How The Who and Camel manager Max Hole kick-started his career
Max Hole managed some of the biggest names in music, including The Beatles, The Who and the Stones – but it all began with Canterbury’s Spirogyra and Camel, and a love of prog rock
Max Hole retired from his position as chairman and CEO for Universal Music International For The World Excluding North America in 2015. He had enjoyed a long, illustrious career of working with multimillion-selling artists such as Chris Rea, Simply Red and André Rieu through his time at Warner Brothers and Universal. However, the roots of his global boardroom success lay very much in the prog scene of the late 60s and early 70s.
Predominately associated with managing Camel, Hole looked after a variety of acts before making the leap into record companies in the 80s. Originally he entered the music industry through a tried and tested route back in the day: by promoting concerts at university.
Born in Kensington, west London, Hole grew up in a family that appreciated jazz and classical music. Like many of his peers, however, he was galvanized by hearing The Beatles at the age of 12, and becoming besotted with pop music. He was exactly the right age at the right time, and he was heavily into the big three of the day: The Fabs, the Rolling Stones and The Who.
“I fell in love with The Beatles in 1963, and especially John Lennon. I then discovered the Rolling Stones, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and later Sting. There are so many artists that I have loved.”
Hole remains that rare breed: a manager and executive who lives and breathes music.
Camel were the most successful recording artists I managed – their touring was very successful and they had several big-selling albums.
Getting a place at Canterbury University in Kent to study law, Hole quickly became involved in sundry extracurricular activities, most of which revolved around music. He got a job on student radio and soon became social secretary. He took a leap into the unknown by booking The Who on the second leg of their post-Woodstock university tour that had seen them record Live At Leeds earlier in that year.
A look at the advert for the gig shows prices pegged at 20 shillings in advance and 25 shillings on the door. This was a lot of money for university shows at the time. To make the gig look even greater retrospectively, The Who had the still‑to-release-Trespass Genesis as their support act, making it quite a line-up indeed.
Hole still talks of the coup with an air of disbelief at promoting one of his favourite bands at the age of 18: “I booked The Who on May 8, 1970 for £1,000 and we made money! It was an amazing concert.”
The money in question was £150, but it was still a profit. And he could always say he’d promoted The Who! The advert also showed what was on the following week: a bill including Michael Chapman and Spirogyra, two acts that would feature heavily in the next phase of his career.
Hole plugged into a world of managers and agents as he ran the Folk Club at Kent and “played a song on my guitar every week”. However, performing was to be one of the few areas in which he wasn’t to excel. “I realised I wasn’t much good and started managing the university-based Spirogyra, who would record for Sandy Roberton’s label through B&C Records.”
There’s no doubt that Hole was attending university at a thrilling time. Fellow student Steve Hillage recounted to Zig Zag in 1977 the vibrancy of the period: “I had no idea that the city [Canterbury] had its own music scene. It was purely by chance that I happened to choose that university. The day I arrived I saw the Soft Machine’s van parked there! I thought, ‘What, are they playing here?’ And then I found out that Hugh Hopper’s parents lived on the university campus, and I eventually sussed the whole thing out.
“When I met them all, I really got involved in the whole scene. There was a band called Spirogyra formed at the university, and I was very friendly with them… I used to live with the girl singer.”
The girl singer in question was Barbara Gaskin who, years later, would enjoy a UK No.1 with Canterbury scene alumnus Dave Stewart, with whom she works to this day. Spirogyra’s second album, Old Boot Wine, on Pegasus Records, was produced by Hole. Today, it can often be found selling for three-figure sums.
Starting out, Hole was influenced by managers Richard Thomas and Wayne Bardell, who ran Clearwater Production and whose bands included Skin Alley and Hawkwind. Hole hooked up with Geoff Jukes, who was a Booker at Chrysalis.
“He wanted to start his own company, so he got me and Richard Thomas and we started Gemini Artist Management Agency and GAMA Records,” says Hole.