The Jewel of the Midlands: Resorts World Arena at 40
This month should have marked a huge party at Resorts World Arena as the iconic NEC Group venue chalked up its 40th birthday. While those celebrations were inevitably muted, given that 2020 has been the quietest in the building’s long history, IQ could not let the occasion pass without paying tribute to this pioneering arena.
Prior to 1980, there had not been many gigs at the National Exhibition Centre, which was opened by the Queen in 1976 as the largest exhibition space in the UK. However, as the fledgling live music business began to grow, promoters were eager to find suitable venues for shows by 70s superstar acts and, more by accident than design, the NEC’s halls started to prove popular for touring acts.
At that point, there were no major venues outside of London, where Earl’s Court and Wembley Arena hosted the larger touring acts, so it was a somewhat brave leap of faith that saw NEC’s hierarchy decide to add a seventh hall to the Solihull complex.
“I was working with Harvey Goldsmith, and the first band to play the venue was Queen”
And so it was, on 5 December 1980, that the Birmingham International Arena made its debut on the UK tour circuit. And what a debut it was! “I was working with Harvey Goldsmith, and the first band to play the venue was Queen,” says Andrew Zweck of Sensible Events.
“This was the first new arena built in the UK in the 1970/80s [and] I’m very happy to say that it’s gone from strength to strength, with lots of additions, improvements, and upgrades over the years, and is really a favourite venue for artists, promoters and, of course, fans.”
For his part, Harvey Goldsmith recalls that he first heard about the NEC in 1975 and used the complex a number of times prior to the arena’s construction.
“In 1977, Barry Cleverdon, who had become the MD of the NEC, phoned me and said that they were creating a venue in Hall 7 and could I bring a big artist to open the venue. So I brought the first of many major artists, Queen, to the venue.”
“At first the venue was a bit rough and ready, but it had a great atmosphere thanks to the Brummie audience”
Goldsmith adds, “At first the venue was a bit rough and ready, but it had a great atmosphere thanks to the Brummie audience.[Prior to that] I had been producing a lot of concerts at Bingley Hall as that was the biggest space in the region, and the NEC was light relief compared to the cattle showroom.”
With a history with the arena that dates back to its opening, the list of artists that Goldsmith has taken to the venue is endless. “From The Who to New Kids On the Block to Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles; award shows like Smash Hits and the last show of the original Black Sabbath,” he notes.
“It is now a great venue, with a fabulous team who run it. It all works – from the ticket selling to the car parks. We are lucky to have this well-run venue, and long may it continue,” adds Goldsmith.
Those early concerns about the height of the arena roof have, over time, become a selling point for the venue, as its design has helped to foster a reputation as one of the most intimate arena performance spaces in the world.
“In 1978, the NEC’s exhibition halls were used for a few shows before the arena opened, and that was the catalyst for the construction of the arena,” says Guy Dunstan, who is the current managing director of arenas for the NEC Group.
“Back then, the arena was a pioneering venue in the UK market. There were only really Earl’s Court and Wembley Arena”
“But when the arena opened, it retained the capability to be converted into an exhibition hall – so the seats could be removed, for example.
“The roof height of 12 metres helps retain an intimacy,” he continues, noting that the original design of the building tried to make the arena as audience-friendly as possible. “The building was initially a 12,300-capacity arena, and its design is iconic, as it is pillar-free to minimise sightline issues.
“Back then, the arena was a pioneering venue in the UK market. There were only really Earl’s Court and Wembley Arena, so the addition of the Birmingham International Arena in 1980 gave promoters the opportunity to start looking at bigger UK arena tours.”
As with many in the Resorts World Arena team, Dunstan is a local lad whose history with the venue dates back a lot farther than 1996 when he joined NEC Group.
“I went to my first ever concert at the arena,” he tells IQ, confessing that he’s recently been able to use NEC archives to check the exact date.
“My passion for concerts and live music all centres around the arena – I just never imagined that I’d end up running the place”
“It was 18 December, 1984, it was a mate’s birthday and we went to see Howard Jones, who must have been big at the time because he played two dates. I was 13, and I remember we were dropped off at the arena by my mate’s dad and I was buzzing about going to my first gig.”
He continues, “I’d been to events at the NEC before that, as my parents took me to see the Harlem Globetrotters and we’d also been to showjumping events because my sister was into that. But my passion for concerts and live music all centres around the arena – I just never imagined that I’d end up running the place.”
Alan Goodman, general manager of arenas, started working with NEC Group in 1991, initially at sister venue, the NIA, in Birmingham city centre, and adding the NEC Arena to his remit later on. But he, too, has a longer history with the venue.
“My first concert was at the NEC Arena in 1986 – it was a show called Heartbeat 86, which was a charity gig to raise money for a children’s hospital. I remember that I sat under the same awful lighting rig that I was responsible for taking out in 2008.”
Growth and improvement
Dunstan and his former boss, Phil Mead, have been instrumental in the venue’s development in recent years, starting with the expansion that Goodman hints at.
“[In 2007], there were lots of new, purpose-built venues opening up and the NEC Arena was showing its age”
“We first started looking at what we could do to transform the venue in 2007, when Phil Mead joined us,” says Dunstan. “At the time, there were lots of new, purpose-built venues opening up and the NEC Arena was showing its age, to the extent that the customer experience was not where we wanted it to be,” he admits.
“Our approach was to have a venue that was fit for purpose, and at the forefront of the arenas business worldwide, so we looked at different options and spoke to a number of architects about how we could achieve that.
“The ace up our sleeve was that we were able to create this unique arena environment because we have the Forum as an entrance area, which gave us 4,000 square metres of space to utilise as part of the rebuild, welcoming people from outside, where it can often be cold or wet, into this vibrant entrance atrium.”
Mead recalls, “When I had a look at the NEC Arena before I got the job, I could see it was crying out for refurbishment – there hadn’t been any significant investment for a long time.”
He, too, talks fondly of his long relationship with the venue, telling IQ, “I went to college in Staffordshire, so one of the first gigs I went to was when Bob Dylan played the arena in 1991. I was at the back of the arena where the seats levelled out, so it wasn’t a great view, but I took my chance to make my way down to near the stage to get closer to the action.
“One of the first gigs I went to was when Bob Dylan played the arena in 1991”
“It was a brilliant show and the whole arena atmosphere got to me. Little did I know that 25 years later I’d be writing to people to tell them about the importance of keeping the aisles clear.”
That initial experience was not too far from his mind when it came to the expansion of a decade ago. “A lick of paint wasn’t going to be enough for the refurbishment, and I remember hiring a photographer in and instructing him to take bad photos, so we could use them in the presentation for our refurb proposals. Photographers don’t like to take bad photos, but we’d wheel bins into shot and things like that. Fortunately, the board bought into our proposals.”
The expansion programme proved a little more complicated than its then local authority owners simply signing a cheque.
“The caveat was that they would provide us with the £29million [€32m] as long as we could underwrite the costs with a naming rights sponsor for the arena,” discloses Mead.
Dunstan is convinced that utilising the entrance atrium was crucial to attracting its first naming rights partners, electrical giants LG.
“Getting [naming rights partner, electrical giants] LG on board was a milestone moment”
“The Forum gave the sponsors the space and scope to integrate with us and make the new arena an exciting place to showcase the LG brand and their products. At one stage, LG built a cinema in the Forum to showcase their 3D television technology. But they also brought in gaming and mobile phone experiences, as well as all kinds of technology experiences – all of which helped make it an exciting place for visitors as well.”
“Getting LG on board was a milestone moment,” states Mead. “We wanted to reinstate the arena into the premier league of venues and gaining the support and enthusiasm of LG unlocked any concerns of the board, which gave us the money for the project.”
But that wasn’t the only constraint the NEC team had to contend with. “The key to the refurbishment was that we kept the building open as much as possible throughout the construction project, which was a huge logistical task in itself,” says Dunstan.
Mead agrees. “One issue with the project was the speed that we had to do it, especially as we wanted to stay open as much as possible while working on the construction,” he says. “When it came to the refurb project, I think a bit of my Bob Dylan gig was still in me, because I made sure the number of seats on the flat were reduced, while others in the bowl were reconfigured to improve the sight lines.”
While enhancing the arena’s acoustic credentials was an uncontested element of the 2009 refurb, the prospect of changing the seating set-up can prove to be a significant deterrent when it comes to enticing promoters and touring productions. But the architects were able to quickly allay such fears.
“Looking at the arena bowl, it was crucially important for us to keep the capacity numbers so we could remain viable”
“Looking at the arena bowl, it was crucially important for us to keep the capacity numbers so we could remain viable,” says Dunstan. “But the actual design we chose more than delivered, because we were able to increase the capacity from 12,300 to 15,600 by redesigning the seating system, and instead of effectively having three stands, we filled in the corners to create a true arena bowl.
“The design allowed us to increase the seating, but also increase the width of the actual seats and give people more legroom. All in all, it was great news for the fans, but also for agents, promoters and, of course, the artists.”
As with all major projects, management were understandably nervous about the reaction of fans, knowing that audiences often do not take kindly to change. But they needn’t have worried.
Mead says, “We used a Tom Jones show for our soft launch, then Green Day for the official opening. And we could immediately see that the Forum Live area was hugely popular and working well, so it made the investment worthwhile.”
Dunstan adds, “When we reopened with Green Day, I walked in and checked to see what the numbers were with the box office. Pretty much the entire audience had already scanned in, but the building did not look full at all because of the space in the Forum that we had de-signed. And I have to say, it still looks as fresh and new now as it did then.”
“When it comes to my highlights, that first season after the refurb is up there – Tom Jones, then Green Day, and then WWF”
Mead has nothing but fond memories of the accomplishments of 2009. “When it comes to my highlights of working at the arena, that first season after the refurb is up there – Tom Jones, then Green Day, and then WWF – it was amazing to see the arena transformed,” he says.
Another seminal moment involved Prince and a last-minute deadline. “Prince was in the UK for a festival performance or something and he decided he wanted to tag on an arena date while he was here, so his appearance at the arena was put together in just three weeks, which must have been the shortest lead time in the venue’s history,” says Mead.
“That day I had a report to write for the board, but time just flew by, so I found myself watching the show with my laptop on my knee, writing the report to the backing of Prince. And at the end of the show, one of the fans told me that he’d been watching me and that he hoped it was going to be an amazing review!
“Another highlight was in 2016, when my wife insisted on going see Adele. Just seeing someone at the top of their game singing brilliantly for a couple of hours was fantastic. Same goes for George Michael with his orchestra, which was a standout moment, as was Ozzy Osbourne’s farewell show, and the Sports Personality of the Year Awards.”
For his part, general manager Goodman tells IQ, “One of my personal highlights was when Jeff Lynn of ELO went back on the road – and that was the first time I’d seen him since my first ever gig at the Heartbeat 86 concert.”
“Prince’s appearance at the arena was put together in just three weeks, which must have been the shortest lead time”
Dunstan has too many highlights to mention, but he remembers a particular Spinal-Tap moment that speaks of the arena’s accessibility. “We had a big international band playing at the arena, and that night I was observing the car park and traffic team, so I joined the marshals, etc, to see how they ran things,” he relates.
“At the end of the evening I had two choices: join the traffic team for the exit process for the fans; or the more appealing chance to join the getaway vehicle for the artists leaving the site as soon as they left the stage.
“So I was in the NEC traffic vehicle and the band’s driver told me that they had a jet waiting for them at Birmingham Airport. I asked where they were going next and he laughed and said, ‘London’. It turns out they were flying to Luton Airport and had ignored their driver’s advice, so he dropped them off at Birmingham, then drove to Luton Airport and was there waiting for them when they got off the plane…”
As the jewel in the crown when it comes to venues in the Midlands, Resorts World Arena provides everyone who works there with a sense of justifiable local pride.
The redevelopment of the arena in 2009 precipitated the council selling NEC Group to Lloyds Development Capital in January 2015 for a whopping £307m (€337m). However, underlining the incumbent management’s impressive ongoing stewardship of the venues group, in October 2018, private equity investment firm, Blackstone, acquired NEC Group from Lloyds for a reported £800m (€877m).
“All of our existing riggers are ex-trainees, which is fantastic, and it’s definitely something we want to continue in the future”
In the meantime, the group’s hierarchy has created groundbreaking internal leadership strategies that will not only improve the efficiency of the NEC going forward, but are having a domino effect on the greater UK production services sector as a whole.
Arenas GM Goodman says, “We’re unique in that we have our own in-house event services team, who I see as being at the centre of an egg timer, taking all the outside information and requirements from the promoters and tour production and passing that on to our internal venue staff.
“For many years we’ve had our own rigging team, and we’ve been groundbreaking with our training programmes. Our apprenticeships, which we have been championing for many years, are more formalised now. And during the past couple of years we’ve done the same with our electricians. The fact that we have our own in-house teams gives us great control over the here and now.”
Those training schemes are beginning to benefit the UK’s touring circuit as a whole, as apprentices move on to work at other venues. “All of our existing riggers are ex-trainees, which is fantastic, and it’s definitely something we want to continue in the future,” states NEC Group head of rigging, Paul Rowlands, who tells IQ he has been working at the arena since 1991.
“In those days, from a rigging perspective, a heavy show was 12 tonnes. Now we’re in excess of 80 tonnes for the larger shows, and that’s a real challenge for an older venue.”
The Resorts World Arena roof was at one time a haven where George Michael liked to sunbathe
Goodman adds, “When you see the way tours have developed, there are periods of the year when we have back-to-back shows and the way we deliver them is just an amazing achievement. That wouldn’t be the case if we hadn’t spent the time and effort into developing our teams.”
As his job involves working at height, Rowlands is all too familiar with the Resorts World Arena roof and reports that at one time it was a haven where George Michael liked to sunbathe. “We also used to have our snow patrol to shovel snow off the roof when we had to, but thankfully that’s now done with the flick of a switch,” he says.
But the roof remains something of a hindrance for Rowlands and his team, so he is happier than most about the prospects of the next arena construction scheme. “The arena was never designed for the loads it’s asked to take these days, so we have a lot to do in the next expansion project,” he says.
Britain’s biggest arena?
Not content with running one of the world’s most popular venues, the Resorts World Arena recently revealed plans that could transform the building into the biggest arena in the UK.
“Everybody knows everybody in the arenas business, so we’ve been incorporating and learning from the lessons of everyone else in terms of what works and what doesn’t at arenas around the world, as well as what promoters expect and what they are – and are not – prepared to pay for,” says Rowlands.
The Resorts World Arena recently revealed plans that could transform the building into the biggest arena in the UK
“Using that information has allowed us to come up with a venue redesign that will make the Resorts World Arena the most flexible venue in the country.”
Rowlands tells IQ that he is familiar with a lot of venues around the world, while the Resorts World Arena’s location next to Birmingham Airport has meant that the venue has been used for more than its fair share of arena association meetings over the years – giving him and the NEC Group team an advantage when it comes to developing facilities and services.
“We have a system that will effectively be designed by other venue operators, based on their problems,” explains Rowlands.
“For instance, I opened an arena in Hong Kong once and it was an incredible building, but what they overlooked was that the loading doors faced the South China Sea, so when shows were loading in and out, things would blow everywhere. Those are the kinds of lessons you learn from others when planning construction.”
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has placed all construction plans on hold for the time being.
“Our plan is to take the capacity up to 21,600”
“Our plan is to take the capacity up to 21,600,” explains Dunstan. “We’d achieve that by putting an additional tier on the existing facility and raising the roof. That will also allow us to strengthen the roof so it’s better equipped to handle future productions. Again, the idea would be to keep the arena open as much as possible during the expansion project.
“We’ve got the planning consent but because of Covid the project is now on hold,” he continues. “We were due to start the project in May or June 2020, but we’ve decided to pause it for the time being. We need to get back into the recovery of the business before we re-evaluate the market to see where we are.”
There’s no time to grieve over the paused expansion plans, however, as the NEC Group is being kept busy by the surprise selection of Birmingham as the host city for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
On hand to assist in that regard is none other than Phil Mead, who has taken on the role of Commonwealth Games delivery chairman – a position that is close to his heart, as he was a contestant in the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, where he represented the Isle of Man at badminton.
“I remember winning the first point at doubles when we played the Malaysians, who were the world champions. That was sort of the highlight,” he laughs.
Mead says that six sports will be hosted at NEC Group facilities, which will also be home to the international broadcast centre. But the fact that the Resorts World Arena is involved at all is a surprise.
The NEC Group is being kept busy by the surprise selection of Birmingham as the host city for the 2022 Commonwealth Games
“We originally were working on a bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games, which in theory, would have coincided with the opening of the high-speed rail link adjacent to the NEC complex,” says Mead.
“Durban had won the bid for 2022, but when the organising committee visited the city, they found that a lot of the requirements had not been met, so they decided a new host city was needed. One of the reasons Birmingham was chosen was that 90% of the venues were already in situ, and the city has hosted lots of international sports events over the years.”
Mead reveals that the whole NEC team is working on the Games preparation, as the complex will be central to the gathering. “We’re going to have netball in the arena, which is great because England will be one of the favourites,” he says. “Weightlifting, powerlifting, table tennis, boxing and badminton will be in the NEC halls, while the city-centre arena will host the gymnastics.”
That’s not the only major event in the calendar for Resorts World Arena in the near future. Dunstan states, “The next expansion was to coincide with the opening of the high-speed rail line to London. […] There are also ambitious office, retail, and residential projects planned nearby, so there are a number of exciting opportunities for the NEC Group, and Resorts World Arena in particular, during the next decade.”
Already enhancing the arena’s pulling power is Resorts World, which is adjacent to the venue and has proved to be a tremendous asset for the entire NEC campus with its retail outlets, restaurants, hotel, and casino.
“My highlights of working here are constant: they’re basically the challenges we have to meet and find solutions for”
40 years at the top
As the Resorts World Arena team prepare for a return to live events in 2021, the NEC has been playing a major role in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, being the location for the temporary NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham, and cementing itself even deeper in the hearts of the local population.
The arena’s reputation is no less embedded among artists and their crews. “The NEC Arena, or Resorts World Arena as it is now, is iconic, and anyone touring around the world would recognise the building from a photo,” comments Rowlands.
He adds, “My highlights of working here are constant: they’re basically the challenges we have to meet and find solutions for all the time, because the arena was not designed for the size of shows we now have visiting. It’s all about problem solving – how can we make the next production work?”
“It’s up to us to ensure that Resorts World Arena remains as relevant in the next 40 years as it has in its first 40”
Those challenges will undoubtedly change when the venue goes through its next redevelopment stage, possibly as early as 2023, paving the way for a new generation of artists and state-of- the-art productions to herald the next 40 years of success at the arena.
Dunstan concludes, “There are members of the team who were not even born when the arena opened, so it makes me feel really old that the venue is now 40.
“There are a slew of new venues due to make their debut in the next few years – in Newcastle, Cardiff, and Manchester, for example – so it’s up to us that we put the work in to ensure that Resorts World Arena remains as relevant in the next 40 years as it has in its first 40.
Manchester Arena celebrates 25th year with virtual show
A virtual charity concert will be aired later this month to mark the 25th anniversary of the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena, the largest indoor arena in the UK.
Taking place on Friday 17 July from 8 p.m., the pre-recorded event will feature Lionel Richie, Alice Cooper, Tim Burgess, Emeli Sandé and the Hoosiers, and will be broadcast across the arena’s social media channels to celebrate reaching the quarter-century milestone.
The event, which is organised in conjunction with Future Agency, will also raise money for local organisations including homeless shelter the Booth Centre, cancer treatment specialist the Christie and community-focused charity Forever Manchester, as well as music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins.
“Our 25th anniversary celebrations were set to be very special indeed”
Each charity will receive 25% of the money raised. Donations can be made here.
“Our 25th anniversary celebrations were set to be very special indeed,” says James Allen general manager of the ASM Global-operated arena.
“However during this period of pause, we have adapted the format to ensure that we can deliver an evening of top quality entertainment to your home, so everyone can enjoy the celebrations without leaving the house.”
Since opening in 1995, Manchester Arena has hosted acts including Beyonce, Chris Rock, U2, Kylie Minogue, Take That, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and The Rolling Stones.
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Homer’s Odyssey: The Steve Homer story so far
Spend more than a minute or two in the company of Steve Homer, the affable, talkative co-CEO of AEG Presents in the UK, and one thing becomes clear: the man loves live music. Thirty years after he promoted his first show, Homer’s enthusiasm for the live experience is as infectious as ever.
“He’s a music fan,” says other co-CEO Toby Leighton-Pope, Homer’s partner in crime for the best part of 20 years. “If he doesn’t have a show on, he’ll find one to go and see. We’ll go away to LA on a business trip for a week, and after two days of lunches and dinners he’ll take off and go and see a band – he’s left many a business meal or important meeting to go see a show.”
“My dad, he’s 80 now, and I remember him saying to me a few years ago, ‘You’re never going to get a proper job, are you?’” adds Homer. “And I said, ‘correct.’ He just sees it as my hobby, my passion – and it is.”
Perhaps it’s that love for the art form that’s been the key to Homer’s success over the past three decades. Or maybe it’s his well-deserved reputation as a “perfect gentleman,” in the words of agent Tobbe Lorentz, or his willingness to turn his hand to everything from the Darkness to Tinie Tempah, building lifelong relationships along the way.
Either way, like Odysseus – the hero of the poem by his 8th-century-BC namesake – Homer’s story is an epic one (albeit with more Dolly Parton and fewer shipwrecks). And it begins in a market town in the Black Country, sometime in the early 1960s…
“He’s a music fan. If he doesn’t have a show on, he’ll find one to go and see”
Big on campus
Born in Stourbridge in the West Midlands, Homer caught the live music bug at his first show: The Clash at Wolverhampton Civic Hall on 16 December 1978, just a few weeks after his 15th birthday. His first brush with the industry, meanwhile, came five years later, when he went to Leicester University to study physics with astronomy (later, sensibly, transferring to a combined studies degree).
Homer, like many of his peers, served on Leicester’s entertainment committee, and after graduating in 1986 went to work at Staffordshire’s Keele University, which was recruiting for a professional (ie non-student) entertainments manager. But it was at another university that he cut his promoting teeth.
“The University of Sheffield wanted someone to come in and shape their commercial services department,” he explains. “There were three venues there, as opposed to one at Keele. The idea was to make Sheffield one of the biggest-earning university campuses in the country.”
And Homer delivered. By the early ’90s Sheffield’s entertainment business was making well over £1 million (€1.1m) profit annually, while Homer and team were running more than 60 shows a year.
By the early ’90s Sheffield’s entertainment business was making well over £1m profit annually
The old school
As a university ents manager in the early 90s, Homer was in good company: other now-household names in similar roles at the time included Middlesex Polytechnic’s Geoff Ellis (DF Concerts); the University of Warwick’s Chris York and Manchester’s Rob Ballantine (both SJM); Newcastle University’s Daryl Robinson (AMG/Mama); and the University of London’s Paul Hutton (Metropolis/Crosstown Concerts).
It was also his first contact with many bookers he works with to this day, as X-ray agent Adam Saunders recalls: “Steve and I first worked together when he was at Keele University, and then following that at Sheffield. We built a great working relationship through those early years, and we carried on working closely together through his years at the Mean Fiddler, too.
“We both had some incredibly pivotal years with the Darkness and the huge success through the Permission to Land album touring campaign. Steve had by that point moved to SFX (as Live Nation then was) and a second run on that tour featured multiple nights in all the UK arenas. We even included a tour warm-up show in the ‘intimate’ Brixton Academy. Great times…”
As a university ents manager in the early 90s, Homer was in good company
Homer remained at Sheffield until 1998, by which time he’d “run [his] course” at the university amid an unwelcome evolution in his responsibilities.
“Sheffield was a great place for gigs, but I’d moved further and further in that time from booking shows to the running of the commercial services side: helping to make the bars turn over more money, working with security services, and so on, Homer says. “But my main desire was that I wanted to work on live music.”
Homer joined the Mean Fiddler Music Group, Vince Power’s venue and festival empire, that year, after having turned down a job at one of the company’s venues two years prior. “I’d previously spoken to Vince Power about a job that came up at the Clapham Grand [south London],” he continues. “But I had real security within Sheffield, and people like Paul Hutton and Simon Moran advised me against it because at that time it was so off the beaten track.
“But I left it on good terms with Vince, and I phoned him up in mid-98 to say I wanted to move to London and asked if there was anything at Mean Fiddler. I came down and he offered me the job of running Mean Fiddler’s touring department.”
“I remember my dad saying to me a few years ago, ‘You’re never going to get a proper job, are you?’ And I said, ‘correct’”
After an “okay but not great” start promoting around 30 shows that autumn, including long-time Power clients Dr John and Republica, Homer fast put his own stamp on Mean Fiddler, famously promoting early shows by Eminem and Queens of the Stone Age while imbuing its touring division with the focus on talent development that had characterised his career to date.
He also began to book acts for Mean Fiddler’s Homeland and Reading Festivals, working closely with current Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn, as well as artists including Kylie Minogue, Carl Cox and Moloko for the Renaissance club in Ibiza.
At Mean Fiddler, Homer says, he learnt for the first time “that it really matters which company you work for. […] Some agencies loved Mean Fiddler but many others didn’t. It was the first time in my career that I’d been seen as part of that corporate umbrella.”
Other high-profile Mean Fiddler-era signings included pop-punk band Bowling for Soup – who Homer saw at South by Southwest and brought over for Reading and the new Leeds Festival – and All Seeing I, the Sheffield supergroup featuring Jarvis Cocker and Phil Oakey who scored a hit in 1999 with ‘Walk Like a Panther’.
Homer’s tenure at Mean Fiddler lasted just two years, and he admits that he didn’t leave the company on “great terms” with Power, who had been “very supportive” of his career to that point and perhaps felt cheated when his rising star was lured away.
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Focus Wales gears up for tenth anniversary
Welsh showcase festival Focus Wales has announced dates and released delegate passes for its upcoming tenth anniversary festival.
Taking place from 7 to 9 May in venues across Wrexham, North Wales, the festival will showcase acts from all over the world, alongside conference sessions, arts events and film screenings.
Focus Wales has released a limited number delegate passes at the super early bird rate of £80. Delegate passes give priority access to all live shows, panels and keynote talks, as well as to mixer events and the festival opening party.
Over 200 delegates attended the festival in 2019, with representatives from Glastonbury Festival, Eurosonic, Cambridge Folk Festival and BBC 6Music, among others.
“Focus Wales is a truly international affair”
Performer applications for Focus Wales 2020 are also now open to artists worldwide. The first 50 acts for 2020 will be selected in September, so artists are encouraged to submit applications early.
Over 240 acts performed at the 240 festival last year, including Neck Deep, Cate Le Bon and Boy Azooga.
“A truly international affair”, each year Focus Wales hosts a selection of dedicated international showcases. 2019 showcases included BreakOut West, Catalan Arts Music, Fira B!, Nova Scotia Music Week and WestSide Music Sweden.
Delegate passes can be purchased here.
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Deutsche Courage: The rise and rise of CTS Eventim
From humble beginnings at the dawn of the Internet age, Klaus-Peter Schulenberg and team have grown CTS Eventim into a €4 billion live events powerhouse.
As the German company celebrates its 30th birthday, Eventim execs and partners describe the journey to the top, as well as what the future holds for Europe’s leading live music company, writes Jon Chapple…
If any one company can be said to have shaped the direction of the global concert industry over the past three decades, there’s a good argument to be made for CTS Eventim.
In the early 2000s, as Live Nation ancestors SFX Entertainment and then Clear Channel Entertainment gobbled up independent promoters across North America, a similar revolution was underway across the Atlantic, with CTS Eventim – under the stewardship of CEO Klaus-Peter Schulenberg – quietly building a live entertainment powerhouse from its base in Bremen, Germany.
As the first company in Europe to sell tickets online – and, perhaps most significantly, the first in the world to run a ticketing operation alongside a concert promotion division – Eventim under Schulenberg set the template for the modern, vertically integrated concert business prevalent in the 21st century.
Now, as the company enters the next stage of its evolution with pan- European promoter network Eventim Live, IQ examines the CTS story so far – and discovers what comes next…
Computer says yes
While many sources credit Schulenberg as CTS Eventim’s founder, the roots of the business lie in Computer Ticket Service (CTS), founded in 1989 by concert promoter Marcel Avram.
Avram, now president of European Concert Agency, was soon joined at the fledgling CTS by Matthias Hoffmann, of Mannheim’s Hoffmann Konzerte, and later by a third partner, Marek Lieberberg (with whom Avram had co-founded Mama Concerts in 1969).
“We, as promoters, can learn a lot from him. He started the same way as us, but he was cleverer”
Speaking to IQ, Avram says he has “huge respect for what Klaus has, over the years, made out of a small idea I had in the 90s when I created CTS.” The three partners, he explains, were unable to devote the time necessary to develop CTS – the 1990s saw Avram promoting world tours by the likes of Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart and Eros Ramazzotti – and Avram describes the company’s subsequent growth as CTS Eventim as a “huge achievement” by Schulenberg.
“I couldn’t have done it better,” he continues, “not just because of the time, but also because of Schulenberg’s know-how. He did a great job and I admire him for it.”
As CEO of CTS Eventim, Schulenberg, 67, now presides over a vertically integrated, publicly traded live entertainment powerhouse worth over €4bn by market capitalisation, and which turned over more than €1.2bn in 2018. But it all started – as these stories often do – with a “mediocre” high-school band…
The first indication that Klaus-Peter Schulenberg’s future lay in the music industry came as a 15-year-old student, when he assumed the role of booking agent for his band. “I made sure that our band had enough shows,” he remembers. “The other groups at school would come to me and say, ‘You’re so mediocre but you always have lots of gigs… can you do the same for us?’”
Schulenberg became an artist manager in 1971, discovering teen idol Bernd Clüver while studying economics at the University of Bremen. “He had a wonderful voice – very soft – and was very good looking,” recalls Schulenberg. “All the girls liked him.”
“The other groups at school would come to me and say, ‘You’re so mediocre, but you always have lots of gigs… can you do the same for us?’”
At the time, Schulenberg was 19 – then legally a minor – so his father signed the young singer on his behalf. Clüver’s hit ‘Der Junge mit der Mundharmonika’ (‘The Boy with the Harmonica’) sold more than two million copies, and the proceeds allowed Schulenberg to give up on his studies and reinvest them (“in a solid Hanseatic manner,” notes a 2003 Handelsblatt profile) in his own music company, KPS Concertbüro.
Somewhat unbelievably, KPS’s first concert wasn’t with a Bremen, or even a German, act – rather, the company’s maiden event was a 10,000-person show with bona fide rock’n’roll megastars the Rolling Stones, in partnership with Fritz Rau (the “Rau” in Lippmann + Rau). “That was the starting point for working together for the next 20 years,” says Schulenberg.
From concerts came touring exhibitions, radio stations and newspapers, including the popular Bremen free-sheet Weser Report, and by the early 1990s Schulenberg was looking seriously into the possibilities of a newfangled technology that would change dramatically the direction of his career: the internet.
“In those days, I went to interactive media conventions in the US, and by the 1990s I’d got to know the internet,” he recalls. “At that time, you had to buy tickets in an outlet store or on a busy phone line, which was not an enjoyable shopping experience. I saw the opportunity the internet presented for ticket sales – for consumers and also for the ticket agent, who could earn a service charge.”
“I saw the opportunity the internet presented for ticket sales – for both consumers and the ticket agent”
By 1996, and the dawn of the digital age, Schulenberg had his sights set on buying a ticketing company. “I could see that CTS wasn’t successful, and in 1996 I made them an offer and Marcel, Marek and Matthias finally accepted.”
Just the ticket
André Béchir, founder and CEO of Switzerland’s abc Production, echoes the sentiments of many Eventim executives and partners when he describes Schulenberg as a “visionary” – someone who, at an early stage, saw the potential both of selling tickets online and of bringing together ticketing with live entertainment (concerts, festivals, other live shows and venues) under one corporate umbrella.
“I first met him years ago, when we were both working as promoters,” says Béchir, who is full of praise both for Schulenberg’s personal character and his professional foresight. “He’s much cleverer than I am,” he says. “He concentrated on [digital] ticketing, as he saw that this was the platform of the future, and then he built up an extremely good infrastructure around it.”
“He’s a visionary,” Béchir continues. “We, as promoters, can learn a lot from him – because he started the same way as us, but he was cleverer.”
Cleverer, maybe – but digital ticketing was far from an overnight success, according to Schulenberg, who remembers an early on-sale when CTS spent two million Deutschmarks on marketing, but sold just 100 tickets.
Jan Smeets honoured for 50 years of Pinkpop
Pinkpop founder Jan Smeets has received a golden commemorative coin, embossed with the Pinkpop logo, from the Royal Dutch Mint to celebrate 50 years of the festival.
The Dutch festival celebrates its 50th edition this year, making it the oldest, continually running festival in the world. Festival founder Smeets received the jubilee coin, embossed with the festival logo and an image of the famous ‘Pinkpop Girl’. A total of 6,000 coins will be produced.
“For this 50th edition, I am honoured that the Royal Dutch Mint has immortalised the logo for everyone,” says Smeets.
Fleetwood Mac, Mumford and Sons and the Cure will headline the anniversary festival, with other performances from Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren, Jamiroquai, Bastille, Lenny Kravitz, the 1975 and J Balvin.
“For this 50th edition, I am honoured that the Royal Dutch Mint has immortalised the logo for everyone”
The first edition of Pinkpop took place on 1970 on Pentecost Monday in the Dutch city of Geleen. The festival has grown since its origins from a one-day event to a three-day, 60,000-capacity affair.
The image of the Pinkpop Girl has been present on the festival logo since early on and will dominate the aesthetics of the anniversary event.
Bert van Ravenswaaij, chief financial officer of the Royal Dutch Mint, comments: “It is special for the Royal Dutch Mint – virtually the oldest company in the Netherlands – to make a special anniversary issue for the oldest, still-running festival in the world. We are very proud of this.”
The 50th anniversary edition of Pinkpop takes place from 8 to 10 June on the Megaland festival site in Landgraaf, the Netherlands, tickets for the festival are now available. Fans can buy special anniversary Pinkpop medals here.
Woodstock 50 anniversary event announces line-up
Woodstock 50 Music and Arts Fair has announced the official line-up for it three-day 50th anniversary today, with headline performance from the Killers, Miley Cyrus, Santana, Dead and Company and Jay-Z.
More than 80 acts have been confirmed for the event, taking place from 16 to 18 August in Watkins Glen, New York.
Legacy acts, in addition to the original Woodstock 1969 icons Santana and Dead and Company, include Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, David Crosby and Friends, John Fogerty, Canned Heat, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian and Melanie.
The Killers, Miley Cyrus and Santana head up the opening night, with Chance the Rapper and the Black Keys headlining on Saturday and Jay-Z, Imagine Dragons and Halsey closing the event on the Sunday night.
Other performances across the three-day event come from the Lumineers, Bishop Briggs, Greta van Fleet, Leon Bridges and Janelle Monáe.
“We’ve lined up artists who won’t just entertain but will remind the world that music has the power to bring people together, to heal, to move us to action and to tell the stories of a generation,” says Michael Lang, co-founder and producer of the 1969 and 2019 Woodstock festivals.
“Our hope is that today, just as in 1969, music will be the constant that can inspire positive change”
“Our hope is that today, just as in 1969, music will be the constant that can inspire positive change,” adds Lang.
Woodstock 50 has also confirmed some of its nonprofit cause partners, including environmental charity Conservation International, student-led anti-gun group March for our Lives and Chicago-based SocialWorks, which empowers youth through the arts, education and civic engagement.
In addition, Lang has announced that the festival will include curated neighbourhoods that celebrate unique experiences across all arts forms – including emerging talent, specialty food offerings, workshops and craft – as well as a dedicated “Kidstock” area.
A rival, Live Nation-backed festival, set to take place on the original Woodstock site in Bethel Woods over the same weekend is no longer going ahead in the same capacity. The Bethel Woods Centre for the Arts Woodstock anniversary event will take place as a scaled-back “Anniversary Week”, forming part of a six-month long Season of Song and Celebration.
Tickets for Woodstock 50 go on sale on Earth Day, April 22. Fans can subscribe to receive more information here.
Official Woodstock 50 anniversary event confirmed
Woodstock 1969’s co-producer and co-founder Michael Lang has announced the comeback of Woodstock Music & Arts Fair to mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic festival. Billed as the only authorised commemoration event, Woodstock 50 will take place from 16 to 18 August 2019 in Watkins Glen, upstate New York.
“It’s time to put the speculation to rest and officially announce that Woodstock 50 is happening,” says Lang.
Woodstock 50 will showcase more than 60 artists across three main stages. Whilst promising mainly contemporary talent, attendees should also expect legacy acts and tribute performances to Woodstock’s most iconic moments.
The festival stays true to Woodstock’s original mission, combining music with social conscience. Nonprofit and cause-driven organisations will present screenings and expert panels to promote sustainability and advocacy. Alternative art forms such as comedy, spoken word and film accompany live music in making Woodstock 50 a varied cultural event.
“It’s time to put the speculation to rest and officially announce that Woodstock 50 is happening”
Lang – who runs Woodstock Ventures, the owner of the Woodstock trademark – made the announcement following the finalisation of plans for a rival Woodstock anniversary event last week. Live Nation-backed Bethel Woods Festival is due to take place over the same weekend on the original festival site in Bethel, New York.
The Woodstock Ventures owner states that he is “delighted” that Bethel Woods continues to hold events celebrating the original 1969 festival.
“The original site in Bethel is wonderful, but much too small for what we’re envisioning,” says Lang. “Watkins Glen International gives us the ability to create something unlike any other commemorative event and something uniquely Woodstock.”
A limited number of tickets for Woodstock 50 go on sale for students aged 18–25 at the end of January. Further details regarding line-up and other on-sale information will be announced in the coming weeks.
Mojo magic: 50 years of Mojo Concerts
When Berry Visser opened Delft’s first discotheque in the late 1960s, he could never have imagined the decision would impact the lives of millions of people for half a century to come.
With fellow students, he ran a small cabaret venue called Mojo Theatre, but despite a weekly 100-guilder grant from the city, it needed to make more money. So they opened disco Polly Maggoo, and it was packed within a fortnight. It was the first time Visser had heard pop music and it changed his life.
Shortly after, at a concert by The Doors, Visser decided he was going to promote concerts. “So I just went to London and met Neil Warnock at [Brian Epstein’s] NEMS, and asked to book Spooky Tooth and Traffic.”
“I remember the first time I met Berry,” says United Talent Agency’s Neil Warnock. “He had long hair and looked a bit like a hippie.”
Returning to the Netherlands, Visser banged on the door of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and asked to rent the main room. They took one look at him and turned him away. So he went back to Warnock, secured Julie Felix, and tried again at the venue. They sold 300 tickets – and Mojo Concerts was born.
Bitten by the promotions bug and inspired by Woodstock, Visser contacted Bath Festival of Blues founder Freddy Bannister, who agreed to share bands with the Dutchman’s as-yet-unnamed festival. “I had no site and no money,” Visser laughs.
In 1970, a young architecture student called Leon Ramakers went to an address in Delft to buy tickets for a Led Zeppelin concert that was taking place in the Hague.
There he found Visser, “a long-haired guy sat at a table with an electric heater at his feet.” The two got talking, and Visser told Ramakers of his festival plans with Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd and Soft Machine.
Full of enthusiasm and keen to be involved, Ramakers wrote to the minister of culture asking for money, but not expecting a response. To his amazement, a week later the minister called him to a meeting and later granted the young student 25,000 guilders. “As a result of the ministry’s contribution, Coca-Cola agreed to put money in too, because they thought that if the festival was backed by the ministry then it must be OK.”
“One year we brought in barrels of petrol and set them on fire on the roof of the venue. It caused quite a commotion”
Meanwhile, Visser received a visit from Georges Knap, “dressed like a salesman”, and pitching an idea for a festival in Rotterdam. The long-haired Visser took one look at him and slammed the door. But Knap persisted, and eventually drove Visser to the site he had in mind in Kralingen. Visser was convinced, and from 26–28 June 1970, Holland Pop Festival (known locally as Kralingen Music Festival) took place near Rotterdam. Headlined by Pink Floyd, and featuring the Byrds, T. Rex and Santana. Taking place two months after fellow Dutch festival Pinkpop, it was one of the first rock festivals on continental Europe.
“It was a fantastic day,” remembers Warnock. “I was on the bus with Jethro Tull and one of them was playing the violin while we tried to get Pink Floyd into the country because they didn’t have a carnet. It was chaos, but it was frontier times back then.”
Dubbed “Europe’s answer to Woodstock”, Holland Pop was a cultural success but a financial disaster. “We lost a million guilders,” remembers Ramakers. “We sold 28,000 tickets but the gates were crashed early on and lots of people got in free.”
Although the festival was organised through a foundation, creditors pursued the fledgling Mojo Concerts. For the next four years, Visser and Ramakers lived hand-to-mouth, borrowing money wherever they could to advance bands because box offices wouldn’t release ticket money until after the shows.
But they weren’t discouraged. “We were young and we loved what we were doing,” says Ramakers. “We were convinced that eventually we were going to make it so we just kept on going.”
This work ethic and passion for music has been integral to the success of Mojo Concerts. Ramakers explains: “It’s good that we’ve made money but the primary reason we do this is it gives us pleasure. If you do something for the love and you do it properly, the money will follow.”
Then, in 1977, everything changed. Arena shows became commonplace, and Mojo Concerts were at the forefront.
“All of a sudden there was a major boost in business,” says Ramakers. “We were doing three shows with Pink Floyd, three with Supertramp, two with Eagles, Bob Marley.
“Before then, you were lucky if you made 2,000 guilders on a night. Then it was boom time.”
“Berry got it. We had similar music tastes. I’ve been working with Mojo ever since”
What put Mojo ahead of their competitors when booking the biggest artists was their attitude – a refreshing change from the dominant long-standing Dutch jazz promoters of the time. “They had the approach that the artist was their employee because they were paying them,” remembers Ramakers. “From the beginning, we understood that we were not the boss – the artist was. All the jazz promoters were stuck in the past and couldn’t adapt to the new rock business. We would make sure the artists had breakfast in the morning, which was something those others never did.”
ITB’s Barry Dickins recalls: “The biggest promoter in the Netherlands at the time was Muziek Expres magazine owner Paul Acket [founder of the North Sea Jazz Festival]. He said to me, ‘Why are you dealing with these bootleggers?’, and I told him, ‘Because they get it, and you’re an old man who doesn’t.’ Berry and I were about the same age – about 20 or 21, so to me working with Acket was like dealing with your dad. Berry got it. We had similar music tastes. I’ve been working with Mojo ever since.”
Opening Pandora’s Music Box
In a story familiar to many promoters, as the years went on, the deals got worse. “I watched them go from 60/40 to 80/20 and then 90/10,” says Visser. His solution, in 1979, was Casa Nova, a ten-day cultural fair for young people at the Ahoy Rotterdam. Rather than relying on increasingly unreliable deals, Visser decided to create other entertainment. Alongside music, it was to feature tech showcases, poetry, circus, lectures, nightclubs, film and more.
It didn’t work and Mojo Concerts went bust. The pair bought the name back a few months later for 4,000 guilders.
Then in 1983, came Pandora’s Music Box – a combination of music, theatre and art. Visser brought in artist and composer Michel Waisvisz and the pair created a programme of what they called “phenomena” – interactive and immersive performances mingling with the audience.
“We had sheep walking the marble floors after midnight; a massage parlour; a lemonade girl standing in a bikini in a glass basin filled with lemonade handing out lemonade in paper cups; old people playing cards. One year we brought in barrels of petrol and set them on fire on the roof of the venue. It caused quite a commotion,” recalls Visser
The immersive theatrical experience blew everyone’s minds. Pandora’s Music Box became legendary, and a blueprint for most festivals today. “Barry Dickins was doing a show with Diana Ross at the Ahoy, and came over to see it,” remembers Visser. “He was flabbergasted and told me if we did it in New York, we’d smash it.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 79, or subscribe to IQ here
Motorpoint Arena Cardiff celebrates 25th anniversary
This September marks the 25th anniversary of Wales’ Motorpoint Arena Cardiff. The venue, which has entertained over 10 million fans throughout its history, is celebrating the milestone birthday with a series of redevelopment projects and upgrades to the space.
The arena, owned and operated by Live Nation UK, has taken many forms over its 25-year history. Its 7,500-capacity (standing) space has at points been transformed into an ice rink, a boxing ring and a motocross dirt track.
To commemorate its quarter-century, a number of investments and regeneration projects have taken place over the last 12 months. Alongside the refurbishment of all bars onsite, the arena’s Exit Seven performance area has been upgraded in a bid to further support the emerging talent that relies on the space.
Two “Wall of Fame” designs have also been constructed around the arena, featuring the names of artists that have performed at the venue throughout the years. Since opening in 1993, acts to have performed include Beyoncé, P!NK, Elton John and Oasis.
“The Arena is a favourite for fans”
Speaking of the anniversary and the refurbishment projects, general manager Phil Sheeran, says: “Live Nation’s investment and commitment to the Arena these past 25 years has brought some of the biggest stars and the very best music, entertainment and sporting events to Wales and the South West.
“The Arena is a favourite for fans. Seeing international artists up-close and feeling part of the action is just one of the reasons why people return time and again.”
Huw Thomas, leader of Cardiff Council comments: “The Arena has been an important entertainment partner in Cardiff for the past 25 years, and was a critical part of Cardiff becoming the UK’s first Music City.”
2018 has seen a number of sold out shows for the venue, including performances from Paramore, Dua Lipa and Noel Gallagher. Upcoming shows include Florence + The Machine, Jess Glynne and the Prodigy.