The return of the Space Cowboy: Virgin EMI president Ted Cockle on Jamiroquai's big comeback

The return of the Space Cowboy: Virgin EMI president Ted Cockle on Jamiroquai's big comeback

“He’s got the bit between his teeth and doesn’t want to slip into oblivion, thankfully he’s got a few tunes in the artillery to come and whack people around the head with.”

Which returning ‘90s legend could Virgin EMI president Ted Cockle be talking about?

Here’s another clue: “He’s thinking, I don’t want to let this slip. You know, he has expensive taste, he has helicopters and incredible cars to maintain and that requires an album that excites people.”

Yes, Cockle is talking about Jay Kay and Jamiroquai, who today return with eighth album Automaton, their first since Rock Dust Light Star in 2010. For Cockle and Virgin EMI, this is a big deal. The president is a long-term fan, and worked with Jamiroquai - whose biggest-selling record, 1996's Travelling Without Moving has shifted 1,219,069 copies to date - during his time at Sony. After Jay Kay’s long, dormant period out of the limelight, Cockle is pleased to have him back. “Suddenly we have some excitement back in the world of Jamiroquai,” he says.

Sitting in his west London office the morning before release day, Cockle talks Music Week through the campaign so far, highlights of which include lead single Automaton, follow up Cloud 9 and the announcement that Jamiroquai sold out the O2 Arena in a matter of minutes.

Jamiroquai have been away for a long time. Why such a big gap?

I think he felt that he had a better record to deliver than he had for a little while. He was fine with them, not killing them, but I think he thought he needed to put something extra into this one and pleasingly, airplay throughout Europe is far better than on the last two albums and publications that haven’t been overly enamoured with him before are speaking to him and his ticket sales in the UK have virtually doubled since the last outing. I saw him play this week in Paris, which was his first proper show in six years and he’s on for it, up for it and ready to go. 

It seems Automaton and Cloud 9 have gone down well with fans?

The two songs touch different parts of his fanbase. Automaton is very progressive, an edgier song that pushes it on very nicely, and then Cloud 9 is a more traditional, smooth vocal track that works well at the radio formats that enjoy a 40-plus year-old artist. Somewhere along the line the two things have chimed very well. There’s an incredible video for Automaton too, which has kept up the quality of his past videos. We’ve come out of the blocks at quite a pace and are thankfully causing as much damage [as possible].

How’s the campaign going internationally? 

It’s a reminder to us that we all get a bit UK-centric with what we’re releasing, and while we love our country dearly, it’s quite amazing when you suddenly see one of the largest ships from Universal into Japan for quite some time. Nobody’s really been very big in Japan recently, and to suddenly see him doing what he’s doing there is ridiculous. He’s No.1 on the international radio chart ahead of Ed Sheeran. Because he’s older and not the new thing, you forget that this is the cut through you can have. He’s doing a Sukkiri TV special in Japan, which international artists just don’t get as a rule. You forget quite the magnitude of his reach. 

Why is now the right time for a Jamiroquai comeback?

Without sounding too David Brent, the magic is always in the music. If you’re in the UK, the ‘90s will be remembered as for the Gallagher brothers, Robbie Williams and Jamiroquai as the key recognisable figures. He has a deep place in the hearts of a lot of people and most of those will give the song 45 seconds. Thankfully the first 45 seconds of Automaton were very different, very interesting and the video was exceptional. In the week it came out NME said, “It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment Jamiroquai went from bloke in a hat to cherished musical icon”. It was a bit more Daft Punk than a comfortable jazz-funk excursion, it had a bit more bite to it.

All the previous albums hit the Top 10 in the UK, and three went to No.1. Can you predict how this one will do?

I can’t predict how much it’ll sell, but it’s the potential of seeing a Top 5 album in as many markets as possible, that’s what we’re looking for. He’s not going to be on the youngest radio formats that will drive the highest sales in the UK, but he is a really amazing character that has entertained a lot of people for a long time. He’s got great airplay, big TV slots internationally and our plan is, How many markets can we get a Top 5 album in around the world.

What can you tell us about the process of making the record?

He’s now at the point where nobody’s going to tell him how to make records. He’s more than happy to shoulder responsibility for everything he does. He was not going to be told, You need to do this or that. The album was recorded over the last couple of years in the studio he has at his house in Buckinghamshire, and he works in a very isolated way, he hardly left the house while he was doing it. He’s not looking for someone else’s blessing, he’s like, My name’s on this, I’m on stage with it and he’s his harshest critic.

Where does Jay Kay fit into Britain’s musical landscape in 2017?

He doesn’t fit in and doesn’t want to. He has no requirement to be doing anything except what he thinks his fans will want. He never wants to collaborate; he’s a bit of a lone warrior in everything. He came from a London rare groove club scene, but since then he’s known what he wants and how he wants to do it. 

Lastly, were you surprised The O2 sold out so quickly?

It went in half an hour. We were surprised, he’s an older guy, he’s had some records that have been OK but lacked some excitement. These are clearly not going to be 18-year-old screaming fans, they’ll be grown up people. He’s a great night out. When you’ve got the catalogue he has it makes for a better night. It’s like bloody hell, I didn’t expect these three crackers as well. Literally he kills himself, it’s like James Brown drilling that band. That’s his very existence, playing live is his ultimate reason. Every time he describes a song he says, I can picture this in Verona with the crowd singing along, I can picture me being in Colombia at this venue… It’s all about how it will come across live. He wants to sell tickets and he wants to be bigger, he likes being a very sizable artist and he wants more of that.

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