From organising parties for Michael Jackson to touring with Bruce Springsteen, Julia Collins-Parsons knows more than most about what goes on behind the scenes in rock ’n’ roll.
As an A&R rep for CBS Records (now Sony) working in Los Angeles and London, it was her job to meet the promotional demands of some of the biggest stars of the past few decades.
She was tasked with buying Christmas presents for every member of the audience at a Paul Young concert, building a larger-than-life Cadillac backstage at Wembley arena and, on one occasion, trying to keep order over a boat party of journalists on the Thames as they awaited a helicopter visit from Abba.
When the label’s artists arrived in the UK to tour, it was Collins-Parsons who would meet them at the airport, book their cars and itinerary and, later, find them tables in nightclubs and book their limos home afterwards. For an 18-year-old who had run away from her Brighton home to run errands for her uncle’s record label, it was a dream come true.
She recalls the party for Michael Jackson with the most fondness. It was 1988 and she wanted to give the star (and the assembled media) a day to remember. Armed with an unlimited budget, she themed the event around the kings and queens of England, hiring actors in suits of armour to surprise guests and arranging for the Queen’s Guard to perform Jackson’s hit Billy Jean before “King Arthur”
cantered over on a white horse to present him with Excaliber.
“It was great fun,” she sighs, “My crème de la crème party.”
When Springsteen played three nights at Wembley Stadium, she sent out mock American passports to invite guests to the backstage party, where the giant Cadillac had been assembled. “But I didn’t take the English weather into consideration.
I spent most of the evening trying to keep the white carpet we’d laid free from mud.”
After a spell organising after-parties and backstage hospitality for clients including U2 and the BRIT awards, Collins-Parsons left the music business to bring up her two children, Bonnie, now 25, and Rory, 24, in Los Angeles. Now, aged 50, she has returned both to Sussex and to music to launch Music Majors, a company that organises talks by entertainment industry insiders.
“Working in the industry when I did, I met so many behind-the-scenes people who have stories the public never hear. I wanted to put them on stage to tell audiences what it’s like to work in the entertainment industry and offer advice on how to break into the business.
“Most of the stars we know today would never have become stars without all the people behind the scenes – the A&R person who signed them, the manager who got their songs played on radio and TV… a massive machine goes into action to make a star a star, and their stories are often just as fascinating as their more famous clients.”
Her first guest will be Andy Peebles, the radio DJ, who Collins-Parsons first met during that Paul Young Christmas concert. In more than four decades of broadcasting, Peebles has interviewed figures from all walks of life, including Elton John, Margaret Thatcher and infamous executioner Albert Pierrepoint, and he was the last British person to interview John Lennon before his death in 1980.
*Andy Peebles will be at Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham, on Wednesday, September 25, and Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, on Thursday.
* For more on Music Majors visit www.musicmajors.co.uk