It’s a long way from playing rock ‘n’ roll shows to hobnobbing in the rarefied world of international art auctions.
But Mick Fleetwood, the lanky drummer of veteran rock band Fleetwood Mac, has made the transition in several quick strides, co-founding an auction house that specializes in the lucrative field of music and movie memorabilia.
Prestigious sales of Picassos and Warhols now compete for investors’ dollars with rock paraphernalia like a John Lennon piano or a Jimi Hendrix guitar.
Fleetwood Owen Ltd., which Fleetwood co-founded with veteran auction broker Ted Owen, aims to compete with giants like Sotheby’s Holdings Inc. and closely held Christie’s.
London-based Fleetwood Owen is currently selling by sealed bid the estate of “fifth Beatle” Stuart Sutcliffe, who died of a brain hemorrhage a year after leaving the pop group in 1961. It hopes to realize more than $4.5 million from his sketches, photos and correspondence.
The company recently organized an online auction where such items as a Madonna cowboy hat and a guitar owned by Noel Gallagher of Oasis went under the virtual hammer.
“Being in the entertainment business, we generally have quite a lot of fun and it’s also – I won’t say educational – but it is fascinating,” Fleetwood, 54, said in a recent interview.
OFF WITH BRITNEY’S BRA
A sentimental sort by his own admission, Fleetwood uses his contacts in the business to unearth pop music memorabilia held by collectors who have spent a lifetime accumulating items. He often asks them if they’re sure they want to part with their beloved goods, because “once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
But owners of a Britney Spears bra or a Backstreet Boys lunch box would be advised to unload their tchotchke with haste, Owen said in a separate interview, because their value will not hold.
“Steer clear of manufactured bands, one-hit-wonders. Same with movies: little cult movies that crop up now and again,” said Owen, also 54, an expert on psychedelic posters who wrote an acclaimed book on the subject, “High Art.”
Fleetwood Owen’s biggest deal to date is last year’s $2 million sale of the upright piano on which Lennon composed “Imagine.” Pop singer George Michael was the lucky bidder.
Not surprisingly, Beatles stuff is the best investment. But items related to Hendrix, the Doors, Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones are also blue-chip bets. Among younger acts, Owen recommends U2, Madonna and even Robbie Williams, a former pop heartthrob who is gaining respectability.
He estimates that the colorful costumes the Fab Four wore on the “Sgt. Pepper’s” album would sell for $1.4 million each. The only problem is that each Beatle has his own suit. A set of Beatle lyrics that was selling for as low as $7,000 a decade ago could now fetch as much as $600,000. But again, they are rare.
Beatles autographs are more plentiful, but many are fake – often signed by fan club officials, or by an individual Beatle adeptly forging all four signatures. Fleetwood Owen employs a full-time staffer who does nothing but examine Beatle signatures and can tell their origin at a glance.
THE NEXT DONALD TRUMP?
Fleetwood and Owen knew each other in the London club scene of the late 1960s before going their own ways: Fleetwood overseeing Fleetwood Mac’s transformation from U.K. blues combo to Anglo-American pop stars, and Owen emerging as a celebrity memorabilia expert with stints at the major auction firms.
They got reacquainted about two years ago, formed Fleetwood Owen with $4.5 million in independent financing and in July merged it with eWanted, a closely held auction marketplace operation based in Santa Clara, California.
Fleetwood Owen is just one of Fleetwood’s entrepreneurial activities. He is also involved in a company that makes word-identification technologies and has his own label, Tallman Records, through which he is nurturing several developing artists.
He once ventured into the murky Russian business world where a gas company was seeking funding for a pipeline. Those talks did not come to fruition.
Fleetwood cited the “surviving element and the guts” of New York real estate mogul Donald Trump as an inspiration, and he has read a few of Trump’s books.
“People think he’s a bit showbizzy here and there, and maybe he is. But this man is a major survivor,” Fleetwood said.
With regard to his own memorabilia, Fleetwood regrets not keeping too many Fleetwood Mac items over the years, and has vowed to be more careful in the future. He is building a “fairly reasonable load” of posters from the band’s early days.
“It’s a cool – actually not horribly expensive – way of really getting a good insight into a piece of your background,” he said.