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Monday 22 July 2019

Death of record label boss Grainge leaves Irish music stars in mourning

Nigel Grainge pulled no punches in criticising Thin Lizzy’s second Phonogram album ‘Fighting’
Nigel Grainge pulled no punches in criticising Thin Lizzy’s second Phonogram album ‘Fighting’
Nigel Grainge

Ed Power

Bob Geldof led tributes to Nigel Grainge, the record company executive who was instrumental in signing many iconic Irish artists, after his death at age 70.

"Sad to hear about the passing of Nigel Grainge, who founded Ensign Records and signed The Boomtown Rats," Geldof tweeted.

"He loved Irish bands," Geldof told the Irish Independent. "This is the man who signed Thin Lizzy and was Phil's friend. He signed Sinéad [O'Connor]. He signed The Waterboys and a thousand other songs you heard and know."

"God bless Nigel Grainge, one of the greatest record industry men. RIP, Nigel. And thank you," wrote BP Fallon, the Dublin DJ, author and publicist.

Mr Grainge had undergone surgery recently and is reported to have died of complications on Sunday. He is the older brother of Lucian Grainge, chairman and chief executive of Universal Music Group, the world's largest record label.

Mr Grainge was a tireless champion of Irish music.

Nigel Grainge pulled no punches in criticising Thin Lizzy’s second Phonogram album ‘Fighting’
Nigel Grainge pulled no punches in criticising Thin Lizzy’s second Phonogram album ‘Fighting’

Such were his powers of persuasion, the then-unknown O'Connor agreed to work with his Ensign Records despite warnings from friends, including Bono, that she would fare better with a bigger label.

But he also helped reshape O'Connor's image, encouraging her to adopt the shaved head look that became her early signature.

"Sinéad was told by Bono and his accountant that she shouldn't sign with Ensign because they could get her a fantastic deal elsewhere," Mr Grainge told 'Hot Press' magazine in 1991.

"But, by then, Sinéad felt a certain loyalty towards us and she liked the fact that we were allowing her a lot of space to go in, write songs, demo them. No pressure, no rush."

Mr Grainge, the Arsenal-supporting son of a London record store owner, started out as a clerk in the accounting department of Phonogram Records (later Mercury Records).

His passion for and knowledge of music saw him rise quickly through the ranks to become head of A&R.

He was also a fan of Thin Lizzy and Phil Lynott, and when he learned they were between record deals, campaigned for the group to sign with Phonogram.

Yet despite the closeness of the relationship he didn't hesitate to deliver harsh truths, such as when he told Lynott and bandmates that their second Phonogram release 'Fighting' (1975) simply wasn't strong enough.

"You could have cut the atmosphere," he would recall.

"They were stoked and I had told them I was disappointed instead of saying 'it was great'…

"You've got to tell the truth, sod the consequences. I always told the truth. I got into terrible trouble with some people."

As boss of his own Ensign Records, he would continue to push Irish and Celtic artists.


He is credited with discovering Mike Scott and The Waterboys and the underrated Dublin outfit Into Paradise.

But aside from Lizzy, perhaps his biggest Irish success was with Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats.

"Bob Geldof and [Rats manager] Fachtna O'Ceallaigh walked in and proceeded to play the most unbelievable demo I've ever heard," he told 'Hot Press'.

"Geldof had this big roll of posters under his arm and while the tape was playing he grabbed my staple gun and was walking around my room stapling up Boomtown Rats posters.

"Now normally, I would have kicked someone like that out, but the tape was so good I said nothing and just listened."

Mr Grainge is survived by daughters Heidi and Roxie, sister Stephanie, brothers Lucian and Justin and grandson Jasper.

Irish Independent

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