Music maestro honoured by University of Cumbria
One of the UK’s most successful record producers and songwriters has returned to his home county to be honoured for his contribution to the music industry.
Raised in Whitehaven, west Cumbria, Brian Higgins has played an integral part in the chart success of artists including the Pet Shop Boys, Australia’s Minogue sisters – both Kylie and Dannii, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and The Saturdays.
Brian co-wrote Cher’s 1998 international number one hit single ‘Believe’, for which he won three Ivor Novello awards, a Grammy, and made his debut in the Guinness Book of World Records. The song was number 1 in 33 countries, selling 11 million CD singles in the process.
His sparkling career has also seen him co-write and produce chart-toppers for many more - including his run of producing 20 successive top 10 hits for Girls Aloud that remains a world record to this day.
Others to cover his songs or work with Brian include Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Smashing Pumpkins, New Order, Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand.
In recognition of his lifelong and outstanding contribution to the music industry, the University of Cumbria has awarded Brian an Honorary Fellowship. The award was conferred at Carlisle Cathedral, where the university’s latest graduation celebrations have taken place this week. Brian was presented with his award in front of many creative graduands from the university's Institute of Arts, which is hosting an open day at its Brampton Road campus, Carlisle, on 30 November.
Describing himself as a proud Cumbrian, Brian, 56, said: "It is a truly great county in which to have been born and I am very lucky to call myself a Cumbrian, so to receive an accolade from the university named after the county itself means a great deal to me; I feel very honoured and very grateful."
Encouraging graduates to pursue their passion and collaborate creatively with others, he added: "Understand what you truly love, make the daily pursuit of it your primary goal in life then put it in front of people and see if they love it too. If they don’t, you need to go away, make it better, make it more meaningful, more impactful, maybe more simple, maybe more complex - then present again, and again, and again. Eventually, the door that is blocking you will be kicked down.
"I think this principal applies to anything that requires improvement - sport, writing, music, teaching, medicine and public health - anything where the pursuit of money isn’t the primary objective.
"Leaving a mark on the world is the primary objective - leaving a positive mark. Everything else that follows - epic friendships, adventures, notoriety, plaudits, even glamour - they all flow from successful pursuit of the primary objective of making a mark."
Brian was 13 when he decided he wanted to be a musician, after seeing a local punk band perform at a youth club gig.
After his A-levels, Brian moved to the South East to pursue his dreams. Within 18 months, he was struggling, moving from job to job whilst obsessively writing music and lyrics each evening.
He went on to secure a job in telesales for a large magazine publisher, progressing to the role of sales director within six years and leading a team of more than 100 people nationwide.
Whilst enjoying this corporate success, Brian continued to write songs in his bedsit. One was the chorus to the future worldwide hit ‘Believe’ by Cher.
His ambition to work in music never wavered and it was when he worked as a session musician that Warner Brothers noticed his work and offered the chance for Brian to work as a producer.
Under this arrangement, Brian found early success working with Dannii Minogue. Co-writing and producing her top five chart hit ‘All I Wanna Do’ led to the collaboration with Cher. ‘Believe’ was, at the time, the biggest ever hit for a female artist and led to Brian’s first Guinness World Record.
This success happened whilst Brian was still holding down his job as sales director with the publisher. He only left this role, going full time as a music producer, when ‘Believe’ hit number 1 in the US. He did not leave earlier due to loyalty to the company that had provided him with so much opportunity.
During his early days with Warner Brothers, Brian met Miranda Cooper. This collaborative partnership took them and their Kent-based production company Xenomania to even greater heights.
They met the girl group Sugababes and recorded their future number 1 single ‘Round Round’. Brian and Miranda also developed ‘Sound of the Underground’ too, which became the debut single for Girls Aloud. These songs heralded the start of a 12-year run of success that produced 35 more top 10 hits.
With Xenomania, Brian today enjoys guiding many at the start of their careers and at least 30 songwriters have enjoyed their first top 10 success whilst under his mentorship.
University Vice Chancellor Professor Julie Mennell said: “Brian’s standing in the music industry is exceptional – he is relevant, interested and at the centre of the musical revolution.
“Brian’s strong work ethic and talent is an example to all those who wish to make a difference, which resonates with all of those who have celebrated their graduations with us this week.
“With Xenomania he mentors and guides many early career producers and musicians, with his level-headed, realistic, yet ambitious approach and encourages them to make the most of their potential. He is an excellent role model to many and a strong ambassador in an ever-changing industry.”