“Hello. Is that Kevin? It’s Seymour Stein.”
I laughed into the phone.
“Good one, Macca. See you.”
I thought it was Paul McKenna or Crofty from the label, having a laugh during a spliff-fuelled
Produce Records marketing meeting. The phone went again.
“Hi, we got cut off…”
That call was the starting pistol for 4 years of inspired madness, orchestrated by the
extrovert puppet master, Seymour Stein of Sire Records. It was August 1990. Seymour was
on one of his regular trips to London. He’d heard Groovy Train on John Peel and, just like
that, made up his mind he was signing the band. There followed a courtship of many
months where Seymour would materialise at gigs, seemingly fast asleep while still standing
up, then he’d snap back to life the moment the show was over, pinpointing the tracks he
loved and telling us we’d never get a better deal than the one he was offering.
The trouble was, we had many better offers. Epic, Elektra, Atlantic, SBK were all dangling
much bigger carrots. But Peter loved Talking Heads, Carl and Steve loved The Ramones – we
all just wanted to be on Sire, no matter who else was interested: we just had to get his sums
up to the level the others were offering. Keith became a little spooked by Seymour’s
persistence. We were on a flight to Paris for a Christmas gig at Le Locomotiv, and there was
Seymour, on the same plane. He took us out to a Moroccan restaurant in Montmartre and
convinced Ben to snort icing sugar. Keith said we need to see less of Seymour, but Roy
leaned in and said – okay; it’s got to be Sire.
All Together Now was enjoying a 7th consecutive week in the Top 10 when I went to New
York and Los Angeles in January 1991 to meet the interested parties. Seymour knew by then
that his original offer wasn’t going to butter many parsnips, and he knew that his rivals were
out to snatch the band from under him. Looking back, these were some of my most
cherished times, pretending to be a manager. I didn’t have a clue, but somehow the offers
were coming in left, right and centre. Merchandise companies would slip notes under my
bedroom door saying they were in the hotel bar, there was a bottle of champagne open,
just come down and sign the contract and we’ll party all night. Eek! I just wanted a cup of
tea that wasn’t lukewarm and weak.
Anyway, Seymour pulled out all the stops. He was there in New York to introduce his East
Coast team and, having found out I loved Andy Williams, stood up and delivered a
lamentable version of Solitaire in a Lower East Side dive. Then he was there again in LA,
corralling all the Warner Brothers top brass – Mo Ostin who signed Sinatra to Reprise, Steve
Baker and, maybe the greatest of them all, Howie Klein, an understated, effortlessly cool
music nut who knew everyone – to convene at his neighbourhood Italian, Peppone, and
make us an offer we couldn’t refuse. Seymour crowned the night by singing Sex Pistols B-
sides and telling me to stop fucking about and sign the contract. I said okay.
The day after the Elland Road gig with Happy Mondays, we flew off for the first mini-tour of
the States. The afternoon of the New York gig, Seymour beckoned us all into his office,
holding up a finger to say “one minute” while he finished a phone call.
“I’m telling you – best band I’ve had in years. The Farm. FARM. Yes! I was telling you about
them… TONIGHT! That’s what I’m saying. You do? That’s awesome. I’ll put you down plus
He ended the call and looked up, grinning like a kid. “Madonna’s coming,” he beamed.
That first tour was fantastic – every show sold out, brilliant ‘event’ atmosphere, a tangible
sense that the band was on the verge of something huge. We came back a few months later
and did a much bigger, coast-to-coast tour with BAD. Seymour would show up, fall asleep
standing up then burst into some Broadway musical number at the after show party.
He had a pretty awful singing voice, but belting out High Hopes with him in the bar of the
fabled Chelsea Hotel was an all-time night to remember.
We came close – very close… Groovy Train got to Number 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 so
was, technically, a USA smash hit. But it didn’t quite happen in the way we’d all hoped for
and, back in the UK, our groovy train had run into a siding. Seymour was in Manchester for
In The City. All anyone was talking about was Suede. I was expecting him to drop The Farm –
it was pretty much over everywhere else – but I drove him up to an architectural salvage
place in Lancashire to look for Arts & Crafts ceramics (his major passion, besides music.) He
was overjoyed to find some original Clarice Cliff tiles – genuinely like the cat who got the
cream. On the way back I played him a few demos the band had been working on – Golden
Vision, Comfort, The Man Who Cried. He didn’t say much – I think he fell asleep – but when I
dropped him off back in Manchester he said:
“Okay. We’ll do another two records. I can’t pay as much as last time but I want to keep
working with you guys.”
Just like that, we were back in business. Hullabaloo came out in the summer of 1994 and we
set off on what turned out to be a make or break tour of the States. We played everywhere
– St. Louis, Missouri; Lincoln, Nebraska; Lawrence, Kansas; Long Island; Louisville, Kentucky:
50-odd dates, all over America. By the last week of the tour, Comfort had started getting
airplay on Adult Contemporary radio – there was still a pulse, still a chance of keeping this
mad adventure going. I got on the phone to Seymour to persuade him to spring the money
for a promo video when we got to New York (the last date of the tour.) He told me to come
and see him in his office in The Rockefeller Centre. He was on the phone but he waved me
into his office.
“No, The Farm. FARM. From Liverpool. Yes! I was telling you about them… TONIGHT! That’s
what I’m saying. You do? That’s awesome. I’ll put you down plus 1.”
He put the phone down, his face lit up in a big smile.
She didn’t. Either time. I love Seymour more for the fact that he was never even on the
phone to her, and I suspect we both knew that we both knew that. The last few years, I’ve
been trying to persuade Seymour that the world needs his story in the form of a definitive
documentary film, with contributions from all the hundreds and thousands of people he
inspired. That’s not going to happen, now – I’m sad that his legend won’t be enshrined in
the way that others have been.
So, farewell then Seymour Stein, you mad old icing sugar snorting, static sleeping, Madonna
fibbing, tile stroking, show song warbling, brilliant, large headed, maverick genius. You gave
us great music and you made our lives better than they were, and we’ll always love you for
The Farm, Liverpool, 3rd April 2023