The Managers That Built Prog: Gail Colson - the woman behind Peter Gabriel
She kept Charisma Records afloat before “falling into management” under the name Gailforce. Her creativity, charm and straightforward approach won her plenty of high-profile clients, and admir
Until her retirement in 2011, Gail Colson enjoyed the best part of 50 years in the music industry. From working in PR to running Charisma with Tony Stratton-Smith to heading up her own management company, she remained a much-loved, plain-speaking figure in an industry frequently populated by chancers. From working with Shel Talmy in the mid 60s, she met Stratton-Smith, and acted very much as his consigliore, keeping Charisma on an even keel while Stratton-Smith, never the biggest fan of business – was out and about. By the end of the 70s, she was heading up her own management company.
Born in 1946, Colson’s mother and father ran a pub in Hampstead. After leaving secretarial school, Colson’s first job in the industry was as a secretary to PR man Jonathan Rowlands who represented artists such as Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Rod Stewart in his mod days with Steampacket, Fontella Bass and – bizarrely – John Lennon’s father, Freddie.
It was while working as producer and songwriter Shel Talmy’s assistant in 1966 that she had her first fledgling experience of management: “I was 20 and I jointly managed a band called The Rockin’ Vickers,” Colson recalls. “One of the members, of course, was Lemmy. I managed them with Jennifer Ashley who was married to Shel at the time.” This was the period when the Rockin’ Vickers hooked up with The Who’s Pete Townshend (who wrote It’s Alright for them) and head Kink Ray Davies (whose track Dandy was their final single release).
The group split in 1967, and Colson began working as Tony Stratton-Smith’s PA. Stratton-Smith was looking after The Nice and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band at the time. Charisma grew out of Stratton Smith’s disenchantment with major labels; it was such that he set about starting his own. Colson was to become his label manager. It was a perfect partnership. “She was the money person and made sure that what needed to be done was done,” Chris Charlesworth told me in Without Frontiers – The Life And Music Of Peter Gabriel. “Strat would waft in and out. If it wasn’t for Gail, god knows what would have happened to the bloody company! She was fiercely determined and put her foot down. She was incredibly charming as well.” Colson’s mixture of charm, creativity and determination ultimately led
to her being the MD of the label, helping oversee acts from Genesis to Hawkwind, Van der Graaf Generator to Monty Python. Colson adds; “I didn’t have a lot to do with the day to day management at that time, but most of the jobs at Charisma crossed over, so I did have experience at the coal face.”