Following the dissolution of Strontium 90, Howlett focused on producing while Carol Wilson pursued music industry ambitions that might not include Virgin.

I had taken Virgin Music Publishers to the point where it took turns at nos. 1,2, and 3, with CBS (now Sony) and Warner Brothers, as the top three UK publishing companies according to the Music Week quarterly chart, which was based on chart positions. And at that time our chart positions were all down to my signings of artistes outside Virgin.  I could not see any further to go in publishing so came up with the idea of starting a label.

Howlett elaborated:

So around that time, I’m having a little bit of success [recording Virgin acts like the Skids and Penetration], and Carol’s had — the Police start to take off by ‘79, and she’s thinking she wants more. She’s just got a dowry, and she’s trying to get Branson to give her equity, and he’s being tough about it. So she said to me, “Let’s form a label. Richard isn’t giving me enough backing on this, in spite of having earned him all that money.” And so we were going to form a label. We were quite a way down the road. I was going to be the house producer, and she was going to manage it and be A&R and the rest.

In his dissertation for a PhD in record production at the University of Glamorgan, Howlett (2009: 37) continues his account how DinDisc Records took shape within the Virgin group:

Upon hearing that Carol was intending to leave to start the DinDisc label, Richard Branson, principal owner and chief executive of Virgin, offered to fund the label and keep it within the corporate embrace of the Virgin structure. The appeal of this arrangement was considerable. The initial funding, including staff wages, office overheads, recording costs, promotional and distribution mechanisms for a new record company can be daunting. In the end, Carol became the chief executive of the company and I was engaged as an independent producer on an ad hoc basis. The advantage for me was that I could continue to work for other record companies as well, thereby expanding my employment potential, and still receive royalty payments for my production work with DinDisc (Howlett 2009: 37).

Branson and Wilson also established a parallel publishing unit, DinSong Publishing, to recapture the dual recording/publishing revenue formula that she oversaw at Virgin. A September 1, 1979 piece in UK trade magazine Music Week announced Wilson’s ventures:

Virgin has formed Dindisc [sic] and Dinsong [sic] as a means of continuing the expansion of the company’s interests without overloading the existing companies … The new companies have arisen from Virgin’s music publishing operation and Carol Wilson — head of Virgin Music — is managing director. She heads an executive staff of four which comprises Nicki Davies — previously London promotions manager Island Records — as marketing manager, Donna Thompson — from Virgin Music — as promotions manager, Dave Fudger — also from Virgin Music — as A&R manager, and Eugene Manzi — previously of Berserkely — as press officer. Nick Garnett who was professional manager at Virgin Music becomes general manager of the new publishing company Dinsong, while Rob Gold, former managing director of Logo Music, will replace Carol Wilson as managing director of Virgin Music … Retail outlets in the UK will be serviced by the Virgin salesforce and distribution is through CBS. Dindisc in the US will be handled by Virgin’s Independent operation and worldwide by Virgin’s licensees …  [source: quote in Jones 2015]

Virgin set up DinDisc and DinSong in their own London offices at 61-63 Portobello Road. With Wilson, Davies and Thompson at DinDisc’s helm, the label had a distinctly female leadership that broke with the laddish hippie culture at Virgin epitomized by their 1970s label artwork depicting a nude adolescent girl.

Still, the degrees of separation from Virgin shouldn’t be overstated. In reality, DinDisc Records constituted a “boutique” or “faux-indie” record label, depending on how one views Virgin’s relationship to the punk and new wave scenes it tapped into. In the day-to-day business, DinDisc engaged other units of the Virgin group for sales, distribution, international, and administrative support (like accounting); to coordinate scheduling of press junkets, label parties, and other promotional events; for use of Virgin’s recording studios; and to book its artists gigs at Virgin’s own London nightclub, the Venue. (Such operational costs would conveniently generate further income for Virgin at recording artists’ expense, as Branson notes in his autobiography.) Virgin archivist Mike Jones observes that the assignment of catalog numbers to DinDisc albums and singles indicates its coordination with the parent label

to prevent a wave of new product from swamping the Virgin label proper. It is probable that all of the [initial 1979 DinDisc] singles were originally allocated VS 100 series catalogue numbers. Evidence? Well, perhaps not evidence, as such, but it is slightly suspicious that between August 1979 and the end of the year there are seven DinDisc releases either released or advised and six unused catalogue numbers in the VS 100 sequence? [Jones 2015]

Beyond its origins within Branson’s empire, DinDisc’s heyday and ultimate demise further highlight its ambiguous relationship with Virgin. In retrospective accounts (e.g., Southern 1996), not only do Branson and Draper take collective credit for artists like OMD that Wilson signed to DinDisc, but often DinDisc artists themselves vascillate in describing themselves as “DinDisc” or “Virgin” acts. This is more than just symbolism; when DinDisc eventually folded in 1982, contracts for its recording artists, most notably OMD and Martha and the Muffins, were rolled into the Virgin label, underscoring the significant degree of legal and organizational integration between the two units.

Ultimately, DinDisc’s chief source of independence from Virgin rested upon its ability to sign, market, and package recording artists as Wilson and her staff saw fit. It’s to this issue I now turn.

 

Next: DIN 1, DIN 2, DIN 3: the Revillos, OMD, Peter Saville, Duggie Campbell.

 

DINDISC OFFICE DIRECTORY:

1. in the beginning: Virgin Music and Carol Wilson
2. “Wilson’s dowry”: Sting and Strontium 90
3. organising DinDisc
4. DIN 1, DIN 2, DIN 3: the Revillos, OMD, Peter Saville, Duggie Campbell
5. “a bunch of Canadians from the colonies”: Martha and the Muffins, Martha Ladly, Nash the Slash
6. the Monochrome Set, Dedringer, Modern Eon, Hot Gossip
7. the end of DinDisc