Oct.24 - Sir Richard Branson reflects on the highs and lows of forty years of Virgin Records, his tears when he sold the company and why he's still a hippie at heart. Edward Baran reports.
They were the sounds that defined a generation, from punk to Phil Collins to the Spice Girls....and they were all on Virgin Records. Sir Richard Branson founded the label in 1972 -- the first album was Mike Oldfield's haunting Tubular Bells. Branson grew the company into a powerhouse of the music industry, helping to usher in the progressive rock movement of the 1970s and new wave in the 1980s. But he sold the business to EMI for a billion dollars in 1992, partly to finance his airline. SOUNDBITE, Sir Richard Branson, Virgin founder, saying (English): (Reporter: How much did you have to agonise over that decision, it must have been hard?) "Yes of course it was very hard - it's like selling your children. I mean you build something from scratch, we had just signed Janet Jackson, we had just signed the Rolling Stones when we sold it and I remember running down Ladbroke Grove, tears streaming down my face with this cheque for a billion dollars in my pocket...It was a difficult moment but we picked ourselves up very quickly and we wouldn't be building spaceships today if it hadn't been for that so it was the right decision." The 40th anniversary of Virgin Records is being marked at an exhibition in London, which features photography, clothes, album covers and memorabilia from the label's most influential acts. Branson credited British punk band the Sex Pistols with helping Virgin gain its footing in the industry and take on other music labels delving into the Brit punk genre. SOUNDBITE, Sir Richard Branson, Virgin founder, saying (English): "I think the Sex Pistols put Virgin on the map. It firmly established Virgin as a brand, a slightly risque brand, but as a brand." Following Universal's acquisition of EMI, Virgin is now part of the biggest music company in the world, now representing acts such as Emeli Sande. But is the bearded entrepreneur with the flair for publicity still a hippie at heart? SOUNDBITE, Sir Richard Branson, Virgin founder, saying (English): "I like to think I am still a hippie at heart. I never got into the punk thing, I quite like to keep my hair." The exhibition marking 40 years of Virgin Records runs at London's Victoria House until October 29.