Sanctuary founders prepare to sell after 30 years of rocking

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The Independent Online

The management duo that discovered Iron Maiden and launched them as a global rock band that still play to sold-out tours is preparing to sell their company after 30 years in the music business.

The management duo that discovered Iron Maiden and launched them as a global rock band that still play to sold-out tours is preparing to sell their company after 30 years in the music business.

Sanctuary Group said yesterday it had held "exploratory discussions" that might lead to an offer for the record label and pop group management business, started in 1976 by Andy Taylor, a former accountant, and Rod Smallwood, who used to manage the punk band Cockney Rebel.

Since the days of Iron Maiden's 1980s pomp, Sanctuary has diversified its business and now manages acts as diverse as Elton John and Beyoncé. Its record business specialises in comeback acts and is behind recent revivals such as Morrissey's return to performing and recording.

It also has artists such as Alison Moyet on its roster but has signed contemporary acts as well, such as DJ Shortkut. Sanctuary has long shunned the traditional business models of the music majors, such as EMI, Warner Music and Universal, by avoiding one-hit wonder pop acts. Instead it manages the careers of ageing rockers and other artists who have a rich back catalogue of recordings and a loyal, if ageing, fan base, still keen to buy concert tickets, CDs and merchandise.

Sanctuary's stock price has risen sharply recently, valuing the business at £161m, on the back of rumours a bid is imminent. But yesterday's statement said the talks, with unnamed parties, were by no means certain to result in a deal, and that other options were still a possibility. The company's share price ended the day where it began at 43.75p.

"The company confirms that there have been preliminary talks which may or may not lead to an offer or a further business opportunity, but notes that during the past 12 months, and indeed on a continuing basis, it has had exploratory discussions with a number of third parties about a wide range of future potential business development and investment opportunities," the company said.

Although the company's statement was deliberately vague, it is clear that Mr Taylor and his partner are preparing for a sale. In the past, Mr Taylor has insisted he would not sell out to a rival music major, which has led to speculation that a potential deal would come from private equity buyers.

But Sanctuary's business model tends to consume large amounts of cash, which may put off many private equity buyers, suggesting a bigger music company could still swoop on the business which has built up a valuable franchise of acts and back catalogues.

Another possibility is that Sanctuary's discussions result in more outside investors partnering the company to fund joint ventures to acquire more recording rights and back catalogues.

Mr Taylor, a larger-than-life Geordie, is the front man of the organisation, with the lower-profile Mr Smallwood concentrating on the creative side. Mr Taylor has been an avid racehorse owner in the past and is also a bon viveur of some repute, owning the Inn on the Green restaurant in Cookham Dean near Maidenhead.

Top of the bill

Sanctuary's most famous acts:

Elton John

Fleetwood Mac

Beyoncé

Destiny's Child

Iron Maiden

Motorhead

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