fbpx

PROFILE

MY SUBSCRIPTION

LOGOUT

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

Rod MacSween: Agent of the Decade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 88, or subscribe to the magazine here


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.

‘There’s a shortcut now’: Dickinses talk artist development

Barry Dickins, the co-founder of ITB, his son Jonathan, founder of September Management, and daughter Lucy, head of UK music at WME, came together to share their industry expertise – as well as a few family anecdotes – in a keynote interview with ILMC MD Greg Parmley at Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) on Thursday (16 January).

With over 100 years of industry experience between them, the trio reflected on the most significant changes to have taken place in the business in recent years.

Social media is the best way to make new acts visible nowadays, said Barry, who founded ITB along with Rod MacSween in 1978, adding that the touring circuit for emerging acts is “not the same” as it used to be.

Jonathan, who manages artists including Adele, Jamie T, London Grammar and Rex Orange County, agreed, saying that most people are finding their music online nowadays, rather than at live shows. The disappearance of a small club circuit, said Jonathan, means that “we often come across artists that are fully formed on the recording side but completely and utterly undeveloped on the live side.”

“For all its benefits,” he continued, “technology has made people lazier. It’s like there’s a shortcut to being popular now.”

“We often come across artists that are fully formed on the recording side but completely and utterly undeveloped on the live side”

The data-driven nature of artist discovery can also be a problem for the industry. “We have to be careful to not always give people exactly what they want,” said Jonathan. “The true phenomenon comes from giving people what they don’t know they want yet.”

Adele, who Jonathan and Lucy discovered and started working with at the same time, yet independently of each other, is an example of this “true phenomenon”. Lucy cited the success of artists including Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith as a result of Adele’s opening the door for a less conventional model of pop star.

“We are risking getting a more generic type of artist if everything is based on data,” concluded Jonathan.

If not based on data, how do you spot if an artist is going to be a hit, asked Parmley. “You can’t,” said Lucy, whose roster includes Mumford and Sons, Hot Chip and Mabel, in addition to Adele. “It has a lot to do with gut feeling – if it’s something I truly love, I want to work with it.” In the case of Adele, though, it was special. “It is very rare that something like that comes your way,” said Lucy. “She [Adele] blew me away song after song.”

The advent of technology has, however, also brought a lot of advantages to the business, said Lucy, who picked up agent of the year at the European Festival Awards on Wednesday. She cited the diversification of artists that are discovered nowadays, with many non-English-speaking acts breaking through. “It’s great there’s so much more diversity now,” said Lucy. “I’m so excited by how many new types of music are out there.”

“It’s great there’s so much more diversity now. I’m so excited by how many new types of music are out there”

Jonathan agreed that it is good to see things “break from beyond these borders”. “We will see genuine African superstars this year,” he stated. In particular, the September Management CEO believes there is a lot of “super-creative” work currently being done in hip hop, and that drill music will “be the rap music to unify the genre and stop hyper-local stuff”.

With so many new kinds of music coming from all over the world, Barry emphasised the importance of keeping a young team around to ensure enduring relevance. “I want to see development within ITB and see the company get some great new young people,” he said.

Artist management has also changed over the years, said Jonathan. Deals are way more transparent and flexible, there’s an easier route to market than ever before and a lot more choice of artists, he said, but “it’s still all about working with the artists you believe in and taking a long-term approach”.

“I’ve always played it long,” he said, explaining that he works with artists that he believes will have a long career, rather than taking “quick money”.

“It’s not a race – it all depends where you end up.”

 


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.

Going Dutch: What to expect from ESNS 2020

Much of the European music industry is preparing for its yearly pilgrimage to the Netherlands, as conference and showcase festival Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) is set to commence tomorrow, 15 January, in the Dutch city of Groningen.

Combining a daytime conference programme with a packed evening showcase schedule, ESNS 2020 welcomes Switzerland as its focus nation this year, with over 20 emerging Swiss acts performing throughout the event and aiming to impress in the European Talent Exchange Programme (ETEP), which saw success for ATC Live-repped punk rockers Fontaines DC last year.

The 2019 European Festival Awards kick off proceedings on Wednesday evening, hosted by IQ Magazine’s Gordon Masson and A Greener Festival’s Claire O’Neill, and featuring performances from artists including Swiss singer-songwriter Marius Bear.

Wacken Open Air founders Holger Hübner and Thomas Jensen are set to receive the lifetime achievement accolade at the ceremony, which will see winners crowned across 15 categories.

Over 150 panels, along with keynote interviews, workshops and networking opportunities, will take place at ESNS 2020

Over 150 panels, along with keynote interviews and workshops, will take place at ESNS 2020 from 16 to 19 January at conference centre De Oosterpoort, with a new city-centre location, Forum Groningen, hosting sessions over the weekend.

Highlights of the conference programme include ‘the Dickins Dynasty’, which sees ITB co-founder Barry Dickins and his daughter Lucy, head of WME’s UK music division, and son Jonathan, founder and CEO of September Management, in conversation with ILMC MD Greg Parmley, as well as a keynote interview with Isle of Wight Festival and Solo Agency’s John Giddings.

Other notable sessions include a keynote from Ticketmaster’s Don Pawley, ‘the Agents Panel’ with Paradigm’s Paul Buck, ATC Live’s Alex Bruford, X-ray Touring’s Beckie Sugden and CAA’s Maria May, and a panel on boutique festivals featuring representatives from Openair St.Gallen, Bluedot/Kendal Calling, Westway Lab and Release Athens.

ESNS 2019 attracted over 42,000 guests from 44 countries, including 4,100 conference delegates and representatives from 423 festivals, and showcased 342 acts across more than 40 stages.

 


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.

Agent David Apps passes aged 83

British-born booking agent David Apps, a veteran of the iconic Tito Burns, Harold Davison, MAM and March Artists agencies, has passed away after a short illness.

Apps got his start in the business in the late 1960s, where he served as a “mentor” to Barry Dickins, the ITB co-founder recalls. “I joined the Harold Davison agency as bit of an East End know-it-all,” Dickins explains. “David spent lots of time with me showing what an agent really did and helped shape me into the agent I became.

“I really do not know how my career would have turned out if David had not been so instrumental in influencing my career [path].”

Apps represented the Searchers, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel at Tito Burns’ agency, remembers Irish promoter Denis Vaughan, which the agent joined shortly after its merger with Scotia in 1971. (According to a contemporary issue of Billboard, Apps brought acts including the Move, the Idle Race and Gypsy.)

Scotia-Tito Burns was later incorporated into the Harold Davison Organisation, which in turn became part of the MAM agency.

“David, Barry and I were agents together at MAM in the heady days of the early ’70s,” says former colleague Alan Field. “We were all responsible for our own clients while there, but we all became good friends and remained in touch throughout the interim years.

“We will miss David. He was one of the old school”

“Even when David moved to Australia, he kept in touch – and in particular when my clients the Searchers have toured there over the years, he would turn up at one of their concerts and send me his regards.”

In the early ’80s, Apps set up the March Artists agency for CBS Records, Vaughan adds, before moving to Australia later in the decade. In later years, he was a producer and DJ at 89.7FM Perth in Western Australia.

“I saw David and his wife, Jane, around ten years ago when they visited London,” continues Dickins. “He was not in great physical shape but was still aware of what was going on the music business.

“David produced and acted as a DJ on public radio in Perth and he would often tip me on acts to look out for. I remember David emailing me about this great new girl singer to look out for, called Adele. He could not believe that my son Jonathan was the manager and my daughter Lucy was the agent!

“David may have passed on but I still have part of him with me. A nice and wonderful human being.”

“David spent lots of time with me showing what an agent really did and helped shape me into the agent I became”

Vaughan says he last saw Apps in 2017, when he interviewed José Carreras for radio before a show in Western Australia. “We will miss David,” he adds. “He was one of the old school [and] such a nice man.”

DJ Sue Myc, a colleague of Apps at 89.7FM, says his passing on 18 July left the station’s staff “heartbroken”. He was, she writes, “our producer, our best friend, [and] like another father to myself and [producer] Nina Henderson”, and “week in, week out, made us all laugh, sometimes cry, often yelled at us [and] shared his amazing stories of his music history…”

“I would say ‘rest in peace’,” she adds, “but you will do no such thing, because right now you are up there with the likes of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, Marvin Gaye and so many other greats that you will be rocking and having a ball.”

Field similarly pays tribute to “a good guy who will be sadly missed”.

Apps’s funeral will be held on Tuesday 31 July at Pinnaroo cemetery in Craigie, Western Australia.

 


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.

Opposites attract: ITB at 40

At ITB, they call it “going over to the dark side.”

You walk out of the open-plan space where Barry Dickins is king, and most of the other agents and assistants reside, cross reception and follow the corridor down to the other end. There, you might find Rod MacSween and his team, surrounded by shelves of highbrow books and photos of MacSween arm-around-shoulder with the cream of classic rockers: Ozzy, Page and Plant, Steven and Joe.

“We’ve always liked the idea of the company all being set out over one level, with Rod at one end of the office and me at the other, and everyone else in between,” says Dickins.

The demarcation of ‘dark’ and ‘light’ sides is jokily acknowledged by little Star Wars icons above the key-code entry systems on opposite sides of reception – on MacSween’s, the rock giants, on Dickins’, the classic singer-songwriters.

Office geography aside, Dickins and MacSween remain one of the live business’s most indivisible partnerships, still intact after 40 years that have included a 14-year spell within Live Nation, a latter-day return to independence and long-term relationships with artists including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Paul Simon and ZZ Top (Dickins’ list) and Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, The Who, Pearl Jam, Kiss, Guns N’ Roses and Maroon Five (MacSween’s).

But it’s been some time since the company was solely the sum of the founders’ still-formidable rosters.

“Me and Rod are completely different – mentally, physically and artistically. That’s probably why the business works so well”

In 2018, ITB offers strength in depth, with Dickins’s daughter Lucy famously turning up talent including Adele, Mumford & Sons, Hot Chip and James Blake, and other senior agents such as Mike Dewdney (Kasabian, Blink-182, Eels, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and Steve Zapp (Biffy Clyro, Courteeners, Editors, The Cult) holding their own.

But while there’s plenty of work taking place at ITB between the two poles of Dickins and MacSween, it is their chalk-and-cheese relationship that still defines the public face of the business. And the more you look at it, the more you suspect this is the evergreen marriage that remains harmonious largely because they live substantially separate lives.

“Me and Rod are completely different – mentally, physically and artistically,” says Dickins. “That’s probably why the business works so well. If we were similar people then we probably would have killed each other by now.”
MacSween agrees. “We don’t see an awful lot of each other, but we each have much respect for what the other does. We have always remained friends and been there for each other, as partners should be.”

Different they may be, but the two are genuine legends of equal stature in the pantheon of agents – MacSween the tough negotiator, not one for small talk, who lives and breathes the music he represents; Dickins the charmer but certainly no pushover, with encyclopaedias of touring know-how under the silver barnet.

“He is really humble; he is not a chest-beater about how well he has done,” says Lucy Dickins. “But he is a fucking genius in this business – he is so good.”

“[Barry] is a fucking genius in this business – he is so good”

Independently, her father extends exactly the same compliment to his business partner. “Rod is a fucking genius,” says Barry. “If I was a manager then he would be our agent. He is, hands down, the best agent I’ve ever come across. He’s incredible. He gets great deals. I swear that people just give him the best deals to get him off of the phone.”

It is no coincidence that Dickins, “the hands-on, running-the-company guy,” in the words of agent Mike Dewdney, works among the rest of the agents, while MacSween maintains a separate team – three assistants, plus another agent, Ian Sales – that allows him to focus intently, even obsessively, on the needs of his artists.

“I’m a bit anal sometimes,” says MacSween. “I still make numbered lists of things to do each day. If I don’t complete any, I asterisk them and carry them forward to the next day.”

The Arden connection
When they talk to IQ – at different times, of course – Dickins, while still a very active agent, tends to survey the company as a whole, while MacSween’s focus is his faithful dedication to his own family of acts.

For such a long-lived partnership, Dickins and MacSween took a little time to get off the ground. The former, the son of NME founder Percy Dickins, had come up in the 1960s, representing The Who, Jimi Hendrix and The Nice at the Malcolm Rose agency, before honing his trade under agent-promoter Harold Davidson, who later sold to MAM.

“If I was a manager, Rod would be our agent”

“I was in the rock department at MAM in 1975, and Rod was at the Bron Agency and I’d heard good things about him,” says Barry. “I actually offered him a job at MAM but he said he wanted more money than I was on, so that conversation was fairly short.”

MacSween came into the business like many – as social secretary at the University of Exeter in the early-1970s. He spent time at various London agencies before eventually coming into the organisation of notorious manager Don Arden, where he first met Arden’s daughter, Sharon Osbourne – now a longstanding friend. “She was working with her father at the time,” MacSween recalls. “We, and then Ozzy, became great friends. With all their help, ITB was set up in 1976. Barry came and joined as a partner in 1978.”

“Don didn’t have the best reputation but I have to say that he was always good with me,” says Barry. “Anyway, it was a pretty good offer and I was young, so I thought what the hell – what did I have to lose?”

In the early days, Dickins could boast Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, The Kinks, Joni Mitchell and others. MacSween, yet to deck his office walls with most of the rockers that nowadays make up most of his client base, had ELO, Steve Hillage, Kiki Dee, Roy Wood’s Wizzard and Whitesnake.

Together, they built a formidable reputation for smart negotiating, a strong eye for career development and notably tight artist relationships. An in-depth company profile from 25 years ago in Applause magazine describes the business as much admired, big-hitting and fully formed, the characters of its co-managing directors distinctly recognisable as the ones we see now. Even then, Dutch promoter Leon Ramakers marvelled at the co-managing directors’ unlikely union, declaring it an example to all the peoples of the world of how to live in harmony.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 76, or subscribe to the magazine here