Nathan Joseph

The Stage

Founder of Transatlantic Records, a leading British independent record company in the sixties and seventies, Nathan Joseph discovered entertainers such as Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly. He later became a respected producer and agent in British theatre, working with Arnold Wesker, Alec McCowen and Brian Clark, among many others.

Born on July 23, 1939, Joseph started Transatlantic from scratch in 1961 as a 21- year-old Cambridge graduate. A trip to the US had given him a taste for American roots music, including blues, jazz, folk and ragtime – genres hard to find in UK record stores. He began by importing albums by artists such as Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy and countless others, which found their way into the hands of future Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, Zeppelins and Fleetwood Macs.

By 1964 Joseph hankered to mine Britain’s own burgeoning musical talents. Uninterested in pure pop, he gravitated to roots artists. Transatlantic became pivotal in the British folk revival as Joseph discovered and marketed raw talents such as Ralph McTell, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, the Dubliners and Pentangle. His eclectic taste led him to produce seminal recordings by blues, rock and jazz performers, ranging from Alexis Korner and Gerry Rafferty to Annie Ross and Sheila Hancock. He released controversial recordings by Malcolm X, Allen Ginsberg, Frank Zappa and Lenny Bruce. Transatlantic’s edgy signings and guerilla marketing became the template for the British indie record companies that followed such as Island, Virgin, Chrysalis, Charisma and Stiff.

He also discovered and launched Billy Connolly, who had been a middling Scottish folk singer until Joseph shrewdly observed that his inter-song patter was more entertaining than his music. Taking a gamble, Joseph produced Connolly’s breakthrough comedy albums and astutely marketed him to great success.

By the mid-seventies Joseph tired of the limitations of the record industry and sold Transatlantic to Sidney Bernstein’s Granada Group, hoping the amalgamation would emulate the then recent absorption into the US Warner Bros family of David Geffen and his Asylum Records. But when Granada rejected his advice to sign Paul Simon’s publishing, Joseph drew a line in the sand and departed.

Chastened by the disappointing denouement to his 16 years of Transatlantic success, he decided to embark on a fresh endeavour and applied his entrepreneurial energies to producing plays.

With his Freeshooter production company, Joseph staged plays by Brian Clark, including Kipling, directed by Patrick Garland and starring Alec McCowen, and The Petition, directed by Sir Peter Hall and starring Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, both of whom received Tony nominations.

Other Joseph productions included the British staging of The March of the Falsettos and Sassoon, featuring Peter Barkworth. Joseph also presented the touring revival of Godspell and a series of very successful touring shows for young children.

His love for theatre led him to develop a separate agency through which he successfully represented talents such as playwright Arnold Wesker, who said of him: “Nat Joseph was an agent who was a father, brother and uncle figure rolled up in one, which made him also a special quality of friend. More, he was a thorough negotiator who was passionate about my work.”

Perhaps Joseph’s greatest legacy to British theatre was his pioneering representation of stage and lighting designers, who, prior to Joseph, had been woefully under-represented by agents. Joseph sought out raw talent at art schools and championed their skills tirelessly in a manner more akin to personal management.

Early clients included stage designers Robert Jones, Rauri Murchison and lighting designer Jason Taylor, all of whom were nascent talents when signed by Joseph. By the time he folded his agency in 2000, Joseph represented 25 clients, including noted stage and opera designers Pamela Howard, Michael Holt and Kevin Knight, leading directors Jonathan Church and Mark Clements and award-winning lighting designers Tim Mitchell and Jon Linstrum.

Joseph was a council member of the Theatrical Management Association (1991-3), a member of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) for 20 years and chairman of the Theatre Design Trust.

A clever man with a mischievous sense of humour, Joseph wrote poetry and had a passion for literature, cricket and tennis. Ian McKellen commented: “Nat Joseph was warm, witty and extremely intelligent. He was a very canny businessman but he had the soul of a true artist.”

Joseph died peacefully in his sleep on August 30. He had been fighting a courageous battle with Parkinson’s disease for five years. He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Sarah, and two sons, Joshua and Gideon.

Martin Lewis

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