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As the celebrated UK promoter begins its second decade in business, the bonds between the company and its artists and employees have never been stronger, discovers IQ
By Jon Chapple on 31 May 2018
To an outsider looking in, using the word “family” to describe one of the corporate entities behind Ed Sheeran’s massive UK stadium shows may seem a strange description – how can a company that turned over some £26 million in 2017 even begin to resemble a small business, let alone a household?
Yet that’s exactly the picture painted by Kilimanjaro Live’s execs and senior employees – most of whom have been there from almost the beginning – of life inside the company, which has over the past decade firmly established itself as one of Britain’s most important home-grown promoters.
“There are people in the company who’ve been here since 2008,” marvels Galbraith, just back from a visit to Australia for a preview of Sheeran’s latest ÷ tour. He recalls Kili’s first office, when the company “literally consisted of myself and my then-assistant, Fiona Carlisle, in a tiny cupboard in the offices of [PR firm] Outside Organisation.
“And here we are ten years on…”
A decade later, Kilimanjaro is “pushing 60-odd people,” and while Galbraith admits that he’s not sure he envisaged quite as many employees, the company still maintains an indie ethos that puts a premium on the wellbeing of its growing stable of staff.
“We have to make money; if we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to pay people’s salaries,” he explains. “But what’s as important is that we have fun. Our staff have to be happy to come into work – if they’re not, we’ve failed as an employer.”
Just like starting over
Kilimanjaro Live – initially a joint venture with AEG – officially began life on 1 January 2008, some four months after Galbraith parted ways with Live Nation UK, where he was formerly managing director. “When we started Kili, there were two different agendas,” he says.“From AEG’s perspective, the goal was to help fill their brand-new arena at the O2, and Kili succeeded in that: in the first four years, we had 40 shows there.
“We really are like a family – you get the swearing and fallings-out, but we’ve grown together”
“The second agenda, from my side of things, was to use AEG’s capital to bring on staff and take a five-year view to establish our promoters and build a roster, which is exactly what we did. In the early part of 2012, we agreed to separate from AEG – there was a put-call option in the contract, and it made sense to let us go.”
Galbraith was joined later that year by concert promoters Steve Tilley and Alan Day, both of whom joined the company on the same day in August 2008. “I was based in Stoke-on-Trent at the time,” Tilley recalls. “I’d built myself up a little mini-empire: I was a DJ, I had a rehearsal space, a recording studio, a management company with an act [Agent Blue] signed to Island Records… And I still co-own [400-cap. venue] the Sugarmill. But it had got to the point where I’d hit a glass ceiling – I was a big fish in a little pond – and I’d decided it was time to take on the challenge of working as a national promoter.”
Tilley says he credits X-ray Touring co-founder Steve Strange with encouraging him to make the move to the capital and, ultimately, Kili. “We were at Reading [festival] in 2007, and he said to me, ‘You could be down in London, booking festivals.’ I had friends who were national promoters, and [from then on] the seed was firmly planted.
“Then I met Stuart, and the rest is history…”
Day, meanwhile, was working as a regional promoter across a number of UK cities, including Oxford, Reading and Northampton. “Stuart was setting up Kili and I was recommended to him by various people,” remembers Day. “I thought he was a good guy, and that it would be great to work for a company where I could be there from the start and help build it.”
Other members of the class of 2008 include Zac Fox, Kilimanjaro Live’s long-time head of operations and a former colleague of Galbraith’s at Midland Concert Promotions (MCP) in the 90s, and promoter Mark Walker, who promoted pop-punk and emo bands under Galbraith at Live Nation and followed him over to Kili.
“Our staff have to be happy to come into work – if they’re not, we’ve failed as an employer”
The Kilimanjaro experience, suggests Fox, is “a lot like the MCP days. We really are like a family – you get the swearing and fallings-out, but we’ve grown together, and it’s still really enjoyable.”
Tilley comments that, like all families, life as a member of the Kili clan “hasn’t always been plain sailing,” with “as many down days as up.” However, he adds, the company’s unity of purpose and drive to succeed means “we’ve managed to stick together and come through our rough patches.”
“Three men and a dog…”
Right from the outset, says Day, Kili has focused on breaking and developing new talent, a mentality that continues to this day. “We could sit back and be content with what we’ve got – which is fantastic – but we’re always looking to discover new bands,” he explains, “and Stuart’s been like that from the very start.
“It’s just like how he invested in me, Steve and Carlo – we had no rosters when we came here, and now Steve’s got the biggest act in the world.”
The Carlo in question is promoter Carlo Scarampi, who came to Kili from AEG in September 2012. “It’s been the key to our success,” agrees Scarampi, whose successes include Bastille, Jess Glynne and Rag’n’Bone Man. “We’ve broken so many acts now across all genres, which is great. There’s nothing better than seeing that progression in an artist.”
“That’s one of the most pleasing elements of Kili,” adds Galbraith, “To find new acts and be part of that breaking process – helping bands get from zero to arenas and hopefully stadia. And that’s true of many of the bands we work with now: Whether it’s the 1975, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Bastille… we’ve worked with them all from the very beginning.”
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