Updated: Biz welcomes Tom Watson's appointment as UK Music chair

Tom Watson

Music industry execs and politicians have been praising Tom Watson’s appointment as the new chair of umbrella trade body UK Music.

Music Week broke the news Monday morning (March 30) and the story soon became the talk of the industry. While Watson is a controversial figure to many on the left of the Labour party, where he served as deputy leader, shadow culture secretary and MP for West Bromwich East, his appointment has drawn praise from across the industry.

PRS For Music CEO and recent Music Week cover star Andrea C Martin said: “Congratulations to Tom on his appointment as UK Music Chair. At this critical time, we need someone who can champion our industry at all levels of government. We look forward to working with him to help and support those at the heart of the business, the songwriters, composers and small publishers, who have been and could be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. We need strong leadership and to speak with one voice during the coming months and I know Tom will have an immediate and positive impact at UK Music.”

PPL CEO Peter Leathem took to Twitter to congratulate Watson and pay tribute to outgoing chair Andy Heath for his “outstanding commitment to the organisation and the music sector over the last decade”.


Zac Fox, head of operations for promoters Kilimanjaro Live, welcomed the appointment and said Watson had “always been a massive advocate of live music”. 


Michael Dugher, who stepped down as UK Music CEO earlier this year, praised Watson as “a loyal & passionate champion of music” and predicted he would be “a superb chair”. 


And original UK Music boss Feargal Sharkey said he “could not think of a more appropriate or better-qualified candidate”. 


Even health secretary (and former culture secretary) Matt Hancock took time out from the battle against the coronavirus to retweet Music Week’s story and tell Watson: “Hugely looking forward to working together on social prescribing and other things once the war is over”. 

The many others praising the appointment included PPL chairman John Smith, the FAC, ISM and MPG and politicians Owen Smith, David Warburton and Jo Stevens.

Watson – already a popular and familiar figure to the music business, and a regular at industry events, including Music Week's Women In Music Awards, where last year he presented Olga FitzRoy with her Campaigner award – takes over from outgoing chairman Andy Heath. Watson will start at the umbrella trade body in April, and was appointed by the UK Music board after “an extensive recruitment process”.

Top of his agenda will be securing support for the music industry during the coronavirus crisis and helping the biz return to normal once the crisis is over. Watson will also oversee the search for a new CEO, with Tom Kiehl currently acting in the role following the departure of Michael Dugher earlier this year.

“UK Music speaks with a powerful voice for the whole of the UK commercial music sector,” said Watson. “And at the heart of the sector are the songwriters and musicians, many thousands of whom stand ready to serve in the national effort against the coronavirus. 

“In ordinary times, the UK’s commercial music sector contributes £5.2 billion to the UK economy and supports 190,000 jobs. The cancellation of live music events has devastated the sector. Thousands of jobs are now in peril and threaten the long-term bottom line of the UK economy.

“Our urgent task is to work with our colleagues and partners in Government to support the national effort to defeat coronavirus, whilst protecting the jewel in the crown of British culture - commercial music. 

“When we’re through this crisis, UK Music has an important part to play in Britain’s developing new role in the world. We believe we can be the Prime Minister's calling card to every country on the planet. 

“There will be much to say about this in the months ahead but first, let’s deal with this crisis. I will be seeking urgent talks with ministers and officials to ensure that we support the music-makers of Britain and the industry that always sustains us through the good times and the bad.”

Welcoming the appointment, Andy Heath said: “I’m delighted Tom Watson is the new chair of UK Music. I’m sure he will continue to be a fantastic advocate for the music industry and fight for its future at what is an immensely difficult time. 

“I’m hugely proud of all we have achieved at UK Music. We have created a strong and united voice for the music industry that is listened to right across Westminster and the business world.

“Tom is one of the great political leaders of his generation and I know he will take UK Music from strength to strength and help continue to grow our fantastic industry.

“No-one should underestimate his passion for, and knowledge of, both the music that has been created in the UK and the industry that has served it."

In turn Watson praised his predecessor.

“Andy Heath has been UK Music’s ambassador to Government for over a decade,” said Watson. “He is a towering figure in the industry and highly respected in Whitehall. I’m deeply honoured to be thought worthy enough to replace him as chair of UK Music. 

“Andy has been at the heart of making UK Music the powerful force it is, and we are immensely grateful for his years of service in his role as founding Chair. I am greatly relieved to know that he has agreed to work with me during a lengthy transition period, which means we can draw down on his vast experience and wisdom in this most testing of times for the industry.”

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