We chat to Andy Leighton, music publisher of The Rocky Horror Show, about his involvement in the pop culture phenomenon as well as more recent projects.
Hi Andy, great speaking with you today! How did you originally get into the business of music?
My dad was a lawyer and I trained to be a lawyer, but couldn’t make it. Then I tried to be a chartered surveyor, but my first love was always music. I managed to get a position as a trainee recording engineer, which I did for about a year, but I realised it would take me another three/four years to get where I was going, so I thought the best thing was to start a publishing and production company.
My best mate John Sinclair was in Hair, the touring company, where he met Richard O’Brien, who then became a friend of mine and was the first person we signed. John’s dad was like the rich uncle in the family, and one of his cousins had come to him and said, “Can we borrow some money from you to start a recording studio?” John was then an out of work actor so John’s dad said, “On one condition – you take my bum of a son and put him to work.” So we did, and that turned out to be SARM Studios, and the first thing recorded in there was the demo of The Rocky Horror Show. Very quickly after that we made Richard a partner in the company, having already signed him as a writer, and that’s how it all started really. We didn’t realise how big Rocky Horror would become.
What was it like being there at the beginning of the phenomenon?
It was a sensation, you know. It started in the little theatre upstairs at The Royal Court and there was such a big buzz. Michael White, the producer, knew what he was doing and didn’t move it into the West End. It moved slowly down the King’s Road and ran for about seven years down there, and then quickly spread around the world as a theatre show. It was very big in Australia, France, Scandinavia, and then of course Lou Adler took the show to the States. They started making the movie about two years later which was a flop the first time round, but that’s how cults grow – it’s huge now, and the theatre show still goes all over the world.
How did you go about developing the show with Richard?
Richard was cast in the role of Herod in Jesus Chris Superstar, but they didn’t like his interpretation, so after two weeks of doing it he was asked to leave. You can’t really call it an act of revenge, but he said, “No, I’ll write my own musical”, sort of thing. And that’s how it happened. He had written some of the songs already and they all got incorporated in, and he showed it to the director at The Royal Court and they ran with it.
What was your process building up the publishing company?
I’d had a bit of legal experience, so I kind of knew what to do – one of the companies I helped to set up as a trainee lawyer was for Procol Harum. But I got most of my crash course in music publishing from a lady called Kay Isbell, who ran Shelter Music, part of Shelter the homeless charity. Her gig was approaching big acts and saying, “Hey, donate us a song that we can publish and collect the royalties for charity.” So she taught me the basics, and I just got on with it. As The Rocky Horror Show took off, and there was interest from all around the world, it was quite easy to do sub publishing deals and continue that. We’ve got a great network of sub publishers, for example in the States we’ve got Randall Wixen, and he’s been great for us.
Can you talk about the different types of rights you encounter with the theatre show?
There’s the grand rights, so anything to do with when it goes on stage, but we’re not involved in that. All the spinoffs we collect – we get the record royalties, the mechanical royalties, and of course sync rights are the big earners these days. If I had to plot a graph from the beginning to now it’s quite amazing how it’s gone upwards. Some years are better than others, and you never know what’s going to come through. We’ve just done a chewing gum ad in Italy. We don’t actively go out and look for sync opportunities – I think the only thing we’ve pitched for is Glee, which Randall Wixen did, and The Rocky Horror Glee Show was a big success.
I think our biggest earner from sync rights in the last few years has been from Ubisoft’s Just Dance. I think we’re on Just Dance Three or Four, and then Just Dance on Broadway and Just Dance at Halloween. That was astonishing; our American sub publisher hadn’t seen figures like that before on their royalty statements.
We do try and keep as much control over the usage as we can. We had a bad time a few years back when some soft porn merchants in LA wanted to do a show and we tried to stop them, but the American copyright laws apparently beat us. We didn’t make a fuss and hopefully it disappeared, I think it has. So these are the challenges – the difference between copyright laws in the States and the rest of the world.
What was your involvement in the film version of the show?
Again just with the music used for it. The original deal I’d signed included the sync rights, and in order to get the movie made, we had to give the rights back to Richard – it was a little complicated. He then gave them to the film company and in return, via Richard, we got a slice of the film. Lou Adler did a great job taking it to the States and getting the movie made, however they’re doing a remake at the moment for TV, which we’re not happy about at all especially Richard, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While Richard controls the stage rights, Lou Adler controls the movie rights but there is small window to broadcast the live theatre show which was done for the first time last year. It was shown in cinemas around the world as well as on BBC America.
It’s such a worldwide phenomenon and it must be all over YouTube and other digital services – how do those royalties work for you?
Funnily enough I totted up the other day anything over 5,000 views and I got well into the millions and I showed it to Randall Wixen and he said, “Chickenfeed.” So it’s something I’ve got to examine a bit more. Obviously the money does come in, but not very much from YouTube at all. I think approaching new media is something that the music business has always been a bit slow about. Sometimes you wonder about the people at the top of the music industry. They don’t seem to cope too well with new technology.
I actually keep trying to retire from the music business, but my daughter’s in a duo called Doeray. They’ve made their first EP and they’re good live – they’ve been gigging together for about three years, so I’ve got to learn it all over again. I’ve just had an email from the mastering studio who are sending me all these new terms. The last time I was in a mastering studio was to do vinyl!
With something as big as the Rocky Horror Show there must be a lot of untapped income streams out there.
Yeah. I did the first Rocky Horror Show game in 1985.
And there’s a new game coming out next year?
Yeah. We’ve gone to mobile phones and laptops and tablets, so it was time to do the new game. It’s very simple, just swipe and tap and dance and sing and I can’t wait for the virtual reality Rocky Horror Show, I think that will be the next step. Give it a year or two for all that stuff to become mass produced, when everybody will be wearing these funny headsets and bumping into each other. I think The Rocky Horror Show deserves a full-body headset!
I think there’s a Rocky Horror gaming machine, and gambling machine and slot machine I think – we did the license on that a couple of years ago. Richard wanted one for his living room but he couldn’t have one because he hasn’t got a gambling license. So silly things like that come up and who knows – it belongs so much to the fans now, so Richard just had to let it go really. The show seems to have become a rite of passage, certainly with all this gender stuff going on. People who come out as gay, for example, when they see it for the first time it’s a coming of age for them.
Yeah, it’s still very culturally relevant nowadays.
And that’s really nice. And it’s been that way since the 70s.
In that sense it’s exciting to see where it could go in the future.
Yeah. And it’s obviously my baby a bit. We’ll see what this little game is like, but I am quite excited about the virtual reality thing, if I can get it past Richard and get The Richard O’Brien Seal of Approval we could have some more fun.
And as you say it’s such a fan-orientated show.
Yeah, the fans pretty much run with it and do what they like. It’s just amazing. 10 years ago you’d go to the show and maybe a quarter of the audience were dressed up. The last time I went, it was nearly 90%; I was probably one of the few people not dressed up. Years back I went to see Jason Donovan in the show with Nicholas Parsons, and as I drove into Swansea towards the theatre, you could see a gaggle of office girls all dressed up. And that kind of sums it up, it’s like a fancy dress night out, a fun night out. I’ve done other stuff in the music industry, but Rocky Horror I’m kind of stuck with (laughs).
And you’re also involved in film animation with your studio?
Yeah. When I first came down to Bristol I was working with an experimental theatre company, and one of the guys there had gone into film and ended up starting an animation company called Bolex Brothers. His partner had gone off the rails and they’d run into trouble, so I offered my help and I found myself doing that for a number of years, which was very interesting. Unfortunately, my partner there Dave Borthwick died about three years ago, and with that the company really folded. We were concentrating on feature films – we did The Magic Roundabout, and the last one left is The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. We worked on that for a long time and I’m just about to try and get it moving again. But finding the money and getting the option back in is difficult as animation is expensive.
My designated new director for the project Chris Hopewell has actually just done the new Radiohead video for ‘Burn the Witch’. He also did their first animated video for the song ‘There, There’ which I executive produced. So he’s hot at the moment.
Can you tell us a bit more about the project?
It’s stop motion animation, and that’s what Bristol really is about – Aardman use clay and stuff, and what we do is a bit more realistic and it’s still stop motion as opposed to CGI, although we all use a bit of computer graphics in the background. So hopefully I’ll be able to get that moving again. It’s based on the comic book characters, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and ‘Fat Freddy’s Cat’, which has sold millions of comics since the 70s. And they’re basically dope-smoking hippies – the storylines are always very funny, very good. The author, Gilbert Shelton is a Texan originally but he’s lived in Paris for many years so he’s quite easy to contact. He’s very involved in the design of the models, the puppets and the script and the music and everything.
Working with stop motion must take a ridiculous amount of patience…
It does, but we’ve found ways to work much faster and Chris did the Radiohead video in two weeks, which is amazing. Computer graphics do help a lot in the background, but you’re right – it’s very slow.
Who’s doing the music for The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers project?
We’ve already got the music. You would have expected it all to be 60s/70s psychedelic and stuff like that, but Gilbert’s very specific about it. He plays in a band in France, and it’s more country or Texan or whatever. We’ve got a couple of musicians who we work with. One of them, Andy Davis, was in a band called Stackridge back in the 70s, who were the first band on stage at Glastonbury, and he also played on John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ album as a guitarist. And I think Stackridge have just finished, so he’s in a trio at the moment. Gilbert has written the music to order, so we’ve pretty much got the soundtrack there. And his partner in that is a guy called Leon Hunt, who’s been described as “the Jeff Beck of the banjo”. So we got banjos, theremins and all sorts of lovely instruments there. It’s so nice to work with original music. I don’t like it when movies use old tracks. I think it’s lazy. You should be giving all these composers and writers a chance to write original music.
Do you have any predictions or hopes for the future of the creative industries?
No. I think if you’re a music publisher it all comes from the song. What I love about this country is that it’s amazingly creative and you never know what’s coming up from the streets next. I loved it back in the punk era when all the A&R men didn’t know what the hell was going on. Simon Cowell and people like him try to control it, but basically you can’t. It comes from the streets. They say pressure makes diamonds, so God knows what’s going to happen now with all this political stuff going on. So you just can’t tell where it’s coming next.
You could have never predicted something like The Rocky Horror Show, for example.
That’s true. I know exactly where it came from – Richard is a huge sci-fi fan, and he loved some of the British TV things that went on, and it’s very much him as well. That’s what I mean about the song, you know, wherever the song comes from. I read a quote once from Bob Dylan. Somebody asked him, “How do you do it?” He said, “I don’t know, it comes through me.”
Lastly, have you got any particular anecdotes or highlights that stand out for you?
Too many I think! Selling a single to Mickie Most’s RAK label, that was a highlight. Recording a John Peel session with my band Shoes For Industry. And I haven’t mentioned the Penguin Cafe Orchestra – I was their personal and tour manager back in the 80s. It was like rock n’ roll without the tears, it was just lovely.
Thanks so much for taking the time Andy, it’s been a real pleasure.
We’d like to say a huge thanks to Andy for such a great interview. To find out more about The Rocky Horror Show and Andy’s other projects, check out the following links: