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Mike Smith's true value to Mercury: past, present and future

Mike Smith's true value to Mercury: past, present and future

A couple of cold, tart pints of Strongbow sunk last September, this was what I'd been so tantalisingly promised when signing on the music industry's dotted line: a boozy Friday afternoon peep behind the "we're all just fans deep down" pantomime - and a slice of old-fashioned passionate intra-trade fury.

Then something odd happened. A wound-up Lamacq suddenly offered a brief, sobering footnote.

As he painted the uncharitable portent of Lucian Grainge and Simon Cowell ruthlessly squabbling over the last morsels of major label power, Lamacq qualified that Mike Smith was different; that he was "there in the A&R trenches at the end of the Eighties". Mike might have sullied his indie nobility by working amongst the murky pop-churning world of the majors, but he would not face this particular firing squad.

Mike, Lamacq seemed to note, would always be one of us.

One of us: an emotive, intangible sentiment that Kasabian's Serge Pizzorno - usually self-admittedly indifferent about music business personnel - also proudly adopted when discussing Smith in Music Week's recent pages.

"Deep down, Mike just fucking loves music - and there's not many of them around in the higher jobs," he said. "I have total respect for him on that level."

Both lovely commendations, but can Smith - whose astonishing A&R track record speaks, screams and wails for itself - remain quite so soulfully untarnished amongst the indie and muso community now he's joined the all-powerful echelons of Universal?

(Interesting to note that his arrival coincides with news that the iTunes Festival will once again favour Sony acts in its 2012 line-up, not Universal's; an intriguing backdrop to Mr. Grainge's argument that it is digital and tech giants, not an EMI-owning Universal, who hold the most power in deciding industry winners and losers.)

Label pissing competitions aside, I for one can't wait to watch Mike get to work with the likes of Jake Bugg and Karima Francis, whose eyes will surely widen into strung-out saucers when he modestly reels off some of the artists whose careers he's assisted in years gone by.

Yet, with Devil's Advocate hat on, it will even more fascinating to see which artists, still personally loyal to the exec, follow him over the Universal threshold when album deals expire in the coming months.

Mercury president Jason Iley - whose iron will and serrated bargaining aggression Smith clearly lauds - used telling, meticulous language when I asked him about the lure of his new signing's little black book.

"Mike's formed some incredibly strong relationships during his time in music," he said. "Acts are loyal to those relationships."

That's a powerful, unwritten attribute in any executive that can't be demonstrated by a printed CV: one Iley - and those Mercury-signed superstars U2 - know about all too well.

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