Interview with Paul Bursche, Prefab Sprout Product Manager, March 2016

How did you get into the music industry?

I was studying journalism at the London School Of Printing in the early eighties and with a couple of friends doing a lot of knocking on the doors of music magazines. In those days it was literally knocking on the door. You’d turn up at Smash Hits’ Carnaby Street offices and Neil Tennant would have a cup of tea with you. I got work at a variety of music titles ranging from Time Out, Record Mirror and Blitz magazine and eventually was offered a job at IPC’s new pop magazine No.1 so I left college to do that for several very enjoyable years. In 1988 Phonogram Records  offered me a position as a Press Officer, and two years later I joined CBS.

How and when did you come to get the job as product manager for Prefab Sprout?

I joined CBS as senior press officer in 1990 and so was assigned Prefab Sprout in the run up to Jordan:The Comeback. Once I’d met them a few times and been “vetted” by Keith  and Phil their managers they were very generous with me and welcomed me into the fold.  By the time Andromeda Heights’ release, I’d changed into a marketing role so it was natural fit for me to look after that album too.

Which other bands were you responsible for?

CBS was by then Sony Music. It had an incredibly rich roster. While I was there I worked on a massive variety of acts ranging from Public Enemy, LL Cool J &  Cypress Hill to Alice in Chains, Big Audio Dynamite, Kula Shaker, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Harry Connick Jnr to name a few!  While I was marketing Andromeda Heights I was also looking after Roachford, Jeff Buckley and  Clash albums too.

How was the industry changing at the tail end of the 1990s?

It was still just about the peak years of CD sales so a lot of business as usual. In terms of the internet the thinking  was more about how we could effectively market our artists on it rather than the disruption it was about to cause.  The first time I encountered mp3s was actually in our A&R department who were all sending demos and songs around to each other on them  as it was so handy. How right they were!

We were at the start of the digital revolution but the focus at that time internally was always on artists careers. It was a couple of years later that the impact started being truly felt and companies had to start massively re-engineering  their back offices, processes and skills sets.

How was the band regarded at Sony?

From the time I joined the company the band were always regarded as gems and it was seen as prestigious to get to work with them. It also helped that they and their managers were so likeable.

Was Andromeda Heights viewed as “business as usual” or as a “last chance saloon” comeback for the band?

To me the former, but I think it must have been hoped upstairs that it would restore the band back to previous numbers on hits and sales, that after all is the business of a major label.

Did you interact frequently with Paddy or other band members? 

I worked very closely with primarily managers Keith Armstrong and Phil Mitchell from Kitchenware, but spent lots of time with Paddy on all the creative elements of the campaign: the video briefs, the artwork and ads, the photo sessions etc. He had a lot of creative control.

What was he like to work with?

Just a pleasure. Firstly he was a very gentle man and softly spoken. But he was also sharp and funny and very self depreciating but  always bursting with ideas. It was like being around a poet.

Do you feel his unwillingness to tour the album was a major negative?

Touring would have been very helpful.  It connects you to your audience. It also gives record companies opportunity to work campaigns at regional radio companies and local newspapers and that all would have helped extend the campaign, but what hurt it more was a lack of radio play. The Sprouts were deemed a bit old for Radio 1 by then, Radio 2 wasn’t a great driver of campaigns at that time although that changed later, and we had very little going at commercial radio. What we could really have done with at that time was a station like BBC 6 Music.

What was the scale of the Andromeda Heights promotion?

The campaign overall was a good sized medium one. We spent a healthy amount on set up, and videos etc, we also had a good marketing budget for the start of the campaign. Had we got a big hit away or had a better run at the top of the charts  it would scaled up very easily but we never quite got there. I think we eventually got the album to gold but it deserved so much more. I think it was the Sunday Indy’s album of the year.

Billboard says there was a “restaurant promotion”, I guess playing the songs over dinner and getting a reaction. How did that work?

Yes there was. I think we knew before the campaign started that radio was not going to be easy, and that the band were probably not going to tour, so there was an effort to try and get the album “out there” via some different means. We’d been doing research on their fans and demographically there was a fit with certain restaurant customers, and there was a softness about the album that meant it could be played very easily in that environment so we tried a promotion with Cafe Rouge. We had stunning artwork on the album cover, a highly romanticised painting of a skyscraper by a then unknown artist called Ann Magill. I produced a limited edition of art-quality posters of it exclusively for Cafe Rouge who agreed they would play the album in full at certain early evening times in their restaurants. It was a cute exercise and well received at the time, and I had some great feedback on it, but ultimately it was never going to make up for a lack of exposure elsewhere. These days, for less budget, you’d be able to do 3 or 4 social media campaigns that would do the job better. It was a great poster though – wish I still had one!

What did you do next?

After Sony Music I joined BMG Records in 2000, little guessing that 5 years later the companies would merge! So they were Sony BMG for a few years before Sony bought out the merger and it became just Sony Music again a few years later. I was very fortunate to serve as Director Of Communications there for nearly ten years until 2014. I now run a public relations company advising individuals and companies on their reputations.

Any amusing stories?

Really sorry but not really. Thanks to Keith and Phil being so good I managed to avoid any Spinal Tap moments with the band but there was always lot of laughter.

One thing that was always good though was that the lovely Wendy was always far more interested in the photo sessions than the boys. We did a couple of quite “arty’ photo sessions for Andromeda Heights with the brilliant stylist William Baker and photographer Andrew McPherson. Wendy would be throwing herself into them and was massively on the same page as William and Andrew.  Paddy and Martin would revert into being Georgie lads and grumbling about all the fuss and bother and laughing at Wendy’s keenness. But I think they loved it really!