Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

VIRGIN

Music group including a retail chain and a label, formed by budding tycoon Richard Branson c'69. He had started Student magazine at the age of 17, then an off-shoot discount mail-order record company; when the mail orders were flooding in there was a postal strike, and a small record shop was opened in London's Oxford Street. Soon there were three shops, then a recording studio, finally a label, vaulting into the big time with Mike Oldfield's massive hit Tubular Bells '73. The label was run by Branson's closest friend, second cousin Simon Draper; another friend said that 'you could play Richard ten Virgin acts and chances are he couldn't tell one from another'. For a while Branson's Oxford Street shop had a compact disc factory in it, and shoppers could watch the discs being made. Branson went public but he and his associates retained 73 per cent and bought the rest back '88, his belief that they were undervalued justified when he sold 25 per cent of the Virgin Music Group '89 to Fujisankei Communications Group for 93 million, or more than twice as much as London's financial market thought it was worth. Japan is one of the world's largest music markets; Fujisankei was a private company resembling Virgin but five times as big incl. Fuji TV, newspapers and Nippon Broadcasting, said to have the world's largest listening audience (while Virgin's Julia Fordham was at no. 1 in the Japanese pop chart). But meanwhile Branson had started his airline, which became a very expensive crusade and needed cash. Virgin's divisions in the '90s were records, Voyager Travel (incl. the airline and its tour operator), retail and communications, with the record company the biggest, with superstars like Phil Collins and Janet Jackson, but it was sold to EMI. The British newsagent chain WH Smith had 50 per cent of the UK megastores, but along with running an airline, speedboating across the Atlantic and risking his neck trying to balloon around the world, Branson kept his hand in the retail division, making a personal appearance at the new Virgin megastore in Times Square, said to be the world's biggest record shop. He was also moving into financial services.