1939 - 2005
• JAC HOLZMAN
• SEYMOUR STEIN
• SIR IAN McKELLEN
• ARNOLD WESKER
• RALPH McTELL
• JOHN RENBOURN
• HARVEY ANDREWS
• STEFAN GROSSMAN
• JON LINSTRUM
• PAMELA HOWARD
• DEE PALMER
• ROGER UPRIGHT
By JAC HOLZMAN
(Founder of Elektra and Nonesuch Records)
Nat Joseph was that rarity, a classy, well-read English gentleman who just happened to be owner/manager of a beautifully-crafted label, a man more interested in music than the charts.
Nat had an ear for the oddly wonderful and the quietly divine. We both started our small record companies very young so there was a natural affinity. Transatlantic was one of the very earliest British independents and it showed the way to the other music entrepreneurs who followed.
I always had enormous respect for the sheer quality and heft of his finely-wrought catalog which covered the best of British folk, singer-writers and experimental, edgy fare. A Transatlantic record was always worth listening to and Nat's imprimatur was on every release.
By SEYMOUR STEIN
(Founder/Chairman of Sire Records)
When I first visited England in the mid-1960's, the music industry was dominated by EMI (which controlled 50% of the market) and British Decca (which controlled 30% of the market), Philips, Pye and the fledgling CBS/Columbia company which had started in 1960. There was only one independent label of note, Transatlantic.
Transatlantic had a unique and very hip roster ranging from the Humblebums (Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty) to Pentangle (including Bert Jansch and John Renbourn) Ralph McTell, Stefan Grossman, the Purple Gang, Mick Farren & The Deviants, Alexis Korner, The Ian Campbell Group and Joshua Rifkin and many other important, quirky left-of-center acts that the majors would probably never have released. Artists like Neil Young and Jimmy Page among others have acknowledged Bert Jansch as a major influence.
In much the same way - Transatlantic Records was a major influence on U.K. indies of the 1960's and 1970's including Island, Chrysalis, Charisma, Virgin and Blue Horizon. Nat Joseph was an indefatigable man who built Transatlantic into Britain's first true alternative label and record company.
I remember Nat as a warm, gentlemanly figure whose word and handshake were as good if not better than a written contract. My partner Richard Gottherer and I did much business with Nat in the early days of Sire Records, but Nat and his wife Sarah were not someone we did business with - they were close and dear personal friends.
We often stayed at their house in Hampstead saving some much needed bucks and being charmed with Sarah's hospitality and entertaining personality. Nat was a true pioneer - and Transatlantic was an important and vital link in the growth and development of the British independent record business. Companies such as Stiff, Mute, Beggars Banquet, XL, Rough Trade, Creation and Domino owe a great debt - as do we all - to Nat Joseph and Transatlantic Records. I've lost a great and dear friend, and the world has lost one of the true founding fathers of Britain's modern music industry.
by SIR IAN McKELLEN
Nat Joseph was warm, witty and extremely intelligent. He was a very canny businessman - but he had the soul of a true artist...
Sir Ian McKellen
By ARNOLD WESKER
Nat Joseph was an agent who was a father, brother and uncle figure rolled up in one - which made him also a special quality of friend. More, he was a thorough negotiator who was passionate about my work. We had our disagreements but I can't recall them. Only the warmest and most affectionate memories remain. That says something about him.
By RALPH McTELL
I am deeply saddened by the news of Nat's passing. He gave me an opportunity to make my first professional recordings and in so doing took some not inconsiderable risks.
It was not just my debut but also that of Gus Dudgeon and Tony Visconti (producer and arranger respectively). It was not the way I had thought I would go but nevertheless that first album sold well enough to warrant a second. That album, "Spiral Staircase," contained the song "Streets of London" and the rest as they say is…
I well remember Nat's genuine excitement when we got our first cover version with I think Danny Doyle. Nat had no financial interest in the publishing side of my material but his pleasure in the success of the song was totally genuine.
I was naïve and very young and certainly knew little of the business side of things but eventually a bigger offer came along for me and Nat allowed me to leave the label. In retrospect this move might have been premature as Paramount was immediately swallowed up by the Gulf & Western conglomerate and it was not till signing to Reprise that things improved for me.
On the occasion of my Silver Anniversary celebration concert at the Royal Festival Hall, Nat sent me a warm note of congratulation and I was delighted to hear from him and that he had fond memories of our association together.
Nat was a little guy with big ideas. He had great creative judgment and some of the artists that went in and out of that tiny office in Marylebone High Street have gone on to grace the worlds' stages, Billy Connolly, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Pentangle,Gerry Rafferty and many more that owe their first opportunity to make music through the belief that Nat had in them.
Shortly before I left Transatlantic, Nat and I sat in his office after all the others had left the building. Over a glass or two of scotch we talked about music and the philosophy behind all the excitement of the times and the changes that were afoot. It was a pleasant way to part and move on…
Many years later we met briefly at the Half Moon pub in Putney and Nat was once again bubbling over with enthusiasm for (I believe) a young relative's musical debut.
I am immensely grateful for the start Nat gave me and wish to extend my sincere condolences to all his family.
By JOHN RENBOURN
Transatlantic Records was masterminded and largely administered by Nathan Joseph (the irrepressible "Nat") and man and company have become the subject of myth. Nat was never known for his boundless magnanimity, but somehow managed to turn that into an endearing trait. Even today when you run into a fellow way-worn traveller, a guitar-lugging survivor of the British sixties scene, the chances are he's an old Transatlantean and you only have to say "Nat" for an immediate bond to be formed.
I must admit to a feeling a certain fondness for the old Transatlantic company. The good musicians who passed through the ranks, at one stage or another, are legion and though many have gone on to possibly better and higher things, in most cases their fledgling recordings have remained as some of their best work.
In my case, when my contract ran out and it seemed like I was free to fly the coop, I felt a bit sorry to go. In what was getting on for ten years my musical horizons had broadened somewhat and Nat had always been supportive of any changes in direction. In fact I was virtually free to record whatever I wanted, with very little outside pressure, which is an almost ideal situation for any musician…
by HARVEY ANDREWS
What I remember most about Nat, and can hear now, is his laugh. It was infectious. He signed me for my recording debut as one of five artists on an LP called "Second Wave". He then teamed me with Martin Carthy to record my first EP. Subsequently I left the label for Fly/Cube, but Nat re-signed me and I made two more albums for Transatlantic. Great days…
We shared a passion for "The Blues" F.C. [Birmingham City] and most of my time in his office was spent discussing the team and its prospects and testing each other on our knowledge of its history. Door-openers are the most important people in the world and Nat opened doors to a successful life in the Arts for so many.
by STEFAN GROSSMAN
I'll miss Nat. I remember negotiating contracts with him. He had a big office with an imposing desk and behind this sat Nat ready to deal. He had a reputation for being hard when it came to contracts but I found that he had a sweet, soft interior if I would bring my young son David to the negotiations! David was about three years old and he would run around Nat's office picking up and playing with the little things around the office. Nat would focus on David and be laughing and smiling and agreeing to whatever I was asking for.
Nat gave me complete freedom as an artist and encouraged me to pursue my musical ideas. He was always ready to have Transatlantic get behind any project that I would bring to the office.
Nat had a wonderful smile and a great sense of humor. He was a one of a kind...
by JON LINSTRUM
As a client of Nathan's (and I think most his theatre clients knew him as Nathan rather than Nat) I felt probably more cared about than with any other agent I've had, that he probably knew more about what I was actually doing and what I was capable of than any other agent I've had. And that he probably saw more of my work than any other agent I've had.
But much beyond all this was the feeling that those of us who were Nathan's clients were connected to each other by a different and stronger bond than other agents' clients. We were with Nathan and that meant so much more than the coincidence of having the same agent. It meant we worked together sometimes of course - but all agents are supposed to try and put their clients together - but for me it meant we were part of a family. And a very loyal family - because it could be taken as read that we had the utmost respect for Nathan and were completely happy with our relationship - and with what Nathan and the agency were doing for us.
Many clients may have gone on to other agencies and had good relationships with their new agents - I did myself for a few years - but I would be surprised if anyone ever found again the collective identity that came from being with Nathan. And no one will ever be able to replace him.
He was a lovely, lovely man I am proud to have been connected with.
By Pamela Howard
(Theatre & Opera Designer)
Pamela Howard (noted theatre and opera designer, and for fifteen years Head of Stage Design at Central St Martin' College of Art and Design in London) knew Nat from when they were both very young. She recalls that they became really close friends when she was 12 and he 13. Even then he was writing poetry, and on occasional trips to sit outside the theatre at Stratford, he would address her in Shakespearean language! She talks of going "trembling to the chip shop and sharing a small portion of chips, praying that his mother, who idolised her only son, would not find out! We thought the wrath of God would fall upon us but nothing happened and we just went home on the Midland Red Bus!" Their paths eventually diverged but came together again some three decades later when Pamela joined Nat's agency on the ' senior ' rung of his 'ladder'. This is her personal tribute to Nat.
Nat knew about being a Theatre Manager, and how the whole business worked, having sat on many management committees and organisations. No-one pulled the wool over his eyes. He had a realistic view of the machinations and operations of the theatre 'product makers' that was often disguised under a jolly benevolent exterior. But we, the clients of NJ Media always knew he was on our side.
One of his great innovations was to be genuinely interested and enthusiastic in young people just starting their career, and through inviting them to join the agency, and its annual family gathering in Hampstead, bring them in to a nurturing structure in which their careers could be shaped and grow. Many practicing designers now are testimony to this philosophy. He saw NJ Media as a 'ladder' to which people would be admitted on different rungs of their development. In this way, his clients, he hoped, would never be in direct competition with each other. He went, as much as he could, to see their work in situ. How many agents do that? He was always to be seen, even during his illness, at the end-of-year degree shows. He asked advice and listened to it. He knew how to make the best use of other people's experience.
In 1987, I became the Director of the BA Hons. Degree Course in Theatre Design at Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design, then part of the London Institute, now the University of the Arts London. One of my first initiatives was to form a registered Charity to support the extra projects of the Course that could not justifiable be resourced from internal budgets. I asked Nat to be the Chairman of the Trust, a role he took on reluctantly at first but, like all things, did brilliantly.
One of the main objectives was to bring to life the old Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre which, at that time was a dead dark corner of Holborn, a sore that neither of us could bear. The Theatre Design Trust raised money through art sales, and other wild initiatives, to commission a feasibility study for the development of the site. Plans were drawn up, which served as the foundation for the final architectural development completed by the London Institute and the Arts Council. The Cochrane then became the home for the Talawa Theatre Company - the first dedicated space for a ' black' theatre Company in Central London, and Nat was rightly proud and enthusiastic of the part he had played in making that happen.
Since the theatre was then managed by the Theatre Design Department, it provided first class opportunities for students to show their work. He supported the innovative Design for Dance programme we started, helped to raise much needed funds, though often wondering why anyone would be interested in a lot of people jumping around, but he knew it was a good thing!
When he was later negotiating contracts for me at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre - that we never thought we could enter - we remembered those innocent times past when we were young friends. He was often highly amused at some of the strange projects I asked him to negotiate, and I well remember him asking me why it was that no committed socialist ever liked paying a fair day's pay for a fair day's labour!
We occasionally exchanged poems. I was glad to receive his. He was talented and unrecognised. He loved words and their usage, although whilst running the agency he sometimes found that he was using words more as arguments than as the poetic creations he loved.
He put his energies into taking young people on to his agency and getting them their first job. He set the benchmark for agents representing stage designers, and many others thankfully have followed.
He brought people together, and created the possibilities for collaboration. The group that assembled in a Moroccan restaurant in Hampstead when he finally decided to close the agency was one of the most joyous occasions I remember, where everyone young and old joined together in a genuine appreciation of all he had done. That is the great testimony to his life.
by DEE PALMER
Whoever has helped us to a larger understanding is entitled to our gratitude for all time. Nat - most certainly - has mine.
NAT MADE US SMILE!
His wit was one of his greatest gifts and he dispensed it readily and liberally.
I shall miss him and his wit.
By ROGER UPRIGHT
(Former Employee - Transatlantic Records)
Where do you start writing about some you first met 30-odd years ago, worked with for 5 years and haven't seen in 20 years; yet when you hear that he has died - you cry your eyes out?
I first met Nat when I applied for a job he was advertising in the Birmingham Mail newspaper. It was for a promotion person to go round the country getting coverage on what was then just BBC local radio. (Commercial radio had not yet started.)
He gave me the job based on my total lack of knowledge of the Transatlantic Records label other than what I had gleaned from a record shop just around the corner, half an hour before the interview! Neither of us knew what the job entailed completely because it was new to him as well as me.
So, in typical Nat fashion, he presented me with an orange VW Beetle car (totally wrong for the job!) and off I went around the country putting up displays in shop windows; without the slightest idea or any artistic skills, getting records played on BBC stations around the UK and seeing very little of my new wife and baby for days on end.
It was the best apprenticeship anyone could get. When commercial radio started I was in there with my collection of Blind Willie Smith, Portsmouth Sinfonia, Hamish Imlach, Billy Connolly etc. etc. They didn't know what had hit them. I didn't get that much daytime airplay - but on Sunday at 10 pm Transatlantic records were buzzing!
After 5 years working with Nat, I got a job with EMI (the fools!) They doubled my salary and expenses, gave me a proper car and let me see my wife and son every night. But it wasn't half as much fun...
The EMI meetings were formal affairs. No spliffs… Or bagels with 'smoked salmon, cream cheese and pineapple'! No overnight stays with the sales reps in that grotty 'Bed & Breakfast' in Muswell Hill - smashed out of our brains on Acapulco Gold...
EMI then promoted me to run their new promotion force based on my huge experience of singles sales at 'Tranny.' Little did they know the only time I went to "Top Of The Pops" was for Mike Harding's "Rochdale Cowboy"! Not exactly the best basis for running a new £200,000 enterprise but I managed to get away with it!
Enough of my wafflings… This is my tribute to a man with the talent and guts to go with his instincts - and fuck what anyone else thinks.
Thanks Nat - wherever you are now! I hope you spot some talent. I just hope they don't ask to see any sales figures!!!
Lots of love