I miss Island Records but I don’t miss record companies, Island was in a class of it’s own, its a tough one to describe…..you really did have to be there. Now I’m standing from the rooftops and shouting, ‘I was there, tough luck if you weren’t!’
My friend Neil met up with Chris Blackwell, Island Record’s founder a while ago and it got us talking about those times yet again. There aren’t too many moments in anyone’s career that trigger off the most vivid of memories….. but the merest mention of Island life and we’re away! I was equally as pleased to hear that the two of them had done just the same!…….check out Neil’s blog for more about CB and Island at Neilstorey.blogspot.com
You meet a lot of people in the music industry and you meet a multitude of stars. For me I not only met them but I worked with U2, Bowie, The Police, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Bob Marley…..the list goes on, but when I talk about Island my only regret is that I never met Chris Blackwell. It was probably circumstance more than anything, he commuted between Jamaica, London and New York and I didn’t cover any radio stations there…… I don’t think he was avoiding me! That being said he played a huge role in my career, firstly as a fan of Island music and then professionally.
I can talk about growing up at Island and learning my trade as a promotions guy because I was left alone to do it, left to make my own mistakes. It was much the same script I gave anyone who came to work for me once I set up my own promotion company……go do it, if you fuck up there isn’t anything I can’t pull you out of. Make your own mistakes, I made plenty but they’re exclusive to me! If they made mistakes but identified them and recovered from them they proved themselves to be the right choice. Looking at the people who came and went I think my choices were good…..they went on to become radio presenters, form their own promotion companies, management companies…. and my intern went on to manage Coldplay! I think I emulated Chris Blackwell’s A and R policy, go with your gut instinct and believe in the people you work with. He was the Lion King, he lived in me!
In the early days Chris Blackwell was the A and R department. He found someone, he talked to them, told them how great he thought they were and how he thought he could help their career and boom…they’re signed. Prime example Bob Marley, it worked for both parties. Marley would never have been recognized and gain the popularity he did without Blackwell’s guidance and likewise CB would not have been able to attract new acts to his label if he hadn’t done such a remarkable job with Marley.
He needed to stand proud and look at what had been achieved and build his label from there.That’s the secret of a good record man. I won’t harp on about artist development, scroll down there is plenty of that but what I will say is how vital it is that you have a creative mind and an understanding for what you sign. It isn’t just the music it’s ‘can I work with these people, do we both have the same vision?’ Though Chris didn’t physically sign U2 and it’s been well documented by the man himself, it took just one meeting with them and manager Paul McGuinness to convince him of what his colleagues at Island were saying…..this lot are special. Rob Partridge and Neil Storey had worked long and hard in the early days until Nick ‘the captain’ Stewart stuck the piece of paper under them that said..come join this fabulous place that employs me.
Still to this day I think it was the perfect marriage. No label would have persisted in supporting U2 the way Chris Blackwell and Island did back then and certainly no label would have dared not to interfere. They owed the label so much in the first few years that most people would have stepped in and said ‘Oi, stop pissing my money away, this is how it’s going to be.’ Island knew how to grow with their artists…… through relationships based on mutual respect.