Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Edwin Shirley

I have just found out about Edwin Shirley's passing from the BBC website. My condolences to everyone who knew him because if they knew him; they would have surely liked him and even people serving their writs admired him. His joie de vivre, charm and gift of language could literally melt a bailiff's heart. 

I will miss him enormously, as will the industry he helped create. I was looking him up (and looking up to him) because I thought he might be interested in hearing an idea I've had so I'm sad that I lost the opportunity for his counsel, which would have been frank and, more importantly, freely given. His Rolodex was the best in the business.

I came late to the party but I enjoyed working with him for the brief time I did between 1997 - 2001. He was already a legendary figure by then. I helped with marketing Three Mills Island Studios in the USA while I lived there and I lent Edwin, Emma and Rosa my flat in Los Angeles when they came over to a LA production show. It was the way I could repay him for a favour he'd done me when I had got married in London. Through my brother knowing him, Edwin put our tea chests of wedding presents into one of Michael Jackson's tour containers that his shipping company was returning to LA to saving us the fortune of shipping them. Jackson's tour accountants had insisted the off-cuts of the steel and plywood they were being charged for by Edwin's stage builders in London were shipped back to Los Angeles, as the materials belonged to Jackson, doubtlessly where they were binned on arrival. I think Edwin thought such extravagant waste was an insult to his integrity so was glad to take the chance do someone a favour he could call in later.

Later on when I moved to London I looked him up and he gave me the task of photographing events and creating the first Three Mills website in the days of hand-coded HTML and other odd jobs which helped me find my feet in England which I am truly grateful for. The chaotic Three Mills office was stuffed with priceless rock memorabilia which Edwin never looked back on; his vision was always looking forward and you found yourself willing to hang with the ups and downs of his business as you never knew who was coming in the door and what amazing and interesting plans would be hatched around the coffee table. 

He gave preferential rates to a couple of chancers called Matthew and Guy who were making a no-budget gangster film financed by Sting's missus and an outfit called the Spice Girls back when all five would show up in one taxi. I myself showed around the site a couple of people from a production company called Endemol when 'Big Brother' only meant the George Orwell one. I was pleased to learn afterwards they'd booked some studio space, so now my invoices would get paid.

Later on at various pubs in North London I got to know him more socially and appreciate his wide knowledge and interests. He was highly cultured and the stimulation of his visual senses mattered as much as his taste for good food and drink. He could be a ringmaster at any scale, whether staging a stadium concert or a plate of hors d'oeuvres in his boutique hotel. Although things might have actually been held up with gaffer tape and ratchet straps behind the scenes, he understood profoundly how things looked to the audience. The rhubarb and custard colour scheme of the trucking company, the use of the word "trucking" too, were very conscious choices and his lavish studio brochures and cheesecake calendars were perfectly pitched at their audiences. Their typography and photography, often by Nobby Clarke, were spot on the Zeitgeist and became collectibles.

His energy and enthusiasm was infectious. He was truly a creative entrepreneur, a natural producer. 
Though some of Edwin's schemes were ballsy, risky undertakings; without such risks many great things would never have happened. People counting on certainty shouldn't be working in theatre, movies or the music industry in which Edwin transformed their production in ways only cognoscenti can appreciate. There are famous rock impresarios and managers who cultivate reputations as hard men as a form of security in a business where millions get spent on a hand shake and the suits can screw you out of every penny if you don't watch out. Edwin's style of management and was guile and wit and breathtaking audacity; what his projects offered was fun and a chance to push the envelope. Who else could meet the outrageous demands of Tony Kaye who wanted a bridge to be built across the Corinth Canal for a car commercial. Though battered from lengthy legal battles with his landlord wresting from him the film studio that his will and vision had created, Edwin soon dusted himself down and went to work building office spaces out of shipping containers and then onto transporting art around. His compassion showed in his times of greatest adversity. When he lost his daughter Rachael in 2003 in a cycling accident, the love of many people carried him through that difficult time. Just a few months later my own family had a similar tragedy, he was there offering us his support because he knew what we were going through.

The legends around Edwin are in themselves legendary. His ruses used sometimes to vex creditors was not to line his pockets but simply an expediency needed at times to leverage scarce resources and keep everything afloat and everyone in work until they hit the next seam of pay-dirt; he gave away more than he made. The list of people working today who were given a leg-up by Edwin must be enormous. I feel his was a life well lived and his mark truly made and great affection is felt for him by everyone who knew him.

Salute Edwin