Thursday, March 1, 2018

Tito Burns (1921 – 2010)

Nathan Bernstein was born in London in 1921, the youngest of six children. After leaving school aged 15, he tried cabinet making, but he was heart set on becoming a musician. Nathan had played accordion since he was 12 and joined Don Marino Barreto and his Rumba Band, aged 17. He was nicknamed Tito (‘the little one’) because he was the youngest in the band and the soubriquet stuck although he was six foot tall.

By the late 30s, he worked freelance as a musician at several London nightclubs until he formed his own swing band with a residency at the Nut House club in London. From 1942 until the end of the War, he served in the RAF and after Victory over Japan (V-J) Day, Tito worked on forces radio with McDonald Hobley and David Jacobs. As soon as he was demobbed he briefly joined the Clarrie Wears Sextet before forming the Tito Burns Sextet in 1947. Charles Chilton (BBC producer) was a guitar player in the band and persuaded the BBC to showcase them on the Accordion Club (BBC Light Programme) radio series. They were first jazz group to perform bebop on BBC Radio.

They recorded and toured with various line-ups, including Dennis Rose (trumpet and piano), Joe (Muddle) Mudele (double bass), Ray Ellington (drums), Ronnie Scott (tenor sax) and Johnny Dankworth (saxophonist), among many others. During the early 50s, the band singer was Terry Devon and she sang in a style based on Charlie Ventura's singer Jackie Cain. Terry regularly performed scat singing.

In 1954, Burns added comedy to his performance and played the halls with Dorothy Squires and Jimmy Wheeler. Tito supported Sarah Vaughan at the Royal Albert Hall but as music styles changed the band eventually broke up in 1955. Tito continued to work as a musician and was one of the resident bandleaders on the Six-Five Special (BBC).

He was not a great fan of rock’n roll but realized he could make more money as an agent, manager and impresario. He established Tito Burns Productions and managed Cherry Wainer (organist) among many others. In 1958 Cherry told him, Cliff Richard was in dispute with his personal manager, Franklyn Boyd which was enough for Tito to become Cliff ‘s manager.

He was an old style deal maker and what he lacked in diplomacy he made up in salesmanship who lived by the maxim ‘grab it while you can.’ Burns quickly set to smartening Cliff Richard up by introducing him to Dougie Millings (tailor to the Beatles). Sensing the rock’n roll era was on the wane Burns groomed Cliff to become an all-round entertainer. He quickly made changes to the Shadows by replacing drummer, Terry Smart with Tony Meehan. In the three years he managed Cliff he had him appear at the London Palladium with Vera Lynn as well as doing comedy with David Kossoff (father of Paul Kossoff). Cliff also completed his second film the musical Expresso Bongo (1959).

The relationships between agent and artist were often tart and short and Cliff and The Shadows were no exception, they parted company after disagreement over money. He had the reputation of working his clients hard and although he had a wide range of talent including actress, Janette Scott (daughter of Thora Hurd); singers Jackie Rae and Al Saxon and the Allisons, their associations seldom lasted long.

He was the agent for the Searchers until Tony Jackson (lead singer) left the band claiming Burns owed him money.

The Zombies also parted company after disputes over fees. The Springfields including Dusty Springfield, and Cat Stevens were no different.

In 1963, Burns co-promoted the Beatles' UK tour with Roy Orbison and for a time Tito was actively involved in bringing American acts including Bobby Vee, Del Shannon, Dionne Warwick, Otis Redding and the Isley Brothers to the UK.

In 1965 he arranged for Bob Dylan to perform at the Royal Albert Hall to a sell-out audience. In the same year Andrew Loog Oldham, invited Burns to act as the Rolling Stone’s agent. Tito Burns became a booking agent for Jimi Hendrix, and The Moody Blues.

In 1966 he signed a deal with the International Talent Association of New York to represent American artists in Britain, among them George Shearing, and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Later the same year he sold his agency to the Grade Organisation and became deputy managing director of Harold Davison Ltd, the company within the Grade Empire that acquired his artists. In 1968, he was hired by London Weekend Television as their head of variety to work alongside, the head of light entertainment, Frank Muir. He managed to pull off two major deals the first was booking Woody Allen and the second in 1969 he enticed Simon Dee away from the BBC. Dee was then the biggest name on television, commanding a weekly audience of 10 million for his Saturday night chat show, Dee Time.

During his two-year tenure he handled UK appearances for Tony Bennett, Sacha Distel and Victor Borge. He went on to join the Management Agency and Music (MAM) empire, which handled stars like Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck and Adam Faith.

In the mid 70s he created and produced the inaugural Britannia Wards (Brit Awards), marking the centenary of Thomas Edison’s invention of sound recording and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Tito Burns retired in 1976 but continued to book international stars for appearances in Britain. Tito Burns died in August 2010, aged of 89.

Worth a listen
Cliff Richard
Move it (1958)
Living doll (1959)
Travellin’ Light (1959)
Dynamite (1959)

The Springfields
Silver threads and golden needles (1962)
Island of dreams (1962)

The Searchers
Sweets for my sweet (1963)
Sugar and spice (1963)
Don’t throw your love away (1964)
Love potion #9 (1964)

The Zombies
She’s not there (1964)

The Beatles
Please please me (1963)
From me to you (1963)
She loves you 91963)
I want to hold your hand (1963)
I saw her standing there (1963)
All my loving (1963)
This Boy (1963)

Dusty Springfield
I only want to be with you (1963)
Wishing and hoping (1964)
I just don’t know what to do with myself (1964)

The Rolling Stones
Route 66 (1965)
Under the boardwalk (1965)
The last time (1965)
(I can’t get no) satisfaction (1965)
Get off my cloud (1965)

Bob Dylan
The times they are a-changing (1965)
Maggie’s Farm (1965)
Subtertanian homesick blues (1965)
Like a rolling stone (1965)
Positively Fourth Street (1965)

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