Phill Savidge - Lunch With The Wild Frontiers - Books - Reviews - Soundblab

Phill Savidge - Lunch With The Wild Frontiers

by Howard Scott Rating: Release Date:
Phill Savidge - Lunch With The Wild Frontiers
Phill Savidge - Lunch With The Wild Frontiers

You know the old saying: sex, drugs and….Britpop? Probably not what you were expecting, but that is exactly what you will be reading about in “Lunch With The Wild Frontiers” by Phill Savidge. The book gives an insiders view of the phenomenon that was Britpop in the 1990s and early 2000s and chronicles how a London PR firm unexpectedly brought forth a musical genre and era that was as noteworthy for its music as it was for its excesses.

Savidge gives us a brief but insightful history of his early years, his school and college experiences, and the path that led him to the profession that he never saw coming. A degree in philosophy really didn’t become very helpful, but the membership in a few less than successful bands and employment in a record store helped pave the way for the future.

The girlfriend of the manager of one of his bands ran a small PR firm in London, and the execution of a prank on her one day led to Savidge being handed some notes and being asked to scrawl something intelligent out of them. The result was instant employment as a PR specialist, for noted bands such as Gaye Bykers on Acid, who eventually morphed into Lesbian Dopeheads on Mopeds before dissolving into the pages of history.

One interesting vignette of this timeframe in Savidge’s early career was the experience of distributing fifty copies of a single to various music journalists before actually listening to the record or reading the lyrics. Both were so bad that fifty quick phone calls begging the writers to ignore the record followed, and the remaining stock was quickly burned in the back garden of the office. I don’t believe the artist had a follow-up recording!

It was also during this tenure that Savidge found that a band’s PR information really didn’t need to be based even loosely on reality. Non existent riots during certain performances were invented and printed, and in an even more sinister publish, it was told that another band’s entire supply of their latest single had gone over the edge in a horrific van accident, and if you happened to spot one of these records in your local shop, you should grab it up, since it was rare and soon to become uber-valuable.

Midway through 1988, a position opened up in the PR department of Richard Branson’s Virgin Records, and Savidge applied and got the job. The book gets it’s the title from a scrawling on his desk calendar on his first day of work. Savidge had to ask his new boss what exactly it meant, and was told a group called “The Wild Frontiers” was his new client, and they would be around at lunchtime to collect him to have lunch and discuss an upcoming PR campaign.

Bands tended to come and go through Virgin at a fairly quick rate during these days, and Savidge became disenchanted with the lower level of clients he was being handed. He also developed a dislike for bands from America during this time. While driving with American Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies, Savidge asked him why he was in the music business, and Muir told him he only wanted to make lots of money so he could live in a nice house, like his grandfather.

“In Britain” Savidge writes,” all the requirements you needed to be a rock star were that you couldn’t play an instrument very well and you had no other ambitions than to be a rock star.”

The fact that Muir would mutter such a statement, particularly including his grandfather’s house, stunned Savidge. “This was the first time I realized they did things differently in America. No one in a rock band in the UK would ever admit to wanting to own a house, let alone a house like his grandfather’s”.

Virgin employment also brought Savidge into the heady circles where huge names in music held court. Encounters with Peter Gabriel, Joe Strummer and Roy Orbison all are chronicled, with the Orbison episode being both sweet and sad. You will have to read the book to take that one in, but it is worth the effort.

After a couple of years at Virgin, Savidge quit and was at a loss as to how he intended to make a living. Fate soon stepped in, as John Best, who had also left Virgin and opened his own firm, called Savidge and asked for some short term help. What started as a one-day-a-week gig eventually led to the formation of the most powerful firm in Britain, Savage, and Best. (Savidge changed the spelling of his last name for ease of use).

Suddenly Savidge was representing bands that he actually liked, and the job became more enjoyable. Bands like Moose, Spiritualized, Verve, and Levitation were being represented with glowing PR and what was known as “The Camden Scene” was being born.

Suede became the band that eventually launched the Britpop era, with Pulp, Elastica, Menswear and others close behind. The British musical press, headed by Melody Maker and The New Musical Express, had already been cohorts with Savage and Best at strategically placing new bands on their covers, but Suede took it all to a higher plane. (Melody Maker crowned the group “The Best New Band In Britain” before the first single appeared in a record store).

It was from this time forward that excess and craziness became how life was conducted on a daily basis. We get to read about photo shoots that almost don’t happen because the band members have been up for days at a time and in no condition for much of anything. Huge blocks of cocaine, ecstasy pills by the bag and gallons of alcohol all begin to get more prevalent, both among the bands, their management, and the PR teams.

It also was during this time that the avoidance of American bands became an etched-in-stone business practice. Savidge glibly mentions that he turned down PR for Smashing Pumpkins for the simple reason they were American. "They were liable to fly into town demanding a press itinerary, an interview schedule and a management meeting.” he says. “It seemed like far too much trouble.”

That attitude largely seems responsible for the success of the firm, and the bands they managed. Virtually every band they worked for was local to the office, and could usually be found in one or two strategic pubs in the area.  Everyone knew everyone else, to the point where it became a bit of an incestual scene where office workers and band members were socializing, forming new bands or new couples constantly.

Savidge has numerous stories for all of the big players in the Britpop scene, and most are entertaining. We get to hear how Verve had to change their name to The Verve to accommodate an American jazz record company, and how they never made a dime off of their biggest hit  “Bitter Sweet Symphony” because The Rolling Stones claimed they pinched it from them.

Tales of Ultrasound frontman Andrew “Tiny” Wood habitually breaking sofas in numerous offices due to his heft are presented, while Pulp’s leader Jarvis Cocker is personified as a vain pain who seems upset that his PR man is considered more glamorous than he.

There are tales of bags of money being tossed around like footballs, and speaking of footballs, we get loads of details on the Fat Les exploits of crafting a song for the 1998 World Cup called "Vindaloo".

The sheer power of Savage and Best cannot be understated during this period. There are instances of bands being signed to record labels mainly because Savage and Best represented them. Sometimes, not a single note had been recorded by these groups, but the labels decided if Savage and Best would take them on, they must be the “Next Big Thing.”

Like all good things, Savage and Best came to an end when Savidge decided to leave and strike out on his own. His new firm branched out into hyping a local nightclub (unsuccessfully), working with Andrew Lloyd Webber and A.R. Rahman to help push Bombay Dreams, and spending lots of money with Dave Stewart and Microsoft’s Paul Allen to open what they thought would be a clone of Andy Warhol’s “The Factory”. All tales are told with great attention to detail and a rather laid back attitude that can probably only be portrayed as British.

Throughout the book, we are constantly told of Savidge’s internal confusion with his sexuality. For most of his professional career he dressed and portrayed himself as if he were female, and the confusion this causes in certain circles adds to some of the more humorous stories we get to read. By the end, he is married (to a woman) and has children, so I guess it all got sussed out eventually.

I must admit that reading the book as an American I felt at a bit of a disadvantage. Not only is some of the language considerably different from American English, but a fair number of the bands mentioned here made not even a blip on this side of the pond. At the time, we were much too busy praising the talents of Nirvana and the grunge scene to pay any attention. The author’s disdain for all things American can also be a bit off-putting.

Whether written for a British audience or not, “Lunch With The Wild Frontiers” is a fun book to read, and the first-hand exploits of someone who was in the epicenter at the time can’t be discounted. The music business was notoriously messy no matter which hemisphere you were working in during the last half of the twentieth century, and reading just how messy can’t help but be entertaining.

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