Mervyn ‘Muff’ Winwood will receive the prestigious A&R Icon gong at The A&R Awards in association with Abbey Road Studios on the evening of Wednesday, November 2.
The prize recognises ‘a remarkable individual whose momentous professional feats continue to inspire the UK A&R community’ – a description which perfectly suits the former CBS, Sony Music and Island Records exec.
Muff Winwood – older brother of Steve – began his career as bassist, co-songwriter and founder member of the Spencer Davis Group.
The band scored two UK No.1s with Keep On Running (1965) and Somebody Help Me (1966), plus transatlantic hits including Gimme Some Lovin’ (1966) and I’m A Man (1967).
In the late ’60s, Winwood accepted a job as an A&R exec at Chris Blackwell‘s newly-formed Island Records, where he signed acts including Sparks, whose classic Kimono My House LP he also produced.
“Muff winwood is without doubt one of the greatest A&Rs in the history of british music.”
Sir Elton John
Winwood’s other production work included The Bay City Rollers as well as the eponymous debut album from Dire Straits (1978) and its standout single Sultans Of Swing.
Yet it’s Winwood’s work as an A&R professional, and his way with artists, which lends him industry-wide reverence to this day.
After joining CBS in 1978, he signed a string of successful artists including Terence Trent D’Arby, Sade and the Psychedelic Furs.
He later became President of Sony UK’s A&R division and then MD of Sony’s S2 label, eventually finishing his major label career in 2002 as President of UK Repertoire at Sony Music.
Other acts Winwood worked closely with throughout his CBS/Sony years included The Clash, Alison Moyet, Jamiroquai, Paul Young, Prefab Sprout, Shakin’ Stevens, Reef, Des’ree, Pasadenas, The Coral and Toploader.
While working at Island, Winwood very nearly signed a young Elton John (and then very nearly managed him) but contractual obligations got in the way.
Nevertheless, the record exec acted as a trusted advisor and supporter of the emerging act, something the now-legendary British artist has never forgotten.
Sir Elton told MBW: “Muff Winwood is without doubt one of the greatest A&R men in the history of British music.
“He introduced me and millions of others to countless new talent. He was SO supportive of his acts.
“He was unbelievably helpful to me and Bernie in our early days which was invaluable and something I will never forget.”
Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits frontman and lead guitarist/songwriter, said: “I have happy memories of making the first Dire Straits album with Muff and Rhett Davies engineering in what was then Basing Street Studios off Ladbroke Grove.
“Muff was hard-working, straightforward and easy to work with and the album was recorded and mixed inside three weeks.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for so many in music.”
“I can still hear his Birmingham accent coming over the talk back after a take: ‘If we can’t make a record out of that we’re all custards.’ I still use that one now.
“Congratulations on the award, Muff, and thank you for everything you’ve done for so many in music.”
Other tributes to Winwood have been paid by some of the modern record business’s biggest executive names.
“Muff ‘s track record is incredible from artist, to producer to A&R person,” said Capitol Records UK President Nick Raphael.
“To this day, we reference ‘what would muff do?’ when making decisions.”
Nick Raphael, Capitol Records
“He had a huge influence on Jo [Charrington] and me from the time we worked with him at Sony.
“To this day we reference ‘what would Muff do?’ when making decisions. I believe that is the highest compliment I could pay him.”
Rob Stringer, Chairman & CEO of Columbia Records in New York, said: “It would be justifiable to call Muff an Icon for being in a great group in the ’60s and for then producing some of the greatest albums of the ’70s.
“He signed acts that still sell millions today and mentored so many a&R execs still in the business decades later.”
Rob Stringer, Columbia
“However, despite being a Watford supporter, he deserves the title Icon even more for signing acts that still sell millions today and for mentoring so many A&R executives that are still in the business decades later.”
Jason Iley, Chairman & CEO of Sony Music UK, said: “Muff is without doubt one of the industry’s greatest.
“Every label boss testifies to the lifeblood of our business being down to A&R and hit records, Muff has always been in a league of his own.
“Muff is one of the industry’s greatest… a true genius.”
Jason Iley, Sony Music UK
“When I first started out at Sony I witnessed him sign and deliver success story after success story at S2 including mega hit records from Jamiroquai, Des’ree and Reef which helped shape the musical landscape at the time.
“He’s a true genius who spent time with his acts to understand and get the very best out of them, which is why he’s sold millions of records around the world.”
The career of Richard Griffiths, co-founder of Modest! Management (Little Mix, MNEK, Olly Murs, One Direction), partly mirrored that of Muff Winwood; Griffiths is also both a Sony and Island Records alumnus.
He said: “Muff Winwood was the most complete UK A&R man ever.
“Muff winwood was the most complete UK A&R man ever.”
Richard Griffiths, Modest! Management
“A member of a very successful and important group in the ’60s, he then went on to make Island the most successful indie label of the ‘7Os and CBS the most successful Major of the ’80s.
“No-one has ever done that since nor will it ever happen again. And he’s a great bloke… but don’t expect him to buy the first round!”
And Ged Doherty, Chairman of the BPI and former Sony Music UK boss, said: “Congratulations Muff – well deserved! I first met you in 1981 when I was managing Paul Young and you signed him to CBS.
“Several million album and single sales later you were always just as lovely to us as the day we first met.
“Your A&R ‘ears’ are legendary and you were personally responsible for signing or mentoring some of the most successful british artists and executives.”
Ged Doherty, BPI
“Your A&R ‘ears’ are legendary and you were personally responsible for either signing or mentoring some of the most successful British artists and executives throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
“There was nobody like you then and there has been no-one like you since. On top of all that you are a true gentleman. Enjoy receiving this wonderful award.”
The A&R Awards in association with Abbey Road Studios take place on the evening of Wednesday, November 2 at The Sheraton Grand Hotel on Piccadilly (‘The Park Lane Hotel’).
Other gongs handed out on the night will include the first ever Sir George Martin Award – collected by an an individual with a track record of fostering meaningful artist and songwriter relationships and who continues to play a key role in contemporary hit-making today.
The A&R Awards in association with Abbey Road Studios is officially sold out, but we’re doing everything we can to squeeze in extra seating to meet demand.
We also have a very limited number of sponsorship opportunities left.
Please email [email protected] for more information.Music Business Worldwide