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Living la vita De Luca

Like so many of his peers, Roberto De Luca’s path to the upper echelons of the live music business has not been the result of some carefully plotted plan, but rather a set of fortunate circumstances.

In 1976, Roberto launched one of Italy’s first commercial radio stations – Punto Radio 96 – but, like so many fledgling enterprises, he found it tricky to balance the books.

“I was doing the programming as well as selling advertising but the station was not making money, so I decided to do some live shows to try to pay some of the bills,” he recalls. “At the start, I was acting as a local promoter for Italian artists, but in 1980 I did a show with my first international artist, Carmel. And then I started working with the likes of Gianni Togni and Sergio Caputo, who I also managed, so my career in music started pretty quickly.”

His upbringing also involved music, although teenage rebellion hinted that sport was more compelling than performing. “I was playing classical piano from the age of about ten to 14, in my hometown, Novaro, but I was more into football,” explains the Juventus fan. “I remember having a ‘four-hands’ concert when I was to perform alongside a girl, and my mother warned me not to play football before the concert. I obviously ignored her and ended up playing the concert with stitches in my head.”

“I was playing classical piano from the age of about ten to 14, in my hometown, but I was more into football”

Other teenage musical memories aren’t quite so painful. “In 1970, I went on holiday with friends to Holland. We’d driven to Amsterdam in a blue Fiat 500 and were sleeping in a two- man tent in a campsite near a speedway track. In fact, we drove there via the Nürburgring and took the car around the track – the steam was pouring out of the car when we finished.

“But we went to see The Who and there are two things I remember about it: there was a man dressed all in white on stage – that was Pete Townsend; and the second thing was that there was a girl two rows in front of me who was completely naked.”

Stethoscopes to stages
That lesson in anatomy wasn’t to be his last. “I studied to be a doctor. My exam results were pretty good and I was looking to go into the research side of things.”

As a result, his move toward rock and roll, and the founding of Punto Radio, were brave steps. “It was a difficult conversation to have with my parents,” he says. “They were always very nice and very easy with me but they had basically given me three choices for a career: doctor, lawyer or engineer.

“My dad was a bus driver and my mother worked for the city council, but they wanted me to do something that would let me have a better lifestyle. So I think I disappointed them a bit… My father thought I was a car dealer because every time I visited them I was driving a different car.”

“There are so many wonderful individuals in this business, and you can always learn new things from them”

Landing himself a job working for established promoter Franco Mamone, De Luca was determined to maximise his entrepreneurial skills and grab a piece of the action. “The first company I was involved in owning was Prima Spectaculo. I had a 25% stake and Franco owned the rest: then, we had a similar relationship at InTalent.”

That pact with Mamone wasn’t to last, however, leading De Luca to launch Bonne Chance in 1985, putting him in direct competition with his former business partner. “I quickly found out that Bonne Chance wasn’t such a good name for the music business, so I changed it to Milano Concerti and I started working with lots of promising international acts at the start of their careers – people like Depeche Mode and Peter Gabriel, as well as artists like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Jovanotti, and the company just started to get bigger and bigger.”

Asked about mentors who helped him learn the ropes, De Luca points to “people I admired, like Miles Copeland with the Police, Ed Bicknell, Paul McGuinness, Ron Delsener and Bill Graham. I’d look at what they did and how they did it and try to do something similar. But I also learned a lot from other promoters like Thomas Johansson, Leon Ramakers and Marek Lieberberg.”

In terms of agents, he cites Pete Nash, Chris Dalston, Steve Hedges, Dave Chumbley, Barry Dickins, Rod MacSween and Martin Hopewell. “They were really good to me in the early days, as was Andy Woolliscroft, while Mike Greek and Emma Banks have always been amazing. And nowadays people like Michael Rapino, Arthur Fogel and Guy Oseary are interesting to follow, while I have learned a lot from Jonathan Kessler and I’m very good friends with David Levy.

“Roberto De Luca is one of the people who made the Italian business a little more predictable”

“There are so many wonderful individuals in this business, and you can always learn new things from them. Jon Ollier really impresses me, as do James Whitting, Adele Slater and Geoff Meall at Coda.”

Changing the Italian landscape
Talking to De Luca’s long-term business associates, the one accolade they all bestow upon him is his key role in transforming Italy into a bona fide touring market.

ILMC’s Martin Hopewell is typical. “Along with Claudio Trotta, Roberto De Luca is one of the people who made the Italian business a little more predictable,” says Hopewell. “It was the Wild West before Roberto and his peers helped to stabilise the market.”

ITB’s Rod MacSween agrees. “Italy has not always been the easiest market but Roberto and his great team make it a regular pleasure to play there,” he says, while Live Nation colleague, Arthur Fogel, notes, “Roberto has brought the highest level of organisation and professionalism to Italy. I have always relied on him for his expertise, great execution and without a doubt his sense of calm. He and his team are first rate.”

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 84, or subscribe to the magazine here

“Bluffing is an essential talent”: Tom Windish and more talk breakthroughs

Hard work, knowing the right people and a slice of good luck can all play a part in getting a proper footing on the career ladder. IQ puts more ILMC regulars in the spotlight and asks them to share their breakthrough moments…

 


Ed Bicknell, Damage Management
The day after I arrived at Hull University (UK) in October 1966, they were running a freshers’ ball. As I entered the students’ union, a tannoy message was being repeated: “If anyone in the building can play drums, please come to reception.” Since I was standing right next to the receptionist, without thinking, I just said, “Yes, I can.”

It turned out the drummer for the band they’d booked was too sick to play, and they didn’t have any records to dance to. I was led off to the dressing room to meet the Victor Brox Blues Train, who coincidentally had played my hometown, Tadcaster, the previous week. I was duly introduced to the band.

“Are you any good?” they asked. “Yes, okay, I think. By the way, I know you lot. You played my local hall last week. How much are you going to pay me?”  After much haggling, we settled on £5. My first deal.

Once that had been sorted, I thought I should confess. “I didn’t actually go to your gig last week, I just saw the posters up around town. What songs do you play?” They were highly amused and, thankfully for me, it was the classic soul of the time – stuff I’d played hundreds of times.

So, I did the gig: two 45-minute sets, no screw-ups. Big hugs, £5 pocketed, off to the bar.  Malcolm Haigh, the university’s social secretary, asked if I wanted to be on the entertainment committee and join his jazz group (of which he was the sole member).

After much haggling, we settled on £5. My first deal

And then a tall, sun-tanned girl appeared. “Hi. I really enjoyed your playing. My name’s Trudy.” After a couple of lager and limes she invited me back to her student house “for coffee.”

Just as we were leaving, a flashgun went off in my face and a greasy-haired bloke jumped out. “I’m from Torchlight, the student union magazine. We’re going to put you on the front cover next week. What’s your name? What course are you on? Were you nervous? How did you know the songs?”

So, first night at uni and I’d played in a band, made five quid, got onto the entertainment committee, joined a group, ended up on the cover of the student union magazine and had a cup of Nescafé. With powdered milk.

In October 1967, I took over as social secretary, and after a stunning gig by the Who in May the following year, decided on a career in showbiz, which, as it turned out, worked out okay.

In life you need a bit of luck. And in music, bluffing (read: fibbing) is an essential “talent.”

In music, bluffing – fibbing – is an essential ‘talent’

Tom Windish, Paradigm Talent Agency
In 1999, I started getting into electronic music. Prior to that I exclusively worked as an agent for rock and jazz bands. One of my favourite artists was named μ-Ziq (pronounced “music”). There was another agent in North America who represented all of the “IDM” [“intelligent dance music”] musicians of that era. μ-Ziq didn’t have an agent and I pushed and pushed the label and manager to choose me, but they went with the guy who had all the electronic artists.

I went to see μ-Ziq perform at the first Coachella. About three months later I got a call from his label, Astralwerks. They asked if I still wanted to book a tour for μ-Ziq: the other agent simply “forgot” to book the tour he was supposed to book around Coachella. I said, “absolutely”, and got to work.

Within a few weeks, I had put together a tour everyone was happy with, including a routing with reasonable distances between shows, reliable promoters, contracts, etc. This was how I’d done business since I started, but in dance/electronic music it was more rare than the norm. The tour sold out every show and everyone was happy.

A month later, I got a call from Ninja Tune asking me if I wanted to book their tenth anniversary tour featuring Coldcut, the label founders. A few months after that, I got a call from Steve Beckett at Warp Records asking if I wanted to book a tour for Autechre.

From there, my electronic roster grew and grew. It led to signing Diplo, then a Ninja Tune artist; also Aphex Twin, St Germain, M83 and many more. Electronic music has been a big part of my roster since then.

The other agent simply ‘forgot’ to book the tour he was supposed to book around Coachella

Debbie McWilliams, Scottish Event Campus
My career-defining breakthrough moment was in 2012 when the master plan for the SSE Hydro was approved. I joined the SEC in 1989, as assistant to the operations director, and quickly became part of the team who established the venue box office. As a music fan, it was a dream opportunity, and my aspirations were simply to learn everything about this fantastic business from the ground up.

Soon, our box office had become one of the most respected ticketing operations in the UK, and I learned from some of the best people in the industry. We understood what our clients required and put them first always.

From that point on, it was straight in at the deep end as the SEC grew [and] the plans for the Hydro were approved. Ticketing events for the new arena was a huge part of the project, as the level of business almost doubled overnight. Putting events on sale for a venue yet to be built proved the ultimate challenge. But we had a wealth of experience to draw from – making right things that had not worked for us in the past. All this was achieved while still having to deliver, day to day, on events for other parts of the campus.

Experience was crucial as the window of time for the delivery of the Hydro was very short. I spent many long hours poring over the manifest and attending meetings with architects. This was all happening when the arena was under early construction, but I realised at the time this would be a key component to its success. It gave me a great platform to showcase my abilities, as well as an opportunity to learn and develop new skills.

When Rod Stewart performed the inaugural concert at the arena, I felt a real sense of personal pride

When Rod Stewart performed the inaugural concert at the arena on 30 September 2013, I felt a real sense of personal pride. It was a very emotional and rewarding experience. As the 13,000-capacity audience took their seats with ease, there was an undeniable sense of achievement.

Now, the Hydro is consistently ranked in the top-ten busiest venues worldwide. Its success, while deserved, has surpassed everyone’s expectations.

Reflecting on my own personal journey, progressing from being a young office administrator to director of live entertainment, is a real accomplishment.

Of course, there have been lots of other highlights, but I truly think that any individual success stories are often hugely supported by a strong, motivated team, which I am very lucky to have here at the Scottish Event Campus.

 


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‘Cultural icon’ Scott Walker dies aged 76

Singer-songwriter Scott Walker, who found fame first as one third of ’60s heartthrobs the Walker Brothers, and later as an unconventional, cerebral solo performer, composer and producer, has passed away aged 76.

Walker’s passing was announced this morning (25 March) by his label 4AD, which describes American-born Walker (real name Noel Scott Engel) as a “unique and challenging titan at the forefront of British music”. “Audacious and questioning, he has produced works that dare to explore human vulnerability and the godless darkness encircling it,” continues the statement from 4AD, which represented Walker during his experimental late-career renaissance. No cause of death has been announced.

Born in Hamilton, Ohio, in 1943, Walker achieved success in the mid-1960s as frontman of the Walker Brothers, alongside John Maus (aka John Walker) and Gary Leeds (Gary Walker). The trio – which had UK number ones with ‘Make it Easy on Yourself’ and ‘The Sun ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)’ – bucked the prevailing trend of British groups achieving success in America (the so-called British invasion) by attaining their greatest success in the UK, and Scott became a British citizen in 1970.

Following the break-up of the Walker Brothers, Walker released a string of critically acclaimed, but increasingly commercially lacklustre, solo albums – most notably 1967’s Scott, 1968’s Scott 2 and 1969’s Scott 3 and Scott 4, all regarded as baroque-pop classics – before retreating to the periphery of the music business following a brief Walker Brothers reunion in 1975–78.

Later releases, most recently 2014’s Soused, a collaborative effort with experimental metal band Sunn O))), are increasingly avant-garde; the Guardian journalist Simon Hattenstone described the direction of Walker’s output from the mid-80s onwards, particularly following his reemergence in 1995, with Tilt, as being akin to “Andy Williams reinventing himself as Stockhausen.”

“He was a sweet, kind, lovely man with a great sense of humour”

He rarely performed live, partially due to severe nerves, and declined to appear at 2017’s BBC Prom celebrating his music, saying he’d never dream of listening to his old songs (though he did meet with performer Jarvis Cocker beforehand).

“Of all the people I managed, he was definitely special,” recalls Ed Bicknell, who managed Walker from 1982 to 1990. “He was a sweet, kind, lovely man with a great sense of humour, and no ‘side’ to him. An extraordinary voice and an underrated songwriter who was never concerned with commercial success. Truly an original.

“The four albums he made for Philips, Scott 123 and 4, are classics. It was an absolute privilege to have worked with him. I loved him, actually; a very sad day.”

“From teen idol to cultural icon, Scott leaves to future generations a legacy of extraordinary music,” continues the tribute by 4AD. “A brilliant lyricist with a haunting singing voice, he has been one of the most revered innovators at the sharp end of creative music, whose influence on many artists has been freely acknowledged. The scope and dynamism of his vision have added dimension to both film and dance, and he has stunned audiences with music whose composition transcends genre and whose sheer originality defies pigeonholing. […]

“We are honoured to have worked with Scott for the last 15 years of his life.”

Walker is survived by his daughter, Lee, his granddaughter, Emmi-Lee, and his partner, Beverly.

 


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Peter Mensch confirmed for ILMC 30

Legendary artist manager Peter Mensch will be the subject of the ILMC 30 Breakfast Meeting, the leading touring/festival business conference’s keynote interview, organisers announced today.

The news comes as the International Live Music Conference announces the first round of agenda topics for the 30th anniversary edition of the event in March 2018.

From 1979 to 1982, Mensch worked as a manager at Leber Krebs, where he was responsible for AC/DC, Scorpions, Def Leppard and Michael Schenker. Starting on April Fools’ Day 1982, Mensch and Cliff Burnstein formed Q Prime with just Def Leppard. The company’s roster currently includes Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, Snow Patrol, Foals, Silversun Pickups, Cage the Elephant and the Black Keys.

The Breakfast Meeting, which takes place at 10.30 on Friday 9 March, will be hosted by former artist manager and raconteur Ed Bicknell. Previous interviewees in the hot-seat have included artist managers Paul McGuinness and Doc McGhee, WME’s Marc Geiger and Live Nation’s Arthur Fogel.

Also announced is the first round of conference sessions, including ‘BREXIT 2025: Looking back’, chaired by UK Music’s CEO Michael Dugher, which considers the impact of Brexit on the European touring business.

“We’ve never had an edition of ILMC when there were so many topics to cover”

‘Gender: Calm down, what’s the fuss?’, meanwhile, sees Coda Agency’s Natasha Bent chair a panel of industry leaders to discuss gender and inclusivity in the live music business, with guests including renowned investment banking head and mother of nine Dame Helena Morrissey.

Meanwhile, ILMC’s Venue Summit strand will include ‘Venues Summit: Corridors of power’, chaired by Kilimanjaro Live’s Stuart Galbraith, which considers whether venues hold the real power in the global touring business. ‘Venues Venue: Spaces for stars’, chaired by Ahoy Arena’s Peter van der Veer, presents a first look at new data from the NAA, EAA and IQ’s European Arena Yearbook while discussing the race to meet changing consumer tastes.

“We’ve never had an edition of ILMC when there were so many topics to cover,” says conference head Greg Parmley. “The full agenda will be announced in January, and with some of the industry’s biggest names and most active campaigners already confirmed, it’s shaping up fast.”

An invitation-only event, ILMC will welcome over 1,000 delegates to the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington from 6–9 March 2018. Companies supporting ILMC 30 include Live Nation, Ticketmaster, CTS Eventim, DEAG, Showsec, Malaysia Major Events, AirX, Eventbrite, United Talent Agency, WME Entertainment, eps, Emporium Presents, Feld Entertainment, Green Copper and Buma Cultuur.

Full information on ILMC’s schedule of networking and events is online at 30.ilmc.com.

 


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McGuinness: Zoo TV tour changed the biz forever

Former U2 manager Paul McGuinness has spoken of the significant role he and the band played in the emergence of major multinational promoters such as Live Nation and AEG Live/Presents.

Interviewed by Ed Bicknell for the ILMC 29 Breakfast Meeting, McGuinness related how U2’s 1992–93 Zoo TV world tour indirectly laid the foundations for the rise of Live Nation et al. Describing the tour production as “extraordinary – but bank-breaking”,  he said U2 were then “still operating like a punk band, with low ticket prices. If one of the promoters on that tour hadn’t paid, we’d have been ruined.”

“At the end of that tour – which made no money – I said we’d never do it again,” he continued. “I had to tell [then-agents] Ian Flooks and Frank Barsalona that I wasn’t going to use them anymore. That was quite an event…

“I decided the next tour was going to be underwritten by a single promoter. We worked with Arthur Fogel and Michael Cohl – that deal became SFX, then Clear Channel and now Live Nation.”

The interview, as is tradition, took place on the final morning of ILMC, following the previous evening’s Gala Dinner and Arthur Awards (see the winners here).

Bicknell began by asking how much of a role luck has played in McGuinness’s long career. McGuinness highlighted luck as one of the four key qualities needed in a manager – along with talent, stamina and ambition – and related an anecdote about Napoleon’s choice of marshals: “He said, most of all, they have to be lucky. Luck has an enormous amount to do with success in popular music.”

“U2 always understood they had two parallel careers: one in live and one in recording”

Reflecting on his pre-U2 management career, McGuinness said his first gig was for a Celtic rock band (a “poor man’s Horslips”) called Spud. “I managed to get them a record deal, and we did a little bit of touring, mostly in Germany and Sweden,” he explained. Spud, however, had “wives and responsibilities” and were loath to buy anything for the band – even guitar strings – feeling they were committed elsewhere. McGuinness said he thought they were “too old to make it” and resolved that “the next band I manage is going to be younger than that.”

Introduced to U2 by late rock critic Bill Graham, McGuinness said band and manager’s famous five-way royalty split was established from the outset. “I used to read about Brian Epstein, Andrew [Loog] Oldham… in the groups I was interested in there was an officer class and then the soldiers,” he explained. “In the Rolling Stones you had Mick and Keith and then everyone else; in The Beatles it was John and Paul, and then George and Ringo. That’s what broke up those groups.

“So, I said to U2: ‘There isn’t going to be any money for a while, so what there is you should split equally. And since there’s four of you and one of me, why don’t we split everything five ways?’”

On U2’s early touring career, McGuinness outlined how important the band’s live act was to establishing their reputation at a time when their records weren’t selling. “U2 always understood they had two parallel careers: one in live and one in recording,” he said. “We weren’t successful [with the latter] in the beginning – the first two records didn’t perform well, and there was the constant threat of being dropped.

“Only with the third album [War] did we have success on record. By then we were known across America, Europe… we had a very military style: we targeted each country one by one and tried to build ourselves in each at the same speed.”

“In the early ’80s,” he continued, “we’d do three months in the US in one go every year. That meant playing in as many cities as possible ­– and major cities twice each, so you’d hopefully see progress from a club to an auditorium [when you returned].

“Everyone liked the idea of touring an in-the-round stadium production, but it took a lot of money and imagination to turn it into a reality. I don’t think anyone will ever do it again”

“The first show we played in LA was the [600-cap.] Country Club, and because we had support from K-Rock and the LA Times, it was sold out. When we returned three months later, we were able to sell out the 3,000-seat Santa Monica Civic [Center].”

McGuinness said a consequence of that early focus on live is that a lot of the promoters of their first shows “grew up with us.” Adding “Very often they’re now Live Nation territory bosses, so the sensation is often of still doing business with the same people.”

McGuinness stepped down as U2’s manager in 2013, two years after the conclusion of the innovative 360° tour, which saw the band play ‘in the round’ with the audience in a circular configuration around the stage ­– still the highest-grossing concert tour of all time.

Despite the tour netting him and his band more than US$736 million, McGuinness said his favourite U2 show is still their first performance at Madison Square Garden, in 1985. (The same is true for Dire Straits, agreed ex-manager Bicknell.) “Even though you get paid less, as the union has cottoned on to how sentimental bands are over the venue – I think there are union stagehands from New Jersey who haven’t left their houses in 20 years that are still getting paid – the vibe is just extraordinary,” he commented.

With discussion – inevitably – turning briefly to secondary ticketing, McGuinness said the price scaling for the 360° tour was “pretty good. We had $25 tickets further from the stage, with prices going all the way up to $120, $150, all sold out.”

“Everyone liked the idea of touring an in-the-round stadium production,” he concluded, “but it took a lot of money and imagination to turn it into a reality. I don’t think anyone will ever do it again.”

 


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