Stewart, who is now CEO of anti-piracy business TCAT, reflected on his role in U2’s career as the band scored their 11th No.1 album, Songs Of Surrender, featuring stripped-back versions of their songs.
Stewart started as an A&R for Island in the summer of 1979.
“I arrived the week that The Buggles went to No.1 with Video Killed The Radio Star,” he told Music Week. “I was in my twenties and had been fascinated by the music scene. I didn’t know much about the business side, but I had to learn pretty quick and the first two bands I signed were Killing Joke and U2. It went downhill from then on!”
The executive recalled the first time he saw U2, when the band played a boxing stadium in Dublin.
“I turned to Michael Deeny, who at that point was the godfather of Irish music, and in a lather of excitement, I said, ‘These boys could be bigger than Led Zeppelin,’” he said. “That was at the National Stadium in Dublin in January 1980, I have no idea what made me say it, although I did get the mesmeric stage presence of Bono, and the Edge was clearly extremely talented.”
Stewart also praised Bono as a “good man”.
“I’m privileged and very happy to say I know him well and he is a good man,” he said. “I realise there are people who don’t take to what he does, but I can assure you the world is a better place [because of] him. It’s not a popular thing to say about rock stars, but U2 are good people.”
I can assure you the world is a better place because of Bono
In his Music Week interview, Stewart spoke about working alongside Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who has been named as a recipient of the Polar Music Prize 2023.
“A lot of what Chris Blackwell taught me was by osmosis,” he said. “I was quite in awe of what he’d done at Island to start with. We worked together on Grace Jones’ Warm Leatherette and those albums she did with Sly And Robbie that were so successful in the ’80s. He taught me how to make great records and to focus on seeing them through. He had great taste and he was a good picker of people, too.”
Returning to the present day, Stewart commented on the latest IFPI Global Music Report, which showed continuing global growth.
“For the industry to continue this growth trajectory, legitimate music rights owners - such as labels, artists and writers - must be protected from evolving threats and fairly recognised for their work,” said the TCAT CEO. “Of these risks, piracy on digital stores is the most systemic. It is an insidious practice that remains a lucrative illegal business causing the music industry to lose eye-popping amounts in revenue every year. Pirates pick the pockets of legitimate rights owners, with a total disregard for their creative and intellectual property.”
He added: “AI-synthesised voice technology poses the latest threat to rights ownership. In the wrong hands, the technology can leech off copyrighted content without providing fair compensation to the legitimate owners or source.
“Labels, artists and writers deserve fair remuneration for their work, and TCAT is leading the fightback against rights exploitation. Our software scans legitimate global digital music stores for unauthorised and duplicated releases, guarding against royalties flowing into the wrong hands. This can help the industry continue to enjoy long-term growth.”
Subscribers can read our Aftershow interview with Nick Stewart.