Interview With Larry Yaskiel

Larry Yaskiel book launch, Cic El Almacen review
Larry Yaskiel interview

We often heard it said during our lifetime in the UK that if you could remember the nineteen sixties you hadn’t really been there; a jokey reference to the hedonistic distractions of the time that could warp the memory. We didn’t all partake in that generation’s excesses of course, and indeed I still I rather ruefully recall that I seemed to be the only guy to whom the so-called permissive society of the time said ´No !´

However, a good number of people who, like me, clearly remembered the summers of peace and love and music of that era recently gathered in the wonderful artsy gallery and buzzing pub and restaurant that is Cic El Almacen in Arrecife. Amongst the audience, though, were also several members of generations far too young to have been around in the nineteen sixties. This was to officially announce the publication of Larry Yaskiel’s second book in less than eighteen months: this one dealing with his previous life in the music business of that era. His subsequent retirement from his role in the music industry saw him settle over here, and direct his promotional skills-set, and his enthusiasm for life, into publishing commencing a print periodical still going strong today.

That Larry has become a favourite son of the island, with his wife Liz held in equal affection, is evidenced by the fact that The Cabildo has stepped in to publish and promote a book that celebrates Larry’s life before he even arrived here to live on Lanzarote. It made perfect sense that they should assist in the publication of his previous work about the connections between The British Isles And The Canary Islands, but the text of La Rocola de Bar Rumba covers the period from 1958 to 1979, when Larry worked in the music industry in the UK and Germany. Nevertheless, it carries a prologue by Miguel Rios and gives us a fascinating notion of the sidetracks and detours that brought to the island a man who would then launch Lancelot, a quarterly, glossy magazine publication designed to promote Lanzarote to British and European tourists.

For more than twenty years the magazine has been a welcome guide to tourists visiting for the first time and a friendly contributor to the ´settling in´ period of hundreds of those who, like my wife and I, subsequently come here to live.

The cover of this new book, however, shows two dapper looking rock guys, Larry and Miguel Rios, and the title refers to a German bar in Hamburg that, for much of the period covered by the book, was renowned for its eclectic juke box in the corner and was where Larry first began work as a doorman.

Tonight he sat in the centrally positioned chair of three laid out at the front of the downstairs gallery room in Almacen, admittedly looking slightly changed from the hirsute man who smiles from the cover of his book. He was formally introduced to his audience, although no such introduction had actually been needed, but was instead an act of courtesy, by the Cabildo member, sitting to his right hand side.

After that we had a short recorded burst of a recording of Sing A Song Of Joy by Miguel Rios and then, and once his interviewer, on his left, had given a short introductory speech and then thrown his first questions as Larry’s interviewer, it became immediately apparent that Larry has changed not one jot from that narrator in his book, who shows such a love of life and its people, and who achieved so much for so many artists simply through his own contagious enthusiasm for their work.

This being a book written in Spanish, it had attracted an audience primarily of Spanish speaking islanders, and therefore the question and answer session was conducted in the native tongue.

Larry’s speaking of Spanish as a second language was still way too good for me, so I picked up only a few words I recognised; the spoken name of Cat Stevens followed by Larry’s sung opening lines of that artist’s Wild World, and other names that fell out in his conversation.

Elvis Presley, Duane Eddy, Klauss Voorman, Manfred Mann, Hendrix, The Beatles and Stuart Sutcliffe were mentioned, and there were references to radio like the BBC Light Service and Radio Luxembourg and the Pirate radio ships.

When Larry drew to a close, his interviewer invited questions from the floor. Oscar Perez, a former Cabildo officer in the Department Of Culture, who has worked closely with Larry in the past, asked a question about Pink Floyd, and Larry’s answer made reference to their infamous slogan of the floating-pig air balloon and to their album, The Wall, with its lines about how ´we don’t need no education´ and its warning to ´hey, teacher, leave those kids alone.´

Nevertheless, a life as full as that lived by Larry surely has lessons for following generations and I feel the Cabildo are wise to support this book. It is sensible and informative, rather than salacious and incriminating, and could prove not only useful to young people but also entertaining to their parents (and grandparents). Incidentally, not only was Oscar in the audience tonight, but so too was former president Pedro San Gines, another indication of the esteem in which Larry is held.

Another young man in the audience then asked about a song and musicians Larry refers to in the book. The questioner said he had first come across the song Stuck In The Middle With You when it was featured in the film Reservoir Dogs. That would have been made a couple of decades or three after the song was recorded and released by Stealers´ Wheel, so this provides a great example of how wise is Hugh Moffatt to advise today’s songwriters ´to prepare what they write for light years of travel.´ Indeed, Larry himself said later, off stage and in English, how vital it is that music continually evolves, to reach new audiences.

During the informal photo and chat sessions afterwards Larry and I spoke briefly about our shared memories of The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Gram Parsons (this in response to my own reference to The Byrds) and the influence Parsons had in the emergence of a fusion music that became known as country-rock, and Larry re-iterated to me that ¨Music Is Important.´

As that is something we both feel very strongly, there seemed to be still much left unsaid, and so we agreed to meet up for another chat, that I am confident will be of interest to our all across the arts readers here at Lanzarote information, especially those of you who still love the soundtracks of the nineteen sixties.

Diligently undertaking the depth of research Lanzarote Information readers expect of us I googled him, and unearthed an extensive on-line presence, though some of those entries that come up first on the page are my own previous articles about him published on Lanzarote Information web site. There is, though, a great piece posted a while ago at

To conduct our interview, though, we sat huddled on the outdoor terrace of the San Antonio Hotel, in early January, holding our cups of tea and coffee between our hands to keep our fingers warm.

The conversation was piping-hot, though, as we talked of Herb Alpert, Johnny Kidd And The Pirates, Elvis and Chuck Berry. We spoke of Larry’s collection of photographs showing him with Joan Baez, the princess of sixties folk music. These photographs, displayed on a wall in his home, also show him with The Bee Gees, members of Led Zep and Fleetwood Mac.

´I was working in Germany as a door to door encyclopaedia salesman, selling English language editions to America GIs serving over there, and was becoming very bored,´ he told me.
´I packed it in and instead took some work as a doorman at a club called Bar Rumba, that had a jukebox in the corner. Hearing its records as a constant soundtrack throughout the day all the time I worked there absolutely changed my life. Then, my mother heard that the Pye Recording organisation was undergoing some international transition that had them needing somebody with a wide knowledge of the rock and roll record industry, who could speak English and German.´

Several songs by The Beatles were becoming popular with German audiences when the band played them live, long before they were ever recorded. Among them was She Loves You, then unheard of above The Cavern or outside The Star Club, because in those days, as Larry reminded me, The Beatles were not yet a phenomenon. Larry had it translated into German for the boys.

Similarly, the young Yaskiel also helped arrange tours of Germany by á couple of unknown virtuoso guitarists, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, before Larry returned to London as the chief of the then emerging A & M label to become involved in the burgeoning British rock scene. That move saw him sign Humble Pie, with their star in the making, Peter Frampton.

Larry, though, also had a latent love of classical, and even opera, music and although he achieved so much he reminds me that the pop industry was still a risky business, and any failures could easily offset every huge success. Nevertheless, Larry’s catholic musical tastes helped him successfully calculate the risk of signing Miguel Rios who, in 1970 recorded his Ode To Joy, in itself a celebration of Beethoven. EMI had rejected him but, believing the recording to be suitable for all audiences, Larry bought the rights and, helped by three appearances on Top Of The Pops, with its average seventeen million viewers per weekly show, the young Miguel reached number three in a top ten chart that included The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Elvis Presley !

I suddenly realised we had chatted for nearly an hour and it was about time I asked my first question. It was the cover picture of La Rocola del Bar Rumba, showing Larry looking for all the world like a young rock God, which led me to ask a cheeky ´opening´ question.

WHO was Larry Yaskiel then, and WHO is Larry Yaskiel now?

´At that time, I was living in Germany, in a period from 1958 to 1969,´ Larry recalled, ´and at that time I returned to London as European manager of A & M Records. You remember the label had Herb Alpert, Sergio Mendes and The Carpenters on their list of artists but they wanted to get into rock and roll and that’s what they hired me for. They hired me to get them into rock and roll. The first group I singed to the label was Humble Pie and the second was Supertramp. They were big groups and I signed Rick Wakeman as well, then I was offered a record that was already a hit. It was number one in Spain and was a recording by Miguel Rios and it was his first number one ever. He had recorded an English version of it, which EMI turned down, saying their promotions people didn’t know whether it was rock, or whether it was rock or whatever and they didn’t know what to do with it. The Spanish label then sent me a copy and I said ´I love it´ and the song was a contemporary working of Beethoven´s Song Of Joy. I told our promotions people to get to work on Top of the Ops and tell them that you’ve got something totally different. At that time Pink Floyd were in the charts, and I think Mango Jerry with In The Summertime and Elvis Presley was at the top with Now or Never. Nevertheless I saw this as something new, a wonderful balance a mix of rock and classical, being based on Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Our promoters came back to me soon afterwards saying there’s good news, we’ve got Miguel Rios on to Top Of The Pops but the bad news is it has to be this Thursday. I immediately phoned Madrid where Miguel was based and spoke to his manager at his label who was Louis Calvert and told him to get Miguel on a plane from wherever he was, withy whoever he was with, and get him to London.

In those days Top of The Pops had seventeen million viewers and I knew we couldn’t miss the opportunity. It was great promotional tool and after the programme I sent a telegram (there was no Facebook, texting, or tweeting then, just telephones and telegrams). The message said DEAR MIGUEL RIOS. I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR MY FIRST HIT IN TWO HUNDRED YEARS. SIGNED, LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN.´

We blew up a copy of that telegram and had it erected as a background for a press conference at the Washington Hotel in London, where the picture of the cover of the book was taken. In fact, you can see on the photograph the word Beethoven behind him on the poster.´

Larry is firmly of the opinion that the young person shown in his pomp on the book cover is very much the same man as is sitting here on Lanzarote in so-called retirement.

I ask him WHAT kind of life it has been.

´In some ways,´ he says, ´my life has always been the same. It has been a life of putting out records, literally, of course, in my time in the music industry. I always say I was dancing by night to the music I was selling by day. It wasn’t just product for me, it was all about the artists. I liked them and got close to them in an artistic sense.´

´I always made sure I was with them when they were in the studio on the first day of making a record and was always trying to be with them on the first day of a tour, too, to make sure they had all they needed. I never learned anything about their kind of creativity and I never really learned anything about that kind of studio technology, but that was maybe a blessing in disguise. You must always remember that, in the music industry, the higher up you go the farther away you are from the man on the street. I wanted to remain as much as possible with the man on the street.´

Music had been, and very patently still is, a huge part of Larry Yaskiel’s life, so I was wondering about the seemingly quite seismic career change he made when coming to live here on Lanzarote. It begs the question that, although it seems on paper to be such a sea change, were there actually transferable skill sets he could employ to smooth the transition WHEN he made the change?

´I was worn out. Absolutely worn out,´ he recalls. ´My best friends, though, were the artists´ own managements who said to me that usually when they were dealing with labels they would only briefly deal with the person in my equivalent position and then would be introduced to the promotions people. What they liked about working with me, they said, was that, without lording it over my promotions department, I would be hands on and energetic in the early promotional process.´

Larry is receptive to all our questions, on any subject, but it is his love of music that constantly illuminates his replies so I feel bound to ask WHERE, both geographically and spiritually, his love of music has taken him throughout his life. I was a little surprised by his initial response, however.

¨Well. My love of music took me to a huge gap at first in some ways. When we first came here we live in small apartment made out of breeze blocks, so when somebody sneezed five doors along, the whole row shouted Bless You ! So you can imagine that it wasn’t easy to listen to the radio, I could never stop listening to music, but it was difficult. I never lost my love for that music, though. I have never lost my love for any music I’ve listened to. My first love, in fact was Italian Opera. I used to listen to Opera and I have a story in the book about how, when I was head of A & M; I had to go to Italy to find a distributor. Having the right distributors was hugely important. One of our contracts had come to an end, and I went to see a new prospective distributor with a couple of colleagues.´

´It was a company called Recordia, but the biggest player over there was RCA Recordia who had 80% of the market. I asked Recordia for their credentials I asked if they had a long history in the business, thinking perhaps a company with twenty or thirty year’s experience would know what they were doing. Imagine my surprise when I learned that had been in existence for 150 years! They had worked with Verdi and Rossini and all the great opera star of that time, and had moved into distribution of rock records too, perhaps fifteen years ago. I saw an opportunity here, and without seeking a bribe in any way, I pointed out that I was going to make a decision between them and one or two other companies, and it might help make up my mind if I could see some of those original manuscripts. They told me they were kept in a building just outside Milan, in some kind of thermatically controlled environment to ensure these precious documents were preserved. I told them my favourite opera was Verdi’s Don Carlos and wondered if there was any chance I could see those original parchments. The people I was talking to had to get permission from their board, but it was arranged and they took me there and I saw a manuscript of the opera with Verdi’s signature on it. I have never forgotten seeing that, as Opera was my first love.´

Does this obvious love of music, and its history, and of all things tangential to the industry, explain WHY Larry wrote his book?

´Originally I wrote the book because I thought there was a market for it. I wrote it in English five years ago, but I couldn’t get arrested for it. Fortunately, I still have friends in the music business one of whom is Chris Charlesworth formerly head of Melody maker and now head of a company called Music Books. He gave me really honest advice saying that if my name was Mick Jigger the industry would be snapping up the book,…but basically Larry, nobody knows you ! I was advised that I should perhaps ´sex it up a bit. ‘I was reminded that I knew what Jimi Hendrix used to get up to with girls, and if I could talk about that,… but I said no way. Those musicians had been like brothers and sisters to me, and I wouldn’t do that.´

´Publishers told me that is what people expect to read these days, but to me that was absolutely irrelevant to the music and this was to be a book about music. So I put it away until something happened a year and a half ago. At the Lancelot magazine we worked on a project tracing the original Lanzaroteans who were part of the founding of San Antonio, the families of whom are now parts of the Canarias diaspora.´

´We made several visit to that part of Texas, at our expense of course, but the Cabildo (government) of Lanzarote and the local council of Texas expressed interest in our findings they paid for those details by purchasing advertising in our media outlets. Somehow, though, I could never persuade a president to accompany us an on a trip there but last year, the former President, Pedro San Ginés and his councillor for Culture Oscar Perez came with us and were blown away by the sense of history and by the hospitality. It was the 300th anniversary of the city, founded sixteen years before the first settlers arrived from Lanzarote. There were people on the streets wearing badges or placards that stated tenth or twelfth generation Lanzarote and Liz and I loved it, and of course got to know several of the important executives from various councils and Canarias governments. When Don Pedro San Ginés saw all the Lanzarote flags he realised how important was this historic connection, and he and Oscar began discussing what they could do to help me secure it and protect it. Oscar had worked with me on my first book that had then just been published, (with English and Spanish text between the same covers) about the historic connections between Lanzarote and The UK and he was also aware I had written my English language music biography. He had seen all the photographs on the walls of my house and he suddenly suggested the Cabildo should consider printing a Spanish version of the music book. So, the book came into publication, really, as a thank you from The Cabildo for all we had done to foster relationships with San Antonio for all those years.´

As Liz, his wife, had been mentioned by Larry as being so instrumental in the San Antonio project, I ask how big a part she has played in bringing the Lancelot magazine to fruition and helping bring Larry’s two books into the world.

´Everything,´ he says firmly. ¨She has played a huge, important part in everything. We got together in 1974 and all I could do then, and all I can do now, is write and research. That’s all I can do, and all these years Liz has done everything else. She has managed our contact list, our diaries, our accounts and absolutely everything else to do with everyday management of life and a business. I’m not the greatest diplomat and I don’t have a lot of patience but Liz has got all that. She is always nice with everyone and she never has a problem. Liz and I are always one the same length. I remember that a lot of the artist managements I worked with telling me to go and get my own group. They said I was earning peanuts with the record companies ! They were right in the sense that whether I sold a hundred copies or a million, as I did, I was still on the same salary. So I did. I ´revived´ The Pirates after Johnny Kidd had died, and we almost made it. From day one live shows were selling out and they were quite big with the universities. With records, though, it was very different. The first record was called Out of Their Skulls but it only reached number 25 and then they re-released a version, an incredible version I though, of Shakin´ All Over and that only moved a little bit. These were three members of Johny Kidd’s original group and I remember Roy Carr, of the NME, saying to me what they should have done was recruit a new young singer to take on Johny’s role. No one could have ever replaced Johny Kidd but they could have assumed the position. British teenagers had learned quickly from the American rock n´ roll catalogue. I remember Les Eckersley, who ran Liverpool’s other club, The Iron Door, and had on bands like the Searchers and The Kinks, telling me that when a child is born in Liverpool, he takes milk from his mother’s breast as he’s learning how to play Memphis Tennessee. Nevertheless we toured America with The Pirates but nothing happened, and we had to let it go. I wouldn’t say it broke my heart, but it was incredibly disappointing. And so we came here.´

´We didn’t know what we wanted to do, other than to take step back. I was forty two years old, and was looking for something. Strangely enough I found it in a building just across the road from where we are sitting now. In a place called Palmeras Beach, which was a tourist complex, we had a friend who had the seat of Slavonic Languages at London university and he had a neighbour who spoke German. We got to know her and I could hold a chat with her in German, and one day, quite some time later she knocked on my door, and said she knew I was looking for something to do and she might be able to help. It was true, but I didn’t want to work in a bar or as a property salesman or whatever. She told me, though, of a German language magazine she had just read, about Lanzarote and had read in it that they were looking for somebody to translate it into English.´

I tell Larry that the coincidence I read into all this is that Lanzarote currently has the same vibrant kind of arts scene that he and I both remember from the sixties in England, with artists from different art forms working together and all that kind of creativity and desire to experiment.

´I’m very much aware of that, too,´ he smiles. In fact, I noticed it the moment we came here, almost. I remember asking, when I started to collate what’s on information for the new English language Lancelot, that for such a small island there was such a plethora of concerts and exhibitions. Somebody told me I should remember always that this is an island with no water, and is therefore an island on which nobody should live, indeed should not be able to live. Therefore the ability of these people to eke out a living, find a way of life and make it sustainable shows their creativity, and that is why there is such a field of creativity on the island. They have had to be inventive and creative.´

I tell Larry that during my last several years in England I had begun to feel that the arts somehow sat less comfortably than they once had alongside the country’s culture, religion and politics, whereas here, the arts seem sensibly employed to complement that sense of family and morality and culture and community pride that already exists.

¨It’s part of the scenery, part of the life over here. Arts are here and whichever party or positives come in the artists are still here, working. We may have councillors with different viewpoints on the arts sometimes, but the arts will never die out. It is too cemented for that to happen.´

Is that because the arts have such a trickle-down effect into the schools over here?

´Seventy five per cent of everything I’ve ever written is in the schools over here,´ Larry confirms. ´The education system took 134 articles from our magazine, made summaries of the and they are available for reference in The Central Education office, and every Canarian island has one of those to ensure Canarian content remains on the curriculum. It’s called C. E. P. Central Educacion Professorial. It happened because somebody came to me and said that he had a whole set of issues of Lancelot and he was going back to live in England and wondered whether I wanted the copies back or whether I could suggest anyone who might want them. I contacted a guy I knew who worked with CEP and he and an English teacher who worked there, chose 134 articles. And it’s an add on, a complement to the curriculum. It’s an extra educational tool, written in English, and there’s a European Commission whereby different schools teaching certain subjects can exchange articles on those subjects through the common language of English, so those articles for the magazine down the years have become quite useful and important.´

It is certainly true that when Dee and I came over here for our early holidays Lancelot was the first, and for a long time the only, English speaking magazine we found, and it became our best friend over here in those days. Nowadays, of course, Lancelot exists on a platform alongside Gazette Life Lanzarote, Lanzarote Information web site, and the Cultura web site, too and various English speaking radio broadcasters, and now there is even my own Sidetracks and Detours all across the arts blog. Are we like dinosaurs about to make each other extinct, or is there enough grass for all of us?

´I think we’re all ok,´ Larry says in a relaxed manner. ´The closest to us at Lancelot would be The Gazette, but it has less cultural content and is perhaps more classified than we are and Lanzarote Information is more visual, and through a different media. Remember England. In London I used to get the Evening Standard and The Evening News, and of course, there were all the daily newspapers, but they all had their own identity, didn’t they?´

I ask this man, picture of serenity that he is, one final time whether the boy on the book cover would recognise the man sitting here now.

He considers for a long time.

´I think so.´… He pauses…´I’ve always been a straight-shooter.´

Asked at what he is straight-shooting these days, I am somehow not surprised when his answer takes us back to music.

´Nothing for the moment. I’ve just got my feet up. But I’ve had some very good news. I was interviewed a couple of months ago, by a guy who is writing a biography of Stevie Marriott (The Small Faces, Itchy Coo Park et al and Humble Pie) and he said the Humble Pie’s drummer, Jerry Shirley, wrote an autobiography called The Best Seat In The House, and in it he wrote,…´we went to the dogs when Larry Yaskiel left. He was always interested in us from morning till night and the minute he left A & M we went to the dogs.´

I told this writer an anecdote about Stevie Marriott. Soon after we signed Humble Pie, A & M’s co-owner, Herb Alpert, came over to the UK where he had just enjoyed a hit with This Guy´s In Love, to play at The Royal Command Performance. He asked if there was anyone working in the recording studio as he’d like to have a look, to see how we did things. I said sure, and took him up, and there was Steve Marriott, a very smart guy and I left them to get to know each other. A few days later I phoned Stevie up and asked how it had gone and whether or not he and Herb had got along.´
´He was a great guy,´ said Stevie. ´He even dressed like us with holes in his jeans except his holes looked like they had been cut by a tailor and cost a lot more money than ours had!´

And so came to an end one of the most enjoyable interviews (for me) I have ever conducted. Whatever indefinable greatness Larry has that made him a successful adviser and friend to the stars he wears it lightly, and does so still even when he dons the cloak of unofficial Ambassador for Lanzarote. He and Liz are a popular couple and seem to have time for everyone and everything they touch seems to be growing from strength to strength.

Long may that continue.

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