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Joe Kentish Warner Records

Get to know… JOE KENTISH

As restaurants open up (and, please, for all that is good and holy, stay open), there’s one individual who might just find himself invited to more power-player lunches than anyone else in the UK music industry this summer: Joe Kentish. That’s because, as of 1 June, he has been the President of Warner Records UK, taking over the reins from his friend, Phil Christie (who has decided to step away from the record company later this year following half a decade of hits). Here, Music Business UK presents seven key facts about Kentish’s life, career, and A&R philosophy...

1) His industry break came via Gorillaz

Out of University, Kentish was a co-founder of the London-based indie label, Middlerow Records. A tastemaker in UK garage, Middlerow’s Ladbroke Grove studio just-so-happened to be adjacent to something life-changing.

“Damon Albarn’s studio was next door and he was doing this strange side project with animated characters,” Kentish told Music Business UK in 2019. “[Damon] said, ‘I’ve just finished this record by a sort of concept band that we’re going to call Gorillaz, do you guys want to remix any of these tracks?’”

One of Middlerow’s producers, Ed Case, picked Clint Eastwood, and remixed it with Sweetie Irie. Middlerow put out the white label of the record, and it exploded. From there, Kentish got a consultancy A&R gig with Parlophone, and he was on his way.

2) Jamie Nelson saw the potential in him early on

These days, Jamie Nelson is VP of A&R for BMG’s frontline record business. But, back in the noughties, he was at Parlophone, heading up its Innocent imprint.

Nelson decided to hire Kentish full-time at Parlophone, and Kentish fully credits him for the foundations of what came next. “Jamie was an incredible mentor,” Kentish told MBUK in 2019. “He was always empowering me and he had such a great understanding of the A&R process. He would always encourage me to make decisions, and that was invaluable.

“Jamie knew that at the heart of being a really good A&R person is the ability – and willingness – to make creative decisions, to trust your judgment. To learn by sometimes making wrong decisions, but to take responsibility for the choices you make.”

Gorillaz

3) His father was a Mangrove Nine hero – alongside Darcus Beese’s parents

The Mangrove was an all-night restaurant in Notting Hill that opened in 1968, and was well-known for its Caribbean cooking. So much so, it was visited by sixties icons like Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye.

But in December 1969, Kensington & Chelsea council told the restaurant’s owner, Frank Crichlow, he had to shut at 11pm each night, removing his licence to do otherwise. The restaurant was then regularly targeted by police, amid a reported upsurge in police harassment of Black people in the area.

A subsequent organised protest in August 1970, which began outside the Mangrove, led to clashes between protesters and the police, and the arrest of the ‘Mangrove Nine’ – who included both Darcus Beese’s parents (Barbara Beese and Darcus Howe) and Joe Kentish’s father (Rothwell ‘Roddy’ Kentish).

The Mangrove Nine went on trial at the Old Bailey in 1971, and were all famously acquitted of the main charges of incitement to riot. Roddy Kentish faced a retrial on a specific charge relating to the protest, however, and was subsequently sentenced to 36 months in prison. Question marks remain over whether Kentish – a respected community leader who died in 2019 – even attended the 1970 protest in the first place.

4) He doesn’t believe in ‘making records for America’

Joe Kentish knows what it is to have hits in the USA. Six years ago at Warner Records, he signed (and has since developed) Dua Lipa, who’s won three Grammys and released two Platinum-selling albums in the States. Kentish also signed BRIT winner Griff, who some are now tipping for a big future over the Pond.

But when Music Business Worldwide recently asked Kentish if there was a specific way to tailor British music to give it the best chance of success in the US, he wasn’t having it. “I think all of that is an absolute red herring,” he said. “Every time I hear an A&R person talk about making a record for America I roll my eyes. I can’t think of a recipe to make a worse record than to approach [A&R] like that.” Added Kentish: “It’s like, don’t make records that other people might like – make records that you think are great.”

5) But he does believe in the power of doubt

Kentish admits his A&R process, even on Dua Lipa’s megasuccessful Future Nostalgia album, involved more than a little second guessing. “You should doubt yourself now and again when you’re helping great people make records, because if you don’t question yourself, you’re going to make serious mistakes and lead people down the wrong path,” he says.

“At the same time, your job is to keep as much of that [doubt] as possible away from the artists, shelter them from it, so they are on a forward trajectory and feel free to create.”

6) He wasn’t supposed to sign Dua Lipa - but he did anyway

In his 2019 MBUK interview, Kentish recalled signing Dua Lipa following a fateful meeting with Ben Mawson at Tap Management. Thing is, Kentish wasn’t at that meeting to sign anyone… initially.

He explained: “I was there for a general meeting, the conversation got onto Dua and [Mawson] played me a song. I was like, ‘She’s great, I’d love to meet her.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but she’s not doing any label meetings; we’re not quite ready to show her to labels yet.’

“Then, just by chance, [Mawson] took a phone call and when he finished he said, ‘You’re in luck, she needs to come here and sign something, so you are going to meet her.’

“She walked into the room and had an incredible energy to her. I just thought that she was exactly the type of artist that we wanted to work with at the label. The offer went straight in and we were able to wrap it up relatively quickly.”

7) He’s a big fan of the man he’s succeeding at Warner Records

Kentish joined Warner Records (then Warner Bros Records) in 2014 as Senior A&R Manager, working under the then-Head of A&R, Phil Christie.

Christie was subsequently named President of Warner Bros, and has led the label to impressive levels of success via acts like

Dua Lipa signed to Warner Records via Joe Kentish in summer 2015

Dua Lipa, Liam Gallagher, Royal Blood, Griff, and Pa Salieu. Kentish first worked with Christie all the way back at the start of his major label career at Innocent/Parlophone, where Christie was a TV plugger. “Actually, when I left, I recommended him for my old job,” Kentish recalled in 2019. “We’ve remained friends ever since.”

That much was clear in the official Warner press release that recently announced Kentish’s promotion to Warner Bros UK President, and Christie’s decision to step down from the label (he will depart towards the end of this year).

Said Kentish in the PR: “I want to thank Tony [Harlow] for this opportunity and Phil for his ongoing support and guidance; we’ve had an unbelievable journey together. I feel very lucky to have worked with such an incredible boss and true friend.” n

Joe Kentish: CV

● President, Warner Records UK: 2021-onwards ● Head of A&R, Warner Records: 2018 – 2021 ● Senior A&R Manager/Director of A&R, Warner

Records: 2014 - 2018 ● A&R Manager/Senior A&R Manager , Mercury /

Virgin EMI: 2006 - 2014 ● Junior A&R, Innocent/Virgin 2004 - 2006 ● A&R Consultant Parlophone 2004 ● Director, Middlerow Records: 1999 - 2003