…or would you just prefer the usual, sir? … really bad and possibly sexist joke to come back with after such a long time away, but I just had to get it off my chest. Anyway all this to mark the fact that Virgin Records are celebrating their 40th Anniversary this year with a whole lot of special record re-issues, new compilation albums, an exhibition and the like. Details are all given over on the special “40 years of disruptions” site.
I suppose it’s right in a sense to do all this since Virgin has come to be one of the most well known commercial success stories, and brands, of our age. Starting firstly with a student rag (aptly named ‘Student’) then moving on to slightly illegal grampohone record trading, young upstart Richard Branson (right) went on to form the Virgin record label, which then became a chain of record stores, then an airline company, then a mobile phone company, a chain of gyms, and even a bank. Whatever you think of Branson you’ve got to hand it to him – he had great insight and courage, and perhaps most surprising of all knew very little about music.
Although Virgin Records actually issued four LPs on their launch in May 1973, the most famous is of course Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells which bears the all important V2001 catalogue number. Close on its heels came Gong’s Flying Teapot and Faust’s Faust IV. The label set out to be a flagship for prog rock, much in vogue at the time, even though Oldfield’s debut was almost a genre in itself and indeed, as some may say, was the start of the ‘new age’ genre which materialised much later. Oldfield’s early life and work and the making of Tubular Bells (and Virgin Records) was the subject of a recent BBC4 documentary. Catch up with it if you can.
Personally I associate Virgin Records more with the label’s second phase, ie. the punk and new wave years, when they turned their back on prog, Oldfield et al in favour of the new upcoming bands such as XTC, The Human League, Magazine, Simple Minds and (as they used to say on the telly adverts) many many more. Flicking through my own vinyl collection from back then it’s surprising to see how much “Virgin” there was, some of the best music often dressed in some of the best sleeves too.