Ensign Records

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Ensign Records
Parent company
FounderNigel Grainge
Distributor(s)Reservoir Media Management (post-1984 catalogue)
Virgin EMI Records/Mercury Records (pre-1984 catalogue)
Country of originUK

Ensign Records was started in 1976 by London-born Nigel Grainge, as a record label distributed by Phonogram Inc. Grainge is the elder brother of Universal Music Group Chairman, Sir Lucian Grainge.


Grainge began his career in the record business as a Sales Office assistant at Phonogram UK in 1970. After promotion to become US-affiliated labels Manager, he was responsible for the marketing and chart success of many hits (some unlikely) by acts such as Faron Young, the Detroit Emeralds, The Stylistics, Chuck Berry, Rod Stewart (switching "Maggie May" from an original 'B' side), and eventually became the company's successful head of A&R from 1974 to 1976. He directly signed Thin Lizzy, 10cc, The Steve Miller Band, and a worldwide license for the successful All Platinum label (hits by Shirley & Co, the Moments, etc.), among others, before deciding to leave and set up his own independent label, duly funded by Phonogram.

Ensign had early success with The Boomtown Rats in 1977, who went on to have 13 UK Top 20 entries including two at number 1 – "Rat Trap" and "I Don't Like Mondays". Ensign also had a constant stream of UK and European hits with Flash and the Pan, Eddy Grant, Light of the World, and Phil Fearon & Galaxy. Grainge's cohort throughout the life of the label was London DJ Chris Hill.[1]

Grainge sold the company to Chrysalis Records in 1984 and continued to run it from their own offices in Notting Hill until the mid-1990s. The roster had reached its most credible peak with Sinéad O'Connor, The Waterboys, World Party, and the Blue Aeroplanes. The Waterboys' contract with Ensign expired in 1991.[2]

By 1990, millions of records had been sold by O'Connor, the biggest success being "Nothing Compares 2 U" which hit number one in over 30 countries.

After EMI acquired Chrysalis Records in 1991, Grainge felt stifled by the corporate changes and requested to leave the company, and the label was thus folded into its parent.

With the acquisition of the EMI group by Universal in 2012, the ownership of the Ensign catalogue of artists was transferred to Parlophone/Warner Music Group,[3] and in 2016 Ensign and Chrysalis were acquired by Blue Raincoat Music.

Hill continues to DJ in the London area, and Grainge relocated in 2002 to Santa Monica, California.

Grainge co-founded cultural search-engine TunesMap, which is owned by G. Marq Roswell and launched in 2017.[4] He also worked as Special Advisor on the HBO drama series Vinyl, centered on a fictional record company in the early-1970s, with the pilot directed by Martin Scorcese.[5] Grainge died in December 2017.[6][7]


  1. ^ Wright, Chris (2013). One Way Or Another: My Life in Music, Sport & Entertainment. Omnibus Press. p. 241.
  2. ^ Hilburn, Robert (23 May 1993). "Re-Open the Floodgates". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  3. ^ "Warner Music Group Acquires Parlophone". Billboard. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  4. ^ "Ensign founder Nigel Grainge dies aged 70 - Music Business Worldwide". Music Business Worldwide. 12 June 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Industry Vets on How HBO's 'Vinyl' Depicts the Business: 'The Characters Are Dead On'". Billboard. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  6. ^ "Nigel Grainge, Ensign Records Founder and A&R Legend, Dead at 70". Billboard. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  7. ^ Halperin, Shirley (12 June 2017). "Nigel Grainge, Ensign Records Founder and Brother of Universal Music Chief, Dies at 70". Variety. Retrieved 20 June 2018.

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