The Mike Hrano Interview

Mike Hrano runs the official Status Quo fanclub "From the Makers of" (FTMO) since 1993. This interview was published in June 2001 at the "On The Level" magazine - issue 8. It is to date the only interview of Mike Hrano. Read the very interesting interview and learn more about the man who runs the fanclub since a record-breaking 14-years period.

re-printed with kind permission James Evans (co-writer of the On the Level magazine) and Mike Hrano

Question: Thanks for agreeing to talk to us Mike. Can we start with you telling us a little about what you've been up to over the years and how you started out?

Mike Hrano: I've been involved in the music business probably since about 1979, 1980. Initially, that was kind of tenuous, because I was working as a local newspaper reporter, and there was an album review column on that paper that I always coveted - everyone wanted that column because you got free records. When the girl who did that column left - and she's been until it closed recently the news editor of Melody Maker - I inherited the album column. I've always liked music, and even at school I'd write about music - I'm tone deaf and I've got no ability at all, but I love music. So that first column led to me being asked by localbands to write about them, so I was lucky enough to be able to major in my one interest and write about music. In terms of the music business, my first professional music engagement, that wasn't a journalistic one, was in 1983, so I've been involved for a long time..

Question: Obviously before Quo, you've done a lot of work for other fanzines and other fanclubs - could you tell us a little about that?

Mike Hrano: Well the way I started was when I was working as a journalist on a paper called the Wembley observer, and freelancing as well, and I was by a magazine called 'Look in', which was basically the junior TV Times, to do a piece on a guy who'd set up this bizarre thing called 'The International Association of Fanclubs'. What that basically was for a small amount per year you were able to make a certain amount of enquiries about whatever fanclub you wanted. It very quickly became apparent that there was a huge demand to know about various fanclubs that didn't exist, so the next logical step was to set up a fanclub for that particular thing. I basically said to him - 'If you ever need a writer to do newsletters and magazines for you then please consider me'. The first one we took on was Chris de Burgh, who is still a client of mine 18 years later. After that we took on Nick Haywood, ex Genesis Steve Hackett for a while, we did Seal, Bros, Belinda Carlisle, Big Fun, Sonia. Today, as we speak, my clients, apart from Quo, are The Pet Shop Boys, Westlife, Boyzone, Five, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, blah, blah, blah....

Question: Do you find it difficult writing about so many different bands - I mean Quo to The Pet Shop Boys to Westlife is quite a big leap?

Mike Hrano: No, I don't find it difficult. I'm 41 years old, and I've got no idea what music a 16 year old girl likes these days, but what I do know is that the line you have to take, whoever you're writing about, is not to talk down to people. You've got to find their level. There's nothing worse than being involved with a band like Westlife and talking along the lines of "Hi kids!". What you have to do is guess what the level is of the fans you are dealing with, and then you have that verified by the band themselves, and they will soon tell you if you're wrong or right.

Question: As well as writing for fanclubs, you've also managed musicians haven't you? How did that come about?

Mike Hrano: I have no aspirations to be a full time music manager, but I love music, and if you love something as much as I love music a lot of people you hang out with are going to be of the same ilk. Now because of what I do, particularly with my journalism, I know an awful lot of musicians and people involved with music. A lot of these people are singers or in bands, and what's happened is that over the years I've been able to contribute something to the bands without playing music. I'm organised, I get things done, and I can hopefully make things happen. I've only ever taken on groups or artists against my judgement, because I don't want to be doing that sort of stuff, but if I really love the band or artist, if I'm affected by the music, than I just can't help myself. I get involved because I'm excited by it, and that's one of my big negatives - I get very excited, very quickly, still. I should be beyond that, but I'm not. At that moment I'm managing Rhino (obiously), and a girl called Shelley Nelson, who had a big hit a few years back whit 'Hear's Where the Story Ends' with a group called Tin Tin Out. I managed her for that hit, and for the subsequent one she had with Tin Tin Out, and she's doing really well.

Question: Were you pleased with 'Rhino Revenge' and how the campaign for that went?

Mike Hrano: With reservations, yes. I'd known for some time that he'd been working on some solo stuff, and because he knew I know about CD production and marketing he asked me to give him a hand with some stuff - he was originally going to release it just as an EP. When they were doing the Night of The Proms - and he'd been trying to arrange a time to talk to me for a while before that - he kept saying that he needed to talk to me, and to cut a long story short he asked me to manage him. I was very, very flattered, but the first thing I said to him was "Your already have a manager and his name is David Walker, and what you need to do is give him first refusal on this". Now David didn't like the record, and doesn't think Rhino can sing, but I give David big respect for that because he wants, as we all do, to work with things that he really believes in, and he obviously didn't think the Rhino thing was for him. So that left the way clear for me, and I took it on purely on the merits of what it actually is. Rhino isn't a great singer, but he's a vocalist - Bob Dylan isn't a great singer, he's a vocalist. Rhino is perfectly good enough as a vocalist to express exactly what he wants to say in his music. I like his record because it was made for all the right reasons and for all the right places. It rocks, it's got humour, it has something to say, and I just can't knock that. Whether I like it or not is irrelevant, because I like Rhino and I like where he's coming from, and I've got absolutely no problem working with that. In terms of how I feel about the overall campaign, I'm happy, but of course things could always be better. Eagle Records isn't the biggest label in the world, and they are restrained by budgets, so we did have to play off money we could spend there, and whether it was better spent over here, or somewhere else. As we speak the album is well on it's way to ten thousand copies, and that's fantastic.

Question: In one way, I suppose you had a major plus point because you had a ready made audience in the Quo fanbase?

Mike Hrano: He'd never had got a record deal if that wasn't the case - never. My major card to play to any record company was "This is an album by the bass player of Status Quo. Judge it on it's own merits, but be aware that I have a large ready-made audience to sell it to initially".

Question: It was also good to see one of the tracks was on the Classic Rock cover CD, a feat Quo have yet to pull off. Was that easy to organise?

Mike Hrano: Well, it was never presented to me in that sense. I was told by Eagle Records that they'd managed to get it onto the Classic Rock CD, and which track did we want to use? There's obviously a relationship there, and there's a bit of bartering that goes on, but I was delighted with that. A funny story connected with that is that Rhino, who'll kill me for telling this, rung me up and said "I'm in Virgin, and I've bought my own album. What I've done is bought a copy of Classic Rock and taken the voucher out which gives me a pound off it!" Can you imagine the shame of being caught getting money off your own album?!

Question: Stepping out of your position in the Quo hierarchy, how do you think Rhino's album compares to the recent Quo material?

Mike Hrano: I think it compares very, very favourably, but in a very different way. I think if anyone who knows anything about Quo can step outside their position, they can see that there's a very big rocking contribution coming from Rhino to Quo, and that's obvious from his album. In rhe same way it's acknowledged that Francis likes country music, and the country influence on Quo's albums over the years is coming from Francis. The rock edge is coming from Rick and it's coming from Rhino - and that's very obvious on Rhino's album. It compares favourably but it's completely different. There are a couple of tracks on there that sound like they could be done by Quo, but that wasn't the aim, and this certainly isn't a bunch of Quo out-takes in terms of it being Rhino material rejected by Quo.

Question: Moving on to Quo, how did you first come to be involved with the band, and consequently FTMO?

Mike Hrano: It was, I think, 1992/93. As it always the case with bands I work with, I don't advertise what I do. People hear about me and take me on purely because of reputation, and because I am good at what I do and do it properly, in spite of what some people might think. What happened was there was a guy who did accounts and books for The Pet Shop Boys, who also worked for Quo. At that time Quo were looking for somebody to run the fan-club, and consequently my name came into the frame. So a guy called Ian Jones called me and asked if I wanted to talk about it, and they flew me out to meet the band in Jersey. I remember it very well. I met Francis in Francis' bedroom, we sat down and had a chat, and that was it really.

Question: FTMO is very different to anything Quo have previously had fan-club wise. Was this a conscious effort on your part?

Mike Hrano: It wasn't a conscious effort, because that would have meant me deliberately setting out to do something different, and I didn't. What I did was deliberately set out to do something that was good and value for money, that I hoped would hit the mark and people would find interesting. One of the benefits of having someone like me doing what I do is that I'm a professional journalist, and one of the qualities I think I can bring to a fan club is the ability to communicate information in a way that's entertaining as well as being informative.

Question: FTMO is very specific in it's style in that, in spite of Quo being a band with over 35 years of history, there is never any mention of the past members. There is also no forum for any sort of criticism of anything Quo do. Was this laid down to you?

Mike Hrano: Up to a point, yes. We're looking at essentially a 24 page magazine, and because I have total access in the band, I don't need to look to the past. I have to deal in the present, there's no space for anything else. If I didn't have access to the band, my ability to get material would be severly hampered, and I'd have to find other stuff from the past to write about. I don't have that problem, so I'm not looking back, I'm looking forward. As far as ex members of the band are concerned, ex is the key thing. They are no longer members of Status Quo. They chose, or decided, or whatever the case may be, not to be with the band, and therefore I don't give a damn about them. They're of no interest to me and, most importantly, that is a view shared by David Walker. I cannot give, even if I wanted to, which I don't, details of the latest relesase by Alan Lancaster or John Coghlan. They should have their own outlet for that - the place for that is not in my fan club. It's in your magazine, because you choose to put it there, and that's why I think what you do is such an important supplement to what I do. I wouldn't do it is I had a choice, and the fact is that David Walker lays down that minor editorial stipulation that this is not about former members of Status Quo. It's about the current band.

Question: Following on from that, FTMO, and therefore you, has always come in for a lot of criticism from the so-called hardcore. Is that something you just have to put to one side and get on with your job?

Mike Hrano: Well, I don't put it to one side because it upsets me. I do know that it's impossible to please all of the people all of the time, but I try my hardest, I really do, and as we all know it's one thing to criticise, another thing to do. (Ed. Too true. We will never moan about a late edition of FTMO again!). I was warned by David Walker when I started FTMO that Quo fans are a breed unto their own - they are a very special segment of people who wont take any shit. And that's with all due respect to them. The thing is, I don't know what the hardcore want - I'm not catering to any one specific type of Status Quo fan. What I'm trying to do is provide all Status Quo fans with information and access to the band which will hopefully be of interest. I'm not writing specifically for one group of people, and I'd say to any of those people who are unhappy - if you don't like what I do, don't pay the subscription fee. Go somewhere else, I'm not remotely concerned about that.

Question: I think that part of the problem is that because you are a professional journalist, and not a well known member of the Quo team or the fan-club, you are not perceived as, forgive the expression, a 'true' fan.

Mike Hrano: I can understand that, and I can understand why that might be a problem in the eyes of some people. I will just ask this - What quantifies a true Quo fan? Let me tell you about me and Status Quo. The first album I ever bought was 'Dog of two head' As a teenager I was mad on groups like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Quo made a couple of albums that not only did I buy but I adored, and held up as proper, authentic Rock music for that period - every inch as good, on it's merits, as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Working as a journalist, the first time I was ever paid to write about Quo was in 1982 at Wembley Arena. I adore the band - and I'm absolutely thrilled to be working with them. But I don't worship the ground they walk on, I have no deference to them. I respect them entirely, and they respect me entirely. I work with them as people. I'm not in awe of them - because if I was, I wouldn't be able to do my job. If I shook like a leaf every time I got near them, that would be embarrassing for them, and humiliating for me. I've got to be impartial - I don't want to lick their boots, I don't want to stroke their ego's, and I don't want to duck issues. If I get the intelligence that they've made a dodo of an album then I will tell them. Would a 'true' fan do that? And if a 'true' fan would, would they be able to do it with enough objectivity and without getting upset? I can.

Question: That aside, FTMO certainly hasn't been without it's problems - the major one being the advanced booking facility. It's put forward as a major reason for being in the fan-club, but it just hasn't been working has it?

Mike Hrano: Yes it has, but for a small minority of people it hasn't. Let me just clarify the way this works. The arrangements are made between myself and the promoter. David Walker let us do that. And the promoter will say to me "What do you need to service your fans in the way that you think will be most appropriate?" So I will say "I need to be able to fill empty venues from the front backwards, and I need to be able to do it in a period of time, agreed between us, before the tickets are on sale to the general public". Then I'll do a mailshot to tell people that the period of time for them to buy their tickets is coming up. Now if you've followed that, it sounds like a pretty flawless plan doesn't it? Now where it fills is with the venues, particularly the NEC. The NEC own up and say that they sent the wrong batch of tickets out to fan club members. I didn't do that, I don't receive money for these applications, I don't sort these applications. That plan I gave you sounds like a watertight plan doesn't it ? In reality, what happens is that every now and then you'll get somebody at a ticket agency or venue who, for whatever reason, isn't aware of some minute detail in the plan, and that's where things can go wrong. What I keep trying to say to people is we made available tickets for 29 UK shows, and one venue, one venue, is being consistantly sighted as the area where I have messed up. Never mind the 28 shows that people have got nothing to say about - never mind the people who weren't unpappy with the tickets they got for the NEC. Why don't you put me on the rack, and blame me for the number of people who regrettably didn't get the tickets they wanted, through no fault on my own. Its the perspective thing here. All complaints are important, but so are the massive unspoken majority who don't feel the need to say "Thank you very much I got front row tickets".

Question: A few years back the system changed didn't it. Rather than us being informed of the dates, ringing the venue in advantage and booking the tickets, all bookings were done through a special Quo hotline. It seems to me that's where the major started.

Mike Hrano: I totally agree. I'm not ducking this issue at all, because that is exactly where the problem started. I've got 14 letters on record from people telling me that they're unhappy with their tickets. Now I know there's more people than that - but what all these people are saying to me is "Didn't it work better when we were able to contact the venues direct?". And it seems to me that that is the case. So one of the things I'll do is when Quo do another tour, I will put that to SFX and say "I've got this file of correspondence and the one thing everyone is concerned about is this one number thing, that they don't even know where their seats are going to be". That's insane - I wouldn't buy tickets like that. So the whole system needs to be fine tuned, and I will fine tune it. The other thing, however, is that I just don't need the hassle. I'm so inclined to just say "Sod the lot of you, I won't do it all" - and that way the only flack I'm going to catch will be for not doing it. I hope everyone acknowledges that the starting point for doing this is simply wanting to help the fans get better seats - that's all. How would you feel if you did this, and you got a call from Trading Standards because one member is actually considering a civil action - maximum fine of 2,500 pounds, 2 years in prison - because he's unhappy with his NEC tickets. How demotivating would that be for you? But that really did happen. My motivation is good, my intentions are right and true, and if I personally am to blame then please blame me - I will hold my hands up and try and put it right. But if I'm not to blame I'll tell you I'm not and then people will say I'm passing the buck. It's a very difficult position.

Question: The one other thing which has really raised problems was the recent Sheperds Bush gig. Now I went to that, it was a brilliant gig. But a lot of people thought that 20 pounds was a bit steep for what amounted to a performance to play-back and a 1 hour live show - especially when Brixton was only 10 pounds. How much of that were you aware of, and how much did you have control over?

Mike Hrano: The ticket price was set by David Walker. Now, because I'm such a heinous, horrible person, the minute I became aware that there was unrest about the ticket price, I told David. David listened to me, and said "What I want you to do is make x amount of T-Shirts and we'll give them away for free.". That was David acknowledging that perhaps 20 pounds was a bit expensive - let's throw in a free T-Shirt. People have to understand that these things are commercially led, but I will hold my hands up and say I did not see the ticket price, but I was partly responsible for people getting a free T-Shirt.

Question: Now. The Quo Line. Again, it is a service provided to give the fans the latest information on Quo, but it seems there are often events or information that the fans would consider to be important that are not put on the Quo line. For example, when the Cambridge show as cancelled, a lot of people were worried because there was talk of Rick being rushed into Hospital. Surely you could have put a message on the Quo line saying "Rick's got a stomach virus - don't worry!"?

Mike Hrano: You'd be absolutely right - I hold my hands up to that and say that's an error on my part. One of the things I'm really proud of is that I brought that idea of a phone line to the fan club, and it is a really good way of rallying the troops and keeping people informed. The downside is that it's a premium rate line, and you've going to get people complaining that we're fleecing them of money. Now I did want to do that, I'd do a multi-option line - "Press one if you want to hear about Rick's stomach virus. Press two if you want to hear about Francis' breakfast........", and by the time you've heard the right option you've already spent 2 pounds. The one thing I'm trying to do is get people off the line as quickly as possible, because it's costing them money. I could change the message every day, but then I'd be accused of having nothing new on it. I always try to strike a balance between giving people information that I think they need to know, and not taking the piss. The point you raise about Cambridge is absolutely correct, and I raise my hands and say that was a misjudgement on my part.

Question: In the past the problem has been specifically with TV appearances, for example we were not told about a whole day of Quo on VH1. You've said in the past that you can't put things on there if you're not told about them - but surely as the link between the band and the fans, you should be told?

Mike Hrano: I should be told, yes. The question is, should the onus be on me to chase the people who know about this stuff for information, should those people give me the information when they know it, or should it be a mixture of both. The reality is that it's a mixture of both. It would be more helpful to me if I was copied on everything Quo did - but I'm not. I'm not privy to all the information that relates to the band, but you know what, neither are the band. I make that point, because I bet you Quo didn't even know they were on VH1. Without going into too much detail, there are things which certain people in the Quo network know that other people, including the band, don't know. If I'm given the news, I'll put it on the Quo line. That's what it's there for - it's not there for me to change it for the sake of it - just to make money. I acknowledge the problems with that. I get it right and I get it wrong - I try to get it more right than wrong.

Question: It's very clear reading FTMO that you have a very good rapport and working relationship with the band. Does this extend to David Walker and the rest of the Quo team?

Mike Hrano: Oh, certainly. I hope I'm not a self important person, I'm certainly not a self publicist, and there are times when I'm extremely flattered and surprised by the obvious importance that Quo and the people around Quo attach to me. There's 15 to 20 people who are considered integral to what Quo are doing, and I'm very proud to say that I am one of those. That's fantastic.

Question: Stepping away from your role in the fan-club, and using your knoledge of the music world which you've been involved with for many years, how do you see the work David's done with Quo since you became involved with the fanclub?

Mike Hrano: Well.....David's a very opinioned, loud, enthusiastic individual. I remember one story that's been told to me is that in the early days of him managing Quo, he'd actually be in the front row getting down with everyone else - in fact more than everyone else. In the end he was banned from being in the front because he put the band off! So there's no bigger fan of Status Quo than David Walker - he's their number 1 fan. David's style of management is very creatively led - he has ideas. Some of these ideas are perceived to be masterstrokes - some are perceived to be cabaret curcuit failures. But eihter way he has ideas, and it's David enthusiasm and love of the band that has maintained them to the year 2001. He's done some good things, he's done some bad things, he's done some indifferent things, but at least he's out there rooting for the band with everything in his power. Now I've no experience of any other Quo manager, but you can't knock what he's done, because he's got the best interest of the band at heart.

Question: And again, stepping away from FTMO, how do you see the position that Quo are in now, as opposed to the question they were in when you joined them almost 10 years ago?

Mike Hrano: It's a question of diminishing returns. When I stated working with Quo they were playing 3 sold out nights at Wembley Arena, that went down to 2 sold out nights, that went to 1 sold out night, and they're currently playing 1 almost sold out night. And in the case of the records, I've also watched the sales diminish. This last single was the first for a long time to miss the top 75, to the best of my knowledge. Just to side-track, the reason for that was because every other single Quo have released whilst I've been involved, has been driven by me doing a mailshot to all those on our database telling them the singles out. For this single, it was decided by the record company that they didn't need to do it. That's a wrong decision. So the record sales are declining, and that's not necessarily down to the music. In my opinion, and this is no disrespect to all those involved, Quo could do a lot worse than just not touring the UK every year, just do it every couple of years. Give people a breathing space, because Christmas comes every year unavoidably, and everyone's happy about that. But Quo are touring at such a pace in the UK that people can afford to say "I'm not going to go this year, I'll go next ear". If there might no be a next year, you'd go this year wouldn't you? In terms of their recorded material, "Under the Influence" is certainly the most cohesive fully formed representation of what I have come to know as Quo - and that's the way to go. Personally, I'd like to see Quo do the no covers, pure Quo tour - they're not as young as they used to be, but just get they're heads down and play the stuff that we all know and love to be played. I'd love to see that. I'd even buy a ticket for that.

Question: When we spoke to David a couple of years back, he was very strongly of the view that Quo are under fire from the music industry - from the press, the radio's, the music shows. He felt that Quo simply cannot compete with the music industry as it is at the moment. Do you agree with that?

Mike Hrano: Absolutely, I know because I manage artists and have to play that game as well. Quo can't compete with that, but that's where I might differ from other people, because I just don't think that a band like Quo needs to feel restricted by the rules. They have a huge fanbase, a huge groundswell of support - play to your strengths. Don't try and play the game - if the game that is required of you involves all the stuff David's spoken about, and you feel that's not appropriate, then just don't go there. Work out another way to service your fanbase, because if you service your solid fanbase, then the returns might diminish but you'll increase that fanbase because you'll be building it on something better. They'll bring along their mates, saying "You've got to see this band - and their mates will be blown away". Play to the people who like you, don't try and convince the one who don't.

Question: Well, I think that's about it from us, unless you've got anything more to add?

Mike Hrano: What I really want to say, if you can put this in somewhere - I do take a lot of flack, it does upset me, I'd be lying if I said it didn't. What I don' t appreciate is being called a total w***r on the website, by a woman who has never met me, who knows nothing about me whatsoever. It's very difficult for me not to respond to that. I don't appreciate reading the website and seeing a topic headed 'Shit NEC tickets - thanks Hrano', without people checking their facts first. I invite anybody who reads this, and has a problem with me, to have the balls to find me, and dare to say it to my face. Don't criticise me, and abuse me, from the comfort of your e-mail address. It's really very shallow, very annoying, and because it does upset me, it's really very de-motivating. You do find yourself saying 'why do I bother? Why do I put up with this?" Please don't do it. I'd just like to say - I'm here to provide a service. I'm open to all your comments - good or bad. In fact I'm more interested in the bad ones, as long as it is constructive. Just don't criticise me and abuse me on the web without knowing the full story. Thanks very much Mike.