Steve Tannett was the IRS Records executive who helped foster The Alarm’s career from 1982-1991.
Steve is an industry veteran with a rich and successful career having been involved with music since 1977 when he signed a recording deal as a member of punk band Menace with his future boss and legendary entrepreneur Miles Copeland. Steve has been involved in literally hundreds of artists careers as both a manager, label boss (IRS Records) and music publisher. His wealth of knowledge and contacts and artist friendly approach has served him well with associations to many multi platinum selling artists including REM, The Police, Duran Duran, Black Sabbath,Sting, Jools Holland, Belinda Carlisle, Zucherro and many more.
“I was Miles Copeland’s right hand man throughout the 80’s and 90’s featuring in the highs and lows of his incredible career and gaining an invaluable amount of knowledge about the crazy world of the music business.”
2015 Interview with Steve Tannett by Steve Fulton
What was your role at IRS Records? How long did you work there?
I had originally been an artist on illegal records after meeting Miles at The Roxy Club in 1977. He offered me a job in 1979 which I eagerly accepted as anything was better than the forklift truck driving job I was doing to fund my musical career! I was basically doing whatever needed to be done including putting records into sleeves and delivering them to Rough Trade and the other Indie shops of the time in London. I worked my way up and ended up as the MD running the show until it all ended with the sale to EMI and eventual closure.
When did you start working with The Alarm?
I was introduced to the Alarm by their manager Ian Wilson who we were introduced to by Bob Gold at Wasted Talent booking agency (Bob booked The Police) and Ian was an agent there. I was taken to see the band at a University gig supporting the Boomtown Rats as I recall and was utterly blown away. As an ex Punk I was still in love with guitar music and here was a band that had Guitars and amazing songs. I knew i had to get involved so i persuaded Miles Copland my boss to let me do an EP with the band which became the Marching On single which we recorded at Matrix Studios near the British Museum. We worked late as i recall (Mike was never shy of hard graft)
How long did you work with The Alarm?
I worked with the Alarm until they broke up after the Raw album in 91 I think.
Do you recall why/how 68 Guns was chosen as single?
That was a no brainer, the song was already a big live song and as anyone who has ever loved rock music would attest “you know when its a good un!” and that song was a classic. Having said that the band particularly Mike was very focused on their singles and they were on a roll creatively so it was probably a group/label decision.
Do you recall why Alan Shacklock was chosen as producer over Mick Glossop for 68 Guns and Declaration?
We had been working with a highly rated promotion person called Clive Banks and Clive introduced me to Alan Shacklock. He had been a one time member of Dexys Midnight Runners and had a big hit with a band called JoBoxers. He was a really amazing musician and loved the band as much as i did so we decided to use him on 68 Guns. The sessions took place at Abbey Road and the atmosphere was incredible , we all felt like we were making something special and it turned out to be right. Those days at Abbey Road were simply magical and the spirit of all concerned was so positive and strong. I also met my now wife during those sessions as she was going out with a colleague of Ian Wilson’s and she visited the studio while we were recording and knocked my socks off. I recall the band remarking that she was way out my league!!!
Do you recall a “scandal” that Sounds magazine percolated about The Alarm E.P. being given away for free with 68 Guns and how they believed the chart position was being manipulated?
To be honest I am sketchy about that particular event but The Alarm were always a love /hate thing as far as the press were concerned. Of course we never manipulated anything as that would have been far too expensive! It was a hit pure and simple.
Why do you think the British rock critics were so quick to turn on The Alarm?
That question perplexed me for many years , Here was a British band of young musicians, no Svengali managers or team of songwriters, just 4 kids with a dream . They should have been embraced not derided and to be fair there were some positive reviews but as we all know the UK lost its way after Punk. I think “they” (the press) could not embrace Mikes passion and commitment to the art of songwriting and performance . Perhaps the message was too simple? Anyway when you stood in the room and watched the band perform Spirit of 76 or Rescue Me it just didn’t matter all that mattered was the music. The fans get that.
Do you have a favorite Alarm song/album?
Has to be Spirit of 76 as a song and overall i think Eye of the Hurricane was a great record.
Do you recall how The Alarm got onto Top Of The Pops with 68 Guns?
I recall someone naff was unavailable or the plugger was late or something and our guy was there when they read out the chart positions and in those days you had to be outside Michael Hurls office and hope your position and availability were in line with their criteria. The stars were aligned for us that day and we were on!
How was it working with Miles Copeland?
Incredible. I was with him for over 26 years (a similar amount of time as Sting was a client) and during that time he turned a punk rock guitarist without a career into a professional music business executive. His guidance and belief in me will always be the best thing that ever happened to me outside of my wife and daughter and i am forever in his debt for that . He is one of the great Mavericks and nothing like the person the media have characterised him as over the years. I still see him and his family from time to time but I now live in France and he in LA so its not that often sadly.
Do you recall the “Cutting Edge” show on MTV? The Alarm were on that show several times. Did that show help IRS “get the word out” in the early days?
Miles was very connected with the bug guns at MTV and IRS benefited from that by being given a slot for the show. The Cutting Edge featured many cool bands of the era and not by any means all on our label. It was a genuinely “cutting edge “program directed by our creative director Carl Grasso. The video for “The Stand” was actually made for the show and we used it to promote the band across the board.I think it had a major effect on spreading the word for the band in the USA.
How hard was it to “go to radio” with a single back in 1983?
In terms of US Radio it has always been difficult for rock bands but we found that AOR stations embraced the Alarm . We occasionally made efforts in different formats to try and get bigger singles success but Top 40 radio even back then was pretty similar to today in that it was primarily a pop format. As far as the UK was concerned Radio 1 was always the target for all bands and we had some great exposure with certain DJ’s and shows with people like Kid Jensen ,Simon Mayo and several others. We also had TV exposure on shows like The Tube which really helped sales of albums.
Was an album (Declaration) always on the table or were The Alarm originally signed to record a few singles only?
It was an initial deal to do an EP (Marching On) but i knew this was a hit act and it evolved into a proper record deal. We had a deal with A&M Records to release our records and it was at their election if they wanted to go with a particular release .With Marching On we released it as an independent single and it was when we recorded The Stand that we decided to up the ante and go through the major label system. By the time we released 68 Guns through A&M (I’m talking UK now) the stage was set for a proper hit as the band had built a good following so everything was ready for the big push. It paid off and we had a proper hit single and album. In the USA we released the 12″ vinyl EP The Stand which was promoted by the IRS staff with distribution only through A&M . In many ways that was what made IRS unique in that it could develop things before the “big stick” was brought in to play. In my mind from the day i signed the band i knew this was going all the way.
What event of events transpired to convince IRS to let The Alarm record the Declaration album instead of just a few singles?
As I say above it was a classic case of a band who were genuinely growing as performers and songwriters coupled with a really strong reaction from the fans who very quickly became loyal and committed to buying the records and the tickets. It was textbook and to his credit Ian Wilson was very focused on that method which he learned from Paul McGuinness and U2. Keep getting better, better shows better records equals more success. It was an honour to be a part of such a great team. And finally it must be said that Mike Peters with his passion for the music and the fans was the driving force behind it all and i am proud to see him continuing his journey with such style and credibility.
Keep on Rocking in the Free World Mike!!!!!!!!
(Page updated 11/07/2021)