Now the music industry is suffering from a famine of facts
Bhaskar Menon, a leading figure in EMI Worldwide, has died aged 86. In a typically delusive Slipped Disc post Norman Lebrecht states that "He was responsible, with George Harrison, for organising the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh". So now the click bait has hit social media and Norman's readership numbers are spinning like a fruit machine, let's look at the facts. In his autobiographical I Me Mine George Harrison recounts how:
"It must have been in 1971 when I was in Los Angeles doing the Raga soundtrack album. Ravi [Shankar] was talking to me and telling me how he wanted to do a concert, but bigger than he normally did, so that he could raise maybe 25,000 dollars for the starving in Bangla Desh. He asked if I could think of some way of helping, say for instance for me to come on and introduce it or maybe bring in Peter Sellers… something to help, anyway. "
Ravi Shankar and George Harrison went on to organise The Concert for Bangladesh, with help from Apple’s business manager Allen Klein. At this point Bhaskar Menon was nowhere in sight. But now he enters the picture. Release of the album of the massively successful two concerts, which also starred Bob Dylan, was delayed by three months. This was because Harrison was signed to EMI/Capitol and Dylan to Columbia/CBS, and both labels were hell bent on maximising their benefits from the blockbuster.
George Harrison fell out with EMI/Capitol headed by Bhaskar Menon over EMI's ambition to recover album production costs when the musicians were not being paid royalties. A transcript of Harrison discussing the release delay on The Dick Cavett Show in November 1971 reads as follows: "This record should've been out a month ago really ... and the problem is with our distributor [Capitol Records] ... I mean, I'll just put it out with CBS and, you know, Bhaskar will have to sue me. [raises fist]"
EMI/Capitol eventually backed down and retained LP/vinyl sales rights in North America, with Columbia/CBS being awarded tape distribution rights for the same territory, and record and tape distribution for the rest of the world. Industry folklore has it that only Columbia/CBS benefitted from The Concert for Bangladesh album with a 25 cents margin on each copy. The spat between Harrison and Menon reportedly contributed to Harrison later switching labels from EMI to A&M.
I would like to conclude this modest exercise in fact checking with a personal reminiscence. My paths crossed with Bhaskar Menon at EMI. On one memorable occasion in 1977 he arrived late in his EMI limo for lunch with Peter Andry and me at London's ultra-hip White Elephant club, and then proceeded to deliver a two hour lecture about how classical music should learn from rock music. Bhaskar Menon was a giant of the music industry, and in that position he was a master at working the spin machine. Let us mourn his passing. But as I look at the car wreck that is the classical industry today, I wonder whether his strategic prescription for classical music was not just another ultra-hip white elephant.
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