The potential is huge, the pitfalls obvious. It will be a fascinating ride.
On the terrace of the Bluebird restaurant on King’s Road, a favourite destination for the locals of Chelsea and Kensington, Peter Rudge is discussing the possibilities.
Over a couple of hours the man who managed The Who and The Rolling Stones, and who continues to be a leading figure in the industry more than 50 years since starting out, outlines a vision. As strategic consultant of the entire project, he is the integral link between the football club, untapped artist talent in the UK and the global music industry.
Wolverhampton-born and a supporter of the club since his childhood in the 1950s, Rudge spends his time these days between New York and London.
He was approached by Tony Harlow, chairman of Warner Music UK, who had in turn been contacted by Wolves, about the opportunity to become involved with Wolves Records.
“My initial thought was, ‘Are you kidding, Wolves?’
I went in initially as a broker, an intermediary,” Rudge explains. “This isn’t easy otherwise everybody would be doing it. But we structured a deal with Warner which I think is quite unique. It’s a label service deal. Warner and Wolves are both investing equal amounts of money, it’s a genuine partnership and collaboration.”
The legendary Robert Plant, now a vice-president at Wolves, is the biggest link to the industry Wolves have previously had. But the football club’s relationship with music has not always been a strong one.
When local indie talents like Babylon Zoo and Pop Will Eat Itself – and not forgetting Wolves fans Reef, from further afield – were emerging in the 1990s, the Molineux public address system was inflicting Tina Turner’s Simply The Best on supporters pre-match.
A quarter of a century on and it’s Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.
Any visitor to Old Trafford or Anfield will tell you what a playlist should sound like, embracing the local music and fan culture of its environment. It would be unfair to compare the music scenes of Manchester and Liverpool with Wolverhampton but Wolves Records can be the catalyst to realise the potential that exists here, for the benefit of the entire community not just the football club.
“It’s a lost opportunity for Wolves to only be known for football when they are such a massive presence in that market,” Rudge adds.
“We have to build the music infrastructure in the city. Everyone says it’s a great music town but it’s not, not when you compare it to Liverpool or Manchester. There’s no club in Wolverhampton for starters. Wolverhampton will always be a stop on the circuit, but it’s an after-thought.
“The Civic has never been a Friday or Saturday night venue, it’s always a weeknight, a filling venue. When you tour you want to do London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow.
“You add Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle. Then you fill in the dots, and Wolverhampton is a filler destination. This is where the opportunity has historically been missed at Wolves.
“They should invest the brand into the city because the city lives vicariously through the football club. Football will always be the core component but by adding these layers we only bring value to the football club.
“I push back on anyone saying, ‘We need a striker’. Yes of course we want to score goals, but this is not about that.”
It is a fascinating point. After a multi-million pound refurbishment programme, the Civic will open next year with AEG Presents managing the venue.
A fantastic venue only a stone’s throw from Molineux, the opportunity for collaboration is there. Fanzones between the two on matchdays have the potential to become platforms for emerging talent.
“We need to tweak Wolverhampton’s DNA, personality and culture, especially for kids,” Rudge continues. “The club is uniquely positioned to do that. The youth needs to be energised, harnessed and supported.”
Warner Music UK would not be on board if they thought this was a dead-end project, and they are aware of the local potential through a developing hip-hop and grime scene, a genre which has a global market.
“The game right now is to reach as many people as possible,” Rudge adds. “You do it on the football field by winning. In music it’s the same, you’ve got to reach people.
“Most records of a start-up nature don’t have the assets Wolves bring to the table, like their social media reach [30million followers across all platforms]. Wolves are into ESports, that’s a great platform for music. American rapper Travis Scott released a song as the soundtrack to a video game [Fortnite].
“Millions of people all over the world saw it. It changed people’s whole approach to marketing. Fosun have those channels in gaming. They are also keen to create a presence in America and they have found this company called Black Arrow, a marketing company huge in the urban world in America.”
Wolves’ owners are also an attractive proposition for Warner and the music industry as a whole, which is desperately trying to crack the Chinese market.
Fosun have previously invested in this area through Modern Sky Entertainment. Founded in 1997 by Shen Lihui, the company is the leading concert and festival event promoter and largest independent record label in China, with well over 200 albums released by more than 40 of its artists.
If this is all sounding like global business-speak then it is worth noting Rudge’s work transcends the generations. His first company was named 5-1 Productions, after Wolves’ famous win against Arsenal at Highbury in November 1971, the first London game Rudge attended when he moved to the capital.
Derek Dougan was his hero, but for much of the 1970s he followed Wolves from afar.
“When we were in America my mum would always send me the Pink [Sporting Star]. I would call my brother for the Wolves result but the Pink I used to love,” he continues.
“A lot of musicians were into their football. There are these parallels that I’m constantly referencing, it’s a similar parallel universe: based on skill – the ability to score goals, play well or make great music.”
Life then was about ensuring the world’s biggest bands were successfully touring. Selling out venues became second nature, but there were also moments that needed more delicate management, and not all of them can be retold.
“Once we were up in Glasgow with The Who, staying at the Albany Hotel. It had one of those sensors that opened the entrance doors as you approached.
“Keith Moon had worked out that you could fit a car through the doorway, so he just drove up in his pink Bentley and the doors opened.
“He carried on straight through the marble hallway, leaned out of the car window at the desk and just pressed the buzzer for reception.”
So why has this veteran of the industry, who has seen and done it all, put his name to Wolves Records? Is there an element of romance in the project?
“If we came through with the next Stormzy that would be the cherry on the cake, then I’ll ride off into the sunset on my black and gold horse,” he says, perhaps only half joking.
“The only good thing about growing old is there is nothing you have not seen. It’s about telling kids they’re not going to get a nine-minute single on Radio 1.
“I can bring a degree of perspective. I can help Wolves develop at Warner with the mutual platforms.
“We need Wolves to be the cool, hip club. It’s not the richest club, it hasn’t got a squad of 23 that equals the GDP of a small nation. We need a club to be proud of.
“We’ve got to give something back as well. Wolves are storied, they have a history.
“This is not a gimmick, it’s a smart, ambitious, focussed, strategic move. There’s no guarantees but we are giving the local community an opportunity that they’ve never had before.”
Cynics might suggest the club’s hierarchy have taken their eye off the ball with this latest venture, so maybe it is worth making one final point.
Everybody connected with the project recognises that it only succeeds if Wolves are successful on the pitch. There is simply no brand to promote if Wolves drop out of the Premier League.
Wolves Records occupies a unique position in a crowded and competitive field, but the football team’s performance underpins it all.