THE renaissance of singer Joe Cocker – a new album, a tour, and much media exposure including last week's Jools Holland show – reminds me I own the rights on his first record, and that for 30 years I've owed him a fiver.
It was 1967, and the Summer of Love had just happened. At Sheffield University for reasons never quite understood, I was studying economics. I was chairman of Sheffield Students Rag, where we decided to cut a fundraising record.
Local bands were cajoled into playing free at the city's Mojo Club, run by a certain Pete Stringfellow, who now owns half the world's night clubs. Even then a certain notoriety attached to Stringfellow. After my dealings with him I was interviewed by the police, which made me feel scandalously important.
Rag Goes Mad at the Mojo was that almost forgotten form, the EP, its glossy cover design psychedelically aping the recent Beatles LP, Revolver; we recorded four hours of material.
Three of the bands have been swallowed by rock's great black hole of obscurity. The fourth was Joe Cocker's Grease Band (he was then unknown, and a gas fitter in the city). To go upmarket he dropped the 'Grease' in favour of 'Blues'. Later, in the editing room it became clear Joe Cocker had star quality while the other bands were – well, just other bands, so we put three on one side, and filled the other side with Joe.
His was the last act on stage, way past midnight, by which time much of the audience had drifted away. We remaining few stamped and yelled in the background in an attempt to disguise lack of numbers. The singer invested his finale, Saved, a great Lieber and Stoller classic, with some rude words of his own, and you can clearly hear my mate bellowing "Filth!"
The EP – on Action Records, a label we specially created for the purpose – sold a few hundred copies round the city and raised some loot for charity. My own purple-prose sleeve notes include the following: 'Mr Pete Stringfellow introduced the boys to the stomping cheering hand-clapping audience, and just how much sweat was lost during this fantastic recording is a matter of conjecture. What is certain is that to relive the experience requires only the playing of this disc. It's all here – as it happened.'
Over the years, I often thought of sending this collectors' item to John Peel, but as I own just a single copy, I desisted. For all I know the disc is worth several grand, and somewhere along the line, as director of Action Records, I own the rights, something I'm unlikely ever to do much about.
During that same Rag Week in '67, Joe Cocker played at a Rag Dance in the students' union. We were paying him a fiver. The other band failed to turn up and I asked Joe if he'd do another set to get us out of a fix. He looked whacked, but agreed, because he was a pretty accommodating guy. He asked for no loot, but I said I'd give him an extra five quid.
At the night's end, the band packed up the gear, loaded the van, and drove off, no doubt Joe thinking of the next day's gas fitting. I totally forgot that extra fiver, and it remains unpaid to this day. I never met him again.
Joe Cocker went on to become one of the great white soul singers with a voice like a rusty saw. Strangely enough, the other claimant to that title, Tyneside's Eric Burdon, was also on the Jools Holland show the same week.
My own career as a record producer was to prove short-lived. I eventually graduated with a BA (Econ.) Honours, which logically should have seen me pursuing some well-paid career in industry or banking, but a need to scribble words led me down a less lucrative, but more interesting path.
Does Joe Cocker ever recall these incidents? Probably. Artists often find that fame proves false, an anti-climax, while the formative years become the most real, an exciting memory life-long.
Having said which, he's never written for his fiver.