PEAK CHART POSITION: 3
As 2016 wore on, the gloss seemed to chip off Jack Garratt’s breakthrough, as it became obvious that his Phase debut would become the only one released by a winner of the BRITs Critics’ Choice not to achieve platinum sales in its first year.
But does that mean we should write the Buckinghamshire pop polymath off as a failure?
Not according to Island’s marketing director Guillermo Ramos, who says the campaign would have been the same with or without the accolade and speaks of Garratt with enough passion to rattle anyone who says otherwise.
“It was a huge jump-off point,” he says of winning the award. “The weight it carries in this country reverberates internationally, so it was fantastic.”
Ramos says neither artist nor label felt the pressure of the Critics’ Choice title and reflects on the campaign happily. “It meant more eyeballs on us, but we had a Top 3 album, Jack’s is the biggest UK debut of the year… We ran a successful campaign in a changing market environment.”
But doesn’t the lack of a No.1 and falling short of the figures Adele, Emeli Sandé and Garratt’s other predecessors reached still niggle?
“If we’re measuring sales, we should probably compare the kind of albums they made. One of the reasons people voted for Jack would’ve been how different he was to the previous winners,” counters Ramos.
“He made a hugely exciting, genre-bending album which is hardly how you’d describe a lot of previous winners, if you look at Adele, Ellie Goulding and Tom Odell. If anything, what Jack did was show the BRITs attracts a more diverse range of artists. That was as good for the BRITs as it was for us. The commercial result is only one little element.”
Ramos says Island’s plan for Garratt was always long-term. With the way streaming is affecting album sales, he says labels will “probably need to look at how debuts fare after 24 or 36 months”. For this marketing director, a good campaign isn’t just about first year sales. “Jack is an artist proposition, an album proposition. We’re very happy with what we’ve done to set up his next record,” he says.
And listening to Ramos pick that apart, Garratt’s 2016 takes on another complexion.
Island started, he says, with the music. “We’ve seen some interesting bedroom producers and glitchy electronica acts over the past few years, but it’s not every day you combine that with a classically trained pianist and a virtuoso blues guitarist, someone who can hold maybe three, but certainly two octaves pretty solidly.”
Garratt, Ramos says, has creativity to complement his musicianship. “His artistic ideas make our job very fun. Jack came to every meeting with lots of ideas, and I always said to him, I’m only gonna pipe up if I disagree. Why not bring the Jack Garratt world to life?”
After cementing Garratt’s musical position, the label set about exposing what makes him tick, keeping the singer at the centre of things by encouraging his social media use.
“Now we can look back and feel everyone could discover who he was, his ideas, interests and opinions,” Ramos concludes. “When people seek to discover more about an artist what they find has to be genuine and, ultimately, fantastic music always wins out.”
PEAK CHART POSITION: 1
LABEL: Virgin EMI
For Blossoms, the tide started to turn when Ian Brown marched up to singer Tom Ogden last December and asked if they’d support The Stone Roses at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium. The bands were at a party celebrating the birthday of SJM’s Conrad Murray, who manages both acts.
On the phone to Music Week at the end of a year in which the Stockport five-piece have seen their
chart-topping Virgin EMI debut go silver and shifted 60,000 tickets, Murray says he knew they were special from the start.
“I thought they looked and sounded like a classic band with huge potential. They are five unique personalities, Tom Ogden is a songwriting genius and not one of them has turned into an arsehole yet, which is both wonderful and a little worrying.”
Murray credits 13 Artists’ Charlie Myatt’s early involvement as “very important”, and acknowledges the crucial roles played by co-manager Dave Salmon and SJM’s Simon Moran and Luke Temple, in developing the tousle-haired indie boys.
With a committed Manchester-based team behind them and a growing fanbase in Stockport (Murray planned various residencies in the town with a view to a future headline stadium gig at Stockport County FC), Blossoms set about convincing everyone else.
Myatt says: “We put together a plan to build the live plot straight away and it was two years of solid touring before we topped the charts.”
Similar to Catfish And The Bottlemen before them, Blossoms gigged hard. “They had already sold out a 1,500 capacity in Manchester and were doing very well across the UK before Virgin came in,” continues Myatt. “They signed them on their third EP and Ted [Cockle, president], Clive [Cawley, managing director], Nick [Burgess, SVP, A&R], Jodie [Cammidge, director, national radio] and the team have done a great job.”
Cawley can barely conceal his excitement when he takes Music Week’s call. “It was EPs, touring, merch bundles, album bundles… Fan engagement, I’d say,” he explains. “We went back to the well on tracks, we’ve gone back on Charlemagne twice, we never gave up. They’re one of the few artists to have A-list at [BBC] Radio 1, 2 and 6. It’s pretty niche to develop them that way. MistaJam played them on 1Xtra, that was a touch. We’ve done TVs, festivals… it’s all culminating in Jools Holland at Christmas, which is fucking great!”
Of the record’s battle to become the biggest-selling UK debut of the year, Cawley says, “We came out in week 28, so it’s amazing to be up there against Zayn [63,744 at the time of going to press] and Jack Garratt - who both released earlier - as a brand new band.”
Unsurprisingly, Murray and Myatt agree. Myatt cites “guitar music not being flavour of the month” as the campaign’s biggest challenge, while Murray is even more explicit. “There’s a lack of love for guitar bands in some areas of the industry, and if they’re northern that makes it worse,” he says. “It’s a load of old crap, it’s not like there’s no appetite for it. People are scared of getting behind it.”
The team behind Blossoms weren’t, and Cawley, Murray and Myatt are unanimous in predicting the band will become arena and festival headliners.
As Myatt concludes: “The sky is the limit for them.”
PEAK CHART POSITION: 1
LABEL: Sony Music/WTW Music
Over at Sony, the team behind Hampshire-born twin sister country duo Ward Thomas built an entirely different campaign for an equally emphatic breakthrough record.
With this duo, comprised of siblings Catherine and Lizzy, the major takeaway is that they became the first British country band to reach No.1 in the albums chart.
The album in question, Cartwheels, has sold 58,365 copies to date and was the band’s second. For Jon Cauwood, marketing director, commercial group, Sony Music, the love affair began long before its release.
“I first heard them on [BBC] Radio 2 a good two years ago,” he says. “Being a country fan – a rare breed – I got hold of their [first] album and loved it. I met their management with no particular agenda, then when label discussions started we wanted to be included.”
Cauwood says the plan to build towards an end of summer release came together quickly, largely because the major was keen to capitalise on the duo’s existing fanbase (2014 debut From Where We Stand sold well and now sits on 32,815) and so immediately honed in on a strategy.
“The one thing we wanted to use was the fact that they’re great songwriters and vocalists,” he explains. “There was a lot of online work leading in to the album, across socials and the Snug Sessions they recorded.
“The early ones were filmed in their attic. Cover versions. We wanted to upgrade that a bit, but it was still just them and their voices, whether their own songs or covers. Simply, it’s great harmonies and a natural ability to write and perform,” he says.
Cauwood and the team were similarly sharp to utilise the chemistry between Catherine and Lizzy that can only come from being twins.
“Being twins gives them a uniqueness,” he continues. “They can feed off each other in conversation and in song. They’re aspirational but very grounded. Two 22-year-olds who can write great music, sing great and perform great. There’s no ego there and they work hard. There’s not much else around like them.”
Sony plans to continue to capitalise on that idea to further grow the band.
“We’ve kept working on their big [BBC] Radio 2 audience and also on breaking out of that to reach a bigger audience,” Cauwood explains. “We’ve built up TV appearances that don’t usually come to an act that’s just starting off.”
Like the machine behind Blossoms, Ward Thomas’ team see them as a career band. “It’s done what we hoped it would. We’re looking forward to the album getting to six figures in 2017,” Cauwood says.
Of course, the big story with Ward Thomas is that No.1, and Cauwood believes its impact will extend beyond the band.
“It’s a big deal, it’s helping the genre to grow,” he finishes. “Our success is opening doors for US acts here, people are saying they like the music and didn’t realise. Ward Thomas aren’t singing about beer and trucks, but the songwriting and work ethic country is renowned for is definitely there.”