ZTT: The fall of the pleasuredome
A WAR of words has broken out this week between Holly Johnson and ZTT boss Jill Sinclair.
Johnson, who was freed from an “unreasonable” ZTT recording contract by a High Court judge two weeks ago, has accused the label of leaving “a trail of destruction” in their wake. Sinclair, claiming to be “flabbergasted” by the allegations, has hit back at Johnson for being “difficult to work with”.
Johnson said this week: “This is the first time that ZTT has been shown publicly to be in the wrong. I always felt that the media had been on their side all along, saying ‘Look how clever ZTT are, manipulating these people’. ZTT have got a lot to answer for. They’ve left a trail of destruction behind them. Look how many bands they’ve destroyed.
“The Art Of Noise have now split up into factions, Propaganda split up because of their situation. Instinct and Anne Pigalle left the label when they could. It’s fantastic that Das Psych-Oh Rangers are out of their deal now. Many of the groups that signed to ZTT realised the mistake they’d made and endeavoured to get out of the agreement. It does take a couple of months’ experience with ZTT to realise what a pain they are.
“Their attitude is extremely difficult to deal with. With Frankie Goes To Hollywood, it was ‘They’re only the band, they’re just puppets, we’ve created them’. They started to believe their own press.
“I didn’t want to continue working with ZTT when I found out how much the ‘Pleasuredome’ album cost. We were shocked and outraged by that. It cost £400,000. We were pretty unhappy in 1985, although in the hope that Trevor (Horn) would produce our second album, we kept quiet about our displeasure to a certain degree. ‘Liverpool’, I found out about eight months after its completion, cost in the region of £800,000 —
“One of the great triumphs of the court case, apart from being free from my recording agreement, is the inquiry that’s been ordered into the recording costs of the ‘Liverpool’ album. ZTT wouldn’t agree to a budget for the album. And they didn’t exercise the correct control when we were in the studio. We weren’t properly informed about what they were spending. They were spending the band’s money on recording, but it was in their studio and they were profiting on it. So they couldn’t exercise responsible control. It’s all designed to maximise their profits, you see.
“The triumph is that now some producers who have got big egos will have to start working to budgets like everyone else. You can’t spend bands’ money willy-nilly without them knowing about it.
“Jill Sinclair even tried to muscle in on our merchandising and our tee-shirt sales, which was the only thing we had to live on until about half-way through 1985, really.
“ZTT should’ve renegotiated our contract when ‘Relax’ was a hit. Any decent business person, any decent human being, would have renegotiated the contract immediately and willingly.
“I’ve been reading some of the interviews given by different people since the court case. ZTT are claiming that I didn’t go and say ‘Look, I’m unhappy with this recording contract and I want to negotiate my release’. That’s a lot of rubbish. I sent my manager and my financial consultant over to see them to say we wanted to negotiate my release and ask for their proposals. And they wouldn’t even discuss the idea.
“ZTT had a strong argument against releasing me, in court, but it was a fictitious argument. On the first day they were saying ‘This person has a great capacity for obscenity, his voice had to be electronically manipulated, he was a very awkward person’, but they were digging their own grave because they were throwing shit on one level, but on the other hand, they were saying ‘It will be all alright if you just grant us the injunction, Judge, so we can keep hold of him’, when it was obvious they had no respect for me.
“I hoped, I prayed and I just went on hoping that justice would be done. In a way I was fighting for everyone who’d been trodden on.”
Johnson, now busy writing songs which he describes as “pure dance music, but pop basically, less heavy than the ‘Liverpool’ album”, is looking for a producer and hopes to have a single out on MCA before the end of the year.
Former Frankie Paul Rutherford has gone to LA to work with various producers and songwriters. The rest of the band had, according to manager Tony Pope, been “waiting to see the outcome of Holly’s case, but ZTT I suppose jumped the gun and dropped them beforehand”. They have recruited a new singer, as yet unnamed, and have written and demoed an album. They are currently label-shopping and thinking of a name. It’s unlikely they’ll call themselves The Lads.
Das Psych-Oh Rangers, who were also in dispute with ZTT, were another band waiting for the outcome of the Holly case, since their court action involved similar allegations of “restraint of trade”. They were, however, released by ZTT before the end of Johnson’s case.
Ranger Julian Von Vleet said this week: “Our problem was the husband and wife team of Jill Sinclair and Trevor Horn. Their money-go-round is the big issue. It’s like a money circle, the money just goes round and round. ZTT could spend an unlimited amount of bands’ money. It was my most satisfying moment of last year to sit in the court’s public gallery and listen to Jill Sinclair and Trevor Horn being pulled apart, and hear producers’ control being questioned. But if we’d had to go to court, our case would have been a lot dirtier than Holly’s.”
PUTTING ZTT’s side of the case, Jill Sinclair commented this week: “It was very sad that the Judge only looked at the possibility of what could happen with the contract, how it could be interpreted, not how it had been.”
On Johnson’s allegations that ZTT refused to discuss his release, she said:” A meeting was called —
“They said ‘We can renegotiate, we can sue you or you can let us go for a negotiated settlement’. I said ‘Fine, we should talk about it’. And they never came back. What Holly is saying is not true at all. We were always prepared to discuss it.Continue »
“On the subject of the budget for ‘Liverpool’, we never refused to agree to budget. We had a floating budget. We were doing the second album in a totally different way, as a career move for the band so they’d have a long career of many albums, and we would have found it hard to budget. But we budgeted what we could and kept them informed and liaised with them.
“It’s possible that the band weren’t told the cost of ‘Pleasuredome’, but with ‘Liverpool’, we sent monthly figures to their manager Tony Pope. If we thought of them as puppets we wouldn’t have tried to do ‘Liverpool’ the way we did it. I don’t know how Holly can talk about ‘puppets’. The video director on ‘Rage Hard’ was his choice. And I don’t understand where he gets the idea we had no respect for him.
“I can’t see a greater indication of our respect than the fact we had Trevor and Stephen (Lipson) working on his product for a year. We made a great effort not to be silly in court and to start saying things that we could possibly have said.
“On the topic of money, ZTT didn’t make a lot compared with CBS or even Island. The band had to record somewhere, and with a producer like Trevor Horn, we have the studios to the standard Trevor Horn likes to work in. That’s well known and respected. Island (distributing ZTT at the time) had no financial risk compared to ZTT. If I were greedy, I wouldn’t have started a record label. Trevor could’ve produced Madonna. Holly’s sitting there having earned himself over a million pounds. When he goes on about greed, it’s really very unfortunate because if you’re a small record label with easily identifiable individuals, you’re accused of being greedy.
“It’s very easy to pick on individuals. Who picks on, say, CBS, for being greedy? ZTT didn’t get the lion’s share, and what ZTT earned was reinvested in the company and the bands. I don’t know how we were meant to be muscling in on the merchandising. All of the ideas for that came from Paul (Morley) and he received a very small amount. ZTT never received “anything at all from it.
“On the point of renegotiating contracts after ‘Relax’ —
“Holly is not an easy person to work with. I don’t think any good artists are necessarily easy to work with, but that doesn’t diminish their value to the record company. Holly was difficult to deal with, and I’m flabbergasted by some of what he has to say.
“We haven’t destroyed any band at ZTT. Art Of Noise left because we didn’t pick up their option. Frankie broke up because of Holly Johnson and Wolfgang Kuhle. Claudia Brucken left Propaganda because she married Paul Morley. Anne Pigalle we didn’t agree with on her second album. With Andrew Poppy, we made two albums and it just wasn’t a sensible proposition. Das Psych-Oh Rangers are not with the label any more. I have nothing more to say about them.
“ZTT is now developing new talent. We have Nasty Rocks Inc and Act. Stiff (which Sinclair owns) has Mint Juleps and The Pogues. We have a very busy release schedule. We’re looking forward to a year of hits and breaking new acts.”
Act release their first album, “Laughter, Tears And Rage”, on March 7. A single, “I Can’t Escape From You” c/w “Dear Life”, is out this week.