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UK festival pilot builds hope for reopening

A successful outcome from yesterday’s 5,000-person Sefton Park Pilot in Liverpool will provide a lifeline to the entire UK live music business by proving that festivals can go ahead safely with no social distancing this summer, organiser Melvin Benn has said.

Featuring music from Zuzu, the Lathums and Blossoms, the one-day music festival took place on 2 May as part of the British government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), following two 3,000-person club nights, dubbed The First Dance, held at Liverpool’s Bramley-Moore Dock on 30 April and 1 May. Like all ERP events, there was no requirement to socially distance or wear a face covering at the three pilots, though all ticketholders required a negative Covid-19 test to gain entry.

Festival Republic MD Benn described the model as a “prototype” to reopen the industry after more than a year without any significant live music events. “Will we always need it? I hope not,” he told IQ, “but we’ve learnt a lot and we’re ready to pass it onto the industry.”

For the Sefton Park event, attendees and guests underwent a supervised lateral-flow test (LFT) at a local tennis centre up to 32 hours before the event. Each test was registered directly with the National Health Service (NHS), and results communicated via text and email within 30 minutes, with a negative test result activating each ticket. An additional testing site was positioned directly outside Sefton Park.

Alongside the lateral flow test, attendees were also encouraged to carry out a government PCR test, mailed by post, with a second test completed up to five days after the show. To motivate fans to complete the post-show test, Festival Republic offered a range of festival ticket prizes as an incentive.

Testing for staff, guests and press was overseen by Caroline Giddings and Solo Agency, one of a number of live music businesses to offer its support to the event, which was pulled together in the space of three weeks. (That’s not quite a record, said Benn – the One Love Manchester show with Ariana Grande was organised in even less time – but it was “pretty quick!”.)

“It’s important for the industry … that events like this happen”

In addition to Festival Republic, “there are people working on it from SJM, from DF, from Cream, from Isle of Wight Festival – it’s a bit of an industry effort,” explained DF Concerts’ Geoff Ellis. “It’s important for the industry and for fans that events like this happen to help us get there.”

For Ellis, who described Sefton Park Pilot as a “monumental occasion”, it was “really surreal being here because it feels dreamlike,” he said. “You’re seeing people from the industry and you bump into them and you’re wondering, ‘Wow, is this really happening?’”

Speaking to IQ, Benn related the event in similar terms, saying organisers, fans and artists alike were conscious of participating in a “historic moment” paving the way towards an overdue return to something approaching normality.

Benn is as confident as he was in summer 2020 that rapid testing (now coupled with vaccinations) is the key to unlocking the return of live events. “It’s something I’ve been saying since June last year, and it’s taken a long time for government to listen, but I think they do believe in it now,” he explained. “They did have faith in this [Sefton Park Pilot], and certainly [from conversations with] the scientific teams from government and outside of government that I’ve been working with, the modelling of this seems to suggest to me that it can work.”

“What we are learning is that a festival isn’t going to need to look different to how it did look, or behave different to how it behaved,” pre-coronavirus, he continued. “Putting on a festival, as any festival promoter will tell you, is a series of hurdles, and we’ve all learnt how to jump every single hurdle that’s ever put in front of us. Covid one is another one. We’ll find ways of overcoming.”

The other hurdle at present, of course, is the non-availability of event cancellation insurance, though Benn expects more news on that front in the coming weeks.

“What we are learning is that a festival needn’t look different to how it did”

“The government provided insurance for this event, to give us the backing we needed, and in doing so they demonstrated there’s a need for insurance,” he explained. “There’s a team working very hard to find a way […] out of this, and hopefully by the beginning of June there’ll be something in place.”

As in Barcelona, where a recent pilot arena show demonstrated a lower incidence of Covid-19 than in the city as a whole, Sefton Park Pilot needn’t record zero cases to be considered a success, Benn continued. “It’s not necessarily about no infections,” he said. “The ideal outcome is that there is no greater spread of the virus in Liverpool than there already was. We want to prove you can have these events and it doesn’t present a greater risk to the area than already exists.”

While interim findings from the ERP events will be reported to the prime minister in a matter of weeks, Benn revealed that a second FR-organised outdoor pilot show is in the pipeline. While details are yet to be announced, it will likely be similar in format to Sefton Park Pilot, and “greenfield, for certain”, according to Benn.

Like Sefton Park Pilot, that second pilot event will again mobilise an army of festival staff and music fans in numbers not seen since the summer of 2019. But Benn, like everyone involved with the pilots, is hopeful those events won’t be a one-off.

“There have been a huge amount of people who made the effort to give up their time for this, and they all put an enormous amount of work into it,” he said. “So what we’re learning, we want to tell everybody – because this is for the whole industry.”


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Details of UK Events Research Programme revealed

The British government has revealed details of its initial line-up of spring ‘pilot’ events intended to pave the way for the return of large, non-socially distanced audiences to UK venues from June.

As reported last month, the flagship Events Research Programme (ERP) pilot will be 15 May’s FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium in London, attended by 21,000 people, with events at Liverpool nightclub Circus Club (3,000 people) and three 10km (6.2mi) runs around Hatfield Park in Hertfordshire (3 x 3,000 runners + 3,000 spectators) among the newly announced dates. Additionally, IQ understands another ERP event for music may yet be announced.

According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the pilot programme will harvest “key scientific data and research into how small and large-scale events could be permitted to safely reopen” in line with the fourth and final stage of prime minister Boris Johnson’s easing of lockdown restrictions, set to come into force from 21 June. Venues participating in the ERP will test specific settings to collect evidence and best practice, with the data informing how event venues “could operate this summer”.

The list of ERP events so far is:

Researchers at the events will explore different approaches towards ventilation, social distancing and rapid testing, while “Covid-status certification” – effectively a health passport proving eventgoers are vaccinated or otherwise Covid-19-negative – will also be trialled during the programme.

The ERP will produce a report for government ministers on its findings by the end of May.

“These pilots are a real beacon of hope as we cautiously emerge from the pandemic”

UK culture minister Oliver Dowden says: “Our sports stars and great performers need us to find ways to get bums back on seats safely. This science-led pilot programme will be the springboard in getting the buzz back of live performance. We’ve supported the sports and arts with unprecedented sums, but it’s now time to make that great British summer of live events a reality.”

Adds health secretary Matt Hancock: “We are all longing to see stadiums full of sporting fans and gigs packed with music lovers, but as we continue the roll-out of our vaccination programme, we must find a way to do so safely. By piloting a range of measures to reduce transmission, we can gather vital scientific evidence to inform our plans for allowing events in the future.

“Thanks to the input of our clinicians and the best science available, we can prepare for the moment where we will be able to gather again in some of our best-loved cultural venues.”

Michael Kill of the Night Time Industries Association welcomes details of the pilots, “in particular the Circus nightclub pilot in Liverpool with Yousef [Zaher] and his team, who have been advocates of this sector for many years and will work hard to ensure we are represented”.

“It has been enormously tough for the events sector over the past year, but these pilots are a real beacon of hope as we cautiously emerge from the pandemic,” comments business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “This programme will not only provide valuable scientific evidence, but also offer confidence to the industry so we can make the most of the Great British summer and host large-scale events in a way that’s safe for everybody.

Similar pilot events of various sizes are also taking place in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium and more.


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M&S Bank Arena Liverpool CEO steps down

Bob Prattey, chief executive of the ACC Liverpool Group, has announced he is stepping aside after 16 years at the helm of the company.

Under his leadership, the Liverpool, UK, event campus – comprising ACC Liverpool, Exhibition Centre Liverpool and the 11,000-capacity M&S Bank Arena (formerly Echo Arena), has hosted over 3,000 events, welcomed more than eight million visitors and delivered an economic impact to the city of almost £2 billion.

Prattey was appointed ACC CEO in 2005 and launched the arena and convention centre in 2008. He continued to oversee the expansion of the business with the subsequent addition of Exhibition Centre Liverpool and the Pullman hotel in 2015, as well as attracting some of the biggest events in Europe. He will step aside at the end of March, succeeded on an interim basis by deputy CEO Faye Dyer.

“It has been a great honour and privilege to lead the ACC Liverpool Group for the past 16 years,” says Prattey. “I believe that this venue campus is amongst the premier league of European venues and has further enhanced the city’s reputation as a leading visitor destination. Since opening in 2008, we have attracted major international artists and global organisations and have reinforced Liverpool’s position as one of the most exciting cities in Europe.

“I have had time to reflect over the past 12 months and this feels like the right moment for both me personally and for the company to step aside and pass on the baton of leadership.

“While the last 12 months have undoubtedly been the hardest for all businesses in the events industry, I have been proud to lead the team through this unprecedented period. I have been amazed, but not surprised, by the resilience and determination shown by my team here at the ACC Liverpool Group, as well as our clients across all sectors and the entire industry, which has come together like never before.”

“We have a strong and committed senior leadership team and I am honoured to have been entrusted with Bob’s legacy”

Dyer takes up the role of interim managing director from 1 April 2021 and will be responsible for leading the business through the Covid-19 recovery phase, alongside events and operations director Kerry Mulloy and commercial director Ben Williams.

ACC Liverpool Group chair Max Steinberg CBE explains: “After careful consideration and planning, we have taken the decision to move to an interim leadership structure for a 12-month period to allow us to provide continuity for the business at a time when we will be focused on recovery and providing stability for our staff and our clients.

“I am pleased to welcome Faye to her new role as interim managing director and look forward to supporting her as she leads the business through this next phase of our journey.”

Dyer joined the ACC Liverpool Group in 2019 as corporate services director and deputy chief executive, following eight years at the Manchester Central convention centre complex.

“I am looking forward to taking up my position as interim managing director in April and leading the ACC Liverpool Group through our Covid-19 recovery plans as this remarkable industry gets back on its feet,” she comments.

“We have a strong and committed senior leadership team and I am honoured to have been entrusted with Bob’s legacy and to lead the team alongside Kerry and Ben through this next phase.”


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Drive Nation: LN UK unveils 2,100-cap. drive-in shows

Live Nation has announced a series of live drive-in concerts across 12 venues in the UK this summer, featuring acts including Dizzee Rascal, Gary Numan, Beverley Knight, the Streets, Sigala, Lightning Seeds, the Snuts and Kaiser Chiefs.

Drive-in concerts have proved to be a popular feature of lockdown life, with concertgoers getting their live music fix from the safety of their cars in countries including Germany, Denmark, the US, Lithuania and the Netherlands.

Now, the format is allowing the UK live industry to step back into the driving seat. Live Nation’s Utilita Live from the Drive-in series, which kicks off in mid-July, is more live music-focused than previously announced UK drive-in events, hosted by the likes of Mainstage Festivals and Live Nation-owned Ticketmaster.

The 300-carpacity (© 2020 IQ) concerts will be able to accommodate up to 2,100 people, with tickets available for two to seven people per car. Standard or premium tickets, which include guaranteed location in the front three rows and priority exit at end of show, will be available, with prices reportedly ranging from £25 to £100 per car.

Differing from many other drive-in shows and in a similar vein to Italy’s proposed bike-in concerts, concertgoers will be able to enjoy the performance through the full sound system – rather than car radio – in a dedicated area next to their vehicle. Fans are encouraged to bring folding chairs if they wish to sit during the gigs.

“The drive-in format is a thoughtful and fun way to safely bring one million Brits out of ‘entertainment lockdown’”

The shows will take place across 12 sites, including in the grounds of venues such as Birmingham Resorts World Arena and the National Bowl in Milton Keynes; at sports complexes including the University of Bolton football stadium and Cheltenhem and Newmarket racecourses; at airports in Bristol (Filton Airfield), Leeds (Leeds East Airport) and Teesside (Teesside International Airport); and various other outdoor event locations including the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh, Lincolnshire Showground and Central Docks Liverpool Waters.

Live Nation also plans to announce the London venues, as well as more artists and dates in due course.

“We are excited to bring Utilita Live From The Drive-In to fans across the UK,” comments Live Nation’s Peter Taylor. “This outdoor concert series was created as a way to reimagine the live music experience during a time of social distancing by allowing fans to enjoy concerts in the safest way possible.

“Each event will comply with all official government guidelines in order to protect fans, artists, crews and staff. We look forward to announcing some of the biggest names across UK music and bringing these fantastic artists to a city near you.”

“As we find new ways to navigate today’s world of social distancing,” adds Utilita CMO Jem Maidment, “we believe the drive-in format is a thoughtful and fun way to safely bring one million Brits out of ‘entertainment lockdown’ this summer 2020.”

Tickets for Utilita Live from the Drive-in go on sale at 10 a.m. on 22 June here. Further information on performers, entry prices, on-sale dates and restrictions can be found here.


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Creamfields invests £2m in festival site

The team behind electronic music event Creamfields has announced a £2 million overhaul of the brand’s flagship festival in Cheshire, north England.

Creamfields, which began as a one-day dance music event in 1998, is now a 70,000-capacity, four-day camping festival that takes place every August bank holiday weekend.

The overhaul comes as the festival prepares to celebrate its 15th year at its site in Cheshire, which has been its home since 2006.

The improvements will usher in a “new era for Creamfields”, say organisers, and will include increased camping space, additional security and staffing, the installation of a new water supply and more water points, better signage, improved shower and toilet facilities, more welfare staff, 24-hour manned information hubs and a minimisation of environmental impact on site.

The improvements will usher in a “new era for Creamfields”

Part of Live Nation’s Cream brand and promoted by Scott Barton-led Electronic Nation, Creamfields has become one of the world’s largest electronic music events, with spin-off festivals in Chile, UAE, Spain, Malta, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Australia, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The Creamfields team is also responsible for Steel Yard, a 15,000-capacity dance arena structure, which hosts shows by the likes of Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike, Eric Prydz, Faithless and Carl Cox in London and Liverpool.

The sold-out 2019 event saw performances from Calvin Harris, the Chemical Brothers, Bicep, Deadmau5, Matin Garrix, Tiesto, Camelphat and Fatboy Slim.

Creamfields returns to Daresbury in Cheshire from 27 to 30 August 2020. Tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. (BST) on Friday 27 September. Fans can sign up for pre-sale here. A full line-up will be announced soon.


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Her’s: UK band and manager killed in US car crash

Both members of Liverpool-based band Her’s and their tour manager have been killed in a road accident while touring in the US.

Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading, along with tour manager Trevor Engelbrektson, were involved in the fatal car crash early on Wednesday morning. The accident happened as the group travelled from Phoenix, Arizona to a show date in Santa Ana, California.

The self-described “international supersonic spectral wave Liverpool band” were on their second tour of North America, playing 19 dates of sold-out shows following the release of their debut album Invitation to Her’s in August 2018. The band also put out an eight-track of early releases entitled Song of Her’s in 2017.

The Liverpool duo had been touring the United States since early March, with the Santa Ana gig to be the penultimate date of the tour. Engelbrektson, a Minneapolis musician, sound engineer and tour manager who “did more for Minneapolis music than anybody could ever dream of” had been touring with the pair.

“Musically, Her’s were astonishing. An aptitude for melody, fun and entertainment combined with a complexity that was as sophisticated as it was stylish”

Her’s had played in Washington, New York, Seattle and Denver, among other US cities. The band had featured on the BBC Music Introducing programme at South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

“We are all heartbroken,” write representatives of the band’s record label, Heist or Hit. “Their energy, vibrancy and talent came to define our label.”

“As humans, they were warm, gentle and hilarious […] Musically, Her’s were astonishing. An aptitude for melody, fun and entertainment combined with a complexity that was as sophisticated as it was stylish,” reads the social media post.

Fitzpatrick and Laading met for the first time while studying music at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (Lipa), graduating in 2016.

“To say they were close would be an underestimation of a friendship that was genuinely beautiful to witness; they loved one another like brothers,” reads the Heist and Hit statement.

“We have lost our friends and the world has been denied their talent.”


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Ditto Music launches artist management arm

Liverpool, UK-based digital distribution and label services company Ditto Music, which works with more than 200,000 artists and record labels globally, has launched artist management division Ditto Management.

The launch of Ditto Management, a standalone artist management division, sees Ditto Music, which has 20 offices worldwide, become the first distributor to also offer management services, according to the company. Ditto Management’s roster includes grime MC Big Zuu, DJ Nathan Dawe, R&B artist Bobii Lewis and singer-songwriter Nathan Brooks.

“While our competitors are investing in A&R bots and algorithms, we are putting our resources into people and building a new, fairer music industry where artists are partners, not employees,” says Lee Parsons, CEO of Ditto Music.

Leading the new company is Matt Dodds, previously of Jem Music Group, where he worked with Big Zuu and helped engineer Craig David’s comeback.

“While our competitors are investing in A&R bots and algorithms, we are putting our resources into people”

“Matt is one of the best managers we have worked with and these four artists in particular are amazingly talented and driven,” continues Parsons. “I count myself very lucky that this calibre of talent has entrusted Ditto with the next phases of their careers.”

Dodds says: “Ditto Management is a really exciting new venture and I’m honoured to be heading up the department. I believe having a management company which also offers the option of distribution is an exciting opportunity for any developing artist. The current roster are all acts that have the potential to do great things and I’m looking forward to building a team who share my same ambitions.”

Founded in 2006, Ditto Music has distributed the music of artists including Ed Sheeran, Stormzy, Dave and AJ Tracey. Ditto Music’s roster also includes Chance the Rapper, Yxng Bane and D Block Europe.


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Skiddle reports most successful year to date

Event guide and ticketing outlet, Skiddle, has published its year-end results for 2018, the company’s most successful year to date.

Skiddle announced a 30% increase in turnover, gross ticket sales of £60 million and a record-breaking 3.5 million ticket sales – a 22.5% increase on 2017.

The ticketing platform has experienced staff growth of 27% in the past year, establishing new offices in Manchester and London to add to existing bases in Lancashire and Liverpool.

Over 20,000 promoters used Skiddle to list more than 88,000 live events last year, a 21% increase in listings from 2017. The company grew its digital user base too, registering 20% web page views, 69% more users on iOS devices and 40% on Android.

“We are delighted to announce such strong figures for our 2018 year-end and are pleased to report growth across all areas of the business,” says Skiddle co-founder and technical director, Ben Sebborn.

“Challenging the biggest players in the industry is important, but championing grassroots venues, up-and-coming artists and independent promoters will always be imperative and a marker of our success”

“One of our key focuses for 2018 was growing our team and investing in innovation. As well as re-launching our event discovery app, we also re-imagined our ‘Rep’ initiative that rewards customer loyalty. Our flexible Re:Sell and Cool:Off platforms were also rolled out to more customers than ever before.”

Sebborn highlights the importance of maintaining a “customer-centric, authentic and hassle-free approach” to business.

“Challenging the biggest players in the industry is important, but championing grassroots venues, up-and-coming artists and independent promoters will always be imperative and a marker of our success,” he says.

In 2017, Skiddle refunded all attendees of Liverpool’s disastrous Hope & Glory festival (12,500-cap.), after day two of the event was called off. The ticketing agency later revealed that it lost £65,000 as a result, but maintained the decision to refund was “entirely the right thing to do”.


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Liverpool’s Echo Arena to become M&S Bank Arena

Liverpool Arena, known as Echo Arena since it opened in 2008, is to become M&S Bank Arena from early next year.

The 11,000-capacity venue, part of the ACC Liverpool complex on the King’s Dock, has agreed a new naming-rights deal with the HBSC-owned retail bank, after a ten-year association with local paper the Liverpool Echo.

Bob Prattey, CEO of the ACC Liverpool Group, comments: “We’re incredibly excited to announce the launch of the M&S Bank Arena. It’s a fantastic way to conclude a phenomenal year that has seen us mark ten years since the arena first opened its doors.

“M&S Bank is one of the UK’s leading challenger banks, with a long-established history in the region. The business shares our passion for the city of Liverpool, making it the perfect naming partner for the arena, complementing the great partnership we already have in place with the Liverpool Echo, which will continue as a key business partner.”

Sue Fox, CEO of M&S Bank, adds: “M&S Bank has been based in the north-west since the business was formed in 1985. It has continued to evolve over this time to the full-service bank it is today, and our past, present and future are firmly rooted in the region.

“We’re extremely delighted to be a part of something incredibly special”

“We’re very much committed to supporting our local community, and over the last ten years we’ve seen the arena bring a phenomenal breadth of entertainment and cultural events to the city of Liverpool, delivering fantastic economic benefits to the city and the wider region. We’re extremely delighted to be a part of something incredibly special and look forward to the launch of the M&S Bank Arena early in 2019.”

Liverpool Arena has welcomed 5.6m visitors to more than 1,200 performances since 2008, with entertainment highlights including Sir Paul McCartney, the MTV EMAs featuring Beyoncé, the MOBO Awards and BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

It unveiled a new 7,000-cap. live venue, dubbed Space, last summer.

“We are proud to have helped create something that all of Liverpool has taken to its heart,” says Echo editor Ali Machray. “The last ten years have seen the arena become an iconic venue. In that time the city has enjoyed spectacular growth and the Echo has powered ahead in digital media to underline its position among the best-known and most powerful regional media brands in the world.

“We will work closely with ACC Liverpool and M&S Bank to ensure the next ten years are as thrilling and successful as the last.”


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Glasswerk adds Liverpool’s Grand Central Hall to portfolio

UK-based national concert promoter Glasswerk have added another independent venue to their portfolio, this time in the form of the newly restored Grand Central Hall in Liverpool.

Opening first in 1905 as a Methodist church, previous lives have seen the building play home to a cinema, an orchestra and a nightclub. In recent years, the Hall has undergone significant transformation. In its current incarnation, alongside the hall venue Glasswerk have picked up, known as “The Dome”, the building hosts two bars, a hotel, a wedding hall and a soon-to-be-completed street food market.

The Grand Central Hall itself is a 1,150-capacity Art Deco-styled space and refurbishment to the hall has been careful to respect this. As well as an impressive visual impact, the hall also boasts a legendary 100-year-old organ and supposedly the biggest projector screen outside of the SSE Arena, Wembley.

“Grand Central Hall is a beautiful building that had been left unkempt for far too long.”

Speaking of the efforts involved in restoring the Hall back to its current state, operations director for Grand Central, Ryan Edwards, says: “After a massive renovation to Grand Central Hall we are excited to invite Glasswerk into the business, and see the main hall being used for live music, cinema and wedding events.”

Similarly excited is Mat Ong, head promoter for Glasswerk. He says: “Grand Central Hall is a beautiful building that had been left unkempt for far too long.

The hall was purpose built for great acoustics and sight lines. Now the whole site offers great customer service with the accompanying food hall and different bars, and it’s a great venue for gig goers to come for a night out.”

Since its reopening in May 2018, the Hall has already played host to a number of events, including events for Liverpool’s student nightlife and boxing match screenings.


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