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“Bluffing is an essential talent”: Tom Windish and more talk breakthroughs

Paradigm agent Windish, former Dire Straits manager Ed Bicknell and Scottish Event Campus’s Debbie McWilliams share the stories of their career turning points

By IQ on 15 Jul 2019

Debbie McWilliams and Tom Windish

Debbie McWilliams and Tom Windish

image © SEC/Paradigm Talent Agency

Hard work, knowing the right people and a slice of good luck can all play a part in getting a proper footing on the career ladder. IQ puts more ILMC regulars in the spotlight and asks them to share their breakthrough moments…


Ed Bicknell, Damage Management
The day after I arrived at Hull University (UK) in October 1966, they were running a freshers’ ball. As I entered the students’ union, a tannoy message was being repeated: “If anyone in the building can play drums, please come to reception.” Since I was standing right next to the receptionist, without thinking, I just said, “Yes, I can.”

It turned out the drummer for the band they’d booked was too sick to play, and they didn’t have any records to dance to. I was led off to the dressing room to meet the Victor Brox Blues Train, who coincidentally had played my hometown, Tadcaster, the previous week. I was duly introduced to the band.

“Are you any good?” they asked. “Yes, okay, I think. By the way, I know you lot. You played my local hall last week. How much are you going to pay me?”  After much haggling, we settled on £5. My first deal.

Once that had been sorted, I thought I should confess. “I didn’t actually go to your gig last week, I just saw the posters up around town. What songs do you play?” They were highly amused and, thankfully for me, it was the classic soul of the time – stuff I’d played hundreds of times.

So, I did the gig: two 45-minute sets, no screw-ups. Big hugs, £5 pocketed, off to the bar.  Malcolm Haigh, the university’s social secretary, asked if I wanted to be on the entertainment committee and join his jazz group (of which he was the sole member).

After much haggling, we settled on £5. My first deal

And then a tall, sun-tanned girl appeared. “Hi. I really enjoyed your playing. My name’s Trudy.” After a couple of lager and limes she invited me back to her student house “for coffee.”

Just as we were leaving, a flashgun went off in my face and a greasy-haired bloke jumped out. “I’m from Torchlight, the student union magazine. We’re going to put you on the front cover next week. What’s your name? What course are you on? Were you nervous? How did you know the songs?”

So, first night at uni and I’d played in a band, made five quid, got onto the entertainment committee, joined a group, ended up on the cover of the student union magazine and had a cup of Nescafé. With powdered milk.

In October 1967, I took over as social secretary, and after a stunning gig by the Who in May the following year, decided on a career in showbiz, which, as it turned out, worked out okay.

In life you need a bit of luck. And in music, bluffing (read: fibbing) is an essential “talent.”

In music, bluffing – fibbing – is an essential ‘talent’

Tom Windish, Paradigm Talent Agency
In 1999, I started getting into electronic music. Prior to that I exclusively worked as an agent for rock and jazz bands. One of my favourite artists was named μ-Ziq (pronounced “music”). There was another agent in North America who represented all of the “IDM” [“intelligent dance music”] musicians of that era. μ-Ziq didn’t have an agent and I pushed and pushed the label and manager to choose me, but they went with the guy who had all the electronic artists.

I went to see μ-Ziq perform at the first Coachella. About three months later I got a call from his label, Astralwerks. They asked if I still wanted to book a tour for μ-Ziq: the other agent simply “forgot” to book the tour he was supposed to book around Coachella. I said, “absolutely”, and got to work.

Within a few weeks, I had put together a tour everyone was happy with, including a routing with reasonable distances between shows, reliable promoters, contracts, etc. This was how I’d done business since I started, but in dance/electronic music it was more rare than the norm. The tour sold out every show and everyone was happy.

A month later, I got a call from Ninja Tune asking me if I wanted to book their tenth anniversary tour featuring Coldcut, the label founders. A few months after that, I got a call from Steve Beckett at Warp Records asking if I wanted to book a tour for Autechre.

From there, my electronic roster grew and grew. It led to signing Diplo, then a Ninja Tune artist; also Aphex Twin, St Germain, M83 and many more. Electronic music has been a big part of my roster since then.

The other agent simply ‘forgot’ to book the tour he was supposed to book around Coachella

Debbie McWilliams, Scottish Event Campus
My career-defining breakthrough moment was in 2012 when the master plan for the SSE Hydro was approved. I joined the SEC in 1989, as assistant to the operations director, and quickly became part of the team who established the venue box office. As a music fan, it was a dream opportunity, and my aspirations were simply to learn everything about this fantastic business from the ground up.

Soon, our box office had become one of the most respected ticketing operations in the UK, and I learned from some of the best people in the industry. We understood what our clients required and put them first always.

From that point on, it was straight in at the deep end as the SEC grew [and] the plans for the Hydro were approved. Ticketing events for the new arena was a huge part of the project, as the level of business almost doubled overnight. Putting events on sale for a venue yet to be built proved the ultimate challenge. But we had a wealth of experience to draw from – making right things that had not worked for us in the past. All this was achieved while still having to deliver, day to day, on events for other parts of the campus.

Experience was crucial as the window of time for the delivery of the Hydro was very short. I spent many long hours poring over the manifest and attending meetings with architects. This was all happening when the arena was under early construction, but I realised at the time this would be a key component to its success. It gave me a great platform to showcase my abilities, as well as an opportunity to learn and develop new skills.

When Rod Stewart performed the inaugural concert at the arena, I felt a real sense of personal pride

When Rod Stewart performed the inaugural concert at the arena on 30 September 2013, I felt a real sense of personal pride. It was a very emotional and rewarding experience. As the 13,000-capacity audience took their seats with ease, there was an undeniable sense of achievement.

Now, the Hydro is consistently ranked in the top-ten busiest venues worldwide. Its success, while deserved, has surpassed everyone’s expectations.

Reflecting on my own personal journey, progressing from being a young office administrator to director of live entertainment, is a real accomplishment.

Of course, there have been lots of other highlights, but I truly think that any individual success stories are often hugely supported by a strong, motivated team, which I am very lucky to have here at the Scottish Event Campus.


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