The life of music industry insurance innovator Willie Robertson (67), who died of cancer in London on July 9, is to be celebrated at a London thanksgiving service Oct. 5
Robertson pioneered insurance for touring acts, building a former pariah sector into a multi-million dollar global industry. He also co-founded the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy charity in 1976, remaining on its fundraising committee until his death.
Tony Smith, manager of long-term client Genesis, calls the extrovert Robertson "a force of nature," who "invented the concept of insurance for the non-appearance of rock bands at a time when the insurance establishment wouldn't touch such a thing with a 10-foot pole."
Robertson co-founded Robertson Taylor Insurance Brokers (RTIB), the global leader for covering artists' equipment and concerts, with joint chairman Bob Taylor and business partner Ian France in 1977. The all-time highest-grossing tour, U2's "360," is insured by the firm, as was its predecessor, the Rolling Stones "A Bigger Bang" (2005-2007).
RTIB's unrivalled client list has included the Who, Pink Floyd, Elton John and Michael Jackson. After its acquisition by U.K. company Oxygen Holdings in 2007, Robertson and Taylor remained in place, becoming consultants in 2010.
Robertson was born in Dorking, England on June 8 1944, and educated at a leading private school Harrow. Entering the insurance business as a teenager, he teamed with Taylor at London brokers Eckersley Hicks in 1969.
As a fixture in London nightclubs, Robertson would tap upper class and celebrity contacts for business, while Taylor arranged coverage. Their first music deal arrived when former schoolmates of Robertson's brought in their management client, progressive rock outfit King Crimson, then "supergroup" Emerson, Lake & Palmer in 1970.
Insuring artists against equipment loss/damage or show cancellations was then virtually unknown, as Robertson told Billboard (Billboard, April 9, 1994). ELP, he recalled, "had an incredible £16,000 [$25,900] worth of equipment-I had to go to 10 underwriters before I could get that placed."
Such persistence paid off. "We used to have people knocking on the door," recalls Taylor, "saying 'I've got a truckload of kit outside I can't get insured!' And one of those could well have been Mick Jagger or Bryan Ferry-you never knew who you'd get next."
Neil Warnock, London-based CEO/founder of The Agency Group, says his "great friend" Robertson "built the most amazing company" with Taylor, adding: "as the touring business got more sophisticated, artists and promoters needed more extensive cover, and they did that really well."
Robertson is survived by his wife Angie and children Saran, Sami and Max. A family funeral will take place July 28; the thanksgiving service details are not yet finalized.