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Andy Hudson, COO and owner, The Broadband Computer Company

HE'S spent the past 30 years keeping the world entertained with some of the greatest performers on the planet, and befriended a few along the way.

Andy Hudson
Andy Hudson

BEFORE Newcastle Big Band played its first note, Sunday afternoons on Tyneside meant driving in the country, visiting stately homes and polishing the Morris Minor.

But then a young Yorkshire lad called Andy Hudson with a passion for music created a phenomenon which would launch the career of one superstar and lead Hudson on his own path to the helm of the entertainment industry.

With Gordon “Sting” Sumner on bass, the band packed out what is now Newcastle’s Northern Stage theatre every week throughout the mid to late 1970s, playing whatever took their fancy.

Today, Hudson remains good friends with his former bandmate and, despite now running a groundbreaking software firm, maintains a keen interest in the music industry. After all, he has worked with some of the most successful artists of the last 50 years.

A chat with Hudson uncovers a career so varied and full of action, that charting things chronologically is all but impossible.

“All these things were running parallel because, to me, they were all the same thing – life’s an event, there’s a climax and hopefully some applause at the end,” he says.

Having moved to Newcastle as a student in 1965, his career took him all over the world until recently, when he moved back to the region to launch Alex – an ultra-simple software system for the computer illiterate.

After giving up a very short career as a chemistry teacher, his early days in music saw him create the Newcastle Jazz Festival and run the Newcastle Festival for the council.

He then rapidly developed a reputation as a Mr fix-it who leveraged his weighty contacts book to pull off a number of showbiz coups.

Perhaps the most unlikely came when he transported a bunch of musical megastars – more akin to the glitz of Vegas – to an ageing North East football ground.

He says: “In 1978, something so bizarre happened that someone even wrote a play about. I bought Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson to Middlesbrough Football Club.

“A jazz fan on the council had a budget and wanted to do something really big in jazz, so I got the two biggest stars in the world.

“Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich and BB King all appeared at Ayresome Park. Through doing the jazz festival, I just had the right contacts.”

He then embarked on what he calls “the Dick Whittington trail”, which ultimately ended in disaster.

He sold his Jesmond home to jointly launch a music events business in London, which had a dramatic flurry of success until its untimely destruction.

Hudson explains: “We were hosting a huge jazz festival at Alexandra Palace but it caught fire the day before the event, which we would have made a fortune from.

“I owned 62% of it and had to pay all the bills, so had to sell my house in London which I had only just bought to pay the debt.

“It was the biggest fire in Europe since the war and I lost everything. The insurance was so complicated that I just couldn’t get out of it.”

Undeterred, he picked himself up and continued his access-all-areas ride through the music scene.

His next step was to revive a festival which was virtually extinct following a clash between the authorities and some long-haired, high-pitched rockers.

“In 1979, Knebworth lost its license after a Led Zeppelin concert which started an hour after it was supposed to finish and was still going on at one in the morning. I went in with an operational plan with Lord Cobbold, who runs it, and got the license back.

“I then promoted the first Knebworth with the Beach Boys, Santana, Mike Oldfield and some old friends of mine, Lindisfarne.”

As the birth of the MTV generation loomed, TV bosses were keen to push the world’s greatest musical artists into people’s living rooms. And, just as Hudson used his contacts book to bring Ella Fitzgerald to Teesside, he also used it to make his grand entrance into TV land.

He helped the launch of new TV station called Channel Four go with a bang – or rather with the toot of a trumpet.

Through reputation and a family connection, he was contacted by the head of the fledgling station, which needed a big act for a televised launch event.

“I rang Miles Davis’s manager and he said: ‘Andy, there’s two things Miles is not keen on, one is TV and the other is white folk, and you’re both’.

“But I had an agent friend who had been in the industry for so long that he knew where Miles could get the drugs he needed. He wasn’t a dealer but a fixer. So he went in to see Miles and, a few hours later, told me he’d do it.”

“I’ve met Miles five times and he’s only ever said one word to me. We were in a lift, I asked him if everything was OK for him. He looked over his shades as two or three floors went by before the doors opened. ‘Yep,’ he said, and walked out. That’s the sum total of my engagement with Miles, but he was a brilliant musician.”

The 62-year-old takes a modest view of his experiences in the glamorous world of entertainment, and attaches no more prestige to organising a vast rock festival than he does to a wedding.

“I’ve spent most of my time hanging out with artists, which is why in many respects I don’t have particularly high regard for them.

“It’s a very strange industry. Often, right at the core of it is a nice, pleasant, understanding artist who knows how important it is to be supported by people like me and the sound and lighting guys.

“But what often happens is a manager is appointed and you get an onion skin around the artist and they become very difficult.”

One artist who was initially difficult, but ultimately memorable, was Paul Simon, whom he met in the late 80s.

“I was flown out to New York because I wanted to get Paul Simon to do something for Channel Four. I went to see him and waited and waited. He was terribly vain at the time and was worried about his hair – but he eventually came along and was very grumpy.

“I was there with some suits from Warner Brothers and the last people he wants to see is producers like us.

“They played a track from his latest album and suddenly I pipe up: ‘Paul you know it’s very interesting on the bridge passage you use an A minor 7 which is weird, because I was expecting an A major 7’.

“He then goes rummaging off into some drawers and pulls out a tape and he plays the original version he’d written with a major not a minor seven. He only changed it when they were doing the recordings. That was one of those musical moments. So, suddenly, these two Warner Brothers people are ignored for an hour and a half while he picks up his guitar and we talk about his music.”

The chance to eavesdrop on soul legend Ray Charles rehearsing is another of Hudson’s standout memories from a world which is far removed from his position today as head of an IT firm.

During rehearsals for an event, he pressed his ear to the door, listening to the music legend just as the notorious perfectionist castigated one of his Raylettes, who then stormed out of the room, throwing open the door and revealing Hudson’s cover.

“Suddenly, the door opens and he asks ‘who that?’ I told him and he asked me to sit with him and listen to their rehearsal, which was amazing.”

But his production skills were not limited to the music sector and, as well as hosting travel industry conferences around the world and setting up a pan-Arab TV station for the Magrabe language, he also dabbled in the political arena.

In 1988, he was called in by the United Nations to organise a world congress-come-concert to raise awareness of the plight of children in South West Africa.

His mission, that saw him meet Zim- babwean dictator Robert Mugabe and religious leader Desmond Tutu, came about through recommendations from former colleagues and previous experience in Africa.

A few years prior to the Children on the Frontline event, he had been drafted in to inspect a stadium in Zimbabwe to decree whether it could handle a major concert – the major concert being Paul Simon’s legendary Graceland gig.

Hudson was given free reign over the UN event, which included everything from shipping vast amounts of equipment to Africa to “organising the trips to see piles of dead children in Mozambique”.

He was given an all too real experience of the corruption in a country where many children starved or were handed Kalashnikovs and brainwashed into becoming soldiers, while those controlling the public purse dressed in Armani and drove brand new Mercedes.

“The event happened all before the fall of apartheid and before Nelson Mandela was freed. Desmond Tutu was one of the nicest, funniest men I’ve ever met.

“He had one of the most infectious laughs you’ve ever come across. I told him he couldn’t come into the VIP area without a pass. ‘This is rock’n’roll, I don’t know how you do it in the church,’ I said, and he thought that was hilarious.”

By the mid-1990s, Hudson was well established in TV circles, with thousands of hours of live footage under his belt.

“You have to have nerves of steel to do live TV. That’s where you have real deadlines. For example, at Channel Four you could have a deadline of three minutes past seven.

“You’ve got one second either side as you can fade in, but you’ve all these spinning plates that aren’t in a row to get into a row within seconds.

“There’s no greater buzz on earth than live television. It wasn’t stressful because nobody would die if I did something wrong.”

Hudson was responsible for rescuing a prime-time live outdoor version of popular nineties TV show Noel’s House Party from collapse.

He also produced Channel Four’s Big Breakfast roadshows and is credited with drawing up the original plans for the BBC’s Music Live and Proms in the Park events.

Today, Hudson’s dimly-lit office in a concrete block overlooking a wet Newcastle afternoon seems a far cry from the exciting world of live TV.

But he does have ambitious plans for his latest venture, which was borne out of his divorce and a chance return to the North East.

A few years ago, while he worked on a huge live event to celebrate the City of Cork’s year as the European Capital Culture, he also found himself embroiled in a difficult divorce.

“I was really angry and I’ve found in life, if you’re going to get angry, don’t get angry with whatever it is that’s making you angry, get angry with something else that makes you angry.

“So, computers made me angry. I couldn’t understand why they did what they did. Fired up with this unrequited anger I started to build in Powerpoint a computer system which does exactly what it says on the tin.”

And so the Alex system, which aims to make computers accessible to thousands of digitally-excluded people, was born.

But it was long-time friend Sting who inadvertently brought Hudson back to the North East to form the management team which will market Alex. The musician was to be honoured at a ceremony in Newcastle in 2004 and asked his former Big Band buddy if he could make it. He did make it and an unexpected run-in with an old friend outside Tesco made him realise he belonged in Newcastle.

“This guy says ‘hey it’s Andy Hudson, I haven’t seen you for a few months’. I said ‘you haven’t seen me for 26 years’, and that’s when I really felt that the North East was my home.”

The Newcastle-based Broadband Computer Company, which will sell Alex, is headed up by Hudson and his long-time colleagues, including product director Andrew Holmes and Harry Drnec – former managing director of Red Bull.

Hudson built on his knowledge of the digital world from the experience gained working for a forward-thinking German TV broadcaster and his involvement with North East industry body Codeworks.

Big things are expected from Alex, which has received the backing of a number of heavyweight technology players and raised £2.2m in new investment as it looks to bring computing to the IT illiterate.

However, with Hudson also working on bringing contemporary entertainment back to the North East’s Sunday afternoons, it may be some time before the curtain is drawn on his production career.

THE QUESTIONNAIRE

What car do you drive?

BMW 7 series

What’s your favourite restaurant?

Sambuca One, North Shields Fish Quay – cheap, noisy and fun

Who or what makes you laugh?

The Mock the Week team

What’s your favourite book?

Tale of Two Cities

What’s your favourite film?

The Heat of the Night

What was the last album you bought?

Mozart Piano Concerti

What’s your ideal job, other than your current one?

Head of energy policy, Europe

If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you’d teach it to say?

Oh ... don’t stop the carnival

What’s your greatest fear?

Running out of time before I’ve finished .... everything!

What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?

Always argue your point but understand that you might sometimes be wrong

And the worst?

Let’s go to Ireland

What’s your poison? 

French red

What newspaper do you read, other than The Journal?

The Guardian

How much was your first pay packet and what was it for? 

£19 a week on the Burnham Scale as a science teacher

How do you keep fit?

Gym at Royal Quays

What’s your most irritating habit?

Collecting wires/plugs and sockets that may some day come in handy

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Champagne (or Cava in these austere times)

Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with/admire?

Falstaff – he had such a good time

And which four famous people would you most like to dine with?

Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Vince Cable and Joanna Lumley

How would you like to be remembered?

A loving dad and partner.

 

Journalists

Dan Warburton
Chief News Reporter
David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Adrian Pearson
Regional Affairs Correspondent
Angela Upex
Head of Business
Mark Douglas
Chief Sports Writer
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer