Music

Music biz legend Barbara Charone lifts the lid on an incredible career

From helping Madonna launch her career to being careful about who you're friends with, Barbara Charone talks about having Access All Areas

Barbara Charone and Keith Richards

Sympathy for the cheeky devil: Charone with sparring partner Keith Richards in the late ’70s Photo: PR supplied

Barbara Charone is a legend in the music world. As a journalist in the Seventies and a PR from the Eighties onwards, she’s crossed swords with a series of rock’s biggest names. She’s now written her much-anticipated memoirs, Access All Areas, which tells her remarkable story and, as expected, contains a star-studded list of characters. 

Charone worked for a host of publications including Rolling Stone, Sounds and NME, crossing the pond from her native USA in 1974 to settle permanently in her beloved London, where she wrote features on the likes of Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones – and she became close friends with Keith Richards despite his initial annoyance over elements of a piece she had written about the band. He forgave her, to the point that not only did he co-operate on a book she later wrote about him, Charone even stayed at his infamous Redlands estate in West Sussex. This rock’n’roll devotee was properly living the dream. 

“It was really exciting because it was all new,” she says of those halcyon days. “The whole music business was just taking shape. Just getting paid to listen to music was great. It was an exciting period – an age of discovery for everyone.” 

Shortly after moving into PR, Charone was given what would end up being a career-defining job of generating headlines for a promising young American singer called Madonna. She ended up playing a crucial part in a rise to fame so rapid that after making her London debut at the relatively pokey Camden Palace in 1983, Madonna’s next shows in the city less than four years later were a three-date stint in front of 72,000 people a night at Wembley Stadium.

“Just that fact is insane,” says Charone. “I say that to a lot of people and I don’t think they understand the words. It will never ever happen again. It was incredibly exciting. I’ve seen it happen on a lesser scale to people like James Blunt and Duffy but I was lucky, it’s a great learning curve.”

So what’s Madonna like? Are you friends with her? 

“Our relationship is professional. There’ll be some artists you’re more friendly with than others. There’s that great line in Almost Famous where Lester Bangs says to the young Cameron Crowe-type character, ‘These people aren’t your friends.’ You work with them. That’s a healthy thing. I’m an independent PR [after leaving the record label WEA in 2000, she formed her own company, MBC]. It means exactly what it says. I’m hired project by project. I’m lucky that a lot of our artists we’ve worked with for over 20 years.”

But surely dealing with that many people, Charone has met some like minds she’s bonded with? “I’m really friendly with Elvis Costello,” she says, “mostly because of football. He’s a Liverpool fan and I support Chelsea.  We talk and text during the season all the time. Sometimes work can get in the way of friendship, which I learned when I managed Rufus Wainwright briefly.”

Barbara Charone and Dave Grohl
With Dave Grohl in LA, 2018. Photo: PR supplied

Speaking of Chelsea, Charone is part of the consortium who recently bought the club. “They wanted to get two fans on the board. It’s like a lot of things in life, a lot of luck is involved. They wanted a woman and approached me, and it was obviously a no-brainer. It’s ridiculously exciting.”

In the book, Charone also frequently references her close bond with another Chelsea fan, Depeche Mode’s Andy Fletcher, who recently died suddenly aged 60. “I’ve worked with Depeche for about 20 years and I knew Andy before that because we went to football together. I know his family. It was just a complete shock. He was so young. 

“Taylor Hawkins was even younger,” she says of the Foo Fighters drummer who died aged 50 in March. “I’ve worked with the band for about five years. About a week after his death I was in a shop and they were playing Times Like These and I just started to cry. That was terrible.”

Despite her company’s star-studded roster, there have been a couple of names who have slipped by, Charone admits. “I’m a huge Dylan fan, and I think I’d like to have worked with Bruce Springsteen, but I’m lucky to have worked with most of the people I wanted to.”

Regarding the future, Charone remains optimistic. “It’s still down to the music,” she says. “We still have a lot of print, not as much as we used to. I miss NME and Q. Losing them has made it tougher for bands. But we still have so much press compared to America. I’m a very positive, optimistic person. You can’t moan about what isn’t.”    

Access All Areas by Barbara Charone is out now (Orion, £17.99)

@Woodhouse_72

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