Beese Here Now: Darcus Beese - The Music Week Interview

Darcus Beese

Following the news that Darcus Beese has left Island in the US to return to the UK, here's a chance to read our 2019 Music Week Awards interview. 

Island Records legend Darcus Beese has been both one of the most successful A&Rs of his generation and a genuine trailblazer. Now, that combination has landed him the top job at Island US – and made him the 2019 Music Week Strat Award winnerIn an exclusive interview, Beese talks us through his remarkable journey from West London to New York, and tells us what comes next…

They say no man is an Island, but one man comes closer than most.

Darcus Beese has been at Island Records for over 30 years, becoming more synonymous with the label than anyone except perhaps founder Chris Blackwell. Unlike Blackwell, however, Beese started at the iconic record company – which celebrates its 60th birthday this year – as a teaboy and worked his way up through the A&R ranks. Eventually he would become co-president, and then full president of the UK label, before heading to New York last year to run the behemoth that is Island Records US.

And yet, actually, his career at Island was over, almost before it began.

At the tail end of the ’80s, when the young A&R exec had been at Island for less than two years, he got into a row with his then boss, Julian Palmer (now A&R director at Columbia UK), over what would have been his first ever signing, a band called Ashley And Jackson.

“It was a hot summer’s day, I remember it well,” smiles Beese, 30-odd years later. “He wouldn’t let me sign them, so I threw my toys out of the pram and said, ‘I might as well leave then’. [Then Island MD] Marc Marot heard the ruckus, came downstairs and said, ‘What’s the problem?’ I said, ‘Julian won’t let me sign an act, so I might as well leave’. And he said, ‘OK’. He held the door open and said, ‘On you go’. I literally walked myself out of the job!”

And that, Beese feared, was that. He knew how big a deal working at Island Records – the label that had released many of his parents’ favourite records and which therefore had been a pivotal influence on his youth – was, especially for a kid from the mean streets of West London who had written job applications to every record company in town and never had a single reply. And yet his principles and passion for music meant that he had to walk through that door.

That passion and those principles have occasionally got Beese into more trouble in the intervening three decades, but they’ve also stood him in good stead. Indeed, they’re the key reasons why he’s here today, sat in the restaurant of the elegantly cool Mr C hotel in Beverly Hills, California, firmly ensconced as the new leader of Island US and about to become the 33rd winner of the UK music industry’s highest honour, the Music Week Strat Award.

He can laugh about Ashley And Jacksongate now – as, indeed, can Palmer, who jokingly reminisces on Beese’s Strat tribute video about the “militant rebellious young firebrand of an A&R man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of gangsta rap”, who made his “defiant stand over a cardigan-wearing Acid Jazz combo”.

But winning The Strat also brought out Beese’s serious side. He’s no stranger to the big prizes, both professionally (BRITs, Mercury Prizes, Grammys galore) or personally (Music Week and A&R Worldwide awarded him the European Executive Of The Year gong at MUSEXPO Europe in 2016, and the ruddy Queen made him an OBE in her 2014 Birthday Honours List). But it’s The Strat that prompted him to look back over his career and compare it to some of the previous winners, which include Blackwell, who picked up the second-ever Strat in 1988, the very year Beese started at Island.

“That’s quite powerful in itself,” he says. “To be the next person [from Island] to top that list with Chris Blackwell on it, that’s why I’m speechless. It’s hard to wrap my head around. It was hard to qualify in my own head why I would even be in the thought process. And don’t think I’m being modest because, when you go to the list, it’s full of incredible people, who have done legendary stuff. It’s a huge surprise and a massive honour.”

Despite his modesty, Beese has much in common with the 32 previous winners: a stellar A&R and business career, an association with some legendary artists, a charisma that inspires both musicians and executives to new heights; an ability to wrangle obstreperous girl groups. But there is one significant point of difference: he’s the first BAME winner of the award.

“To be the first person of colour on the list has to be a proud moment,” he smiles. “Over the last couple of years, looking around the room at the Music Week Awards, the room has completely flipped from what it looked like 20, 30 years ago. The entire music industry looks completely different to the music industry that I walked into. It was a different place for women and people of colour were few and far between. So the direction of travel is good and what does it look like in the next five or 10 years? That’s exciting.”

Beese is a veteran of many a Music Week Awards, dating back to the early ’90s, when Island’s powerhouse A&R department made them regulars on the podium.

“Over the years, we had the highs and lows of it,” he smiles. “We’ve had those ones when you’re confident you’re going to win and others when you’re like, ‘Get me the hell out of here, I know we’re not worthy and we haven’t done enough to win this year’.

“But I love the Music Week Awards, because people get honoured for their hard work and creativity. I thought last year was my last one, that was one of the chapters I was closing, so to be back again in such a surprising manner is great.”

The awards gave Beese the chance to catch up with his Island UK family – Louis Bloom took over as UK president after his departure – but the US exec is very clear that he’s “not part of the UK business any more”. “I have a slight sideways glance at it,” he grins, “But my focus is the US now.”

Beese has hit the ground running Stateside, making a series of smart hires and signings as he looks to remould the US operation in his own image, while remaining true to the label’s independent spirit. And here in Mr C’s on Grammys weekend, chatting with the hotel boss about Quincy Jones’ imminent arrival and hailing passing US execs, it’s clear he’s already at home, even if he is now a long, long way from his roots…

Darcus Beese was born in 1969 and grew up in Fulham. His parents – Barbara Beese and Darcus Howe, later a noted broadcaster and writer – were prominent in the British Black Panthers movement, meaning Darcus grew up surrounded by politics and music.

“I’ve got quite a few stepbrothers and stepsisters, but I was kind of a loner,” he says. “My Mum and Dad’s vinyl, my Walkman and the repeat playing of one cassette was sometimes my solace. Music was always emotionally central to how I would feel. That’s why I’m so passionate about what I do, because of how music soundtracked my life and the ups and downs, highs and lows of growing up.”

Soca, reggae and lovers rock were key to his education – he jokes about being the only 10-year-old who knew all of dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson’s albums back to front – but it was two-tone pioneers The Specials that really fired his imagination.

“The Specials were the first band that reflected what me and my mates looked like,” he says. “I looked down my street and we were black, white and brown and that was the first time you looked at a band and it was a mixed, multi-cultural band.”

Beese was too young to see the band live, but he saved up his record tokens to buy More Specials and invested in the two-tone regalia of pork pie hat, Crombie and loafers. When he finally got to see the band live when they reformed in 2009, he “spent all night jumping up and down, came out and bought out half the merch stall”. Earlier this year, he came full circle by putting out Encore, the band’s comeback album.

“To be a 10 or 11-year-old and having the More Specials album be my bible, then cut to nearly 40 years later and I’m putting out one of their albums, it’s amazing,” he ponders.

The young Beese had aspirations to perform himself, as a tap dancer, even auditioning at several stage schools (“Obviously I wasn’t that talented, because I didn’t get in to any of them!”). So when he left his state school Henry Compton – also the alma mater of athlete Linford Christie and World Cup-winning footballer George Cohen – at 16, he knew he wanted to do something creative.

“That’s what led me into hairdressing, I just wanted to be around creative people,” he says. “Well, that and my Mum said, ‘You’d better get a fucking job!’”

Beese took a job at a salon run by Rebecca Jamison, which put him into contact with plenty of people in the UK music business.

“Rebecca had a huge circle of clients in the music industry and she introduced me to all of them,” says Beese. “That’s how I got into the business.”

Even then, Beese thought working in the industry was a pipedream until he met legendary Sony A&R, Lincoln Elias.

“He was someone that looked like me, that was doing incredible stuff inside a record company with Des’ree, Jamiroquai and Terence Trent D’Arby and I thought, ‘I’d like to do what he’s doing’. I got to see behind the curtain and from that point on I wanted to work in the music industry.”

There was still the small matter of actually finding a gig, but a tip-off that someone was leaving Island meant Beese found himself in the right place at the right time and, within a week, he was taken on as what would now be called an intern.

He was assigned to the promotions department but, after noting Beese’s passion for seeing gigs by signed and unsigned artists alike, boss Clive Banks told him he was “wasted in promotions” and moved him to A&R.

“I have to thank him for seeing that in me, because I didn’t come in wanting to be an A&R person,” says Beese. “I thought they were the supermen, they were driving BMWs and had expense accounts and sometimes they would fly to places and hang out and make records in the studio. I liked that, but I didn’t think I had the chops to be an A&R person. There weren’t too many other people that looked like me, so I was just happy to be around the place.”

Nonetheless, Beese thrived in the cut-and-thrust world of artist development, until the Ashley And Jackson spat saw him walking out of his dream job and into an uncertain future…

Luckily, Beese found a new job easily enough, at Big Life, where he belatedly got to make Ashley And Jackson his first signing after all (their 1990 single Solid Gold soared to the giddy heights of No.89) and found Tim Parry and the late Jazz Summers (another former Strat winner) to be willing mentors. “They taught me how to make records,” says Beese.

Nonetheless, he moved to Gut/Tug Records, set up by former Island promo man Guy Holmes where, to his horror, “I found myself all of a sudden making Right Said Fred records”.

But, just when “I thought I’d fucked it up”, the phone rang. It was his old sparring partner Palmer, asking him to come back.

“That was probably the best thing that ever happened in my career, to get back there,” says Beese. “I should have never left in the first place. But I was much more refined when I got back to Island. I wasn’t the finished article by any stretch of the imagination, but I was a lot more grown up.”

Installed as A&R manager at the Fourth & Broadway dance imprint, the new mature Beese concentrated on signing acts “that stood for something”: hip-hop like Silent Eclipse, soul like Hinda Hicks.

“I’m proud of the young me,” he says. “Island definitely allowed me to express myself. I had artists that had sold out the Jazz Café and Subterania and been on the cover of Blues & Soul but I wanted more, I wanted to be more ambitious.”

Eventually, Beese says, he “realised what success looked like from a record company point of view and that I needed to have some hits”. Enter three young pop wannabes in the form of the Sugababes.

Mutya Buena and Keisha Buchanan had already released a critically acclaimed, but under-performing album on London before splitting from original member Siobhan Donaghy and recruiting Heidi Range. Beese signed them to Island and masterminded the 2002 Freak Like Me single, which went straight to No.1. Beese had his elusive hit.

“That’s when I could actually call myself an A&R person,” he grins. “It was validation because of all the misses that I had, that I could get it right – and get it right with a No.1 record. Having a No.1 with Freak Like Me, the type of record that it was, set the bar for me. And for that I thank the madness that was the Sugababes. I thank all of them…”

And there were a lot of them!

“Yes, but no matter what the drama was, when they put out great records, that dictated everything,” he says. “I mean, it was a nightmare! You had three different, inexperienced opinions and I was still inexperienced at managing that madness. And every hit song we made with the Sugababes, they hated. You were always in conflict, but you learned skills that, later on down the line, still hold you in good stead. If you can manage the Sugababes you can manage most things!”

Despite the chaos, and multiple line-up changes, the Sugababes delivered four platinum-plus albums in succession for Island, and Beese was up and running as a hitmaker.

Soon after, he met the artist who would define his career. The manager of producers the Lewinson Brothers played Beese a demo that featured Winehouse but said he was “sworn to secrecy” as to who she was. Eventually Beese tracked her down to Simon Fuller’s 19 Management and, having blagged a meeting with another artist’s manager, wandered the corridors until, fortuitously, he stumbled across not only her manager, but Winehouse herself.

“It was meant to be,” declares Beese. “And the attitude that the world saw was the same attitude I encountered in that moment, with her sitting on the floor, when I introduced myself to her. Inexperienced as I was, I knew that she had the potential of greatness.”

Winehouse’s 2003 debut, Frank, was highly acclaimed but sold moderately. And, as Beese waited for her to come up with the follow-up, and his other artists went off cycle, he found himself in every A&R man’s worst nightmare: he was “cold”.

“Obviously, I’m not one to throw my toys out of the pram,” he laughs, “But I was cold, there was a change at the record company and I didn’t like what was coming. So I handed in my resignation…”

As luck would have it, he flew to New York straight after, to see how Winehouse and Mark Ronson were getting on with the follow-up album. On the trip, he heard five songs from what would become Back To Black, including Rehab.

“I remember after finishing the songs, thinking, ‘How do I withdraw my resignation?’” he laughs.

He returned to London and played the demos to Louis Bloom, whose reaction convinced him he had to stay.

“I said, ‘I ain’t going anywhere’,” he says. “How different the world could have been!”

Back To Black came out in 2006 and went on to sell 12 million copies, although Winehouse’s problems with drink and drugs and status as tabloid catnip meant it was a far from easy ride.

“You couldn’t rein her in, you couldn’t tame her and there was no point in trying,” Beese says. “She wouldn’t comply. I know that some of the product managers that worked with her were trying to apply their opinions but you would basically just lose her trust. She was one of those artists where you just had to get out of her way. Some people need hands-on, they need leading and some artists don’t, you’ve just got to get out of the way – and that’s what I did with Amy.”

Beese expected Winehouse to “have an impact on people” but even he was taken aback by “the ripple effect” of her superstardom. That success sent Beese from “cold” to becoming the hottest A&R man on the planet…

“I was like a pig in shit!” he laughs. “But there was a culture that manifested itself at Universal that came from Lucian [Grainge, then Universal Music UK boss, now chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group] that was about not resting on your laurels. You couldn’t spend your time looking in the rear view mirror. So, as much as it was a huge success, it was like, ‘What’s next’? That sharpened me up for what was to come later in terms of running a record label. But as an A&R person, the failures that I had set me up for the successes. And I thank Island and Universal for allowing that process to happen.”

More success followed with the likes of Taio Cruz (whose 2009 US No.1 Break Your Heart meant “another box ticked on the bucketlist of things to be achieved by the time you get fired”), Dizzee Rascal (who presented Beese with The Strat at the awards last week) and Keane.

Such was the success that, when Island president Nick Gatfield left for EMI in 2008, Beese and Ted Cockle (now president of Virgin EMI) were made co-presidents, much to Beese’s surprise.

“There was a point when I must have been that hot that people were saying to me, ‘When are you going to run the label?’” he says. “I would look at them going, ‘What do you mean? Why would they even think about me doing that?’ I never had the ambition and I’d never seen anybody that looked like me running labels, outside of the American model of head of urban.”

Beese says he had “always fought against being pigeon-holed into black music” but says his education had led him to believe that leadership wasn’t for him.

“I had no ambition, it hadn’t been cultivated apart from my Mum and Dad saying, ‘Son, don’t worry about it, you’re a leader’,” he says. “So I didn’t ever see myself as president and when I was offered it, it shook me up. I almost didn’t want it because with it comes responsibility, and responsibility for other people, the artists’ careers and the people that work for you’s lives. I was the happiest, most selfish A&R person, I had my little roster and at that moment in time I was basically bulletproof. And then all of a sudden I had to lay myself bare and learn what it was to be a co-president. But luckily the team of people we had was amazing…”

The next phase of Beese’s remarkable career was just about to begin…

The first couple of years of co-presidency, Beese admits, were difficult.

“The hangover of the couple of years before meant that our roster was kind of nowhere. It didn’t have a core to it and me and Ted – and I think he would agree with me – struggled for the first couple of years, in terms of restocking the larder.”

But slowly they turned it around. They forged a relationship with Roc Nation, signed Florence + The Machine, Mumford & Sons and Ben Howard and started to hit big with North American imports such as Drake.

“The next three, four, five years were just rocket fuel,” he says. “Everything came together, the team came together, me and Ted had a yin and yang relationship where it worked perfectly. The team at the time were brilliant and we just went on this run. Then the records started to go round the world, so we were having global success. You’re hoping not to be brought down to earth with a bump and then Amy passed.

“And then,” he adds, ruefully, “You’re spun back into reality.

“It was just an awful time,” Beese says today of Winehouse’s tragic 2011 death. “Someone that you’d worked with and knew, passing away so tragically, that was rough. She was a musical genius but, at the heart of it, she was a normal human being that had problems from a young age. The pressures of the business from all quarters took their toll and it’s good to see the business learn lessons from that. You hear the words ‘well-being’ and ‘duty of care’ a lot more now, and that’s a good thing.”

Universal ultimately reclaimed Winehouse from her media demonisation with the 2015 Oscar and Grammy-winning Amy film.

“I remember [Universal UK chairman/CEO] David Joseph saying to me that it was important that her legacy should be preserved and that people should know the real Amy,” says Beese. “People should know the genius that she really was and not just this tabloid pin-up, which wasn’t Amy – that was the drugs.”

By then, Cockle had departed for Virgin EMI and Beese was in sole charge. The hits kept on coming – Beese catapulted Drake to a record-breaking No.1 with One Dance and scored success with an eclectic roster ranging from Will Young to PJ Harvey and Ariana Grande to Catfish & The Bottlemen – even though Beese admits he initially struggled with the responsibility.

“I remember when the news came out that Ted was going to Virgin – for all the highs and lows, we worked really well together. Before, when I looked to my right, Ted was there and, when I looked to my left, the rest of my team were there. All of a sudden, Ted wasn’t going to be there, I had to manage it all by myself and it was a question of, ‘Could I?’ But while you’re having a crisis of confidence internally, you’ve got to show outwardly to the people you’re leading that everything’s going to be OK. And obviously I was very good at that!”

Beese set about retooling Island for the streaming age, establishing partnerships with the likes of PMR and Communion and setting up the first UK major label urban division. But, when Joseph called him into his office one morning to tell him Universal wanted him to go and run Island US, Beese (who, in 2016, told Music Week he “wouldn’t work anywhere else – you cut me and I bleed Island”) was ready for the challenge.

“Immediately, your mind starts racing, you start to perspire, the room starts spinning,” he quips. “But when we started talking about it, as much as I love the UK and my family at Island, it was a no-brainer to go. I’d achieved what anybody would love to achieve in the UK music business and Island had seen my children born, me get married, buy my first property and my father pass away. To get the opportunity to go and run Island in the States was a fairytale end to the UK chapter. I spoke to David, [Universal EVP] Michele Anthony, Sir Lucian and, within weeks, I was on the ground in New York. I’ve not looked back, just forward.”

Beese admits he’d become a little “jaded” by the end of his UK tenure but is now revitalised, buzzing with strategies to make sure the US venture becomes his life, not just an “adventure”. Time, then, to grill him on his US plans, his A&R modus operandi and the importance of paying your dues…

Do you have a checklist of things you look for in an act?

“That changes over time. But, in the very first instance I always think, ‘Can you stand out from the pack vocally?’ Especially now everybody has an entry point to the market. What does the individual or the band stand for? I look for that spark of genius that data can’t tell you about. Data can tell you a lot of stuff, but it can tell you too much sometimes.”

How’s life in America treating you?

“I was in my comfort zone for the last couple of years and I’m well and truly out of my comfort zone now. In a good way. The American business is totally different to the UK business. The pace it moves at, the scale of it, radio, it’s all different. But we’re now in a global village and music is where the playing fields level for me. While I learn about the other stuff, if the music’s special, it’ll travel, no matter where you are. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but the support I’m getting is unbelievable and I feel inspired again. Going back to that kid that first started at Island when he’d just turned 19, to being president and CEO of Island US and having this award… You couldn’t write it. I love it when people sit down and tell you their stories, well, I feel like I have a story now.”

Have you spoken to Chris Blackwell about the new job?

“I saw him a few months ago at a U2 show. What did he say to me? He said, ‘Good luck, you know it’s going to be bloody hard’. And I said, ‘Yes, I think I know that Chris!’ But Chris has always been very supportive, whenever anyone’s asked he’s always said he’s proud and he’s still my moral compass, he’s still my guiding light in terms of what I think Island should stand for. Louis’ new Island should be in his own image, but have Blackwell’s values, and it’s the same for me running the US label.”

Will you stay in the US forever now?

“If I’m successful, I’ll be staying. If I’m not, they’ll put me on the plane! But I want to make ‘out here’ work. I want it to be long term but I’m on a five year plan. I’m trying not to get fired – my whole mantra, all my career, is: ‘Don’t get fired!’ The only way to do that is to do good things, stay relevant and hopefully be indispensable.”

How would that 19-year-old have felt if someone had told him this was how it would all pan out?

“He probably would have changed history by running the other way! This isn’t about being a role model, but I want people to know that you can have those ambitions where I didn’t, and it’s alright to have those ambitions. I wish more people that looked like me were heads of department and presidents of labels. But saying that, pay your fucking dues! Start by washing cups and making tea and sign stuff that doesn’t work, get fired, get back in, learn your craft, know what the art is, know what your ambitions should be, know what’s being asked of you, know what you should be achieving and then ask the question: ‘Are you any good?’ I want people to know that there is a route to leadership, if you do the work, be good at what you do, be successful and repeat. I’ve paid my dues so the only thing to prove now is, can I do it again? Am I worthy to be here? Not in question. Am I worthy to stay here? That’s my question to myself. And that’s a good line to finish on, in terms of the journey.”

And with that, Darcus Beese gets up, shakes hands and walks himself out of the door into the sunshine, just like his teenage self did 30 years ago. As with back then, he’s not quite sure what lies ahead. But somehow, you know everything will work out just fine. For this Island lifer, it nearly always does...


Top artists & execs pay tribute to the Strat winner

“Many, many congratulations on getting the Strat Award. I’m proud of your achievements and all of us within UMG are proud of them as well.”
Sir Lucian Grainge, chairman/CEO, Universal Music Group

“Congratulations dear Darcus for receiving this year’s Strat Award, so well deserved. Your legacy continues as one of the great creative executives in our industry. We’re so very proud of you and thrilled that we were able to steal you from across the pond. As Island celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, there couldn’t be a more perfect person in place to continue leading the Island culture and heritage.”
Michele Anthony, EVP, Universal Music Group

“Nuff respect. Thirty years you’ve been at Island in England and now you’re in America to keep the flag flying here. Congratulations!”
Chris Blackwell, founder, Island Records

“Darcus, I’m so proud of you. You’re a natural leader, you’re about integrity, you’re about truth and you’re always about music. Your dad made an incredible mark on culture and society here and you’ve also done that, you’ve helped shape our culture and you’re just about to do it in America.”
David Joseph, chairman/CEO, Universal Music UK

“Twelve years ago we went on a historic run together that included Amy Winehouse, Florence + The Machine, Jessie J and so many others. I will forever be indebted to Darcus Beese.”
Monte Lipman, founder/CEO, Republic Records

“When I took over I realised I had massive shoes to fill. You’ve been an amazing boss, an incredible mentor and above all a great friend. You truly deserve this award, one love.”
Louis Bloom, president, Island Records UK

“It’s been a pleasure to be alongside you for so many years at Island with some good successes, spending a lot of a time changing all the members of the Sugababes and helping persuade the world that Amy’s Back To Black was not just a jazz record for old people.”
Ted Cockle, president, Virgin EMI/former co-president, Island Records UK

“Huge congratulations for being honoured with this special award. I believe you are the first black music executive in the UK to achieve this accolade, this is an achievement of immense significance.”
Barbara Beese, Darcus’ mother

“Darcus Beese, what a prince of a man.”
Bono, U2

“I’ve very quickly learned that Darcus not only has one of the biggest hearts, but he’s truly an inspirer and just an incredible mind and person all around. He is extremely deserving of this honour.”
Shawn Mendes, artist

“Well done Darcus, they’ve got to honour the big man, congratulations. Levels! You’re the fucking guy!”
Giggs, artist

“Congratulations on winning such a prestigious prize in the music industry. I feel so proud of you, I’m so happy for you and you’re so loved by everyone that you work with at Universal.”
Annie Lennox, artist

“Congrats on the award, it’s so well deserved. I have a lot of fond memories of our friendship together and working relationship. When Amy and I were demoing some songs that would become Black To Black, we played the opening bars of the Rehab demo and six seconds in, you jumped up and were like, ‘Rewind!’ You did that three more times before we got past the first six seconds. That was the first time we’d played that music and to get ‘daddy’s grand approval’ was wonderful. Without that faith that you placed in Amy and me, we never would have been able to have the freedom to make that record.”
Mark Ronson, artist/producer


All the illustrious previous winners of the UK music biz’s highest honour...

2018: Max Lousada, CEO, recorded music, Warner Music Group & chairman & CEO, Warner Music UK
2017: Sarah Stennett, CEO, First Access Entertainment
2016: Max Hole, chairman & CEO, Universal Music Group International
2015: Neil Warnock, founder, The Agency Group
2014: Rob Stringer, chairman & CEO, Columbia Records, Sony Music
2013: Richard Griffiths and Harry Magee, co-founders, Modest Management
2012: Richard Russell, owner, XL Recordings
2011: Fran Nevrkla, chairman & CEO, PPL
2010: Sir Lucian Grainge, chairman & CEO, Universal Music Group
2009: Robert Partridge, music publicist
2008: Tony Wadsworth, chairman & CEO, EMI Music UK
2007: Jazz Summers, founder, Big Life
2006: Daniel Miller, founder, Mute Records
2005: Peter Reichardt, publishing executive, EMI Music Publishing
2004: Paul McGuinness, founder, Principle Management
2003: Rod Smallwood and Andy Taylor, co-founders, Sanctuary Records Group
2002: Michael Eavis, founder, Glastonbury Festival
2001: Rough Trade Records, independent label
2000: Scott Piering, promotions executive
1999: Pete Waterman, record producer/founder, PWL
1998: Martin Mills, founder, Beggars Group
1997: Steve Mason, distribution executive, Pinnacle
1996: Brian McLaughlin, COO, HMV Group
1995: Top Of The Pops, TV programme
1994: Tony Smith, artist manager
1993: Maurice Oberstein, chairman, CBS Records/BPI
1992: Muff Winwood, musician, songwriter, record producer & A&R executive
1991: Sir Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group
1990: Terry Ellis & Chris Wright, founders, Chrysalis Records
1989: Sybil Beresford-Peirse, founder, Nordoff Robbins
1988: Chris Blackwell, founder, Island Records
1987: Ron White, executive, EMI Music Publishing

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