Martin Kirkup, Direct Management Group Co-Founder, Dies at 75

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Martin Kirkup, the well-respected co-founder of Direct Management Group, died Sunday, Feb. 4 while vacationing in Hawaii, according to his family. He was 75.

Kirkup currently managed Katy Perry, k.d. lang and Au/Ra, but over his decades-long career had also worked with artists including the B-52’s, Counting Crows, Tracy Chapman, the Go-Go’s, Adam Lambert and many others. 

“Martin Kirkup and I conceived Direct Management while drinking Raki at a restaurant high above the Bosphorus in Istanbul, escaping the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984,” said Direct Management Group co-founder Steven Jensen in a statement. “We were both fans of alternative pop music and focused on establishing a boutique management company to support that exciting genre of music. I’m proud to have built Direct Management with Martin and Bradford Cobb to the global presence it has today, with integrity, honor and ingenuity, much of which was contributed by Martin. His influence is a permanent fixture of the Direct Management culture.”

The Tynemouth, U.K.-born Kirkup came to the U.S. in 1973 as a visiting professor of English Literature at the University of Rhode Island. Shortly thereafter, he moved to New York and joined A&M Records as east coast publicity director, eventually ascending to vp of artist development and working with such artists as Peter Frampton, Styx, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, the Police and Joan Armatrading.

Kirkup and Jensen opened Direct in Los Angeles in April 1985, with early clients Boy Meets Girl, Echo & The Bunnymen and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, as well as guiding Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry on his first solo international tour. In 1989, Direct experienced tremendous success with the B-52’s’ quadruple-platinum album, Cosmic Thing, which included the massive hit “Love Shack.”

In the ‘90s, Direct continued to grow, working with the Counting Crows for a decade during which the band sold more than 25 million albums. Other clients during that decade included David Byrne, Joe Jackson, Seal and the New Radicals. In 1998, Cobb joined the company as a manager, becoming a partner in 2012. 

Under the three principals, the company flourished in the early 2000s, overseeing the careers of lang, Perry, the Go-Go’s and Jamie Cullum. Subsequent clients also included Lambert and Steve Perry. Signing Katy Perry in 2004 was automatic, Kirkup told Billboard in 2012. “To us, it’s not remarkable that she’s hugely successful-without sounding like wise-asses, that’s why we signed her,” Kirkup says. “We really believed in her and felt she had huge potential.”

“Martin Kirkup was a class act, a gentleman, and he was brilliant,” Cobb told Billboard in statement. “Over my 25 years working alongside him at Direct, he had a major influence on my growth as a manager and a human. Of his many talents, one that I admired most was his ability to take a problem and dissect it down to its core, finding a solution with a calm demeanor that gave everyone around him confidence. Martin had excellent taste in music, and he had great reverence for the artists who created it. He was witty with a wicked sense of humor. Martin was also warm and genuinely caring, and it was an honor to be his partner.”

Kirkup, who was on Billboard Power 100 list in 2017, was a fierce advocate for his artists, but always found time to help the next generation of executives. He doled out advice freely, mentoring a number of younger managers who came to him for advice.

He is survived by his wife Lale Kirkup, daughter Melisa Kirkup Blatt and son-in-law Ben Blatt, son John Kirkup and daughter-in-law Lorien Kirkup, and three grandchildren, Sam, Abigail, and Ivy. Details on a celebration of life will come at a later date. 

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