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Rob Dickins, CBE (born July 1950, East Ham, London) was a key member of the music industry, and currently holds a number of trustee and consultant positions in music and the arts in the United Kingdom. Dickins established himself at an early age at Warner Music UK. He is married to Cherry Gillespie of Pan's People and Octopussy fame.
Early life and education
Dickins grew up in East Ham and in the surrounding suburbs. He attended Ilford County High School for Boys. He took undergraduate studies at Loughborough University and graduated with an honours degree in Politics, Sociology, and Russian. Whilst at University was chairman of the Folk Club, the Film Society, and the Entertainments Committee. He served as Social Secretary of the Students Union, and moved the Union finances from loss to profit during his time there.
Warner Bros. Music Publishing
Following graduation in 1971, Dickins joined Warner Bros Music Publishing and was appointed Managing Director in 1974. During his time there he moved the company from a ranking of eleventh to first, a position it held throughout his tenure. Dickins was appointed International Vice President of the company in 1979. He signed Prince, Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards (Chic), Neil Young, Joni Mitchell amongst others to the UK company and signings for the World included Vangelis, Sex Pistols, Whitesnake and Madness.
In 1983, Dickins became the Chairman of Warner Music UK (a division of Warner Music Group), remained in that role until December 1998. During his term there, he turned the company into one of the most profitable in the UK.
His first signing, Howard Jones, sold 4 million records, whilst US artists such as Prince, Foreigner, ZZ Top, and Madonna also contributed to the Warner recovery. Successes such as Tracy Chapman, Paul Simon's Graceland, R.E.M. and Alanis Morissette broke first in the UK, resulting in multi-million albums. He brought Seal, Simply Red, Vangelis, Mike Oldfield, Enya, and Cher to the UK label and in 1997-98 Warner added Mark Morrison, Brit Award winner Shola Ama, indie group Catatonia, and teenage girl band Cleopatra to the UK. He also acquired the recording catalogues of The Smiths and The Pogues for Warners.
Dickins worked closely with Enya, and was involved in the studio during the recording process. He worked on art direction for five album sleeves and most of her music videos. He is mentioned in the lyrics of Enya's hit "Orinoco Flow": "We can steer we can near with Rob Dickins at the wheel." He signed William Orbit as an artist, introducing him to Madonna with a re-mix of Justify My Love in the early 1990s. Orbit went on to produce and co-write the Madonna album Ray of Light.
Dickins constructed Cher's song "Believe" with six songwriters (who never actually met each other until the award ceremonies that followed) as he honed the perfect vehicle for the launch of Cher's new sound - this led Dickins to a front cover article in The New York Times Arts and Living section.
Dickins also worked with other Warner acts such as Rod Stewart, giving him both direction and hit songs such as "Downtown Train" and Rhythm of My Heart". His creative work with The Corrs brought them their most successful album, Talk on Corners.
Dickins oversaw the building of a classical record division, with a full repertoire of major works by such established names as Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Daniel Barenboim and José Carreras. He was also the guiding force in the William Orbit classical crossover album, Pieces in a Modern Style. There was major cross-over success with Górecki's Third Symphony, The Three Tenors in Los Angeles, and Agnus Dei (The Choir of New College, Oxford).
Instant Karma and Dharma Music
In 1999, set up his own entertainment company with Sony Music, Instant Karma, based in the West End of London. The company's first album release in 2000, How to Steal the World by Helicopter Girl, was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize album of the year award. He had chart successes with both I Monster and The Alice Band in the UK and Addis Black Widow in Scandinavia.
In September 2002, Instant Karma became a completely independent label and achieved a Top 5 single in January 2003 with its release "Mundian To Bach Ke" by Panjabi MC – the first everTop 5 hit record in Hindi.
Dharma Music, his independent music publishing company, achieved chart successes with Cher, Rod Stewart, Girls Aloud, I Monster and Amici Forever. The 1.5 million selling UK No. 1, Pure and Simple by Hear'Say won the Ivor Novello award. Dharma copyrights have been used in major ad campaigns and TV and movie soundtracks, such as the title music for Shaun of the Dead.
Appointments in the arts
In July 2000, Dickins was appointed as a trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum, where he also is a director of V&A Enterprises, the commercial arm of the museum. Dickins was re-appointed as a Trustee of the V&A Museum in October 2004 for a further term of three years. He was a founding Trustee of Youth Music, a charitable foundation which helps provide access to music-making for young people, particularly in socially deprived areas. This foundation received a £1.3 million contribution from the BRIT Trust due to Dickins' personal major involvement in the fund-raising Abbamania project on TV and record. In July 2002 Dickins was appointed Chairman of the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.
Within the music industry Dickins has chaired the PR Committee and the Brit Awards Committee, where he was responsible for making the show one of the highlights of the British Record Industry's calendar. Dickins served on the BPI Council from 1983 to 2002, their longest-serving member.
He chaired the BPI Council from 1986 to 1988, dealing with the 1988 Copyright Act, as well as gaining rights for the industry, particularly within the music video world. It was during this period the Brit School of Performing Arts was initiated. He accepted the Chairmanship of the Council in 1997 and again in 1999, during a period of great challenges such as new delivery systems and piracy. Dickins agreed to a fourth period as Chairman of the BPI (2000–2002); he is the first person to hold the post four times. He is a trustee of the Brit Trust, the record industry's charitable organisation.
1999, Dickins was elected Chairman of the BPI Classical Committee. He simplified and made the classical charts more effective, and organised the inaugural Classical BRIT Awards TV show, which has now been broadcast for five years.
2004, he became a Trustee of the Watts Gallery in Surrey, an organisation dedicated to preserving the heritage of Victorian artist and social campaigner George Frederic Watts. He donated his collection of books, letters, and Victorian photographs to the Gallery, Two hundred of The Rob Dickins Collection of "Victorian Artists in Photographs" was exhibited at Watts Gallery, Guildhall Art Gallery in London, Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate, and the Forbes Galleries in New York.
In 2009, he became chairman of The Theatres Trust, the National Advisory Public Body for Theatres.
2009 was on the Conservative Party's Creative Industries Advisory Board and delivered a paper on Skills and Education co-authored with Double Negative's Alex Hope.
February 2012 appointed Trustee of The Julia Margaret Cameron Trust at Dimbola, Isle of Wight.
October 2012 appointed Trustee at the Handel House Museum in Brook Street, London.
2013 selected to be on the Culture Minister's (Ed Vaizey) Arts Advisory Board
2016 appointed as Trustee to the board of the National Portrait Gallery by the Prime Minister
In the 2002 Queen's Birthday Honours Dickins was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the music industry, and on 15 July 2002 he received an Honorary Doctorate from his alma mater Loughborough University.
In October the following year he was the recipient of the 2003 Music Industry Trusts Award in recognition of his role as "talent finder extraordinaire".
In 2005, Dickins was conferred as Visiting Professor in Music and Popular Culture at the University of the Arts London. He was appointed a Fellow of The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in March 2007. His second Visiting Professorship was confirmed in June of the same year in Music & Media Management at London Metropolitan University. July 2014 awarded Honorary Doctorate from University of the Arts, London and gave commencement speech at the Royal Festival Hall. July 2015 awarded Honorary Doctorate from London Metropolitan University and gave commencement speech at the Barbican Theatre.
In May 2012 gave a Lecture at the Watts Gallery on Portraiture and Fame... 'The Changing Faces of Fame'. A variation of this lecture was given by him at the National Portrait Gallery in London in September 2012 and at Kenwood House in February 2014
He delivered another lecture entitled 'Artists and their Spaces' at Watts Gallery-Artists' Village in November 2013 and 'The Dawn of Photography', also at Watts in October 2016
Most recently gave lecture on The History of Rock'n'Roll from 1603 - 1963 at LMU, New College of the Humanities (2015), the BRIT School (2016), Cambridge University and Berklee's campus in Valencia (2016)
The Dickins entry into the entertainment industry probably started with Rob's Grandfather, Percy Dickins, who had a knife throwing act (The Redskin Gang) in Fossett's Circus & Wild West Show in the early 20th Century where he was known as Pedro.
Rob's father, Percy Dickins, was a musician (saxophone, piano) and one of the founders of the NME and started the first ever British Record Charts at the paper in November 1952.
Brother Barry Dickins is an agent/promoter and in his teens (mid 1960s) was the agent for The Who, Jimi Hendrix and The Nice. He formed his own Agency/Promotion company, ITB with business partner Rod McSween and is the concert promoter for Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Paul Simon and Diana Ross, amongst many others as well as running the agency.
Barry's son Jonathan Dickins worked with Rob at both Warners and Instant Karma before forming his own management company, September Management where he represents acts such as Adele, Jamie T, Tom Vek, Jack Peñate and London Grammar