Manager Terry Slater plays a vital role in the story of a-ha. His lifetime of experience in the music business has helped him to guide the band’s career through all the pitfalls with a paternal hand.
Well, he is old enough to be the boys’ father! He both protects and educates them, and is experienced enough to realise that a firm hand is necessary if you want to make it as a newcomer in this tough business.
Slater as the manager of one of today’s most successful bands, enjoys admiration from colleagues in the business – and he can look forward to a secure financial future. But it hasn’t always been like this.
He was born and raised in London – almost within the sound of Bow Bells. According to Terry, this gives him the right to call himself a real cockney lad!
Without any formal education, music became a way out of what looked to be a dreary existence. Little Richard and Chuck Berry were his saviors.
“If they could do it, I could too, so I learned to play the bass and guitar.” Terry recalls. “This was before the English music scene exploded in the early sixties. Like the Beatles, I went to Hamburg and played at the Star Club. It was a rough place. Whores and sailors, drunks and junkies. One night, I was called into the office backstage. There, a fat guy sat, a cigar sticking out of the corner of his mouth and two Doberman Pinchers beside him. On the table were two pistols. I almost wetted my pants!”
Terry was told to return to London and report to his agent’s office. Frightened to death, as soon as he got back home, he locked himself in and didn’t dare go out for weeks. Finally he told his father what had happened and his father went to Terry’s agent’s office: all they wanted was to manage Terry! They took him on, tripled his wages, and since that time he has earned his living from music.
He played in backing bands for all his old idols when they were on tour in England: Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard and the rest. His career really got going when he joined the backing band for the Everly Brothers, one of the first groups to sell a million records. He stayed with them for a long time, and it was during this period that he gained much of the experience that later made him so capable of handling young talent. He saw where the money was made and taught himself everything there was to know about agreements and contracts. He found out about the exhausting work schedule and how quickly it all went downhill if you started taking artificial stimulants.
After many years on the road, in 1972 he began working in the business side of music. He became the head of the publishing division of the record company EMI in England, and wrote contracts for the rights to artists such as Kate Bush, Blondie and the Sex Pistols. Then he became head of A & R and finally Director of EMI in 1979. He was responsible for signing up names like Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo and Thomas Dolby to EMI. But his career as Director was a short one.
“Things weren’t going so well for EMI, and they made some big changes. As a result of financial difficulties, people were moved into different positions. They split up our team – so I quit,” Slater says.
He got involved in organizing one of the Everly Brothers’ reunions – a great success, but then withdrew to his farm and began to search for the one, new, big talent he could bet everything on.
Slater had many friends and contacts who were constantly recommending new groups. Every day he received demos from young hopefuls. One person who often presented him with new possibilities was John Ratcliff, who had a little studio in London that made demo recordings. And one day, a-ha walked in…
“Now I work a hundred percent with a-ha and only a-ha. They’re the only ones I want to manage – now and forever. I’ve put all my personal prestige and private funds on the line for them. For me, it has got to work out. Otherwise I’m finished. I’m going to make a-ha into the biggest group in the world. It will require a lot of time and hard work, but I know we’ll succeed. a-ha have the talent, songs, looks, style and magic and yet they could be the boys-next-door. They’re special, but ordinary at the same time. They have some of the same personality that the Beatles had. Some go for the shy, sensitive one, others the dark one, and others the extrovert one. They appeal to everybody,” Slater explains.
Terry Slater and John Ratcliff formed T.J. Management to take care of a-ha. Ratcliff deals with the technical and musical aspects, and Slater is the international business manager and liaison person for Warner Brothers’ head office in Los Angeles.
Through Terry Slater’s involvement, a secure relationship has been built up between the band, management and record company. Everyone has invested a great deal, everyone wants a profit, and everyone wants to get paid in the meantime. a-ha’s rapid success with their first singles and album is unique. Usually a band releases at least three albums before they begin to earn really big money. By that time, the record company has invested enormous amounts in studio expenses, promotion, tours etc… and a band has to achieve a respectable amount of sales before they can manage to repay their debt. Yet only four weeks after the release of Take On Me, a-ha had sold enough records to repay all Warner Brothers’ expenses. So they arrived unusually early at phase two, which is where the band, the management and the record company are all earning money. As a result, it became easier for Warner Brothers to invest in more promotion, new videos and more travelling.
Terry Slater wastes neither money nor confidence. He knows the results of overnight success and money burning holes in inexperienced pockets. So he has kept a tight hold on the purse – sometimes keeping the boys’ wallets empty while the money earns interest in the bank.
“I have accepted an enormous responsibility,” Slater says. “I’ve taken three young boys out of their high-rises in Oslo and put them in limousines and luxury hotels almost overnight. I love them like my own children. l only want what’s best for them, so I have to teach them to avoid obvious temptations. I must try to keep them from becoming too spoilt and arrogant. They have to learn how to work for success. At the same time, I want them to be able to experience how much fun it can be to succeed in this business. Of course they’re allowed to live it up on their own and control their own lives, but I want to warn them against the obvious pitfalls that I know, from my own and others’ experience, will present themselves. If they can avoid these traps, this is a fabulous business that I know the boys will enjoy immensely. For my own sake, I want a-ha to last. I’ve invested everything I’ve got in them, and I want a lot in return. The important thing is to steer clear of exaggeration. Not to work them to death. Not to crush their creativity, but keep the spark in their lives. Keep in contact with their homes in Norway. Keep their feet planted firmly on the ground and let them enjoy themselves along the way… then I know that a-ha will last.”