Ensign founder Nigel Grainge dies aged 70

Respected British A&R exec and the founder of Ensign Records, Nigel Grainge, passed away yesterday (June 11) age 70 in Santa Monica, California.

The cause of death was complications from recent surgery, according to his family.

Grainge, who began his music career in the 1970s, signed and developed artists ranging from Sinead O’Connor to The Boomtown Rats, Thin Lizzy, The Waterboys, 10cc, World Party, Steve Miller Band, Eddy Grant, The Blue Aeroplanes, and Graham Parker & The Rumour, among many others.

He was dubbed by Billboard Magazine as “one of the most respected and knowledgeable A&R men in the business.”

A native of London, Grainge grew up surrounded by music. His father Cecil owned a record shop in North London and in the early 1950s gave him a 78 RPM record every weekend beginning at the young age of three.  His obsession with music would follow him for the remainder of his life.

He began his music industry career in 1970 as a credit control clerk in the accounting department at Phonogram (then known as Phillips Records and would later become Mercury Records), where his encyclopedic knowledge of, and passion for, music led to several promotions.

In 1973, he was appointed label manager for all U.S. Repertoire where he played a key role in the success of U.K. hits “It’s Four in the Morning” by Faron Young and “My Ding-A-Ling” by Chuck Berry.

Grainge would eventually rise to the head of A&R for Phonogram, where he signed Steve Miller Band, 10cc, Eddy Grant, Graham Parker and the Rumour, Clover (featuring Huey Lewis) and Thin Lizzy.

Having established himself as one of the premier A&R executives in the industry, in 1976 Grainge formed his own label, Ensign (“N” for Nigel, “signs”).

There he would sign the Boomtown Rats (led by Bob Geldof), who achieved more than a dozen Top 40 hits in the U.K., the critically acclaimed Waterboys and World Party, and the Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Sinéad O’Connor whose cover of the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U” became a worldwide hit in 1990, spawning album sales of more than 12 million of I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

The label would also release many influential reggae and jazz-funk recordings. According to Billboard Magazine, of the first 50 singles released by Ensign, more than half of them charted, “a virtually unprecedented success for the U.K. record industry.”

A decade later, Ensign was sold to Chrysalis Records, and Nigel embarked on his next venture, a successful publishing company called Dizzy Heights, which was sold to German music company Edel in 2000.

In 2002, Grainge moved to Los Angeles where he served as a consultant to artists, publishers and record companies. In addition, his knowledge of the history of music made him a highly sought after lecturer.  Grainge served as a consultant on the HBO series Vinyl.

His most recent venture was a Los-Angeles based start-up, TunesMap – an innovative company dedicated to “visualizing the world around your favorite music.”  The early-stage business is currently working with several major music companies.

A family man and lifelong Arsenal FC supporter, he is survived by: two daughters, Heidi and Roxie; a sister, Stephanie Grainge; two brothers, Sir Lucian Grainge and Justin Grainge; and a grandson, Jasper.Music Business Worldwide