The A&R Awards 2021

David Mold

November 10, 2021

Being honest, we were a little nervous.

The A&R Awards, the UK-focused ceremony presented by Music Business Worldwide in association with Abbey Road Studios, took last year off.

We don’t need to go into why. You know full well why.

This meant last night’s 2021 incarnation of the event recognised the work of songwriters, producers, managers and, yes, A&R people, from across the previous 24 months, rather than the usual 12.

You know what that meant? Half the winners.

Had we run two events in two years, literally twice the number of awards would have been handed out.

This was surely not a recipe for a room full of smiling faces.

In the end, though, the night became about something much more than silverware. It was about Doc, Dipesh, and Depeche; Bello and Boatengs; Antwi and Ashley.

And yes, for a few minutes there, it was quite rightly all about Stormzy.

The Sir George Martin Award, the evening’s closer, is decided and deliberated in conjunction with the eponymous great man’s estate.

It is designed to celebrate a contemporary UK music biz figure who not only has achieved great success in the field of A&R, but who the creative community truly trusts… and, dare we say it, who they actually like.

It is, to quote someone from MBW’s own pages, strictly for individuals who follow the creed: “I know it’s the music industry, but you really, really don’t have to be a knob.”

Last night in London, the Sir George Award was received by Alec Boateng, co-President of 0207 Def Jam – and was presented by Boateng’s friend and artful ally, Stormzy.

The Glastonbury-headlining UK artist said of Alec: “There is no one who has taught me more about life and about music, and there is no way that I become the man you see standing in front of you today without his guidance.

“[Alec] is much more than my A&R and my label President. He is my guider, my protector, my mentor and my brother.”

As for Alec’s own speech, it’s impossible to do it justice here. Every time we try, we delete it and start again.

But those who heard those bits – especially a beautifully-crafted tribute to the Windrush generation and its impact on music through the ages – just know.

How best to sum up the night?

We could do worse than turning to the words of Matt Ross, whose own touching monologue ushered in the first ever Richard Antwi: Trailblazer Award, another of the evening’s highlights.

“This game,” said Ross, “is all about instincts.”

Yesterday, those instincts were met with an immense amount of spirit, and positive energy.

Thank you to all who attended. Thank you to all who tried to attend but couldn’t.

And, of course, thank you to all of those who supported the night – not least Abbey Road, who never once wavered in their backing of the A&R Awards, even in the depressing throes of mid-2020 you-know-what-down.

Evidently, they knew all along what we were reminded of last night:

Yes, the UK’s music-making and A&R community can be very competitive people. But, now and again, on very special occasions, they also show a whole lot of heart.

By Tim Ingham