Book Reviews

Book Review – Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: My Life in the Music Business by Miles Copeland III

I turned 18 in the year 1984. I say this because I approached this book as a memoir of my formative years. Music was very important to me at the time. I had several doors opened for me to work in the music business and I walked away from all of them once I saw the way artists (and women in particular) were treated by the powers that be at the time. I do have recollections of this era.

If you’ve never heard of Miles Copeland, well, you have definitely felt his impact. In Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: My Life in the Music Business, he details events from the 1970s and on in the music business. Reading this, he was influential in the direction that music took by signing bands no one else was interested in and giving rise to the commercial punk and new wave.

For anyone who doesn’t know his background, Miles’ father was a CIA operative. In fact, he was one of the original CIA operatives after World War II that helped form what is today’s CIA. Miles and his brothers and sister were raised in various countries in the Middle East. They grew up rather affluent but also learned to live with a variety of different people. Upon graduating college, Miles wasn’t sure what he wanted to do and gravitated to the music business. He began managing bands like Wishbone Ash and Curved Air. Just when it seemed he was about to be on top of the world, it came crashing down with a poorly-conceived European music festival.

Starting over again from scratch, Miles looked at bands of the time that were being largely ignored by the music industry. The Sex Pistols were one and Squeeze was another. I cannot think of two more opposite bands, but Copeland saw their potential. Facing resistance in England, he found ways to market the band such as creating his own guides to booking agents and venue contacts.

If you’ve never understood what a band’s manager does, Miles details the ins and outs of managing musicians. Their creative personalities can be a trial at times, and Miles spends many paragraphs talking about the personalities and the fighting that would go on. Most of the time, it was just a case of smoothing things over so things could go on as they were. However, sometimes the conflicts proved to be too much. This was especially the case with the band The Bangles. The industry itself wanted to elevate lead singer Susannah Hoffs to a solo artist at the expense of a great band.

Miles’ closest relationship, though, was with the band The Police. Of course, part of the reason was due to the fact that the drummer was his brother, Stewart. However, Miles also managed Sting as a solo artist for many years. He was effective enough as a manager that Sting wanted to continue with him. There are a significant number of chapters devoted to the formation of The Police and how hard it was to get them signed and promote them since the record companies didn’t seem to know exactly what to make of them and their very different sound.

That seems to be much of Miles’ role; a go-between with musicians and the record companies. Everyone wanted to get signed, but the record companies didn’t always see the commercial aspects of certain bands. Many times Miles argues for bands to be marketed despite the reticence of record companies to do so. In some cases, he has to take things into his own hands to get things done.

Of course, all of this is written from Miles’ perspective. Most musicians he talks of favorably. In some cases, though, there are disagreements. In the case of Squeeze, he takes issue with some of what was written by Chris Difford in his own book. Miles managed the band for a number of years, and when they chose to fire him, Jools Holland remained loyal to Miles and left the band at the same time. Miles continued to manage him for many years, helping him get his start in television. Which book is accurate? Who knows?

There are a number of photographs in the book, both from Miles’ youth with his family as well as later years. I enjoyed them quite a bit. It gives some ability to visualize what was going on in the times he writes about.

I enjoyed Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: My Life in the Music Business quite a bit, probably because it is the time of my youth. I’m not sure it will appeal to the younger generation, who consider many of the musicians he writes about to be “oldies.” For me, it was a fun romp through a time I remember with great affection.