Bolton School Former Pupils

Tony Wadsworth, CBE

Tony Wadsworth, CBE (1967-1974)

Tony Wadsworth CBE was Chairman and CEO of EMI Music UK & Ireland from 1998 to 2008.

In a 26 year career with the UK based company, he held many roles including Managing Director of the Parlophone label, a label which he re-launched in the 1990’s achieving sustained hits with artists such as Blur, Radiohead, Crowded House, Pet Shop Boys, Tina Turner and Queen.

His subsequent move to running all of EMI’s UK labels saw a period of global success with artists such as Robbie Williams, Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Lily Allen, Gorillaz, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and many others.

Prior to joining EMI, Tony gained a degree in Economics from Newcastle University and spent the following 3 years playing in a band with his college friends. He later worked for various record labels before joining EMI.

In December 2014, Tony stepped down as Chairman of the BPI, the representative body of the UK recorded music industry and Chairman of BRIT Awards Ltd but remains a Trustee of the BRIT Trust charity and Governor of the Brit School.

He is also Chairman of Julie’s Bicycle, the leading global charity bridging the gap between environmental sustainability and the creative industries.

He is a Trustee of the EMI Music Sound Foundation, a charity devoted to improving young people’s access to music education and a Trustee of the EMI Archive Trust.

He is a non-executive board director of BIMM, the market leader in popular music higher education, and has commercial interests ranging from ethical ticketing to a vinyl record store.

Tony has an Honorary Doctorate in Music from the University of Gloucestershire and holds the post of Visiting Professor in the Music and Business Schools of the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne.

In March 2008, he was awarded the prestigious Music Week Strat award for outstanding contribution to the UK music industry and in 2009 was awarded the Scott Piering Award by the Radio Academy to recognise outstanding contribution to music radio.

In June 2011, he was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to the UK music industry.

What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?

I attended St Phillip’s Junior School in Atherton, and was a high achiever and subsequently a pain for my class teacher. They suggested to my parents that I should be entered for the entrance exam: my family was working class and not particularly academic (Dad was a window cleaner and Mum had a wool shop on Plodder Lane in Farnworth), and neither had previously heard of Bolton School.

I passed the exam and was awarded a Direct Grant place, joining the Junior School for a year before entering the Senior School. I was the first person in my family to attend Bolton School, but my brother followed me into the Seniors and still lives in the local area.

What is your fondest Bolton School memory?

I was encouraged musically from joining the School, and learned both the Viola (which gave me an excellent classical grounding) and the recorder – I didn’t stop playing the latter throughout my School career! Higher up the School, I played in a band with other School friends called Black Cat Bone: our rival band, Berlin Airlift, had Mark Radcliffe and Ross Warburton as members – you could say we were the Blur and Oasis of our era! Both Mark and I have obviously gone on to have careers in music – you could say we’ve never grown up.

I enjoyed my first two years at School in particular as we were encouraged to take part in lots of theatre: we wrote and performed our own plays, most of which ended up in a fight and were an excellent opportunity to mess around.

Academically, Latin earlier in the School provided a good basis for later years, when I was encouraged to study modern languages. I did both Russian and French up to A Level: for the former, we were a class of two for two years which was pretty special; despite that, I’ve never actually been to Russia since! I also studied Economics at A Level, which I found quite easy. I thus decided to continue with Economics to degree level but this proved to be a bad idea! At School, under the watchful and engaging eyes of Mr Mathieson and Mr Thurbeycroft, the subject had been an Arts subject. When I arrived at Newcastle, overnight it became a Science, mainly involving statistics – that wasn’t how we did it in Bolton! Instead of working on my Maths, I focused on playing in a band instead.

I distinctly remember some Careers Advisors visiting the School during my senior years.  As I was studying languages, I had thought that I might pursue a career in the Diplomatic Service, but I was told quite categorically that with an accent like mine, I had no chance!

The Scout Long Camp was character forming – it made you grow up fast.  We were there a week or two, but it felt like three months being away from our parents and being made solely responsible for our food and shelter.  I was a patrol leader, and can distinctly remember having to supervise my patrol as we cooked our dinner over an open fire in the pouring rain.  It struck me then that leadership is very hard – they just didn’t care: it has been that way ever since!  I also fondly remember the Outdoor Pursuits trips to Grasmere when we went fell walking – I have carried on doing so throughout my adult life, and in fact returned this April to a nearby spot, where we followed some of the same walks.

Sports weren’t really a big thing for me, despite my Dad being a former professional Rugby player.  He did have some expectations that I would follow in his footsteps, and I did play for the U15 Rugby Colts’ team for the time: all I can recall is running out on the levels on miserable and raining days facing opposition players that were much bigger than we were.

Another fond memory is of the Sixth Form disco, held at the Scout Hut at Woodlands: this was a Very Big Thing for us as it was the first opportunity we had to meet with the girls – they in dresses down to their ankles, and us in our cheesecloth shirts.  A formative experience indeed, not least because it was the first occasion that we had socialised independently with our Girls’ Division counterparts.

I left School early, aged 17, as I was in the X Stream, and only returned fairly recently when I was invited by the Headmaster to judge the Battle of the Bands contest.  Mark Radcliffe had done it the year before me and assured me that I’d love it, and I did: it was great to walk around the School with adult eyes, to see the testosterone of the boys playing in the contest, and to see how multicultural a place the School is now.

Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at school?

There were lots of characters on the staff.  Butch Ingham was a legendary figure – a great man who lived School through and through and who was a great Classical Scholar. We took it for granted that he would give up all of holidays to take us away – he never stopped being a teacher.  Jim Dawson was very direct: it was like being taught by Brian Clough.

Mr Baggley was my Headmaster in the Senior School but he was somewhat of an aloof figure. Leslie James was our Headmaster at Park Road: I felt a greater affinity to him as he was much more personable, plus he once complimented my French accent

What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?

With hindsight, Bolton School gave me the confidence to believe that I could do anything. In some people, that can manifest as arrogance, but in reasonable doses it is a good thing.

When I first joined the School, from my local primary school in Atherton, I saw it as the ‘posh’ School and had a bit of an inferiority complex. But as I went through the Seniors, the School instilled in me a confidence to try anything, and to believe that no one was better than me.  This made me unafraid to try new things – I didn’t think twice about going to university, even though I was the first person in my family to do so.

Bolton School also gave me a pretty well-rounded education: I was given the opportunity to try art, metalwork and woodwork as well as to study a variety of academic subjects.  When I visited School for the Battle of the Bands, I saw that the Technology room now has a 3D copier – we had to make do with a screwdriver and chisel in woodwork!

What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?

As I graduated from university, the ‘milk round’ of employers visited campus and I secured interviews with two new computer companies as a result. I spent a day at each company and was offered a role as an Accountant at both: many of my fellow Economics students were planning to follow a similar path.  In parallel to this, during my final two years at university, I had played in a band, all the members of which were graduating at the same time.  So my decision was: work in financial management or carry on with the band?

The confidence instilled in me at School helped with this predicament.  Taking the job would have been the easiest decision: I’d be earning decent money, and make my parents very proud.  Instead, I had to tell them that I was carrying on with the band, which wasn’t a popular call: they didn’t say so, but I know that they felt I was the squandering the opportunities my education had provided.

It was the best decision I have ever made. The band broke up after two years but it was an amazing experience to be a part of: it was the late 1970s and we played at loads of great places, but the best skill it gave me was the ability to deal with different types of people.

By time I was 23, I needed a ‘proper’ job.  I had sufficient confidence by then to decide that if I wasn’t going to be a pop star, I wanted a job in music, because that’s what I was passionate about.  I blagged a job at a record company from an advert in Music Week, and from there worked my way up, gaining experience along the way.  I eventually joined EMI, and started to build a career.

All of this is to say that if you really love something, why shouldn’t it be your job? It’s easy for me to say, but I was never demotivated at work and carried on doing what I was passionate about throughout my career.  Pursue your dream: if you’ve got to work for 30 years then do something that will get you out of bed every day. As my parents used to say, “It all worked out quite well”.

What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?

Every child, from whatever background or socio-demographic group, deserves to be given the opportunity to enjoy the best possible education. Without me being the beneficiary of a local authority free place, my parents would have struggled to send me to Bolton School; and without the education I received at Bolton School, it’s highly likely I would not have been able to pursue such a fulfilling and rewarding career as I have done.

For me, Bolton School was not an elitist institution, only open to those lucky enough to be able to afford the fees. For me, Bolton School provided the social mobility that is in danger of being lost in our society currently. That’s one of the things that made the school special – and that’s why I feel it is crucial to support an initiative which aims to boost the availability of bursaries to a level where access to the school feels genuinely open.

Tony Wadsworth Photo.jpg