Strike? There's no other way: Blur lead pop protest over sale of label

Artists threaten to withhold future releases if planned sell-off of Parlophone goes ahead. Adam Sherwin reports

Some of Britain's top-selling musicians may withhold their future albums in protest against being treated as "assets" in the forced sale of their label, The Independent can disclose.

Blur are leading a revolt against the sell-off of Parlophone, part of the EMI group, which has been the launchpad for dozens of artists from The Beatles to Coldplay. Universal Music, the French-owned firm, has been ordered to shed Parlophone as part of its £1.2bn takeover of EMI.

The move has unsettled artists on Parlophone's roster, which also includes Kylie Minogue and Tinie Tempah. The stars, many of whom are worth millions of pounds, say they object to being treated as pawns in a corporate takeover.

Blur have joined forces with their label-mates to collectively lobby potential bidders for the company, calling on them to place the interests of artists first.

Stars not happy with the new owners could withhold future releases, effectively going on "strike".

Dave Rowntree, drummer with Blur, told The Independent: "Artists are the only people currently being left out of the conversation, which is unfortunate. If the staff at the label are unhappy with the new arrangements they are free to leave, but the artists are not."

Rowntree is backing negotiations through the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), a pop stars "trade union", supported by Lily Allen and Radiohead.

"The FAC was formed by musicians who were fed up with the industry taking decisions without considering the impact it would have on those who actually make the music," he said. "The FAC and the Music Managers Forum are looking to engage with Parlophone to see how we can help."

The drummer, 48, now a qualified solicitor, said he once advised the head of EMI how to prevent illegal file-sharing, which has decimated music sales, from destroying the company's revenues.

"Years later, while the label I grew up working with is being broken up and flogged off, Apple have made a gazillion dollars using the business model I explained. I'm left in the completely unsatisfying position of being able to say, 'I told you so'."

The great music sell-off includes artists earning "steady revenues" such as Pink Floyd, Cliff Richard, Tina Turner, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Duran Duran and Kraftwerk. Universal gets to keep The Beatles catalogue, which is excluded from the Parlophone sale, as well as Katy Perry, Robbie Williams and The Beach Boys.

Possible bidders for EMI's assets include Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and BMG Rights Management, a joint venture between a private equity group and the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann.

Jon Webster, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum, which represents managers and artists, said: "We are holding discussions with potential bidders. We want them to understand that the future of the record business is about genuine partnership with artists and that works best when their views are involved and they are not just traded as assets. But financiers often just say 'what are you talking about?'"

He added: "Artists have withheld releases to get better terms if they are powerful enough. They can sit down with the new owners and get a solution. It's the smaller acts that suffer most because they have no bargaining power."

Sir George Martin, the legendary producer who became Parlophone manager in 1955 and gave The Beatles their big break in 1962, is also believed to have concerns over the future of the label.

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