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Eeee Emmm Ayeee!

Stuart Bailie | 09:12 UK time, Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Stuart Bailie.jpgBack in 1999 I was making a documentary on the British music industry on behalf of the Foreign Office. Over the space of six months, we made repeated visits to the EMI building to watch the UK’s most prestigious record company in action.

emi.gifThe Brook Green offices were lined with memorabilia from The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Queen, Pink Floyd and the Pet Shop Boys. We met with the top executives who talked us through the company stories, how people with good ears and stubborn characters had made the place resound. Acts such as Kate Bush and Radiohead had been nurtured over long periods of time, allowing them to become artists in a deluge of commodity.

We watched the label prepare Jamelia in the same way, taking her from a fairly liberal development deal to a sustained sell. She seemed happy with her position and surrounded by fairly decent people. And we heard how Robbie Williams had been carried over the dark years of cocaine, paranoia and the delusion that he was the equal of Liam Gallagher. Fascinating stuff.

We even broached the story of how EMI had ditched the Sex Pistols, nervous that the band’s infamy would have dented the great institution. The Pistols took their revenge by wiring a nasty tune called ‘EMI’ while the company seemed to have missed out on a cultural moment.

Today, EMI bosses are expected to announce as many as 2 000 job cuts. The papers have been full of speculation and stories about the apparent dissatisfaction of artists on the roster. Other record companies have been suffering too, as the digital age has thrown their authority into doubt.

The old days are essentially gone, but I trust that the creative engine that is UK music will continue to throb. The alternative is just about unthinkable.

Stu Bailie presents The Late show on Radio Ulster, every Friday from 10pm until midnight. See his playlist here.

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