The eternal poptimist: Peter Loraine on 10 years of Fascination Management

The eternal poptimist: Peter Loraine on 10 years of Fascination Management

Peter Loraine has been at the epicentre of pop music in the UK since 1995. Here, Music Week joins a true business visionary to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his company Fascination Management. And to find out why he’s still only just getting started… 

Not too long ago, Peter Loraine – founder of Fascination Management – spied an Official Charts Company list of the UK’s Top 40 best-selling girl groups doing the rounds on Instagram. Curiosity piqued, he worked his way through it. Soon he was no longer just scrolling, but rather playing a game of bingo.

Spice Girls? Check. Girls Aloud? You betcha. All Saints? Yep. The Saturdays? Affirmative! All huge pop acts acts he had worked closely with in a number of different capacities in his storied career.

“There was a lot on the list that I had played a part in,” he tells Music Week of his trip down memory lane. “It was fun!”

Loraine’s close association with – and indefatigable enthusiasm for – top-tier pop will surprise precisely no one. Like the music industry’s own deeply humble, friendly and decidedly non-genocidal answer to Thanos, he has been collecting career milestones for his infinity gauntlet across sectors: editor, marketing guru, label founder and manager.

While 2020 has offered precious few reasons to celebrate, Loraine has a good one: it marks 10 years since he launched Fascination Management, home to a diverse roster including Steps, Goldfrapp, Jessie Ware, All Saints and latest signing Will Young, among many others. After a career defined by a series of highly successful zigs and zags, this is, he believes, his final destination.

“I always thought the step into music management would ideally be the role that I would do for the rest of my career,” he muses. “This is what I’ve always worked towards, using the experiences from all the other bits and pieces that I’ve done; it all accumulated in this job.”

About those other “bits and pieces”, then. First coming into view in Music Week in 1995, Loraine rose to prominence as the launch editor of Top Of The Pops magazine, transforming it into the UK’s biggest-selling music title and teen magazine full stop. The runaway success soon led to him being christened in our pages as the “Baby-faced monarch of pop” (“I’m not so baby-faced anymore,” he grins today). Others, however, may recognise him by a more excitable appellation: ‘The guy who invented the Spice Girls’ nicknames!’

“It was an editorial thing,” he explains, ridiculously casually given just how seismic the event in question was. “I went for lunch with the five of them – they hadn’t even released a record, but they laid out their three-year plan, which included making a film.”

Loraine’s preternatural pop instincts promptly kicked into high gear.

“During that lunch, I was like, ‘Look, we should give you names’,” he recalls. “They were names that the magazine would call them, it wasn’t really meant to go beyond that. It was my idea to do it and then I went back to work, and between the few of us, we came up with them. Very little thought went into it, it was something that was done probably in five minutes.”

Yes: the genius branding of Sporty, Scary, Posh, Ginger and Baby Spice was a quick editorial brainstorm.

“Simon Fuller rang me from America once and said, ‘We’ve landed here and no one knows their real names other than the ones you gave them’.” laughs Loraine. “The tabloids started using it and then Sunday Times did, I was like, ‘This is really funny!’ It just snowballed...”

So, too, did Loraine’s career. Between 1995-1998, he brought the stories of the biggest acts of the day to the masses via the pages of TOTP magazine, going on to score Editor Of The Year at the BSME Awards (“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he says, still sounding almost shocked by
the accolade).

At the time, Loraine’s idea was that maybe he might graduate and go on to become the editor of the Radio Times.

“I was at a crossroads, did I want to go continue into journalism?” he says. “Or did I want to use my magazine experience and transition into labels, and then management? Obviously, that’s what I chose to do, and it was definitely the right decision.”

In the first exhibition of what would soon become a distinctly Lorainian trait, he reached one summit and immediately sought a new one. It was a call from current Universal Music Group CEO/chairman Sir Lucian Grainge – then Polydor MD – that did it. He needed a “pop person” at his label. Joining first in a “floating role”, Loraine A&R’d a Bee Gees tribute album for ITV, which spawned Steps’ smash cover Tragedy – Grainge and Loraine both uniting to persuade Pete Waterman that it should be recorded. Wedding days would never be the same again.


This is the role I was always working towards

Peter Loraine, Fascination Management


From there, Loraine went on to become Polydor’s marketing director, working on launches and career strategy for Girls Aloud, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, S Club 7, Samantha Mumba, Daniel Bedingfield, Ms Dynamite and Scissor Sisters, among others.

“One of the things that I loved most about Polydor was that we had such a diverse roster of artists,” Loraine says. “One week we were releasing an album from S Club, then we had Bee Gees, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s catalogue, Scissor Sisters and Ms Dynamite. There was a real breadth of signings, and working across all of that was invaluable from an experience point of view. You got be a specialist in so many different areas and it kept you so open-minded.”

It was in 2006 that Peter Loraine pulled another Peter Loraine move. Yes, he was smashing it at marketing, but new challenges abounded. Enter: Fascination Records, the Polydor Records imprint he founded. Not only did Loraine lure Girls Aloud and Sophie Ellis-Bextor across, he also secured the Hollywood Records account, in turn helping Fascination launch the UK careers of Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. That’s not to mention Cheryl Cole’s hugely successful solo career and the inception of The Saturdays, a group who, for more reasons than one, have a special place in his heart.

“We auditioned The Saturdays and put them together which was purely an idea because Girls Aloud had reached a level where they would do a certain calibre of stuff, but there was a lot of things that we didn’t do with them anymore,” he says. “There was a real gap for a baby version of them to come up through the wings so that’s what The Saturdays did.”

As 2010 hovered into view, Fascination Records was on fire. Girls Aloud had scored the biggest album of their career with Out Of Control. Cheryl had sold nearly a million copies of her debut 3 Words. Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato were all ushering in a new era of pop.

“We were arguably at our strongest point,” he says.

So what did Peter Loraine do? He did what Peter Loraine always does: he made another bold move and jumped into management. Why does he always leave at the height of his powers?

“The Saturdays were, at that point, manager-less,” he reflects. “We had a conversation about who was going to manage them and the conversation came around as to whether or not I would do it. I loved them and the moment just felt right, because it’s all very well saying, ‘Oh, I’d like to move into management’, but you’ve got to have your first client, and it needs to be an act that you love.”

And so Fascination Management was born.

“With The Saturdays, they were at a level where it needed to go up a gear,” says Loraine of his first experience of the management game. “But it was a perfect level for me to step in. Over the course of the years that followed, we toured arenas with them, we did a really big deal with NBC for a TV series in America and the single with Sean Paul [2013’s What About Us], which was No.1.”

With Polydor’s Adam Klein in tow, Loraine built both an artist roster and the Fascination management team. A deeply friendly interviewee, the only time he shows anything approaching frustration is when he raises his concern that Fascination is sometimes perceived to be all about him.

“The three people that work with me are so amazing, they do the work,” he praises. “This is not just me, and I feel sometimes I get the credit and they don’t and it’s really not fair. Adam Klein has been with me since the beginning, and with Sarah Jackson and Kirsty Richardson, too, we’re a family. Across all our acts there’s a real feeling of us all being in it together.”

Fascination Management would go on to add the “genius” of Goldfrapp – the perfect act to diversify their offering. Other artists kept flocking to them, too. The jobs of yesteryear kept paying dividends.

“I made so many good contacts in the time I spent at the BBC in magazines,” he says. “All Saints needed a manager for their reunion, and I rang them up and two of them I hadn’t seen since my time at Top Of The Pops. They were like, ‘We had fun back then, come and see us!”

Suffice to say, All Saints soon joined the roster.

One of Fascination’s biggest parlour tricks is career de-fibrillation. They have reunited the original Bananarama for a sell-out tour, and brought Shakespears Sister back together after 20 years apart – a real highlight for a manager who once ran a fanclub for them from his bedroom at school. Plus, as detailed in last week’s issue, Loraine also masterminded Steps’ reunion against a backdrop of industry indifference and secured a gold-selling self-released album in 2017 and a sold-out 22-date arena tour. Steps like Fascination. A lot.

“They are a joy to work with,” Lisa Scott-Lee tells Music Week. “They just get Steps and they care about us as individuals and also as a collective. They’ve done an incredible job.”

Yet the story of Fascination is not defined by reunions. It is best understood as a refutation of the nice guys finish last theory.

“Managers like Peter are a rare breed indeed,” Alison Goldfrapp tells Music Week. “As well as Peter having a wealth of experience, he’s an incredibly conscientious manager. Both his and Adam Klein’s energy and commitment for every one of their artists is always apparent and they are consistently supportive.”

Her sentiments are very much echoed by Jessie Ware.

“Peter made me fall back in love with making music,” she explains. “Honestly, the industry can be quite cruel and I was a bit done with it. With Fascination, they were really enthusiastic and optimistic and it wasn’t bullshit. Nothing is too much for them. Or too little. They’ve boosted my confidence and my sense of joy, that jadedness has completely vanished. I have such a new-found confidence which I’m so thankful for.”

Ware points to the fact that Loraine’s reputation as A Very Nice Chap should not obscure his business acumen.

“I see how people talk about Peter, how much respect he has from years and years of being the good person, but he’s not just a nice person, he’s bloody clever. And brilliant.”

When Fascination took on Jessie Ware, they not only helped deliver her biggest charting album to date with this year’s No.3 hit What’s Your Pleasure, but also transformed her Table Manners podcast into a business.

“When I met him, I was incredibly protective of my podcast,” Ware laughs. “It was going well and I felt like I needed to keep that as my baby, separate to music. I was like, ‘The podcast is my thing’, but Peter said, ‘I’d really love you to see what I could do for it.’ He made my podcast into such an incredibly important part of my career; he elevated it business-wise.”

Fascination has a lot more elevating on the cards, too. Steps’ new album, What The Future Holds, is out now via BMG with a huge arena tour slated for 2021. Goldfrapp, meanwhile, may have had their touring plans disrupted this year, but there’s lots to look forward to.

“We were supposed to do the 20th anniversary tour of Felt Mountain this year and we ended up moving, but there will be definitely a live show coming up,” reveals Loraine. “And hopefully some new music, too.”

That’s not to mention a “three-year career plan” for new client Will Young. “It was a pleasure to have been asked to work with him,” says Loraine. “It’s really, really exciting to piece together a strategy for him for the next few years, we’re just getting going on some new recording and TV ideas with him. There’s loads that we can do with him.”

Peter Loraine will not, he insists be making any more Peter Loraine moves. He’s a music manager now. It’s what he does best. It’s time to find out more about how he does it…

Fascination houses Steps and Goldfrapp – two extremely different propositions. Do you feel Fascination sometimes isn’t always given the recognition it deserves in terms of the breadth of its offering?
“I have seen that happen and it can be frustrating. When I met Jessie Ware for the first time, she said to me, ‘Is it true that Steps sold out 22 arenas last year?’ And I said yes. She said, ‘That is literally amazing, I want someone like that.’ I thought to myself, ‘I love you because that’s sensible!’ I hate music snobbery. I really, really do. We were so pleased to achieve what we did with Steps, we sold out all those dates, we spent two or three weeks in the Top 10. That’s one of the things I’m really proud of since setting up the company.”

So, what is the key to a good reunion?
“The thing about Steps is that they absolutely acknowledge their audiences and therefore, when it comes to the live show and the music, they don’t steer away from that. That’s probably when it would go wrong. The key ingredients for the best kind of reunion or re-launch is you want the original line-up, or the most successful line-up. When we did Bananarama that was just amazing, everybody was like, ‘I just didn’t see it coming!’ That’s the thing. An original line-up and an amazing launch where you can reignite your fanbase and excite them or, if you’ve got modern promotion, new music and a great track to launch it all.”

Gregory Porter recently told Music Week that acts have to be more than just artists these days – they need at least two or three other lanes to operate in. Is it enough to just be a pop star these days?
“I mean, it is OK to do that, but it’s more fun to take the Jessie Ware approach, which is that you can sit in several different lanes. At the moment, she’s back in the studio with James Ford, she’s writing a new book, and we’ve got a meeting about a TV idea. If your preference is that you just want to make music and tour it then so be it, that’s absolutely fine. But in Jessie’s case, she is just permanently buzzing with ideas, she’s a great person to represent. When we started to look after her she had started her podcast and it was doing OK and losing a little bit of money, but we were able to work out with her how to turn it into something proper. She was ahead of her time in getting in there early before everyone went into lockdown and started launching podcasts. We’ve got a good year and a half under our belts already – we were slightly more proven than anyone else, we had statistics. And Jessie’s super-well connected and friends with everybody, so
she’s got a good little phonebook to get good names involved – the first series of Table Manners had Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran on it. She takes it very, very seriously. Table Manners isn’t a hobby to Jessie, it’s part of her job.”

So what was the key to successfully monetising it?
“It was interesting, in [the first] lockdown we saw a lot of marketing directors that probably, at one point, had allocated their spend to tube advertising, buses, fly postering and adverts in magazines and newspapers, suddenly be like, ‘No one’s going to see any of this!’ So there was a big switch. Suddenly podcasts became a really interesting place for companies to test out and, in some cases, it works extremely well. So we’ve partnered with some really good people on Table Manners, be it Sainsbury’s, Waitrose or John Lewis. We had Dawn French on and it was the No.1 most listened to podcast [that week]. The agency that host it for us and sell our advertising space have over 20,000 podcasts on their books and we’re in the Top 10.”


Peter made me fall back in love with making music

Jessie Ware


As a manager who’s previously edited magazines, what is your take on where print media is right now?
“It’s heartbreaking. If you could see my house I’ve got piles of magazines everywhere. I’ve got Face magazines, every Smash Hits, loads of Qs, and millions of NMEs in the loft. There’s nothing the same as buying a music magazine, bringing it home and flicking through the pages, so I find it incredibly sad. I love podcasting, but it’s not the same. There’ll be a generation that don’t even know what they’re missing because they’ve never even existed in a proper world of what a teenage magazine can do. Top Of The Pops magazine was presented and written in a way that wasn’t babyish at all, it was amusing and quite intelligent, but we covered all genres – one of our earlier front covers was Ant and Dec with Justine Frischmann from Elastica!”

You played a big role in Girls Aloud’s ascension – what did they do for pop music?
“The thing about Girls Aloud is it was such a real small team effort. The main ingredient is obvious, but it was all the sprinkles on top, like releasing a French version of I Can’t Speak French or the Arctic Monkeys doing Love Machine on the Live Lounge. There was a handful of little things that were so vital to the DNA of Girls Aloud, [the appeal of their] B-sides fall into that, with songs like Hoxton Heroes. There were just so many little things where we went above and beyond to make it fun for people. Hearing Biology, The Show and Call The Shots for the first time, they were just like dream records because the whole campaign unfolded in front of your eyes as you heard them.”

Do you think reality TV could still produce a group like that, or has that age passed?
“For a solo artist, it’s possible, but I think that the nakedness of how you audition and piece together a band is hard. I don’t think people like to see that. There’s not enough left to the imagination really, is there? With Girls Aloud, once they’d been voted for – and they were voted for by the public – from there
on out all the marketing ideas, and all the things that go on behind the scenes, remained behind the scenes. So, what you were presented with was a finished package by the time that their album came out, whereas now it’s a lot more exposed, and there’s not a lot left [to the imagination]. The mystique isn’t really there anymore.”

Finally, has there been a guiding management principle that’s helped you these past 10 years?
“My lawyer always says, ‘Could you imagine yourself sitting on a flight next to them for 12 hours? If it’s no, they’re not for you’. When we started the company, I just wanted to work with people that I liked. I’m really so proud to say that I represent everyone who’s on our roster. If it isn’t a pleasure to do it, what’s the point?”

PHOTO: Joseph Sinclair


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