Interview With Karel Fialka
Richard Rogers (RR): Tell us a bit about yourself Karel, your chart successes etc.
Karel Fialka (KF): Well I’m probably most known for the song Hey Matthew which was written about my son young Matthew and my thoughts about his obsession with TV and what TV showed and how kids interpreted what they were exposed to. Obviously things have changed dramatically now because what they were exposed to then and what they can be exposed to now since the advent of the Internet is so hugely different. Anybody of any age can now have access to stuff that, frankly, you could only find in the most discreet of private clubs.
Prior to that my better known chart success in Britain, at any rate, was with the song The Eyes Have It… and I’ve had some other success in Germany with the song Eat Drink Dance Relax, and in Holland way back in 1979 with my indie release of Armband on the Red Shift label.
RR: Was the Hey Matthew song a hit outside of the UK?
KF: Apparently it was a big hit in Ireland. I never found out about the Irish success untilafter it had been and gone … andfranklyit seems daft as a quick Aer Lingus flight over to Dublin to do a bit of promotion would have made a lot of sense if IRS had been on the ball. But IRS, the record company I was signed to then, was not particularly well-organized.
Neither of the major record companies I’ve been with in my career, IRS and Blueprint, were particularly good in terms of certain kinds of structure and obviously not in the long term promotion of my career, or anybody else’s who was signed to them. It is interesting to see how a real record company and also management can consolidate and prolong an artists’ career and aid the public perception of who and what the artist is and does. I had none of that from the companies I was with. I have also never had management. The only offer of management was from Miles Copeland who did suggest that he might be interested, but I said no because I thought there would be a conflict of interest as I was already signed to his companies both as a writer and artist. (bar 68)
RR: And was it a hit anywhere else?
KF: There was a lot of radio promotion and TV’s in Germany and France.
France was an interesting one. In those days, as far as records were concerned.. and I don’t know how it works now.. but back then you could be promoting a record for a whole year. French record companies would expect this because of the size of the country and because everything was very regional. So regional TV and regional radio were very important and I did a lot of them.
I was with IRS Records who went through MCA in the UK and CBS in Europe and unfortunately their licensing deal ran out at a critical time in the promotion of Hey Matthew….so very unfortunately, no more input from CBS in Europe, and the upshot was lack of real success.
RR: For anybody on the Music2deal site looking for management would you say you regretted not having management over the years? Bar 118.
KF: Yes I would say so, definitely.I didn’t try to avoid management, that wasn’t the case at all but I never had management and I still don’t have management. I would say if you are an artist and want to have a career, that management is essential. Obviously bad management can totally screw you over, but good management is worth its weight in percentages, or gold, or pounds of flesh. Management is very important because they are the interface between you and the business, which means record companies, promoters, etc.. And no matter how they are criticized, record companies are very important if you want to have real success. You need to have the mechanisms and mechanics of a company to promote you across borders internationally, and the promotion side is most important because the general public have got to know about you and what you are doing, and of course they have got to be able to buy what you are selling, whatever that means…including your live gigs etc. Record companies, and let’s not beat around the bush, are a business and they are there to make money. In essence they are not there to promote, from my point of view, an artists career, per se.The promoting of the artists career is peripheral to the fact that it is beneficial to both parties i.e. that the record company is going to benefit from it too. But being a business, the record company prefers to do business with other people who are doing business i.e. the management. The record company would feel there is somebody else also looking to make money out of involvement with this artist, this band, whatever it might be; and also somebody who would have a more objective view of a decent career path for the artist.
Frankly if I was a record label, I don’t know if I would want to deal or do business directly…artists and musicians can be a funny lot!
RR: Did you get into music at a fairly older age in regards to the younger age that artists are starting off their careers with record companies nowadays? So what was happening in your early twenties? Were you involved in music or not?
KF: Throughout my teens I was involved in music. I was in London at the height of swinging London in the 60’s and through to the flower power thing. I was on the periphery, I was not one of the leading lights but I was at the heart of things. We used to go the UFO Club on Tottenham Court Road and see Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Tomorrow or Fleetwood Mac at The Electric Garden in Covent Garden. At that time I was at Film School and my Art School friends had a band. I was writing lyrics because I fancied myself as a poet and couldn’t play an instrument particularly well and still can’t, more enthusiasm than skill believe me. They had interest from Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert at Track Records, and Pete Townshend very kindly lent us his loft at the top end of Wardour Street where we went and strummed guitars and tried to write songs.
RR: Did you get a deal with the band?
KF: No they didn’t get a deal but they played a few gigs. They were called The Dreamland Express. The name came from a painting by Maxfield Parrish. The two main guys from the band later found a temporary shelter with Peter Jenner and Andrew King at Blackhill.
Then I spent many years in clothes and fashion in London and also hanging out in Ibiza having a good time. But always writing. Sometime in the mid 70’s, two friends of mine who knew I was so deeply into music suggested that I should really concentrate on it. One of those was Mike Smith who used to work for Martin Goldsmith, Harvey’s brother, who I’d known since his days with Bruce Findlay, who managed Simple Minds, in Edinburgh. Motorhead’s Lucas Fox was the other who told me to get my act together, and that’s when I started writing songs.
The other thing that happened was that at the same time I got liberated by the fact that punk had happened and as I’ve said before, I didn’t feel any longer that I needed a PhD to pick up guitar, or huge amounts of musical knowledge… and also I’d been exposed to the first easily available synthesizers, and a whole new world opened up…wow!
RR: For any of the artists on Music2deal looking for a deal what would you recommend is the best way to get a producer or a deal in the first place?
KF: I’ve no idea. I couldn’t even think. Get a manager.
I’ve pursued my own path single-mindedly you might say, but in retrospect I have to say that despite having my music tacked firmly to the electro mast I think it is beneficial to have guitars as part of your aural palette because at least 90% of all the music on radio is guitar driven. Also probably important are live drummers because they add a certain kind of energy to a track, which is also beneficial . So to reiterate.. guitars, drummers and management. It sounds like a T-shirt slogan doesn’t it.
RR: What are you currently working on?
KF: Well currently I’m over here in Gozo. I’ve been doing a project that came out of the blue which is quite interesting really, working with a couple of people I didn’t know…namely Music2deal’s Richard Rogers who is well known as a songwriter, producer and former major A&R man and the Scottish singer/songwriter Kevin McGowan. We initially had no real starting point apart from the invitation to come over. We discussed everything vaguely through skype and a couple of emails and the concept was basically to make the three of us work as a band with each person providing specific input and I wanted to focus on something rather just writing songs for the sake of it i.e. love songs or whatever it might be…so we used the working ethos of protest songs. I feel that one way or another, protest songs have been sadly neglected and everyone’s been far too accepting of all the crap that’s happening in the world. And the CRAP really is happening now, it’s absolutely outrageous and we can’t avoid this and it’s very pernicious as well. As well as liberating us, the internet has made us the target of constant streams of disinformation and bile and hatred. One of the songs is called Political Animal…oddly enough my IRS album was called Human Animal. In theory the songs are political, i.e. protesting, and cover specific subjects…the baseness of so many politicians in Political Animal; religion in Synthetic Sin; ecology in White Gold in the Aral Sea; and the thin veneer of civilization in Scratch the Surface. The concept may be taken further and become an E.P. or an album title… I hope so anyway…or whatever happens!
But it has been fun and very liberating.
RR: Do you have an all time music industry story?
RR: If you had the chance of working with one artist dead or alive who would you choose?
KF: You are asking me on the wrong day. (laughs)
RR: Did you have a mentor when you first got into the music industry?
KF: Er, nope I don’t think so.
RR: What do you think is the single largest problem faced by the music industry today and how do you think it can be resolved?
KF: The music industry is still on the back foot from a lot of expensive poor judgement in signings and also an inability to adapt to the pace of rapid technological change. It did not keep up with events and was a little bit too self-satisfied, but that was the mood of the times in other fields too. I don’t think it’s caught up with what’s happened in the market and things and I really don’t know how they are going to resolve the situation but I don’t think it will ever be as big as it was.
Maybe it will have to look at capitalizing on a range of smaller cash cows.
Things are changing all the time.. for example vinyl has become popular again. I know it’s a niche market but sales of vinyl curiously enough have expanded hugely.
My pet theory is that from at least a decade ago, the industry should have been aiming at the mature market. Young people and kids as a rule of thumb don’t expect to buy music, they pretty much expect to get it for free or cherry pick the odd download here and there. Mature people, older people, firstly have the money to spend, which is great if you want to make money from music which is what the music business is there for. They also have the desire to spend it and they also like retaining or holding a physical artefact. I don’t think that the correct way to the mature market is by re-treading i.e. re-releasing old vinyl on CD or trying to keep the conventional blue chip oldie market. i.e. “Oh yeah they’re gonna buy the new Clapton CD because it is the new Clapton CD” or whatever. They should spend some time looking for what I and millions of others who still have “rock’n’roll” in our souls are looking for. I’m not interested in only looking for young bands because frankly I don’t believe in young bands being better because they’re young.
Personally I don’t necessarily want to just buy the new Eric Clapton album. I’m not saying I like it or dislike it but why should it be assumed that’s my natural constituency. So I would like to have new, interesting bands presented to me and those bands don’t have to be young. There are a lot of bands around with older musicians that are doing a lot of interesting stuff in different combinations but because of the set-in-place structures for marketing to youth, it’s a bit hard for them to be recognized or get exposure. In regards to the mature buyer that’s one place that I think the music industry has completely missed the boat.
RR: And they are the people with money.
KF: Yes they are the people with money and they are the people who want to possess an artefact so you are talking about the sales of a physical format like a CD or an LP or whatever plus the machinery on which to play it. Of course sales are one thing, and you’ve also got gigs and merchandising.
RR: Which gets me nicely onto the final question of whether you intend to do any live shows particularly if there any live promoters on Music2deal looking to promote you?
KF: Personally live shows are my favourite. I’m tired of being in the studio, I’ve been in the recording studio for so long. Political animal, human animal, studio animal. I’ve been a studio animal for so long. I’ve got a backlog of songs that are pretty good and robust songs, and I enjoy playing them. I found an easy and cost effective way of touring using, guess what?…me and a guitarist and a drummer! I live up in the Highlands of Scotland so the process of rehearsing a band up there and then having to cover transport and accommodation costs had to be made manageable. Sometimes I rehearse with people in London and then move on from there. Basically I feel that touring is where it is at and I’ve found a good way that satisfies me for touring and I really enjoy touring and playing live.
RR: Karel Fialka – thank you very much.
KF: No, thank you very much.
I should say that I checked out the Music2deal website and thought it offered a lot of potential, so I joined. If anyone out there wants to get in touch with me to pursue a project, performance or management