goldsmith is reunited with Bob Geldof to speak at a leading ideas festival – Names Not Numbers. Their subject? Rock, the Ultimate Connector. Here, Goldsmith reveals in his own words how rock connections have changed the world, and how Government ignores and abuses the knowledge and wisdom of experience at its peril.
Harvey Goldsmith © Mike Lawn/Rex FeaturesHarvey Goldsmith © Mike Lawn/Rex Features

In the spring of 1985 I came back from China, where I had been managing Wham’s tour. I had had my hands full as it had been a busy schedule in what was still a pretty remote country and I had just signed up to manage Roger Waters, who had quit Pink Floyd. There, camping on my office doorstep, was Bob Geldof, whose band the Boomtown Rats I used to promote.

‘We have got to do something about Africa,’ he said. There was probably a lot of swearing involved – there always is with Bob – but his passion was evident. He and Midge Ure had already put together the smash-hit charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas? after they and most of the nation had been stunned by Michael Buerk’s BBC News reports of the famine in Ethiopia.

But now Bob wanted to do more. ‘We have to do a concert and I’ve booked Wembley Stadium,’ he said. We talked things over and it ended up with me moving the booking to July 13. That date – and most of you will be old enough to remember – was for Live Aid. Most of the world’s major rock stars turned up for the gig, either at Wembley or in Philadelphia (Phil Collins did both with the help of Concorde, but that couldn’t happen now) and we got live coverage all day and night on TV. We hoped to raise a million and ended up with £140m. We had engaged the whole planet.

It was only later that I realised the power of contacts in setting up that show in just ten weeks. Back then it was never known as networking, just knowing the right people. Bob tried to bash down the doors while I tried to talk our way through them. A lot of it was knowing at what level to pitch. I knew how important it was to get the BBC on board (although now it can be revealed that Bob was negotiating a deal for a two-hour broadcast on Channel 4). I wanted to go in at the right level – sometimes selling up is the best way, so I approached Mike Appleton, the producer of The Old Grey Whistle Test, and he introduced us to the then-head of daytime television, Roger Laughton. It was Roger who drove Live Aid within the BBC and made the TV coverage happen; incidentally it was he who coined the description of Live Aid as ‘the global jukebox’.

Communicating and what we now call networking is critical in business, which seems obvious, although some people find it difficult. You have to be out there and doing it. Most people make a beeline for you because they want to sell you something, but sometimes the best thing is not to be selling anything.

I am an inquisitive person and like meeting people and hearing their stories. I find it fascinating. The thing is not to be frightened – which is easier said than done – and to have confidence. Geldof is a man who has supreme confidence – even though sometimes he didn’t know what he was talking about. I was Yin to his Yang. He threw out these mad ideas and I would be the one who would see if we could make it work. He pulled the headlines while I just got on with it.

I am currently involved in a networking business called Editorial Intelligence. It is running a three-day conference called Names Not Numbers this month in Aldeburgh in Suffolk; a lot of like-minded folk will get together and just talk to each other and listen to the likes of historian Simon Schama giving a masterclass, AC Grayling talking about God – and Bob and me discussing (what else?) big egos and rock’n’roll.

The thing is, you learn from other people. Last year, there was an amazing man who made carpets in Holland, who described his 360-degree eco-cycle to a transfixed audience. In our office we have gone overboard about being eco-friendly and I’m very concerned about the amount of waste we are distributing around the planet. Climate change is going to bite us and we really don’t know how we are going to cope with it.

And then there was the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, who wore his knowledge and wisdom so lightly when he spoke of how the Universe began that it was a delight to speak to him. Here was a man, revered as a scientist, yet a person of deep religious principles.

Looking in my modern-day equivalent of the ‘little black book’ recently, I realised that I had 3,800 telephone numbers. I am pretty sure that most would take my call but I am not sure how many of those 3,800 I would want to take. They say that generally the maximum number of people you need to know is about 150, and if anything that is at the top end.

In my business, however, I want to know everybody – the security guy, the ticket people, the stage manager, road crew, the catering person. They are all part of the mix as much as the artists. As a promoter, I am in the service industry.

In my last promotion, a show by Crazy Horse of Paris in a custom-built venue in London, the thing I was most proud of was the toilets. We went to a lot of effort and they were like The Dorchester. Actually that is not true. They were better. If you think about a night out as an experience, you need to have your eye on all the details – and if the toilets aren’t right, then people remember that above anything.

I delegate everything but I know exactly what is going on. I trust my people to the point where they excel in what they do but I am completely on top of everything. I go out to check the pots where smokers put their stubs for two reasons. One is to have a crafty fag, but also to check that they are cleaned out regularly. After it’s been raining they tend to get smelly. I look around to see whether the doors are closing properly and to see whether the soap is clean. Even when I am not working I do this. Some restaurants drive me nuts when you see how badly managed they are. You can’t – or shouldn’t – be half-baked in any service industry. People ask me how I do it and I say I don’t sleep.

This month I turn 67, but I don’t understand the concept of retiring. I think retirement is a relief for people who had jobs they hated, doing tedious tasks to make a living. That is not me.

Most of us older people, retired or not, have a vast wealth of experience and knowledge, but society does very little to tap into it. I suppose some will think they have done their bit, but I think the Government, and young people, have to find a way to give us more respect and utilise our ability and experience in a positive manner. Craftsmen – there are still so many around – should be able to pass on their skills. It doesn’t have to be a full-time job but there must be ways to incentivise this sort of thing. We are too negative about pensioners and currently the Government is disrespectful with regards to tax penalisation.

Retirement is not in my DNA. Even when I am at home I am catching up on things, phoning and taking calls from who knows where. My secret vice is that I like to play Spider Solitaire online.

I saw a lot of other vices on the road. I witnessed the rock’n’roll lifestyle but never envied it, not one iota. It was quite hard to live it. I remember Keith Moon, the late drummer of The Who, told me after a show before heading out for a wild night: ‘Now I have got to put on my acting hat.’ It got to the point where they were expected to do it. There was always someone coming up with something – the latest elephant-stunning drug to get you high. But someone had to make sure they got home – and that was me.

I am often asked for details and anecdotes about the outrageous behaviour of the stars I have seen up close and personal but – sadly for you, dear reader – I always say no. I built my business on trust and that is the way it will stay.

But I will talk about the future of rock music. Currently rock is at a low point, as comedy, middle of the road and pop take the dominant positions in the entertainment industry. Some of the mega rock stars are too greedy. The greed starts with the artists. The price of tickets to see the big groups is now far too high. Some of them don’t really care. They believe that their audience will be there through thick and thin, and they have more often than not been proved right – but it doesn’t mean that it is right. The mega acts are separated from their audience in the same way that footballers now live in a bubble. The irony is that there is probably more to be angry about now than there was in previous decades.

Rock’n’roll is a more cynical business these days but even so, I reckon another Live Aid would work. But before you decide to commit to it – light the blue touchpaper and ask Bob.

Harvey’s band to listen to: If you haven’t already heard them, give Mumford & Sons a go. They are an English folk rock band that is talented, clever and easy on the ear. Their second studio album, Babel, has just won a Grammy for Album of the Year. And no, I am not their manager. I am out of that side of the business now... until the next time.

Names Not Numbers 2013 is being held in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, March 17-19. Visit

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