From ents manager to agent extraordinaire, it’s hard to believe that the youthful-looking Steve Zapp has been in the business for quarter of a century…
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A former physics student, Homer's career has been on the up since he traded protractors for pop. As he marks 30 years, it's becoming clear he’ll never get a proper job…
By Jon Chapple on 21 Nov 2019
Spend more than a minute or two in the company of Steve Homer, the affable, talkative co-CEO of AEG Presents in the UK, and one thing becomes clear: the man loves live music. Thirty years after he promoted his first show, Homer’s enthusiasm for the live experience is as infectious as ever.
“He’s a music fan,” says other co-CEO Toby Leighton-Pope, Homer’s partner in crime for the best part of 20 years. “If he doesn’t have a show on, he’ll find one to go and see. We’ll go away to LA on a business trip for a week, and after two days of lunches and dinners he’ll take off and go and see a band – he’s left many a business meal or important meeting to go see a show.”
“My dad, he’s 80 now, and I remember him saying to me a few years ago, ‘You’re never going to get a proper job, are you?’” adds Homer. “And I said, ‘correct.’ He just sees it as my hobby, my passion – and it is.”
Perhaps it’s that love for the art form that’s been the key to Homer’s success over the past three decades. Or maybe it’s his well-deserved reputation as a “perfect gentleman,” in the words of agent Tobbe Lorentz, or his willingness to turn his hand to everything from the Darkness to Tinie Tempah, building lifelong relationships along the way.
Either way, like Odysseus – the hero of the poem by his 8th-century-BC namesake – Homer’s story is an epic one (albeit with more Dolly Parton and fewer shipwrecks). And it begins in a market town in the Black Country, sometime in the early 1960s…
“He’s a music fan. If he doesn’t have a show on, he’ll find one to go and see”
Big on campus
Born in Stourbridge in the West Midlands, Homer caught the live music bug at his first show: The Clash at Wolverhampton Civic Hall on 16 December 1978, just a few weeks after his 15th birthday. His first brush with the industry, meanwhile, came five years later, when he went to Leicester University to study physics with astronomy (later, sensibly, transferring to a combined studies degree).
Homer, like many of his peers, served on Leicester’s entertainment committee, and after graduating in 1986 went to work at Staffordshire’s Keele University, which was recruiting for a professional (ie non-student) entertainments manager. But it was at another university that he cut his promoting teeth.
“The University of Sheffield wanted someone to come in and shape their commercial services department,” he explains. “There were three venues there, as opposed to one at Keele. The idea was to make Sheffield one of the biggest-earning university campuses in the country.”
And Homer delivered. By the early ’90s Sheffield’s entertainment business was making well over £1 million (€1.1m) profit annually, while Homer and team were running more than 60 shows a year.
By the early ’90s Sheffield’s entertainment business was making well over £1m profit annually
The old school
As a university ents manager in the early 90s, Homer was in good company: other now-household names in similar roles at the time included Middlesex Polytechnic’s Geoff Ellis (DF Concerts); the University of Warwick’s Chris York and Manchester’s Rob Ballantine (both SJM); Newcastle University’s Daryl Robinson (AMG/Mama); and the University of London’s Paul Hutton (Metropolis/Crosstown Concerts).
It was also his first contact with many bookers he works with to this day, as X-ray agent Adam Saunders recalls: “Steve and I first worked together when he was at Keele University, and then following that at Sheffield. We built a great working relationship through those early years, and we carried on working closely together through his years at the Mean Fiddler, too.
“We both had some incredibly pivotal years with the Darkness and the huge success through the Permission to Land album touring campaign. Steve had by that point moved to SFX (as Live Nation then was) and a second run on that tour featured multiple nights in all the UK arenas. We even included a tour warm-up show in the ‘intimate’ Brixton Academy. Great times…”
As a university ents manager in the early 90s, Homer was in good company
Homer remained at Sheffield until 1998, by which time he’d “run [his] course” at the university amid an unwelcome evolution in his responsibilities.
“Sheffield was a great place for gigs, but I’d moved further and further in that time from booking shows to the running of the commercial services side: helping to make the bars turn over more money, working with security services, and so on, Homer says. “But my main desire was that I wanted to work on live music.”
Homer joined the Mean Fiddler Music Group, Vince Power’s venue and festival empire, that year, after having turned down a job at one of the company’s venues two years prior. “I’d previously spoken to Vince Power about a job that came up at the Clapham Grand [south London],” he continues. “But I had real security within Sheffield, and people like Paul Hutton and Simon Moran advised me against it because at that time it was so off the beaten track.
“But I left it on good terms with Vince, and I phoned him up in mid-98 to say I wanted to move to London and asked if there was anything at Mean Fiddler. I came down and he offered me the job of running Mean Fiddler’s touring department.”
“I remember my dad saying to me a few years ago, ‘You’re never going to get a proper job, are you?’ And I said, ‘correct’”
After an “okay but not great” start promoting around 30 shows that autumn, including long-time Power clients Dr John and Republica, Homer fast put his own stamp on Mean Fiddler, famously promoting early shows by Eminem and Queens of the Stone Age while imbuing its touring division with the focus on talent development that had characterised his career to date.
He also began to book acts for Mean Fiddler’s Homeland and Reading Festivals, working closely with current Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn, as well as artists including Kylie Minogue, Carl Cox and Moloko for the Renaissance club in Ibiza.
At Mean Fiddler, Homer says, he learnt for the first time “that it really matters which company you work for. […] Some agencies loved Mean Fiddler but many others didn’t. It was the first time in my career that I’d been seen as part of that corporate umbrella.”
Other high-profile Mean Fiddler-era signings included pop-punk band Bowling for Soup – who Homer saw at South by Southwest and brought over for Reading and the new Leeds Festival – and All Seeing I, the Sheffield supergroup featuring Jarvis Cocker and Phil Oakey who scored a hit in 1999 with ‘Walk Like a Panther’.
Homer’s tenure at Mean Fiddler lasted just two years, and he admits that he didn’t leave the company on “great terms” with Power, who had been “very supportive” of his career to that point and perhaps felt cheated when his rising star was lured away.
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