He is overweight, balding and rarely seen in anything but a suit and tie. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge and has his Institute of Chartered Accountants practising certificates framed on his office wall. Andy Taylor is not your typical music company boss. And certainly not the man you would expect to be behind the phenomenal success of The Strokes, the nouveau punk band whose latest album went into the charts this weekend at number one.
The executive chairman of Sanctuary, Britain's largest independent music company, is nothing if not an enigma. And he loves it. Despite leaving Tyneside more than 30 years ago, he retains a strong regional accent. "An accent will only go away if you actively want it to go away," he smiles. "If you have a Geordie accent and say you went to Trinity College, Cambridge, then that's an anomaly. People remember you."
It's also an anomaly that a 52-year-old, straight-as-a-die chartered accountant could be the business brain behind artists as diverse as The Strokes, Iron Maiden, Dolly Parton, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Buffseeds, Led Zeppelin and Beyonce Knowles. "I work on the premise that what I am offering is professional abilities," Taylor argues. "We have a lot of creative businesses and creative people and it's not my job to be hyper-creative. I'm a businessman who hopes to make as much money as I can for our artists."
Taylor's career started in 1969 at Cambridge when he and a friend, Rod Smallwood, organised May balls. The duo decided they wanted to run a music business, so with Smallwood taking control of the creative side (which he still does for Sanctuary), Taylor decided to get accounting qualifications with the firm of Robson Rhodes. Taylor and Smallwood not only put on concerts, they moved into band management, with early-1970s rockers Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel.
But their big break came towards the end of the decade when they discovered the heavy metal band Iron Maiden playing in a north London pub. By 1983, having propelled Iron Maiden to inter-national stardom, Taylor and Smallwood could turn their attention to nurturing other acts and expanding their business.
Using Taylor's financial expertise, Sanctuary, as it was called by then, concentrated on so-called "artist services", essentially the business management of performers. It was also able to handle tour management and started releasing records on its own label. These days, Taylor says Sanctuary has a 360-degree business model, doing anything in the music trade from publishing to merchandising to making videos and DVDs. It does this not only on its own account but in joint ventures with smaller labels such as the well-regarded Rough Trade, home of The Smiths, The Libertines and, of course, The Strokes.
"Records have grown disproportionately," says Taylor. "In the music industry, only a third of income is recorded music; the other two thirds is merchandising, management, agency and the like. For us, recorded is less than half our turnover but more than half our profits."
Acquisitions such …