How one record cover helped grow Virgin

Black and white image of Richard Branson and Mike Oldfield standing together
Image by Virgin Records
A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 16 October 2017

Sometimes it’s good to take stock of how far you have come and celebrate the people who have helped you along the way.

The record sleeve that helped launch the Virgin label has gone on show as part of an exhibition celebrating the work of photographer Trevor Key. Trevor delivered a miracle for Virgin Records by designing the record sleeve for Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.

Tubular Bells record
Image from Virgin Records

In May 1973, the label was still only six-weeks-old and we were taking a huge risk by releasing such a distinctive album that was absolutely like no other rock album that had come before it.

We needed a cover for the record, and quickly. Mike could be rather, let’s say, particular, and it was vital that the sleeve was as unique and memorable as the music. Nothing so far had worked and we were getting desperate. Then Trevor Key came along.

Tubular Bells album cover
Image from Virgin Records

That cover of his, the beautiful, twisted, gleaming steel, became a sort of symbol, like one of those obelisks Stanley Kubrick invented for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It was mysterious, powerful, somehow unearthly, yet, as soon as you’d seen it, it was instantly recognisable. It seemed to stand for something that had come from a place no-one had visited before, and it came to stand not only for Tubular Bells, but in a sense for Virgin itself.

Trevor sadly passed away in 1995, but has left behind an incredible legacy of artwork and memories. I’m sure everyone who knew him would agree how special he was and how much we enjoyed working with him. It feels fitting to revisit his art once again as his work is put on show in Hull, where he was born.

Mike’s record was a sensation and Trevor’s cover helped get it out there to the public, which helped Virgin Records grow into a bigger label that could sign some wonderful artists. The Virgin brand has grown beyond our wildest dreams and it is largely down to the talented people I have had the pleasure of working with.