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Primary Talent returns to independence

Primary Talent International is returning to being an independent music talent agency following a management buyout.

Primary was sold to ICM Partners in 2020, which was subsequently acquired by CAA. The deal to re-establish Primary’s independent status was led by managing partner and CEO Matt Bates along with former ICM founding partner and COO Rick Levy, who will continue to act as a senior advisor to Primary.

The UK-based booking agency, whose roster includes almost 460 clients including The 1975, The Cure, Lana Del Rey, Noel Gallagher, Jack Harlow, alt-J, Dropkick Murphys, and Patti Smith, will continue to operate from London, while maintaining a presence in Los Angeles and New York.

“The pandemic changed the landscape of the music touring business, and we felt it was beneficial to return to our roots”

“The pandemic changed the landscape of the music touring business, and we felt it was beneficial to return to our roots as the UK’s largest independent music talent agency,” says Bates. “Adding to the strength and experience of the original Primary agent team, we are excited to bring aboard the next generation of talented agents to join as founding partners. In this new incarnation, Primary will be even better positioned to support the evolving careers of our artists and guide them wherever needed.”

Under the new set-up, Bates will oversee all aspects of the agency, and serve as managing partner and CEO. Agent Ben Winchester will continue to serve as a board member along with Bates and Levy.

The agency has also elevated current Primary agents Laetitia Descouens, Sally Dunstone, Martje Kremers and Ed Sellers, to partner status. They will be joined by veteran agent Simon Clarkson, who will be based in Los Angeles.  The firm currently has 35 employees and expects to announce further additions to the team in the coming weeks.

Other clients on the company’s books include Imanbek, Mitski, Rina Sawayama, Two Door Cinema Club, Wolf Alice, and Ziggy Marley.


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Beckie Sugden moves to ICM Partners/Primary Talent

Beckie Sugden has joined ICM Partners/Primary Talent International as a concerts agent in the company’s London offices.

Sugden moves to ICM/Primary from X-ray Touring, which she joined in 2014.

Over the last seven years, she has built a roster including Anderson Paak & The Free Nationals, Russ, Noname, Mick Jenkins, T-Pain, Ghostemane, Mac Ayres, Soulection, Joe Kay and more, which will move with her to ICM/Primary.

“Beckie is an agent whose reputation in the industry precedes her,” says Matt Bates, managing director, Primary Talent International and ICM Partners head of International/Europe, who announced the news today. “She has an exciting and diverse roster and we are excited to welcome her into the ICM/Primary family.”

“Beckie is an agent whose reputation in the industry precedes her”

Sugden added: “I am absolutely thrilled to be joining the team at ICM/Primary, bringing my 15 years of experience to an already stellar international team. As we all begin to rebuild from the ashes of the pandemic there feels like no better time to join such a progressive, representative and forward-thinking company.

“I’m extremely proud to represent some of the most exceptional and groundbreaking artists around and I look forward to continuing our work together utilising the incredible breadth of resources ICM has to offer as artists’ careers become more multi-dimensional than ever.”

Prior to X-ray Touring, Sugden spent five years at The Agency Group (UTA), and she worked at WME before that. She began her career in live music from her bedroom as founder of her own agency, Mixedtape.

The recruitment of Sugden follows the appointment of Sally Dunstone earlier this year.

Primary Talent International joined forces with ICM Partners in March of 2020 and Matt Bates was named head of international/Europe of the combined entities in February 2021.


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Matt Bates named head of international for ICM Partners

Primary Talent International director Matt Bates has been named head of international and head of Europe for ICM Partners in a leadership reshuffle following the recent resignation of ICM’s head of worldwide concerts, Rob Prinz.

Prinz, who stepped down voluntarily to return to being a full-time touring agent for ICM, is succeeded by Mark Siegel, with Robert Gibbs becoming the agency’s head of music. The three new appointments were announced by Chris Silbermann, CEO of ICM Partners.

“Mark Siegel, Robert Gibbs and Matt Bates are universally respected within our agency and the music business at large,” says Silbermann. “Through their hard work and dedication to their clients and the team here at ICM, they epitomise the true meaning of leading by example.”

Elsewhere, Steve Levine remains co-head of worldwide concerts, while Peter Elliott continues as managing director of the UK’s Primary Talent, which joined forces with ICM last March. Scott Mantell remains co-head of ICM international, based in Los Angeles.

Siegel is a New York-based ICM partner who has been with the agency for more than 25 years. He was formerly head of music. Gibbs, a 14-year veteran of, and partner in, ICM was previously head of contemporary music.

“Mark Siegel, Robert Gibbs and Matt Bates are universally respected within our agency and the music business at large”

Bates has been in the business more than 20 years (15 of them with Primary) and remains on the London-based agency’s board, alongside Peter Elliott and Ben Winchester.

“We have empowered a talented, diverse and forward-thinking leadership team to best represent our clients and reap the rewards of the investments we have made in the live events business,” continues Silbermann. “We are all looking forward to a booming 2022 and beyond as the audience returns to experience the artists and concerts they love and have greatly missed.

“This diverse team combines the wisdom of experience with a forward-thinking, next-generation enthusiasm, giving our clients a dynamic leadership team and representation department built not only for success today, but into the future.”

Alongside the new appointments, ICM has established a new ‘Next Gen Concerts Leadership Committee’ designed to pave the way for the next generation of concert department leaders. It initially includes agents Jacqueline Reynolds-Drumm, Yves C. Pierre, Ari Bernstein and Mitch Blackman.

“I am extremely humbled and excited to be given the opportunity to step into a new role within ICM concerts,” comments Siegel. Chris Silbermann and Rob Prinz led the charge over the past year to grow our division and lay the foundation for ICM concerts to be a leader in the industry for years to come.

“The foundation Rob Prinz built in the concert division has left ICM in a formidable position from which to navigate the exciting new world of live music”

“We have created a talented, diverse, and forward-thinking leadership team who I am proud to work alongside in our commitment to best represent our incredible clients. They are the reason we strive every day to be better than yesterday, and I cannot think of a better group of agents, assistants and support staff who display their commitment and passion daily to that end.

“As I step into this new role, I do so knowing I am surrounded by an incredible team, including my partners Steve Levine, Rob Gibbs and Matt Bates, and I am eager to continue the work that has propelled this department forward. I am equally excited to work with Jacqui, Yves, Ari and Mitch as they step into an active leadership role. To Rob Prinz, my colleague and more importantly my friend, thank you for your tireless work and leadership, especially over the past year, which resulted in the tremendous growth of our department. I look forward to continuing to have you as a partner and a colleague for years to come.”

Adds Bates: “Since Primary joined with ICM 12 months ago, the support and vision I have seen from Chris Silbermann has been exceptional, which is reflected in the department’s growth and expansion. The foundation Rob Prinz built in the concert division has left ICM in a formidable position from which to navigate the exciting new world of live music, which is about to open up globally.

“I am looking forward to working alongside Mark Siegel and Rob Gibbs in their new roles and our incredible team of agents, who will lead ICM to the forefront of the live music business.”


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New signings and rising stars (May-June 2019)

Belako (ES)

Agent: Matt Bates, Primary Talent

Hailing from Mungia in the Basque Country, Belako (Josu Ximun Billelabeitia, Lore Nekane Billelabeitia, Lander Zalakain and Cristina Lizarraga) have been playing non-stop throughout Europe for the last two years, including at some of Spain’s biggest festivals.

They won Radio3 and Gaztea awards in 2012; Best New Band awards from Rolling Stone and MIN in 2015; RNE’s Best Modern Music Band gong in 2016; the Best Live Award at both MIN and the Iberian Music Awards in 2017; and last year saw them add MIN’s Best Band, Best Live and Best Video (for ‘Render Me Numb’) to their growing list of accolades.

Belako are high intensity with hypnotic melodies, great riffs, amazing bass rhythms and powerful drums. Every live show goes from the darkness to the light, from the 80s through to the 21st century, from sweet vocals to screams.

With three albums now under their belts, Belako have been honing their stage presence by playing 100+ gigs per year, and with dates across Europe, the USA, Mexico, Russia, Japan, Korea and the Philippines, they have been steadily growing their international fan base, too.


Belako, George Gretton: new signings and rising stars
George Gretton (UK)

Agent: Sol Parker, Coda Agency

Art-pop and alternative R&B are just two of the genres that can be applied to George Gretton’s debut Tread Water. Growing up in Nottingham and now London-based, the multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer is sculpting a forward-thinking and trendless sound that’s distinctly his, via atypical arrangements, experimental processing and fitful drum samples.

Tread Water was written at a time when I didn’t really have a musical identity or lyrics to draw inspiration from. I had just started to teach myself basic production and I had become fascinated with vocal manipulation and using a contrast between organic and artificial sounds to tell different sides of the same situation,” says Gretton.

“I suddenly found that writing with obscure instrumentation gave me a lot of creative freedom, and the lyrics and arrangement came together pretty quickly after that.”

Out of that desire for musical identity, Gretton’s creative freedom flourished, and he is now making music akin to such iconic artists as Ben Khan, James Blake and with echoes of Bon Iver. The genius in the self- produced Tread Water is in its understated simplicity; organic sounds perfectly collide with electronic, pulling focus to the innovative and stellar songwriting.


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Matt Bates: from Shrewsbury to ’shambles

Many of us, when young, dreamt idly of running away with a band or the circus. When Babyshambles kick-started his career as an agent, Matt Bates did both.

Growing up in Shrewsbury in a house where Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac and Status Quo were on heavy rotation, Bates was initially into Michael Jackson, New Kids On The Block and Ace of Base. The release of Blur’s Parklife in 1994 was to prove the catalyst for music taking over his life.

Blur’s show at Birmingham NEC on The Great Escape tour in November 1995 was Bates’ first concert, getting the coach from Shrewsbury. “I had never been to a gig before and that made me want to go to gigs every night,” he says. “Now I would do anything to not go to gigs every night of the week!”

It was a Britpop baptism of fire and his first three shows were reasonably close together, and combined made up what he terms “the holy trinity” – Blur, Pulp and Oasis. “There was no hiding what I was going to be into. I feel I was quite lucky growing up during Britpop.”

When he was 16 and at college, he began to address the musical drought in Shrewsbury – a place very few bands played – by lying about his age to hire out local venues to put on indie nights, and DJ-ing there, too. The agent instinct was already there – even if he wasn’t exactly sure what an agent was. He would use a nearby pay-phone, as he was too nervous to use the phone at home in front of his mother, to try and get bands to come to his town.

“I would phone around agencies and ask, ‘How much does it cost to book Oasis?’” he laughs, remembering his first steps in the business. “I was completely naive! But looking back it was a great rounding. I didn’t know what an agent really was then. But I knew I wanted to do something with live music.”

“Overnight I had become the agent for Babyshambles from my bedroom in Stoke-on-Trent … I suddenly realised I was an agent!”

He was a self-starter and, like a twist on the line in Field of Dreams, he was sure that if he built it, they would come. By 18, he was studying journalism and English – believing writing was his way into the music business – at Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent, and also putting on nights there. “The first proper gig that I put on that made money was when I was 18 or 19,” he says. “I booked a tribute band called The Complete Stone Roses. They brought with them the real life Mani [from The Stone Roses] as a DJ, and I met him. I was a geeky little kid and just spoke to him. I had never really met anyone properly famous at that point. He took me under his wing.”

Mani returned to DJ at his club nights and from that came introductions to Clint Boon from Inspiral Carpets (“the world’s nicest man”) who in turn introduced Bates to Shaun Ryder and Bez from Happy Mondays, Mark Morriss from The Bluetones, Rick Witter from Shed Seven, and Tim Burgess from The Charlatans, all of whom he got to play records at his club. “These were all my heroes and I started DJing with them,” he says.

As he was approaching the end of his studies in Stoke, he and a friend were offered the chance to buy into a business in the city, as the adult club that was in the building was moving to a new location. “It was a lap-dancing club with the wonderful name of ST1, which was the area postcode, but it looked like STI on the sign,” he laughs.

Using his student loan, he turned the venue into The Underground and enjoyed the independence of owning and running his own club. He also put on touring bands and hired venues back in Shrewsbury so he could book bands into both, eventually expanding into nearby Wrexham and Birmingham.

The loss-making gigs often outnumbered the profitable ones (“because promoting is gambling”) but he loved the hustle. “Hats off to all the independent promoters out there because it is a lifestyle,” he says. “You didn’t know if next week you were going to eat or not. Sometimes I would live on bread and jam for a week because I just didn’t have any other way of feeding myself.”

Acts he put on in the 300-cap. venue included Arthur Lee & Love, The Cooper Temple Clause, John Cale, The Misfits, Keane, and Razorlight. Then fate came rambunctiously knocking.

“It was so exciting. People with broken arms and broken legs; people getting arrested. This is what I always thought music was about!”

A complete ’shambles
Pete Doherty had left The Libertines and formed Babyshambles. Via a friend of a friend, Bates managed to book them to play The Underground. The night they played, however, Carl Barât showed up and the gig became a mini Libertines reunion. Chaos ensued.

“So many people were excited that this was actually happening and tried to get in that the club got absolutely trashed,” he says, his eyes widening at the memory. “The ceiling collapsed. A wall collapsed. All the lights came off the wall. Everything was destroyed. They ended up doing a gig on their tour bus outside the venue. The police were called and they had to cordon off all the roads […] It was so exciting. People with broken arms and broken legs; people getting arrested. This is what I always thought music was about!”

Babyshambles returned the next week to play their own gig at the venue and Bates was asked to book them more shows. “Overnight I had become the agent for Babyshambles from my bedroom in Stoke-on-Trent,” he says. “Within about a month I had booked Babyshambles on Glastonbury. I suddenly realised I was an agent!”

He went on the road with the band, tuning guitars, running the guest list, getting Pete out of bed, and doing the accounts on the road.

“Babyshambles were one of the most notorious bands in the country at that point and I was this little kid in the eye of the hurricane,” he recalls. “I didn’t have a computer. I didn’t even have a business bank account. Deposits for the shows at Glastonbury or the Brixton Academy were going into my personal student bank account. I look back now in wonder at how the hell these people took me seriously […] It was carnage as you can imagine. It was the worst and the best time of my life in equal measure.”

He moved to London to work with the band and Pete Doherty remains one of his acts to this day. “My whole career was built around being given an opportunity I should never have been given,” he says. “I had no right to be their agent.”


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New signings & rising stars (Jan–Feb 2019)

Æ Mak (Ie)

Agent: Matt Bates and Will Marshall, Primary Talent

In the beginning, Aoife McCann (Æ Mak) created a vision of an otherworldly landscape she could escape to and perform. With producer Daniel McIntyre she has created the soundtrack to that vision.

This year saw the independent release of three single projects of experimental art pop, ‘Glow’, ‘Love Flush’ and ‘Too Sad to Sing’, which have received support from the likes of BBC Radio 6, Radio X, Earmilk and the Line of Best Fit.

The all-consuming energy of Æ Mak’s performances enrapture the audience. Her primitive vocal rhythms and infectious melodies sail a dark sea of electronica. As a visual artist, the stage show allows her artistic vision to come to life in real-time, drawing elements from her self-directed music videos.



Pottery (Ca/UK)

Agent: Sarah Besnard, ATC Live

Hailing from across Canada and the UK, Montreal’s Pottery consists of core writers Austin Boylan and Jacob Shepansky along with Peter Baylis, Paul Jacobs and Tom Gould.

Initially bonding over artists such as Orange Juice, Josef K and Devo, the band creates a sound that combines eclectic traces of post-punk, pop and dance music, forming an unusual atmosphere that envelops audiences.

While often shrill and jarring, Pottery’s songs simultaneously put listeners into a hypnotic state. It’s this dualism that binds the tracks together, finding harmony within discord.


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