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David Bowie ends management contract with Kenneth Pitt

David Bowie’s management contract with Kenneth Pitt, which had been in place since 1966, ended on Thursday 7 May 1970.

Bowie had informed Pitt on 31 March 1970 that he no longer wanted Pitt to manage him, which was followed on 24 April by a letter serving notice on intent.

Pitt asked for a final meeting with Bowie, which took place on this day. Also present was Bowie’s new manager Tony Defries. The meeting, which began at 5pm at Pitt’s apartment at 39 Manchester Street, London, marked the final end of Pitt’s management of Bowie.

David and Defries arrived promptly at 5. Both were dressed in the uniforms of their respective callings, David shaggy and satiny, Defries neatly suited in brown, a conservative tie, his hair short and tidy. David sat on the chaise longue and stared straight ahead of him. He said nothing. Defries said he was a lawyer who helped people in the music business, among them Tony Visconti. This led me initially to suspect that it was Visconti who had brought Defries into the picture. Now that the lawyer was within the frame, I quickly realised that I was no longer looking at a portrait of David, but studying a broad landscape on which Defries was a prominent feature in the background.

David had still not uttered a word and remained sitting upright, his shiny eyes fixed on the wall in front of him. I made one or two pertinent remarks in an attempt to alert him to my worst fears, but he was beyond hearing. I formed the opinion that he was either stoned or posing as one who was. If a smile was seen to cross my face it was because I had been reminded of a doubtlessly malicious story I had been told about Bob Dylan’s management who, it was alleged, kept him happily compliant in the country surrounded by hemp fields.

Perhaps all that had happened was that Defries had ordered ‘Don’t say a word. I’ll do all the talking,’ but I like to think that David had sought to reduce the pain of an unwelcome meeting.

It had not been my intention to seek any financial compensation, but now that I suspected that Defries had ambitions beyond being just David’s solicitor my attitude hardened. I said that there was no point in David and me continuing our professional relationship if he was unhappy with it, but I had spent a great deal of money on him and required to be compensated for loss of future earnings. Defries nodded and said that as he did not have any figures to hand he would need time to consider the matter, but he thought that compensation should be based on my earnings to date. Had he then asked me if I had a sum in mind I should have said two thousand pounds, a modest sum that would have satisfied me, but he did not ask and the meeting ended, along with my management of David Bowie.

David rose, shook my hand and with a smile said ‘Thank you Ken.’ After they had gone I stood at the window watching them walk up the road. I experienced a feeling of great relief now that a heavy and often frustrating responsibility had been taken from me. I wondered what David would be thinking. What now were his expectations? Neither of us knew it then, but ahead lay disappointments worse than any he had previously known.

Kenneth Pitt
The Pitt Report

Pitt next saw Bowie in May 1973, by which time he had finally attained superstar status. David and Angie Bowie turned up unexpectedly at Pitt’s Manchester Street apartment, and the meeting was a happy occasion.

They both looked marvellous and we leapt into each other’s arms and hugged and kissed and made such a commotion that the German nurse of the doctor on the ground floor looked out to see what was going on. Staring at David’s red hair, pink flared trouser suit and yellow platform boots she muttered ‘Gott in Himmel’ and quickly shut the door.

Angela, chic in black, sat herself on the lounge floor; David instinctively chose just the right setting for himself, the Victorian, green velveted chaise longue. When he got up to make some coffee I joined him in the kitchen, but it was as if he had never been away; he knew exactly where to find the coffee, the crockery and spoons. He seemed to me to be a relaxed, more assured version of the old David. He asked about old friends and places he remembered and suggested we had dinner together one night. We took the coffee into the lounge and Angela asked if I would like tickets for one of the Earls Court concerts.

‘Yes,’ said David, ‘come and see what your boy is doing.’

Kenneth Pitt
The Pitt Report

Pitt met Defries in December 1970 to ask again for the £2,000, but was stonewalled. However, a clause in Bowie’s publishing contract with Essex Music meant that all subsequent royalties were paid into an account jointly administered by Pitt and Defries. This effectively froze Bowie’s songwriting earnings until 1975, when Bowie launched a lawsuit to terminate his management deal with Defries’ MainMan.

At a subsequent hearing at London’s High Court, Pitt was awarded a final offer of £15,000 plus legal costs.

Announcing the settlement, David’s counsel said ‘This is not one of those cases where management and artist had fallen out. Both sides hoped for a settlement of this kind.’

The just remarked with a smile, ‘I am very glad to hear those words.’

As I left the court I stopped to talk to Stanley Diamond, then David’s American lawyer, and his attractive wife. ‘David will be very pleased when I tell him,’ said Stanley.

Kenneth Pitt
The Pitt Report
Last updated: 29 March 2023
Recording: The Man Who Sold The World
Recording: The Man Who Sold The World
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