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The Great Escape unveils first speakers for 2024

The Great Escape (TGE) conference has announced its themes and first guest speakers for its revamped 2024 edition.

The UK music industry event returns to Brighton from Wednesday 15 May to Saturday 18 May, with the Council of Music Makers (CMM), The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), BBC Introducing and Youth Music each set to curate a day of the programme.

Confirmed speakers include Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches), Parklife and The Warehouse Project co-founder Sacha Lord, who is also night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester and chair of the Night Time Industries Association, and the They Think It’s All Sober podcast.

In the second room, The Great Escape’s partners will host panels including TikTok x Ticketmaster, The Spanish Wave, Audio Network, BPI, Pollstar, and Music Declares Emergency.

TGE has also announced the return of the Steve Strange Award for its third year. Introduced in honour of the late live agent and X-Ray Touring co-founder, the award recognises a music act that is breaking through creative boundaries. The recipient, who will receive a cash prize of £5,000, will be revealed on Monday 20 May.

“The scope of what’s going to be covered is more in depth and bigger and better than ever”

“We’re incredibly excited for how this brand new evolution of The Great Escape conference is shaping up,” says Rory Bett, CEO of organiser MAMA Festivals. “By bringing in some of the industry’s biggest and best networks and experts to develop the event, the scope of what’s going to be covered is more in depth and bigger and better than ever. This is the UK’s number one event for networking and getting ahead in the music industry like you’ve never seen it before.”

On 16 May, the CMM, the umbrella organisation representing the Ivors Academy, Featured Artists Coalition, Music Managers Forum, MPG and the Musicians’ Union, will cover key areas for people working in the business of music creation

The following day, the NTIA will provide a deep dive into the night time economy and current the state of play for venues and live entertainment. Then, on 18 May, BBC Introducing and Youth Music will focus on professional development for the next generation of emerging artists and entrepreneurs.

Saturday will also feature partner panels hosted by AudioActive, an organisation creating social change through music, and educational event platform THEFUTUREIS.

New for 2024, TGE has launched a brand-new Saturday-only conference ticket for £35, with a Saturday conference & festival combo ticket priced £75.

 


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ATC Group raises £2.3m through share subscription

All Things Considered (ATC) Group has raised £2.3 million (€2.7m) through a subscription on shares.

London-based ATC Group’s divisions include booking agency ATC LiveATC Management, ATC Services, ATC Experience and livestreaming company Driift.

According to Alliance News, the firm says it has raised the funds through a subscription of 2.2 million shares priced at 105p each.

It adds that the proceeds will be used primarily to fund the exploration and development of opportunities already identified across the company’s artist representation and direct to consumer divisions. They will also provide balance sheet strength and support for further potential acquisitions and developments in live events.

“We have an exciting pipeline of opportunities to expand and develop the business and having a stronger balance sheet provides us with a more robust position”

“I am delighted that new and existing shareholders have demonstrated their support for the company’s growth strategy via this £2.3 million fundraise,” says CEO Adam Driscoll. “We have an exciting pipeline of opportunities to expand and develop the business and having a stronger balance sheet provides us with a more robust position to potentially realise a number of them.”

ATC listed on the Aquis Growth Market in London in December 2021 after raising £4.15 million in its initial public offer (IPO). The group recorded a profit on revenue of £12.1m (€13.9m) in its first full year as a a public company, but subsequently announced a loss of £1.1m for the first six months of 2023 due to higher costs.

ATC, which opened a New York hub in February 2022 and also has an office in Copenhagen, Denmark, agreed terms for a “new, expanded office” in Los Angeles in early 2024.

 


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IQ 125 out now: Peter Schwenkow, MVT, Gulf States

IQ 125, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine, is available to read online now.

The February/March edition sees DEAG founder Peter Schwenkow look back over 50 remarkable years as a live entertainment pioneer, while Derek Robertson talks to grassroots venue campaigners around the world as Music Venue Trust marks its tenth anniversary.

In addition, Lisa Henderson talks to female crew members and women backstage about the work they’re doing to pave the way for future generations, and Adam Woods shines a light on the burgeoning live entertainment markets in the Gulf States.

Elsewhere, we profile ten new festivals that are making their debut in 2024, and the full agenda for ILMC 36 is revealed.

For this edition’s comments and columns, IQ passes the mic to Cliff Fluet who previews his ILMC panel Artificial Intelligence: Moving at Light Speed, while ticketing guru Tim Chambers opines that the marriage between private equity and live entertainment has become too big to fail.

As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.

However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ from just £8 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:

 


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Futures Forum 2024 agenda ramps up

Futures Forum, the leading conference for the next generation of live music industry leaders, has unveiled the full speaker lineup for panels.

The fourth annual instalment of the gathering will again take place at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London on 1 March 2024 – the final day of its renowned parent event, the International Live Music Conference (ILMC).

The Agents vs Bookers panel is completed by CAA’s Beckie Sugden and Aimée Kearsley who will go head-to-head alongside Wasserman Music’s Alex Hardee and Holly Rowland, with Marc Saunders (The O2) set to lead the charge.

Joining the A&R in 2024: Unchartered Territory session are Maddie Arnold (Live Nation), Louisa Robinson (FORM), Caroline Simionescu-Marin (WME) and Lottie Bradshaw (TEG Live Europe). Sally Dunstone (Primary Talent) will spearhead the session.

A Greener Future: The Case Studies will see Nikoline Skaarup (DTD Concerts) discuss NorthSide Festival’s journey to going meat-free and Mark Stevenson (CUR8) explain The 1975’s carbon-removal shows at The O2. In addition, Mickey Curbishley will discuss how Solotech’s sustainability approach was redefined through their work on a Jonas Brothers concert. AEG Presents and Live Nation will also appear in this session.

CAA’s Beckie Sugden and Aimée Kearsley will go head-to-head alongside Wasserman Music’s Alex Hardee and Holly Rowland

Elsewhere, the Evolution of the Music Festival panel has gained Jamie Tagg (Mighty Hoopla), Daniel Lawson (GALA Festival/TOGETHERZERO), Jess Shields (Live Nation) and Bee Grzegorzek (Attitude Is Everything). The join moderator Ross Patel (Whole Entertainment/MMF Board).

Meet The New Bosses: Class of 2024 is now a full house, with Connie Shao (AEG Presents) in the moderator’s seat. Speakers are: Chloé Abrahams-Duperry (Ticketmaster), Vlad Yaremchuk (Atlas Festival), Jamie Shaughnessy (CAA) and Katja Thalerová (LALA Slovak Music Export).

Forming the speaker lineup for Now That’s What I Call 2024 is Melanie Eselevsky (Move Concerts), Niklas Magedanz (Goodlive Artists), Kerem Turgut (All Things Live) and Gurj Sumann (Live Nation), with Louise McGovern (Midnight Mango) at the helm.

Soapbox Sessions and the hotly anticipated Futures Forum Keynote will be announced soon.

Passes for the 1 March 2024 event are available for just £125+VAT, which includes all of the above, a five-star lunch, refreshments, drinks, and networking opportunities. For more information on Futures Forum 2024 or to purchase passes, click here.

 


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We’re seeking greater engagement with live music

Last week, we opened applications for the sixth year of the Music Managers Forum’s (MMF) Accelerator Programme for music managers.

For anyone unaware of Accelerator, this is the groundbreaking initiative we launched in 2019 with support from YouTube Music, Arts Council England, PPL, Creative Wales, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Music Industry Association – and in effect the world’s first, and so far only, purpose-built funding and professional development programme for music managers.

Accelerator’s creation was partly a response to the industry’s changing dynamics, and the winds of change that have elevated the role, responsibilities and expectations of music management.

The global adoption of streaming and social media, in particular, has resulted in artists gaining far greater autonomy – building direct relationships with their audiences, retaining greater ownership of their rights, and capable of developing new types of businesses that are tailored to their strengths. There is no standard one-size-fits-all model anymore.

In response, traditional partners, particularly record labels, have adapted their businesses too – moving to new service-based models.

As a result of these trends, the workload of managers has increased exponentially – particularly in terms of talent development and investment. In this crucial role as creative business builder, we felt that managers required some strategic support and professional development. And particularly as a significant number of MMF members operate on a freelance or part-time basis, often juggling management with other roles in the music business.

“Placing lone-wolf managers into a ready-made network has proven incredibly powerful”

The goal of Accelerator was to ease these burdens. To provide talented independent managers with a hand up, and help them develop commercially robust and sustainable businesses – increasing their capacity to take on more clients. The equivalent of an artist giving up their day job, to focus full time on their art.

Five years down the line, and we’ve been quietly successful in this mission. To date, 115 managers have benefitted from Accelerator’s offering of grant funding (up to £12,000 per annum, per participant), regular expert-led training sessions across all aspects of the modern music business and a two-day retreat.

Placing lone-wolf managers into a ready-made network has proven incredibly powerful. Rather than plough on alone, with Accelerator they can share information and knowledge with their peers, gaining confidence and learning from others.

This network effect has been amplified by the depth and diversity of Accelerator participants. To date over 50% have been based outside of London, 42% have been women and 43% have been from Black, Asian or Ethnic backgrounds.

They include managers of artists such as Joy Crookes, Shygirl, PinkPantheress, FLO, Eliza Rose, Joy Anonymous, Moses Boyd, Enny, Nafe Smallz, Squid, Joesef, S1MBA, Moonchild Sanelly, The Reytons, Steam Down, Shygirl, Dry Cleaning, Employed To Serve, Yolanda Brown, Wes Nelson, Shabaka Hutchings, Goat Girl, Pigsx7, CHALK, Bree Runway, Porridge Radio and Caskets.

Collectively, Accelerator participants have worked on eight UK Top 40 singles (including a Number 1) and 13 UK Top 40 albums. Two former Accelerators – Clare Sanders-Wright and Nike Durosaro – currently sit on the MMF board.

“Driven by the immediacy of streaming, we regularly see live careers accelerate at a breakneck speed”

Anyway, that’s the background of the Programme. So why am I telling you about it in the pages of IQ? Well, there’s two reasons.

Firstly, if you yourself are a talented independent music manager – or if you’re working with a talented music manager – with clients who have generated at least £20,000 in gross income over the past 12 months then I’d like to encourage you to apply. All the information you need is here.

The initial application process involves uploading and submitting a five-minute video before our first stage deadline of 10am on Monday 26 February.

And secondly, to make Accelerator even more effective, we’re actively seeking greater engagement with live music. While the global reach of online culture has upended the recorded business – and the role of the manager within that business – the impacts and disruption on the live sector have been equally dramatic.

Driven by the immediacy of streaming, we regularly see live careers accelerate at a breakneck speed, revealing previously untapped demand for new and exciting genres. Artists such as Bad Bunny, BTS, Blackpink or Rosalita have matched their astonishing recorded successes with sell-out global tours – while, closer to home – genres like UK Rap, Jazz and Afrobeats now help provide the next generation of festival headliners.

Many of these artists will bypass some of the industry’s traditional structures and protocols, while others (for instance: The Reytons, managed by Accelerator alumni Rich Goodwin) will build resolutely from the ground up to attract local, national – and now – international audiences.

“Frequently, it is live music that provides the flywheel around which artist businesses are constructed”

As highlighted above, there is no fixed model; albeit in most instances, the artist is the driving force to selling a show through their networks, mailing lists and social media.

But whatever their background, managers still require expertise and experience to navigate and scale the touring market – whether that’s understanding tour planning, insurance, ticketing, accounting, event production, stagecraft, mental health provision, environmental concerns or access to finance, and the challenges of red tape and bureaucracy resulting from Brexit.

Moreover, frequently it is live music that provides the flywheel around which artist businesses are constructed. They might accrue significant revenues from streaming, publishing, branding, merchandise or synchronisation, but often the end goal is to use those strands as levers with which to build a long-term and loyal live audience.

While millions of streams look and sound good, ticket sales and festival slots might pay the bills, managers are the ones who have to join the dots. So please consider this as an invitation to get involved.

If you’d like the chance to meet, support and interact with a new group of the best and brightest emerging UK managers, and to help us take Accelerator to the next level, then please drop me a line.

 


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Futures Forum 2024: First speakers confirmed

Futures Forum, the leading conference for the next generation of live music industry leaders, has revealed the first raft of speakers and moderators for 2024.

The fourth annual instalment of the gathering will again take place at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London on 1 March 2024 – the final day of its renowned parent event, the International Live Music Conference (ILMC).

The first confirmed speakers include Wasserman Musics Alex Hardee and Holly Rowland, who will appear together on the Agents vs Bookers panel, which aims to lift the lid on the inner workings of agency partnerships.

Chairing that panel is The O2s Marc Saunders, who will conduct in-depth discussions and quickfire question rounds to test the pairs’ knowledge of each other and their rosters.

Gurj Summan will be one of four panellists to swap tracks, tips and tales of the artists that are dominating their playlists

Elsewhere, former New Boss Connie Shao (AEG Presents) will moderate Meet The New Bosses: Class of 2024, featuring a quartet of the most promising 30-and-unders in the international live music business.

While Claire O’Neill (A Greener Future) will take the helm for A Greener Future: The Case Studies. She’ll welcome a panel of sustainability pioneers from festivals, venues and tours, who will share their tried-and-tested practices and innovative solutions.

And finally, Gurj Summan (Live Nation, Festival Republic) will be one of four panellists to swap tracks, tips and tales of the artists that are dominating their playlists, during Now That’s What I Call 2024.

For more information on Futures Forum 2024 or to purchase passes, please click here.

 


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ATC Group moving to ‘new, expanded’ LA office

Multi-faceted music company ATC (All Things Considered) Group has agreed terms for a “new, expanded office” in Los Angeles.

The new office is said to offers 30% additional capacity, with the team set to relocate from its existing LA base later this month as the firm continues to grow its US operations.

London-headquartered ATC opened a New York hub in February 2022 and also has an office in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“We are delighted to have secured our new premises in Los Angeles, which provides our teams with a fantastic urban working environment to collaborate with our artists and creative partners,” says MD Adam Driscoll, as per Alliance News.

“Our new Los Angeles hub complements our presence in our other global locations”

“Our new Los Angeles hub complements our presence in our other global locations, including our recently opened New York office, and supports our growth ambitions by recruiting and retaining the best talent in the industry.”

ATC Group’s divisions include booking agency ATC LiveATC Management, ATC Services, ATC Experience and livestreaming company Driift.

In late 2023, ATC appointed director of business affairs Emma Stoker as executive director to the board and improved its asset base with the acquisition of a 60% stake in merchandise company Sandbag.

ATC listed on the Aquis Growth Market in London in December 2021 after raising £4.15 million in its initial public offer (IPO). The group recorded a profit on revenue of £12.1 million (€13.9m) in its first full year as a a public company, but subsequently announced a loss of £1.1m for the first six months of 2023 due to higher costs.

 


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Tom Windish, Kim Bloem and more set for ESNS 2024

ESNS (Eurosonic Noorderslag) has announced a second wave of speakers for the forthcoming edition, taking place between 17–20 January 2024 in Groningen, the Netherlands.

Tom Windish (Wasserman Music), Kim Bloem (Mojo Concerts), Bryan Johnson (Spotify) and Gemma Bradley (musician, presenter, DJ) will be discussing The Art of Curation during a session moderated by Boyan Pinter (Believe, Spike Bulgarian Music Showcase, Green Futures Field Glastonbury).

While Beckie Sugden (CAA) and Carlos Abreu (UTA) join Touring in ’24: Are There Bumps in the Road?, moderated by ILMC’s Greg Parmley.

Also lined up for ESNS 2024 are Henrik Bondo Nielsen and Morten Therkildsen (Roskilde Festival), Pascal Viot (Paléo), Sander Teunissen (Crowdcows) and Alexandra von Samson (Rock am Ring), who will be discussing Crowd Communication to Improve Event Safety Management.

Plus, representatives from festivals such as Pinkpop, Way Out West and Positivus share with Lisa Henderson (IQ) how they keep their festivals relevant in the lives of millions of young people, and in popular culture in general.

Beckie Sugden (CAA) and Carlos Abreu (UTA) join Touring in ’24: Are There Bumps in the Road?

In a panel discussion moderated by Katharina Webe (BN*PD YOUROPE), Mika Christoffersen (Roskilde Festival), Artur Mendes (Boom Festival), and Marta Pallarès (Primavera Sound) equip delegates with a Diversity & Inclusion Toolbox.

Other speakers include Márk Bóna (Sziget Festival), Claire O’Neill (A Greener Future), Helen Sildna (Tallinn Music Week), Tessaly Felida (MOJO Concerts) and Jess Partridge (EMMA).

The new additions join previously announced keynote speakers Amy Thomson (formerly Hipgnosis, ATM Artists), John Mulder (MOJO Concerts/Live Nation) and Mark Mulligan (MIDiA Research).

Live acts for the European Festival Awards (EFA) on 17 January have also been announced, with Polish pop sensation Berry Galazka, Limerick folk trio Kingfishr and British indie band Picture Parlour due to take to the stage.

As previously announced, Ruud Berends will be honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at EFA. See the shortlists for 12 of the ceremony’s categories here.

 


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Best of 2023: Depeche Mode on tour

Ahead of the return of our daily IQ Index newsletter on Tuesday 2 January, we are revisiting some of our most popular interviews from the last 12 months. Here, we speak to the architects and road warriors who are helping take Depeche Mode’s Memento Mori tour to millions of fans

The sudden death of co-founder Andy Fletcher last year had Depeche Mode contemplating the end of the band. But with new album Memento Mori invigorating both the act and their fans, the tour of the same name is arguably their best yet, with armies of ‘Devotees’ filling stadiums and arenas to celebrate the new music and the band’s legendary catalogue. Gordon Masson joined them.

In the history of rock & roll, there are not too many acts that have the deep, dark, and sometimes destructive history of Depeche Mode. But as the band work through their grief over the loss of Andy Fletcher with the release of Memento Mori (Latin for ‘remember that you [have to] die’), their tour of the same name is delivering joy to millions of fans across Europe and North America – just as their live performances have been doing for more than 40 years.

The background to the current tour was among the most complex its architects have ever had to deal with, involving the uncertainty of the post-pandemic live music sector, and a risky gamble by an otherwise usually cautious management. “At the start of 2021, when we could see light at the end of the tunnel, we started making some early plans for the current tour,” explains Jonathan ‘Baron’ Kessler, head of artist management company Baron Global Inc.

Colleague Alex Pollock says, “We could see that the built-up demand for venues in 2022 was going to be huge, and because it was already challenging enough to get a sensible stadium routing in Europe – where you’re book-ended by football dates in the major markets – we just off the bat thought, ‘Well, why not hold our tour for ’23?’”

The artist managers reveal that band member Martin Gore had been prolific during the Covid lockdowns and had written a lot of new material and songs. “So, when he and Dave [Gahan] started writing together, quite quickly we had the basis for a new album, and we sort of flipped the switch,” explains Kessler.

“We took a calculated risk and held stadium dates for 2023”

“Originally, we were planning to record the album in 2023 and tour in ‘24. But for a variety of reasons, we accelerated that. We realised that 2024 was going to be a particularly hard year to tour because Germany is hosting the Euros [football tournament], which rules out using most of those stadiums until after the middle of July. So, we took a calculated risk and held stadium dates for 2023.”

Kessler confesses the gamble in holding 2023 stadium dates happened before having the full conversation with the band. “But thank god we did, because as you know, everything started to get booked, and before we knew it, we had 15 other bands coming to us offering to buy our stadium dates if we would give them up.”

As a result, initial tour talks centred around ILMC in 2022. “We just took a suite in the hotel and met with every promoter one by one,” says Kessler.

However, with the band in the studio recording the new album, in May last year tragedy struck when founding member Andy Fletcher suffered a fatal heart attack at home in London, England.

“All of a sudden, we went from planning the album project and discussing the tour, to planning the funeral,” says Kessler. “Following that there was a very deep internal discussion amongst the band about whether they should even continue. But in the end, between Dave, Martin, and all of us, we agreed that Fletch would have wanted us to continue – he was sort of the biggest fan of the band.”

“We’ve been used to starting our tours with a stadium run in Europe, but because the reaction to the album was so strong, we had a desire to be in America closer to the album release”

Pandemic Ramifications
As Baron Global plotted the Memento Mori tour structure, the success of the album caused a deviation from previous Depeche Mode outings.

“We’ve been used to starting our tours with a stadium run in Europe, but because the reaction to the album was so strong, we had a desire to be in America closer to the album release,” says Kessler.

Consequently, the band played arenas in ten key North American markets before starting their run of 36 stadia shows in Europe, in the knowledge they would return across the Atlantic for a more extensive tour in the autumn.

For many production professionals, that switch between indoor and outdoor shows can be a major challenge. But with production manager Tony Gittins notching up his fifth tour with Depeche Mode, his ability to reunite a core crew that has similarly longstanding relationships with the band, has contributed once again to smooth and seamless transitions.

When Gittins was named as The Gaffer by IQ in January 2018, he revealed that the first people he wants to work with on every tour include: “Tony Plant as stage manager, James Heath as head rigger, Britannia Row for audio, Popcorn for catering, and for transport, Stagetruck and Beat The Street.” Reminded of that wish-list prior to the Memento Mori show in Bucharest, Gittins laughs. “Yep – they’re all on this tour. In addition, we have 4Wall for lights and Universal Pixel for video. We used to use Brilliant Stages before for the set, but now it’s TAIT because they acquired Brilliant Stages back in 2019.

“It’s a tight crew: everyone knows everyone else and gets along, which is massively important when you’re on the road for months at a time”

“It’s a tight crew: everyone knows everyone else and gets along, which is massively important when you’re on the road for months at a time,” adds Gittins. “Basically, if it works, why on earth would you change it?”

In addition to earning a reputation as one of the world’s top production managers, Gittins is also recognised as being ahead of the curve when it comes to environmental matters. The Memento Mori tour is a significant beneficiary of his expertise, because despite its stadium-filling presence, the fleet of Stagetruck trailers numbers just 13.

Stagetruck have been transporting the band’s set and equipment since the 80s, and founder Robert Hewett tells IQ that when he established the company, one of his primary goals was to work with Depeche Mode.

“During the punk period, I was originally running a small PA company, but then in 1980, Stagetruck was born, and I became hooked on rock & roll trucking,” says Hewett. “This coincided with the advent of Depeche Mode breaking onto the scene, in what was an exciting period of self-expression and new music. I knew straight away I wanted to get involved with them, and although it took me five years to charm them away from their existing supplier, my hard work paid dividends, and we have worked successfully together ever since.”

Hewett continues, “The boys are great; their history with Vince Clarke, who left, and then Fletch who sadly passed last year, gives them the grit and longevity to have come through the most difficult of times. [And] the band’s manager and guiding light, Jonathan Kessler, combined with their long-time PM Tony Gittins, make for a dynamic and happy team who are always a pleasure to work with.”

“Luckily, Depeche Mode are a great band, and Dave Gahan is just one of the best frontmen, so we don’t need the bells and whistles that other acts take on the road – the performance speaks for itself”

He adds, “On this current tour, it’s clear that Depeche’s new material, along with a refresh of their classic hits, is a winning formula and drawing fans old and new to see one of their best-ever shows. To still be relevant in this time of multiple musical genres is testament to their ability to bring something engaging and different to the party.”

Making sure that the need for trucks is kept to a bare minimum, Gittins reveals a strategy that other bands would do well to follow. “We use local stages and delays everywhere we go,” he tells IQ. “If there’s already a stage in situ, then why not use it?! For sustainability, it works a lot better, and to me, it’s just common sense – I’ve been doing it for years: I allow Stageco to go through all the local promoters and do deals directly with them.

“Luckily, Depeche Mode are a great band, and Dave Gahan is just one of the best frontmen, so we don’t need the bells and whistles that other acts take on the road – the performance speaks for itself.”

Representing an act who have built a reputation on their live performance has also helped in dealing with the spiralling costs of touring, it would appear. “Costs have gone up less than we had worried they would, but it’s still a substantial increase,” says Kessler. “We’re blessed that we have a big enough margin, because we’re so lean. Even so, when we look at what we spend now versus what we spent on the last tour, the percentage increase is very large. But we pride ourselves on good decision making, so it’s still manageable.”

That sensible approach to life on the road means that the core crew for the Memento Mori stadium tour comprises just 46 people, plus drivers. “We use local crews of about 66 people,” explains the production manager.

“The Depeche Mode philosophy has always been to share as much of the resources as you can, so they’ve always been ahead of the game on the sustainability front”

With Gittins at the helm, it’s a well-oiled machine. Indeed, he tells IQ that the biggest challenge in planning the current tour has been the post-Brexit ruling that only allows UK citizens to remain in the European Union for 90 out of every 180 days. “That’s always been the case for American crew, but they’re just having to actually pay attention to it now, as are those from the UK,” he says.

Once again, there’s simplicity to the solution. “We planned the European tour leg on a 90-day run, but with the Dublin and London shows we were able to bring it back to 86, so we don’t really have to worry about it,” adds Gittins.

Audio suppliers Britannia Row have been working with Depeche Mode since 1982, with founder Bryan Grant handing the reins to client liaison and business development exec Dave Compton three tours ago. Paying tribute to the tour’s low carbon footprint, Compton reports, “The Depeche Mode philosophy has always been to share as much of the resources as you can, so they’ve always been ahead of the game on the sustainability front. For instance, rather than carry delays, you pick them up as and where you need them.”

Compton notes that the arena show production is basically a modified version of the stadium show. “The box count is almost identical – I think there are eight more boxes on the stadia production, but that still fits on the same number of trucks. At the end of this European leg, we’ll ship the control package and three of the crew to Mexico for the shows there, while our other two crew will go to Lititz to put together the new PA package for the North American arena tour, before everyone reunites in Austin, Texas.”

Jordan Hanson, head of live events at lighting suppliers 4Wall, is similarly impressed by the minimalist approach. “For the stadium shows, we increase the lighting and boost the crew by one extra person,” he says. “The production is a very clever design, thanks to [creative director] Anton Corbijn. To look at it you’d think there’s a hell of a lot of production involved, but in terms of other stadia tours, this travels remarkably light – Tony Gittins does it very well. He’s great to work with, very calm, and he employs the best of the best in terms of crew, all of whom know the 4Wall staff very well, so it’s really harmonious on the road.”

“They are very loyal, they know what they want, and as long as we don’t fuck up, then there’s no reason why that relationship would change”

Feeding the travelling Depeche Mode army are the kitchen wizards from Popcorn Catering, whose owner Wendy Deans has been working with the band since she first set up the company.

“We’ve been working with the band since 1989 and we’ve done every tour since, so they’ve been really good to us and the company,” says Deans. “They always ask for the same people in catering, which is great, although we’re all struggling to met the Schengen rules these days, because we obviously work on other tours, too.”

Feeding the crew with three meals a day, as well as providing food on the buses and in the dressing rooms keeps Popcorn’s seven-strong team busy, while even just shoping for the food has become more complex thanks to rising costs. “It’s different every day,” adds Deans. “We’re dealing with challenges all the time, but when you’re on tour with Johnathan Kessler and Tony Gittins, nothig is impossible and everyone has a good experience.”

Tasked with making sure Gittins and his road warrior army get from A to B to Z is bussing operator Beat The Street – another long-term Depeche Mode contractor, who this year expanded its remit for the band.

“We launched Beat The Street’s North American operations just before the pandemic, so the fact that Depeche Mode are using us for both continents is fantastic – they are very loyal, they know what they want, and as long as we don’t fuck up, then there’s no reason why that relationship would change,” says company founder Jörg Philipp.

“We lost shows because of the war in Ukraine”

Beat The Street is supplying four buses for the core production crew and caterers, each of whom the company knows well. “There’s never any drama when Tony Gittins is the PM,” states Philipp. “He’s calm, he’s professional, and he knows the drivers that he prefers for his tours. He’s a joy to deal with.”

But the drivers won’t be doing as many miles as originally planned. “We lost shows because of the war in Ukraine,” says Kessler. “Stadiums in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Minsk, then there’s an indoor stadium in St. Petersburg that we had to take out and another again in Moscow, so we lost six big stadiums in that part of the world.”

From Gittins’ perspective, weather has been a major challenge for suppliers and crew, with the extreme heat in southern Europe adding another layer of very necessary prep on the stadium leg.

“We’re a lot more wary about making sure that the crew is sun-screened up, that they take advantage of any shade they can find, and that they are getting enough water,” says Gittins.

“Normally, you don’t want water being anywhere near the stage, but when we’re doing a build in 45-degree heat, we have to make sure there is a big supply of water and that people are drinking a bottle every half an hour or so.”

“People follow Depeche Mode from all over the world, so we’ve seen lots of tickets being bought by people from outside of Romania. In fact, for our 2017 show with the band, in the city of Cluj, we had fans travel from as far away as Uruguay”

Music for the Masses
The feelgood factor of Depeche Mode rolling into town is palpable among the promoters involved on the Memento Mori production. To date, more than 2 million fans have witnessed the show, while management predict the forthcoming 40-date North American arena leg, and the indoor shows in Europe early next year will take that total to around 3.5m hard tickets by the end of the tour.

The Memento Mori tour is a Live Nation global operation, with local LN offices across America and Europe generally passing the baton from date to date, with one or two notable exceptions.

One such instance is Laura Coroianu at Emagic in Romania, who has a special place in her heart for Depeche Mode. “When we first welcomed them here in 2006, they were the first act to sell out a stadium show in Romania and that really helped open the country up for international touring,” she informs IQ.

With Live Nation Eastern Europe bringing in Emagic as their local partner, the current tour marks the fourth time Emagic has co-promoted the band in Romania. “It would have been five tours, but unfortunately we lost the show in 2008 when Dave [Gahan] fell ill,” says Coroianu who, although delighted to welcome the band back, admits that the Memento Mori tour is tinged with sadness. “We really miss Fletch,” she says, “We had him here as a solo act, DJing, in the past, and he was such a wonderful human being.”

With 45,000 fans packing Romania’s national stadium for the sold-out 26 July show, Coroianu details the delight of local businesses and hotels. “People follow Depeche Mode from all over the world, so we’ve seen lots of tickets being bought by people from outside of Romania. In fact, for our 2017 show with the band, in the city of Cluj, we had fans travel from as far away as Uruguay, so it’s a big deal for the local economy and tourism.”

“There’s no other band that has that extreme connection with the German fans. I think that the emotional content and depth of their music appeals to the German character”

As one of the few independent promoters on the Memento Mori tour, Emagic has developed a close tie with Live Nation in recent years – again, thanks to Gahan, Gore and co. “We’ve been working with Live Nation since that first Depeche More show in 2006, and it’s been a wonderful collaboration because it has given us access to lots of important artists and given Romanian fans the chance to see them live,” she adds.

That excitement of welcoming Depeche Mode back is also familiar to Live Nation GSA CEO Marek Lieberberg.

“I’ve had the honour of being the promoter for Depeche Mode for around 40 years now – since the mid-80s – and they seem to have come back even stronger than before on this tour,” says Lieberberg.

“There’s no other band that has that extreme connection with the German fans. I think that the emotional content and depth of their music appeals to the German character – it’s something quite Faustian. But their fans here are very loyal and passionate about Depeche Mode and many of them attend multiple shows.”

That army of German Devotees helped sell out 11 stadium shows across Germany this summer, while the band will return for another eight arena shows early next year.

“Their core fans are the same people who have accompanied them for a long time, but we are seeing more younger fans than in previous years”

“Their core fans are the same people who have accompanied them for a long time, but we are seeing more younger fans than in previous years, which speaks to the band and their music remaining so relevant,” adds Lieberberg.

Gahan-ering Interest
As the European stadia leg of the tour reaches its climax, artist management observe that there has been a noticeable shift in demographics on Memento Mori’s outdoor concerts.

“We’re seeing a lot more young people, and I think that’s a combination of a couple of things,” says Kessler. “First, is that the band’s long-time fans are now bringing their kids to the gigs. But also, a couple of promoters have mentioned to us that the run of festivals we did on the last tour has helped bring in a lot of younger fans.”

Pollock comments, “Depeche Mode are sort of the godfathers of remixes and that’s laid paths to a new generation. There’s also been a bit of planning on our part, as well as a good old slice of luck, as we’ve had some high-profile syncs.”

One of those syncs was the use of the band’s 1987 track Never Let Me Down Again on the hit TV show Last Of Us. “The timing was just sort of perfect with the launch of the album campaign,” states Pollock. “It put a spotlight on the band two weeks before we had new music coming. And there were also things trending on TikTok, so there was just a lot of activity in that social space that was happening with a younger demographic leading into the start of the tour.”

“It’s not only kids going with their parents, it’s kids discovering what is ‘new music’ to them through streaming and other platforms”

Kessler also points to Depeche Mode’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame during the pandemic. “It’s quite a bizarre thing, the Hall of Fame, as it sort of elevates you to this whole other level because there are only five or six acts that go in every year.”

Promoter Memo Parra has a different explanation for the demographics of fans awaiting the band’s arrival in Mexico City. “It’s mainly 40-55 year olds, but there’s a lot in their 30s and 25-and-unders,” he says of the ticket buyers.

“It’s not only kids going with their parents, it’s kids discovering what is ‘new music’ to them through streaming and other platforms.” He adds, “It’s good because Depeche Mode deserve to have a new generation to embrace them – it’s such great music!”

Delighted by the number of younger fans who have been attending the stadia shows, whatever the reason, Kessler nonetheless believes Depeche Mode’s biggest appeal remains in the power of their performances and the abilities of frontman Dave Gahan.

“The band is just continuing to make great music, which is helping them to grow and become more and more iconic,” he says. “We’re blessed with exceptional performers – a mesmerising and magnetic frontman, as well as a songwriter who has become, in his own right, a sort of sidekick frontman to Dave. But when you have Dave Gahan on stage, you don’t need a lot of extra gags to capture the audience’s attention.”

“We work with a lot of other bands, and every act has their own specific fan base, but Depeche definitely have something unique”

He adds, “We work with a lot of other bands, and every act has their own specific fan base, but Depeche definitely have something unique. The fans are not only loyal, but they are an integral part of the show, and the connection between the band and the fans is a huge contributor to the feel of every performance.”

Cinematic Ambience
Another element that helps elevate Depeche live shows is the enthralling films and visuals that accompany each song. Crafted by long-term collaborator Anton Corbijn, he’s also the creative mind that works with the artists on the set design – the centrepiece of which on the current tour is the eight-metre ‘M’ at centre stage.

Corbijn has been part of the Depeche Mode camp for 30 years. “The first time was in ‘93, when I was part of a bidding kind of thing with around six other six people in total. And much to the surprise of the management, they chose me.”

But even Corbijn was quickly made aware of the stripped-back approach that the band has for touring. “I was maybe too ambitious,” he laughs. “My first tour design involved two stages on top of each other, and in those days, you used projectors, which all had to start at the same time. It was complex, but I didn’t know any better. So halfway through the tour, they made it simpler by just reducing it to one stage.”

With the passing of Fletch, Corbijn says the removal of a principal from the stage has subtly changed the setup. “Instead of everything being 90 degrees to the audience, on the stage itself, we’ve angled the energies of Dave and Martin more towards each other, and I think consensus is that it’s a good development.”

“The ethos has always been to have a video-heavy show”

Talking about his set design, which spectacularly showcases his video content, Corbijn notes, “There’s basically one big LED screen, and then there’s another LED screen in the shape of an M in front of it. And sometimes, within the M, there’s different content to what’s going on behind it: sometimes it’s the same, sometimes it’s opposite movement – that sort of negative/positive thing.”

While from his creative point of view, Corbijn says it’s frustrating that cameras on phones mean that it’s impossible to surprise the audience after the first night of a tour, he nonetheless observes, “I think people enjoy themselves, too, when they recognise something that they’ve seen on social media.”

The band itself views Corbijn as a key member. “The ethos has always been to have a video-heavy show,” says Kessler. “We put a lot of effort into the design and the content creation, so we’re very fortunate to have Anton who’s done the video content for 30 years and who makes sure the show is impactful and artistic.”

When it comes to the video elements, Phil Mercer explains that Universal Pixels have been working with the band since the 2017 Global Spirit tour, but his relationship spans back to 2005 when he was working at XL Video. “We inherited the last tour because the previous vendor was fired at the end of the European leg. So, we know there is no margin for error, but looking back it was a good introduction for us to become involved,” says Mercer. “The band are fiercely loyal, as long as you don’t screw up.”

Noting that the challenges for the screen teams mostly revolve around the giant M, Mercer says Corbijn’s aesthetic is one of the biggest considerations. “The M is made of the same hi-res LED as the main screen, so from our point of view, we have to make sure that everything is pixel-perfect every day.”

“We’ve made a very conscious effort to try to have a bit more of a gender balance, and on this tour, we’ve managed to get our female ratio up to 20%”

He adds, “It’s never been about scale with Depeche Mode: basically, nothing goes on the road without good reason, so we’re not dealing with the same number of cameras or the size of LED walls that we do with other clients – we have to work within certain constraints, and it works really well.”

Diversity: People are People
While the planning of PM Gittins has ensured that Depeche Mode have been ahead of the curve in terms of sustainability issues, the band’s management have been working hard with all concerned to improve the gender balance of staff involved on the tour.

Pollock tells IQ, “We’ve made a very conscious effort to try to have a bit more of a gender balance, and on this tour, we’ve managed to get our female ratio up to 20%.”

“It is challenging,” notes Kessler, “but to be fair, a lot of the vendors that we work with have made an effort as well, so when we’re putting together the lighting, audio, and video teams, it’s easier to find more diversity within those teams when everyone is onboard.”

Of course, when it comes to personnel, life on the road without Andy Fletcher has had a seismic impact.

“Not having Fletch has changed the group dynamic onstage”

“Not having Fletch has changed the group dynamic onstage,” says Kessler. “Just by having one less person it’s naturally formed a different dynamic musically, and I think the band has become a closer unit, in a way. It’s certainly been a challenge but witnessing the fan reaction in the big venues has been amazing. Ultimately, they’re not a mainstream act. But they have this hyper-loyal, crazy hard following, and I know that the band appreciates that support.”

Erring on the Side of Caution
Somewhat dictated by the EU working regulations, the European stadium leg’s 36 shows could easily have been expanded. But manager Kessler confesses that his inherently cautious nature played a part in the number of dates.

“We’ve found that the sweet spot of what works on a tour is 130, 145 shows and that’s it. In all honesty, there’s 300 shows we could do, but we know we have to draw the line somewhere.”

However, Kessler admits, “Looking back, we probably could have done more multiple nights in stadiums. For example, we could easily have done another night at Twickenham. But we’ve always had a very conservative approach. My mantra has been to leave people wanting more, and that also allows us to play it safe.”

That’s certainly the case in Mexico, where the band has sold out three dates at Foro Sol and could easily have been tempted into booking more. “The first two shows went up together and those blew out in a day,” says Kessler. “We added the third date a week later and that also went right away, so we could have done a fourth.”

“Mexico has always really loved the relation with British music. Depeche Mode, The Cure, Placebo, Coldplay – British music in Mexico has been big since the 1990s”

The promoter for those 21-25 September shows is OCESA chief Memo Parra, who agrees that a fourth show was a feasibility. “Normal stadiums are around 55,000-capacity, but Foro Sol is 65,000 – 10,000 more – and when you have three shows, that’s another 30,000 tickets, which is a big amount,” says Parra, whose first experience with the band was back in 2006 with two sold-out Foro Sols. “Before that, they didn’t play Mexico for a long, long time – I think the previous visit was around ‘94 or ‘95,” he recalls.

While other promoters count on cross-border ticket sales, Parra says the audiences at the Foro Sol triple header will very much be local. “Mexico has always really loved the relation with British music,” he says. “Depeche Mode, The Cure, Placebo, Coldplay – British music in Mexico has been big since the 1990s.”

And Parra pays tribute to Depeche’s manager for imbuing a circle of trust around the band.

“Kessler really listens to the promoter: it’s not a business deal, it’s a friendship deal – a win-win situation for the band and for the promoter,” he states. “Kessler wants to take care of the promoter: he listens to my ideas and takes my advice on board. And I believe that’s why we’ve done so well with Depeche Mode throughout the years, because it’s always been thoughtfully taken care of on every level of decision, pricewise and everything.

“When Depeche Mode comes to town, you don’t feel like you’re the promoter; you feel like you’re part of the family. And I can tell you, I don’t feel that with many acts.”

“I’m very much a big believer of the fact that there’s enough money for everybody, so let’s be partners – if we do well, everyone does well”

In Germany, Marek Lieberberg agrees. “Jonathan Kessler is a unique manager and he always executes meticulaous planning two-three years in advance,” says Lieberberg. “I can think of no other manager who is so concerned with every aspect of the tour than Jonathan – his level of detail is exceptional and he has guided the band through all kids of currents.

“He asks for advice and challenges his opinions with those of the local promoters, which make him a fantastic person to deal with,” adds Lieberberg.

That respect is mutual, and Kessler tips his hat to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino who has been working with Depeche Mode on their global tours for close to a decade. “I became friends with Michael 15 years ago, and he’s been nothing but the best sort of partner to have,” he adds.

Kessler concludes, “I always had a very different approach on how I dealt with promoters. I’m very much a big believer of the fact that there’s enough money for everybody, so let’s be partners – if we do well, everyone does well. As a result, we’ve never had an adversarial role with a promoter, and the partnerships have only gotten better over the years.”

As Depeche Mode close out their European stadium tour and head west for those huge Foro Sol dates, followed by a run of arenas in America, the hard work behind those partnership relationships is paying off big time.

The European tour leg in early 2024 has only recently gone on sale, but is well on the way to selling out those 32 arena dates. And with just 45 dates of the Memento Mori tour so far completed, the band will be counting on their Live Nation promoters for a further 60-plus shows on the way to what critics and fans are describing as their best tour yet.

 


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Best of 2023: Elton John’s farewell tour

Ahead of the return of our daily IQ Index newsletter on Tuesday 2 January, we are revisiting some of our most popular interviews from the last 12 months. Here, IQ talks to the power players behind Sir Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour…

Having set a new world record for the highest-grossing tour in history, Elton John brought the final curtain down on an extraordinary 50-plus years of touring when he took to the stage at Stockholm’s Tele2 Arena on 8 July. Gordon Masson talks to some of the people who made the extraordinary Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour a reality…

In January 2018, when Elton John announced that Farewell Yellow Brick Road would be his last tour, little did anyone know that his final bow would be more than five years later, after the coronavirus pandemic forcibly delayed his touring retirement.

With the legendary star turning 76 earlier this year, he has spoken about his desire to spend more time with his family – artist manager husband David Furnish and children Zachary (12) and Elijah (10) – and therefore started plotting his final tour when he was on the road with the Wonderful Crazy Night Tour.

“We started having this conversation [about the farewell tour] in 2016/17,” says Rocket Music Entertainment Group’s Keith Bradley, who has been working with Elton John for more than 40 years and is the artist’s de facto agent outside of North America, as well as tour director on Farewell Yellow Brick Road.

Taking up the tale, Furnish, tells IQ, “It’s been well documented – when we looked at our boys’ school schedule, we saw that it was incompatible with the way our life was. So, we needed to get him off the road and do a big farewell tour.”

“I gave them an idea of what we were thinking in terms of the number of shows and the amount of money. And everyone thought I’d lost my mind”

Bradley reveals that Rocket’s management spoke to both Live Nation and AEG Presents about proposals for Elton’s final bow and chose the latter, who he describes as “just brilliant partners”.

“David and I flew to LA to meet with Jay Marciano at AEG, and I gave them an idea of what we were thinking in terms of the number of shows and the amount of money. And everyone thought I’d lost my mind,” Bradley states, noting that his prediction of 300 dates for the tour may have raised an eyebrow or two, but in reality, he expected a great deal more. “In my head, it was going to be closer to 400 shows.”

Heartache All Over The World
Bradley confirms that the original schedule would have seen the Dodger Stadium shows in Los Angeles last November being the final dates of the farewell tour, albeit two years earlier, in 2021. “This year’s European leg should have been in the pandemic time period, as should have been Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. But sadly, that had to be truncated… There’s a lot of stuff that fell off the tour, which was disappointing for sure.”

Furnish agrees, naming Brazil as a huge market for Elton, while “China has opened up more and also Japan.” He observes, “In retrospect, Elton wishes he’d toured Japan more as he didn’t quite put as much of a footprint down there. So, we were excited at the possibility of going back in a big way with [the farewell] tour. But alas, looking at those markets post-lockdown, with inflation, increased fuel costs, air freight, shipping… that, unfortunately, just took them off the table.”

But he notes that the record-breaking Disney livestream of the Dodgers Stadium concert “gave those fans at least an opportunity to see the concert if they couldn’t get there in person”.

“I’m always looking for ways to make Elton discoverable and relevant to a young audience”

As CEO of Rocket Entertainment, Furnish has been managing his husband’s career for the past eight years, during which he masterminded a strategy to expand Elton’s fanbase by exposing him and his music to younger generations – a campaign from which promoters around the world have reaped the rewards.

“The younger demographic stuff was something that I felt passionate about because nobody in our organisation, when I took over, even uttered the word ‘digital,’” reveals Furnish. “So, I spent a lot of time looking at places where young people were discovering music and where I thought Elton could have a really authentic presence.”

For example, a meeting between Furnish and Jimmy Iovine, who at the time was setting up Beats Radio (now Apple Music), provided a perfect platform for music-obsessive Elton to exercise his A&R skills. “It gave Elton a really natural home on a digital music streaming platform,” Furnish notes. “I’m always looking for ways to make Elton discoverable and relevant to a young audience. Most recently, he did the first concert on the Roblox platform at the same time as the Dodger Stadium concerts happened – we put elements of the Roblox show in the stadium show and a cut-down version of the concert on the platform itself.”

The biographical movie, Rocketman, also helped introduce the star and his music to a new audience.

“We worked for a long time to bring out Elton’s story in a way that they would find entertaining rather than just the usual biopic, which is why we did it as a musical fantasy film,” explains Furnish. “I think young people connect with him there because of the story of addiction, loving yourself, rejection and acceptance from family, sexuality – all things that young people talk about and relate to today. Elton has lived that life and continues to do so.”

“When Jay Marciano went to the first meeting to discuss the tour, he led with a strong marketing proposal and a vision to make Farewell Yellow Brick Road the greatest tour of all time”

Rocket’s COO, Luke Lloyd-Davies, says that prior to Furnish taking over management duties, “there were lots of points of entry to Elton in terms of strategic vision. When David came on board, he appointed me as chief operating officer to put in place Elton and David’s vision for the future.”

Noting that Elton has historically played on average around 100 shows a year, Lloyd-Davies believes the skills of tour director Bradley and agent Howard Rose played a significant role in generating interest. “In America, they would operate and navigate in territories outside of the major markets in the build-up to this big farewell tour. So, when we hit the major territories and big cities, demand was through the roof.”

Sartorial Eloquence
Enjoying a successful history with Elton’s live career, AEG Presents tasked Debra Rathwell, executive vice president global touring and talent, with overseeing the epic Farewell Yellow Brick Road project.

“Elton and David knew that they wanted this to be a worldwide tour; they wanted to play to as many of Elton’s fans as possible, and they understood that it would take multiple years to accomplish that goal,” says Rathwell. “When Jay Marciano went to the first meeting to discuss the tour, he led with a strong marketing proposal and a vision to make Farewell Yellow Brick Road the greatest tour of all time, and Elton and David were thinking along the same lines. It’s safe to say that they were pretty much in agreement about the vision for the tour.”

Loyalty played a major role in that vision.

“The right thing to do was to respect the international promoters who had promoted Elton John shows for most of his career”

“Jay agreed with Elton and David that the right thing to do was to respect the international promoters who had promoted Elton John shows for most of his career,” says Rathwell. “It was fortuitous that one of those promoters was our co-promoting partner, Barrie Marshall, who became the promoter of all of the UK shows and the co-promoter of all of the European shows.” In Australia, meanwhile, long-time promoter Michael Chugg took the reins, alongside AEG-affiliated partners Frontier Touring.

For his part, Marshall comments, “It is a source of great pride that Elton has trusted us to present so many shows and we are sincerely grateful for the opportunities. We never forget that he had many other choices of people to work with, so this is extremely special to every- one in the company, and we have tried always to honour his belief in us.”

Rathwell reveals that the first FYBR planning meeting in 2017 involved tour director Bradley; agent Howard Rose; Marciano; Marshall and Doris Dixon from Marshall Arts; and Donna DiBenedetto, VP of touring for AEG Presents. “The first order of business was to make it as manageable as possible, so we divided the entire tour into two: Round One and Round Two.”

Round Two would be a complex affair.

The last date of Round One was at Bankwest Stadium in Paramatta, Sydney on 7 March 2020. Four days later, the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. Elton had completed 179 shows but was only halfway through the tour.

“A lot of the UK shows recently – and the London ones specifically – saw people holding their ticket for something like 1,300 days from the moment they bought it”

After a 22-month hiatus and multiple reschedules, Elton John played his first post-Covid gig at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans on 19 January 2022. “Though we had very stringent protocols in place, Elton John had to announce that he had Covid on 25 January, and two shows in Dallas had to be postponed,” says Rathwell.

But while there have been postponements aplenty, the only shows that had to actually be cancelled due to Covid restrictions were four Canadian arena dates – and that’s because Canadian authorities were only allowing venues to operate at 50% capacity at the time.

The spiralling post-pandemic costs brought obvious dilemmas for a tour whose tickets had gone on sale in early 2018.

“Thankfully, when we released new dates, we saw a huge surge in interest, and that made the economics much better and more manageable,” says operations chief Lloyd-Davies. He adds that the patience of the fans has been unprecedented. “A lot of the UK shows recently – and the London ones specifically – saw people holding their ticket for something like 1,300 days from the moment they bought it back in January 2018.”

Barrie Marshall notes that for re rescheduled European shows, team Elton “[tried] as much as possible to keep the same ‘days of the week’ to make it easier for the public to change their plans. We are all so impressed to see the loyalty of his fans who waited so patiently – but they have all been rewarded with mega shows.”

“The ‘ask’ from Emily Eavis was the most serendipitous timing in the world”

Covid posed other unique issues. Citing the concertina effect on dates, Bradley believes that only Elton John could achieve the run of shows that he did. “In New York, we played eight arena shows in Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Nassau Coliseum in New ark, and then three months later we played two stadium shows at MetLife. The gap between should have been at least a year,” opines Bradley. “I’m incredibly proud that we manoeuvred through everything that was thrown at us.”

Indeed, while the plan to use the Dodger Stadium shows as the final goodbye may have become another pandemic anomaly, the flip side was the prolonged tour schedule opened a door for Elton John to make his Glastonbury Festival debut.

“The ‘ask’ from Emily Eavis was the most serendipitous timing in the world,” says Furnish. “[Glastonbury, on 25 June] wrapped beautifully around the Paris tour dates [on 21, 27, and 28 June]. It would have been physically impossible to drop a massive gig like Glastonbury, with the backup support and crew and everything that we need, if we had been touring in another part of the world. So, I’m convinced this was meant to happen.”

Passengers
With more than 330 shows across North America, Australasia, and Europe, the tour has relied on the local knowledge of dozens of promoters, all of whom have been determined to make the farewell experience as memorable as possible for El- ton and his band, as well as the ticket-buying fans.

“I have known Elton since the early ‘70s, while my touring relationship with him started in the late ‘90s and involves lots of standout moments playing all sorts of places in Australia: Elton has a thirst to play to audiences who may never get the chance otherwise to see him,” says Michael Chugg of Chugg Entertainment.

“The fact that he’s worked with Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa and those sorts of combinations have added to a younger crowd wanting to see this absolute legend”

Heralding Elton’s ability to shine a spotlight on other artists, Chugg tells IQ, “We played outdoors in Darwin, and I was backstage with him when Gurrumul, the blind, indigenous iconic musician was playing. Elton loved it so much that he asked the manager to drive 60 miles to get him 25 CDs. Two weeks later, all these heavyweight UK industry people started to reach out to Gurrumul. That’s Elton.”

Despite the disappointment in many territories where the farewell tour could not visit, there were beneficiaries as well – Chugg being one of them. “We finished the original 40 down under shows just over a week before the lockdowns, but we lost two shows in Auckland, which Elton promised to make up,” reports Chugg. “In January this year, he brought the whole monster show back, allowing us to programme additional stadium shows in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Christchurch, and Newcastle.”

Kim Bloem, at Mojo Concerts, is another promoter to benefit from the pandemic interruption, as the rescheduled dates allowed her to put an extra stadium date on sale in the Netherlands. Bloem took over Dutch promoting duties for Elton John in 2016, when Mojo founder Leon Ramakers took a step back.

“On this tour, we did two shows in June 2019 at the Ziggo Dome, which were phenomenal. At that time, we did not think he would be coming back. But after Covid, we were able to add a show at GelreDome in Arnhem,” reports Bloem. “His audience just seems to get bigger all the time – there were a lot of kids in the GelreDome. The fact that he’s worked with Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa and those sorts of combinations have added to a younger crowd wanting to see this absolute legend.

“At the GelreDome, you could sense that he felt it was the last show in front of those Dutch fans as he made such a great connection with the audience. I was a bit sad because I realised that it might be the final time I see Elton perform. His songs resonate with me and my family so much, so it gave me goosebumps and it gave me tears but also laughter. It was a joyous show.”

“The production was very ticket-selling friendly with the aim of giving as many people as possible the chance to see the show”

In Italy, D’Alessandro and Galli have been promoting Elton for 35 years. “There are so many memories, from the arena in Verona to Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples and the unforgettable last show in Milan,” says company co-founder Mimmo D’Alessandro.

“We managed to host the farewell shows in two iconic locations – the city walls in Lucca and San Siro Stadium in Milan, which allowed close to 80,000 people to see Elton live for the last time. We are incredibly proud. These shows will stay forever in the memories of thousands of fans.”

Klaus-Peter Matziol at Peter Rieger Konzertagentur had 20 dates on the tour: seven in 2019, two stadium shows in 2022, and 11 arena performances this year. “Since 1999, we have done over 100 shows with Elton John in Germany, selling over 1m tickets,” he says. “Farewell Yellow Brick Road was the perfect highlight, staging an extraordinary, emotional farewell show.

“The production was very ticket-selling friendly with the aim of giving as many people as possible the chance to see the show. We supported this with last-minute campaigns, social media tour-book reporting from the road, and having a waiting list for tickets.”

Further north, Tor Nielsen at Live Nation Sweden estimates he’s been involved in around a dozen Elton John tours. “We’ve done shows in Lithuania, Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark, and tons of shows in Norway. Sometimes we play B markets and sometimes A markets: it’s been a lot of fun.”

“The great thing about this show is there is no such thing as a bad seat: the sightlines are magnificent”

Nielsen, too, tips his hat to Furnish and the Rocket team for their work on expanding the audience demographics. “When we released tickets on the show day in 2022 – sideview seats, for instance – a lot of the people who bought those tickets were under 20 years of age.

The Big Picture
The farewell tour production itself is spectacular, with a sweeping, curved stage that in the arena configuration dips so low that those in the front row almost appear to be on stage themselves.

In terms of the vision for the show, the core team consisted of creative directors Furnish, Tony King and Sam Pattinson, lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe, Ray Winkler from set design experts Stufish, and tour director Bradley.

Noting the unique design of the stage, Bradley says, “Very early on, Tony King, myself, and Ray from Stufish were moving round apples and biscuits on a table, working out where everything was going to go. We presented the concept to Elton and David, where we had the conversation about if it was going to work for everybody in terms of the musicians, the crew who had to put it together and, of course, the audience.

“The great thing about this show is there is no such thing as a bad seat: the sightlines are magnificent. You can be at the side of the stage and there’s no impingement whatsoever. In reality, the side views are some of the best seats in the house.”

“You don’t want to use all your tricks in the first half of the show – there should be something in every song to keep the audience engaged”

Having such a rich and successful tour history, Elton and his Rocket Music Entertainment Group have a trusted pool of contractors and suppliers that they rely upon to realise their live performance vision. In the case of the farewell tour, PRG provided lighting; Clair Global supplied sound equipment; TAIT constructed the stage and proscenium (in collaboration with Stageco for the outdoor shows); Solotech took care of video; trucking services were the realm of Transam; and Phoenix buses carried personnel from city to city while Rock-it Global handled freight.

As one of the core creative minds tasked with developing the production set and aesthetics, lighting designer Woodroffe tells IQ he has been working on Elton John tours since 1994: “This is my 30th year with him,” he says, revealing that the creative team spent an intense three weeks on a sound stage in Lititz, Pennsylvania, honing the production’s content and “figuring out how we could stitch it all together”.

“You don’t want to use all your tricks in the first half of the show – there should be something in every song to keep the audience engaged,” says Woodroffe, citing the content for Have Mercy on the Criminal as just one moment that surprises the audience with something they were not expecting.

“You never want to overpower the raw performance of the artist and musicians with lighting and video,” says Woodroffe. “You can make each song more poignant and touching, or fun, with the way you light it, and that’s ultimately my task.
“Elton is very prescriptive about his setlist – he basically delivered it to us nine months in advance and then let us get on with things without interference: it’s an incredibly generous and trusting thing for an artist to do.”

And highlighting the leadership role of Furnish in steering the creative team, Woodroffe also applauds Sam Pattinson’s role in commissioning various artists to create original video content for each of the songs on the setlist: “The videos just set the production apart,” he states.

“When I first went to concerts, you’d get turfed out if you took a photo or even went in with a camera. Now everybody takes pictures or films the show”

Furnish, who came up with the Farewell Yellow Brick Road concept, generously praises his creative colleagues for the look of the set. “It was really the genius of the team at Stufish and Tony King who came up with the idea of the gold frame [around the stage] being made up of key moments from Elton’s life,” he says.

Explaining the thinking behind the impressive feat of having Elton and his grand piano traverse the stage, Furnish says, “When I first went to concerts, you’d get turfed out if you took a photo or even went in with a camera. Now everybody takes pictures or films the show. With Elton stationary behind the piano on one side of the stage, the travelator gave an opportunity for everybody in the venue to at least feel that he was closer to them at key moments.”

Some of the standout elements of the show are the videos that accompany each song on the setlist. Furnish tells IQ, “We spent a lot of time thinking about what the songs meant to Elton and how, in some instances, they had been represented in the past but how that might not necessarily work today.

“So, there’s a David LaChapelle film for Candle in the Wind where he recreated the last photoshoot of Marilyn Monroe. It’s a masterpiece – a brilliant piece of filmmaking. It touches Elton on a couple of levels. Obviously, the song is about Marilyn Monroe. But it was also Bert Stern’s last photograph session with her, and Elton is a big collector – we own some photographs from that shoot. It’s deeply personal in that regard.”

The Power
It’s not just the promoters who boast long-standing relationships with Sir Elton, as he has also remained steadfastly loyal to suppliers and crew.

“You come away from the shows thinking, ‘Why are they stopping?’ Elton has never been more popular; he’s still at the top of his game!”

That loyalty has been crucial, however, with Bradley noting, “We’ve been on the road for five and a half years, which is longer than the run for most Broadway plays.”

In addition to lighting, PRG supplies the tour’s rigging. “We first became involved in the planning for the tour back in 2017, while the first actual dates were in August 2018 in the United States,” says PRG’s Jon Cadbury, who pays tribute to colleague Curry Grant and his team, who put the first US outing together in 2018 at TAIT’s facility in Lititz, Pennsylvania and have looked after FYBR everywhere outside Europe.

“The show involves very careful prep, and Elton brought a lot of crew from the United States over to Europe with him – in the core crew, there are five regular US guys and three regulars from the UK, all of whom have been with him for
many years. So, although jumping from indoors to outdoors – arenas to stadiums – is a challenge, these things are always surmountable when you have an experienced crew. The great thing about this production is that the core team has been together for a very long time, and it all feels like a big family, so it has been a privilege to spend time with them.”

Cadbury continues, “What comes across strongly is that Elton loves performing and enjoys being on stage with his band. And that feeling continues backstage – it’s just a very well managed and well put together production. In fact, you come away from the shows thinking, ‘Why are they stopping?’ Elton has never been more popular; he’s still at the top of his game!”

The stunning set, featuring that downstage piano platform that traverses and pirouettes across the stage, was constructed by TAIT. The complex production houses two video screens – a main backdrop and a video ramp – as well as a platform for the band. The stage itself sweeps low in a curve so that fans feel like they are with- in touching distance of the star. The design’s golden proscenium surrounds the massive video wall, bedecked with iconic imagery from Elton’s colourful career.
TAIT’s Shannon Nickerson has been working on the farewell tour project since early 2017.

“For the rotating piano, we worked with the different radiuses to make sure the piano could fit in both corners”

“I know at that point Rocket and Stufish had already been working on it for about a year, so when they came to us, they had a concept, and then we jumped in from that point,” she says.

“For the rotating piano, we worked with the different radiuses to make sure the piano could fit in both corners. The stage holds an arc that they had set for sightlines, but we also removed a large section so that they could fill as many seats as possible.”

That eye-catching design has also been seen by millions of fans at the outdoor shows, thanks to a clever collaboration with Stageco. “The stadium show had huge tusks built by Stageco. But they constructed a sub deck, allowing the arena set to be also used in the stadiums,” says Nickerson.

Another feature of the set is the artwork around the arch. “It’s one of my favourite things about the production,” states Nickerson. “We worked with Jacqui Pyle who built maquettes that were a 6-to-1 scale. And then we took those, scanned them, and moved them up to the full- scale needed before sculpting and painting them.”

Keeping the surprises rolling until the very end, the stage is also fitted with a platform that allows the artist to make a slow ascent toward the video screen as he bids farewell to the fans before exiting through a portal in the video wall.

“Elton has a global appeal like no one else, and to be able to sell out arenas and stadiums on your farewell tour is very special”

Nickerson tells IQ, “It’s a complicated setup, as we had to figure in the pitch of the LED and the video wall and make sure it all works seamlessly. But you don’t know that there’s a door there for the whole show, and then suddenly it appears for his exit before the video wall closes behind him.”

Bradley acknowledges that in addition to all the gimmicks, bells and whistles, the audio itself is world-class. “We’re a very sound-oriented organisation and always have been,” he notes. “It’s always been about playing live and trying to create the best you can for the guy in the audience. We’ve been very fortunate over the decades, and the guy we’ve got right now, Matt Herr from Clair Global, is super. Same with our monitor guy, Alan Richardson, who goes back to Frank Sinatra. We’ve got very good people.”

Clair Global’s general manager Scott Appleton says, “Elton has a global appeal like no one else, and to be able to sell out arenas and stadiums on your farewell tour is very special. But he’s been to places nobody else would go to over the decades – he’s played Anchorage Alaska; he played the university in Newark, Delaware one time – and that’s amassed a huge audience for him.”

Appleton says Clair owes Elton John a world of gratitude. “The company was started by Roy and Gene Clair in 1966, and the relationship with Elton began in 1971. Roy said Elton was pivotal in handing them a successful business. The Elton John name to the company and Clair family is just massive, and we cannot thank the man enough for what he’s done for this company.”

Can I Put You On
Farewell Yellow Brick Road has now sold more than 6 million tickets, delighting the promoters who have also been afforded the chance to say goodbye to Sir Elton John.

“The fact that it had to be re-scheduled more than once seemed somehow to give it even more momentum”

“Elton’s shows have always been superb, but this production has enhanced and surpassed everything that has gone before,” says Marshall at Marshall Arts, who has been working with Elton for 27 years. “The content in some of the videos show a lot of history – reminding people of special moments. His musicians are amazing and the telepathy between Elton and the band is a joy to watch.”

“The fact that it had to be re-scheduled more than once seemed somehow to give it even more momentum. Elton and David were kind enough to invite the crew and touring party to their home as a final get together, and Jay Marciano announced so many records that had been broken – it was quite a staggering list. Jay has really been the driving force for this tour – he’s a remarkable man with remarkable talent and his care for Elton, David and everyone involved has been wonderful to see,” adds Marshall.

“It’s a great honour to be part of Elton John’s very successful farewell tour,” says Stefan Wyss at Gadget abc Entertainment in Switzerland, which promoted a stadium show last year in Berne, as well as two sold-out arena shows in early July in Zürich’s Hallenstadion.

“The arena shows were originally announced for 2020 and had to be postponed several times due to Covid,” continues Wyss. “Those shows were sold out long before the stadium show was announced, but we had to postpone them until a year after the stadium. Luckily, there were almost no refunds – no one wants to miss this show.”

The tour is a personal highlight for Ben Martin at Marshall Arts, which in addition to being the promoter in Elton’s native UK, has coordinated all the European dates. “In terms of duration and number of cities, I’ve never worked on anything bigger,” he says. “We’ve had three tour legs through Europe, but there have been very few repeats – we only tended to go to market in each city once, so we never overplayed things, while we were able to pick off all the key cities.

“Elton has always had a multigenerational audience, but the work done by David Furnish and Rachael Paley to broaden that fanbase worked perfectly”

“There was such a demand everywhere, so that even when we had to reschedule shows because of Elton’s hip operation, people still did not ask for refunds – it really was the golden ticket they wanted to hang on to.”

Martin discloses that Marshall Arts were also unexpected beneficiaries of extra shows. “The ten shows at The O2 were a result of the rescheduling and re-routing, and because we’ve been promoting Elton since 1997, from a marketing perspective, I knew exactly which channels to run to reach his fans.”

He adds, “Elton has always had a multigenerational audience, but the work done by David Furnish and Rachael Paley to broaden that fanbase worked perfectly, from his Snickers advert, John Lewis advert, tie-ups with Britney Spears and Dua Lipa, to the book and the film – it’s been brilliantly executed.”

Just Like Belgium
Not all of the tour’s promoters were veterans of Elton John’s touring past. First-timer Pascal Van De Velde at Greenhouse Talent in Ghent was determined to be involved in the historic farewell outing. “Elton’s music is bigger than life, and when I saw that there was a book coming out and the movie of his life, I totally believed the tour would be special – and Barrie and Doris at Marshall Arts were gracious enough to allow me to promote the Belgian shows,” he says.

“Elton John has reinvented himself many times during his career, and his appeal just spans the generations. There were 16-year-old girls crying with emotion at the end of the shows – it was a beautiful mix of audience, aged eight to 88.”

“It has been a long, exciting road, and it was very hard to say farewell”

Van De Velde also flags the loyalty of the fans. “Tickets were sold in the fall of 2019, but 95% of the fans held onto them until the concerts. And on the show days, the no-shows were just 1%, which is less than for a normal show, and way, way better than the 25% no-shows we saw for a lot of the Covid-postponed gigs.

“I have to applaud everyone involved: Jay Marciano’s team at AEG were super, while Ben Martin and all at Marshall Arts are a pleasure to work with. For such a big production, it’s like clockwork, and if one small cog isn’t working, it
can all fall apart. But Farewell Yellow Brick Road was flawless, and I can understand why it has set new records.”

Matziol at Peter Rieger Konzertagentur says, “It was – and always has been – a huge honour to be the touring partner for an exceptional artist like Elton John. We would like to take the opportunity to thank Keith Bradley, [TM] DC Parmet, Barrie Marshall, Doris Dixon, and many, many others for this outstanding relationship. It has been a long, exciting road, and it was very hard to say farewell.”

In Australia, Chugg says being involved in the farewell tour is a highlight of his 60-year career, and he has booked tickets to fly to Sweden for the charismatic star’s final show. “We played 50 shows to 1m people in Australia and New Zealand. I will always be grateful to AEG, Elton, and his team for allowing me to be part of it,” says Chugg.

That concert in Stockholm on 8 July was the 331st gig on the tour. Despite being in charge of the superstar’s final tour date, Live Nation’s Tor Nielsen was not feeling under pressure. “All the shows are farewell shows – it’s farewell Bergen, farewell Gothenburg, farewell Stockholm…” he says.

“Having the opportunity to be a part of the Elton John Farewell Yellow Brick Tour has been the honour of a lifetime”

“The production, the band, and Elton himself are incredible, and I’m not surprised that Farewell Yellow Brick Road has broken records everywhere… Artists like Elton John are not made any more. He is one of a kind.”

“Having the opportunity to be a part of the Elton John Farewell Yellow Brick Tour has been the honour of a lifetime,” says AEG’s Rathwell. “I cannot imagine the last six years of my life without Elton John and all of the members of our close-knit team. Jay Marciano and I often chat about what an extraordinary experience it has been to be involved with Elton John, his team, and this tour. We have never worked with such a strong team of professionals who work co- operatively and collaboratively.”

Barrie Marshall states, “Nobody who has seen this show across the world will ever forget it – truly a memory for all time… One thing is for sure, his creative genius and dedication to all music, is never going to go away – and we can all be very thankful for that.”

The Last Song
Nobody is more thrilled than Furnish. “The tour has outperformed all of our expectations. We knew we would do well, but we didn’t set out to be the highest-grossing tour in history,” he says.

“It’s just been a total team effort. Everybody rose to the occasion because I think they felt that they were part of something very special. Elton sets a very high bar; he goes on stage and thinks every show has to be as good as or better than the last one. He’s really focused and dedicated, and I think everybody feels inspired by that.”

“I don’t think Elton’s ever going to stop performing – it would be telling an artist never to paint again”

COO Lloyd-Davies observes. “I don’t think Elton’s ever going to stop performing – it would be telling an artist never to paint again. But his days of touring are definitely over – he would personally find it quite disingenuous if he went back out on the road.”

But with rumours of Broadway and West End projects and a touring exhibition circulating, Lloyd-Davies discloses, “We’re not putting on our slippers and watching boxsets. I can’t ever imagine Elton being that guy. He wants to write more. He wants to record more, collaborate more. There’s been talk about an Elton John musical at some point. The whole immersive space is fascinating to us, but we don’t want to rush into that.”

Furnish confirms new projects are definitely in the mix. “I’ve been with Elton for 30 years, and he’s been on the road for 28 of them. Performing live is such a vital part of who he is, so I hope we can find a non-travelling, limited-run way for him to keep his fingers nimble and his voice flexed and continue to do what he does. It’s part of what keeps him alive, and he has a way of bringing people together that in a divided world is increasingly hard to find.

He concludes, “Elton is like a shark: he has to keep moving forward to stay alive. He has the most extraordinary drive. Believe me, it’s not like you’re never going to see or hear from him again.”

 

 


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