EMI `will stay independent'

EMI's chairman, Sir Colin Southgate, yesterday launched a stirring defence of the British music group's independence and said it need not become another trophy asset like Rolls- Royce and the Savoy that would fall to an overseas buyer.

He denied that EMI had been jilted at the altar by Seagram, the American drinks and music group which has since tied the knot with PolyGram in a $10.6bn deal and said EMI could be successful on its own.

"EMI is still number three in the industry (behind Seagram-PolyGram and Sony), we are still independent and we still have the best figures in the industry. We have been around for 100 years and have a strong back catalogue and strong local rosters of artists. We should be jolly proud of EMI. Britain doesn't' have too many companies that are number three in a global market. We still aim to be number one."

He said he had no plans to step down as chairman even though a re-shuffle at the board followed comments by him that he would prefer to continue as non-executive given his position at chairman of the Royal Opera House. "I'm only 59 and I'm not going to let EMI down after 14 years of grind, am I?"

He was speaking as EMI, whose roster of artists spans the Spice Girls, The Verve and Radiohead, reported a sharp fall in profits caused by the strength of sterling, the Far Eastern crisis and the slowdown in worldwide music sales. Profits fell from pounds 380.5m to pounds 307m before exceptionals. However Sir Colin pointed out that EMI's share of the worldwide music market has risen from 14.3 per cent to 14.8 per cent. It US market share has risen from 9.7-12 per cent.

EMI took a pounds 43m exceptional charge last year for the closure of its head office in New York and the pounds 12m pay-off to Jim Fifield, head of EMI Music. It also showed a pounds 101m gain, most of which related to the disposal of its HMV retail chain.