Amy Lamé has been in office for around three months when we meet at Soho venue The Social. And to say it’s been a whirlwind 12 weeks for the capital’s first night czar would be a gross understatement.
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Artist management contracts have been known to contain some idiosyncratic clauses over the years, but the one buried deep inside Stuart Camp and Ed Sheeran’s contract at the artist’s behest is surely one of the most unusual.
“He’s inserted a clause that says I will be with him at all times, looking like I’m enjoying myself,” Camp laughs. “It gives the lawyers sleepless nights, like, Surely we could be in breach if there are pictures where I look grumpy? But I don’t have to actually enjoy myself. As long as I look like I am, that’s OK…”
Right now, his joy seems to be genuine. And he’s certainly been with Sheeran every step of the way during the singer-songwriter’s remarkable rise.
After his 2014 album X sold 2,948,802 copies, according to the Official Charts Company, Sheeran’s return was always going to be huge, but the innovative double-single release of Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill has turned it into a blockbuster event.
Both tracks broke the previous UK one-week streaming record, Shape Of You smashed the all-time Spotify record, while Sheeran became the first artist to have the Top 2 UK singles for five weeks in a row.
So no wonder Rocket Music Management’s Camp answers the door at his newly-done-up house in the nice part of Clapham with his trademark smile on his face.
His still-unpacked suitcase from his Grammys trip (Sheeran performed at the ceremony, as he did at the BRITs) is still in the hall, his house refurb is so recent he doesn’t know where the sugar is and he’s fighting off the effects of glandular fever, but he seems perfectly relaxed in what he terms “the eye of the storm” before the most anticipated album since Adele’s 25.
But then, Camp’s experiences with Sheeran have taught him to be unfazed where others might be daunted, as the ginger kid with the guitar and the loop pedal has made the impossible look pretty darn easy at every turn.
Camp actually started on the label side of things, first at Infectious then, when that was bought by Warner, at East West, which in turn became Atlantic.
He was product manager for a bunch of American rock bands and James Blunt when Rocket’s Todd Interland finally persuaded him to try life on the other side of the fence as Blunt’s day-to-day manager.
By his own admission, he “took to it pretty quickly”. Later, he looked after Lily Allen before taking on Sheeran in 2009. Sheeran was homeless and had been turned down by almost every label in the country, but Camp took him on, let him sleep on the sofa at his place (then considerably smaller than his current abode) and, slowly but surely, helped guide him to international superstardom.
Today, Sheeran is his only client, “the last thing I think of before I go to bed and the first thing I think about when I wake up”.
Right now, those thoughts are full of dizzying projections for global first week sales and touring plans that will take him and Sheeran up until at least summer 2018, not to mention the constant Sheeran-related questions from Camp’s own 119,000 Twitter followers.
But there’s still time for him to warn Music Week about his “potentially vicious” cats and sit down to talk streaming, stadiums and social media strategy…
Who actually had the idea for the two singles?
Me, [Atlantic president] Ben Cook and Ed were sitting in Ed’s house in Suffolk, arguing over which one should be the single.
We were just going round in circles, pros and cons, pros and cons. Then it was like, The album’s called Divide, why don’t we have both sides? It was a Eureka moment which, at any one point over the next few years, one of us will claim to have been solely their idea, but it was pretty mutual.
Had you been arguing for different singles beforehand, then?
Yeah. You can probably guess who wanted which. Ed wanted Castle, I was very much either/or. I could see the merits of both. But that’s why we weren’t falling out or coming to a decision, because everyone knew that the other was a very good argument as well.
How are you feeling about the album?
Very confident now. We know the market’s there, we know people want and are desperate to hear more music, so it’s now more a case of seeing where those numbers land.
Does it feel like an even bigger deal now?
It does to a certain degree, but there’s less pressure. We could have been worried if one of these singles had fallen off quite quickly, if they hadn’t been doing quite as well, we might have been, Ooh, how’s the album going to do? But we now know that there’s the demand there. I’m just desperate to get it out, we just want people to hear it.
Do you worry about fulfilling industry/retail expectations at all?I do worry that some people might be getting a little silly on what they expect. But I’m not worried about it. Does that sound horribly conceited? There’s someone very close to me and this project who thinks it’ll do 350K [in week one] and I’d be very happy with that. That’s one of your best band’s lifetime best sales.
Even the big sales are usually around 200K. So I’d be ecstatic. But really I’m thinking, What will we have sold by the end of 2018? It’s about the long game.
Has streaming changed the dynamics of selling an album like this?
Yeah. It might not necessarily be about the album sales and what they tot up to, but at the end of the day we just want as many people as possible to hear the music, because our primary business is still live.
If people are hearing it on whatever, I can’t feel too bad [because] they might buy a ticket. It’s about getting out there as much as possible.
The album will debut on streaming services on release day. Are you a believer in streaming?
Absolutely, 100%. Always. We were always over-indexing on streaming, even from the first record. We became the poster boys for Spotify to a certain degree, before anyone else really latched on.
In the years since the last record, it’s caught up and it’s now taken over for everybody. But we were always that act.
So far, your touring plans look relatively low-key. Are there bigger things to come?
Yeah. In 2018, we just do stadiums. I knew three nights at The O2 would be an underplay and create a bit of fuss, but I didn’t realise quite how much.
But to be fair, we wanted to play this year and we can’t do all the stadiums all the time, because they’re weather dependent, so we knew we’d do arenas first. But in summer ‘18 there’s a lot of outdoor shows, a proper stadium tour, even obscure stadiums!
Were you disappointed by the secondary ticketing furore around the dates?
It’s always a shame. We do what we can to try and stop the bastards putting them on the secondary market, but you’re always going to get it.
A load of people bought tickets on [secondary sites], even though we told them not to, quite explicitly and they were getting billed for three or four grand. Everyone comes back to us like, What are you going to do about it? It is frustrating.
I’d love to do a Glastonbury model where it’s names and tickets but even that is just a pain in the arse for everyone.
You’ve got to balance it with what’s actually a good fan experience for buying a ticket. It’s an on-going thing and we’ll be looking at it even further for the stadium shows. Hopefully we’re doing enough shows so that the people who want to see us can, and aren’t spending hundreds of pounds.
Why has Ed connected as well as he has?
The music’s great and he just comes across well as a person. It’s been the same since Day One, everyone has wanted us to do well and people have been cheering for him. That helps.
He’s not a jack of all trades, but he does go across genres, he gets so many different people championing him, from grime acts to hoary old rockers, everyone just gets it and he does tick a hell of a lot of boxes, but without weakening him in any areas or looking like we’re going for a compromise.
He’s crossing those barriers and he just does it perfectly. He is sometimes quite sensitive about it, especially for Sing and Shape Of You, that was a little out of his comfort zone, so will people think he’s jumping on a bandwagon? But with him, if it’s good there’s no barrier to it becoming an Ed Sheeran song.
Does it help that he came up the hard way? Will he be the last superstar to make it like that?
You’d imagine so. Everyone else is either looking for or expecting a quick fix in this internet age. But for years before I met him, he had CDs in his rucksack and was sleeping in railway stations and doing all sorts. He really slogged it from the age of 14.
Did you always think he was going to make it?
Yeah. Not that I put a limit on it in my head, but I never at the time thought he’d be playing Wembley Stadium or anything like that, but I always knew there’d be a market for him.
When he came to me, he’d exhausted his turning up at record labels, chubby and ginger and that’s when we just took a year out of it.
He did the No.5 Collaborations Project EP. When that first charted, we were out walking in Richmond Park and we were like, How do I screengrab this, it’s No.55 on iTunes, thinking that was amazing.
Twenty minutes later it was No.10 and by teatime it was No.1. That was a nice day. That’s when the labels started coming back to us. He thought the doors were all closed and that’s when he thought, Fuck it, I’ll just do it myself. He’d been around but bless him, he didn’t give up.
Have you ever fallen out with each other?
Never. It was almost unspoken, we knew the mission and we were making progress. There are certain things we disagree on, but eventually we come round to each other’s way of thinking.
I don’t care how we get there or who gets the credit, as long as we get there. I saw everything and anything in life [with previous clients]. Ed’s always like, Am I a pain in the arse? And I’m always telling him, Yeah, you’re terrible, knowing full well that I have literally put my head into the mouth of the lion. You learn a lot in those situations.
How would you describe your management style?
I think I’m very fair and understanding. I’m not a shouter, silence scares people more. Having been on the other side, I knew the managers I loved and ultimately you’d always work harder for them.
So you try and be that person. There were so many managers in the late ‘90s, mentioning no names, where you’d be like, You’re an arsehole.
That was before the spirit of [legendary Led Zeppelin manager] Peter Grant had completely disappeared and everyone was just going, I’ve got to be a complete c-u-n-t, that’s the only way to get things to happen. And it isn’t at all.
The managers I got on with were people like Tav [Alt-J/Wolf Alice manager Stephen Taverner] and CJ [Raw Power Management CEO Craig Jennings]; they have their moments, but they were still decent and fair and would listen to you, even when I was the 20-year-old kid.
Your bond with Ed sometimes looks less like business and more like friendship…
I think that’s important. Some people always refer to their acts as my client and I’ve never been one of them. Our bond comes from living together and, glandular fever aside, I do everything with him. If you want an act to get up at 5am to do bloody German breakfast TV that’s going to be hell, at least be standing next to him when he does it. You can’t expect otherwise. There’s no airs and graces between us, we speak our minds.
What’s different about managing him now, compared to the early days?
Not a lot to be honest. He certainly hasn’t changed as a person. There are bigger things and I’m spinning more plates but, as a whole, it’s no easier or harder. We’ve always had that same attitude. We want as many people to hear the stuff as possible.
His whole attitude is, If I’ve made a record I’m proud of, I will do anything and everything to promote it. He’s not one of those people who’s like, I’ve had two No.1 albums, you can fuck off. He was really looking forward to getting back on the promo trail.
Six weeks later he’s still like, eah, bring it on, two hours sleep, Dutch TV.
Meanwhile, you’ve become a cult figure yourself on social media…
I only ever went on Twitter so I could see where Lily Allen was when I was looking after her. And then when we put [Sheeran’s] first tour on sale after the album was released, we literally broke the internet at 9am and I couldn’t get hold of anyone.
I had to get on Twitter and put the fire out and it snowballed from there. So now, when people ask me sensible questions, I try and answer as many as I can. My father was trying to show my very elderly neighbour what I did for a living and he came across some [Tumblr] site entitled Stuart Camp Gives Less Fucks Than The Virgin Mary. I got in trouble for it. I was like, I’m 38 years old, why am I in trouble for this, it’s not my fault...
Do you have targets for this campaign?
I know Ed would love to do 20 million albums off this one record, that’s his personal one. We did 14m of X, so... Let’s see! Beyond that, we don’t know.
There are folders on Ed’s laptop that have the next three albums on them, though that might change. He has his little secret ambitions for every campaign, which he never tells anyone until after the event. The Wembleys were the last one, he hasn’t told me what this album’s are and he won’t until after we’ve done them.
Where do you see the two of you being 10 years from now?
We’ll be at the end of what may be Phase 1. He’s got a clear plan - he knows the titles for the next two records, it won’t take a genius to work out what they may be! I’d like to think we’ll still be relevant and I’m sure we will be. He wants to be [like] Springsteen, career-wise. He’s definitely in it for the long haul.
And finally, have they asked you to do next year’s Super Bowl yet?
No. I’m not sure we want to do it. It’s always been a strong point for us that he’s a solo act on stage but, for that, you really have got to have the fire-breathers and dancers. I’d love them to ask us. I’m just thinking what we’d do for a show like that, but I’m sure Taylor Swift’s got an album out this year...
Selling more than four times as many copies as any other album, Human spends a second week atop the UK chart for Rag'N'Bone Man, and also remains at the summit in Ireland. It loses pole position in the Netherlands (1-2), Flanders (1-3) and the Czech Republic (1-5), and also heads south in Wallonia (2-3), Germany (2-5), New Zealand (6-8) and Italy (12-21) while climbing 27-23 in Sweden.
But it snares a further phalanx of debuts, opening atop the chart in Switzerland and at No.2 in France, No.3 in Australia, No.4 in Austria and Slovakia, No.5 in Denmark, No.9 in Canada, No.14 in Poland, No.15 in Finland, No.17 in Norway, No.62 in South Korea, No.70 in Spain and No.126 in the USA. The Canadian and US charts are usually quite similar, so it is a little surprising that Human makes the Top 10 in the former, and falls short of the Top 100 in the latter. That's because the single of the same name is doing much better north of the 49th parallel, climbing 65-53 in the Canadian singles chart - and topping the modern rock airplay chart - while it has still to crack America's Hot 100.
Human's continued presence atop the UK chart denies Scottish singer/songwriter Amy Macdonald her second No.1, with fourth album Under Stars debuting at No.2. Under Stars also opens at No.2 in Germany, where it comes within an ace of becoming Macdonald's third straight No.1, losing out to local singer/songwriter Philipp Poisel's first No.1, Mein Amerika. Also at No.18 in the Netherlands and Wallonia and No.21 in Flanders, Under Stars makes a disappointing debut at No.75 in Ireland, where all Macdonald's previous albums have berthed in the Top 30.
No.3 on the compilation chart in the UK, the soundtrack to 50 Shades Darker is granted admission to the main album chart in most other countries and is off to a roaring start, debuting at No.1 in Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland and the USA. Home to Zayn & Taylor Swift's international smash single I Don't Wanna Live Forever and new recordings from John Legend, Nick Jonas & Nicki Minaj, Sia, Halsey, JP Cooper, Tove Lo and Kygo, among others, it is also No.2 in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Poland and Slovakia, No.3 in Germany and Switzerland, No.4 in Flanders and New Zealand, No.5 in Wallonia and No.10 in Spain.
Leader of prog. rock band Porcupine Tree and solo artist in his own right, 49-year-old Steven Wilson is also half of occasional duo Blackfield (alongside Israeli singer Aviv Geffen), with four previous albums by the pair achieving a considerable amount of success overseas. Their fifth album, suitably entitled V, marked their first visit to the UK chart, debuting there at No.54 last week. It has also secured debuts in the last two weeks in Germany (No.13), the Netherlands (No.16), Poland (No.18), Greece (No.33), Finland (No.43), Austria (No.46), Switzerland (No.48), Flanders (No.115), Wallonia (No.118) and France (No.155).
Finally, Adele's 25 continues its Grammy-fuelled recovery, climbing again in Canada (12-3), the Netherlands (4-3), Australia (7-4), the USA (21-6), Flanders (16-8), the Czech Republic (33-9), Slovakia (39-10), Austria (17-11), Wallonia (12-11), Denmark (21-13), Norway (14-13), Switzerland (31-15), Finland (27-20), Spain (42-22), Italy (35-33) and France (67-42), while re-entering the chart in Argentina (No.7), Japan (No.19), Portugal (No.25) and Poland (No.35).