Keith Altham

Bingley, Staffs, 1965

Keith Altham is the rock industry's best-known publicist whose career spanned nearly four decades. From his unique perspective as a music journalist, broadcaster and PR, Keith saw the real people behind the public façades and witnessed the back-biting and scandal.
"Keith Altham was PR for The Who in the mid 70's. He is a hard taskmaster who was always good to his word. He always returned calls and he knew all Fleet Street's movers and shakers, Music PR was then a recent invention, and had not yet become a trendy career - in fact nobody really knew what it was. Not only was Keith the 'PR man of the moment' - representing artists such as The Who, T Rex, Ten Years After, Uriah Heep and Eric Burdon - but he was also a friend and confidante of figures such as Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend in a way that doesn't happen now. Before doing PR he'd been features editor of the NME."
Alan Edwards The Independent, 2004
Back in 1965, working for New Musical Express, he was sent to a London recording studio to interview Van Morrison to mark the release of the début album from Them. After being kept waiting for some considerable time, Altham spotted Morrison reading a newspaper, strolled up to him and gently enquired when the interview might commence. Without looking up from his paper and demonstrating the silver-tongued charm for which he would become noted, Morrison snorted, 'Fuck off, can't you see I'm busy.' Mick Jagger, Sting, and Paul Weller are just a few of the other famous names that have earned his wrath over the years.

Altham has rarely had a derogatory word to say about Slade. He has however, relayed anecdotes about their Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle and other incidents with Chas Chandler, with whom he struck up a long friendship.

When The Experience played with The Walker Brothers at the Finsbury Park Astoria in London, Hendrix and Chandler debated how they could liven up their act.

Altham said that as Pete Townshend smashed up his guitar, it was a pity Hendrix couldn't set his on fire:
"Chas immediately ordered his roadie Gerry Stickells to get some lighter fuel. Jimi only ever set fire to his guitar three times but it made history."
In his book, The PR Strikes Back (John Blake Publishing, 2001), Altham recounts his first meeting with Slade in the summer of 1969.

”The group brain then appeared to be owned by one Jimmy Lea, who played bass and electric violin and had fiddled on the fringe of the National Youth Orchestra. Surrounded by mayhem and maniacs, he bore the pained expression of a highly-strung young man being driven to the edge of a nervous breakdown by the rest of... (the group) – a not entirely inaccurate assessment of his subsequent experience over the years.”
He joined them as their press agent and also wrote regularly about them in NME during their golden years. When they had their second coming in the early 80's, he once again became their press agent.

Since the turn of the millennium Altham has taken to writing about his experiences and has had two books published.


Alan Edwards is founder and chief executive of the Outside Organisation, a leading PR agency in the pop and showbusiness world.

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