..... at Glyndebourne

About 30 years ago, during a short career break, my late wife Irene and I bought the complex known as "Campobello" and moved to Jávea on Spain's Costa Blanca. Equidistant from Valencia and Alicante we were entirely innocent of the fact that we had chosen to come to live in the most outstanding place on Spain's east coast (at least between Barcelona and the Costa del Sol); Jávea, known as The Dawn of Spain (for the rising sun strikes us first in the country) is unquestionably the most up-market resort between Barcelona and the Costa del Sol. Late in 2005 I was joined here by Lorna Ainsworth, model, senior nurse manager and JP.

My father John Nissen Deacon (1892-1959, educ. Epsom College & Royal London Hospital) was an ENT surgeon and Medical Director of Edgware General Hospital (1927-1957)  who served in WWI with the RAMC at the Somme (where he was awarded an MC at Oppy Wood), Ypres and in Italy. In the early '20s he was Medical Officer attached to GHQ Cairo and through the winter of 1922 was in Luxor at the time of the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun. A treasured photo of him is as a guest at a lunch (following the discovery) which was given by Howard Carter for Lady Evelyn Herbert in the Valley of the Kings.  Although The Times (London) had an exclusivity on the discovery itself, he nonetheless wrote for the New York Herald as well as The Egpytian Gazette and The Sphinx but mainly covering social life in Luxor.  Amongst the papers is the 1922 Christmas Day menu at the Winter Palace Hotel (what a spread !).  His archive of articles & photos will appear soon as a footnote (link) to this page.

After general practice in Tangier (Morocco) he was later appointed the first Medical Director of the newly-built Redhill County Hospital (later renamed Edgware General Hospital serving from 1927-57). This 600-bed hospital reached a position of considerable eminence in the post war period due especially to its very sophisticated Records Office (in the pre-computer age). In the last decade or so the hospital was pulled down to redevelop its huge acreage.  My early visits with him to the operating theatre were, I am sure, designed to keep me away from medicine and, as it turned out, they were successful.  In fact I am the first member of the family not to have been in medicine for over 200 years.

Readers will likely be greatly moved by the wonderful letter which was written aboard HMS Victory by Dr. Leonard Gillespie MD, RN, Physician to the Fleet under Lord Nelson, (Gillespie was a distaff cousin of the Deacons many times removed) to his sister in Armagh in January 1805 and describing life aboard Victory in the Mediterranean under Nelson's command.

I was born at Edgware General in October 1940 and educated at Southey Hall School (Great Bookham) & later at Fernden School (Haslemere) and with Common Entrance behind me I moved on to Charterhouse, where I enjoyed above average achievement in rackets, cross-country running, squash, 3rd XI football and rifle shooting - later becoming an "Atheling" (a member of the UK 1957 Cadet Rifle Team selected and sent annually to the DCRA meeting in Ottawa).   The following year I attended McGill University, Montréal. My father's death intervened and sensing that I should rejoin my mother and sister, and begin the career intended for me in accountancy, I returned to London and joined Deloittes.  It wasn't long before I realised that accountancy would be like spending a lifetime washing up dishes (or fielding at cricket) and that I wanted to do some of the "cooking" myself. After a 10-month stretch with them in the City it had become clear that I was in the wrong place.  I decided to enter the world of recorded music and joined EMI (by then I was already a Philharmonia "groupie" and had started very regular visits to the RFH and also to the ROH Covent Garden).

This career took me, and later my family, whilst working for EMI Music (now Warner Classics) and Philips Classics (then part of PolyGram Classics but now part of Universal Classics) to numerous countries including France, Belgium, Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece & Holland where I became fluent in French and acquired a passionate interest in food & wine.  
John D's apposite view of
most pop music.

John Deacon (r) & John Robinson meeting
Maria Callas (EMI reception Racing Club,
Bois de Boulogne, Paris - 1964)
  My career began as a trainee in the export department of EMI Records at Hayes (1960-64) which included my becoming appointed to set up the company's import service bringing in records from EMI's associated companies across the world.  From thence I was transferred to Pathé Marconi EMI France (1964-7) and EMI Belgium (1967-9) during which I met many awe-inspiring artists including Maria Callas, Christoff, Cecilia Bartoli, Jon Vickers, Regine Créspin, Rita Gorr, Rostropovich, Gergiev, Janet Baker, Renée Fleming, Nathan Milstein, Birgit Nilsson, Katia Ricciarelli, Ravi Shankar, Boris Christoff, Daniel Barenboim, Agustín Anievas, Elisabeth Harwood, Igor Markevitch, Artur Rubinstein, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Anna Reynolds, Pollini, José Iturbi, Julian Lloyd-Webber and in lighter vein, Adamo, Gilbert Bécaud, Claude Ciari, Sacha Distel, Herb Alpert, David Frost, Franck Pourcel, Georges Jouvin, Roger Whittaker, Vanessa Mae .....& The Shadows !  And in the ruins at Baalbeck... The Amadeus Quartet !!

Later, in the Middle East and Greece, and by now in charge of EMI Lebanon, I acquired a wide knowledge of the music of the Arab world and met many of their musical "giants" such as Fairuz, Abdel Halim Hafez, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Warda, Farid el Atrache, Omar Khorshid, Sabah (and others but, alas, not the great Oum Koulsom!) all of which experiences I was delighted to add to the modest knowledge that I continue to acquire to this day notably in opera and other forms of western classical music.

A great event that never happened to me should have been the arrival of Sir John Barbirolli and pianist John Ogdon along with The Philharmonia to play at the Baalbeck Festival of 1970 during my tenure as MD of EMI Lebanon.  Sir John's untimely death intervened and they never came (but I still have the printed programme !).....  Mahler's 1st symphony in the Temples at Baalbeck would have been unforgettable.

After a year in Cyprus (where it was decided not to open a branch of EMI) I found myself in 1972 at EMI Greece (then known as the Columbia Graphophone Company) and, as Sales Director, had been placed in charge of all commercial affairs at their large factory and recording studios (380 employees) and with especial responsibility to bring all EMI's Arab music producers under the wing of that company.  These famous catalogues, Soutelphan, Voix du Liban, Voix de l'Orient, Cairophon, Baidaphon and numerous other labels (including the cassette catalogue of Sono Cairo) constituted nearly a monopoly in the manufacture and distribution of these musics (then on LP, cassette and 8-track cartridge).

In 1974, at EMI's Columbia Studios in Athens, I produced two unusual instrumental recordings with the marvellous French (acoustic) guitarist Claude Ciari, accompanied by 15 specially selected Greek musicians, playing fascinating arrangements (by Karl-Heinz Schaefer who also directed them) of some of the most famous melodies of two giants of the Arab world - Fairuz and Mohamed Abdel Wahab (both these recordings are still available on CD from EMI Music Arabia).

The same year I also produced (most ably assisted by the late Dr. Michael Dobbyn) the only recordings in Arabic of Prokofiev's "Peter & The Wolf" and Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" narrated by Kamel Costandi (with the Orchestre de Paris/ Igor Markevitch); alas these are no longer available although the recordings Dr. Dobbyn & I made of the same works in Greek with Kostas Kastanas - then a young actor and protégé of the great Alexis Mynotis - have remained in the catalogue to this day (EMI Classics Greece CD: 480563-2).

The 36 Greek dances of Skalkottas :  During 1975 EMI Greece was approached by John Papaioannou, president of the Greek Society of Contemporary Music, and we met to discuss the imminent completion of the transcriptions (into full orchestral parts) of the remaining unpublished dances (about 24 of them as I recall) which work had been underwritten with great generosity by The Ford Foundation.   Papaioannou sought a deal whereby he would release the scores to EMI for a complete recording to be made just so long as EMI agreed to record two other (less attractive) works by Skalkottas.  I suggested Antal Dorati as the ideal conductor for this project especially since Dorati was to be in Athens that summer with the Philharmonia Hungarica (or the RPO) and I met with Dorati who assured us he'd be delighted to conduct the project.  Sadly the chief of EMI Classics, Peter Andry, refused to rise to the commercial pressure involved and the project collapsed.  I tell the full story on the pages of MusicWeb following the review of the (eventual) first complete recording of these delighful works on the Swedish BIS label in 2003.

Stop press
The "History of Columbia/EMI Greece" being filmed in Jávea .....

l. to r. Louis-Davis Brozzetti (producer), Jane Jamieson, John Deacon, Cyril Plotnikoff (sound), Peter Jamieson

A French film team under Louis-Davis Brozzetti visited Jávea in September 2019 for 3 days to cover the history of the Columbia Graphophone Co. of Greece (1920s - 1994) (later EMI Greece) and in particular the parts played by local retired Jávea residents Peter Jamieson & John Deacon.  They sought to film & record the details and reminiscences of their significant contributions (1970-78) to the history of Columbia (later EMI Greece).  During this time these companies became all-powerful in both Greek music and in the distribution and manufacture of most of the major Arab music catalogues. 

The most illustrious period, in the Greek part of the history of the company, took place between 1970 - 78 when Peter Jamieson was MD of the local record company EMIAL SA working with major artists and composers such as Bithikotsis, Moscholiou, Xylouris, Xaharkos, and Markopolous who had chosen to stay in Greece under the regime of the colonels and fight the censorship from within, all the while preparing for the return of Theodorakis and the restoration of full musical and artistic freedoms.  Under Peter EMIAL even captured Nana Mouskouri from Philips for an iconic recording of Greek songs !   John Deacon contributed from his position as Sales Director at the 380-strong factory & recording studios outside Athens.  In that position he was in charge of all external commercial affairs especially covering all the main record catalogues of the Arab music scene.  The film should be ready in 2020.

In 1977 in mid-career, between EMI & PolyGram Classics, I returned to England for the first time since 1964 and founded Conifer Records. The company began by importing arab cassettes & LPs from EMI Greece and eventually employing some 32 people having risen swiftly to become the leading UK distributor in the field of imported recorded music (mostly classical) and representing many very famous labels EMI imports from their worldwide network, Erato, BIS, Nonesuch, Telarc, Hungaroton, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, Sterling, Caprice, Clavès, DRG, Blue Note, etc.. and, from the UK, distribution of the renowned labels Lyrita and World Record Club (EMI).

In 1983 the company won no less than four Gramophone Awards which I had the great honour to receive from Sir David Willcocks CBE on behalf of the producing companies at the annual ceremony at The Savoy Hotel. This took place in the company of Sir Michael Tippett OM, Sir Colin Davis CH CBE, and Sir Charles Mackerras CH AC CBE whose recordings had also won awards that year.  There was no doubt that the awarding of 4 (out of the total of 12 awards) to one small independent company caused some consternation in the boardrooms of the majors such as EMI & PolyGram ! Having worked the previous 17 years for EMI Music I enjoyed this exquisite irony.

In 1983 I arranged with the composer George Lloyd to record his 4th Piano Concerto which then launched the Conifer label (Lloyd conducted Kathryn Stott with the LSO).  That first release also included John Rutter's own recording - the first ever - of the original score of the Fauré Requiem (now on Rutter's own Collegium label) and a recital of rare English songs by the late (and adored) Elizabeth Harwood (wife of an old friend from my university days in Canada). Especially for this recording I asked George Lloyd if he would kindly write a song for Elizabeth and he obliged with "Wantage Bells" to a poem by John Betjeman (LP CFRA 120 - never released on CD).  The Fauré Requiem won the Gramophone Choral Award for that year. 

I enjoyed a very warm relationship with Lloyd during those latter years of his life and brought great joy to him by introducing him to two great figures of the UK's classical music scene: Engineer Tony Faulkner and Decca Producer Andrew Cornall.  Lloyd was ever grateful for these introductions and worked with them exclusively until his death.

Also during this time I produced for HH Sheikh Sultan of Sharjah, in association with the UAE government, the first-ever complete recording in Arabic & English of The Holy Qur'an (on 54 cassettes). This recording is no longer available. Two thousand sets were flown in a specially chartered 707 to Abu Dhabi after which nothing was heard of them (although I was told that Sheikh Yamani, then Saudi Oil Minister, did receive one !).

John Deacon meeting singer Abdel Halim Hafez in Cairo c.1973


Siegfried's new sword
“A new sword, dear?  How nice”
By 1983 Conifer Records had attained a turnover of nearly £1.6m and was the highly respected and leading distributor in UK of minority interest recorded classical music and with a staff of 32.  With the new Compact Disc the company was at the forefront of marketing this new technology.  At the request of EMI & RCA, and in order to expand the business into its 8th year, I took on a partner whom I assumed to be a friend.  But almost immediately my lawyer started proceedings to remove me from my own company due to the conduct of this (so-called) partner.  Two years later, when the reasons for my departure had entered the public domain, I was not at all surprised to learn that the new managing director and new owner were already in charge of the inexorable decline of the company.  The awards largely ceased.  The independent companies, led by Hyperion, BIS & Chandos, were very soon to become the leading prize winners of the increasingly prestigious Gramophone Awards. By the beginning of the '90s Conifer was losing distribution contracts and their accounts were showing regular and substantial annual accumulating losses being carried forward so that, finally, with these losses at some £7m, it collapsed into the arms of BMG Records (RCA) - one supposes for the proverbial pound ?    Early in 2018 we discovered that the former "partner" had been sentenced in November 2017 to 6 years in prison for a massive fraud against the Revenue.

Before that happened, and leaving my late wife running our Spanish holiday complex < Campobello > I accepted an appointment at Philips Classics in Holland (1989-95) in a position which entrusted me with the responsibility for their home video programmes (on Laser Disc and VHS) and, in particular, the films of all the Wagner operas made at the Bayreuth Festival (by Unitel) as well as the magnificent productions filmed at the Mariinsky Theatre (formerly the Kirov Opera) in St. Petersburg under the charismatic Valery Gergiev and in which Philips Classics were directly involved in all the sound engineering.  As well as leading the market and successfully improving the sound quality of TV originated programmes of this kind (as never before) the company also pioneered (under David Hogarth) the use of optional multi-lingual subtitling on Laser Discs by means of the teletext facility.  This time-code driven facility is now a standard feature of the ubiquitous and excellent Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) and also the superb BluRay technology we know today.

In the early 1990s EMI Greece, for reasons best known to itself, gave up its 70-year involvement with Arab music but by 1995 had changed its mind and I was re-engaged to return the company to the field of Arab music at the newly formed EMI Music Arabia in Dubai as the UAE had recently introduced new laws protecting musical copyrights and thus created a suitable environment.  The EMI Greek factory had by now been closed so my brief was to re-launch EMI back into the field of Arab music.  Their original involvement had begun with the creation of the Egyptian branch of The Gramophone Company (HMV) in Alexandria where, in 1926, they signed up Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Oum Koulsoum.  Having set up these new activities in Dubai I returned in 1997 to rejoin my wife, Irene, at our home in Spain and to begin the glide slowly towards retirement. With the arrival of the Internet it was time to pay particular attention to the marketing of Campobello.

Leaving the reception at The Crillon
I was married to my late wife Irene (née Byrne) at the British Embassy Church in Paris in May 1966 followed by a reception at the Crillon Hotel on the Place de la Concorde.  Shockingly, she was taken from us in Jávea in 2002 by pancreatic cancer (aged 62).

Today I am supported by my three children - John (senior executive of a major City company in charge of pensions), Joanna (French & Norwegian translator and Cambridge Examiner) & Alexandra (Cluster Sales Director of a major London luxury hotel group).  I am furthermore blessed with six grandchildren as well as the company of my beautiful companion Lorna (JP, former model & senior nurse manager).  I maintain contact with many friends across the world of music and the record business as well as amusing myself (and others, I hope) giving occasional recorded music presentations for associations or charities using magnificent ATC Active speakers which are such a joy for record producers and serious music lovers.  For Concerts Costa Blanca I am happily involved in running groups by bus to attend the opera productions at the Valencia Opera House, the Palau de la Musica and helping to bring artists to perform in our local (621-seat) theatre in Teulada.

Occasional visits have been made to Barcelona (Liceu), Montpellier, Bordeaux, Monte-Carlo, and to Glyndebourne where I was a member from 1977-2016.  Having a life-long passion for Wagner I have enjoyed the good fortune to have attended the Bayreuth Festival numerous times from 1966 to 2011 and enjoyed Ring cycles there in 1966, in 1994 & 2003 (the latter two with my three children).  Bayreuth is still mercifully free of horrible and ubiquitous sur-titles but has now fallen victim to the most appalling and insulting extremes of regietheater making further visits there unimaginable - at least for the time being.

I was greatly honoured, in the autumn of 2017, to have had my name put forward to be interviewed by The Curator (Classical Music) of The Sound Archive of the British Library (British Museum).  I spoke for over 4 hours on various aspects of my international career.

In Jávea I have served on the committee of the local branch of The Royal Society of St.George, the Jávea branch of Conservatives Abroad  (including 2 years as chairman), the Jávea-based Costa Blanca Anglo Spanish Association (including two years as vice-chairman) and today on the management board of Concerts Costa Blanca.  
John Deacon's attitude to watching sport (courtesy The Spectator)


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