Friday, 29 May 2009

Could you furnish me with some of your dubstep wares?

Me: Oh hello, it's Ben from V2, can I speak to Oliver please?
Bloke: Who?
Me: Er, Oliver Jones... Skream?
Bloke: No, who are you?
Me: Ben Wardle - from V2. I think I spoke to you a couple of days ago...
Bloke: Oh yeah. What was it about again?
Me: It's about a remix...

To paraphrase Norm from Cheers: Remixers - can't live with them... Would you pass the beer nuts? Why I didn't want to like the La Roux album is precisely because of the fella above - Skream. But first let me give you some background.

I was writing a piece on 'The Red Lady' for a Portuguese magazine and I thought that rather than just write a load of old biased conjecture based on hearing two songs and knowing she had a funny haircut, I really should do the decent thing and listen to her record and interview her. Well, the latter never happened because she was 'on holiday' but Universal did hook me up with their amazing digital pass system and before I knew it I had the album in my inbox - surely this is the best way of getting music to fans, it was just as fast as iTunes and frankly a better service.

Anyway, the album is genuinely great. OK, In For The Kill has been in the charts for 10 weeks, has only just left the top five but is far from the best track on the record. But, I'll be honest here, I didn't really get the single - the voice sounded too strained, out of its comfort zone and after a while the tune just seemed to go round and round without getting anywhere. Hey, Mr W, that's pop music, buddy, get used to it, I hear you say. And, as ever, you are right. I am listening to it now and it's one of those records - and songs - that feels like it's always been with us. But once you've heard the album - and judging from my travels last week you probably have, as it seems to be the most widely disseminated pre-release in recent history- yes, once you've heard the album (out on June 29, listeners) you'll get a much fuller idea of Elly Jackson's voice. Bulletproof, the next single, is a stonker. Yes, I did actually write that word down.

But I was cynical about La Roux for the reason many people initially were - because when In For The Kill was getting its early plays three, four months ago, the buzz was all around the Skream remix. It had nothing to do with the original track. This remix is great, markedly different from the actual track and wholly in keeping with the dubstep hipster's previous releases. But this only made me extra reluctant to like La Roux - and here's the rub: a couple of years ago I had tried repeatedly and failed to get Skream to do a remix for one of my acts. Actually, worse, I couldn't even get the dubstepper to return my calls.

I was A&Ring Lethal Bizzle at the time for V2. This is a whole other story in itself and I'll save it for another time, suffice to say here that the Walthamstow grime hero is a genuinely lovely chap whose only fault is perhaps the length of time he takes to get around to recording things. Bizarre, because once in the studio he would zip through stuff with lightning speed.

Anyway, at his insistence I'd been trying to open his ears up to things he wouldn't normally listen to and getting him to work outside his grime comfort zone. He loved Gallows at SXSW so I got them to remix a single, after that I got The Enemy to do the same and both remixes turned out great. Lethal (for that is what we call him) also worked with the massively underrated Akira The Don on tracks which featured samples from The Clash and The Ruts (there is even a superb track Akira did which samples The Breeders' Cannonball, which will never see the light of day for Kim Deal reasons, sadly.)

But we needed something hip for the second single and what better - and indeed cooler than that summer's underground dance craze dubstep and its coolest representative Skream If you haven't heard his debut Skream! it's worth going and purchasing a copy - it's full of Hitchcockian menace and cheap beats - like a council estate Portishead.

Skream turned out not to have a proper manger at the time - he appeared to be based out of a record shop in Croydon. At least I think it was a record shop. Maybe it was a proper office with fax machines and lavish itineraries pinned to the wall. Or maybe not. I phoned it several times and the conversation would start as per the exchange above and continue thus:

Me: It's about a remix. For Lethal Bizzle...
Bloke. Oh yeah, that's right, yeah.
Me: Is he about? You said he would be around today...
Bloke: Nah. He's not about today.
Me: Right. Did you pass the message on though?
Bloke. The message? (Sound of other conversation and laughter in the background)
Me: About Lethal?
Bloke. No, he's not bin in.
Me: But did you pass the message on?
Bloke: (laughing uproariously at something going on in Skream HQ, then returning to phone) Yo...
Me: Hi, I just wondered if did you pass the message on?
Bloke: Nah, like I say, he's not bin in
Me: And you can't pass his mobile number on?
Bloke: Nah sorry.... (to some colleagues in the Skream HQ in the background) Oh wicked, man! That's mega!
Me: Hello?
Bloke: Yeah - I'll tell him you called. (Line goes dead)

So Skream wasn't exactly biting our hands off on this one. To be fair, he wasn't getting a whole lot of remix work at that time which either means he was avoiding calls like mine or he was sitting at home wondering whether he should sack his assistant. I'd like to think it was the latter as he's since done a fair few remixes.

Dealing with producers, remixers and their representatives is - or certainly was - one of the main parts of the A&R job. There's a scene in John Niven's book where an A&R man is asked for his producer suggestions in a meeting and he lists a very impressive line-up of people he says he's considering. It later becomes apparent that all he's done is quickly look at that week's album chart (which always lists the producer alongside the artist presumably for this very purpose). And in theory it's that easy. Ever wondered why suddenly a producer or remixer seems to be everywhere? It's because, as William Goldman says in Adventures in The Screen Trade, "nobody knows anything" so if someone has had a sniff of a hit it's likely that they'll be enlisted to produce whatever the big signings are which the record company needs to be successful- and because these acts are the safe bets it's likely they will be successful and so the producer's Midas-like reputation will grow even more. Then eventually, a couple of surprise stiffs later, the producer's mortality is revealed and the A&R men move on to fresh pastures. But there are a handful of perennials who are safe pairs of hands - certainly I'd cite Stephen Street as one. Graham Coxon, who Street produced in Blur and who Coxon continues to use for his solo stuff, recently described 'Streety' as someone who is 'consistent', not perhaps at first glance the biggest accolade but if you're an artist it's a huge plus. Artists reserve the right to be erratic, blow hot and cold and you definitely don't want someone behind the console who is like that. Even when Street makes a dull record it's always redeemed by lovely little bits of detail - and you can hear everything, nothing is buried.

I always tried to use interesting producers and remixers - not go for the obvious list of that week's chart winners. I'd try and find people who were new or had perhaps not had the breaks but I thought - or their manager suggested - might be good. Sometimes this worked (Akira The Don had never produced a record before Bizzle for example) and sometimes it didn't. I once was given the task of looking after Aimee Mann for one summer in nascent Britpop years. She was making the follow up to Whatever (a nascent Britpop album if ever there was one) and had recorded a song, a duet with Glen Tilbrook, called That's Just What You Are which needed mixing. I got a producer called Marcus Dravs involved who was a personable young German guy who had done some engineering with Brian Eno and had some good ideas. He mixed the track really well, I thought, bringing out a modernity that it needed . But guess what? Aimee loathed it and bless her, told me in no uncertain terms. Ah well. Still a decade later Marcus is having some sort of last laugh as he's now producing Arcade Fire and Coldplay.

It was the artistic process which always interested me - the listening to the tracks, the tweaking of certain things which subsequently threw a new perspective on everything else. Sometimes too much bloody perspective. What I was less good at was the haggling - the fee, the percentages, the deal. I was out earlier this week meeting someone at The Strongroom, a studio in Hoxton and in the bar opposite was a meeting of the Music Producers' Guild. Outside was the manager of two sizeable acts and we speculated on what these producers might be talking about. "How they are going to get paid" he said bluntly. He then went on to point out how unfair it has always been that producers have always commanded a percentage (points) of an artist's royalties in perpetuity: "Sure, share some of the action for the first couple of years but after that goodbye and thank you very much!"

As record companies lose their power and artists with a fanbase gain more leverage, this could become a reality but back when I used to negotiate with producer managers you were really made to feel who was boss when you wanted one of their top producers. I remember trying to get a very well known dance remixer for a Pop Will Eat Itself single who was managed by an portly industry legend who shall remain nameless. After the inevitable industry small talk he cut to the chase and said what the deal was. I told him what I was thinking (IE MUCH LESS), and explained why given what sort of group PWEI were etc etc. He listened, then quietly told me I could fuck off if I thought his producer would take any less and put the phone down. Most producer managers, I must stress are charming and open to negotiate but I was always surprised by the disregard for manners that would occasionally come out of the blue - one big name manager with whom I was trying to negotiate, cut me off mid sentence and said "Just fax me the bloody deal and make sure it's not Mickey Mouse!" I ask you, is that what a Cambridge University education achieves?

So maybe the boy with the goldfish attention span in Skream's office was giving me the dubstep equivalent of a fob off; he may not have been to charm school or even Cambridge but in his own syncopated way, he was saying: "We're not interested in your Grime, Mr Record Company - never call us again".Or perhaps the day that La Roux called, Skream like Godot had finally shown up and taken the call.

Friday, 22 May 2009

20 Years with Lamacq

For approximately the 1000th time, I'm standing at the back of the Camden Barfly. I'm leaning on the bar watching I Heart Hiroshima doing their odd mix of angsty feelgood thrash. Perhaps they manage this dichotomy because whilst being out and out indie rock, they nonetheless come from Brisbane and can't help giving off a relaxed surfer aura. Or it might be that in between songs, the female drummer is relentlessly chummy.

I look around me at the young crowd and once again have to acknowledge that apart from Steve Lamacq who is standing just in front of me and Simon Williams who is to my right, I am undeniably the oldest person in the room. No, wait, hang on - I'm not! Who is that whispering in Steve's ear - it's Fruitbat from Carter From The Unstoppable Sex Machine! Blimey, maybe going to see the time-travel friendly new Star Trek film on Wednesday has warped me back to 1989.

Earlier the same evening, Steve and I had been drinking in his favourite pub The Ship on New Cavendish Street. He was chatting to NME Radar editor Jamie Hodgson and without either of us saying it both of us were thinking - this guy does the same job Steve was doing 20 years ago. That would be the equivalent of the two of us in 1989 meeting the guy who had given Led Zeppelin, Free or James Taylor their first NME column inches.

Also outside The Ship was up-and-coming singer Florence aka Florence And The Machine. I saw her perform in some Soho basement about two years ago with a lone guitarist (The Machine, I presumed). Even back then it was full of hipster A&Rs like Geoff Travis but I have to admit I didn't get it at all: her voice, which everyone was extolling the virtues of, seemed to work off a small portion of Amy Winehouse's range and the songs were circuitous bluesy dirges. But from what I hear of her forthcoming album, she's gone into a rich La Roux/Bat For Lashes direction and the voice now has really depth. And I'm not just saying that because she was very personable outside the pub. Although she was. I mean, she didn't need to be friendly to me, did she? - I am neither a legendary music DJ or an influential new band correspondent. I am merely the bloke who once spent a windy October evening at the Harlow Square on Steve Lamacq's birthday in 1990.

Looking back on the last 20 years that I've known the bloke they used to call 'the boy Lamacq' I now realise that without ever becoming what you'd call 'bezzie mates' we did share an awful lot of pop experiences. OK, so I missed that night at The Norwich Arts Centre when Richie Manic claimed to be 4 Real but we were together for much of Britpop, especially Elastica (although he bagged them for his label Deceptive over my label Scared Hitless) he followed and supported my first signing Five Thirty, and it was Ride that brought us together. It was for Ride that were waiting in the Harlow Square that night in 1990.

Steve was grumpy; possibly about being a year older, although there may have been some kind of romantic issue going on too. But once the band came on nothing mattered. Ride were a great live act obviously, but my point is that Steve's heart and soul have always been so wrapped up in music that it takes priority over everything else. Yes, he loves Colchester United and I've frequently found him reading Jeffrey Bernard books when he's waiting to meet me in the pub but most of his waking hours are filled with noise. A few years ago he wrote a piece in The Guardian about only ever having seen 14 films in his entire life. Now whilst he was probably exaggerating (for instance, the two of us definitely went to see Robocop 2 together when we were in New York for a music seminar, so that makes 15 already) I don't find it hard to believe that he couldn't find time to catch, say, a Bond movie on TV on Christmas Day - he would be too busy going through the demo bag to see if there was anything worth including on his Boxing Day show.

This obsessive behaviour makes him an easy target for ridicule of course and sometimes when I feel myself slipping into cynicism about the music business I ask myself why he bothers. But bother he does and regardless of him being a friend I think in the shallow modern world of celebrity presenters, he is a lone and necessary figure. Zane Lowe, Hugh Stevens, Colin Murray and their like are good on the radio - some of them better than Steve perhaps, but you know that much of what they play has been suggested by the producer or is dragged from the pages of the NME or Internet blog trawls. With Steve, you know he's hunted the stuff down and quite probably has had a pint of cider with the singer.

Of course Steve is a celebrity of sorts, but only by default of being good at what he does. I'm sure he enjoys being recognised in venues - and he always is and invariably comes out laden with CDs - but that's not what motivates him. Anyone who is out with him gets caught in the crossfire too. I came home with a Tapetheradio CD last night (very good by the way - a much more manageable and melodic Bloc Party). Out with him couple of years ago, whilst I stood patiently listening to an awestruck bass player tell him how he should really listen to Track Two of the demo, the guitarist from the same band took pity on me, "You done been doing this long?" he asked. "Sorry," I looked up, "Doing what?" The guitarist gestured at Lamacq , "Being his bouncer."

I won't go on because it will look like he's paying me for this. Actually that's an idea, perhaps I should ask him... No, I will simply finish on this: A few years ago an old A&R friend of Steve's was staying on his couch after his marriage had broken up. One afternoon after Steve had gone through his demo bag, he gave the guy a CD to listen to saying he thought it was pretty good and might cheer him up. Fast forward several years and Steve's mate is now managing the band, who have become rather successful and are supporting AC/DC on their current world tour. Normal friends would have tried to help him meet a new woman or get a job; Steve did what he does best, he found him a band.

Friday, 15 May 2009

What happened in the cubicle

One day a few years ago a friend of mine who used to work at Warners went into the Gents. He walks up to the urinal and starts weeing. From the stalls behind him he hears a slight moan. Fair enough, he thinks, it's a toilet stall, people make sounds in them . As he finishes and zips up his fly, he hears a louder sound from the same stall. This throws a new and disturbing light on the previous sound. Christ, he thinks, that's the clatter and bang of some serious diarrhoea - and just as he's finishing this thought, he's greeted with a third and almost deafening retort which seemingly ricochets off the tiled walls. Inside that stall, there is someone in serious trouble...

Why am I telling you this? OK, I admit it. For the last week and a bit I have been less than attentive of the music scene. All I've done is written one thing about the comical Coldplay plagiarism story and lorded it up a couple of times at the theatre (Opera? Got it: l'elisier d'amore; 19th century Danish business? Sorted: Peer Gynt) And what have I been doing the rest of the time? Looking after my 1 year old daughter. And I'm doing it for the rest of May, my pop-picking friends.

Relax I'm not going to start regaling you with 'amusing' accounts of what a wake-up call house-husbandry is compared to normal life and how comically inept I am at it. Ho ho ho - wouldn't that be ironic and hilarious? But listen, that's the point of mentioning it here - because just as there always seem to be a bunch of new books about how crazy fun-loving guys have managed to learn to knuckle under and become great dads, there now also seem to be a swelling mass of books written by former music industry employees - the most high profile of recent months is of course Luke Haines' Bad Vibes.

Now clearly I am always going to be biased in matters of books about the music business. It would be lovely to tell you that my book on the music business is about to come out but I think perhaps that that is a way off. Besides, I'd like to get some of my stories published - it does look as though the Pink Flag collection is going to emerge at some point which is exciting. I'll keep you posted.

But anyway, back to Haines. Firstly, unlike my Kill Your Friends blog last year (which I anticipated not liking, but then found myself surprised and impressed with) I imagine I am really going to enjoy Haines' book. I know a few folks whose opinion I trust and they've all had fun with it and it covers a time in the business that I know well and having read one or two extracts it is clear that he writes engagingly. But one thing bothers me about the Haines book - how am I going to enjoy it when I never liked his band?

Let's be honest, The Auteurs weren't all that great were they? Their demo emerged around the same time as Suede's and they were vaguely in the same musical glam camp (at least at first) but it was a thin voiced, jangly textbook indie. They got a deal with Virgin imprint Hut, after everyone who failed to get Suede checked them out. And after that, well, nothing really happened. Over a long period of time. And the book appears to be about how annoyed LH was with the way things went and how terrible all the other artists were and undeserving of their success. I know I'm doing it again and writing about a book I haven't read but as far as I can tell, Haines sticks to his schtick despite the evidence being plain to anyone who has heard The Auteurs. I'm listening to the first album New Wave now and it's OK but... oh, you know, it's just not that great.

This argument didn't stop me loving The Dirt about Motley Crue without really being able to name a single Crue song but somehow because the Haines book is one man's very personal vision it seems to me that you have to buy into his music to immerse yourself in the prose. Or not? You've probably read it haven't you and you're stroking your chin and shaking your head at my idiocy. Anyway, David Peace liked it so it must be good, right kids?

Another book on the music business (which you'll be happy to hear I have read) is Dan Kennedy's Rock On: How I Tried to Stop Caring About Music and Learn to Love Corporate Rock and, should you wondering what your next read is, this is the business. It's by a fella who contributes to Dave Eggers' McSweeney magazine and who in a former life was a senior marketing exec at Warners. The book tells the tale of how he got the job and managed to keep it until he was, along with many others, made redundant.

There are many reasons why Rock On is good (the title isn't one of them by the way) the main one being it's hilarious. Kennedy writes from the perspective of someone who can't believe he has managed to bag a job inside a record company - surely how everyone feels - or felt. And because he wasn't long in the job, he retains a crtical distance - or at least his writing has the authentic ring of someone who never got absorbed into the system. Plus he's writing about relatively recent history so all the horrors of the industry meltdown which the US felt before the UK are covered.

But mostly I love it because it's about office life. I'm obsessed with books about office life, the nonsense of corporate structures and the idiotic way people behave within it. So music and this combined - it's a winner, frankly. Not wanting to spoil it for you, there is one bit which I sincerely hope is true:

Kennedy has just learned from HR along with a senior executive who doesn't even know his name or what he did ("thanks for all the, uh, marketing...") that he's been made redundant. He emerges from the office outside of which two male assistants sit typing and avoiding eye contact with him. They know that everyone going in and out of the office that day is being laid off. Instead of sheepishly walking off, Kennedy proclaims (I'm paraphrasing here so forgive me if I'm not doing it justice) "Well that was a surprise!" The guys look up. "Yes," he goes on, "Apparently, you two now work for me!" The blokes look at each other dumbstruck and horrified. "Just kidding!" he beams and strolls off.

Oh yes, I never finished my Warners story. So my friend is washing his hands and waiting for the next painful rear end explosion to come from the stall. But instead, there is an eery silence, broken only by the reassuring noise of a squeaking toilet roll dispenser. As he drys his hands the stall door opens slowly and a completely relaxed and fresh faced person emerges - as if end-of-the-world cacophony was standard lavatorial procedure. And who was this person? Well, let's just say I hope his aim was true.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

A&R Man Claims £1000s In Slap-Up Meal Expenses Frenzy

I'm glad I reproduced that Ricky Gervais story last week, largely because I got an email from a reader called Kate, who also remembers Ricky in pre-Office days. I asked her for permission to quote a bit of it here and she said yes, bless her. So here is her brilliant story:

"We all went to the same gym - me, him and Jane, his lovely missus. I used to listen to his shitty bands, year after painful year. I let him have an enormous time of day because he was brilliant at impersonating David Bowie, it broke up the demo tape boredom and also because, like you, I was diligent. Also he let me use the ULU swimming pool! I made Chris Parry take us to dinner (this is probably after listening to his cruddy bands for ten years) because I thought he was so funny and should be on the radio. Quite randomly, Chris said 'yes, you can have a job at XFM we will call it Head of Speech'. No word of a lie, Ricky wept, I did nudge him and say 'pull yourself together' - we were all a bit the worse for wear. Behind every great man is an underpaid somebody or other... "

Well, like I said a couple of weeks ago in the Susan Boyle blog, all some people need is just a little break and then they blossom. And Ricky G must surely be an inspiration to all late developers - just like Boyle is now. Although, now the main story on Susan Boyle seems to be that no one as yet, has made any money out of her - least of all ITV whose clip has now been watched over 100 million times on Youtube.

One business which has probably done well 0ut of Boyle is the restaurant trade - and they probably need it in the economic climate change. Did you notice the pivotal part of Kate's story above? Food. It was the head of Fiction and XFM taking them all out to dinner. I bet there have been a number of substantial 'working' lunches and dinners held between various employees of ITV, Sony and Syco in the name of Susan Boyle. With all manner of starters, desserts and liquid refreshment. And what happens afterwards? Yes, you got it: the expenses claim. Anyone who has ever had a job with expenses - and possibly there are some of you out there who are still blessed with such jobs - will know the combined pleasure and pain. The pleasure of the 'cashback' moment; the pain of the mounting receipts burning a hole in an old envelope in your desk drawer that you know will take half a day to sort out. Fortunately none of you will have experienced the public scrutiny being enjoyed by the government today but then again, the sort of things that A&R men claim rarely involve furniture or decoration costs.

But to sympathise with our beleaguered public servants for a few brief moments, the key thing I remember about expenses is that no matter how hard you try to claim back everything you have spent in the name of your job, you still end up out of pocket. No matter how many receipts you would save, there would never be enough to cover what you had spent. No wonder Gordon Brown had a go at claiming twice for the same thing, eh?

With A&R the primary form of expense is always Entertainment - that's mainly buying people drinks and occasionally food. Now, unless you want to look like a complete tightarse and defeat the purpose of buying booze in the first place, you never ask the bar staff for a receipt. In fact the expression, "Can I have a receipt please?" is so laden with the pain and suffering of boring office life that you may as well say to whoever it is you are getting a drink, "Please don't sign to me/produce this record/ever return my calls again - I am a boring company drone and really not worthy to be in the company of a creative free spirit like yourself."

That's the thing about A&R - half the time you are a dude with a cool record collection and an ear for a hit, and the other half you are a flunky. Unfortunately you are - in my experience at least - usually the latter when you hang out with bands, who tap you for free drinks and only the former when you are in the office surrounded by others who don't get out as much as you. And boy do the folks in Accounts know you go out - they know where, when and exactly what you had.

Expenses, as the man who signed Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine once said, are the most creative part of the A&R job. Incidentally, he went on to make a fortune doing cover-mount music CDs for newspapers, then sold the company, made a pile and is now a happy and successful school teacher. But I digress, the creative part of expenses is the fact that rather like drama in books, film and TV, the truth is often stranger than fiction and of course when you submit your sheets of A4 to Accounts you sure as hell don't want anyone thinking your claim is strange. So if you've been buying large amounts of booze, food and plastic novelty items in order to convince a band that you are without doubt the coolest and most exciting record company you might find yourself fabricating little stories around the receipts you have collected in order to creative believable scenarios.

So many times I would find that for legitimate nights out with bands I would spend £100 or £150 on booze/pinball/entrance to gigs but only come away with a couple of cab receipts. So in order to make up what I'd spent I started using receipts from the occasional time I would go out for a meal with a mate. And then before I knew it EVERY time I went out with friend to eat I would ask for a receipt just in case. But imagine that on the front page of the Daily Telegraph - it wouldn't wash would it? "A&R Man Claims £1000s In Slap-Up Meal Frenzy!" And no, before you ask, apart from that one time when I went to buy 'stimulants to help us work through the night' with a band's money - I never bought a band drugs. Take their drugs, sure! Who didn't?

I've noticed that recently when I see friends from record companies that I end up having tea and biscuits more often than a slap-up meal. This is frankly a welcome development. The thing about expense accounts - and this may just be a bloke thing - is that often they are flaunted like expensive jewellery or cars. Quite often I remember going to meet music publishers and lovely thought they invariably were, we would end up in ludicrously expensive restaurants in West London talking about what we had seen at the Barfly and if we would be able to get on the guest list at The Bull & Gate - it just seemed wrong. And then of course next time we met, I felt duty bound to entertain them in a similar fashion. One record company pal told me recently that they now have to clear all their FUTURE expenses before going out and spending the cash. Surely he was exaggerating, this is madness! - kind of like being asked to predict how many CDs a freshly signed act is going to sell. Oh hang on, we actually did have to do that when I was at BMG and V2.

But really, telling an expenses Tsar how much you think you are going to blow on lunch with a business associate takes all the glamour out of having an expense account doesn't it. Looking back on my expenses days I now realise the real joy of the expense account was the reward every month. After spending an afternoon of going through your pockets for receipts and trying to remember what the hell you had done it was pure pleasure to get that extra bit of cash back in your account. It was my money, I'd spent it, but I could never get used to the fact that I got money back after I had spent it - however legitimately. It was free money. And astute managers recognised this psychology - one manager (who is now extremely powerful) was pretty skint when he managed a band for me in the 90s and made no bones about tapping me for free food every time he saw me, "Where are we going for lunch today, dear boy?" he would enquire on the phone, often before I knew I even had a meeting with him. Fortunately, like Ricky Gervais, he was marvellous company and I never turned him down. Last time I saw him he offered to buy me lunch - it was a lovely moment and even though I'd already eaten I hope he somehow managed to claim for it.