In 1982, barely three years into its existence, DinDisc records was no more. The reasons may never have been made officially known. Factory Records historian James Nice (2010: 211) writes obliquely that Wilson “fail[ed] to obtain a shareholding” in Virgin. Martha Ladly told me, “Basically, Carol had to take some gardening leave” from the Virgin group, “to figure out what she was gonna do next.” Mike Howlett elaborated on that to me:

After we’d had “Echo Beach” and Martha and The Muffins, and then we had OMD, and we had two hit singles by then, and the first album had sold a ton, and, you know, the label was looking really solid, it had always been that she would get 25% equity. she’d had four meetings with Branson where he was going to bring the contract along. By the third meeting, it was like a make or break, and he still came up with some bollocks excuse about, “Oh, I left it in the boot of the car, and I came by taxi.” So, she even went to a fourth meeting, and he came up with another bollocks excuse. And she walked. That’s why the label only lasted that long.

What’s Carol Wilson’s perspective on the end of her three-year experience, running a new wave label as a music fan and young woman within Richard Branson’s Virgin empire? She explained it to me this way:

In 1979, Richard Branson asked me to form a label with him instead of starting my own and licensing it. In return he promised to finance staff, premises, and that I would have a shareholding, be a partner in the business. The first two materialised, the third did not. So I left. Richard was, and is, a great manager of people, inspiring and motivating. I owe him a lot for giving me the chance to run the publishing company in the first place, in an era where women were more usually chained to kitchen sinks or typewriters. However, I have always had very strong values about trust and loyalty. At some point I understood that Richard’s values were different from mine, and I found it untenable for my life’s work to be so closely involved with his values. That is why I left and why I never went back, although I was not able to achieve the same success elsewhere. Financial gain has never been a motivator for me, although I have always been fortunate that way.

After DinDisc, Wilson went to work elsewhere in the British music industry, notably starting up the Interdisc label for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records group; doing A&R at Warner Brothers and Polygram; and consulting for the Dutch label Arcadia and the UK’s Pinnacle Distribution. At Pinnacle she helped create Arctic Records, where she oversaw the ubiquitous Cream of Underground House compilations of the 1990s, until it was acquired by Clive Calder in 1996.

In the new millennium, Wilson has thrown herself fully into her new career as performance coach, her days in the music industry now relegated to the rear view mirror. In books like Best Practice in Performance Coaching (Wilson 2011) and online posts like this LinkedIn essay, she makes frequent mention of her association with Branson and Virgin, pitching it as the foundation for her expertise in management and coaching. Branson’s unfamiliarity with music, his predilection for delegation, his gleeful dive into unknown business undertakings, the culture of bluffing and making it up as you go along that he cultivated: she acknowledges them all with an easy familiarity and measure of pride. Wilson identifies her role in Virgin as “an MD [managing director] of some of the Virgin companies.” The back cover of her book proclaims, boldly if vaguely, that she “became the first woman in the world to found a successful record company.” She discusses publishing from mostly a managerial view, as the position in which she worked up the Virgin hierarchy, without delving into any specifics of Virgin’s intellectual property strategies. She describes her time at DinDisc in general terms, as a small label within the Virgin group, refraining from details about the particular sounds and artists that she sought out.

Meanwhile, in the six-paragraph foreward to Wilson’s Best Practice in Performance Coaching, Richard Branson himself has this to say about Wilson:

When I see Carol now, writing books and at the top of another profession altogether, it doesn’t surprise me at all and I sometimes wonder what we might have achieved if she had stayed at Virgin instead of wanting to spread her wings all those years ago; I used to call her a ‘golden girl’ because of the people, business and opportunities she attracted to Virgin, and it seems she has not changed at all.

While performance coaching emphasizes making the most of the workforce initiative/creativity at the organization’s disposal, and casting unsentimental eyes upon the drag of formal plans and big ideas, I can’t help but think that at some level it must be galling for Wilson to have to tie her legacy to Branson.

History shows DinDisc kick-started one marquee-level new wave group (OMD) and played a role, whether agreeably or not, in at least two other long-lasting musical careers (Martha and the Muffins, the Monochrome Set). The rest of its catalogue features mostly one-hit and no-hit wonders, some bands that failed to launch, and some curious novelty recordings. Most of the musical creativity under the DinDisc banner shows the vision and hard work of idealistic, young songwriters and musicians looking to strike it big at an exciting moment of musical and cultural change. A few releases appear to reflect favors to industry insiders and bigger-name Virgin artists who needed a side gig, an auxiliary venture.

Among her old DinDisc musicians, Wilson has her admirers, like Martha Ladly and Paul Humphreys. She also has her detractors, many of whom still live with the cumulative exploitation wrapped up in DinDisc and DinSong contracts that remain binding despite their subsequent shuffling across multinational hands. But of course, this conflict isn’t unique to Wilson’s label. It’s a structural feature of Virgin Records and Virgin Music, the original and, after 1982, subsequent legal auspices for DinDisc musicians and DinSong composers. With her creativity, labor, and entrepreneurialism, Wilson can take great claim for the DinDisc legacy, for good or bad. But whose empire was it? A casual indignity that Mark Gane recalled to me is worth note:

Richard was always pulling pranks that seemed light-hearted. But he was an alpha dog, and they were always done — there was this subliminal thing about “I’m running the show, and I can do this” […] We were at this dinner or lunch with Carol Wilson, because there were always these lunches and dinners and stuff, which were probably all going on our tab. But he was supposed to be there, and he showed up really late. And he goes, “Oh, guys, sorry I’m late.” And he goes, “Carol” — and Carol gave him a drink — and he went, “What time is it?” And he looked at his watch and deliberately dumped the drink on her lap. And he goes, “Oh, I’ve got to go, sorry!” You know, it was all, “Huh huh huh huh.” He was always doing shit like that. And it wasn’t really funny. It was always like putting someone in their place. This is a long side thing, but that’s kind of the climate at Virgin.

Mike Howlett attributes Richard Branson’s refusal to grant Carol Wilson equity to “just misogyny. I really think that he did not like the idea that this woman, you know, could do this.” Carol Wilson is hardly the victim in the DinDisc story, but nor was she an easy villain. Rather, she occupied a contradictory and, maybe from a certain angle, a tragic role. In a world of music commerce and corporate masculinity, the mixed bag that is DinDisc’s catalogue suggests Carol Wilson did the best she could. I’ll let her have the final words about DinDisc’s impact.

Virgin and DinDisc were fantastic places to mis-spend my youth, but the rest has been really interesting too, I wouldn’t want to change anything. DinDisc is a precious microcosm in time for me, but very distant now because it was just the beginning of 40 years of a rich, happy and fruitful life… We got into the top ten most influential? – or cool? – or some such term – labels in the NME yearbook 1981, we won a D&AD award through Peter Saville’s unique designs, I had the satisfaction of launching a few careers, of both artistes and staff, and DinDisc still features on Wikipedia and Google. I have never met anyone, anywhere in the world, who doesn’t know and love ‘Echo Beach’, and they might never have heard it without my foresight and commitment. Things might have been very different for OMD as well. So we did okay I think.

[Note: I updated this blog post about five weeks after its original publication to incorporate my email interview with Carol Wilson and my archival retrieval of Martha and the Muffins’ DinDisc/DinSong contracts.]



Branson, Richard. 2004. Losing My Virginity: The Updated Story of the World’s Greatest Entrepreneur. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Design and Art Direction Association. 1983. British Design and Art Direction 1983: The 21st Annual of the Best British Advertising, Graphics, Television and Editorial Design. London: Design and Art Directors Association.

_______. 1982. British Design and Art Direction 1982: The 20th Annual of the Best British Advertising, Graphics, Television and Editorial Design. London: Designers and Art Directors Association.

_______. 1981. British Design and Art Direction 1981: The 19th Annual of the Best British Graphics, Advertising, Television and Editorial Design. London: Designers and Art Directors Association.

Gaertner, Joachim. 2007. They Could Have Been Bigger than EMI: A Discography of Now Defunct Independent Record Labels That Released Vinyl. Pure Pop For Now People.

Howlett, Michael J.G. 2009. The Record Producer as Nexus: Creative Inspiration, Technology and the Recording Industry. PhD dissertation, Department of Record Production, University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd, Wales.

Jones, Mark. 2015. The Virgin Discography: The 1970s. The Record Press (e-pub).

King, Emily. (ed.) 2003. Designed by Peter Saville. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Nice, James. 2010. Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records. London: Aurum.

Southern, Terry. 1996. Virgin: A History of Virgin Records. Devon, UK: A Publishing.

Sting. 2003. Broken Music: A Memoir. New York: Dial Press.

Wilson, Carol. 2011. Best Practice in Performance Coaching: A Handbook for Leaders, Coaches, HR Professionals and Organizations. London: Kogan Page.



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