‘I still make money from Teenage Kicks’

Fear­gal Sharkey was a teenager de­liv­er­ing tele­vi­sions be­fore he found fame with hit song ‘Teenage Kicks’, he tells John Wright

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Money -

Fear­gal Sharkey, 59, be­came the lead singer of the Un­der­tones in 1975, find­ing fame with sin­gles such as Teenage Kicks and My Per­fect Cousin. Be­com­ing a solo singer in 1983, his song A Good Heart was an in­stant world­wide hit in 1985, reach­ing Num­ber 1 on the sin­gles chart in Bri­tain and other coun­tries.

In the early Nineties he moved into the busi­ness side of the mu­sic in­dus­try, work­ing for Poly­dor Records and the Ra­dio Au­thor­ity. From 2008 to 2011 he was the head of UK Mu­sic. To­day he lives in north Lon­don.

How did your child­hood in­flu­ence your at­ti­tude to money?

I came from a fam­ily of 10 chil­dren in Derry, North­ern Ire­land, at a time when there was about 60pc un­em­ploy­ment among men. My fa­ther was an elec­tri­cian, so the fact that he had steady em­ploy­ment was some­what ex­tra­or­di­nary. But there was never a lot of money.

Ev­ery­thing was from one month to the next and things were in­cred­i­bly well man­aged by my par­ents. I can still hear my fa­ther’s im­mor­tal words: “If you can’t af­ford to pay cash, you can’t af­ford it.”

What was your first paid job?

That would be the rather glo­ri­ously ti­tled “In­stal­la­tion En­gi­neer” and “Li­nes­man As­sis­tant Ju­nior”. In plain English it meant I de­liv­ered tele­vi­sions for a liv­ing. It was 1976-77, I was 18 and I was paid the princely sum of £7.01 per week. And I can as­sure you I checked that damn pay packet ev­ery week to make sure that penny was in there.

Are you a saver or a spender?

Both, some of it kind of en­forced. I’m the sec­ond youngest, so there was a finely honed sys­tem where the minute I ap­peared in the door­way on Fri­day evening my mother would be in the hall­way de­mand­ing her £5 house­keep­ing money from my £7 wages. So I learnt to man­age money quickly.

No doubt I ob­jected fu­ri­ously but she was the tra­di­tional Ir­ish ma­tri­arch and you did not want to get into that kind of con­ver­sa­tion with her. You were not go­ing to win.

It taught me a good life skill: when to walk away from an ar­gu­ment.

Do you use cash, debit cards or credit cards?

I use all three. Most days I can be found in front of a cash ma­chine. I ap­pre­ci­ate that con­tact­less pay­ment is a glo­ri­ous thing, but I worry it’s a de­vi­ous ploy by the banks to get us to spend more money without ac­tu­ally real­is­ing what the hell it is we’re get­ting up to.

Have you in­vested in the prop­erty and stock mar­kets?

Yes. My ad­vice is, if you in­vest in the stock mar­ket make sure you’ve got 30 or 40 years to wait around and don’t worry about what hap­pens in the next six weeks.

As for prop­erty, I live in Lon­don, which is al­ways a fairly safe bet. I bought my home and a num­ber of homes over the years. My par­ents owned their home where I grew up, which was very un­usual.

With my first house I slightly cheated. I was 19 or 20 and in a band called the Un­der­tones, which be­came suc­cess­ful rather quickly. We were ad­vised to get a mort­gage and ben­e­fit from the tax re­lief. By then we had a firm of ac­coun­tants in Lon­don, Martin Green, who re­mained my ac­coun­tants for years. It was solid pro­fes­sional ad­vice to a group of overly ex­cited Ir­ish­men.

Have you ever had trou­ble pay­ing your bills?

Prob­a­bly in the early days with the Un­der­tones when I re­alised I had a mort­gage, then the joys of coun­cil tax and the rest. Like for plenty of young peo­ple to­day, there may well have been the odd fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion down the back of the sofa, look­ing for that er­rant fiver.

Which pe­riod of your life has been the most lu­cra­tive?

I imag­ine that whole solo pe­riod. I think A Good Heart sold around a mil­lion copies in this coun­try alone. I don’t know what that trans­lates to in money, but slightly more than

£7.01 a week.

What have been your best and worst fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions?

My best was to make a record called Teenage

Kicks. The Un­der­tones still own all the rights to ev­ery­thing we ever did, and I’m pleased to say that it does OK. It still keeps com­ing in, and my thanks to every­body in­volved for all the ap­plause and en­cour­age­ment over the years.

My worst was buy­ing a clas­sic car 10 years ago and real­is­ing the sup­pos­edly £5,000 restora­tion was sud­denly go­ing to blos­som into an aw­ful lot more. Then my good old up­bring­ing kicked in and we parted com­pany.

Does money make you happy?

It helps but con­tent­ment in­vari­ably in­volves a lot of more philo­soph­i­cal stuff about your friends, fam­ily and loved ones. I’ve been happy when I’ve had noth­ing and I’ve been happy when I’ve had a bit more.

What is the best way to stay suc­cess­ful?

In terms of busi­ness: con­stantly rein­vent, rein­vig­o­rate, keep go­ing, push­ing, re­ju­ve­nat­ing your­self. It’s very easy to be­come stale and lack­lus­tre. For me it’s al­ways been a con­stant process of self-analysing. In the mod­ern world it’s about self-sat­is­fac­tion and know­ing I did some­thing really well to­day.

Some say we may have seen the last album to sell in the mil­lions as fewer peo­ple are buy­ing them. Is this true?

Look at Ed Sheeran’s record sales in the first four days af­ter his new album was re­leased in March. It’s off the scale [672,000 album sales]. Are peo­ple go­ing to stop read­ing books?

Is Bri­tain’s com­mer­cial mu­sic in­dus­try thriv­ing?

Yes. The Bri­tish mu­sic in­dus­try is the sec­ond most suc­cess­ful in the world. All that starts with young peo­ple sit­ting in rooms with a musical in­stru­ment. You can buy an Ap­ple lap­top that comes with an ex­tra­or­di­nary pro­gramme called Garage­band to make records and within min­utes up­load mu­sic to Youtube. You can make money as long as you can get enough peo­ple to lis­ten to it.

It’s also be­come tougher be­cause the last time I looked I think peo­ple up­load about 300 hours of video to Youtube ev­ery minute. So when you are up­load­ing your video so are half a mil­lion other artists.

What is the Salute Mu­sic Mak­ers com­pe­ti­tion and how will it change the mu­sic in­dus­try?

The idea is that any­body can cre­ate a piece of mu­sic within min­utes; whether it’s any good is another is­sue. On a web­site, plat­form or app they can ex­pose their mu­sic to an au­di­ence of bil­lions. The com­pe­ti­tion pro­vides young peo­ple with the abil­ity, and the win­ner re­ceives £50,000 in cash, no strings at­tached.

As head of UK Mu­sic was your lob­by­ing for copy­right pro­tec­tion suc­cess­ful?

Yes. Be­fore The Dig­i­tal Econ­omy Act [2010] the on­line mu­sic world was the Wild West. You could down­load all the mu­sic you wanted for free.

Youtube now has li­cences with the mu­sic in­dus­try. If you’ve signed a con­tract with a record com­pany, un­less you specif­i­cally ex­cluded the dig­i­tal rights, it’s up to the record com­pany to ne­go­ti­ate that deal and de­cide whether they want your mu­sic on an on­line ser­vice. Some acts agree, some don’t.

And did you help re­duce dig­i­tal piracy?

Sub­stan­tially. There was a co­or­di­nated ap­proach across the Bri­tish mu­sic in­dus­try. More im­por­tant was how much more busi­ness op­por­tu­nity we cre­ated, mov­ing from the Wild West to Spo­tify, which now has 50mil­lion sub­scribers, many pay­ing £9.99 a month. So the mech­a­nism’s cre­ated where Spo­tify, its in­vestors, record com­pa­nies, mu­sic pub­lish­ers and artists all get paid.

Fear­gal Sharkey: ‘I was in a band called the Un­der­tones, which be­came suc­cess­ful rather quickly.’ Right, in 2014

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