In October 2014 legendary music executive Nigel Grainge came to Indie Week to give the keynote address and to be a judge for our finals. Although I was a long time attendee of Indie Week in 2014 I came on board to program the Reel Indie Film Festival (and I am still here!).
I was thrilled that I was going to see my old friend Nigel when he came to Toronto. Our history together went back to the late eighties when I worked at MCA Records Canada and I was the product manager for Chrysalis Records. One of the labels distributed by Chrysalis was Ensign (the name was N for Nigel and what he signed – rather clever). We had success with World Party and The Waterboys but I will never forget the day that the video arrived of a song called “Troy” by an artist he had just signed called Sinead O’Connor. I managed to convince MCA to release her debut album “The Lion & The Cobra” and a star was born.
Nigel had a long career in the UK music business and as an A&R (Artist & Repetoire) man he signed Thin Lizzy, 10 CC (if you only know “I’m Not In Love” please go and delve into their brilliant catalog), Flash and The Pan, Graham Parker (making a rare Toronto appearance at The Horseshoe Tavern on July 5), Clover (featuring an unknown Huey Lewis) , The Waterboys, World Party, The Boomtown Rats and Sinead O’Connor. I loved working with a lot of those artists but perhaps even more so I loved working with the artists that Nigel was developing and did not reach the lofty heights of some of their contemporaries. If Nigel believed in an artist I wanted to be the one who made them feel at home when they visited Canada. It might be taking Boo Hewerdine of The Bible to the 17th birthday party of Alanis Morissette at our President’s home or very late night cocktails with The Blue Aereoplanes at the late-great King Curtis or having Stump over to my house for a BBQ. Nigel’s ears were incredible and to this day I still listen to the artists, big and small, who he signed.
Those who know me know that I am a massive Arsenal supporter. I had a passing interest in football back in the eighties but soon realized that every non North American artist I worked with had an interest in football like we Canadians have an interest in hockey. I needed a team so I could learn to speak their language. Nigel and I were flying to or from New York one weekend afternoon where, during the course of the 70 minute flight, he was on the clunky back of the seat expensive Air Canada phone with his brother Lucien (now Sir Lucien Grainge – CEO of Universal) getting the live play-by-play of the Arsenal game from Highbury. I became a fan.
When Nigel came to Toronto we met after his keynote and headed over to the Imperial Pub for a long overdue lunch. I was wearing my Arsenal jacket which brought a smile to his face. He was excited because he had been hired by Martin Scorsese as a consultant to the new HBO series “Vinyl” which, damn the reviews, I loved. He also showed me the new music ap he was working on and, as a good A&R man, picked my brain on what I was listening to and what Canadian bands he should be checking out.
Last Sunday I heard the news that Nigel had passed. I texted former record company executives and artist managers and we came together from the U.S., Israel and Ireland in a matter of moments. I needed to speak with those people as they all knew what Nigel had meant to all of us.
I will never be able to thank him enough for everything he taught me about the music business, and, life.