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DHP Family back on form after pandemic struggles

DHP Family MD George Akins tells IQ the company is exploring fresh opportunities in the venue market after business returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The independent UK venue operator and promoter racked up estimated turnover of £31-32 million (€35-36m) for 2022 –in line with its previous best year of 2017 and well up on the Covid-hit years of 2020 and 2021, when revenues hit £9m and £21m, respectively.

The Nottingham-headquartered firm attributes much of the upswing to the strong performance of its native venues, including Bodega and the legendary Rock City.

“The venue business has come back strong, especially the club nights, and the shows are coming through,” says Akins. “I’ve got a tour rescheduled from the pandemic all the way to July next year, so it’s still backed up, but we’re able to find avails now.

“Sales are good regionally. London was really tough up until very recently – it was under selling – and Manchester was ahead of it a lot of the time, but London has has recovered now and we’ve started to see shows selling what they should be. Generally, I think there’s been a hangover of work from home that affected London considerably, but a lot more people are back in the office now and people are going out again. It’s definitely more vibrant.”

“We’re looking at venue opportunities. We’re not in a mad hurry, but we’ve identified something we like the look of”

Other DHP venues include London’s Oslo, The Grace and The Garage, the latter of which turns 30 this year, Bristol’s Thekla and Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms and Stealth. But further additions could be on the cards.

“We’re looking at venue opportunities,” confirms Akins. “We’re not in a mad hurry, but we’ve identified something we like the look of and we hope to do something this year. If that comes off then that will be interesting, but we’ll grow on solid foundations like we’ve always done. We’re not firing out 10 venues in a year just because we want to grow, we want to last 40 to 50 years and want everything we do to have longevity in.

“We believe in building blocks and that might take longer than if you’re working for a venture capitalist or for someone who’s put their money in and wants [quick] results. We don’t need to do that. We’re an independent family business; we don’t have any debt and our reputation has survived through these trying times.

“Being independent is tough when the finances are tough, but we’re in a fortunate position because we have good assets, good building blocks, and everything we do has incredible grounding. We made money through the pandemic and hit the ground running when we came out of it.”

“There are always concerns about how you can raise ticket prices when people have so many bills to pay”

Nevertheless, Akins acknowledges concerns over the knock-on effect of the cost of living crisis on the live business.

“There are recession fears on the horizon, of course, and there are always concerns about how you can raise ticket prices when people have so many bills to pay,” he says. “But inflation is ridiculous for artists – the cost of running PAs, lights and production has gone up so much and the effects of that have to transfer through to ticket price.

“Most venues are adding energy uplifts for their hires, so it’s been incredibly worrying to see how much more we’re going to have to charge for tickets. The hot tickets will always sell but you’ve got to be careful with the acts that tour annually – if you’ve seen them last year you might not want to see them next year and save some money – but we’ll have to see how that transpires.

“The slowdown is not apparent at the moment, but there’s a bit of trepidation and I think there’s going to be a real slowdown in buying tickets at some point this year.”

DHP bought into 15,000-cap alternative independent festival Bearded Theory in early 2022 and work in partnership with festival founders Richard Bryan and Stephen Blount on the event, which returns to Catton Hall, Derbyshire from 25-28 May with headliners Interpol and Primal Scream.

“We’d wanted a camping festival for some time and we were excited to get involved”

“We’d wanted a camping festival for some time and we were excited to get involved,” says Akins. “We’ve booked two-thirds of the lineup for this year now and have announced our first bunch of headliners, and it’s looking great. I’m really excited about that.”

DHP’s festival portfolio also includes multi-city new music festival Dot To Dot and 25,000-cap Nottingham festival Splendour, which reverted from one to two days in 2022 for the first time since its 2008 debut, with the two-day format set to stay.

Meanwhile, its charity festival Beat the Streets, set up in response to the growing number of rough sleepers, has donated £320,000 to housing association Framework since launching in 2018 and was honoured at last year’s UK Festival Awards. Beat the Streets returns to multiple venues in Nottingham on 29 January.

Elsewhere, the firm has upcoming tours with The Flaming Lips, Dropkick Murphys, Belle & Sebastian, Belinda Carlisle and Electric Callboy, among others, and has been busy nurturing a new crop of promoters.

“You’ve got Ben Ryles, who is based in Manchester and is booking Bearded Theory and is also promoting nationally,” adds Akins. “You’ve got Conrad [Rogan], Scott [Kennedy] and Josh [Ward] developing their rosters down in London, and then Anton [Lockwood] and me, the old stalwarts, doing what we do. It feels like we’re back to where we were and it’s exciting.”

 


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