Virgin Records celebrates 40 years of disruption

Virgin Records is launching an exhibition, an art book and a compilation CD as part of a campaign to celebrate its 40th birthday. CR spoke to designer Adrian Shaughnessy, who is working the project, to find out more.

Virgin Records is launching an exhibition, an art book and a compilation CD as part of a campaign to celebrate its 40th birthday. CR spoke to designer Adrian Shaughnessy, who is working the project, to find out more.                  

In 1973, 22-year-old Richard Branson launched a new record label, Virgin, with Mike Oldfield’s 48-minute experimental composition, Tubular Bells. It sold 15 million copies and earned Branson a $1 million US royalty deal at 23.

After its early success, Virgin struggled to find new acts – assets were sold and staff laid off – but in 1977, it signed controversial punk band the Sex Pistols and in the 36 years since, it’s launched the careers of sellout acts including Daft Punk, Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers, Culture Club and the Spice Girls.

To mark its 40th birthday, Virgin is launching a new campaign, 40 years of disruptions, which it says will celebrate its history as  “an underdog label … with a reputation for doing the unexpected.”

As well as hosting gigs at Camden nightclub KOKO in October, Virgin is launching a four-CD compilation album, an art book edited by NME and The Face contributor Adrian Thrills, a documentary directed by Paul Tilzey and produced by Leopard Films, and an exhibition that will include seen and unseen photographs, props and memorabilia.

The book and exhibition will be overseen by Adrian Shaughnessy and his colleagues at London studio This Is Real Art, who also devised the 40 years of disruptions concept.

“Virgin approached me and along with Georgina Lee (TiRA’s co-founder) and Haider Muhdi (an in-house designer), we were briefed to work on campaign ideas, the book and the exhibition. Georgina found a Branson quote which stated that disruption has always been one of his key business tactics, so we presented the idea to Virgin boss Ted Cockle and he got it straight away- he didn’t hesitate for second,” explains Shaughnessy.

“Who else would sign the Sex Pistols at a time when other labels were dropping them like sick bags? Or sign Boy George on Top of the Pops in a dress? No other label has had so many tabloid front covers … disruption is [Virgin’s] hallmark,” he adds.

The book, exhibition and compilation album will all be designed to reflect this: album artwork released on TiRA’s website shows Virgin’s famous red logo defaced in various ways (above and below), and Shaughnessy is adamant that the book “won’t look like the usual record company self-promotion book”.

“We are planning one that won’t look out of place in the Tate Modern, but which is true to the Virgin label ethos. I like how Jonathan Barnbrook has done the new Bowie book (below), as it’s something you want to own and keep. There will be a huge emphasis on Virgin as a major force in popular culture rather than just a label that released a lot of good records,” he says.

Details of the exhibition and the book’s contents will remain secret until later this year, but Shaughnessy says both will include unseen footage, “rather than just album covers and press shots.”

“We’ll be using a lot of alternative shots, memorabilia, and stuff that got left on the cutting room floor,” he says. The exhibition venue is yet to be confirmed, but Shaughnessy has been briefed to find “a ‘disruptive location’ – in other words, not the usual white cube.”

“There will certainly be some surprises – but the rest is under wraps until the opening,” he adds.

For more information and for details of this autumn’s events, visit:


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