Describing it as ‘the crown jewels’, Universal has vowed to celebrate Virgin’s 40th anniversary in style – and make it the No.1 label in the UK.
Virgin/EMI UK president Ted Cockle told Music Week he “couldn’t be more fortuitous” to be taking over the iconic brand as it celebrates “40 years of disruption” and promised a renaissance that will establish it as market leader in recorded music sales. He commented: “It’s crystal clear that that’s the goal. I don’t think Lucian left anyone in any doubt about that. The aim is to be No.1 and that’s said in a measured way, not as hyperbole.”
In 2012, under EMI’s ownership, Virgin took a 5% share of album sales, ranking it seventh behind Mercury, UMTV, Polydor, Columbia, Island and RCA. However, the combined share of Mercury and Virgin, now both housed in Cockle’s Virgin/EMI division, would have been 10.8%, ahead of RCA by 1.6 points.
Cockle continued: “It has been tough for them [Virgin] recently, with uncertainty surrounding ownership and resource, and to still have the best-selling album of the year [Our Version of Events by Emeli Sande] speaks volumes about what a special label this is.
“Even in the dirt at the side of the road Virgin would still sparkle and catch the eye. Now it’s being hyper-nourished within a strong, supportive system, we will see a renaissance worthy of its history. Combining the A&R strength of Nick Burgess and Mike Smith creates an incredible team and the result will undoubtedly be [Virgin/EMI] at No.1.”
Asked what makes the label special, Cockle evoked the name of Virgin’s founder, Richard Branson: “In some ways it’s Branson personified, that’s what I’m beginning to learn. He’s in the DNA, and if you ever take over the shop front, consciously or unconsciously, you feel that in the background and you want to make a splash. That makes us custodians of the brand, really – again, that’s something that Lucian has made very clear: our respect for Virgin’s achievements and values. It has a history of cultural disruption, from Mike Oldfield in 1973, through the Pistols, Boy George in the ‘80s, even the Spice Girls in their own way or the madness of Swedish House Mafia; somehow in some way they manage to disrupt things.
“Their high points tend to be higher than anyone else’s, it's all or nothing, boom or bust. Branson doesn't strike me as a man who likes to operate in the middle ground, and the same is true of Virgin. When they have success, it’s an explosion.”
Branson himself commented: “Virgin Records is where it all started for Virgin and 40 years later it’s great to see we are still being innovative. This exciting series of events is the perfect way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Virgin Records and the artists, from Mike Oldfield to Emeli Sande, who continue to disrupt the status quo.”
The Virgin celebrations begin in the autumn and include:
- An exhibition featuring photos, videos and memorabilia.
- An accompanying art book edited by music press legend Adrian Thrills
- A documentary produced by Leopard Films
- A series of live events hosted at Camden’s KOKO in October – featuring artists from the Virgin roster past and present
- A compilation CD on which current Virgin artists will cover classics from the label archive
- Virgin 40 compilations covering all four decades
Details of all events and releases will be announced over the next few weeks.