Craig Jennings is on a roll.
Venom, the fifth studio album from Welsh metal band Bullet From My Valentine, is officially an international hit: a chart-topper in Australia, it’s also just gone Top Five in Germany, Austria and the UK – and Top Ten on the Billboard 200 in the US.
Another heavy rock colossus looked after by Jennings’ London-based Raw Power, Sony-signed Bring Me The Horizon, are readying a new LP which the British exec reckons is so good, it’s capable of selling millions.
Fellow Raw Power clients including Of Mice & Men, Modestep and While She Sleeps continue to ascend at an impressive rate on both sides of the Atlantic.
And Don Broco, the square-jawed Bedford rockers with legions of devoted teenage fans, have just seen their second album, Automatic, outgun its predecessor’s UK sales by 130%.
By rights, Jennings should be sat in a rooftop Los Angeles jacuzzi, guzzling Jack & Coke and beaming behind blacker-than-black Ray Bans; every inch the celebratory hard rock impresario.
He’s not doing that. He’s in Birmingham, and it’s pissing it down.
It’s in these glamorous surroundings that we crown Jennings as MBW’s second Manager Of The Month (once again supported by our friends at InGrooves Music Group).
He’s excitedly informing us that Bullet For My Valentine (pictured, above) have just made history: the first ever Welsh act to top Australia album charts.
Have that, Dame Shirley.
But Craig’s joy is not unmitigated: his beloved Birmingham City FC were a whisker away from toppling Derby County at the weekend, and he’s still a bit antsy about it.
Nine years after he founded Raw Power, Jennings’ rock management empire has become a genuinely global powerhouse, spreading across London, Tokyo and LA, with whispers of a potential future move into Germany on the cards.
“I started going to punk shows, starting with the skids in 1978. A light went off in my head.”
Yet if you want to pin down Jennings on your average weekend, you won’t find him in a poncy members club or on an executive golf course. Your best bet is St. Andrew’s football ground, just off the Coventry Road.
You can’t miss him: he’s the chap in the black hat, grumbling into his tea and offering pearls of punditry to the same mates he mucked about at school with 40 years ago.
“I put my whole career down to listening to John Peel in my bedroom in Birmingham when I was 13 or 14,” Jennings tells MBW. “I listened every evening from 10pm to midnight – taping it and playing it again the next day.
“Then I started going to punk shows, starting with The Skids in 1978 at Digbeth Civic Hall. A light went off in my head. From there, my whole life completely circled around punk rock and football.”
Not much has changed.
Jennings, whose dad was a union official in Birmingham, says his unfancy upbringing has helped him calmly deal with blips and bumps in Raw Power’s journey.
By the same token, it’s reminded him to imbibe his firm’s music biz highs without getting too giddy.
“I still spend a lot of my life in Birmingham and I suppose that’s partly because it keeps me grounded,” he says.
“I don’t get carried away when things are going fantastically well at Raw Power, and I try not to get too down when things aren’t going so well – that goes for our whole team.”
He credits his own professional stability to the loyalty and support of Kerry, his wife of 32 years, and his three kids, Rosie, Ellie and Harry – without whom, he says with some certainty, “I wouldn’t still be doing this.”
He adds: “Raw Power is totally built on the spirit of what punk rock was about when I was a kid – integrity, belief and a sincere love of great musicians.
“We have a real family spirit. We’ve got 18 employees now, and I’m massively proud of them all.
“We’ve got a family spirit at raw power. You can sense a proper gang mentality in our office.”
“You can sense a proper gang mentality in our office. It makes me very proud that we’ve put together a team of people that go out for drinks together to celebrate a good time, but then rally round each other when there’s a problem. It’s so essential in what can be a very solitary business.”
Jennings knows all about that loneliness from experience.
After leaving college at 16 and training as an accountant, he began managing an act making waves in the Midlands, Balaam & The Angel, in the early Eighties.
As the group’s career accelerated, Jennings established his own company, Chapter 22, and took it upon himself to release their early records.
(“I remember seeing the first vinyl in shops with the shrink wrap on,” he remembers with a grin. “It was like: fucking hell, I really am in the music business now!”)
In 1985, Jennings brokered a deal with Virgin Records to sign the band.
It was his first managerial success of many, and the impetus he needed to focus his energy on Chapter 22 – a company which became something of an blueprint for Raw Power.
“I’ve always had a label element to what I’ve done and it was certainly the case back then,” he explains. “My first instinct has always been that of a manager but I’m a hands-on, organiser type. As my wife would tell you, I like to control everything…”
Chapter 22 would go on to manage successful acts such as Pop Will Eat Itself, Suicide and The Mission but after 15-plus years of flying solo, Jennings realised he needed some help.
In 2001, he agreed a deal with Iron Maiden gatekeeper Rod Smallwood to bring Chapter 22 into his rock label/management empire, Sanctuary.
“After some tough financial times on my own, those years at Sanctuary allowed me to rehabilitate myself,” says Jennings.
“I learned so much, improved my perspective and found bands that changed everything, really.”
Five short years later, in 2006, Sanctuary fell apart.
Smallwood vacated the ailing publicly-traded company after some questionable treatment from its higher-ups, taking Iron Maiden’s management interests with him.
Once again, Jennings was back on his own, but the Sanctuary experience had proven invaluable in refreshing his ambitions.
“I’d started to build a good roster at Sanctuary, and the confidence that we could make it work in the big wide world,” says Jennings.
“Rod offered to come in as a partner in Raw Power and help finance it, which was a huge moment. We launched with five bands, bringing them over from Sanctuary, and we were on our way.”
Those bands included Funeral For A Friend, Bullet For My Valentine and Gallows. All remain Raw Power clients nearly a decade later.
What’s the secret to Jennings’ ability to maintain acts’ loyalty in his highly competitive world – where LA managerial sharks aren’t averse to buttering up on-the-rise British bands with loud guitars and black attire?
“Everything we do is about trust,” he replies. “Raw Power just doesn’t work without trust. It really develops in those early years, especially when things aren’t going so well with a band.
“You have to be appreciative that, for the artists, this is literally their whole lives – the be-all-and-end-all.
” I don’t care how successful your band is. If you’ve managed them for five years, you’ll have had to fight in the trenches with them.”
“So when you have a down-turn or a problem, that’s when you show your mettle; that you’ll be there through thick and thin.
“I don’t care how successful your band is, if you’ve managed them for five years, you’ll have had times when you’ve had to dig in – to show them you’re in the trenches fighting with them.”
Jennings has once again stuck to his philosophy of management companies’ maintaining the ability to release their own records at Raw Power.
This time, however, his label – Search & Destroy – has done so on a grander scale, and with the support of a major record company.
Launched in 2012 as a JV Sony Music, Search & Destroy has issued records from Raw Power acts such as Mallory Knox, Don Broco, Crossfaith and While She Sleeps.
Last year, Jennings switched allegiances: Search & Destroy now goes through Universal Music, via Spinefarm.
“As a manager, I’ve always wanted to take as much responsibility for artists’ careers as much as I can, and that extends to their records,” says Jennings.
“These days, there’s less people in record companies, and it’s healthy for management companies to compensate for some of that.
“Our vision at Raw Power, and we’re doing it brick by brick, is to have everything under our own roof – we’ve got a brilliant in-house digital marketing team now.
“Better managers see the current setup as an opportunity; there is a lot of great people in record companies, but there just isn’t the resource there once was. So now it’s up to you to take a campaign by the scruff of the neck.”
Jennings says he’s feeling bullish about the strength of hard rock music, which has long been insulated from mainstream trends by its audience’s die-hard tribalism – although he admits the success of Royal Blood last year gave the genre a welcome popularity boost.
However, he wishes that certain institutions such as the BRIT Awards, The Mercurys and The Ivor Novellos occasionally showed some more respect for the genre.
“There’s definitely pockets of the industry that don’t take rock seriously enough,” he notes. “We struggle with TV programmes like Later… in the UK – but national TV is generally hard for all music in Britain these days.”
There appears to be less of issue with rock being recognised in the US, where Raw Power’s LA chief, Matt Ash, is now a fixture on the annual Grammys committee.
Silverware, though, doesn’t pay the bills: Jennings admits that he loses sleep over the economic perils faced by new bands in the streaming age.
He’s very proud of the fact that Raw Power has never voluntarily walked away from an artist, but acknowledges that making a young act’s business solvent is a harder grind that ever before.
“It’s very tough out there, to be honest,” he comments. “There isn’t the volume of income there used to be. For a young band, cash flow is a real issue.
“A lot of rock artists are in situations where they’re taking part-time jobs.
“We spend a lot of time carefully calculating costs for young bands. It’s not the sexiest part of the job, but building a band’s cash flow properly is essential.”
“The worst is when they put their heart and soul into it for years, then turn around aged 25 and say, ‘Is it time to think about what I’m doing in my life?’
“We spend a lot of time cash-flowing the bands, working out what they can afford to pay themselves. That takes a lot of time and it’s not the sexiest part of our business – carefully calculating rehearsal costs, merchandise income, live etc.
“But it’s essential to get a band to ‘first base’: getting past the point when a band is living hand-to-mouth and building their cash flow to a healthy stage, that’s so satisfying.
“It’s when you can turn round and really show a band how much you’ve believed in them.”
As for the future of Raw Power, the company is buzzing about that new Bring Me The Horizon record, That’s The Spirit, out next month. Jennings admits he’s got an eye on the top echelons of the Billboard 200 chart.
There’s also a music publishing operation, Raw Power Music, plus a string of newly-signed development acts to tend to, including SHVPES, As Lions and DEAD!.
Jennings’ ambitions are sky high, but the ingredients that have grown Raw Power into one of the most respected rock brands in the music business remain stoically the same: belief, financial level-headedness and Craig’s simple philosophy about the importance of A&R.
“You’ve got to keep making really great records,” he says. “There are lots of reasons for sales declines in the past few years, but we all know there have been a lot of mediocre records being made.
“We really work hard at Raw Power to make the best albums we can – however long it takes. Making great records will always pay dividends.”
“I’ve got so much left to achieve with this company,” he adds. “You won’t find me patting myself on the back just yet.”
Fair enough. Allow us.
Craig Jennings: Punk rocker; Birmingham FC nut; wily entrepreneur; family man; grounded pragmatist; passionate believer… Manager Of The Month.Music Business Worldwide