Name: Jeff Watts
Married to: Linda
Children: None. We like children but couldn’t eat a whole one!
I was born in Balham, South London on 24th August 1953. I attended Bonneville School in Clapham from 1958-1964 and then Emanuel School, London 1964-1971. On leaving Emanuel, I became a professional musician. No, not with the London Philharmonic nor the BBC Symphony Orchestra; I was one of those skinny, long- haired, spotty youths that lay in bed until lunchtime, stayed up all night and that you dreaded your daughter bringing home for tea – or anything else, for that matter!!! I was a bass player – the electric sort. Not one of those big things that looks like a violin on steroids that you need a commercial truck to move around: Totally impractical. And my strings were much cheaper!!! I played with a varying number of top Artistes through the ‘70s, including – those I can remember!!! – Roogalator, Polly Browne, Dandy Livingstone, Bruce Ruffin, Marsha Hunt, Doris Troy, Design and Labi Siffre.
Considering where life was to lead me in days to come, my time with Labi Siffre was quite interesting. Labi is a black singer/songwriter/musician (now turned poet) who had his first hit with “It Must Be Love” in the early ‘70s. Most people think of Madness when they recall this very well known song but it was, in fact, Labi who both wrote the song and had the first hit with it. Some of you may recall another famous hit of his, “Something Inside So Strong”, which became somewhat of an anti- apartheid anthem….and was also used on the Peugeot 206 ad!!! But the really extraordinary thing was us – Labi and the band – being offered a tour of South Africa in 1975. We couldn’t work this one out. Labi is……black!!! No problem, the
management were told (Labi was managed by the late, legendary Peter Gormley, who also managed Cliff Richard, The Shadows and Olivia Newton-John); Labi would be made either an “honorary white” or given a Jewish passport. I never have understood the significance of the last part!!? Anyhow, you can imagine Labi’s response. It was to be another 16 years before I would find my way to Africa.
I gave up playing professionally in 1977. I had been getting frustrated. My musical brain was moving in the circles of the great American players of the time; Weather Report, Dave Grusin, Bob James etc.. I wasn’t going to find those kind of people to play with in the UK and have always struggled with the “American Dream”. So, it was time for a change. It took me a year to stop playing. The phone would ring offering another tour. “No”, I would reply, “…how much? Oh well, perhaps just one more then!”. I realised that the only way I could stop was to sell my beloved 1963 pre-CBS Fender Precision Bass. I put an ad in Melody Maker. I received a call asking if I could take it to a studio called Pathway in North London for someone to look at, which I did. When I arrived, I was met by a guy called John, who asked if I’d take an offer. “No!”, I replied. “Perhaps you’ve heard of us?” said he. “No. D’you want the bass or not?” I snapped back (Not easy selling your prized instrument!). Yes, he did want it. He handed over the money. As I left he called after me. “Do look out for us. Everyone says we’re going to be big. We’re called Dire Straits”. So there you are. They’d have been nowhere without my bass and they’ve never sent me a penny! That’s gratitude for you.
I moved across from playing to music production, writing, management and agency and formed my own company. I met my wife, Linda, when I signed to Dick James Music as a writer in 1977. Linda was working as PA to the Publishing Manager. By 1978 we were living together and in 1983 we tied the knot. Amazingly, Linda still works for (runs) the same company and, even more amazingly in some peoples’ eyes, has the same husband!!!
The years 1977-1993 saw me running my company and being agent for such Artistes as Steeleye Span, regarded along with Fairport Convention as the UK’s top Folk- Rock band, Gordon Giltrap, Michael Chapman, the late Bert Jansch and many others. I also became a Founder Member of the Rotary Club of Wimbledon Village. Sadly, I had to leave when I moved out of the area in 1990 and time and travel constraints conspired to make joining a club in my new locality impossible. I’d made myself a promise at some point that one day – and I knew it would come! – I’d look in the mirror one morning whilst shaving and think,”This industry is not what it used to be”. It would be at that point that I would know that I’d become an old fart. Time to get out! So, in 1993, I did. That’s me finished! However, an old friend, John Martin, who had been a legendary concert promoter through the ‘60s and the ‘70s – he had promoted the London concerts to raise money for the ANC during the apartheid years – called me up and asked if I’d like to do a couple of days a week on a consultancy basis, as he felt his agency/concert promotion business needed a revamp. This I was very happy to do, especially as John looked after a great hero of mine, Jacques Loussier, of “Play Bach” fame.
It was shortly after I started working with John that I had the idea that would lead to the most rewarding project – so far!!! – of my professional career. An old friend of mine, Barry Johnston, with whom I had played some years earlier in “Design”, suddenly appeared with a Sunday radio show on my local BBC radio station, Radio Sussex. We had lost touch over the years and it was a great shock to suddenly hear his dulcet tones emanating from the radio whilst soaking lazily in the bath one Sunday morning. I called the radio station and we arranged to get together.
Barry’s father – sadly no longer with us – was Brian Johnston. Known to all as “Johnners”, Brian was one of Britain’s longest serving and best loved broadcasters. He had joined the BBC after the war whilst deciding what to do and never left. He was a legendary component of the iconic “Test Match Special” on Radio 4, which is still going strong today. I asked Barry if he would ask Brian if he fancied doing a one- man theatre show. Brian jumped at the idea. I then asked John Martin whether he would mind if I ran the project through his office. I can still hear his wonderfully Scottish retort: “D’you think people will go to see that? Oh well…OK”. So “An Evening With Johnners” was born. We recorded the second show, at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. I told Barry to take the recording to a friend of mine at EMI Records. A deal was struck for their “Listen For Pleasure” label and the album was
released with expectations of sales of 5000 to 6000 copies. Within six months we had hit 140,000!!!
Very sadly, Brian was taken ill in a taxi on the way to the final show in the series. We were already discussing a new series. After a short spell in hospital, he left us for pastures new. He was an extraordinary man. He never spoke a bad word about anybody. He was never bad tempered or grumpy and was a pleasure to deal with in every aspect from start to finish. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!!!
Linda and I had first visited Africa in 1991. We went to Kenya, which we very much enjoyed. When we got home, I can remember having my head nearly taken off down the telephone by our friends in Jo’burg. “You came that close to us without coming down to see us!!?” I attempted to point out that Kenya is, in actual fact, not that close to Jo’burg. This fell on deaf ears. “You coming down next year to see us and no arguments!” There were no arguments. You don’t argue with our dear friend Terry- Anne Pryke of Jo’burg! At the end of that visit, Linda and I looked at each other and asked why we were leaving South Africa? We were both well travelled by that time, so we knew we had visited somewhere very special. We arrived back at Heathrow on a typically rain-soaked morning at about 6am. We were depressed. What could we do? “Look” I said, “we need something to look forward to. We’ll go back next year for a month and get the place completely out of our systems.” What a ridiculous concept! Every time we visit it becomes harder to leave. One day, we won’t!!!
Since the early 2000s, I have become more and more involved with property, initially in South Africa. I have my own companies, Lion’s Head Africa and Consortium Africa, and am also a director of Straight Line Properties, based in Durban. As the property market has become quiet, post the sub-prime crisis, I have become more and more interested in products that can help the poor and rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. I deal with a number of exciting new products that I hope will make a real difference and have recently become a member of the Business Council for Africa (BCA) that has allowed me access to top decision makers, Ambassadors and High Commissioners throughout the region. When my good friend, Greg Cryer, invited me as a guest to his Rotary Club meeting at Mount Edgecombe, little did I know that he was setting me back on the path to Rotary via such a brave and visionary concept as an eClub. It just shows how Rotary is becoming pro-active, not just reactive. Great stuff! I now look upon Rotary as a natural extension of what I am trying to achieve with my business and The Four-Way Test a wonderful business platform to introduce to all my new African business friends.