Simon Foster (6 December)
A record man to his fingertips, Simon Foster, who retired from the classical recording industry in 2018, can relate a life working with the top recording artists from the 1980s through the first decade of this century. The record bug first bit in infancy when he discovered a pile of pristine HMV 12-ich 78s in his father’s sock drawer (‘I fell in love with the fast bits in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet’). Voracious record-collecting followed, thanks to a magical shop in his native Bristol where he discovered rotating racks-full of bargain LPs on the Saga, Fidelio and Music for Pleasure labels.
After graduating in History and English from the University of Leeds where he also learned horn and cello, he worked in Manchester’s Rare Records, developing the classical section there. A spell as sales manager for EMI followed, this life on the road providing a welcome relief from a short career as teacher, a profession which failed somewhat to excite him. In the following decades, Simon managed EMI’s budget and mid-priced labels Classics for Pleasure and EMI Eminence (inventing the latter brand), ran EMI Classics UK where he signed Nigel Kennedy, worked with Aled Jones on his hit song "Walking in the Air" (The Snowman), was involved in making the premier recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem – and met Frank Zappa. A head-hunting phone call from Richard Branson led to Simon founding the Virgin Classics label in 1988, which straightaway led to award-winning recordings by, among many others, Putney Music’s vice-president Steven Isserlis (Tavener’s The Protecting Veil), Andrew Litton, Stephen Hough, Paul Tortelier, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Kent Nagano, Richard Hickox, Mikhail Pletnev, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and the Borodin String Quartet.
A period at the helm of RCA/BMG Classics UK was followed by his founding Avie Records with his partner Melanne Mueller, who continues to run this successful independent label and who, in pincer-movement with Andrew Keener, continues to press Simon to get his memoirs down in print. The fascination with recordings past and present continues. He and Andrew can spend hours remembering recorded performances, memorable (for better or worse) recording sessions produced for him by Andrew – and even, in true trainspotter-style, details of idiosyncratic LP and CD sleeve designs. His fascination with vinyl and silver plastic also extends to steam trains. His conversation with Andrew this evening promises to be entertaining, insightful and full of anecdote.