MBW’s World’s Greatest Managers series profiles the best artist managers in the global business. This time, we feature Stuart Camp – the long-term manager of Ed Sheeran, and affiliate of Elton John’s industry empire Rocket Music. The World’s Greatest Managers is supported by Centtrip Music, the currency exchange specialist which helps artists, managers and music businesses obtain an optimum currency exchange deal.
MBW arrives at Stuart Camp’s South London home on a grey, damp summer morning.
He introduces his dogs and offers a cup of tea.
Yes please; milk, one sugar.
He can’t find the sugar.
You’re not here much, are you Stuart?
Er, no, he confesses, whilst calling his girlfriend for directions.
A big name manager making a hurried call to locate some white powder – it’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.
This, though, is a very British version. A very Ed Sheeran version.
Camp has managed Sheeran since 2010, guiding him from the Dog and Duck and self-released EPs to Wembley and world domination.
Between them +, x and ÷ have sold close to 20 million units globally. All three have topped the charts in the UK; x and ÷ both hit number one in the US.
The week we meet, a stadium tour of Australia, New Zealand and Europe (including a run of four nights at Wembley) is announced for 2018 – and sells out pretty much instantly.
Camp, then, is manager of one of the most successful and recognizable stars on earth – but he does nothing to cultivate the image of a player, or of the hard-nosed power behind the throne.
“I don’t do screaming and shouting – be nice, be fair and people will work hard for you.”
He has no truck with the cigar-chomping, desk-thumping Peter Grant style of management. Not only because it’s just not him, but because, he says, it just doesn’t work. Part of his and Ed’s success, he admits, is simply down to being likeable: “I don’t do screaming and shouting – be nice, be fair and people will work hard for you”.
If being good company is part of the job, then Camp is definitely on the clock throughout MBW’s visit. He laughs a lot, swears a bit and takes the piss at pretty much every opportunity. (Favorite target? Ed, of course!)
He also, once the sugar is found, makes a not too shabby cup of tea. So he should, he jokes, seeing as it was a large part of his job when he started out working for Korda Marshall at the Mushroom label in the late ’90s.
We start, though, even further back than that, talking about the music that made Camp want to be part of the business – and the crippling lack of talent that ensured he was destined to stay behind the scenes.
You manage one of the biggest stars on earth, but Were you ever musical? Did you think maybe you’d ‘make it’?
Oh no. I had a guitar and I could not fucking play it at all. I spend a fortune on effects pedals and made an almighty noise, but never a tune.
I had some friends in bands who had some very modest success.
Anyone we’d have heard of?
A band called Jacob’s Mouse from my school who toured with Nirvana, which was a huge deal for us, of course, and made you think, okay, things can happen.
Then I went to University in Leeds and did a bit of work at the Town and Country Club – getting in the way, basically.
When I got out of university I wrote some letters to some companies and I honestly don’t know how one fell into the hands of Korda Marshall (pictured inset), who was then running Infectious/Mushroom [UK].
I must have had four interviews over the course of a year, which was a very long process for the job I eventually got at Mushroom, which was general assistant/tea boy – £100 a week cash in hand.
Was Korda your first mentor?
He was, yes – and Pat Carr who worked there then too. Korda was always amazingly calm. He has this passion and integrity – and of course he has this tremendous A&R sense. He’s also really good with staff. He can manage to forget everyone’s name constantly, and yet still make a company feel like a real family unit. There was no notable hierarchy, everyone was valued.
Also, because Mushroom was a small label, you were just thrown in at the deep end. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I found out that if you pretended you knew what you were doing for long enough, then sooner or later, without realizing it, you would actually know what you’re doing.
“We’d had people come from majors and work with us at Mushroom, and they’d tell us these amazing stories, like, ‘People come and pick up your post for you.'”
Then Mushroom was absorbed into Warner and about six or seven of us went with Korda to what was then East West, working with Funeral For a Friend, The Darkness and Muse. They gave me all the rock bands on East West, which then became Atlantic.
Of course I’d never worked for a major. We’d had people come from majors and work with us at Mushroom, and they’d tell us these amazing stories, like, ‘People come and pick up your post for you.’
We’d look at them, blinking, thinking, What?! Do they do any work?!
I’ve got to ask you about the crazy days of The Darkness. What were they like?
[Laughs] Pretty bad. And quite widespread, the naughty behavior, band and management – but not the label, I should point out. They knew how to have a good time, for sure. There are some outlandish stories from that time which I really can’t repeat.
Justin is amazingly good company; really bright and really funny. You wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of him, but I never was actually. And I’m so chuffed they’re still doing it now.
So, you’re feeling at home in major label land, what next?
I think one of the turning points was when Korda had this James Blunt album and no-one was in a hurry to release it. Me and Jasper Burnham, the radio plugger, both heard it and lobbied for it and I ended up being made product manager. [The album, of course, was 2004’s Back to Bedlam, which went on to sell over 11m units worldwide]
The next big change was when Todd Interland and Frank Presland [then heading up Twenty First Artists], who managed James [Blunt], asked me to go into management. I was a bit reticent and wasn’t in a hurry to leave the label.
“Todd [Interland] kept chipping away. I think we were probably on our third restructure in less than 12 months at Warner when it began to seem much more appealing.”
Todd kept chipping away. I think we were probably on our third restructure in less than 12 months at Warner when it began to seem much more appealing.
Korda had gone to run Warner Bros by then. Max [Lousada], who I’d worked with at Mushroom, was running Atlantic and he’s lovely – but when you’re being interviewed for your own job for the third time, even though you get the wink on the way in to let you know it’s just a procedure, it’s still a bit much.
In the end I just thought ‘fuck it’ and said yes to Todd.
You became day-to-day manager for James Blunt. He also seems like he’d be fun to hang out with. People probably want to dislike him, but…
Well that was the thing, for that first album campaign everyone said we can’t put him on TV, he’s too posh. Plus he was military, which in those days people had no real sympathy for, not like today.
But we knew him and were saying, You’ve got to get him on telly, he’ll be brilliant – and of course he was. He’s one of the wittiest guys I’ve ever met.
The next thing I was given was day-to-day on Lily Allen at the time of her second album [2009’s number one, It’s Not Me, It’s You], which was crazy.
Again, though, someone who was fun to hang out with?
Oh on a good day, absolutely. On a bad day, I’ll book my own flight home, thanks!
You mentioned Ed, when does he appear in the picture?
Okay, so by now Twenty First has become Rocket, and we had Just Jack, who had been signed to Todd since his earliest days. His third record [2009’s All Night Cinema] hadn’t been that well received, but he wanted to do one more tour and he said he wanted Ed to support him.
Jack’d come across him online and he said, ‘I’ve found this kid from Suffolk, he’s only got his guitar and this crap pedal and he says he’ll do it for free.’ Free you say? Fine.
Jack said: ‘I’ve found this kid from Suffolk, he’s only got his guitar and this crap pedal and he says he’ll do it for free.’ Free you say?”
Anyway, the tour kicks off and Jack keeps saying, You’ve got to come and see this kid, he’s amazing.
Ed was managed by Crown at the time, had been for a couple of years, part of the same intake as Jessie J and a few others. So I said, sure, I’ll come and see him, but we can’t do anything, because we absolutely never poach or even make overtures [to artists managed elsewhere].
I got the train up to Leeds, to the Town and Country Club and, yeah, he was amazing. We had a few beers after the show and I didn’t really think much more of it.
What did you think when you first saw Ed live?
He was really good. I mean he looked a mess, he looked like a ginger Robert Smith.
People forget, he had the backcombed hair up to here, I get the photos out now and again to embarrass him.
“He was very funny, he appeared to have no fear – although he does, he just hides it – and he had the songs.”
He was very funny, he appeared to have no fear – although he does, he just hides it – and he had the songs.
He had The A-Team, and he had You Need Me; two songs still in the set today that he played that night.
And when you met him afterwards, what were your first impressions?
Yeah, we clicked, he was very amiable.
Then next time he was in London we spent the entire day in the pub next to the Rocket office. And I said if you ever need anywhere to crash, because he didn’t have anywhere to stay at the time…
He was famously of no fixed abode for a while wasn’t he?
He was, yeah. People exaggerate it and make out that he was sleeping in the gutter; he wasn’t. He did sleep rough a few times, but mostly it was couches.
What’s he like as a house guest?
Dreadful. I moved house three times trying to get rid of him. I tried moving to a one bedroom place, but he just said, It’s okay, I’ll sleep on the sofa.
Then the final show of the tour, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Ed’s management [at Crown] are coming down and he was all excited. But when they arrived they said it was probably best they parted ways, there was nothing they could do for him.
Blimey. Presumably a light bulb went on in your head?
Not straight away, no. It didn’t seem right to dive straight in – we just carried on as mates, really. I’d help out, he’d pop by the office, it was all very informal for six months or so.
He went to America and infamously stayed with Jamie Foxx. Although it was only for a few nights.
“It didn’t seem right to dive straight in [as manager] – we just carried on as mates, really.”
I said to Ed recently, you know we’ve arrived when Jamie Foxx is giving interviews saying you stayed at his house for six weeks. You know you’re big when Jamie Foxx is bullshitting about you!
That said, in Jamie’s defence, it probably felt like six weeks; I lived with Ed for four years and that seemed like an eternity.
Anyway, he came back from the States and I formally became his manager.
How did you formally become his manager? Did he ask you? Did you ask him?
I think… um… you know, I don’t really recall.
You don’t remember the day or the meeting or the conversation where you became Ed sheeran’s manager? Probably the most important conversation of your life…
That’s bad, isn’t it?
It would have been September 2010, I think. I do remember signing the contract with him, because we had lunch with our lawyer and he couldn’t figure out why Ed was sat there stroking my arm all the way through. Bit weird.
Atlantic had been sniffing round for a while but hadn’t really committed – ditto Sony/ATV on the publishing side.
We’d approached other labels; Ed had seen all the labels when he was with Crown and nobody wanted to know.
Then Ed put out the last of his self-released EPs [No. 5 Collaborations Project, featuring Wiley, Jme, Devlin, Sway and Ghetts, pictured].
“I got a phone call from Ed saying, ‘Can you screen grab on your phone? Cos we’re number 36 in iTunes and we’ve got to get a record of this, it’s amazing – we’ll never do better than this.'”
I was in Kew Gardens when I got a phone call from Ed saying, ‘Can you screen grab on your phone? Cos we’re No.36 in iTunes. We’ve got to get a record of this, it’s amazing – we’ll never do better than this.’
An hour later, it’s at No.10 and by the time I got home it was No.1. Then the phone calls really started coming – thick and fast.
At this point, you’re Ed’s manager, but presumably still doing the other bits of your job?
Yeah, I was still looking after James at this point, Ed was my cheeky bit of moonlighting.
It’s funny because [today] James and his band keep saying to me, Do you remember that time we were in this room and you were really shy, saying, ‘Oh I’m looking after this little lad, listen to this…’ And of course them then going, fucking hell, that’s amazing.
That would have been Ed doing I Don’t Need You on SBTV, that was the calling card at the time.
How important was that urban connection that Ed established early on?
I think it was really important. He wanted to play live, he would literally do two or three shows a night when I started managing him, and in the standard indie/acoustic community, there wasn’t that avenue for him.
So he was doing these clubs, there were loads of them and he was the only one doing them. He was going out there and getting respect, which he’s still got today.
So where does the signing story go from here?
Well Max is on the phone a lot more often than he was, and now I can put the phone down on him [laughs]. ‘Sorry Max, Universal are on the other line…’
You joke, but of course they were!
They were. And that’s when [Universal and other labels] were saying, ‘These aren’t the same songs – they’re different to what we said no to before.’
No, honestly, they’re exactly the same five songs.
Sony were in for a while. We played a show at The Bedford where Columbia were coming down, but then he [the Sony A&R] – I’ll name no names – decided he was having dinner with his parents instead.
Then it was just Atlantic and Universal. But it was always going to be Atlantic.
Why was that?
A lot of reasons. Ed Howard [Atlantic A&R] and Ed Sheeran really got on. I think Ed had slept on his bloody sofa randomly after a gig.
Also I knew them, and I knew they had the infrastructure and the will to break artists – they’d done Paolo Nutini, they’d done James Blunt.
Plus, out of all the majors, and this is still true, Atlantic are the ones that don’t sign a tonne of shit, throw it at the wall and see what sticks. They sign something they believe in and they work hard.
“out of all the majors, and this is still true, Atlantic are the ones that don’t sign a tonne of shit, throw it at the wall and see what sticks. They sign something they believe in and they work hard.”
I do remember getting a phone call from Universal when I was on the way to sign with Atlantic and they basically said, ‘Whatever Warner are offering, we’ll beat it.’
And I was like, but they were here six months ago and they’ve never gone away. They were interested before that EP went to No.1; they’ve actually spent time with Ed.
How many albums was that first deal for?
And has that been extended now?
Not yet, but there have been a lot of changes in the deal.
In what areas?
The live cut’s come down and, y’know, some ancillaries, just the stuff you sign away as a new artist. And to be fair, [Atlantic] have done very well out of it, we’ve done very well out of it, and there comes a point you just have to take a sensible look at it.
You put those [extra] things in deals because you don’t know what the recorded music side will do, but once it’s doing fantastic business, well, why don’t you give us some of that live business back.
Who were his real champions within the UK label even before the success happened?
The people who are still there. We’ve got the same promo director, we’ve got the same A&R, we’ve got the same head of label, Ben Cook (pictured).
The only change we’ve had is we did have is that Stacey Tang was our marketing manager for the first record; she was great, she’s now at Columbia working on Rag N Bone man and we have Callum [Caulfield] as marketing manager.
Other than that, it’s still the same team.
Although it’s understood to have nearly changed up quite a lot recently, with Max rumored to have been offered a certain job with a rival label in New York…
Yes it did, didn’t it!
Obviously we all heard he was offered quite the gig, and I was like, Come on, you’re playing them! And now suddenly he’s head of the planet for Warner! [laughs].
How big a concern would it have been if he’d have gone?
It would have been a concern if we lost Max, yes. Same for all three of them, Ed Howard, Ben, Max.
Ed [Sheeran] has always got a soft spot for Max. And Max is often the voice of reason. The four of us [Camp, Cook, Sheeran and Howard], will sit in a room arguing until we’re blue in the face and then Max (pictured) will say something either so profound or so baffling that we’ll be like, ‘Ahhh…’
“Max is a very good, calming and sensible influence on everyone. We’re absolutely delighted he’s going nowhere and he’s definitely 100% still our boy.”
Max is good at that; he’s a very good, calming and sensible influence on everyone. We’re absolutely delighted he’s going nowhere and he’s definitely 100% still our boy.
I remember Max from Mushroom, of course, when he was a hip-hop kid pacing up and down Shorrolds Road like, ‘Yo! Yo! Yo!’ [Laughs]
He’ll hate me bringing that up!
How old was Ed when you first started managing him?
Is a certain level of guardianship part of the manager’s job when an artist is that age?
There is, certainly. Pretty much as soon as he signed, before it was even formal, in fact, he did move in with me.
“It was never a normal manager/artist relationship.”
It was never a normal manager/artist relationship, it still isn’t; I’d never refer to him as my ‘client’. It would feel really odd.
He does call my girlfriend ‘mum’.
He doesn’t call you ‘dad’, does he?
Not to my face, no, but he does refer to me as dad to other people.
His mum will say, ‘Speak to your dad about it’, and he’ll say, ‘Which one?’
He’s always had an old head on his shoulders, but in some ways that’s tricky, because you’ll think he’s worldly wise, and then you’ll look in the corner and he’s playing with Lego.
What were the levels of expectation ahead of the first album?
Pretty damn high. I remember this as a product manager: if, as a label, you get on with the act and the manager, you work so much harder, there’s no way round it.
That’s the one thing I took from having worked on the other side – I try and make sure people like us!
“Ed would look at my diary on the coffee table or whatever and say, ‘I want to work twice as hard as that.'”
Atlantic also recognized the willingness to work. I’d come home from a stint with James, and Ed would look at my diary on the coffee table or whatever and say, ‘I want to work twice as hard as that.’ And I’d say, How?! There are no fucking days off! He said he didn’t care, he just would. And he’s still got that ethic.
He was also one boy and a guitar. Internationally, that makes it easy.
The international labels have to spend their money to get the artist over. Why spend £100K getting P Diddy and his 50 mates over for a TV show they’re gonna cancel anyway, when you can have Ed Sheeran who you know is going to work his arse off and cost you next to nothing?
Ed’s often described as ‘an unlikely pop star’, but it seems like you and Atlantic never thought of him as being niche or a cult – you thought he would be big and mainstream and pop.
No, and to be fair, I remember having a very early meeting with Ben Cook who said, ‘You will go on to sell millions of albums.’ Me and Ed pretty much spat our tea out. Ben stood by it and he was right.
“I remember having a very early meeting with Ben Cook who said, ‘You will go on to sell millions of albums.’ Me and Ed pretty much spat our tea out.”
I did have a bit of the raised eyebrows with Rocket at first, though.
They were like, Who’s that strange boy who keeps coming into our office?
Similarly, whilst he has this everyman, bloke-down-the-pub demeanor, he must also have a steely side, an ambitious side?
He’s certainly ambitious. He knows where he wants to be in X years’ time.
On his computer he has track listings for the next four albums. They’re all rubbish, but he’s got them. Yeah, Ed, they’re the ones we rejected as B-sides in 2012, do you think I’ve forgotten? [Laughs]
“Ed’s a very hard critic on himself. He watches every show back.”
Yes, he does have ambition and determination and he knows where he wants his career to go. He’s always a few steps ahead. But there’s no cold ruthlessness, he’s not cynical and he’s not treading on anyone to get to the top – that’s the last thing he’d ever do.
He’s a very hard critic on himself. He watches every show back. Our joke is that he loves looking at his face. What you looking at Ed? ‘Me.’
He looks and learns. He rarely practices playing live, he does it all in his head.
Do either of you stop, take a look around and just enjoy it?
I try and get him to. But the truth is neither of us really have the time. He did take three months off last year, before the album came out; six months really, but three months travelling.
And was that genuine downtime?
Oh yeah, he went on holiiidaaay. I’ve got some photos no-one will ever see. Flip flops with socks on and a whole lot worse [laughs].
He spent a few months in Japan, rural Japan. He really did let his hair down.
What did you think of that decision?
It was good for him to get away. If he’d have stayed in Suffolk or London, he’d still have had the pressure of being Ed Sheeran. He literally went, Where have I sold the fewest records? At that point it was Japan. Now he’s gutted because we’ve just sold out four arena dates there.
Although I did point out, ‘You’re still a very pale ginger-haired Westerner; people are still gonna point at you. They don’t give a shit if you sing or not, they just think you look weird.’
Was he different when he got back?
He was a lot more relaxed. He’d been through a very intense few years. He’s now had time off, he’s found a lovely girlfriend and he’s focused again.
What do you think of his relationship with Twitter and his decision to quit it?
It’s the modern version of the old cliché: don’t read your own reviews. I get upset by some of the shit I get because I’m on this ‘Kill Viagogo’ campaign at the moment, so people are after my blood. I love it though.
Ed, bless him, couldn’t help but look, so he started talking about signing off. We did point out, even then, you can still search your name. But he said, No, I won’t do it – and he hasn’t, and he’s so much happier.
It was like flicking a switch.
He still does Instagram, but he hasn’t figured out how to read messages on Instagram yet; I don’t think he knows there are messages on Instagram, so let’s keep it that way.
No, not at all. When we did the Wembleys at the end of the last album, we did look at each other and go, ‘Can we do this?’
We knew we could do it in terms of ticket sales, and we’d also played stadiums before. But there’s a difference to playing three or four songs and smashing it and playing for two hours and smashing it. That was probably the only doubt we ever had. And that was probably the best night ever, two songs in on the first show, we knew.
“I was like, really? Of course Ed was all, Yep, let’s do 10 nights.”
I never thought we’d get to Wembley on that album. So when Jon Ollier, our live agent, said Wembley’s available and we think we can do this, I was like, really? Of course Ed was all, Yep, let’s do 10 nights.
So the build-up was exciting, and then from the first show to the last I don’t think any of us slept, the adrenaline levels and the whole buzz was just extraordinary.
Did he change things up a lot for those shows?
Well yes, he did, but only because our gear broke every single night.
Our pedal system crashed at the same time, every time. And when it happened Ed would sit on the side of the stage and do an a cappella version of Parting Glass, which was amazing, to the point where people thought it was a really cool part of the show.
He’s so adaptable, because in the old days he’d get on stage, hit the guitar and every single fucking string would break at once, bless him, and he’d have to deal with it.
Did he lose his cool when the on-stage Wembley hitch first happened?
No, I mean he came off and said, What the fuck was that? The first time it happened he was a bit upset – and it was the night Elton John played.
So when he got offstage we pushed Elton into the dressing room for 10 minutes before anyone else, myself included, went in. And he calmed Ed down, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, you’ve just played the biggest gig of your life, everyone loves you, the a cappella song was beautiful, get over yourself.’
That was the gist of it, I think.
So, second album, early 2014. Was there ever a fear that the first LP was a lucky dart?
Yes, because it is that other old cliché: you’ve got your whole life to write your first album and two weeks to write your second. And, of course Ed always comes back with his old songs and we turn him round and say no. Again.
“He wrote a lot of songs when he was touring with Taylor, and not many of them made the cut.”
He wrote a lot of songs when he was touring with Taylor [Swift], and not many of them made the cut. I think perhaps Photograph was the only one.
He does write a lot though, and there is a process of whittling down to get to the record.
Who leads that process?
Four of us: me, Ed, Ed Howard and Ben Cook. Max jumps in and out. And Ed’s father, actually, also has a say.
How does Ed react to being told, ‘That’s not good enough’?
It’s always a difficult conversation to have, but if the majority say it, he will listen.
Ultimately it is always his decision, and he’s never done anything against his will. If he insists something is either on or off the record, it’s on or off the record, because he has to be happy with it; it’s his name on it.
We’ve learned it’s a really important process, because two or three records that maybe weren’t in the original plan, can really change an album.
On the third record, is there truth in the story that you and Ed had to insist that Galway Girl was on there and the label had to insist that Shape of You was on there?
Some truth, yeah. With Shape of You, we were recording drums on a track and Ed said, Oh I wrote this other song earlier, I think I might give it to Rihanna, and he played Shape of You.
To be fair, I was tired and hungry so I wasn’t really listening, but Ben Cook started saying, What the fuck is this! So you do get those eureka moments. [Cook and Howard] said, ‘This has to go on.’
With Galway Girl, I wouldn’t say they didn’t want it on the record, but I don’t think they’d have been heartbroken if it had been left off the record.
Who makes the decision on streaming exclusives – as in to not do them? Because presumably there are some big cheques knocking around?
Oh God yeah. That comes from the label, but it’s something we wholeheartedly agree with. We always want as many people to hear the music as early as possible.
The only reason to do [exclusives] is for money. And the only thing we want to do is what’s best for the fans, genuinely.
That leads on to the stance you take on – or rather, against – secondary ticketing: why do you do it and why don’t other people do it?
Yeah, why don’t they? We do it because I think it’s abhorrent that some bastard is harvesting our tickets and selling them for £500+.
A lot of people don’t realize it’s not [our fault]. They Google search Ed Sheeran tickets and go, ‘Why are your tickets £500?’ Well they’re fucking not.
It makes me so angry. It’s just not fair and I think it’s disgraceful.
“Our whole thing is that the girl on this side of the town whose dad has got fuck all should have access to everything that the girl in the big house on the other side of town has access to.”
We also don’t do VIP tickets and we don’t sell meet-and-greets.
Our whole thing is that the girl on this side of the town whose dad has got fuck all should have access to everything that the girl in the big house on the other side of town has access to.
How has what you’ve done and said affected your relationship with ticketing companies?
Most of them have been great. We went to Ticketmaster, who own Seatwave and Get Me In and said, ‘We’ll give you extra primary inventory if you don’t list our shows on your secondary sites.’ And they didn’t.
They’re obviously getting a lot of business from us anyway, and the minute we see an Ed Sheeran ticket listed on those sites, we’re pulling your inventory. So they’re playing ball.
Well, yeah. That’s a whole different ball game. In my eyes, they’re operating on the wrong side of the law. The pretense is that they have no presence in the UK, and they do. We shall see.
It’s a struggle, but we’re determined to make a difference here.
So, why don’t more people stand up to it?
Because a lot of people are making money out of it.
What’s the biggest argument you and Ed have ever had?
I don’t think we’ve ever really disagreed, not over anything major. We both trust each other’s instincts. Plus, 99% of the time we think the same way.
Do you and Ed ever catch each other’s eye and say/think: there’s Drake, there’s Beyonce, there’s Justin Bieber. And here’s us!
Occasionally, yes. Not in a starstruck way, as such, it’s more thinking, Yeah, we actually belong here. But I know what you mean.
I remember when U2 played the O2, I had a phone call saying, Bono wants to meet you to talk about Ed. That was bizarre.
You don’t cultivate the major player image, the manager as power broker. Is that a deliberate decision or is it just not you?
No, and that’s something I touched on earlier. When I was on the other side, when I was the tea boy, I had to deal with a lot of those types, certainly in the ’90s there were quite a lot of them – people who thought they could get somewhere by calling someone a c-word.
No, be fair, be nice, and people will work hard for you. And that counts everywhere, for Ed and I; you go to a venue, or to a TV show, the one thing that must happen is, when we leave, they say, ‘Weren’t they nice, when can we have them back?’
I don’t do screaming and shouting. The time I get the label nervous is when I don’t talk to them. Actually, don’t print that, they’ll suss my tactics…
Which other managers do you admire?
Craig Jennings [of Raw Power, pictured], bless him, was the first manager who taught be that being decent gets you further. He’s a fucking oddball, CJ, but I do love him.
“He’s a fucking oddball, CJ, but I do love him.”
Stephen Taverner too, from working with Ash. Obviously Jonathan [Dickins] has done a great job with Adele. I have no ambitions to build an empire though, so we’re a bit different in that respect.
And then there’s Scooter Braun.
I do love Scooter, he makes me laugh. But no, I’m not that person, I’m not going to build the empire. Does lightning strike twice? I don’t know.
I don’t have a day-to-day person or anything, I work completely alone. My office is up there in the spare bedroom.
“it’s so crippling when you’re not the decision maker and you have to defer to someone in another time zone on the other side of the planet.”
I remember when I was a day-to-day [manager], it’s so crippling when you’re not the decision maker and you have to defer to someone on the other side of the planet. It’s all the responsibility and none of the power.
I’m a control freak, so I go on the tour myself. Plus it’s written in my contract that I must be with Ed at all times and at least look like I’m enjoying myself.
How many times has your deal with Ed been redone?
Only once. And that’s because originally he was signed to Rocket and now he’s signed through me and I have a JV with Rocket.
When did you find out Divide had been nominated for a Mercury?
We were in Canada and we both fell off the treadmill in the hotel gym.
I love the Mercurys, but I think it’s an elitist, critic-lead thing that won’t go for the big hitter. We’re not in the country on the night which means we can’t play the TV show, so it’s not a ratings thing.
Ed actually said that five years ago, this would have been his ultimate dream, to get that sort of approval. Now, we’re very honored, but we’re not going to win it.
Does Ed get annoyed, or do you get annoyed on his behalf, about the sometimes sniffy attitude of critics?
Not necessarily. Ed sometimes takes things personally, but I think it’s just part of being a big target.
When you’re that visible, people take pot shots at you. It’s their job to be critical. Coldplay have had it, U2 have had it.
When’s the next album coming out?
Who knows? In the next two years. The label are both overjoyed and dismayed that we’re touring into 2019, but Ed can write and record on the road. There could be something within 18 months even, but I wouldn’t want to promise anything.
So he has the songs?
I had an email this morning: I keep finding old songs, this album’s going to be amazing….
That’s 10 albums planned then. You and Ed still believe in albums and the lifecycle of an LP?
Oh God yes, 100%. We’re not going to do ‘tracks’; it’s still 12 or 13 songs making a coherent body of work for us.
Is that because that’s what the artists Ed admires did best?
Yeah, that and the fact that I’m an old-fashioned old fart.
Are there careers that you and Ed look to as a template?
What is it you especially admire?
The longevity combined with never compromising on quality – and he’s always out there playing live.
Oh, and also, he’s had same manager for all that time – that’s worth mentioning!
Describe Ed in three words:
Talented. Energetic. Focused.
Describe your relationship with Ed in three words:
Unorthodox. Close. Productive.
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