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Huge summer shows are music to Twickenham’s ears

Eminem, the Rolling Stones and U2 are just the beginning of Twickenham Stadium's ambitions to grow its music programming, says head of new events Richard Harris

By Jon Chapple on 02 Mar 2018

U2 played Twickenham last year

U2 played Twickenham last year

image © Raph Pour-Hashemi

London’s Twickenham Stadium is gearing up for its biggest-ever summer of live music, as the home of England Rugby stakes its claim as a must-visit concert venue for some of the world’s biggest acts.

The Rolling Stones’ announcement earlier this week that the UK leg of its No Filter tour would include a stop at Twickenham is testament to the stadium, owned by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and which has a concert capacity of 55,000, fast becoming a major contender in the hotly-contested London stadium concert market.

Alongside the 19 June Stones gig, Twickenham will this July host two dates by Eminem – and RFU head of ticketing, music and new events Richard Harris reveals the venue is already in negotiations with artists touring in the next few years.

“This year we’ve filled up all our available slots,” he tells IQ, “but we’re already in talks for 2019 and even 2020.”

While Harris says Twickenham Stadium is still “very much focused on being a world-class rugby venue – that’s our bread and butter, our core business”, as well as serving as a London venue for the increasingly popular NFL American football league, stadium bosses have “ambitions” to grow its music programming after putting a temporary hold on concerts while the stadium prepared for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Music returned to Twickenham last July when U2 played two nights at the stadium as part of their Joshua Tree tour.

“I joined RFU in January 2016 as head of ticketing,” he explains, “and in 2017 I also took on the new events business. Our new chief exec, Steve Brown, is a huge music fan, and it was his vision to get music back in the stadium.”

The Rolling Stones haven’t played in the UK since 2013, and haven’t visited Twickenham since 2006 – what, then, was the process of securing that all-important 2018 date, IQ wonders?

“We’re focused on what we have: a brilliant venue for music”

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a hard one to get to London,” Harris explains. “The band weren’t even certain they were going to tour, but we went over to see them in Paris on a speculative trip in October last year and met up with [Sensible Events’] Andrew Zweck and AEG and said it would be great if the Stones could come ‘home’ to Twickenham. After all, they started out in Richmond…”

Initially, however, the Twickenham team were introduced by an unlikely figure, says Harris: the stadium’s head groundsman Keith, who met a key contact for the band while he was “giving a lecture in Devon about how to grow grass!”

Both Eminem’s Revival tour and the Stones’ No Filter are notably skipping Wembley Stadium – historically the go-to venue for stadium shows in London, but which has scaled back its live music programming slightly following the departure of former biz dev chief Jim Frayling. It does, however, still have both Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift this summer – is Harris conscious of competing with Wembley (as well as newer rival London Stadium, in Stratford) to secure shows, or is the market strong enough to accommodate everyone?

“It’s definitely a big enough market,” he says. “I used to work at Wembley, so I know the appeal. But we’re focused on what we have: a brilliant venue for music.

“The acoustics are great, the crowd are closer and the stands are steeper, so there’s a better connection with the audience…

“We’re in really good shape, and we’re really excited about the future.”


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