George Harrison and Ringo Starr were also contracted to Northern Songs, but opted to not renew their contracts in 1968. During the 1960s Dick James also separately handled the publishing for other Epstein-managed acts including Billy J Kramer And The Dakotas and Gerry And The Pacemakers.
Dick James worked hard for The Beatles, and became a trusted member of their inner circle. He publicised their early songs, helping to have them recorded by other performers, and oversaw the collection of royalties from sheet music sales. He was careful to avoid their songs being over-recorded, and issued legal notices to radio stations to prevent new releases being played during the embargo.
James also acted as a business advisor to Brian Epstein, encouraging him to get better deals for his charges. He introduced Epstein to New York attorney Walter Hofer, who helped the manager get established in America and assisted with the Ed Sullivan Show negotiations.
While The Beatles mocked Dick James’ pleas for “nice, tuneful numbers” and portly, bald demeanour, they did respect his understanding of the music industry.
In 1965 James returned once more to his singing roots, releasing an album on Parlophone titled Sing A Song Of Beatles.
The Beatles’ business relationship with Dick James ultimately lost Lennon and McCartney ownership of their songs. The previously amicable situation soured in 1969 after James sold Northern Songs without offering the group an opportunity to buy it. Although he profited hugely from the sale, Lennon and McCartney lost control of the rights to their own songs.
Northern Songs was restructured prior to its flotation on the stock market in 1965. By that date, each of the shareholders had sold part of their holdings, and Lennon and McCartney each owned 15 per cent of the company. Dick James Music and NEMS Enterprises each held seven per cent, James’ family had 15, Charles Silver another 15, and Harrison and Starr held 1.6 per cent between them.
After its public flotation, James continued to work hard to ensure the success of Northern Songs. Its portfolio expanded beyond The Beatles’ songwriting to encompass other compositions including the theme from Coronation Street. However, as The Beatles grew gradually more aware of their business interests, they became dissatisfied with the arrangements that Brian Epstein had made on their behalf.
The main source of the disquiet was the 23 per cent stake that James still owned in Northern Songs. Lennon and McCartney saw themselves as the company’s key asset, and wondered whether they still needed him controlling their songwriting fortune.
Following the death of Brian Epstein in August 1967, The Beatles’ management situation was plunged into uncertainty. The personal link between Dick James and the group was removed, and their personal friendship deteriorated during 1968.
One of the various parties keen to purchase a stake in The Beatles’ empire was Sir Lew Grade, who ran the British television network ATV. Grade was a minority shareholder in Northern Songs, and approached Dick James with an offer for his portion of the company.
Grade’s persistence gradually paid off, despite James’ initial resistance, and as Apple Corps descended into chaos the publisher decided to bail out.
In 1969, within days of Allen Klein becoming manager of The Beatles’ business affairs, Dick James offered to sell his stake in Northern Songs to Sir Lew Grade and ATV for 35 shillings per share. The sale went through on 27 March, while John Lennon and Paul McCartney were each honeymooning with their new brides.
Following the sale, ATV owned 35 per cent of Northern Songs, and Grade publicly offered £9.5 million for the rest of the company. James later visited Lennon and McCartney at the latter’s London home and explained the situation. Both were angry at not having been given the opportunity to buy the shares themselves, and launched a counter bid for Northern Songs for 42 shillings and sixpence per share.
The Beatles jointly owned 31 per cent of Northern Songs stock. The race was on to persuade various individuals and consortiums to sell enough for one party to control 51 per cent of the company. The large corporate investors, however, preferred ATV’s offer – a London consortium which owned 14 per cent of the company refused to back Apple’s offer after John Lennon protested at being “sick of being fucked by men in suits sitting on their fat asses in the city.”
Lennon’s actions persuaded the consortium to sell to Grade. The sale netted more than £1 million for both songwriters, but lost them their control over their songs.
I think Dick James might have carved Brian up a bit. I mean, what happened after Brian died? Dick James Music Company – a fucking multi-million music-industry company. Northern Songs, not owned by us; and NEMS, not owned by us. That was all Brian and his advisors’ setting up.
And Dick James has actually said that he made us! I’d like to hear Dick James’s music, please. Just play me some.
Dick James formed DJM Records in 1969. He had signed Elton John and Bernie Taupin as songwriters two years previously, and the label issued all of their releases until 1976. In 1982 a royalty dispute began between James and Elton John, which resulted in a court case in which the songwriter was awarded more than £1 million.
Dick James died in London on 1 February 1986 from a heart attack.