Review: Giorgio Gomelsky: For Your Love by Francis Dumaurier

NB/Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher, Aurora Metro, in exchange for my honest review. Thank you to Aurora Metro for sending me a copy of the book!

On this blog, I don’t just review books about rock musicians themselves, but also ones about people who worked with the musicians and behind the scenes. In the past, I’ve reviewed books about Hipgnosis and Tony Stratton-Smith. And in today’s blog post we’re going to talk about a book about Giorgio Gomelsky, best known for managing the Rolling Stones in their early days and the Yardbirds in their heyday. Rock stars aren’t the only ones with interesting stories. Sometimes those behind the scenes have interesting stories too, and Giorgio was certainly one case of that. The classic rock connections are way more than just those two bands as you’ll see. As I’ve said a million times before, classic rock is really a small world and no one is more than a couple degrees separated from each other.

For Your Love is the first book in English written about Giorgio Gomelsky but there’s an interesting story about that told in the foreword. The book was originally written in French by a close friend of Gomelsky’s named Francis Dumaurier. Dumaurier is an actor, musician, writer, and TV producer based in New York City who befriended Gomelsky in the 80s and he wrote this definitive biography about him but only in his native language. An American music journalist named Rick Rees (who wrote the foreword) wanted to learn more about Gomelsky and he kept coming across this French book, but since he didn’t know French, he couldn’t read it and so he got in contact with the author and asked if the book was going to be published in English, which it was in the process of being translated and edited as a labour of love, and now here it is! There’s also this extensive interview Rick Rees did with Francis Dumaurier that talks about the book and his friendship with Gomelsky.

The story begins in late 1950s Paris. A 10 year old Francis Dumarier, like many others of his generation, is introduced to rock music, his gateway song being Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock”, and from there he found rock music took him places early on in life. The lyrics taught him English and that landed him his first big show biz related opportunity, translating for The Beach Boys at an autograph signing in Paris since no one who worked at the Printemps department store spoke English. He got to meet the band and got really good seats at their concert at the Olympia on 18 November 1964 – which was part of their last tour with Brian Wilson. From there, he saw even more stars playing at the Olympia all by just getting a backstage pass and acting like he belonged. He frequently travelled to England to buy records and see rock bands and in 1969, he went to the United States for the first time to go to Woodstock, the Big Sur Folk Festival, and Altamont. He spent 10 months living in San Francisco to see all the rock bands. Isn’t that living the dream! Because of the student protests in Paris in 1968, he didn’t want to be in that scene anymore so he travelled throughout the Americas before settling in New York City with his wife in 1977. Finally in 1981, he met Giorgio Gomelsky through a French rock star he befriended named Ronnie Bird, who decades earlier he briefly met at a Chuck Berry concert he got a backstage pass to. After a book about Ronnie Bird was published, a French publishing company called Camion Blanc approached him about writing a biography of Gomelsky and that’s how the biography was first published in French.

As for Gomelsky’s story, it’s an international one that starts with his birth in Tbilisi, Georgia and his family bouncing from country to country: Switzerland, Syria, Persia, Egypt, and Italy before WWII. His father was a doctor and his mother was a milliner (women’s hat maker). Growing up during the war in Italy, he got into jazz music and he would listen to it with his friends while hiding with his friends. Eventually, the family settled in Switzerland, where Giorgio went to a Benedictine school, learnt to play boogie-woogie on the church organ, learnt how to play drums, wrote articles for a jazz magazine, and even made his first foray in managing a band. Because of his love of jazz music and his mum being from touristy Monte Carlo, he learnt English early on in life and he became fascinated with British culture. In a rebellious, rock and roll style, he avoided mandatory military service in Switzerland by deliberately failing the exams.

In the mid-late 50s, he made various films about the jazz scene in England and wrote articles and it was during this time that he met Charlie Watts through editing demos of Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Alexis Korner was considered one of the founding fathers of British Rhythm & Blues – a term that Gomelsky coined. He got the band to perform at weekly blues nights at the Marquee Club in Soho, before moving to the Piccadilly Club. He stayed in London and opened the Olympic Coffee Bar. Coffee bars were popular in 1950s England and that’s where pre-British Invasion rock and rollers would play their music and all the hip, young people would hang out. Fashion designer Mary Quant would frequent the Olympic. One day in 1962, Gomelsky met Brian Jones at the famous Marquee Club. After Brian Jones begged him multiple times to give his band a chance, he hired them to play a gig at the Station Hotel in Richmond and that gig only had three people in the audience. Definitely demoralising, but Giorgio told them to play as if it was a full house and the small audience loved it and word got out about The Rolling Stones – one of those “never give up” and “always give 110%” stories. From there, Giorgio founded The Crawdaddy Club with the Rolling Stones being the house band and him briefly being their de facto manager. The club got its name from The Rolling Stones always ending their shows with the Bo Diddley song “Doing The Crawdaddy”. From there, he booked more and more bands for various jazz and blues shows and made enough money to start his own record label, Marmalade Records – it was short-lived, only being in business from 1966-1969.

While the 60s had its setbacks with Gomelsky losing the Rolling Stones to Andrew Loog Oldham and Brian Epstein turning down Gomelsky making a documentary about The Beatles because he didn’t see the artistic potential of The Beatles starring in a movie (although it wouldn’t be long until A Hard Day’s Night came out), he got The Yardbirds to replace The Stones as the house band for The Crawdaddy and learning from his mistakes with The Stones, he made sure to sign a management and production contract with The Yardbirds. The Yardbirds had an excellent reputation as a live band for their “rave ups” where they’d play long instrumental jams that quickly changed tempo, so it’s no surprise that the band launched the careers of three of Britain’s greatest rock guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. In fact, Giorgio gave Eric Clapton the nickname Slowhand because he was slow to change the strings of his guitar. He encouraged the band to go from R&B to a fusion of that and rock and roll for more pop appeal when he heard the first notes of the Graham Gouldman-penned “For Your Love”. He also contributed some creative ideas for the band: encouraging them to use feedback effects on their guitars, use a harpsichord on “For Your Love”, and a sitar on “Heartful of Soul” (although this version was not played on the radio). Sometimes though his out of the box thinking didn’t gel well with the band, like when he encouraged them to record two Italian songs “Paff… Bum” (recorded in English) and “Questa Volta” (actually recorded in heavily accented Italian) – not sure if he was trying to go for The Rokes (English band that moved to Italy and sang and wrote the original version of “Let’s Live For Today”) approach. He wanted to broaden their fanbase, but The Yardbirds wanted to be more like their British Invasion contemporaries. With the release of Roger The Engineer, The Yardbirds took control over their production with the credit going to Paul Samwell-Smith and Simon Napier-Bell. Giorgio saw the writing on the wall, it was time to move on. The band were still overworked and underpaid, far from glamorous.

Later, future Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant replaced Gomelsky as Yardbirds manager. But the party didn’t stop for Gomelsky. While running Marmalade Records, A-list rock stars and beautiful women would stop by his office and party. In the late 60s, he worked with Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity, Blossom Toes (who were Jule Driscoll’s brother-in-law Brian Godding’s band), Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart, John McLaughlin, and members of 10cc before they were 10cc, and had stars like The Doors and Otis Redding use his studio to rehearse. At the end of the decade, Polydor tightened their purse strings and stopped giving Giorgio money, Marmalade Records had to shut down, and he left London for Paris and didn’t look back.

During the Paris years, he worked with French prog rock groups like Magma and Gong as well as Krautrock groups Amon Düül II and Can and helped Vangelis produce his band Aphrodite’s Child’s best known album 666. He found his place in the French and German prog scenes and helped make the bands he worked with successful touring bands, but with Magma breaking up, he quit working as their manager and moved across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City in 1977, which is where the author of the book, Francis Dumaurier, first got to know him. 

Just like when he left The Yardbirds, he started a record label, this time called Utopia Records, thanks to a lucrative deal with RCA in New York, but these ambitious plans fell apart quickly and a 12 hour progressive rock “manifestival” was a financial flop. He also had difficulties adjusting to the differences between America and Europe. What strategies for touring worked in France would not work quite as well in America where distances are greater and there are more cultural and regional differences in just one country so it made it hard to promote via word of mouth, which had worked quite well in France. He kept trying but he didn’t have as much success as he did in Europe. Still though, he was persistent and organised unique gigs where a wide variety of musicians played and he refused to stay stuck in the past – he got into hip-hop music and even tried to set up a musical hip hop show, but it never materialised. He enjoyed going to all the famous venues and throwing his famous Green Door parties, which many famous musicians attended.

These failures would make anyone depressed and Giorgio was no exception. By the mid 80s, he was depressed, lonely, and living in a dilapidated house. He went from living large and like a rock star to having a midlife crisis, financially in dire straits. Poor, shortsighted financial decisions and being a big spender did not help. Years prior he was barely staying afloat thanks to revenue from bands rehearsing at his place and from subletting his nightclub to an S&M club called Paddles. Through his friendship with Francis, he got involved with the local French Masonic lodge and he got into computers and saw the potential of this new technology way before the internet was widely adopted. He formed a group of Commodore Amiga fans. He had an aptitude for computers, winning prizes for his video editing creations on the Amiga.

For 9 years, he’d been living in the US as an undocumented immigrant and unable to leave the country without being questioned by authorities upon his return, an unstable situation. So when President Reagan announced that undocumented immigrants could apply for amnesty, he got help from his friends to get legal aid so he can qualify for that programme. Thankfully it all worked out and he was free to visit family in Europe again.

Francis helped Giorgio and Giorgio helped him too by encouraging him to follow his dreams of being an actor and writing his memoirs. He was one of the few who supported his ambitions and it’s because of his history of reinventing himself, trying new things, taking chances, and changing with the times. For Giorgio, rejection was like water off a duck’s back, like a cat he’d land on his feet and keep trying. One thing I really like about this book is that there are lots of words of wisdom and motivating quotes from Giorgio throughout.

Finally in his golden years, Giorgio finally started getting recognised for his contributions to British rock history and he appeared in documentaries, gave interviews, and was mentioned favourably in autobiographies like Keith Richards’ Life. After a certain amount of time passes, these rock bands of yesteryear aren’t seen as unhip dinosaurs, but rather cool and retro, you know that 30 year rule. Boomers started being nostalgic about their youth in the 60s again and you had new generations of fans falling in love with the music of the 60s, keeping it alive. He found love and stayed with his girlfriend Janice for the last 10 years of his life. Sadly, Giorgio’s health was failing and he was feeling weaker, had to have a tumour removed from his stomach. With the house was living in for decades declared condemned, he spent his last days in a Bronx nursing home, dying on 13 January 2016. Fans graffitied the door of his old home at 140 West 24th Street (which was demolished the year after his death). At the end of the book there are some stories of Giorgio told by people who know him in the 80s in New York.

Overall, it’s a good book for Stones, Yardbirds, and Magma fans who not only love their music, but also have an interest in the behind the scenes stuff. If you’re a big classic rock nerd who wants to learn about the behind the scenes people, it’s a good read with many interesting stories from those who were close to Giorgio throughout his life – an honest look, warts and all. Just don’t expect a typical biography where it’s just the facts about the person, the author, Francis Dumaurier, shares a lot of his story and I think it was really interesting and not gonna lie I was jealous of all the stories of seeing classic rock bands in their prime. There are lots of cool photos of Giorgio and the bands that he worked with throughout the book. It paints a vibrant picture of what it was like in Swinging London, 60s and 70s Paris, and 80s New York City. All in all, Giorgio was more than just a rock band manager and definitely not a greedy business-minded one, he was an open minded, intelligent, artistic, generous visionary who wasn’t afraid to take chances and cared a lot about the musicians he took under his wing. Pick up this book and you’ll find he was more than just The Yardbirds manager. What a journey!

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