MICHAEL J. McDONAGH talks to music promoter Paul Charles ahead of the publication of his memoir Adventures in Wonderland. The book will be launched at the Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith on Friday, May 19
PAUL Charles, from Magherafelt, Co. Derry, is a partner in the Asgard Agency, an organisation whose artist roster includes the likes of Christy Moore, Paul Brady, Van Morrison, Gerry Rafferty, Hothouse Flowers, Alison Krauss, Jackson Brown, Ray Davies, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits — and many, many more. It’s an impressive list, as Paul Charles agrees. “I’ve been very lucky to work with many of the acts that I’ve been a big fan of. It’s so easy to do a good job when you really like the people you’re working with.”
The Derry man managed his first act in Northern Ireland, The Blues by Five, when he was 15 years old. This was back in the era, not just pre-mobiles, but also pre most people having a phone in their house. So the always innovative Paul would list the number of his local telephone call box on business cards. The phone would be answered by whoever happened to be passing. They would then knock on the window of Charles’ house to let Paul know there was a business call for him.
It was hearing the Beatles on the radio that first sparked Paul Charles’ interest in rock music. “I walked into my mom's kitchen one day, and she was listening to her favourites like Emile Ford and the Checkmates or Tony Bennett, maybe Frank Sinatra. Then this sound that came on the radio was the Beatles’ first single Please Please Me.
“I certainly didn’t have any musical talent that warranted trying to get up on stage. But my logic is that these are special people that we're talking about. They need taxi drivers, they need dentists. They need lawyers, they need solicitors, they need gardeners, they need whatever. So why should the agent not be a wee lad from Magherafelt?”
By 1967 Paul Charles had relocated to London to follow that dream — a career in the music business.
He was by then studying civil engineering, but the music business was his first love. He soon became manager, agent, lyricist and roadie for progressive rock band Fruupp — the band were from Belfast, but with a solid fanbase in Britain.
When Fruupp disbanded Charles formed the promotion agency Asgard with associate Paul Fenn. The agency's first big signings were English punk bands Radio Stars and the Buzzcocks.
Over such a long career as one of the most influential agents to come out of Ireland, Paul has had many special moments. “There have been quite a few over the years like the Ry Cooder gig we did at the Stadium in Dublin. Then seeing the Buzzcocks at Manchester Apollo or watching the Undertones perform in lots of places.
“The very first time I saw Van Morrison live was at those famous Rainbow shows in Finsbury Park. He just took my breath away. That performance with the Caledonian Soul Orchestra was just so incredible.”
Paul worked with Van Morrison for many years. “Van is a highly intelligent man and if you do your job properly you always know where you stand with him.
“He’s also performing for himself. For him it's real he is onstage with great musicians, and you get lost in the moment, and you get lost in the music. And that's maybe where his rewards come from. There was also a lady called Mary Margaret O'Hara. Again, one of the best artists I've seen live. I always thought she should have been big.”
Paul’s great achievements that perhaps people do not know about are his efforts on behalf of Glastonbury. “For the last 32 years I think it's been, we've programmed the acoustic stage. Again, that's been a major treat.
“Special moments like the night we had Art Garfunkel on. And there you are singing the same Garfunkel songs with the audience, of about seven thousand. You know that’s never gonna happen again.”
Driven by a profound love of great songs Paul Charles has worked tirelessly behind the scenes for over 40 years to promote countless memorable gigs and concerts.
He has now shared his adventures in a readable amusing memoir, giving an insight into the tours and the characters of the artists and managers he encountered over such a long and influential career.
For those interested in the music business this book is an absolute must, and undoubtedly for the casual reader too.
Paul Charles as novelist
Apart from being a highly successful music impresario, Paul Charles has also written a number of popular detective novels. When not putting on concerts and global festivals, he spends his time writing books —he is a prolific and successful author with a series of detective novels: the DI Kennedy Mysteries and The Inspector Starrett Mysteries.
So how has he managed to combine being one of the top music agents in the world with being a successful writer? I put it to him:
“Well when I first started, years ago, it was easy, because I get up early. I always loved the early part of the day.
“So I would start writing about six, and write until maybe 9.30. And as you know, the music industry in former times didn’t start until the crack of lunchtime.
“So I was always kind of way ahead, but I was still at my desk before most people were in.
“In terms of writing, I was always a major fan of Colin Dexter's work who wrote Inspector Morse. I was obsessed with his just beautiful writing. He was never crude. He was never rude. I wondered what if I did that, what would my detective be like? What name would he have?
“Well my two favourite Irishmen were Christy Moore and the other one is JFK. So I had the name for my detective: Christy Kennedy. Before I knew it, I'd written a couple of pages without thinking I'm going to start to write a book.
“I wrote it. I was happy with it. And that's how I got started.”
Friday, May 19, 2023
The Irish Cultural Centre Hammersmith presents the book launch of
Adventures in Wonderland by Paul Charles
By Paul Charles
Published by Hot Press Book