Starting Madonna’s career and having fun with everyone from REM to The Who, Barbara Charone has been at the forefront of pop culture for nearly five decades.
When she started out as a music journalist in the seventies, women in rock were so out of the ordinary that she says, “The guards just looked at you like you were a groupie.”
Now that she has her own talent agency, Barbara has been called “the UK’s most powerful music PR person”.
Here, in excerpts from her candid memoir Access to All Areas, Emily Fairbairn shares her wild times with great and good music.
©Barbara Charone, 2022. Extract from Access All Areas by Barbara Charone (White Rabbit), published tomorrow, £20 hardcover. Also available in e-book and audiobook.
Keith Richards, detained in Canada
By 1976 I had a good relationship with Keith, I interviewed him many times.
Finally I asked him if I could write a book about him, and to my great surprise and delight, he agreed.
Keith invited me to come to Toronto in early 1977 to see the Rolling Stones at El Mocambo.
I flew to Canada at the end of February, but unfortunately the Royal Canadian Mounted Police got to Keith’s hotel before me and arrested him for possession of heroin.
Keith was in big trouble. All of a sudden, rehearsal times for upcoming club shows were cut short due to meetings with lawyers and court appearances.
Keith was not new to the law, but this was his most serious drug charge, with the very real possibility of jail time. The concerts at El Mocambo (capacity 300 people) took place on March 4 and 5, and it is a testament to the dedication and resilience of the band, who managed under such difficult circumstances.
lonely and betrayed
Ripped this place apart. It was one of those “you should have been there” moments. However, the grim reality of the situation hung in a very dark cloud.
When Keith appeared in court, bail was posted for him and his passport was confiscated. He and partner Anita Pallenberg and their seven-year-old son Marlon have returned to their home for the foreseeable future, on the 32nd floor of the Harbor Castle Hotel.
The future of Keith, and the Stones themselves, was uncertain. A couple of days after his speech in court, Mick Jagger flew to New York, and soon the others followed him. I was moved to a room next door to Keith, Anita and Marlon.
A couple of days after his speech in court, Mick Jagger flew to New York, and soon the others followed him. I was moved to a room next door to Keith, Anita and Marlon.
I’m sure Kit felt lonely and quite possibly betrayed, but no doubt my stay helped create a huge bond between us. It also gave me the opportunity to get a personal feel for the person I was writing the book about.
God knows what my parents thought when they learned that their loving daughter had been staying in a Toronto hotel for a month with Rolling Stone on bail for heroin trafficking. “It will be a really great book,” I promised them.
Grand Launch of the Madonna of the Four Letters
In 1981 I started working for the press department of WEA Records in London, and one of the first artists I worked on was a young American artist from Detroit. Her name was Madonna.
Her first two singles, Everyone in 1982 and Burning Up in 1983, failed to chart but helped create a good buzz.
The third time Madonna got lucky with Holiday was in 1983. By the time she played at the capital’s Camden Palace in October of that year, things were looking much better.
Her 20-minute set consisted of those first three singles and the look was eye-catching: crucifix earrings, black top, black skirt, leggings, that hair, lipstick, birthmark, bare navel, belly, all nine yards. . She was electrified.
When Madonna next played in London, four years later, in 1987, the venue was Wembley Stadium. She is the only artist in history to go from performing in front of a crowd of just under 1,000 to almost 100,000. Nothing in between.
When her Blonde Ambition Tour took place at Wembley Stadium in the summer of 1990, BBC Radio 1 broadcast the show live and asked her not to swear.
Not one to be easy on being told what to do, Madonna threw out as many fucks as she could, handling over 20 in quick succession, much to the dismay of the label’s radio head, who told the BBC not to worry. . As always, the show was spectacular.
$1,000 Liquid Meals with Lou
I ONE TIME took the (rock edition) NME to New York to do an article on Lou Reed.
The writer and I spent four days waiting for Lou to agree to be interviewed—Lou’s typical fun and playfulness brought on by his love-hate relationship with the press (they loved him and he loved them).
He eventually agreed to be interviewed at the Nobu restaurant in Greenwich Village, which was all the rage at the time as it had just opened.
He ordered a bottle of wine at an exorbitant price, knowing the label would pay the bill, almost $1,000. It was all for the show.
Much to our surprise, Lou asked us if we wanted to go to the party with him as we left Nobu, so we got into his waiting car. He immediately took us to Grey’s Papaya, a New York establishment, and insisted that the writer try their infamous hot dogs, even though we had just eaten a very expensive Japanese dinner.
The huge contrast between the expensive Nobu and the cheap Grey’s Papaya has not escaped anyone’s attention. Another show. As soon as we had a bite to eat with the dogs, Lou decided he was done, and he was dropped off at home.
He seemed to be afraid to reveal too much.
Crazy day with Suggs
In 1997, the label signed Madness frontman Suggs. He’s a big Chelsea fan, so our paths often crossed at games. That same year, Chelsea reached the FA Cup final.
As fate would have it, songwriter Mike Connaris brought me Blue Day, which he thought was perfect for Suggs and could have been a great FA Cup final song.
Suggs liked the track, as did the club. Somehow I managed to convince WEA to pay for the record and release it as a single.
Before you could tell that dreams really do come true, I was in the London studio on a Sunday afternoon with Chelsea captain Dennis Wise, Gianluca Vialli, Mark Hughes, Steve Clark, Gianfranco Zola and the entire Chelsea team making a record.
When the team left, Suggs and I sat and drank beer, almost speechless, literally in dreamland. It was a real moment to pinch me.
Chelsea won the FA Cup by beating Middlesbrough 2–0.
Hearing Blue Day rumble at Wembley Tannoy brought tears to my eyes. The song is now part of Chelsea folklore and is played at every home match.
When Chelsea launched their own radio and TV station, Suggs and I were asked to be on the first game show. Suggs hadn’t gone to bed yet and came right after a big drunken night.
Our interview quickly turned into a very funny car accident. We were on the air for a short time. We were also not asked to return.
Elton’s promiscuous interviewer
My time with Elton John was short but fun while it lasted.
I will never forget his collection of bobbleheads, which travels with him around the world and is installed in his dressing room.
He has literally hundreds of figurines of sports stars, musicians and celebrities – they even have their own suitcases for flights.
In the summer of 2004, Boris Johnson came to Vegas to interview Elton for GQ magazine. During the summer holidays he had a daughter.
I never imagined for a moment that this rather clumsy journalist would one day become prime minister.
Reading the score to Rod
ROD STEWART is a huge Celtic fan and loves football very much. Similarly, I am passionate about my favorite club, Chelsea.
Once, when we were in Sweden to shoot the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, Rod asked me to read him the results of Saturday’s top division games before the show.
I skimmed the score, not counting Chelsea’s 7-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest.
The next day, before leaving Stockholm, my phone rang and my voice simply said “seven-zero!!!!”. and laughed. Rod hung up before I could get a word in.
Harrods sale with Cher
Celebrities opened the HARRODS summer and winter sales.
Sometimes the artists would come on horseback or in a horse-drawn carriage – it was always a bit crazy.
So, amid the incredible success of her song Believe, Cher opened a sale at Harrods in January 1999.
She was invited to shop at the store after it closed the night before the sale, and as a result, my business partner Moira and I walked around the empty Harrods with Cher, grabbing a few presales.
Definitely one of the most surreal experiences we’ve had, but it was incredibly fun.