Andy Hudson, COO and owner, The Broadband Computer Company
He’s spent the past 30 years keeping the world entertained with some of the greatest performers on the planet, and befriended a few along the way. Andrew Mernin hears Andy Hudson’s remarkable tale as he prepares for his latest mission - introducing a forgotten generation to the internet.
BEFORE Newcastle Big Band played its first note, Sunday afternoons on Tyneside meant driving in the country, visiting stately homes and polishing the Morris Minor.
But then a young Yorkshire lad called Andy Hudson with a passion for music created a phenomenon which would launch the career of one superstar and lead Hudson on his own path to the helm of the entertainment industry.
With Gordon “Sting” Sumner on bass, the band packed out what is now Newcastle’s Northern Stage theatre every week throughout the mid to late 1970s, playing whatever took their fancy.
Today, Hudson remains good friends with his former bandmate and, despite now running a groundbreaking software firm, maintains a keen interest in the music industry. After all, he has worked with some of the most successful artists of the last 50 years.
A chat with Hudson uncovers a career so varied and full of action, that charting things chronologically is all but impossible.
“All these things were running parallel because, to me, they were all the same thing – life’s an event, there’s a climax and hopefully some applause at the end,” he says.
Having moved to Newcastle as a student in 1965, his career took him all over the world until recently, when he moved back to the region to launch Alex – an ultra-simple software system for the computer illiterate.
After giving up a very short career as a chemistry teacher, his early days in music saw him create the Newcastle Jazz Festival and run the Newcastle Festival for the council.
He then rapidly developed a reputation as a Mr fix-it who leveraged his weighty contacts book to pull off a number of showbiz coups.
Perhaps the most unlikely came when he transported a bunch of musical megastars – more akin to the glitz of Vegas – to an ageing North East football ground.
He says: “In 1978, something so bizarre happened that someone even wrote a play about. I bought Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson to Middlesbrough Football Club.
“A jazz fan on the council had a budget and wanted to do something really big in jazz, so I got the two biggest stars in the world.
“Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich and BB King all appeared at Ayresome Park. Through doing the jazz festival, I just had the right contacts.”
He then embarked on what he calls “the Dick Whittington trail”, which ultimately ended in disaster.
He sold his Jesmond home to jointly launch a music events business in London, which had a dramatic flurry of success until its untimely destruction.
Hudson explains: “We were hosting a huge jazz festival at Alexandra Palace but it caught fire the day before the event, which we would have made a fortune from.
“I owned 62% of it and had to pay all the bills, so had to sell my house in London which I had only just bought to pay the debt.
“It was the biggest fire in Europe since the war and I lost everything. The insurance was so complicated that I just couldn’t get out of it.”
Undeterred, he picked himself up and continued his access-all-areas ride through the music scene.
His next step was to revive a festival which was virtually extinct following a clash between the authorities and some long-haired, high-pitched rockers.
“In 1979, Knebworth lost its license after a Led Zeppelin concert which started an hour after it was supposed to finish and was still going on at one in the morning. I went in with an operational plan with Lord Cobbold, who runs it, and got the license back.
“I then promoted the first Knebworth with the Beach Boys, Santana, Mike Oldfield and some old friends of mine, Lindisfarne.”
As the birth of the MTV generation loomed, TV bosses were keen to push the world’s greatest musical artists into people’s living rooms. And, just as Hudson used his contacts book to bring Ella Fitzgerald to Teesside, he also used it to make his grand entrance into TV land.
He helped the launch of new TV station called Channel Four go with a bang – or rather with the toot of a trumpet.
Through reputation and a family connection, he was contacted by the head of the fledgling station, which needed a big act for a televised launch event.
“I rang Miles Davis’s manager and he said: ‘Andy, there’s two things Miles is not keen on, one is TV and the other is white folk, and you’re both’.
“But I had an agent friend who had been in the industry for so long that he knew where Miles could get the drugs he needed. He wasn’t a dealer but a fixer. So he went in to see Miles and, a few hours later, told me he’d do it.”
“I’ve met Miles five times and he’s only ever said one word to me. We were in a lift, I asked him if everything was OK for him. He looked over his shades as two or three floors went by before the doors opened. ‘Yep,’ he said, and walked out. That’s the sum total of my engagement with Miles, but he was a brilliant musician.”
The 62-year-old takes a modest view of his experiences in the glamorous world of entertainment, and attaches no more prestige to organising a vast rock festival than he does to a wedding.
“I’ve spent most of my time hanging out with artists, which is why in many respects I don’t have particularly high regard for them.
“It’s a very strange industry. Often, right at the core of it is a nice, pleasant, understanding artist who knows how important it is to be supported by people like me and the sound and lighting guys.
“But what often happens is a manager is appointed and you get an onion skin around the artist and they become very difficult.”
One artist who was initially difficult, but ultimately memorable, was Paul Simon, whom he met in the late 80s.
“I was flown out to New York because I wanted to get Paul Simon to do something for Channel Four. I went to see him and waited and waited. He was terribly vain at the time and was worried about his hair – but he eventually came along and was very grumpy.