“I’m definitely a promoter of instinct,” said Markus Sargeant, as he recalled one of his greatest triumphs – booking superstars-in-waiting Coldplay to perform at 300-seater Birmingham venue Ronnie Scott’s, writes the Birmingham Mail this week, in a wonderfully nostalgic article that looks back on a local talent spotter filling slots in a small UK venue at the turn of the century.
Coldplay, whose album Rush Of Blood To The Head has this week been named the nation’s all-time favourite by Radio 2 listeners, headline packed arenas and football grounds these days. But renowned Wolverhampton-born talent scout Markus, now music booker at the Glee Club in Birmingham, secured a major coup in booking Coldplay to play at the intimate club on July 30, 2000, in their very early days.
Their aptly-named debut album, Parachutes, flung them from nowhere to the top of the charts. That ability to sniff out fledgling stars – performers of some artistic depth and longevity – has been put to great use over the last 20 years by this affable 45-year-old, who admitted he ‘struggled through education’ at Aldersley High School in his home city.
He has had some significant triumphs – all of them worthy of being filed in the compartment of the memory marked ‘must tell the grandkids’. Adele played for him three times on her road to fame and fortune. In a business punctuated and punctured by massive egos and loud voices, you get the impression this self-deprecating, gentle man must have charmed vocalist Chris Martin and the boys to do the gig. Chris Martin had, in fact, already done a solo spot for Markus at Ronnie Scott’s at around the time of the band’s Brothers And Sisters EP release (listen below), supporting The Wonder Stuff’s Miles Hunt and Malc Treece during one of the promoter’s regular Songwriters’ Festivals.
Coldplay's Brothers & Sisters EP
“I remember being sent a cassette of the EP, and I booked Chris on the back of his agent waxing lyrical to me,” said Markus. “We all thought the sound of his voice and his songs really connected. At the end of the night I was sitting on the stage, gathering myself to go home, and Chris and his then manager (Phil Harvey) came out of the dressing room saying, ‘We were just talking about what a great night it was’.
“Chris said ‘I’d like to come back with a band’ – this was just before [Coldplay’s breakthrough single] Yellow came out. People in the industry were saying, ‘Hang on, there’s a bigger scenario opening up here with this band’. When I came to book the next Songwriters’ Festival they were top of my list because they were so sincere, and I knew that there was now more happening with the band. I got in touch with their new agent and said ‘please hear me out on this – I don’t expect this to happen but I absolutely wish to convey the invitation to Chris and the boys to come back to Ronnie Scott’s because Chris said he would like to do that, if you would be gracious enough to pass the message on’.
"I got a call the next day confirming the show, which I absolutely believe was the band saying ‘we want to do this’. Everybody in the industry said it was a matter of time before they cancelled, but the worst-case scenario didn’t happen. They played Parachutes, using the grand piano a lot, in the exact order of the album. Radio 1 put the concert out on air. It was one of those very rare moments in a promoter’s career like mine when everyone’s talking about it and everyone wants to be there.”
Other names to be taken into consideration when assessing the excellence of Markus’s talent-spotting CV include Elbow at Ronnie Scott’s in January 2000, Mumford And Sons in the small Studio theatre at his current base, the Glee Club, in October 2008 (and again in the main room in September 2009), and David Gray, several times, as the promoter found his feet at Wolverhampton venues the Connaught Hotel and the Clarendon Hotel, from 1993.
Most significant for Markus, though, personally, among his list of promotions, was a solo gig by cult American singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley – a major inspiration for Coldplay – at the Connaught on March 19, 1994. Blessed with an astonishing four-octave voice, which blended sensitivity with power, the son of experimental vocalist Tim Buckley died a mere three years later after drowning in the Mississippi aged just 30.
But his small recorded legacy has inspired countless musicians, and his debut album Grace, released in August 1994 and regarded as the best of the decade by many, has gone on to sell more than two million copies. “It was one of the first gigs I did for sure, when I was working with another promoter, Chris Brown,” he said.
“I was aware of Jeff’s father Tim, and consequently had an initial awareness of Jeff, but I certainly wasn’t attuned to what he had to offer and the magic of that time. “I had a phone call from a very senior agent in a very major agency offering me the show. I remember Jeff arriving at the back doors with his tour manager, and he was a very friendly, angelic man who literally just had his guitar over his back.
“I have regularly thought to myself that the reason I’m a music promoter is because of Jeff Buckley and David Gray. What I saw in those two people was absolutely the real thing. I love the quote about Jeff, and it’s absolutely spot-on – that he sounded like an angel singing from the rafters of a whorehouse.
“I guess we were lucky being promoters at that time. There were about 200 people there, in the Connaught’s ballroom. I’m pretty sure Jeff was paid £35 for his gig.”
Jeff Buckley's video for Last Goodbye