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Stuart Galbraith on UK’s huge live music summer

The Kilimanjaro Live chief ponders how Covid has changed the business and discusses whether the UK's stacked 2022 calendar is a one-off

By James Hanley on 22 Jul 2022

Stuart Galbraith

Stuart Galbraith


Kilimanjaro Live chief Stuart Galbraith has given his verdict on the UK’s huge summer of live music in a new interview with IQ.

DEAG-owned Kili is coming off a spectacular summer in which it sold 1.5 million tickets for shows including stadium dates with Ed Sheeran and Stereophonics, alongside its annual Kew the Music and Live at Chelsea outdoor concert series and a raft of other tours.

More than one million people in the UK attended concerts in a single weekend in late June, while the past few weeks have been similarly jam-packed. But Galbraith does not expect the level of touring seen in 2022 to become the norm once the huge backlog of rescheduled gigs from 2020/21 clears up.

“Next summer will be busy, but I don’t think it will be as busy as this year has been”

“I think it has to be an outlier,” he tells IQ. “There is so much product that has been rescheduled and I think we will see things settle down as we head into the autumn and then into spring next year, because if you think of the volume [of shows] we have as a medium-sized company and then start to think of the volume that the bigger promoters have carried forward, it’s just too much.

“Next summer will be busy both indoors and outdoors, but I don’t think it will be as busy as this year has been, which is no bad thing. The market needs to readjust, particularly as we come out of Covid and face new challenges for customers’ money such as heating bills, inflation and recession.

“Looking at what we have going forwards, we’re comfortable having fewer shows than we’ve had in the last 12 months, but we’re also comfortable that they are all selling well. This autumn for instance, we’ve got Andrea Bocelli [arena shows originally planned for 2020]. We’ve got a comeback tour with Blue. We’ve got now more dates with Hans Zimmer next spring at arena level and then a whole myriad of tours at theatre level and they’re all doing well. The market’s getting back to normal.”

In September 2020, Kili established Singular Artists with veteran concert promoters Fin O’Leary, Brian Hand and Simon Merriman to organise concerts in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“Running through the spring has been tough but as we head into the autumn and the end of the summer, we’re seeing ticket sales becoming stronger,” says Galbraith. “We’ve got a brand new outdoor concert series with them at Collins Barracks [Dublin] at the end of August and we’re feeling very optimistic about that. We’ve got shows in there with Simply Red, Alt-J, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and Fleet Foxes, and we’ve also just had an on sale in arenas in Ireland with The Vamps that has opened up brilliantly.”

“For other festivals in the marketplace, I’m hearing it’s feast or famine”

Kili also has the return of Scotland’s Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival to look forward to from 28-30 July, with a line-up featuring Nile Rodgers + Chic, Van Morrison Emili Sandé, The Fratellis, Passenger and Shed Seven, among others. The festival, which has taken place at the Belladrum Estate near Inverness since 2004, was acquired by DEAG via Kili in 2018.

Last year, DEAG also acquired a majority stake in UK Live, the independent Buckinghamshire-based promoter behind festivals such as Let’s Rock, PennFest and Sunset Sessions. While Galbraith is pleased with the performances of his own events, the picture for the wider sector is more mixed.

“For other festivals in the marketplace, I’m hearing it’s feast or famine – they’re either doing really well or they’re struggling terribly,” he says. “I think it comes down to when the tickets were sold and how strong the brand is, so it’s quite a mixed bag.”

And having debuted “indie and alternative sounds” festival Neck of the Woods in Norwich in May, Galbraith says Kili is always on the lookout for fresh opportunities in the market.

“We’re continuing to expand; we have got several projects that we’re looking at and it’s carrying on our policy of expansion that we had both heading into pandemic and through the pandemic,” he says. “We’ll carry on looking in the marketplace for new friends that we can bring into the group.”

“Cultural VAT lobbying is huge for LIVE”

Galbraith also discusses the formation of the UK’s first live music trade body LIVE last year, which he played a key role in establishing alongside Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery. The organisation appointed hospitality industry expert Jon Collins as its new chief executive officer in the spring.

“LIVE came out of necessity,” he suggests. “There was common crisis, as it were. And one of the key steps forward was putting together a funding model that has given it three years of guaranteed income and enabled us to put in place Jon Collins as its first ever permanent CEO, and give him secretariat support.

“Going forward, I think LIVE has got huge amounts of work to do. Certainly, one of the key asks at the moment is to recognise the huge benefit of a reduced level of VAT on arts and culture. Many societies and countries across the world have reduced cultural rates of value added tax. And what we saw during the pandemic was the massive impact that had on getting that sector going again and also its ability to basically generate new business, so cultural VAT lobbying is huge for LIVE.

“I think there’s a massive piece of work on environmentalism and greening our business sector in readiness for regulations that will be coming down the line to comply with our international commitments as a member of the world community. There are many other things – whether it be supply chain issues, visas and touring in Europe, or employee wellbeing – and I think LIVE will go from strength-to-strength in leading and being the voice in all of those sectors of discussion and conversation going forward.”

Galbraith reflects on how attitudes within the live business have changed since March 2020.

“What’s interesting is during the two years of pandemic, there was certainly a mood switch across so many organisations – and it was very much that we were all in it together,” he says. “There was a massive element of cooperation and sharing of information because we all had one common goal and that was survival.

“It’s not unexpected that competitiveness has since come back in, but I do think that we’ve learned a great deal about each other and there’s a great deal more willingness to pick the phone up and say, ‘This is an issue, how are you dealing with it?’ So I do think that we’ve come up as a more robust sector, but equally, as was expected, we’ve gone back to making sure that we’re doing the best for our employees, artists and shareholders, etc.”

“There is no discrimination of Covid over any other communicable disease”

And following the Covid-enforced shutdown of two years ago and the Omicron spike last winter, Galbraith suggests the business is much better equipped to deal with any further bumps in the road.

“We’ve obviously all learned a great deal during the pandemic,” he says. “I think we’re much better and I think the public are much better equipped to deal with something that would be classed as a resurgence. We’re wary of the months of December, January, February and, in the way that we recognise there’s a seasonal flu season, perhaps we’ve now just got to get ready to be aware that there may be a seasonal Covid season.

“But there is no discrimination of Covid over any other communicable disease. So if you’ve got flu, you stay at home because a) you feel bad and b) you want to be responsible to the other people in and around your office or auditorium, and I think the same is going to be true of Covid.

“I think the only time we’re going to see any major change is if there’s a significant shift in government policy of learning to live with Covid and it gets to the point where they’re having to protect NHS again. But God forbid we never get to that point now  with the endemic level of vaccinations throughout the population.”

 


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