Heading up PR for Live 8 was a job for an experienced hand with all the right connections – in TV, the press, music management and with the artists themselves
It’s the age of the iPod, Michael Jackson is innocent, and pop music has been big news of late. Step forward Live 8, the gig of gigs. Music PR has been with us since Enrico Caruso became the first mega-selling recording artist 100 years ago, but the good old days of George Evans paying girls $5 a night to scream and “faint” at early Frank Sinatra concerts are long past. Maybe Brian Epstein would have been eaten alive a generation on, but Christopher Guest’s portrayal of the business in the 1980s film Spinal Tap looks quaint and innocent by comparison with life in the post-Pop Idol era.
Live 8 is the gig of the decade but is also the logistical nightmare of the century, but for the PR man charged with keeping all those competing super-egos happy, it is one for the old school.
It warmed my heart when the job went – again – to Bernard Doherty, who handled Live Aid 20 years ago. Tastes change in the ambition-fuelled world of music publicity, but as the head of LD Communications it is his seasoned guile that he uses to best effect.
It was Doherty who memorably remarked to me at the Q Awards a few years ago that there were two kinds of music PR: those who carried handbags, and those who didn’t. Quite apart from the literal meaning (“No, mate, carry your own f*cking guitar”), it’s the difference between yes-men, and those prepared to deliver bad news when necessary.
Few have the number of tribal scars he has serrated across his aged shell. Bernard has, for as long as anyone can remember, looked after the Brits, that annual melee of superstars and wannabes jostling for the biggest slice of the publicity pie. When you consider how many requests for interviews, photos and tickets he must turn down – more, I’d imagine, than he can ever grant – it’s amazing that anyone has a good word for him.
A PR cliche is that the bigger the event the more friends you suddenly acquire. PR folk will always manage to pick up the odd detractor – it goes with the territory – but Bernard manages to stay below the radar and avoid the flak. He’s perfected that balancing act that PR demands – exclusive-giving, trouble-shooting, rumour-killing, interview-giving (and denying), gossip-feeding and, of course, damage limitation. It’s about making sure the right gossip gets out to the right people – and the wrong backstage gossip never leaves the backstage area. Schooled in the shark-infested waters of media-ville, he doesn’t forget his friends and keeps a beady eye on the young blood coming through. And for that you need nous as well as long-standing relations with all the right people. You need to command respect from both sides: the artists and the media (whose egos can often be almost as big as the stars they write about).
Doherty along with Alan Edwards of Outside, are the best in the music business at balancing all those conflicting demands. Doherty needs all his energy to keep an even keel with the ü ber line-up on overdrive at Hyde Park.
Personally, I was happy to see that there is still some loyalty left in what is becoming an increasingly cynical and exploitative business. It’s all too easy for the beancounters who run record companies to chase the hottest new PR talent because that’s what the music biz is all about. But this is not a job for the new kid on the block who, when given a powerful new job, usually puts their new found omnipotence to poor use. Live 8 is a job for an dextrous virtuoso.
It was a job for an experienced hand with all the right connections – in TV, the press, music management and the artists themselves.
The truth is that apart from a handful of old-timers (I use the term loosely, but I’m talking about over-45s like me) like Bernard, Alan Edwards, Barbara Charone of MBC and Rob Partridge of Coalition, the new generation of music PRs just don’t have the adroit, authority shaped by the rock and roll jungle. The bright shiny independents are great at getting an NME cover or a friendly exclusive in Q but not so good at leaking “approved” exclusives that guarantee the front page of the Sun or the Mirror. That’s what an event like Live 8 is all about. And that’s what Bernard Doherty is all about.