Read extracts from Robin Millar’s autobiography A Diamond Life, with an introduction by Andrew Croft.
Robin Millar - An introduction by Andrew Croft
This is a story of a North London boy of West Indian and Irish descent, who slowly grew blind but would not allow his lack of sight to stop him becoming a superstar amongst superstars.
Robin Millar is one of the most successful and original record producers in the world. He is widely respected in the industry for his art, his passions and his courage, and widely feared for his uncompromising tongue and outspoken opinions on the business he loves and the stars he works and mixes with.
Robin started his adult life by going on the road with the Rolling Stones and went on to work with everyone from The Grateful Dead to Sade. He has been awarded over 150 gold, silver and platinum discs. His productions have sold 45 million copies world-wide. He has had 44 number ones and won a list of prestigious awards. A passionate music-maker, he has turned down more acts than he has taken on, from Bucks Fizz to Chris Rea, From Rickie Lee Jones to Chris De Burgh. As a result he has an unblemished record of producing successful and well-reviewed classic pop and rhythm and blues tracks.
At the age of eight he started to go blind with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a condition which many women in Guyana carry in their genes and pass on to their male children. Robin’s mother was from Guyana. His uncle and his two great uncles, who suffered from the same problems, were his role models and taught him how to grow blind with dignity, and how to look upon it as a gift. By their example they made him believe he was part of an elite and privileged club. He did not allow his problem to stop him gaining entry from a North London Secondary school to study law at Cambridge and ending up with an MA. He did not allow it to stop him entering the profession that he loved above all others, the music business.
His interest in the world of rhythm and blues was cemented, at the age of 17, when his sister married Mick Taylor, who replaced Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones. Robin became part of their entourage. He went on tour, and hung around the South of France with them while they recorded “Exile on Main Street”, even sitting in for Bill Wyman on bass routining. He witnessed scenes of debauchery with huge jars of cocaine and pills everywhere.
He went on to become famous in Paris with a number one hit, after spending some time as a nude model and nude model, and enjoyed a highly publicised affair with a television star who left him for another woman. Robin became an integral part of the new wave movement in Europe, finally leaving Paris when the violent side of the drug culture became too much.
During the next decade, the Eighties, having already enjoyed extraordinary adventures, successes and disasters as a performer, writer, producer and Ferrari renter, he created The Power Plant in London’s Ladbroke Grove area, a recording studio in which he produced seven consecutive UK platinum albums for debut artists including Sade, Fine Young Cannibals and Everything But The Girl, as well as recording established stars such as Randy Crawford, Big Country, Boy George, Spandau Ballet, Paul Weller and Black.
It was the most fashionable recording studio, restaurant and bar complex In London. In the cafeteria a group of young journalists were holding meetings and planning the launch of The Face.
This was the cutting edge of the music and style industries, housed in the glamorous conversion of a once dilapidated Sixties independent studio which had the music of a hundred classic sessions impregnated in the dirty brown hessian walls, tracks like the ones which would eventually become part of Lou Reed’s “Transformer” and “Berlin” albums. After the conversion, The Power Plant had huge vaulted ceilings in marbleised eggshell, green Astroturf flooring, marine blue, French polished walls, chrome uplighters and oil rig metal doors and portholes.
On a roll of success, Robin founded the Scarlett Group of five studios, record and publishing companies and restaurants, producing debut hits for Terence Trent D’Arby (at the time when he was having his affair with Patsy Kensit), Sam Brown, Nenah Cherry and Blur, as well as doing bits for Phil Collins, Thin Lizzy and Def Leppard.
At the time Robin was heavily involved in left-wing political movements such as Red Wedge, Artists Against Apartheid, Chilean Solidarity (in which both Tony Blair and Jack Straw were also active), and the Namibian Freedom Fighters. He was determined that any spare time in the studio would be used to make records to raise money and awareness for all these causes.
But Robin’s encroaching blindness made him vulnerable. He was swimming with the sharks and they sensed he was no longer on top of the business. As he struggled to come to terms with his personal demons, and immersed himself in the music, Robin was unable to see what was happening all around him, until the empire collapsed and he found himself penniless, homeless and personally liable for a debt of over £3-million.
When everything seemed hopeless financially, his sight, his beautiful country home and almost all his possessions gone, he returned to Paris and produced the biggest selling French album ever for Patricia Kaas, allowing him to pay his creditors off and start afresh.
His business and his eyesight might have gone by the end of the Eighties, but his talent and his will to enjoy life were still as powerful as ever, leading to him being sought out by stars as diverse as Madonna and The Grateful Dead in America, Malcolm McLaren and Patricia Kaas in Paris.
In this autobiography he tells an insider’s story of the music industry of the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, seen from the unique perspective of a man who is simultaneously a player and an outspoken outsider. It paints a true, vivid and entertaining picture of just how hard the struggle is for artists both at the top and the bottom of the business. He explains why some people become stars and some don’t, why some are awarded iconic status and others are reviled and rejected.
It also gives an insight into Robin’s own agonising journey of self-discovery as his field of vision gradually narrowed and dimmed until eventually he was left alone in the dark.
The extracts published on this website are tasters from the enormous well of stories and insights which will be going into the book.
Further chapter excerpts
- On my own
- Rose and the stones
- Richard Branson
- Tug-of-love with Joan Armatrading
- A model citizen
- Paris and a hit
- The big break that never was
- Jack Bruce, marriage and potential castration
- Le Chateau and new wave
- One door closes
- Randy at work
- In Paris with Malcolm Mclaren
- Madonna and me
- The Grateful Dead