A reliable sorcerer: Inside 10 years of Merlin's digital wizardry

For 10 years now, Merlin has been fighting for independent labels’ digital rights – and it’s still growing. Music Week sits down with CEO Charles Caldas to talk through a decade of operation, and why indies still need to stick ...

From hippies to hip-hop: The best of Isle Of Wight

The Isle Of Wight Festival has hosted a catalogue of unforgettable performances in its 50-year history. Here, promoters past and present, Ray Foulk and John Giddings, run through some of their personal favourites… BOB DYLAN (1969)Ray Foulk: “Dylan, I thought, was great, but he was a disappointment to many because he restricted his set to one hour. All the press hype in advance had been that he would be doing a long set and there’d be a jam session with The Beatles. The reviews of the performance were varied: some of them were very good; some of them were pretty critical. Interestingly, 40 years later, Columbia released the studio-quality recording of it as part of a box set: Dylan Live At The Isle Of Wight, which got fantastic reviews in places like Rolling Stone, who had been previously very critical of it.” JIMI HENDRIX (1970)RF: “Hendrix was, again, somewhat controversial, a lot of people said that it was pretty lacklustre. It wasn’t his greatest performance at all, but it wasn’t rubbish or anything. I thought it was melodic, serious and moving, it was a full-on thing for two hours.”THE WHO (1970) RF: “The Who were stupendous, they brought on these huge spotlights that panned across the audience and the sky, rather like searchlights in the war. The Who used that lighting system at all their events in the following decades, wherever they went.” DAVID BOWIE (2004)John Giddings: “That was David’s last ever show in the UK – sad, but true. I remember introducing him to Tim Burgess of The Charlatans and [Bowie] turned round to me and said, ‘John, when did I play here last?’ I said, ‘You’ve never played here!’ It was funny, when we did a tour with Tin Machine we were playing Wolverhampton Civic Hall and I went outside to look at the audience and there were all these ladies who wanted to come in and dance around their handbags to David Bowie. I went up to David and said, ‘I think you need to be a bit careful, I’ve just seen the soundcheck, it was a bit loud.’ And he said, ‘You’re the only promoter that’s ever told me to turn down before I’ve been onstage!” THE ROLLING STONES (2007) JG: “I got the opportunity because Keith Richards had fallen out of a tree, which meant we had to reschedule some dates. I’d sold the festival out and I had chance to put the Stones on and I thought, ‘Sod it, if I get run over on Monday morning at least I’ve brought The Rolling Stones to the Isle Of Wight. But then they turned up and Mick said, ‘Can we go on early? You booked us after you’ve sold out, people might not want to stay and see us.’ I said, ‘But you’re The Rolling Stones! I didn’t pay all this money to put you on at 3pm with no lights!’ The artists have dressing rooms in a Premier Inn backstage, so seeing Mick Jagger walking down the corridor of a Premier Inn made me laugh.” AMY WINEHOUSE (2007)JG: “I got Amy Winehouse and Paolo Nutini to sing with [The Rolling Stones]. She wasn’t keen to begin with, she was really nervous about it, but it was brilliant. They did Ain’t Too Proud To Beg. But I think it was one of her last good performances. Sadly, after that, it went downhill for her – a wasted talent that lady, so sad.” JAY-Z (2010)JG: “I thought the crowd couldn’t get any wilder, but then Kanye West walked on [to duet on Run This Town] and this shiver came up my spine, it was extraordinary. Then I turned to my left and Beyoncé was standing there. I thought, ‘I think I’ve just died and gone to heaven, it doesn’t get better than this.’ PAUL MCCARTNEY (2010)JG: “Paul McCartney’s agent and promoter, Barrie Marshall, phoned me and said, ‘Have you got anybody that does acrylic nails?’ I suspected they were just bored on the ferry and were winding me up. But I thought I’d better check it out anyway, so I went to a concession stand and asked, ‘What are acrylic nails?’ And the lady said, ‘I know what they are but we haven’t got the equipment to do it here.’ So I phoned up this woman in Cowes, who came up with a little vanity case. I didn’t realise that acrylic nails harden your nails, so Paul was doing it for when he played the acoustic guitar. He actually had dinner with the lady from Cowes – beautiful story, really nice bloke .” BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN/TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS (2012) “Bruce Springsteen was extraordinary because he didn’t stride up to the stage, he walked slowly and I thought, ‘Blimey’. And then if you ever saw someone come alive for three hours, it was incredible. The power, the stamina, how could he do that? And Tom Petty was one of my personal favourites because I booked his first ever gig at The Marquee when he first came to London.”

Hold the phone: Inside the future of Parlophone with new bosses Mark Mitchell and Jack Melhuish

Mark Mitchell’s Parlophone evolution started to take shape last week with the recruitment of new marketing director (and old Atlantic colleague) Jack Melhuish. Here, the reunited pair talk exclusively to Music Week about their vision for the label’s future… Four years ago, Mark Mitchell and Jack Melhuish were working together. Melhuish was marketing director and Mitchell general manager at Atlantic Records as they played their part in the release of Ed Sheeran’s sophomore album, X. It’s fair to say that the campaign went fairly well… “We pretty much took over the iTunes chart with one track release a day leading up the release of X,” laughs Mitchell. “That was a great moment.” “That Ed campaign has acted as a template to refocus my belief in what marketing can be,” adds Melhuish. “Content strategy is something that’s tremendously important now. Audiences want more visual content and we as a label have to be able to produce that to a very high quality. Ed was one of the first campaigns where we really understood the importance of engaging an audience continually through visual content.” “When you have an artist of that scale, you have a confidence that you can try things that are leftfield, you can throw your weight around a little bit,” concludes Mitchell. “That little bit of disruption which gets a lot of headlines and gets people’s attention. Disruption is a word that’s used a lot and, really, what we’re talking about is excitement. Our job as a label is to amplify artist campaigns and make them exciting and, if we’re doing that, then generally we’re doing our job.” Mitchell and Melhuish’s job right now is at a different label – just down the Warner corridors, at Parlophone – but their aim is the same. Having taken over the top job at legendary label – home to Coldplay, Blur, Tinie Tempah and Lily Allen and, once upon a time, The Beatles – from the almost-as-legendary Miles Leonard (still involved in an advisory role), Mitchell’s task is to take that stellar roster, add new talent and retool the company for 2018. Recruiting his old friend Melhuish as director of marketing, strategy and partnerships is the first step in that process. Sitting down for their first interview since Melhuish joined – he left his role as marketing director at Polydor earlier in the year – there’s a distinct air of “getting the band back together”, with Mitchell saying they’ve “slipped back into our way of working very quickly”. “I knew we had a brilliant working relationship and together we’d worked on some huge development campaigns,” says Mitchell on his reasons for recruiting his old mate. “Every label head in the country would say that they’re going to be judged on breaking new artists now, which we all know is incredibly difficult, and Jack and I have a huge history of doing that with UK artists and some American ones as well.” Parlophone was once an A&R hotbed, the first choice for leftfield acts looking to crack the mainstream, but significant breakthroughs – as at most labels – have been comparatively rare in recent times. There are high hopes at the label for the newly-signed likes of Yxng Bane (through its new Disturbing London label JV), Elderbrook and Ashnikko but, with a relatively light release schedule – bar Lily Allen, whose No Shame album charted in the Top 10 on Friday – the execs have what Mitchell calls “a great opportunity to do some planning and work out exactly what needs to be done within the team”. “When Jack left Atlantic, in my slight arrogance I didn’t give him the credit for how much he would learn down the road at Polydor,” admits Mitchell. “He’s come back not only being the Jack I knew when he left but some more as well. It did feel like they were doing something slightly different to a lot of labels, and that’s what I want for Parlophone. He’s brought a brilliant energy into the building and it feels like we’re becoming a truly modern label. We’re going to be judged by breaking new artists and in today’s climate you’ve got to do things differently.” Melhuish also sings the praises of the Polydor set-up and plans to bring a similar “forensic” marketing approach to Parlophone’s operations. “The route to our artists and their art has shifted fundamentally,” he says. “The gatekeepers have changed. But also the life cycle of records and expectations from the audience have shifted. People want more access to the artist’s voice, they want a more regular content strategy. You have to work harder to maintain a connection between the artist and the audience, and campaigns are also longer in terms of the build from track propositions into deeper album or artist propositions. You need a marketing approach that combines creative content commissioning, interesting social activations, influencer strategy and then uses your paid media to amplify that activity, rather than spending into a vacuum.” If that all sounds very futuristic, then you can also expect some old school artist development to be added to the mix. Melhuish cites the opportunity to “work with artists to build and hone their identities, to find creative and disruptive ways to communicate their propositions and their art” as a crucial factor in his return. Mitchell remains a sole co-president for now (“I’ve got Jack and some other great execs to keep me company,” he quips) and, while he notes his incoming co-president (Virgin EMI’s Nick Burgess is understood to be arriving later in the year) will be more active on the A&R side, he’s also eyeing some key signings. “In the opening year of any label head’s tenure you think about the artists you’re signing very, very carefully,” he says. “I’m very aware of the incredible heritage and history of Parlophone. That’s very much in my DNA; I’ve always been interested in leftfield artists who have created huge success. I’m conscious of what we’re signing at the moment. At the same time, we have to have hits and thankfully we’ve had quite a few of those…” Parlophone’s storied history looms large over the label, and Melhuish can’t wait to work on campaigns from the likes of  Gorillaz (who have a new album, The Now Now, out on June 29) and Coldplay. But the pair know they will be judged on breakthroughs – and point to Atlantic-era successes such as Rudimental and Plan B as proof they can deliver. And while those are in the past, Melhuish and Mitchell are now  laser-focused on their vision for Parlophone’s future. “I want our artists to understand our value and be advocates for us as a label,” says Melhuish. “With the new breed of artists coming through, this world can be alien to them and it’s important that we feel like a genuine home for our artists. They need to enjoy coming here and see us as collaborative partners. I want people in the team who potentially come from areas which labels haven’t really engaged with. I want DJs here, photographers, bloggers, journalists, I want managers in the team. That for me is tremendously important, building a team which is reflective of the modern culture economy.” “I want Parlophone to be in the Top 1, 2 or 3 of labels that artists want to sign to,” adds Mitchell. “I want artists to look at Parlophone and think it’s a home for genuine creativity, authenticity and not doing things the normal way. It’s as simple as that.” Can lightning strike twice? Watch this space…  

Hold the phone: Inside the future of Parlophone with new bosses Mark Mitchell and Jack Melhuish

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