Huffam, Ian

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  • Name Huffam, Ian 
    Gender Male 
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    • Set in the ever-trendy Kings Road in SW10 London, the offices of Helter Skelter, the UK-based concert-agency which specialises in dealing with the biggest and best musical talent on planet Earth, are spacious and comfortable. But, what's most interesting is the secret door. After sitting on (or rather sinking into) the soft, white, leather couch in the reception area, whilst watching silent MTV on a television screen, Ian's assistant made her way down a tall, spiral stair-case in the corner of the room. She discovered that he would be a few minutes yet before the interview could commence and, like a cunning fox stealing chickens from a farm, the assistant sneakily twisted a handle on the wall at the back of the room. The wall opened.

      I was told to sit and wait for Ian to arrive because he was finishing off some other business. I happily sat down alone at a long, black desk, obviously used for meetings. The room overlooked the nearby road and it made you realise that two floors from the ground is actually quite high. Another TV set was in one corner, expensive hi-fi separates in the other, with the walls covered in framed, gold discs presented to various members of the Helter Skelter team. Suddenly, the wall/door opened and a tall man with just-before-shoulder length hair introduced himself as Ian Huffam. He closed the window and sat down, the light from outside reflecting off his designer glasses. The interview commenced?

      What does your job actually involve?

      'The job involves finding new or established groups and building their career throughout the whole world. This is done in terms of choosing the right venues, selecting the right ticket price and finding the right promoter to work with and then building the band's live career in tandem with, hopefully, their increase in album sales. This can take anything from, if something moves really quickly, a year to eighteen months. However, in the case of Moby, who I've looked after for eight years, it has taken eight years! Moby has always had success and always been credible, but, to demonstrate it in album sales, his average UK album sales were around 40-60,000 and this album ('Play') has done 1.2million sales. This demonstrates how dramatic his rise has been over the last eighteen months, whereas the previous seven or eight years were a gradual building process. You can certainly have new artists who appear from nowhere and have huge success, but the problem you commonly get is that the next album or single is not what the public expect following on from big hits and then they start to reappraise the band. With a group that have had several albums out for a few years, at least they've built a foundation or a fanbase. Whilst Moby's success, to most people, has appeared from nowhere, we have had seven years of touring and regular album releases and a fantastic record company. So, whilst his success has appeared from nowhere, from what a lot of people think, there have been foundations laid. So, when he comes back next time with a new album, it won't be a hit and miss affair; it will hopefully be an affair where millions of people around the world are waiting to listen to it.'

      When you get to that status of huge success, like Moby for instance, do you immediately get to work on a new, larger tour for him?

      'Well, it varies really. That's a difficult one to answer in terms of Moby because the album hasn't just sold incredibly well, it's also selling stronger now than over a year ago when it was first released! It's an experience I've never had before and most people haven't! For a band whose album sales are strongest in the week following its immediate release, I would tend to plan about a year ahead, around the world, their whole strategy (for live shows). But it changes for every group because each one has their own identity and way of doing things. So, you have to concentrate on your main countries and then add others on the back of that, but, as I said, it varies; some groups like to tour, some don't.'

      A band like Blur have all of their own personal projects and touring isn't a priority now?


      'That's true, however, Blur have toured hugely without really overplaying any countries for ten years now. When I first took Blur on, I was standing with Andy Ross (Blur record label boss and the man who signed them to Food) when they were playing in front of around twenty people. On their largest ever tours, we were playing in front of 125,000 people. For Blur, the touring has worked and it has also been important not to do too many shows in each country, otherwise the country would just turn their attention on to other new groups. What Blur do next year will probably depend on their own individual projects and how well everyone accepts the greatest hits album, which is out in October.'

      What is the process of becoming an act's agent - who approaches who?

      'It's a matter of referral to some extent. People ring me up and say I should listen to something and, at the same time, I can go out and find a group myself. There's no hard and fast policy, but generally, as an average, a band have a record label and a manager before I tend to get involved. That's not an exclusive situation, though, because I do represent groups without record deals.'

      What kind of unsigned acts do you deal with?

      'There's a fantastic new group who I'm about to take on called The Rising, which comprises of ex-members of The Seahorses, Shed Seven and Audioweb and they're probably the best new group I've seen for several years. At the moment, they don't have a record-deal, but they're so good live, it's only a matter of time until they get one.'

      How did you get into the music-industry?

      'I've always worked in the music-industry, going back to when I left college in the early eighties and I was in a group of my own in Newcastle. At the same time, I was one of the founding members of the Riverside club, which opened in 1985. I moved down to London in '86 and I've been an agent ever since. So, I've never really had a regular, nine-to-five kind of job!'

      So, did you always have aspirations to get into the industry?

      'Well, I was a musician? Or a rather, er, out-of-time drummer in the early eighties (smiles). I was in one band; we played a few gigs and John Peel played our flexi-disc once, but that's all I'm going to say about that! I spent more and more of my time setting up gigs, putting up posters and selling tickets so I decided drumming wasn't my career. I kind of felt that putting on shows was something I really enjoyed and I've continued with it ever since.'

      You work with quite a wide range of artists, all with different styles and sounds, so what music do you listen to when you're at home?

      'I've always liked a lot of English bands. Current albums I've listened to, though, are David Holmes' new one, which I think is really good and I've recently dug out some old Barry Adamson albums who I also worked with; I love his soundtrack stuff. Historically, I listen to anything from The Doors to Led Zeppelin? Moby, I listen to out of work as well as in, so it varies, but if I was to stereotype it, it would be called leftfield-rock, with an English twinge!'

      Leftfield-rock with an English twinge sounds interesting, I think you'll agree. Anyway, one of the common things we get to ask our victims, er, I mean our interviewees, is what they think of music on the web. Obviously, you're reading this off the Internet now and may be biased (if you're self-confessed, nerdy net-heads) on thinking music should be free through programs such as Napster.

      How do you see music on the Internet progressing?

      'I use the Internet everyday and I've had a computer at home for the last four years. I think it's potentially revolutionary in that new groups can literally put their own tracks out on the web and get to a far wider audience without necessarily having a record company behind them. It's all in a position of chaos at the moment, but I guess it will take two or three years to really work itself out, but it is potentially, totally revolutionary for how groups get their music over to the public. Whether it's free or whether it's not is an irrelevance, but it's an alternative means to get to people and a huge opportunity. There will always be a need for record companies in a certain form. The way I imagine it would work is that record companies could buy up the companies responsible or capable of distributing the music so they will have to change the way that they do their business. As record companies have forty years of monies and expertise behind them, I imagine that it wouldn't take too much effort to buy up the equivalent of Napster and similar companies, therefore meaning that record companies would still be producing and distributing the music pretty much on the same lines as they are now.'

      What advice would you give to people that want to get into your line of work?

      'The way 99% of agents come through to work for large agencies is being established as a local promoter. That used to be through the college route; college gigs have effectively dried up these days, but the club circuit and the small venue circuit is as vibrant as it has been for a number of years. If you're professional, you're straight with people and do a solid job and if you do aspire to become an agent, which is a pretty crazy aspiration, sooner or later, by speaking to the right people, an opportunity will arise.'

      What qualities do you need to be an agent?

      'You have to be (jokingly) pig-headed, aggressive, able to stay up all night with bands, get up early in the morning. No, you just have to be able to understand people's opinions as much as representing the group, because the agent is a conduit between the group and the promoter so it's important to listen to both sides of the argument. At the same time, you have to remember that you are representing the group and you have to do what you feel is best for them; you offer them the advice and they decide whether to take it or not.'

      What is the most rewarding aspect of the job?

      'It's really seeing something move from nowhere to big success over a relatively short period of time. With Blur, it was the Mile End Stadium open air show we did in '95, which was the fruition of five or six years hard work and that's ditto with Moby with the success he's having at the moment. It could be really anything; I mean Robbie Williams at Slane Castle in Dublin was really amazing last summer. There's never really one stage of a band's career where you get one huge reward, it's usually just on little stages along the way to the peak where you can step back and say, 'Well, look, whatever anyone thinks, that was a job well done.'

      The interview ends there and hands are shaken. As I leave the Helter Skelter office and, eventually, the office-complex in which it is situated, the thoughts of what Ian and I are doing this Wednesday floats around my small, little mind. Ian is going to Amsterdam to have good times watching a band and I'm cleaning my desk. Hmmm. I think I want to become an agent. And if you've got any sense, you probably will want to too. If only for the James Bond-esque secret door?
    Person ID I7869  Hougham
    Last Modified 29 Jan 2001