‘Conn by name, con by nature!”

Les Conn was David Jones's first manager, the man who arranged his first single with the King Bees, and introduced him to the then-obscure producer Shel Talmy – later famous for overseeing breakthrough singles by The Who and The Kinks.


Conn, who died in December 2008, was a charming, scatty character, who loved spinning often unlikely yarns. In the young David Jones, he found someone with a similar talent for PR, and their early work together was more impressive for its spin than its substance.


Conn was a fascinating interviewee: his career spanned important work with Georgie Fame, The Bachelors, The Shadows and Beatles publisher Dick James. Famously, when the young David Jones was under his care, Conn's other client was Mark Feld – the future Mark Bolan. But Conn was also erratic, inconsistent and sometimes just plain confusing: for instance, he'd recount at length and in detail stories of his 1980s venture into the  nightlife scene with a hostess club, The Bristol Suite. His flair for PR ensured that The Bristol Suite, which catered mainly to wealthy arabs, scored widespread news coverage. But 20 years on, he implored me not to mention the establishment, in case people thought it was “off-colour”.


Conn features heavily in the opening chapters of Starman, all based on my interviews with him over 2007 and 2008. To augment his depiction in the book, here's the memories of Manish Boys keyboard player Bob Solly, who spent time with him both in the sixties – when Conn persuaded his band to recruit the young David Jones as a singer – and in the last decade. His description of their meal together on the Edgware Road exemplifies this charming man.


“Les was a hustler. Back in the '60s, everybody was. You couldn't really survive unless you were a bit of a hustler - there was no X factor back then, so you had to go door to door knocking.


“When we met him, in Dick James's office, above a Barclays Bank, he introduced himself as ‘Con by name, con by nature’ ha ha.  The first thing he did was, he said 'you'll never believe this lad,'  was to open the cupboard doors above his desk and there were two suitcases there and he pulled one of them out.  It was full of parking tickets. He had a Jaguar, which he used to park on the pavement outside the offices. He’d done that for a long time in London, years, but of course they had just brought in [parking] meters about six months or so beforehand and he totally thought this was rubbish and he was not going to subscribe to this at all and any parking tickets he got he was just going to put in his case. There were hundreds of them, it was filled to the brim. When I saw him 40 years later, I said, Whatever happened to those tickets? He said,  I suppose I had to pay them.


“He was charming and lovable. He had quite a few people he fell out with over the years – often because he'd make promises for other people that he couldn't really deliver -  but essentially he would be one of the people that would make it up. He wouldn't let it rest, he didn't want to be enemies with anyone .


“When I met up with him, he wanted to take me to an Indian restaurant on the Edgware Road - 'it's fabulous, the best Indian ever ' - but when we got there it was closed for some reason, it was weekday, about 1 o'clock. So he stood outside, amazed - 'they must be upstairs!”. So he was calling up, then in the end he said, Oh we had better go over the road to this café.


“By then, he was walking with the aid of this kind of wheelie thing, a pensioners' trolley - I don't think he needed it at all, it was just an affectation. So we walk into this café, and instantly he's the centre of attention. He'd walk in and talk to everyone, even if he didn't know them he'd call across the room and say, 'You're not looking very happy today', and every single person in the room would look up. So he'd be sashaying through the café, saying, ' you don't look very well.. what a miserable bunch at this table, cheer up you lot,' all that type of thing, particularly women. He liked to talk to women, I remember him saying, Women only like men who like women. That's why women like me!'  Then when we sat down for a meal, he'd keep changing his order. 'What am I having? Oh, I don't want that now!' then he'd call over and get it changed!


“Les died at a very inopportune moment. I was just getting used to his acquaintance again. I loved his different stories. I thought it would go on for a long time.”