Easy Money is a true story written by my man. In case of confusion I will point out now that the Orange mentioned in this post has nothing at all to do with the mobile phone company of the same name.
When Orange was the new Black
I’ve wasted more than enough time listening to rich people thinking out loud – they don’t often say anything worth hearing. But a long time ago, one particular wealthy guy made a remark that stuck in my head like glue. And the more I thought about it, the more truth I found in those words, which I am happy to share.
Chancing my Luck
In 1980 I was a young freelance musician with a lot of recording studio experience and plenty of contacts in the London music scene. Although no musical wizard, I had a small reputation for getting the job done fast to a high standard. Mainly I would play guitar or piano for songwriters without a band to support them. I’d roll up at one of the many studios on the west end circuit, chat with the customer, hear the song, smoke a couple of joints, knock out some licks, drink some beer, tart up the track with some overdubs, job done.
Like all idyllic lifestyles, it was -of course- too good to last. Within five years, hustlers like me were pretty much extinct, after digital ‘sampling’ synthesisers arrived and put nine out of ten session players on the dole. But while it lasted I made the most of the chances that came along.
Occasionally I would get paid to take total control : produce a complete recording for songwriters or lyric writers who lacked the necessary skills. These were my favourite gigs, as I got to indulge myself and experiment with sound while getting paid. Win win. I let it be known that I was always up for producing complete tracks to a strict deadline. And that was how I met Cliff Cooper and ended up recording the doomed National Lottery jingle.
I knew Cliff by sight– we both hung out in Tuttons – a trendy cafe/bar that dominated the west face of the Covent Garden piazza. He was the genius behind the staggeringly successful Orange Amplifier operation. (Yes, the amps were orange not black.)
Their customers included world-conquering rock superstars. People like Fleetwood Mac, Free, Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin had taken his products on tour. Orange had grown into an international record company that sold millions, mostly down to the singer John Miles.
It was no secret that Cliff was loaded. He was also a very social animal, and we had a couple of mutual friends. One of these was a guy named Tim. He was Cliff’s recording engineer at the Orange Studios near Leicester Square. Tim rang me up one evening about five o’clock and said,
“Get over here quick – Cliff’s got a gig that’s right up your street.”
I was there in minutes, to hear a truly bizarre request.
“Tonight,” he said, with a hint of drama, “the nutcases up in Parliament are having a vote in the middle of the night – on whether or not to start a National Lottery. As luck would have it I’ve been tipped off that it might go through. If it does they’ll be looking for an advertising jingle immediately to use on radio and TV. We will give it to them. The tickets will cost 25p. Here is a script that must be spoken – a voice over, yes?”
“We need a 30 second jingle written and recorded– something catchy, with this script read over it. Can you do that?”
I nodded again, thinking, no problem. Then Cliff smiled and gave me the punchline.
“And we need a finished mix on quarter-inch tape and cassette by 7 a.m.”
I looked at Tim, who winked. He and I had worked hundreds of hours together in various studios. If he thought I could do it, I probably could.
“I’d better get started then,” I replied, grabbing the script and pushing open the studio door.
Cliff reappeared at 6:30 the next morning, just as we were running off the cassette copies. The jingle was booming through the studio speakers at top volume. Tim was emptying the bulging ashtrays into a bin-bag full of cans and burger-wrappers.
“Sounds great!” Cliff beamed, his ever-happy smile even broader than usual.
“So they passed the vote?” I guessed, judging by his expression.
Tim and I exchanged a look. The manic optimism (and the drugs) that had sustained us through a long night of ceaseless effort drained away, leaving the spectacle of two pale, skinny dudes on the brink of exhaustion.
“Not to worry,” said Cliff. “It was a good gamble, and we lost. Maybe next time we will be lucky. How much do I owe you?”
This was a first. I’d been so stunned at the ridiculous deadline we’d been given I hadn’t bothered to negotiate a price up front. I took a deep breath, thought of the biggest number I could conceivably dare to ask, multiplied it by two – accounting for Cliff’s wealth, and named my price.
“That’s fine. Thanks ever so much,” said Cliff and wrote a cheque on the spot.
“No problem,” I replied, thinking fuck it – should have gone higher…
How Easy is Easy Money?
That evening the three of us met up for a cocktail postmortem at Tuttons and I got Cliff Cooper rapping about how he’d made his fortune – which is a tale for another day. On a wave of Margarita, I blurted out,
“So come on then Cliff, you know a few other rich geezers. Do you reckon it’s super difficult to make a million? Is it really that hard gettin’ rich?”
He looked into the distance and shrugged.
“Let me put it this way, ” he said. “It’s no problem at all getting rich…” he paused,”…if ALL you want to do is get rich.”
And forty years later, I still remember those words, usually when I encounter the latest monied individual who wants to cross my palm with silver. You see, rather a lot of people who become money rich are fairly unpleasant when you get to know them – with good reason. The truth is, in the pursuit of money, often the average self-made millionaire has long ago thrown off the chains of decency and morality that keep the rest of us poor. Such was the power of his greed, nothing was allowed to stand in the way. Family, friends, wives, children – and of course the law – were utterly disposable on the road to riches.
More to life than Money
To some degree, we’ve all been there at one time or another – glimpsed the chance to feather our own nest at the expense of others. But whether it’s fifty quid or a million, the choice is always the same. You can always take the money and run – if ALL you want is to take the money and run.
Anyway, I took the Orange mastermind’s words as wisdom, not advice. And just for the record, although we both worked and played in the boiling sewer that is show-business, Cliff Cooper himself was as decent a guy as you could hope to meet.
Read about my man and me…
Image from Pixabay