Seymour Stein (right) presenting Martin Mills with his Libera Lifetime Achievement award in New York City. (photo: Kyle Dean Reinford)
At last night's inaugural A2IM Libera awards, legendary record exec Seymour Stein presented Beggars Group's Martin Mills with the Lifetime Achievement award. Stein's moving tribute (full transcript below) is part independent music history lesson filled with the names of independent labels and label heads from yesteryear as well as a fitting tribute to Mills for his impressive music career and influence in the larger independent music community. Most-appropriately, Mills had just stepped off a plane fresh from testifying on Capitol Hill against the UMG-EMI merger.
I am both thrilled and proud to have been chosen to present Martin Mills, A2IM's first ever lifetime achievement award. Anyone who knows Martin must be aware of his long time contribution to the independent music label movement and to the founding of A2IM and similar organizations around the world.
Aside from all that, Martin is just a great and amazing human being. I ought to know, my relationship with him goes back well over thirty years when Sire licensed both the Cult and Modern English from Beggars. That said, it's also thirty years that I sold Sire to Warner Brothers. Technically, I don't belong here; I'm not an indie but heart and soul I stand with the indies 100%. Always will.
Indies have been responsible always for setting trends and supporting new genres. This was true in the US back in the thirties with Jazz exponents like Commodore and Blue Note, the forties and fifties with R&B giants Atlantic, Chess, King, Specialty, Imperial, Duke, Modern and Vee-Jay. Rockabilly with Sun and folk rock with Elektra and Vanguard.
Of the 41 nominees on the first ballot for induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 39 began their careers at indies like the aforementioned and others more pop-orientated like Liberty, Cadence, Mercury, Cameo and Dot. As far as music men inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, nearly all of them were indies. Indie pioneers, true originals all among them, Syd Nathan, Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, George Goldner, Leonard Chess and Ewart Abner were my mentors. I'm sure they influenced some of you out front tonight, particularly the likes of Tom Silverman, Corey Robbins, Russell Simmons, Lyor Cohen, Rick Rubin, Bryan Turner, Jerry Heller, Eddie O'Loughlin, Fred Munao and others who helped usher in Hip-Hop and Rap.
In the mid 1960's when I started travelling to the UK in search of talent, EMI and British Decca were the biggest companies. Today, we face the possibility that both Decca and EMI among numerous other labels will all be controlled by Universal while the two great American rivals, who monopolized much of the twentieth century; RCA Victor and Columbia, have been rolled in to Sony.
Back when I first visited there was only one UK indie of note, Pye, whose roster included the Kinks, the Searchers and Donovan. The first wave of British Indies started with Chris Blackwell at Island, Chris Wright and Terry Ellis at Chrysalis, Simon Draper at Virgin, Tony Stratton-Smith at Charisma and let us not forget my friend, Andrew Loog Oldham at Immediate.
Martin Mill's Beggars Banquet, Ivo Watts-Russell's 4AD, Daniel Miller's Mute, Geoff Travis' Rough Trade and Tony Wilson's Factory labels led the second wave of Indies. All of the above were floating in mostly unchartered waters and all deserve lifetime achievement awards. What separates Martin and why he must come first, is that Beggar's has always been and still remains indie.
Martin has also helped start off indie labels and the careers of great music men; first Ivo, then Richard Russell at XL. Martin also supported and revived others including Geoff Travis at Rough Trade and Chris Lombardi, Gerald Cosloy and Patrick Amory at Matador. These remarkable labels share an incredible roster including Adele, Jack White, Radiohead, Vampire Weekend, The Strokes, Sigur Rós, Grimes, Fucked Up and many many more. So strong in fact, that in 2011 Beggars outperformed all comers in the UK.
Above all, Martin is and always has been honorable, supportive and a true English gentleman. Although this is a lifetime achievement award, from where I'm standing there is undoubtedly lots ahead for you and the Beggars Group.