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PR giant Alan Edwards on working with David Bowie and mentorship from Mick Jagger

June 7th, 2024

PR giant Alan Edwards has spoken to NME about his new book – which explores his time working with the likes of David BowieThe Rolling Stones, Prince, Britney Spears and more.

With 45 years experience in the entertainment industry, Edwards – who also founded celebrated PR firm The Outside Organisation – has represented clients including the biggest musicians on the planet, as well as royalty, sports legends and more.

Now, he has compiled his most fascinating anecdotes into a new book: I Was There: Dispatches from a Life in Rock and Roll. From his gruelling mentorship from Mick Jagger to watching his office casually destroyed by The Who‘s Keith Moon, playing football with Bob Marley and watching David Bowie’s legacy evolve over four decades — these are just some of the memories that Edwards explores in the memoir.

“It feels like I went through life very fast, without ever really looking back… until now,” he told NME. “I look back at all this stuff and it sometimes feels like an out-of-body experience to think that it really happened.”

Alan Edwards in 2024. CREDIT: Hoda Davaine/Dave Benett/Getty Images

To celebrate the release of the book, Edwards shared some of his favourite anecdotes from I Was There with us, and explained how NME played a role in him discovering new talent.

NME: Hi Alan, congratulations on the book. When did the idea to compile all your experiences together first emerge?

Alan Edwards: “It’s felt like I’ve always been writing it in a way, because I’ve had so much time hanging around, waiting for things to happen. When you add it up, it equates to years of being with fascinating people in strange places. But I only started putting the book together about two or three years ago. It was then that I realised that to write a book, you have to really have to open yourself up — so I’ve put things in there that I hadn’t even told my family.”

What did the very start of your career look like?

“When I started doing PR my boss was Keith Olson. He looked after everyone at Woodstock and he was the guy that told Hendrix to set fire to his guitar at Monterey Pop. So, working with him we’d have people like Keith Moon come to our office. That’s where it all started.

“Marc Bolan [T-Rex frontman] would come into the office too — I remember one day Keith had what we suspected to be a heart attack, so while he was in hospital Marc offered to come in and help out. He arrived kitted out in his glittered gear and his huge boots, sat down and answered the phones for the afternoon.”

You talk about NME quite a lot in the book…

“Yes. I was doing the PR for The Rolling Stones around ’82, and I remember they wanted to be in NME. It was very exciting because I’d grown up reading NME – it was a bible to me. I’d hang around the newsagent on a Thursday morning to get it, and I’d stop in the street to see what was on the front cover and what reviews there were. I’d also keep parts in scrapbooks and get tickets to see the bands that were getting good press in there.”

Alan Edwards during the 1980s.
Alan Edwards during the ’80s. CREDIT: S&S/Press

Speaking of your time with The Rolling Stones, you say you were mentored by Mick Jagger?

“I was! To work with them, he flew me out to New York and I had to go through an extraordinary set of interviews. I met him in a room in the Dakota building which was bigger than most of the gigs I’ve been to, and he fired questions at me for 45 minutes. Questions like, ‘What’s the biggest newspaper in Italy?’ It was like sitting for an A-Level in media.

“By that point, I’d spent about 10 years going around Europe with The Stranglers, Buzzcocks and Blondie, so I’d learned quite a lot. I thought I passed, but I wasn’t sure. About a week later I got a call from Keith Richards. It was 9pm and he went: ‘If you want to be Rolling Stone’s fucking PR, you fucking meet me at midnight. I run this group. I’m in charge.’

“I was a bit shaken by it, but I got there and I was shown into this busted-up little room that didn’t even have a chair, and I stood there all night. It got to around 7am and Keith burst in, asking me questions like: ‘What was Gregory Isaacs’ second album?’ and ‘Where did Jimmy Cliff record this?’ – all blues and reggae stuff, but luckily I was a reggae fan! Three days later, I found out I’d got the job would be given £150 a month or something. It was hard work and it almost gave me a nervous breakdown at the end, but it was interesting.”

You worked with David Bowie for nearly 40 years. What kind of anecdotes can we expect to see about him in the book?

“I recall how I first saw David Bowie live as a kid, back when he was doing Ziggy Stardust. I saw him in this venue with about 150 people, and it was early days but it already felt like he was from another planet. At that point I had no idea I was going to work for him for nearly four decades.

“I met with him just after he had done [Nagisa Ōshima’s 1983 war epic with Ryuichi Sakamoto] Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, so he was being treated like a movie star — but also he had just been dropped by his label because ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ weren’t being deemed as good commercially as stuff like Bay City Rollers!

“It was when I went on tour with him that it started to sink in how down-to-earth and charming he was. He’d turn up at our office in Tottenham Court Road and make coffee for everyone. He told me his secret to not being recognised was to wear a cloth cap and have a Greek newspaper under his arm. That way if anyone ever questioned whether it was him, they’d look closer and think, ‘Well it can’t be… he’s obviously Greek’. It was the same for interviews. We’d get the train a lot of the time, no first-class or anything, and you’d be amazed how many people would do a double take, then think: ‘Can’t be him, he’s just a guy sat with us going to Manchester’.

“An example of that in the book is how there was one time after a radio interview he had nothing better to do, so he decided to present the station’s traffic reports. He sat there telling people there were delays on the M25… and even to this day I don’t think anyone knew it was David Bowie. He was this extraordinary creative genius, but also a pure, disarming, nice gentleman.”

Alan Edwards with David Bowie and Iman
Alan Edwards with David Bowie and Iman. CREDIT: S&S/Press

After working with him for so long, did you see a side to him that maybe people wouldn’t expect?

“In a weird way no, because he – like any great star – simply was who he was. He was David Bowie, always. I’d be getting calls at night with him being excited because he’s got a new idea, or he’s decided he wants to design wallpaper, or he’s learned about this thing called the internet and knows it’s going to change the music industry.

“I guess one thing that people didn’t see was quite how funny he was. Particularly because he was one of those artists who never seemed like the boy next door — he was this exotic character who didn’t quite fit in London or LA or Berlin… he was only him. That, plus how much he loved writers and what an academic look he had on journalism. He always had such a passion to know about young, up-and-coming people in any creative field.”

You also worked with Amy Winehouse. From your time together, what would you say it was about her that has kept her legacy so strong until now?

“I worked with Amy around the last three years [before her death in 2011]. We were there while a lot of things were going horribly wrong, and a lot of what we were trying to do was trying to calm it down. It was a tough time.

“But I think for her it’s the same as Bowie, she was so authentic and she lived her life honestly, and that’s why songs are so incredible. That’s why she touches us all, because she had the ups and downs in life left out in the open, but also she was someone you could connect to in a Camden pub and she had a great sense of humour. I think that’s why her legacy lives on — she was so easy to emphasise with.”

Alan Edwards 'I Was There: Dispatches From A Life In Rock and Roll' book cover
Alan Edwards ‘I Was There’ book cover. CREDIT: Press

What is one anecdote in the book that still feels the most surreal to you?

“One is definitely when Keith Moon came into the office back when I was working with Keith Olson. There was a time when he was out for lunch, I was sitting there answering the phones, and this guy wearing a monocle, a top hat and a cane walked in. I realised straight away it was Keith Moon taking on the role of an English gentleman. He looked at me and went, ‘My good man, is Keith in?’ I said no, and he calmly walked over, flipped his entire desk over, paper flying everywhere, and left. I was panicking and thinking how I could explain that Keith Moon just wrecked the office. That’s when Olson walked back in, looked, and said: ‘Oh, I guess Moon’s been in’. That’s when it dawned on me, I thought: ‘This is a weird job.’”

Looking at artists who are still making music, who would you say has the potential to make their legacy live on in the same way as the likes of Bowie and such?

“I genuinely believe that Nick Cave has that. Not only is he an incredible artist, but he’s actually interesting and unpredictable. You never quite know what he’s going to do is say next, but you know it’s going to be fascinating and thoughtful. He’s a proper artist and I hold him in the highest respect. Of course he’s not David Bowie, but he does have elements of that.”

I Was There: Dispatches from a Life in Rock and Roll is out now via Simon & Schuster.

This content was originally sourced and posted at NME »
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