x

The latest industry news to your inbox.


I'd like to hear about marketing opportunities

    

I accept IQ Magazine's Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

This Life on Tour: On the road with Take That

As one of the biggest boy bands of the 90s, Take That have been selling out venues for more than 30 years, while racking up millions of record sales, numerous awards, and a reputation for putting on spectacular concerts. Current outing, This Life on Tour, is only enhancing the band’s status, while taking the group into new markets internationally. IQ reports.

As one of the UK’s most-loved acts, Take That have sold more than 14m albums in their home nation alone, consistently setting the bar high with live performances that thrill arena and stadium crowds alike. But unlike many of their peers, the trio of Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, and Mark Owen are determined to further build their fanbase, with the current tour taking them to new territories, as well as markets they haven’t visited in decades.

Last year, Take That switched allegiances by entrusting James Wright and Oliver Ward at United Talent Agency to handle their representation globally.

In their native UK, however, the band has a longstanding arrangement with SJM founder Simon Moran, who is often credited with persuading them to end their nine-year hiatus to reform. That decision saw SJM enjoying phenomenal success on The Ultimate Tour in 2006, in addition to the six tours prior to the current outing.

Nonetheless, Moran admits to being once again surprised by the volume of ticket sales. “We never take anything for granted,” Moran tells IQ, in the knowledge that 700,000 ticket sales makes them the biggest-selling UK tour by a UK act this year. “The high level of the tours previously and the production values thus far have delivered tremendous results, but it’s nice to see thew sales come through to this level.”

This Life marks Take That’s 12th tour, but ever ambitious, the band are taking their production to a number of new markets. “We want to go to places they’ve not been to,” says Moran. “We haven’t played in Leeds before, so to sell-out four shows and 40,000 tickets is a great result.”

“We’re very careful on pricing to [ensure we] have a wide range. There were probably 15-20% of the tickets priced at £60, which is great value”

And the SJM founder observes that the band’s popularity seems to still be expanding. Detailing the demographics of the ticket holders, he comments, “We still see the original fans from the 90s and then there’s a whole new fanbase that came on board with the Beautiful World [2007], Circus [2009], and Progress [2011] tours, but we also see the sons and daughters of the original fans and maybe even of the ones from [the noughties] as well.”

The fact that the tours attract so many young fans also plays a part in ticket prices, according to Moran. “We’re very careful on pricing to [ensure we] have a wide range. There were probably 15-20% of the tickets priced at £60, which is great value. At the other end, we have some VIP tickets, but we want to keep prices affordable for the vast majority of people.”

New relationships
While Moran promotes the UK tour leg – along with DF Concerts in Scotland and fellow Manchester-based operation Kennedy Street Presents – globally, Take That are now represented by UTA’s Ward and Wright who went back to basics for the set-up of This Life on Tour.

“We took the decision, collectively with management, to speak to every promoter in every market, including historical promoters,” says Ward. “Essentially, it was an open door, with us being the new agents, to have fresh conversations with everyone to find the right partners for the band in every territory. The enthusiasm amongst the promoters to bring the band to these markets, where they hadn’t been for ages or [had] never been, was massive.”

Disclosing some of the research undertaken in pulling together their proposal for Take That, Ward explains, “Our IQ Department here at UTA is an amazing resource and using their analysis we could see there were some really prominent markets, at least in terms of digital audience, where the band either had never been or hadn’t been for years. We took that information in good faith to [band manager] Chris Dempsey, and he then took it to the boys to show them there might be some untapped markets that should be considered.”

“The boys themselves were very keen on this campaign to do more in these markets and meet these fans for the first time or for the first time in a long time”

Wright says, “The boys themselves were very keen on this campaign to do more in these markets and meet these fans for the first time or for the first time in a long time. So it just became a big part of our conversation in the lead up to us working with them.

“We were also able to present an understanding of where fans were looking at things like Take That’s Wikipedia pages, so we really had a deep understanding of exactly where their fanbase was.”

That data has helped Take That plan a routing across 51 cities in 21 countries, as the band plays 79 dates before the end of the year, plus their own bespoke festival in Malta.

Burning ambition
Underlining the scope of the new markets that UTA’s research identified, the tour will see Take That play their first-ever shows in Portugal, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Czechia, and Slovakia. Additionally, Ward and Wright have agreed deals that will see the band performing in Asia for the first time since the 90s and their return to Spain after a 17-year absence.

Wright comments, “There’s a fundamental fear when a band or an artist has been going for that length of time, they want to sort of sit back. But Take That’s energy is quite remarkable – it’s very infectious to be around. And it just drives us to step up and deliver for them.”

And flagging up the professionalism of the artists, Ward says, “We’ve got a band who’ve been willing to do the promo and to go to these markets to excite the fanbase. The best example is Australia, where this will be only the band’s second visit since the 90s. Working with the promoter, Gary [Barlow] went to Australia to launch the tour with four days of packed promo. Credit to Gary, that has helped us have the best sales the band have ever seen in Australia.”

“We have many original fans, but we also have lots of teenagers coming to the show – it’s about a 50/50 split between the generation”

Susan Heymann, chief operating officer at Frontier Touring, which is promoting the band’s six-date tour, is delighted with the band’s return down under. “Gary was adored everywhere he went on his Australian promo trip,” she says. “The band and their team are some of the nicest people we’ve worked with and incredibly hardworking.”

As one of the new promoters on the tour, Heymann tells IQ, “We had a great response to the announcement of their November tour and with the addition of their old friend, Sophie Ellis-Bextor on the bill, announced right around the time when her hit Murder On The Dance Floor had re-entered the global charts, this Take That tour is reaching a broader audience than ever before.”

Back in Europe, Carsten Svoldgaard at CSB Island Entertainment is looking forward to welcoming the band back to Denmark, having hosted their only non-UK date in 2023.

“They played Hindsgavl Castle here last year and sold out 10,000 tickets, so we were very keen to be involved in this year’s tour as well,” says Svoldgaard. “We did not know how popular they would be for the Hindsgavl show because we had not worked with them before and it had been a long time since they had performed in Denmark, but it worked really well.”

Having sold out all 5,500 tickets for the 27 June gig at the Skovdalen amphitheatre in Aalborg, Svoldgaard reports that the fans span the generations. “We have many original fans, but we also have lots of teenagers coming to the show – it’s about a 50/50 split between the generations.”

“That’s what I find so inspiring – here they are all these years later, still going really strong and still massively ambitious in a way that not all artists are”

Further south, Will Anderson at Madrid-based Mercury Wheels is promoting six of Take That’s seven shows in Spain, including dates in Marbella, Seville, Murcia, and Jerez, as well as the capital city. “We have these outdoor concert series in Spain that are quite popular, so they’re sort of a festival vibe, but they’re all outdoor headline shows, essentially,” says Anderson of the gigs.

“Take That haven’t been to Spain for 17 years, so that was part of the conversation when Olly and James at UTA got in touch, as there’s a lot of pent-up demand from Spaniards to see them. But naturally, there will also be a lot of British expats that live here, as well as people flying in for the shows – the audiences should be a real mixture.”

While this will mark the first time that Anderson himself has worked with the band, he is relishing the experience. “Expectations are pretty high,” he tells IQ. “Just speaking with the agents at UTA, you get a sense of the ambition coming from the band themselves. That’s what I find so inspiring – here they are all these years later, still going really strong and still massively ambitious in a way that not all artists are. They could very easily sit on their laurels and not do very much if they wanted to. But they want to get out and see their fans in all parts of the world.”

In terms of ticket sales, Anderson reports, “In Madrid, the show sold out in a day, while Marbella was one of the fastest-selling shows they’ve ever had in the history of the concert series, so they ended up adding a second date. But right across the board, it’s going great guns, so we’re really happy with how it’s coming together.”

The agents are similarly enthused. “Spain’s been a big one,” confirms Wright. “We’re just delighted that having not been there since 2007, we’re now doing seven concerts. The show in Madrid sold out in 24 hours, which was one of the fastest sellouts ever by an international artist at that concert series.”

“The sales are tracking very well against our other recent arena shows, and the band have both a strong ex-pat and international following”

Also on the tour routing is a 25 October date in the United Arab Emirates where MAC Global previously promoted the band’s 2017 Wonderland Live outing.

“We fully expect people to travel from Dubai and other Emirates in the UAE: we are seeing the ticket-buyers more willing to travel from Dubai to Abu Dhabi for shows and vice versa,” comments MAC Global co-founder and chief creative officer, Daniel Goldberg. “Take That have a huge global following, and we fully expect to see fans travel from the UK to attend the show and build in a short winter break around it.”

With the band’s agents looking to potentially add dates to the Middle East leg, Goldberg notes, “We’re hoping Take That will do two or three regional plays. We are based in Dubai, but our remit, being part of the Sony Masterworks network, is very much regional routing. Even dating back to 2015, we successfully routed Ed Sheeran to Dubai, Oman, Qatar, and India in one regional run, and we always try and route artists to more than one market here.”

Indeed, he reports that demand for the October show is encouraging. “The sales are tracking very well against our other recent arena shows, and the band have both a strong ex-pat and international following. Robbie Williams recently sold close to 14,000 tickets in Abu Dhabi, so we’re hoping to hit a similar number.

“Their UK sales speak for themselves and there’s a huge amount of excitement for them coming to Abu Dhabi. The band and entire team are a delight to work with, and this will surely be one of the event calendar highlights for the UAE this year.”

“Generally, when it comes to the live show, it’s about communication of what it looks like, what it feels like, and how it works with new gags or new equipment”

Large-scale production
Having formed in 1990, Take That have worked with many professionals in the industry over the decades, but one member of their team who dates back beyond their first tour is creative director Kim Gavin.

“Weirdly, the band contacted me as soon as they had a hit, back in 1992, so I’ve now been 32 years with them,” Gavin informs IQ.

Recalling his first encounter with the band – which was then a quintet – he explains, “I was working for the BBC, doing the Children’s Royal Variety Show, and the director wanted a pop act at the beginning of the show. We saw four different acts, and when the director asked who out of the four I would put on stage, I said, ‘Without doubt, Take That.’ I remember having to splice in cheers and screams when they entered the stage in the edit, because nobody knew who they were.

“When their third single, It Only Takes a Minute, went to number seven in the charts, they decided they wanted to go on the road, so I did that first tour with them. I choreographed all the songs on the album and staged their tour, and that’s been my position with them right through till this moment.”

Renowned for their state-of-the-art sets, Gavin has been at the forefront of Take That’s spectacular shows since day one but reveals that this tour is putting more emphasis on the repertoire than aesthetics.

“Generally, when it comes to the live show, it’s about communication of what it looks like, what it feels like, and how it works with new gags or new equipment. On this tour, what Take That want to try and get across is more the singing and what the songs are, inherently. So, they’ve stepped back from the spectacular, even though they still do pyro and all sorts of special effects. But it’s the first production since 1995 where they haven’t had dancers, for instance.”

“We make sure that things are fairly elastic, so that we can respond once we get into rehearsals”

Gavin says planning for the current production started last autumn. “We’ve gone with a very big stage on this because it’s got these two swivelling staircases, and it needs to be that big in order to do everything we want it to do. But the stairs portray the ups and downs of This Life, so they are integral to the show.”

Providing some insight into the creative process, Gavin says, “Even back in ‘92, Mark [Owen] would be concerned about what they were wearing, and he’d involve himself in the clothes. He still does that now, but now he also likes to be involved in the concept for the tour and what the album evokes. So, in the early stages of planning, Mark and I discuss what we could do, and that evolves until we bring the other two – Gary and Howard – in, when we’ve got something to talk about.”

When it comes to the video elements of Take That’s live performances, Luke Halls Studio has been working on the creative side since the 2007 Beautiful World Tour.

“It’s usually a collaboration between the guys, Kim Gavin, and myself,” says company principal Luke Halls. “Usually, the band will have an idea – Mark being the more visually led member of the band – then I will get a sort of amalgamation of their hopes for the show, which I can respond to with some ideas or concepts, and we take it from there.”

Using animation that can be quickly tweaked during rehearsals, Halls reports that This Life on Tour saw about 15 members of his team working on the video content.

“We make sure that things are fairly elastic, so that we can respond once we get into rehearsals. Thankfully, there’s a level of trust that’s been built over the years, so we’re left very much to generate the visual elements.”

“As soon as you go outdoors in the UK, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen – as Middlesbrough proved”

Detailing some of the differences between the indoor and outdoor shows, Halls says, “We have to make sure that those images are bigger and clearer for the outdoor show just so that everyone gets the experience that they’ve paid for.”

He adds, “We call ourselves sculptural film-makers. Everything that we do has a sculptural outworking, so we don’t just generate for rectangular screens: we make sure everything is very bespoke to the stage and the shape and everything that we’re playing with. That’s really our skill.”

Backed for good
With production manager Chris Vaughan pulling the strings, many of the professionals working on This Life on Tour have been involved in Take That’s world for a number of years.

Audio expert Liam Tucker, of Skan PA, has been working in a senior role since 2015, although his relationship with production manager Vaughan dates back further on tours for the likes of A-Ha and Muse, while he also worked in a junior position on Take That’s 2009 Circus tour and 2011’s Progress shows. “I was the extra delay guy when they had extra speakers and things like that,” he recalls.

Highlighting one of the main challenges of outdoor shows in the UK, Tucker comments, “As soon as you go outdoors in the UK, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen – as Middlesbrough proved.”

Recalling the deluge the crew experienced at the city’s Riverside Stadium ahead of the 24 May concert, Tucker says, “Load-in was just rain all day, from every single angle – it was coming in sideways, it was bouncing off the floor. Technology is as rated as it can be, but sometimes it doesn’t like the weather.

“From an audio point of view, the main issue was network, as some of the inclinometers decided they weren’t going to work, while the rain also refracted the lasers, so it was difficult to get a true reading. But those are hurdles rather than problems.”

“Festivals are always good fun because you’re walking into something different in every location”

While the audio team, including engineers, numbered seven on the arena shows, it gained two additional members for the stadium run. “They do the extra hangs, the delay masks, that sort of thing. And when we go into the European leg, we drop down to four audios, including the engineers.”

The difference between the indoor and outdoor shows also entails more equipment, although from an audio point of view, Tucker says, “The stage itself and the inputs stay the same, but outdoors it gets bigger and wider. It’s the way the show is put together that changes. So, rather than having one truck of speakers on arenas, we’re up to two trucks of speakers for stadiums. And when we go into festivals, we have no trucks of speakers because it’s all supplied by the festivals.”

However, it’s the festival run that Tucker is most looking forward to. “Festivals are always good fun because you’re walking into something different in every location – it’s not Groundhog Day. That’s why we get asked to come back. The challenges are what makes your day a bit different.”

Stewart Scott at Phoenix Bussing tells IQ the company had been working with Take That ever since Chris Vaughan became PM. “We supplied seven sleeper buses for the arena and stadium tour: two 14 berths, and five 16 berths, while for the European tour we go down to two buses,” says Scott.

“However, we need some double drivers for the European journeys because there are some long distances involved between some of the dates – in fact I’ll be going out myself to drive the Bologna to Barcelona route, which allows me to see the clients at the same time.”

He adds, “Chris Vaughan is one of our top clients and it’s always good to be involved on one of his projects because they are always superbly organised and run smoothly, with a lot of great people working on them.”

“Stufish did the set design, and they always come up with some clever things. It’s up to us to make it happen”

Having been involved with the band since 2017’s Wonderland Live tour, Belgium-based stage motion specialists WICREATIONS are used to delivering the complex scenic effects that wow audiences.

“Stufish did the set design, and they always come up with some clever things. It’s up to us to make it happen,” says key account manager Koen Peeters. “The main show elements are the two large tracking staircases, which are about 8 meters deep, 4 meters wide, and 3.5 meters high. They track over the stage at stage level, and can spin 360 degrees. But we’re talking about an object that weighs around six tons, each staircase, so we need to use an embedded and integrated tracking system that sits below stage level.”

Despite the complexity of those operations, the WICREATIONS crew numbers just six people on the road, managing and operating all the WIMOTION machinery. “There is a long term history between Chris Vaughan and myself,” says Peeters. “Before we did the Wonderland tour in 2017 with WICREATIONS, I worked at Stageco where I had done many projects with Chris since 2009.”

The performers’ entrance on stage hints at the production’s groundbreaking elements. Appearing from a hidden elevator behind a semi-transparent video screen, Barlow, Donald, and Owen effectively appear to walk out of that screen as the giant staircases slide apart, splitting the video wall in two.

“That performer lift is also used to evacuate the technicians who operate each of the staircases for that opening scene,” states Peeters.

A further telescopic lift is used to bring Take That from stage level to the top level of the staircases, again hidden from the audience. A third elevator is used multiple times during the show to bring different sorts of pianos up and down stage, while other tracking systems are embedded in the stage to track the band’s musicians by around ten meters up and downstage.

“Every act seems to look for things that have not been done before, and that makes it so interesting and challenging to be in this business”

Finally, WICREATIONS also supply a six-by- six-meter B-stage, featuring a rotating and elevating circular stage for the artists.

“Every act seems to look for things that have not been done before, and that makes it so interesting and challenging to be in this business,” adds Peeters, noting that those those heavy-duty WICREATIONS motion elements and the complete rolling stage fill ten trucks.

“We had 34 production universal trucks for the arena run and a couple extra for the stadium shows,” says Matt Jackson at Fly By Nite. “This is a pretty unique scenario where the band has gone from arenas straight into stadiums, but the logistics issues are more for the crew than us.

“We’ve mainly been able to operate with single drivers in the UK because we’re getting into each new city in plenty of time. The most complex move was from Dublin into London, where we had to rely on a sympathetic ferry operator who delayed the crossing so that we would make it in time to The O2 Arena. We needed double drivers to facilitate that, but otherwise, Chris Vaughan plans brilliantly well, so it’s been a very smooth project,” adds Jackson.

Another regular supplier is special effects wizards ER Productions, which have been working with Take That since the company’s launch in 2007. “In a nutshell, we’re doing all the water effects, we’ve got a load of flames on the show, confetti, and a lot of pyrotechnics for the outdoor shows,” says ER director Dan Mott, who has been part of the company since it merged with his operation, Pyrojunkies, two years ago.

“We’ve fabricated some of the equipment specifically for the tour, such as a snowstorm, where we’ve created a custom dolly that mulches 60 kilos of confetti with high-powered fans and CO2 blowers that carry a whirlwind of confetti through the guys standing on stage straight into the audience as the show opens.”

“It was really refreshing to be involved in that early design stage and have input, to be honest, because we work in a last-minute industry, usually”

ER also supplied eight low-smoke machines for use during ballads, while the band are also the first beneficiaries of the company’s bespoke Flamber equipment used during Relight My Fire. “It allows us to set fire to the two automated staircases,” says Mott. “It involves 72 custom flame units, allowing us to chase flames and pulse the flames to the beat of the music.”

Elsewhere, ER has brought in multiple flame blazers, while a water feature activated for the song Back For Good that makes it rain onstage indoors, is replaced outdoors by over a ton of pyro.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff, but there’s a lot from every department,” observes Mott. “I think the crew is 150 people, who from the minute they wake up are busy. Everyone’s putting so much equipment in on the show, so we’ve all got to interact and work closely with each other, but Chris Vaughan runs a tight ship, and everyone’s really nice to work with.”

Indeed, Mott tips his hat to Vaughan’s approach to the tour, which engaged suppliers from the planning stages. “Myself and Marc Webber from ER went down to Chris’s house back in December, to sit down with Stufish and all the other departments to talk through the show from start to the finish. It was really refreshing to be involved in that early design stage and have input, to be honest, because we work in a last-minute industry, usually.”

But the results speak for themselves. “Ultimately, it’s a really good show; the whole concept is fantastic, and everybody puts the effort in, so we’re really proud to be working on it,” says Mott.

The greatest weekend
With a reputation as one of the hardest-working bands on the circuit, it comes as no surprise that Take That are once again setting new records as part of the current tour – including an astonishing 50th hometown show in Manchester’s AO Arena.

“Amidst all their ambition to go to all these other countries, there was also an idea early on of the band having essentially their own festival takeover”

“We’re delighted that we’ve been able to celebrate Take That’s 50th show at the AO Arena, right here in the heart of the action,” states venue general manager, Jen Mitchell. “Not only do we enjoy having the band here, we love hosting their fans and making every moment memorable.”

Always looking forward, the band’s tour itinerary also includes their first-ever curated festival – The Greatest Weekend – which will see the trio visiting Malta for the first time, where Festival Republic is organising the event.

“Amidst all their ambition to go to all these other countries, there was also an idea early on of the band having essentially their own festival takeover, which is what the Malta event is,” notes UTA’s Olly Ward. “It’s exciting. Four days in Malta with two Take That sets, one a never-before-seen front-to-back of the album, Everything Changes, and the other a greatest hits set.”

The event’s undercard of talent will include Sugababes, Ella Henderson, Daniel Bedingfield, Heather Small, and Sam Ryder, amongst others, while Howard Donald will host a DJ takeover at Café Del Mar, among a host of other bespoke experiences.

“For fans used to seeing the band in stadiums or arenas around the world, this is a chance to have a four-day Take That extravaganza in a much more intimate environment,” says Ward. “And it’s again credit to the band’s ambition that they wanted to do it this year, when they’re doing so much already.”

Delighted by their first experience of working with Take That, Wright concludes, “This is a band that had a huge amount of success pre-social media, meaning that not all the fans will be connected to the band via social media. Sean Hill who is head of music marketing at UTA, here, and Emily Rhodes from his team where a huge part of looking into this for us.

Consequently, there was a need to reverse engineer this a little bit with promoters to make sure they understood the value of traditional media and marketing alongside digital marketing, but that worked and that’s why these shows – and this tour – are a success.”

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

Take That rack up AO Arena Manchester milestone

Take That have become the first band ever to play 50 shows at Manchester’s AO Arena.

The band, who first played the venue in 1995 during their Nobody Else Tour, reached the milestone during their five-night run at the venue from 7-12 May as part of their current This Life On Tour.

This Life On Tour has sold more than 700,000 tickets across 41 dates in 15 UK cities, making it the biggest-selling tour ticket sales for a UK artist this year. Plus the band broke their own record last month for the most number of shows performed at The O2 in London, with their tally now totalling 39.

“We’re delighted that we’ve been able to celebrate Take That’s 50th Show at the AO Arena, right here in the heart of the action,” says AO Arena general manager Jen Mitchell. “Not only do we enjoy having the band here, we love hosting their fans and making every moment memorable.”

“I’d like to thank AO Arena for stepping up and at the 11th hour to endure the mammoth task of working with ticket outlets to transfer tens of thousands of tickets”

Thousands of fans were surprised with Golden Tickets over the course of the residency, upgrading their experience into the arena’s new Mezz bar. The ASM Global-operated AO Arena has seen a £70m investment over the past two years, transforming the venue and upgrading its capacity to 23,000. The redevelopment has reimagined existing spaces and new offerings including The Mezz bar and restaurant and a new lower concourse.

AO Arena stepped in to host the five concerts, along with a show by A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, following a delay in the opening of rival Manchester site Co-op Live, which was originally due to host the dates.

“I’d like to thank AO Arena for stepping up and at the 11th hour to endure the mammoth task of working with ticket outlets to transfer tens of thousands of tickets,” adds Sacha Lord, night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester.

Upcoming concerts at AO Arena include Nickelback, Girls Aloud, Troye Sivan, Tool, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Becky Hill, The Corrs, Alice Cooper, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Childish Gambino.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

OVG sets revised Co-op Live opening date

Oak View Group (OVG) chief Tim Leiweke has offered his “sincere apologies” for the catalogue of delays to have hit the company’s Co-op Live venue – and shared a revised timetable for the £365 million development’s launch.

The 23,500-cap Manchester arena has announced a “short pause” to events to “allow for an independent inspection of all elements of the arena ceiling”, with Elbow’s 14 May show currently set to be the next to go ahead.

The move follows the cancellation of A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s 1 May concert for “technical reasons”, just 10 minutes before doors had been due to open, compounded by the earlier postponement of launch shows by Peter Kay and The Black Keys. Capacity for a free test performance by Rick Astley also had to be cut from 11,000 to 4,000 at short notice.

OVG blamed a defect with a component of Co-op Live’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system for the cancellations.

“At this time, we do not expect further impact on our opening season,” says an OVG statement. “We are aware our actions have frustrated and angered ticketholders. We know you’ve incurred significant disruption and are finding a way to help make it right. We are taking the pause to think about the best ways to do that.

“Our naming rights partner, the Co-op Group, has also expressed the importance of ensuring that the significant impact on ticketholders is recognised and addressed, with more detail to follow soon.”

“On behalf of all of us at Oak View Group, I’d like to express my sincere apologies to all those that have been affected”

Axed dates with Olivia Rodrigo (3-4 May) and Keane (5 May) are still to be rescheduled, while A Boogie With Da Hoodie’s performance and the first five dates of Take That’s residency are relocating to ASM Global’s rival Manchester venue, the 23,000-cap AO Arena, on 4 May and 7-12 May, respectively.

“It wouldn’t be a Take That tour without a stop-off in Manchester, so it’s great to welcome the band and their fans back to AO Arena for five nights, in the heart of this wonderful city,” says AO Arena general manager Jen Mitchell.

Singer Barry Manilow has also revealed on social media that Kennedy Street Enterprises’ Danny Betesh, co-promoter of his 19 May concert at Co-op Live, has reserved the AO Arena for the same night as a “back-up plan”.

Former boss of The O2, Rebecca Kane Burton, was drafted in as interim boss of Co-op Live last week following the resignation of general manager Gary Roden.

“As many of you will know, it’s not been the smooth start we had planned for, and I know that has caused a huge amount of disruption and frustration to thousands of people,” says Leiweke. “On behalf of all of us at Oak View Group, I’d like to express my sincere apologies to all those that have been affected. We understand that there is work to be done to rebuild your trust in us. This starts now and at the request of the naming rights partner, The Co-Op Group, we will be addressing impact on affected ticket holders, details of which will be shared soon.

“I’d like to reiterate my sincerest apologises to everyone that has been affected by the delays around the opening of Co-Op Live. The team here is working incredibly hard to get the building up and running, and we look forward to welcoming you to the arena from 14 May 2024.”

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

 

AO Arena opens new VIP restaurant and bar

Manchester’s AO Arena has officially launched its brand new VIP bar and restaurant, as part of its £50 million redevelopment.

The Mezz sits between the brand-new concourse and the 23,000-capacity arena bowl, enabling guests to move “seamlessly” from their tables to the “best seats in the house” with panoramic views of the stage.

The bar remains open during the show and for a few hours prior, with live DJs providing post-show entertainment. The restaurant features a collaboration between chefs Simon Rogan MBE and Tom Barnes, who will make regular appearances and design seasonal dishes.

Member perks include guaranteed attendance for all shows at AO Arena, direct access to the arena bowl and more

Member perks include guaranteed attendance for all shows at AO Arena, direct access to the arena bowl, early access via dedicated VIP entrance, dedicated parking, all-inclusive food and drink, private cocktail bar, a private dedicated table in the restaurant and personalised service including a cloakroom boasting the latest in venue technology, members app and portal, and dedicated host service.

Membership prices for The Mezz Bar range from £3,500 (10 shows) to £6,250 (25 shows) and £8,500 for 50 shows.

For The Mezz Dining, prices range from £4,000 (10 shows) to £7,500 (25 shows) and £12,500 for 50 shows.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

Manchester’s AO Arena capacity upped to 23k

Manchester’s AO Arena has confirmed that its capacity will rise to 23,000 as a result of its £50 million (€59m) reconstruction – reinforcing its place as one of Europe’s biggest indoor venues.

The revamp includes a 100% increase in standing floor capacity to 6,200, supported by a new lower concourse designed to enhance the experience of the previously 21,000-cap venue’s standing floor fans. The project is set for final completion in March.

“As part of AO Arena’s redevelopment we have dramatically expanded the standing floor space which means it will compete with any other venue in the UK,” says Chris Bray, president of venue operator ASM Global Europe. “Its unique bowl configuration means that AO Arena proudly remains the biggest sporting indoor arena, and we are excited to continue to host the world’s biggest and most exciting events here in the heart of Manchester.”

In addition, digitalisation of the concourse spaces will heighten pre-show excitement and offer even more ease for guests finding their way around the arena. The venue, which has remained open throughout its redevelopment, will also boast improved acoustics, sound and sightlines also boast a host of new bars and an elevated food offering.

The artist experience has been upgraded with an all-new backstage artist compound complete with a private kitchen. Industry-leading heating and ventilation systems have been installed, which are more environmentally-friendly and sustainable.

“The AO has been pushing the music scene forward for over 27 years and over one million people walk through these legendary doors every year”

Among some of the first to witness the transformation includes Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham who described the AO Arena as “the beating heart of Manchester”.

Manchester rapper Aitch visited the venue as a special surprise guest, welcoming guests to the evening festivities at the recent Topping Out ceremony.

“When the AO Arena asked me to be part of tonight I thought, how can I say no? It’s always been a huge part of the culture here in Manchester and you know I’m all about anything that gives back to the community,” he said. “The AO has been pushing the music scene forward for over 27 years and over one million people walk through these legendary doors every year, and we have them right on our doorstep.”

The 30-year-old arena also recently announced an extension of its naming rights partnership with electrical retailer AO until 2030. Recent and upcoming gigs at the venue include The 1975, Niall Horan, Ne-Yo, Depeche Mode, D-Block Europe, Rick Astley, Jason Derulo, James Arthur, Girls Aloud, Nickelback and The World of Hans Zimmer.

AO Arena is set to face competition in the city from Oak View Group’s new east Manchester development Co-op Live, which is scheduled to open this April.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

AO Arena celebrates completion of £50m renovation

Manchester’s AO Arena has completed its £50 million (€59m) redevelopment and announced an extension of its naming rights partnership.

The ASM Global-operated UK venue, which opened in 1995, has been supported by electrical retailer AO since 2020 on an initial five-year deal, which will now extend until at least 2030.

“We are delighted to have extended our partnership with AO, a partner who shares our sincere commitment to improving our local communities,” says Jen Mitchell, GM of AO Arena. “Together, we look forward to continuing our work shaping the thriving creative and cultural scene in Manchester.”

To celebrate its redevelopment, the 21,000-cap venue held a topping out ceremony attended by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who described it as “the beating heart of Manchester”, and chart-topping Manchester rock band Blossoms.

“When the AO Arena opened again after Covid, we were the first band to play a gig here,” said Blossoms, who placed their hands in cement on the concourse, leaving their handprints in perpetuity in the fabric of the venue. “We’re excited to celebrate the official topping out of the re-developments and look forward to seeing what the future AO Arena has to offer.”

“We believe our customers deserve the best, and we’re always exploring new ways to do just that, reimagining what live entertainment experiences look like”

The arena’s revamp includes a complete back of house update, including a new artist green room, as well as upgraded artist dressing rooms and crew facilities. In addition, the event day guest experience has been overhauled, with new entrances and state of the art technology mean that getting in and out of the arena will be “the quickest in any venue in Europe”.

A brand new lower concourse bar area has a capacity of 6,000, designed to support the increased standing floor capacity within the arena bowl, while there are also new bars in the main concourse, plus a new bar and restaurant, The Mezz, which is set to open in March.

It follows ASM joining forces with award-winning chef Simon Rogan MBE and UMBEL Restaurant Group alongside chef Tom Barnes, on a “first of its kind” new and exclusive culinary partnership.

“We are truly so excited to be launching this innovative concept and partnership with UMBEL,” said Chris Bray, president of ASM Global Europe. “There’s nothing like this in UK arenas right now, so we’re incredibly proud to be setting the standard in F&B innovation, alongside some of the UK’s most exciting fine dining experts.

“We believe our customers deserve the best, and we’re always exploring new ways to do just that, reimagining what live entertainment experiences look like, including the food and beverage that’s available.

“As the AO Arena looks to a milestone year, opening The Mezz in March, this new partnership with Simon, Tom and UMBEL Restaurant Group will no doubt take it to the next level.”

“Competition is good, it raises our game and it’s great for all of the fans who are coming through the doors as well”

Other upgrades include improved acoustics and sound, and “industry-leading” heating and ventilation systems, along with enhanced security with the addition of a new state-of-the-art control room.

Welcoming over one million people to the venue each year, AO Arena has hosted concerts by the likes of Prince, Elton John, New Order, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Billie Eilish, Oasis, Dua Lipa and Courteeners over the past three decades. Upcoming acts include The 1975, Niall Horan, Ne-Yo, Depeche Mode, D-Block Europe, Rick Astley, Jason Derulo, James Arthur, Girls Aloud, Nickelback and The World of Hans Zimmer.

AO Arena is set to face competition in the city from Oak View Group’s new east Manchester development Co-op Live, which is scheduled to open this April.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, Bray said: “I think we’re really well prepared, we’re a powerhouse. It’s the music capital of the world and there’s enough content to be delivered in two arenas here.

“I’ve been around the city here for two years since moving into this role and seen nothing but growth in this city in that time and it’s an amazing, vibrant place. Competition is good, it raises our game and it’s great for all of the fans who are coming through the doors as well, so we’re both really well placed for that.”

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

Manchester prepares for ‘busiest day’ of music

Manchester is shaping up to host its “busiest day”, with headline shows by Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys and Elton John set to be held this weekend.

More than 300,000 concert-goers are expected in the city for shows by Coldplay at the 60,000-cap Etihad Stadium (31 May, 1, 3-4 June), Arctic Monkeys at the 50,000-cap Emirates Old Trafford (2-3 June) and Elton John at the 21,000-cap AO Arena (31 May, 2-3 June).

A free festival, We Invented the Weekend, is also taking place at MediaCity and Salford Quays from 3-4 June, while the first all-Manchester FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Manchester United will go ahead at Wembley Stadium in London on Saturday.

The weekend of events coincides with industrial action on the railways on 2-3 June, with people travelling into Manchester being urged to plan ahead by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM).

“We’re expecting this weekend, particularly Saturday, to be one of the busiest periods of the year in Manchester, with major events taking place and due to rail strikes we expect more people to travel on our region’s roads,” says Sean Dyball, TfGM’s head of customer experience.

“We are expecting major congestion on Saturday and we strongly encourage anyone travelling into the city centre to plan ahead”

“We are expecting major congestion on Saturday and we strongly encourage anyone travelling into the city centre to plan ahead and allow sufficient time for their journeys. People planning to drive should avoid the city centre and consider leaving their vehicle at a Park and Ride and using Metrolink to complete their journey.

“Throughout the weekend we will be constantly updating the customer information available on our website and across our social media channels to help people make informed journey choices, to save them time and avoid disruption to their journey.”

Other events being staged in the city include shows by Ricky Gervais, UB40 and Penn & Teller at O2 Apollo Manchester (cap. 3,500); Ziggy Alberts, North West Calling 2023 and Ice Nine Kills at Manchester Academy (2,600); and The Beat and Race Chaser Live at O2 Ritz Manchester (1,500).

The Manchester live network will be further bolstered this December with the opening of the UK’s largest live entertainment arena, Co-op Live. A joint venture between Oak View Group (OVG) and City Football Group (CFG), the venue will have a capacity of 23,500 and play host to over 120 shows annually at Manchester’s Etihad Campus.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

AO Arena to show World Cup clash ahead of concert

Manchester’s AO Arena is to screen England’s World Cup quarter-final clash with France live prior to Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott’s concert at the venue tomorrow evening (10 December).

Support act Billy Bragg has agreed to perform earlier than planned at 6.15pm GMT to enable the match to be shown on the 21,000-cap arena’s big screens from 7pm. Heaton & Abbott will then take to the stage for their headline set at 9pm.

“Following some lengthy thought and discussion, we have decided that we will now be showing the England v France match on the screens at AO Arena Manchester,” says a statement on the venue’s website.

“We are mindful that there will be people that won’t be keen on watching the match (we did, unsuccessfully, look at alternative entertainment within the arena itself) and also worried about transport home, but we assure you that Paul & Jacqui will still take to the stage by 9pm, meaning the show will finish around 10:40/45pm.

“With the right result this could be a great night!”

“This does mean we won’t be showing any extra time if that occurs, but if it does Paul and Jacqui will be very keen to keep you updated from the stage. With the right result this could be a great night!”

London’s The O2 previously streamed England’s 2018 World Cup semi-final defeat against Croatia before a Justin Timberlake concert, while BST Hyde Park showed the game to 30,000 attendees on the Great Oak Stage, preceded by a performance by the Lightning Seeds.

Heaton, a renowned football supporter, and Abbott have capped tickets for their current UK arena tour at just £30 in a bid to help fans weather the cost of living crisis.

“I’m against greed in the industry,” Heaton told BBC Breakfast. “It’s incredibly important that through the coming months and possibly years, that we tell the fans that we’re getting paid enough and we want to keep it low for you.”

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

ASM partners with AI-based security scanning system

ASM Global has announced a partnership with Evolv Technology, a leader in weapons detection security screening.

The implementation of the “state-of-the-art technology” is said to enhance venue safety and security at ASM venues, as well as improve the customer experience by reducing queues and offering a seamless and swift arrival to the venue.

AO Arena (cap. 21,000), operated by ASM, is the first arena in Europe to use Evolv’s technology as part of a £50m investment into Manchester’s iconic venue.

The venue has been using AI-based threat detection screening system, Evolv Express, to screen guests as they arrive at the arena for events, without the need to stop or remove items from their pockets or policy-compliant bags.

So far, the system has been used for eight shows and welcomed over 54,000 guests with a full roll-out planned for September.

As part of the new partnership, ASM Global has been working closely with Evolv to ensure the technology has been tested to government standards in both the UK and US, as well as collaborating on further improvements and continuous development.

“We are planning a further roll out to other venues in Europe as part of our VenueShield programme”

Evolv Express uses powerful sensor technology with proven artificial intelligence (AI) to provide safer, more accurate threat detection at unprecedented volumes and speed of entry. Venue ingress data provided by Evolv’s analytics also helps venues to transform the way in which they plan their security staff and wider operations.

In an industry first, security professionals can use historical and real-time screening data to gain insights and to make predictions about throughput, with the goal of improving the guest experience while making the space more secure.

Peter George, CEO, Evolv Technology, says: “We are thrilled to partner with ASM Global to provide an enhanced security posture for AO Arena while making sure the guest experience is truly enhanced. With this partnership, AO Arena joins other iconic venues secured by Evolv, including Lincoln Center and Gillette Stadium in the US. As we continue to expand globally, we look forward to working with ASM to help bring safer venues and better experiences to more people.”

Gary Simpson, director of safety security and risk for ASM Global, adds: “We have been working with Evolv for over two years supporting the testing and development of the Evolv Express system. The detection technology has been used for some time in America but this is the first such deployment at an arena in Europe. Given the positive experience at the AO Arena, Manchester we are planning a further roll out to other venues in Europe as part of our VenueShield programme.”

Evolv operates as part of ASM Global’s VenueShield, the company’s safety and security programme. Evolv marks the first addition to VenueShield since Covid as security and safety turn to new technologies to keep customers safe and to future-proof venues.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

ASM Global hires Jen Mitchell as GM of AO Arena

ASM Global has appointed Jen Mitchell as general manager of the AO Arena (cap. 21,000) in Manchester, UK.

Mitchell will replace current GM James Allen, who is leaving ASM Global in April to set up his own venture.

Mitchell joins from the ASM-operated First Direct Arena (13,781) in Leeds, where she has spent the past five years working as GM, leading the team through an array of industry challenges and venue enhancements.

With 23+ years working in the venue and entertainment industry, Mitchell’s career includes working with venues and festivals from 400 seats to 80,000, with teams ranging from 30 to 800 staff.

Mitchell has worked in Qatar, Australia, and several venues and organisations around the UK, including the opening of Kings Place, London, which famously held 100 concerts in its opening five days.

“Jen has vast experience and a proven track record in delivering excellent results throughout her career”

Commenting on Mitchell’s appointment, Marie Lindqvist, SVP operations Europe at ASM Global, says: “Jen has vast experience and a proven track record in delivering excellent results throughout her career, including her time at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. Jen comes with great business acumen and is skilled in developing high-performing teams. So, we’re delighted that Jen is remaining a part of the ASM Global team and are pleased to announce her appointment as the new GM of the AO Arena, Manchester.”

Mitchell added: “I am thrilled to be joining the team at the iconic AO Arena and to be able to continue my career within the ASM Global family. There are exciting times ahead, and I look forward to being part of the journey as the venue continues to grow and bring world-class entertainment to our valued partners and customers.”

Jen Mitchell will commence her new role from April 2022, as the AO Arena, Manchester looks ahead to a busy and exciting year, with major live music events taking place including Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Celine Dion, Alicia Keys, Swedish House Mafia, Snoop Dogg, Justin Bieber and more.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.