Richard Branson has said that he hopes to work with the new owners of Virgin Records, Universal Music, to “reinvigorate” a label that has been “left to languish”.
As previously reported, when Universal was negotiating with European regulators to get approval for its acquisition of the EMI record company, it was mooted that Virgin Records – sold by Branson to the British major way back in 1992 – would be one of the EMI units divested to placate those concerned by the market dominance of a combined Universal/EMI.
Branson was then linked to a bid to buy the Virgin label from Universal, being spearheaded by former Virgin Records exec Patrick Zelnik, now boss of French indie Naïve and an active player in the European indie label trade body IMPALA (somewhat controversially, given his Virgin acquisition ambitions meant Zelnik became pro the Universal acquisition of EMI, with remedies, whereas IMPALA’s official line was to oppose the merger outright).
In the end Zelnik’s Virgin bid, with or without Branson as a backer, wasn’t to be, because Virgin Records was not on the list of EMI units to be sold when Universal finalised its divestment plans with European regulators, indeed in the UK it will be pretty much the only part of EMI that moves over to Universal HQ, with Parlophone and the Chrysalis catalogue to be sold.
Asked about the music business in a new interview with the Financial Times, Branson alludes to some kind of alliance with Universal as the new operators of the Virgin brand in the record industry, reckoning that EMI’s most recent owners under-utilised the Virgin Records name, especially in the US where the Virgin label was merged into EMI’s Capitol division. Though what the relationship between the Virgin Group and Universal might be isn’t clear.
In terms of any really active involvement by Branson and the Virgin empire in music in the short term future, most attention is now on the group’s rumoured ambitions in live music, which could kick off with the much mooted 50th anniversary shows for the Rolling Stones. The Virgin chief was coy about those plans in the FT interview too, though indicated such a venture was indeed in development, adding “rumour has it we’ve landed quite a good catch”.
Read the interview here.
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