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A tribute to Marcel Stellman (1925-2021)

Friend and former Decca Records colleague David Stark shares personal memories of working with the prolific songwriter.

Marcel was my boss at Decca Records during the 1970s, and without doubt the best boss I ever had. He was the international manager overseeing all Decca’s overseas releases, but also had his own little empire within our small offices, as a part-time songwriter who provided lyrics or translations for innumerable artists, of which the most famous was Tulips In Amsterdam by Max Bygraves. He was also very proud of his lyrics for “Johnny (Is the Boy For Me)” recorded by Les Paul & Mary Ford in 1953, which sold over 11 million copies.

He had stories about most of his songs and the artists who recorded them, from Petula Clark and Kathy Kirby to Gilbert Becaud and Charles Aznavour, who was his particular lifelong friend. In fact when Aznavour came to London in 2018 to promote his forthcoming Royal Albert Hall show – which never happened as he died beforehand – he and Marcel had tea together at his hotel, which I believe was the last time he met any of his close-knit showbiz associates.

When I worked for him, I remember him conducting telephone conversations in three languages simultaneously, he actually spoke at least five. He was also the consummate artist relations professional who knew every five-star restaurant in town, especially those he could get a good deal at, keeping in mind Decca’s rather parsimonious expenses policy.

On one occasion in 1976, at the end of my first visit to Midem, the annual music business trade fair in Cannes, he asked if I had any money left over from the per diems he’d given me at the beginning of the week. I said no, hardly any left. “So how are you going to pay your bill here at the Majestic Hotel then? ” he quipped with a glint in his eye – always the joker.

We stayed good friends even after I’d left Decca to work for other companies, before starting my own business SongLink International in 1993. I was a regular visitor to Montagu Mansions off Baker Street, where he lived with his beloved wife Jean for many years. Just a few short years ago I organised a lunch for them with the current president of Decca Records, Rebecca Allen, who was totally in awe at meeting such an iconic legend of the music industry.

Marcel was always charm personified, and never got bored from relating his many tales about his encounters with the stars and his involvement with them, from Edith Piaf and Rosemary Clooney to Tom Jones and especially Aznavour, with whom he was close friends.

A most remarkable and unique character who taught me the ropes of the industry, and to whom I owe an enormous debt.

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