An amazing unpaid gesture is coming out the closet to haunt Elton…and more damagingly…may block the plans of Canadian drinks and leisure giant Seagram take over the world’s largest entertainments group Polygram.
As reported in Britain’s Express On Sunday newspaper August 16, 1998, disabled ex-War Serviceman from Southend Kirk Duncan is trying to block the £6.5 billion merger of Seagram and PolyGram – because he believes he was cheated out of royalties 30 years ago.
In a theme that sounds almost reminiscent of Elton and Bernie Taupin‘s only partly successful bid to win back rights to songs in the Dick James Music portfolio in the mid-1980s Kirk Duncan, now 55, claims he is entitled to a share of the publisher’s copyright of songs written by Elton and Bernie in the first six years of their professional life.
The total royalties could run into millions of pounds. PolyGram now holds the rights and Duncan – hoping, in the words of an
Elton hit, that the company “don’t go breaking my heart” – intends to stop Canadian drinks and leisure giant Seagram acquiring the company until his case has been heard.
“I am seeking an injunction because I want recognition of the fact that I was ripped off,” said Duncan. “All these people have been collecting my money for years.
“Elton has done nothing wrong. And PolyGram is involved only because the rights passed to it. But I and my two partners (Nicky James and Ray Williams) helped found the half-billion pound industry called Elton John. And the only money I have ever seen is £250 from a demo disc of Tartan Coloured Lady I sold at auction last year.”
The story begins in 1967 when Duncan, who wrote the theme to U.K. Independent Television’s children programme Magpie, had a contract with Gralto, publishing company of the Hollies.
Gralto was managed by Dick James Music. Dick James, a one-time crooner, was regarded as one of the toughest operators in the music business, and created an unrelated situation later challenged by Elton and Bernie in the courts.
Under the Gralto contract, Duncan and his partner Nicky James (no relation) could introduce songs by other writers. If they made money, the copyrights were to be transferred into a new company half-owned by Duncan, Nicky and their manager Ray Williams. It was Williams who brought John and Taupin together. Both were in their teens.
Duncan said: “Bernie was writing poems full of adolescent angst. Elton saw his own future composing, not singing.
“I worked long hours with Elton recording demos. He was still under age so his mother countersigned his contracts. Bernie even came to live with me and my family for a month. He talked of packing it in and we wanted to persuade him otherwise.”
Duncan added: “Eventually I collapsed in the studio – I was suffering from a back injury sustained on an army assault course.” He still receives a disability pension – his only regular income. While he was away recovering, Duncan claims, Dick James realised the potential of John and Taupin.
“He simply ignored our contract and signed them direct to Dick James Music,” said Duncan. “I was in no position to fight. I was a prat not to but I was busy working with Spencer Davis and Graham Nash, of Crosby Stills and Nash.
“It was only when I read Philip Norman‘s account of these events in his biography of Elton that I thought I should have a go. Seagram’s proposed purchase of PolyGram gives me that chance.”
Elton John’s management company would not comment to the Express newspaper. Nor would Seagram, though a source close to the company said: “All acquisitions seem to have barnacles sticking to them.”
Should Duncan lose he will no doubt reflect ruefully on the title of another of Elton’s hits, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.
Lawyers say all he can realistically hope for is that someone will feel generous – Elton himself, perhaps, or even Edgar Bronfman Jnr, chief of Seagram and one of the richest men in the US.
Bronfman, 42, loves rock music and is no mean lyricist himself. He should be in a good mood; he was a leader in the talks that led to last week’s settlement of Jewish claims for compensation from Swiss banks, reported the Express article.
[Ed. We were unable to establish whether plaintiff Duncan is related to Lesley Duncan, the singer-songwriter with Elton in the late 1960s.]