Meeting Simon Napier Bell involved another sideline.
Simon, the great entrepreneur, I had met, some time earlier when he was
managing one of the string of artistes he controlled throughout the 60s and
70s. He was managing Junior, a Spanish singer/songwriter whose wife was
Rocio Dorcal, also a singer. Junior had written a song cycle for Rocio, “Ashes
of Our Love”, a series of songs around a single topic, rather an unusual idea.
This was a long piece composed of four songs with linking material, lasting
about twelve or fourteen minutes. I was particularly interested because it gave
me a chance to include some material of my own in these links and, as Simon
had swung a large budget, we had a big orchestra to play with. That was our
first project together.
Then there was the Australian job.
Simon’s network is global. He had been producing an artist in Sydney for
Ted Albert, who owned a publishing and record company, and had persuaded
Ted to finance an instrumental series of classic pieces in a style that is now
called crossover. This is a style of dubious morality where music, that is now
no longer covered by copyright is taken and reworked in a contemporary way.
Results of this legalised form of piracy can vary. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony
from “Saturday Night Fever” was effective; while the William Tell Overture
from “Robin Hood” was horrible.
I arranged ten or so titles based on their classical originals in what I hoped
was a sympathetic but popular way, and off we flew to Oz. This was the first
really long flight I had made as it then took about 30 hours during which I
only slept for an hour or so. I woke suddenly and slid the shutter open and
looked out into the brightest and whitest light I have ever seen. We were over
the Timor Sea and, even at 30,000 feet it looked hot as hell.
We arrived in the evening, and after being sprayed in our seats with
antiseptic we emerged to see hanging in the sky the amazingly crooked
Southern Cross, the only time I’ve seen it.
I was feeling quite dazed from jet lag and lack of sleep but here was a
reception committee determined to make it a big, jolly party. I had recently
seen “The Towering Inferno”, so knowing the threat of fire in tall buildings I
had asked our hotel to let me have a room no higher than the fifth floor.
I finally managed to get away from the reception and take the lift to my
room where it was dark, with the curtains drawn. I fell into bed, cataleptic,
only to pass a sleepless night, not dropping off until shortly before it was time
to get up. Staggering to the bathroom I stopped to pull the curtains to be
greeted by a staggering panorama of Sydney: skyscrapers, opera house and
that bridge towering over all. Far from being no higher than the fifth floor my
hosts had kindly booked into the penthouse, on the very top floor of a very
high building. Still, that panorama I shall always remember.
This was a fairly complicated album, using a large orchestra and a wellstocked
rhythm section, so we were busy for several days. With the recording
over came (for me) the boring bit: reduction and mixing. I am quite ashamed
of this failing because, at these mixing sessions an OK piece can be, and
usually is, transformed. It is highly creative but repetitive and timeconsuming.
I find that I already have the sound in my head and am not a
good, critical ear.
Simon, who is widely experienced in the technicalities, is also very
creative. He was doing the mixing while I stood about contributing not a lot,
putting in a suggestion here and there, which might or might not be accepted.
Also, night was coming on and we looked like being there till cock crow. The
city became silent about 3am and Simon suddenly raised his head from the
desk. “I’m hungry. Can we get a pizza or something?”
I was glad to get out of the building, so I went to get them from a place
At this time of the night I was the only customer but I noticed the chef
was obviously Italian, a good sign. I ordered a Quatro Stagione and a
Pepperone. This Italian, at this time in the morning, still did the whole
preparation bit, spinning the dough on his fingers and tossing it up and down,
all for an audience of one. When they came out of the oven they were
obviously the real thing with light pastry and delicious, generous fillings.
As he packed them into their boxes, with me sniffing them appreciatively
and commenting how good they were, his face was expressionless. “You
know, meester, I come to this-a country to start a new life. They say they
need-a technicians. Hnn? Well, I have degree in engineering from-a
University of Perugia. So what am I doing? I’m-a making PIZZAS!!”
I had a couple of days off and wanted to get out of the city to see
something of the country. I got a lift with some friends and we set off down
the coast for Batemans Bay, the home of Sir Don Bradman, the great cricketer
and a hero of mine. I don’t remember much about the scenery apart from lots
of gum trees, and we saw no Kuala Bears, Possums or Kangaroos, except as
an occasional road kill.
We found the house all right but, like all those other occasions when you
drop in unexpectedly, Sir Don was not in. Never mind, it was worth a try.
I had to get back to Sydney but my friends were going to Canberra which
is inland from Batemans Bay. As you leave the coast you start to climb,
leaving the temperate coast as you scale the cordillera and emerge at 2000 feet
in a desert, all in a few miles. In this desert is a man made oasis, Canberra, the
political heart of Australia. Like Palm Springs, in southern California, it is a
lovely, cultivated place, rather like a huge golf course, full of green spaces,
politicos and quite devoid of atmosphere.
I was deposited at the airport for my flight back to Sydney. I have already
referred to my jet lag and lack of sleep which had persisted through the trip,
only temporarily pushed to the back of my brain by the experience of being
and working in Oz. Sitting in the airport in Canberra, it all suddenly hit me
and I fell into a dead sleep which could have lasted for days. As it was, I was
rudely awakened by an anxious air stewardess who shouted, “Mr Ashmore,
we’ve been calling you for ten minutes. The plane’s leaving. Quick, come
We tore through the gate onto the apron where the plane waited and I was
bundled aboard this plane full of Australian politicos going back to Sydney.
As I dropped into my seat, I heard a voice commenting, “And it’s a f******
Worse still. The flight back takes just enough time for one nice drink.
Across the corridor, I noticed with pleasure, a tray of drinks ready poured out.
But as the pilot, who was now late, put the plane into a steep climb, I watched
with a sinking heart as the tray slid off the table landing on the floor at an
enraged passenger’s feet.
Later, crossing this huge country on the flight back to England, I was
suddenly aware that we were passing near Uhuru (Ayers Rock), the mountain
sacred to all aborigines. I asked the pretty Thai stewardess if the pilot could
point it out to me.
“Oh sure. Come with me”.
On the flight deck I made my request to the pilot who detailed his second
pilot to look out the map Well, their map turned out to be an outline of the
whole continent with our course shown in red and just a few major towns
marked in. By the time we had looked for Uhuru and the aborigines, they had
faded away miles astern.
Back in London we set about plugging our album and weren’t having an
easy time till Simon had an idea, “Lets make ‘Heavy Water’ again, keeping the
rock rhythm section but using a military band.”
This piece was a setting of Handel’s “Water Music” which, luckily, was in
a recognisable march tempo. So we went down to the Duke of York’s barracks
and put the idea to the director of music of the band of The Grenadier Guards,
who was enthusiastic.
We went away and recorded a rhythm track before trotting back to the
noble Duke of York’s to put the band’s part in.
In the studio a total silence reigned. I was back in my army environment
with a sergeant hissing, “No talking, you horrible bandsmen”.
It all went perfectly, with no fuss, no silly questions and, of course, no
talking. It even became a minor hit. Terry Wogan loved it. On his show he
introduced the band and “Heavy Water” by saying, “You can’t see me, but
Although I was working regularly, I was making only just enough to keep
our heads above water. Suzy had one of the first hip second-hand shops, but
with the children to look after as well she was getting tired running it.
Financially we found ourselves doing little more than marking time.
Then, just as Hugo was reaching school leaving age, a world crisis hit us
all. It was 1974. The Association of Oil Producing States put up the price of
crude oil and plunged the world into recession. Many people in the arts and
related professions began to be in trouble.
I had previously done some work for the American publisher Cherry Lane
who now offered me a life-saver. I had to listen to, and take down in simple
stave piano form with chord symbols, all the songs of The Beatles – all 121 of
them – to appear in a two-volume omnibus edition of their music. It took me
six weeks and I can’t remember how much they paid me but it was a lot,
maybe £15,000, which would be £100,000 in today’s money.
Having had several holidays there, we had several times thought about life
in Spain. It was so cheap and pleasant, and we had many friends living there.
Our lawyer, a Guernseyman, had told us that we could get a fabulous rate for
our investments, about 17% or more. Now, with the extra money from the
Beatles’ job, we considered it again.
I thought I had enough contacts to work occasionally. And with the sale of
our house, we would have enough to live well and send Sophy, our daughter,
to the International School in Palma. Hugo, meanwhile, had left school and
got a job working for a firm of commercial photographers. He would stay in
England, which was sad, but would come out regularly to see us.
So in 1978, after a last family conference, we made the decision to skip to
Spain. Our parents and friends weren’t terribly pleased but I thought we would
We set off – our goods and chattels shipped separately and our two cats
heavily sedated in carrying boxes – into the unknown.