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Rod MacSween: Agent of the Decade

In wrapping up the decade in early 2020, IQ celebrated MacSween, whose roster of rock royalty has accounted for more ticket sales globally than that of any other agent

By Gordon Masson on 23 Apr 2020

Rod MacSween: Agent of the Decade

Rod MacSween: Agent of the Decade


Ask any of his friends, colleagues and clients about Rod MacSween and you soon learn the true meaning of the term enigma. 2019 marked his 50th anniversary in live music, but aside from receiving an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Exeter, the year passed without too much fanfare for MacSween, who simply got on with the business of booking tours and festival slots for his astounding roster of headlining clients.

“He’s married to ITB Ltd – that’s his real passion,” states Colin Newman of accountants and business advisors SRLV, whose relationship with MacSween dates back the entirety of those 50 years. “His dedication to his clients is incredible and I think that’s what still drives him.”

ITB partner, Barry Dickins, agrees. “Rod lives to work, while I work to live. You could not find two people more unalike than Rod and I, but it works, and he has helped to make me a rich man. He’s one of the best agents of all time and if I was a manager, I’d definitely want Rod to be my agent.”

Early years
Born in Southampton, England, Rod grew up with his siblings in the New Forest on England’s south coast. His surname (and Scottish roots) hail from the remote Isle of Lewis, where, in days gone by, he would regularly visit the family croft – a farm smallholding.

“His parents were both academics, so I think they were ecstatic when he decided to study chemistry and statistics at Exeter University,” says Diana Pereira, MacSween’s long-time assistant at ITB. “I don’t know if that’s where it comes from, but nobody knows numbers like Rod does. He remembers the tiniest details from deals decades ago and he even remembers the dates and capacities of the rooms.”

“His dedication to his clients is incredible and I think that’s what still drives him”

Dickins adds, “He’s very private – we’ve been in business together for 42 years, but we’ve probably had dinner outside of a working relationship about three times. But I’ve learned a few things about him over the years.”

Talking to IQ for ITB’s 40th anniversary celebrations in issue 76, MacSween acknowledged the chalk-and-cheese nature between him and Dickins. “We don’t see an awful lot of each other, but we each have much respect for what the other does,” he said. “We have always remained friends and been there for each other, as partners should be.”

Backtrack to 1969 and MacSween’s passion for music was evident. No sooner had he enrolled in university than his fellow students elected him social secretary of the Students’ Guild. He held that post for three years, bringing the likes of The Who, Pink Floyd and Robert Plant’s first group, Band of Joy, to play on campus, where 1,800 students would regularly pay £1 each to pack into the venue to benefit from MacSween’s latest booking coup.

Recalling those early days when picking up his honorary doctorate, MacSween said, “I brought The Who to Exeter on 1 May 1970 and they performed the whole of Tommy plus some hits. After the gig, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend went back to London, but Keith Moon and John Entwistle stayed, so I took them out to a nightclub and with my meagre funds I bought two bottles of champagne. Keith Moon was so overwhelmed that a student had bought him champagne that he went out and ordered a crate. Many years later, in 1992, I told that story to Eddie Vedder as a new client and the singer of Pearl Jam, and Eddie [later] told me, ‘Rod, that was the day I trusted you.’”

Agent Mike Dewdney, who has been at ITB for 31 years, observes, “That’s the thing about Rod, he’s a great storyteller, and he has hundreds of amazing stories to tell. He’s a fascinating man – like a cross between Peter Stringfellow and Inspector Morse.”

“He’s very private – we’ve been in business together for 42 years, but we’ve probably had dinner outside of a working relationship about three times”

Career moves
While his sister, Catriona, followed their parents’ path into academia, Rod turned his back on chemistry and statistics to start working life as a booking agent.

“The first time I came across Rod, he was working for Johnny Jones in a room where Johnny would sit on a riser, like a teacher, and Rod was sitting in the lecture room, along with another agent and an assistant,” recalls Live Nation chairman of international music, Thomas Johansson.

Meanwhile, Dickins’ early career saw him at the Malcolm Rose agency, then moving to work with powerful agent/promoter Harold Davidson, who later sold to MAM. “In 1975, I was in the rock department at MAM with John Giddings and Ian Wright; Rod, at that time, was at the Bron Agency with Steve Barnett, and I was hearing some good things about him – he was a hustler and a really good agent,” says Dickins. “I was a director at MAM, so I had a meeting with him and offered him a job, but Rod wanted more money than I was on, so that was the end of that.”

Having attracted a number of such offers, MacSween eventually agreed a deal to work with Don Arden’s Jet group of
companies. That role introduced him to Arden’s daughter, Sharon, who a few short years later married another longtime confidant and MacSween client, Ozzy Osbourne.

“[Sharon] was working with her father at the time,” MacSween recalls. “We, and then Ozzy, became great friends. With all their help, ITB was set-up in 1976. Barry came and joined as a partner in 1978.”

“Rod’s the best agent in the world, and in terms of financial relevance, he’s been the best in the world for many, many years”

Business manager Colin Newman says, “I was working with Don Arden as a junior accountant and that’s how I first met Rod and Sharon. I remember that Rod was the agent for the Electric Light Orchestra, who were Jet Records’ biggest act.” Dickins brought the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, The Kinks and Joni Mitchell to the fledgling ITB set-up, while MacSween’s other acts included Steve Hillage, Kiki Dee, Roy Wood’s Wizzard, and Whitesnake.

“When I took over management for Whitesnake, for some reason Rod and I were not speaking,” says Wizard Promotions founder Ossy Hoppe. “I asked the band’s lawyer, Tony Russell, to invite Rod to his office so he could meet the new manager and when Rod turned up and saw me, he said, ‘I may as well go home now.’ But I told him he was keeping the band, because he was a great agent, and we’ve never fallen out again. In fact, he’s my son, Oliver’s, godfather.”

“[Sharon] was working with her father at the time,” MacSween recalls. “We, and then Ozzy, became great friends. With all their help, ITB was set-up in 1976. Barry came and joined as a partner in 1978.”

Setting a trend for the company’s managing partners, ITB’s office set-up started out uniquely. “We’ve never had offices next to each other, but when we first started working together, the gulf was even bigger – Rod was in Tilney Street and I was at the other end of Mayfair in Hanover Square,” says Dickins. “It was a few months before me moved into the same building together when I found a whole floor in Hammer House in Wardour Street. So Rod set-up at one end and I took the other end. It’s been like that in every office since.”

Although Arden was involved, he rarely visited the ITB premises, allowing Dickins and MacSween to get on with the job of building the business. “Don was a silent partner, but I was tasked with keeping an eye on the finances for him,” explains Newman, who subsequently arranged the management buyout of the company on behalf of Dickins and MacSween in the 1980s, and remains the financial advisor for ITB, the Osbournes, and numerous other music clients to this day. That puts him in a great position to rank MacSween’s achievements. “Rod’s the best agent in the world,” he states. “And in terms of financial relevance, he’s been the best in the world for many, many years.”

Creating an empire
Until the management buyout of ITB, ownership of the company…

 


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