Heavenly Sent: Inside Lewis Capaldi’s biggest-ever tour
When Lewis Capaldi played the final UK show of his Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent tour in Aberdeen on 15 March 2020, little did anyone know that 24 hours later, a ban on mass gatherings would be introduced that would curtail any further shows for the best part of two years.
However, during the intervening period, the singer-songwriter worked with his representatives to crank up anticipation of his soon-to-be-released second album (Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent) to such an extent that his return to performing live is smashing records.
Indeed, Capaldi’s return to Aberdeen’s P&J Live Arena on 23 January this year set a new high bar of more than 15,000 tickets sold. “His shows in Scotland for this tour were amazing. He has been very open about his mental health and that anxiety can cripple him sometimes, so it was so powerful to see him enjoying the shows, because hometown shows come with huge pressures,” states promoter Craig Johnston at DF Concerts. “Our Aberdeen show became the highest-selling indoor show in Scotland’s history: it’s an incredible achievement.”
That historic gig was all the more special for production manager Nick Lawrie, who has been on the road with Lewis since he only needed a car to get from gig to gig. “I was asked early on if I could look after him. In fact, the only person who has worked with him longer is Aiden Halliday, his musical director, who started on keyboards,” says Lawrie.
Having taken on driver duties, front of house, monitors, and part-time production manager in smaller venues, Lawrie stepped up to full-time PM as the size of show grew. “On the last tour, we had seven trucks, but we’re up to 14 trucks for the UK and European arenas tour,” says Lawrie, adding that the touring party numbers in the 80s including drivers, etc. “We were six buses for the UK leg – it’s a big tour!”
“The thing about Lewis is we never skipped a moment of building”
Hailing from Aberdeen, Lawrie is delighted that the P&J show broke records. He commends everyone involved on the road for their hard work, while singling out artist manager Ryan Walter and agents Ryan Penty and Alex Hardee for making sure everyone is looked after.
“A lot of the Lewis camp has been around for a long time and that definitely helps,” contends Lawrie. “As for the tour routing, we have a couple of spicy overnights in Europe where we’ll have to advance the rigging package, but thankfully, his manager and agents are mindful about burnout, from Lewis himself right the way down through the crew. The fact they take our welfare so seriously is really appreciated by everyone on the road.”
Examining Capaldi’s tour history hints at an artist who has an impressive work ethic, having put in the long hours around the world playing tiny venues and step by step growing his fanbase at every opportunity.
“The thing about Lewis is we never skipped a moment of building,” says Ryan Penty who represents Capaldi along with Alex Hardee at Wasserman Music. “In London, for example, we started at The Waiting Room [120 capacity], then we played a show at Oslo [350-cap] where there was an 18-plus age restriction, which was a little bit of a hiccup, at the time. But from there we played the Scala , then we went straight to Shepherd’s Bush Empire [2,000], then Brixton Academy [4,921], then Wembley Arena [11,500] for two shows on the weekend before the pandemic. And then last year we played two nights at The O2 [18,500]. That sort of sums up the hard work Lewis and the whole team have put in everywhere, just organically growing the audience each time.”
Assisting team Capaldi on the journey are a team of promoters whom he has remained fiercely loyal to. There are no fewer than eight promoters involved in his 12 UK dates, for example. One of those long-term partners is Anna-Sophie Mertens, VP of touring at Live Nation. “I first came across Lewis Capaldi in mid-2016, before any of his music had been officially released,” she says.
“He wandered on, plugged in, looking pretty casual about the whole thing, then started to play… and it was jaw-dropping”
“I was struck by his voice and the simple, yet remarkable, beauty of the songs, so I arranged a meeting with his management to talk about what plans they had in mind for him. Usually [at that stage] artists and managers would be looking for London showcase opportunities, but they wanted the opposite and felt strongly about getting live show experience outside of London and building from north to south. So, I focused on delivering just that, with a support to Seafret in spring 2017. I got to meet Lewis for the first time at Birmingham O2 Institute3 on that tour, and the room just fell silent when he went on – everyone being in absolute awe. It was a sign of great things to come.”
Anton Lockwood at DHP Family tells a similar tale. “I got an email from his manager, sometime in early May 2017, with a link to the song Bruises, which got my interest enough to offer Lewis a slot, at two weeks’ notice, at Dot to Dot Festival,” says Lockwood.
“I saw him for the first time with my colleague Dan Roberts at Hy-Brasil bar in Bristol, where there was a small but decent crowd. He wandered on, plugged in, looking pretty casual about the whole thing, then started to play… and it was jaw-dropping. One of those few times when you turn to the person you’re with and you both just say, ‘Fuck me, this guy is incredible. He’s going to be a superstar!’”
Mertens continues, “Once the music finally got released to the wider world, the headline live shows slotted in perfectly with sold-out shows across the board. The campaign gathered real momentum with Lewis’s songs really connecting with his fans of all ages and his humour and character making him instantly likeable and relatable, too. We found ourselves finishing his first album campaign with two shows at The O2, and they sold out in minutes. I am not sure this has ever been done before on a first album campaign.”
Capaldi’s legendary reputation to elicit laughter from his audience, as well as delivering a powerful set, has seen his popularity blossom. And the demand from fans to witness his shows is not lost on his promoter partners. Lockwood comments, “The thing with Lewis is, what you think he’s like from his social media, he is actually like that – and people respond to that.”
“We’ve no reason to change our promoters, because everyone’s done a great job. Everyone sells all the tickets”
Kilimanjaro Live promoter Steve Tilley agrees. “Lewis’s social media game is second to none,” he states. And Tilley discloses just how deep the loyalty to promoters runs through the Capaldi camp. “Kilimanjaro has been involved in Lewis’s career from the very start, and when Carlo Scarampi was working for us, he was given some parts of the UK when those decisions were made. I got involved after Carlo moved over to Communion, retaining our interest in the artist but working with Communion going forward in collaboration.”
Recalling his initial interaction, Tilley continues, “I saw Lewis supporting Bastille and suggested we put him forward to support Ed Sheeran at the 2019 Leeds and Ipswich gigs, which he subsequently went on to play. We also booked Lewis for the mainstage at Belladrum in 2019, just as he was exploding in career terms. So many people wanted to get into the mainstage arena to see him that we had to close it! We also added Lewis to Kew The Music in 2019 when Jess Glynne had to cancel her slot, and with only about two weeks’ notice, we sold out the show in minutes. It was a crazy time.”
Continuing their collaboration on the current tour, Kilimanjaro and Communion are co-promoting Exeter Westpoint Arena. “It sold out absolutely effortlessly,” reports Tilley. Addressing the decision to stick with the promoting team, everywhere, Penty notes, “We’ve no reason to change our promoters, because everyone’s done a great job. Everyone sells all the tickets. It was split up at the start for a reason, and everybody did their bit to help Lewis get to where he is, so people should be rewarded for that. In the UK & Ireland, we’ve got Futuresound, SJM, Communion, DHP, Kilimanjaro, Live Nation, DF Concerts, and MCD – just about everyone’s got a slice of the tour.
Let it Roll
With the UK leg of the tour wrapping up on that 2 February show in Exeter, Capaldi’s European promoters have been counting the days to welcome him back – many having first witnessed him live at the IFF [International Festival Forum] in 2017.
Michael Šimon, booker and promoter for Selection in Czech Republic, has Capaldi back for just his second headline show in Prague on 17 February, having also booked him for Colours of Ostrava Festival in 2019. “When we first saw him at IFF, his enormous talent was clear to us,” says Šimon. “The first costing for November 2019 was built on a cap of 750 tickets. A few years later, Lewis’s second show in Prague will take place in the biggest arena in the Czech Republic, the [18,000-cap] O2 Arena Prague.”
“He played a lot of shows but never the wrong places, allowing his fanbase to grow continuously”
In Switzerland, Stefan Wyss at Gadget abc Entertainment also recalls Capaldi’s showcase at IFF. “Alex Hardee told us very early about this super-talented guy from Scotland. At IFF we were really impressed – Lewis was sick and had a bad voice, but it was still a massive voice.”
That showcase led to a booking. “His first show in Switzerland was at Openair St. Gallen in 2018 on the tent stage. After that, we sold out – way in advance – his first headline at [the] end of 2018 with 500 tickets in Zürich.”
Turning to Capaldi’s work ethic, Wyss comments, “He played a lot of shows but never the wrong places, allowing his fanbase to grow continuously. And I’m sure his humour and charisma helped a lot. If you look at his live history in Switzerland – [nine shows across four years] – it’s very impressive for a new artist in a small market.”
And Wyss predicts the momentum will keep building. “He will [take] another massive step [this year],” he says. “Hallenstadion in Zürich will be sold out with 13,000 tickets. And he is also headlining Openair St. Gallen. It will be a massive year for Lewis.”
Commenting on Capaldi’s tireless efforts, Selection’s Šimon reveals, “During his first Prague show, we watched Lewis sign hundreds of CDs for hours after the sound check. He did it with a dedication and respect toward each and every fan.”
“The way Lewis engages his fans on social media is just brilliant and different from anyone else”
Other promoters attest to his enthusiasm and drive. Mertens notes, “Lewis and his whole team have a strong work ethic. If it is the right thing to do, they will find the time and way to make it work. In the early days, he was flying back and forth between the US and the UK almost weekly to ensure he was making an impact with the right opportunities.”
One recipient of such an opportunity was Alessandro Ravizza at Vivo Concerti, who promoted Capaldi’s first Italian show in 2017 at Linecheck Festival. “Some of the people knew Bruises, but he captured the attention of every single person in that room,” recalls Ravizza, who has since promoted two headline shows for the Scottish crooner.
“As an Italian promoter, you don’t always have the chance to work with artists on each step of their touring career; but I think Lewis, management, and Ryan/Alex had a long-term vision, and they’ve worked very hard on every territory to grow a loyal, organic fanbase. Also, the way Lewis engages his fans on social media is just brilliant and different from anyone else, and this helps us as promoters a lot when it comes to selling tickets.”
DF’s Johnston concurs. “Lewis has an amazing talent of making everyone, even people who have never met him, feel like they are his best mate, and that is an incredible tool for us when selling tickets.”
As the tour rolls through Europe, Ravizza reports that Vivo Concerti will sell out the 8 March gig at Mediolanum Forum in Milan. “To be honest, Clemente [Zard], Andrea [Ritrovato], and I felt very confident even without listening to any songs of the new album because we knew demand was there,” he says. “After hearing the new songs, it was pretty clear. We’re looking forward to seeing one of the greatest artists of his generation connecting deeply with his people.”
“It was always a perfect execution of putting the right building blocks in place”
Another beneficiary of Capaldi’s artistry is Live Nation Denmark promoter Anna Brink. She says, “In 2018, we sold out Vega Small Hall in Copenhagen, a 450-cap venue. There has been an increasing demand for his shows ever since, and the next hard-ticket show we did was in 2019, which we upgraded from a 1,550-cap venue to a 5,000-cap venue and sold out. It’s amazing for an artist to grow like this in such a short time, especially in a smaller market like Denmark. We’ve now sold out his Royal Arena show on this tour, so we couldn’t be happier.”
Brink adds, “Lewis has a wonderful team around him, and I love working with them, especially his agents, whom I’ve known for a long time, so it’s great to be able to share this success together.”
Mertens comments, “Lewis has a great team, from his band, his tour and production managers and road team who have, for the most part, been there right from the start. A particular mention needs to go to Ryan Walter, Lewis’s manager, who right from the start had a strong vision in place and ensures every step, every release, every artwork, every tour announcement and on-sale is meticulously planned and slotted into Lewis’s career. It was always a perfect execution of putting the right building blocks in place.”
To Tell the Truth I Can’t Believe We Got This Far
While the crew on the road now numbers in excess of 70, the core members have been with Capaldi from early on in his career.
DF Concerts’ Johnston observes, “Most of Lewis’s live crew are Scottish, and we’ve all worked together before on other acts and projects over the years. It’s worth mentioning that King Tut’s gets a lot of credit for bringing through new artists, but all of his crew have done shows in Tut’s as well, so it also brings through the new tour managers, production managers, sound engineers, lighting engineers, backline tech, etc.”
“Effectively, if you ignore the pandemic shutdown, he’s doubled the size of the production in less than a year”
As for the production itself, the back-to-back September 2022 shows at The O2 in London proved to be a rehearsal for the current tour. Nick Lawrie says, “By about the second week, every day was starting to feel the same, which as a production manager is kind of what you want. Now we can concentrate on finding efficiencies and trying to identify areas where we can tighten things up.”
One of the main features of the production is a giant video cube, which raises and lowers to the stage, and at one point, features Capaldi using its roof as a B-stage. “We have a customised automation system, which is pretty complicated, and the show relies on a fair amount of trim – 17 metres on the grid. Some arenas don’t allow that, so it’s something we have to adjust every day, as well as making sure that every seat in the house has good sightlines,” explains Lawrie.
Matthew Bull at All Access Staging reveals the production from last year’s O2 shows was slightly reduced for ease of use, loading in and out. However, with two trucks for staging alone, it’s still an impressive set up.
“They asked us for a rolling stage because of what they wanted to do with video, etc, so we supply that on the top level, as well as the risers on either side for the backline and cameras,” says Bull. And the feedback from the road he reports is all positive, “They’re a really friendly bunch, and the tour seems to be running really smoothly, so it’s great to be involved again with Lewis.”
Neg Earth Lights has been working with Capaldi since his last tour. “This production is much bigger, so Lewis has done very well in terms of scaling things up, because effectively, if you ignore the pandemic shutdown, he’s doubled the size of the production in less than a year,” says Neg Earth’s Sam Ridgway.
“We’re playing some of the biggest arenas in Europe, and I have to say it’s the best tour party I’ve ever worked with”
He adds, “Nick Lawrie is great to work with. Following The O2 shows, we had a production debrief and drew up plans on how to make improvements to the rig to make things more tour friendly.”
Those tweaks included adding a specialist automation company, WI Creations, to the equation. Involving automation of course complicated matters, with sound supplier FE Live completely redesigning its kit as a result.
“It’s fairly tricky audio-wise because of the three-sided cube, so we’ve had to design audio around that,” says FE’s managing director Ryan Mcilravey. “The O2 shows allowed us to trial stuff, and after those shows, we rebuilt our kit into bigger packaging because audio has to be assembled pretty quickly once everything else is loaded in.”
Like many of the suppliers on the tour, FE Live began working with Capaldi in 2018 and have witnessed the speed at which the artist moved to academy-sized shows and then onto even bigger venues.
“Fourteen months later, we’re playing some of the biggest arenas in Europe, and I have to say it’s the best tour party I’ve ever worked with,” says Mcilravey. “Lewis is very loyal to his suppliers and crew, so there are a lot of Scottish people who know each other well, but even so, it’s not that common to have 70-plus people on the road and everyone gets along.”
“It was glaringly obvious that Lewis would be playing arenas in a short space of time”
One of the key crew members is backline expert Paul Gibson, who handles tech for bass and guitars, including Lewis’s. He reveals that when Covid hit, the decision was made to sell all the Kemper equipment, which has now been replaced with Quad Cortex. “The equipment only recently came out, and I think we’re the first large production to use it, so that has been a bit of a challenge,” says Gibson. “It’s controlled by playback, so we had to get a couple of programmes made but that process has been quite exciting.”
Gibson, who has been working with Lewis Capaldi for close to six years, observes that while lots of production departments have stepped up their game, the biggest notable change for him is somewhat easier. “There are a few more stairs for me to climb in the arenas.” He adds, “Even the new suppliers who have been brought in are amazing. Usually, when you’re on the road, little cliques develop, but that hasn’t happened on this tour – we’re just one big family.”
Another happy traveller is Bobby Langley from Global Merch Services, who first encountered Capaldi at The Great Escape in 2018, thanks to a tip from Alex Hardee. “It was glaringly obvious that Lewis would be playing arenas in a short space of time,” states Langley.
“From my side of things, we inherited some incredible creative to work with. Lewis approaches his music as an art, rather than jumping on any bandwagon. There can be a temptation when you’re working with artists who reach arena level to just play it safe when it comes to merch, but if you keep being creative, you get a better result for everyone.”
For an emerging superstar – or “Scotland’s Beyoncé,” as Capaldi has jokingly referred to himself – the temptation to cash in can be overwhelming. But there’s no trace of greed among Capaldi’s inner circle, with tickets for the tour priced amazingly low for such a large arena production.
“Lewis doesn’t do any VIPs – there’s no meet and greets, there’s no golden circle, there’s no end-of-the-aisle uplift”
“Lewis doesn’t do any VIPs – there’s no meet and greets, there’s no golden circle, there’s no end-of-the-aisle uplift or anything like that,” says Penty. “He’s always wanted to keep the face value ticket prices affordable, so on the UK dates for this tour, we’re at £45, £55, and £65, which is the top price for the very best seats.
“We don’t want his fans to feel like he’s ripping them off at any point, and I know he just wants to make sure that everybody feels like they’re not excluded from seeing him because of the price.
“Originally, the tickets were going to be even cheaper, but we had to push the price a little because the costs of everything have gone through the roof since this tour was routed two and a half years ago. But in the end, we worked hard to keep ticket prices reasonable. At the end of the day, if the fans come and have a good night, and they’ve had value for money, they’ll come back.”
Having been planned three years ago, the current tour has been a long time in the making, but the results have made the wait worthwhile.
“We first started discussing and planning the tour dates in 2020, but we had to push back our plans several times due to the pandemic, so I am very excited to see the new tour and album campaign finally kicking off,” says Live Nation’s Mertens. “This tour is only the beginning of the many things we have planned on the live side for Lewis Capaldi in 2023 and beyond. I am extremely excited for things to come.”
And hinting at those future plans, Penty says, “He’s confirmed for Electric Picnic, and Reading and Leeds festivals, and we’ve recently announced additional outdoor shows in August for Manchester, Belfast, Chepstow, and Edinburgh at the Royal Highland Centre.
“But the focus now turns to 2024. We’ve got dates held internationally, and we’re looking at bigger venues, especially in the UK where the sales we had for the arena tour were ridiculous.”
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