The Managers That Built Prog: Andy Farrow
Cutting his teeth on punk, Andy Farrow has taken the DIY spirit of that genre into his work with progressive metal bands Opeth and Paradise Lost, thus redefining the role of the manager.
Andy Farrow is one of today’s key players in prog and metal. He’s the epitome of a manager who lives and breathes his job, with a fervent belief in both his acts and the music they make. From starting young to looking after a handful of the most respected artists in their field – among them Paradise Lost, Katatonia, Devin Townsend, Anathema and Opeth – Farrow, and his company Northern Music, based in Saltaire in Yorkshire, is committed to establishing lasting careers for his performers.
For someone so renowned for metal and prog, however, Farrow’s roots are in punk. Returning to England in the summer of 1977 from Papua New Guinea, where he’d lived for two years as a child, he says, “I immediately got into punk. One of the first singles I bought was Promises by the Buzzcocks.”
His tastes were to expand from his diet of the Sex Pistols, The Stranglers and The Clash after seeing Motörhead on their Overkill tour when he was 14. “It was full of local bikers, The Satan’s Slaves. Motörhead were a band that it was okay for punks to be into. I morphed from punk into alternative, then into metal.”
Attendance at a local club, Griff’s Magic Theatre, exposed Farrow to Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Janis Joplin and Cream: “I went from being a punk to wearing necklaces and hippie-type gear. The sixth-formers at school were listening to progressive music and that influenced me too.”
With this open mind, the punk scene took Farrow into the music industry. “The whole anarcho-punk scene, with bands like Crass and Subhumans, enabled me to have a DIY attitude and get involved,” Farrow recalls. “I was in a band called The Living Dead. We weren’t that musical but because I used to do all the posters, flyering and the fanzines, we built up a pretty good following. I went from having my own band to managing Chronic, who were a cross between The Beatles and The Clash. At 16, I was ringing up pubs, getting them gigs.”
Later, Farrow set up a punk co-operative called Apathy Products and Crass played a benefit for them. “We used that money to put local bands into the studio to release the Apathy Compilation Tape, which we sold and tape-traded all over the world. I was still in sixth form at the time. I then went off to Sheffield Poly. I did a degree in case the way I wanted to go in the industry didn’t work out.”
However, Farrow was getting drawn to management. “It was a natural step for me, as I knew I didn’t want to be a frontman because I didn’t have the ability. I think my experience working in the underground and moving into signing bands gave me a reasonable amount of knowledge.”
By now there were plenty of tales of managers that had gone before in the business. “Peter Grant influenced me as he’d made a real difference to the way deals were done on the percentage of live income, merchandising, etc. It was a style of management that was a bit more gangster-ish and doesn’t go on now. Brian Epstein was clearly ahead of his time, yet when you look at The Beatles’ merchandising, there were big errors made. People didn’t know about that world then. [Iron Maiden manager] Rod Smallwood also influenced me.”