Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Elton and Sanctuary, new album 2006?

Looks like we might get a new album next year, which is a nice change from the 3-4 year waits we have have had over the last decade or so. Also, Peachtree Road is being re-released in the UK with additional Billy Elliot tracks added. Nice! And finally Universal sees the light and gives us "Turn Out The Lights When You Leave" in the US, where it should have been released in the first place.


John Finds Sanctuary For Management

By Emmanuel Legrand and Paul Sexton

LONDONThe man who used to sing "Take Me to the Pilot" has put Sanctuary in the pilot's seat.

Elton John and his business partners Frank Presland and Keith Bradley have sold London-based management company Twenty-First Artists to Sanctuary Group for £16 million ($30.1 million).

"At the core of this deal, there is a creative partnership between Elton John and myself," says Merck Mercuriadis, New York-based CEO of Sanctuary Group. "This is not about a trophy. Elton is one of the greatest artists of all time who is still at the height of his game creatively. We believe we have the skills and the experience to take his creativity to higher heights."

Mercuriadis says the deal has been in discussion "for quite a long time. We took time to know each other and understand what both parties could offer."

Earlier this year, John parted ways with Twenty-First creative director Derek MacKillop. Within Twenty-First, Presland runs the business side of John's career, and Bradley handles the performing side.

"The key to it was the opportunity for better creative management for Elton," Presland says. "Derek MacKillop had done very well over a number of years, but these are always difficult circumstances, and a change was always very likely. We saw all sorts of different people who might take on that role, but it was crucial that Elton got on so well with Merck and felt he would be the right guide he might need in the modern music world, allied to the fact that with Sanctuary you have the advantage of offices in New York, L.A., London and elsewhere. So instead of it being one lonely furrow for one person in London to try to do, you've got a whole organization. Overall, it's a far better solution."

As part of the deal, John has signed a five-year management agreement with Twenty-First. In addition, Presland and Bradley have each signed five-year employment contracts.

According to analyst Paul Richards of London-based Numis, Twenty-First has "a rather lumpy earnings stream." He says the company had revenue of £4.7 million ($8.8 million) and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, of £1.5 million ($2.8 million) in the fiscal year to March 2004. Adding the figures for the previous year, the company averaged revenue of £6 million ($11.2 million) and EBITDA of £2.75 million ($5.1 million).

In a good year, Richards estimates that Twenty-First could generate £4 million ($7.5 million) in profit, dropping to £1.5 million in a quiet year. "We view the acquisition as providing a significant reputational boost to Sanctuary in addition to providing a financial upside," Richards adds.

Twenty-First formed five years ago to manage John's creative and business affairs. Mercuriadis says it will continue to exist as a wholly owned Sanctuary brand. Its current management will remain, and Presland and Bradley will maintain their roles. "I am bringing the creative component. And we will continue to develop new artists," Mercuriadis adds.

Among the Twenty-First roster is English singer/songwriter James Blunt, who is signed to Atlantic. His debut album, "Back to Bedlam," is due in the United Kingdom at the end of next month and in the United States in September.

In a statement, John said, "I am very pleased to be involved with Sanctuary, as I have been impressed by the approach they take, particularly toward the artist. I feel strongly that this will represent the continuation of a very creative period for me."

Presland says the decision to go to Sanctuary is not linked to disappointing sales of John's 2004 album "Peachtree Road" on Rocket/Mercury. "Peachtree" debuted and peaked at No. 21 in the United Kingdom last November. It has scanned 294,000 units, according to Nielsen Soundscan. "Songs From the West Coast" has sold more than 500,000 units.

The deal "is not an knee-jerk reaction to record sales or anything of that sort. This is a longer-term idea," Presland says, adding that John noticed what Sanctuary did to relaunch the career of former Smiths frontman Morrissey, which "wasn't a home run at all."

Mercuriadis says the new partnership will focus on John's music and creative output. The first step is to relaunch "Peachtree Road."

A repackaged version of the album will include tracks John composed for the stage adaption of "Billy Elliot." It will be released May 21 in the United Kingdon to coincide with the debut of the musical in London.

The next U.K. single, "Electricity," is one of the added tracks from "Billy Elliot." Meanwhile, in the States, the next single is country-tinged "Turn the Lights Out When You Leave" from the original version of "Peachtree." "This will be the first time Elton will have a single on country radio stations," Mercuriadis says.

John's schedule for the year includes shows in Las Vegas, where he will shoot a "Live From Las Vegas" TV special that is slated to air around Thanksgiving. Arena and stadium concerts are also planned.

John wrote a musical, "The Vampire Lestat," with longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin that is set to open in San Francisco later this year. John plans to enter the studio early next year to record a new album.

Mercuriadis says John's schedule will keep him busy until 2007, when he will celebrate his 60th birthday.

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