Music Moguls, Masters of Pop: Myth Makers review – you just can't beat a pop PR disaster

‘Uriah Heep’s drummer got into a fight with a man dressed as a bear – while Alan Freeman passed out into his soup …’

From Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire to Taylor Swift’s strategic stalking of her own fanbase, Music Moguls: Masters of Pop – Myth Makers (BBC4) had a bubble to burst for every generation. Examining the role of PR in the music industry, the show had endless examples of youthful rebellion being packaged up and sold back to the young.

Our guide to this murky world was PR guru Alan Edwards, who learned his trade at the feet of Keith Altham, the man who told Hendrix to set his guitar on fire, and turned Slade, however briefly, into skinheads. Edwards himself is credited with making the Stranglers punk. “He steered us through that door by manufacturing stories that played up to an image of punk,” said Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell. Scuffles at gigs were duly reported to the press by Edwards. “I would probably add a nought to whatever happened,” he said.

Pete Townshend of the Who on Music Moguls: The Masters of Pop – Myth Makers.
Pete Townshend of the Who on Music Moguls: The Masters of Pop – Myth Makers. Photograph: BBC

Two prior instalments of Music Moguls looked at managers and producers, but a documentary fronted by a PR man leaves you with the distinct impression you’re being manipulated. It’s like getting a physics lesson from a magician. As the Guardian’s Nick Davies, interviewed in the programme, put it: “Good PR does not reveal its own hand. Good PR is disguised as though it were simply news.”

More heartening were stories of PR gone wrong, in particular an attempt to curry favour on behalf of Uriah Heep, a band so despised by the music press that a Rolling Stone journalist promised to kill herself if they made it big. The band’s PR proposed to fly journalists to a revolving restaurant high in the wintry Alps, a location spotted in a James Bond film. Everyone got drunk on the plane. Drummer Lee Kerslake scrapped with a man dressed as a bear in the arrivals hall. Journalists got still drunker at altitude. DJ Alan Freeman passed out into his soup and was left to revolve alone. Then the band got into a fist fight during the Alpine photocall. When PR works, you don’t see it happening. When it doesn’t, there will be blood on the snow.

Contributor

Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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