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Neil Warnock: “It’s time to get entrepreneurial”

UTA’s global head of touring, Neil Warnock, has predicted that the demand for live entertainment when the threat of Covid-19 starts to subside “will be like opening a floodgate”, but says the industry needs to be entrepreneurial about how concerts can return.

“People will definitely want to be entertained, they will want to go and see some music and I think [live entertainment] is going to have a boom time,” Warnock told ILMC head Greg Parmley during his Eurosonic Noorderslag keynote ‘What is the Future of Live?’.

“But if we can’t go and see music the way that we hope to see it, maybe we can provide it in a different way? Let’s be entrepreneurial and think about how we can actually bring everybody together. We’ve got an audience and we’ve got artists so how we are going to actually make it work in a safe environment, in a way that maybe we weren’t looking at before?” he said.

However, the UTA chief is optimistic that the pandemic – and the subsequent shakeup in the agency landscape – has given the industry the fresh sense of entrepreneurship that is needed.

“We’re seeing seeing some very interesting developments, as we always do in these circumstances, where agents have left the major agencies to set up their own shop and, to me, that’s very exciting because I think [those agents] are the new entrepreneurs of the future,” he said.

“I think what’s going to come out of this is very refreshing because it’s shaken up the industry. It’s all made us think of what we’re going to do and I think in the next couple of years we’re going to see some exciting stuff happening. I think the strong will get stronger, the entrepreneurs will make money, and the people we lose, we should probably have lost anyway.”

“Nationally, we should be looking at our own artists that don’t have to leave the country and how best we utilise their time”

Warnock said that one way agents could be enterprising in the current climate is to come up with innovative ways to utilise and develop their domestic roster, until international touring can properly resume.

“Nationally, we should be looking at our own artists that don’t have to leave the country and how best we utilise their time and how best we put bills and events together within the UK. And so we’re providing entertainment with local talent as much as we can and developing or redeveloping some of the talent that maybe hasn’t been out to a number of cities or towns in many years.

“For example, if you have an artist that has done 10 arenas, there’s nothing stopping them doing 50 theatres. Also, there’s a lot of smaller open-air events that one could look at and say ‘how can we successfully promote that?’. I think it’s just about entrepreneurship and thinking on the ground about how best we’re going to do this.”

While Warnock says the return of European touring will rely on both the safety and economic viability of shows, he’s hopeful about organising tours in Australasia in the not-too-distant future, where many countries have got the virus under control and are embracing a return to live.

“I can see artists flying independently and doing a Japanese tour, once they’ve got the situation under control, and maybe playing Singapore and Hong Kong if they are safe. Same, if Australia and New Zealand begin to open up, but they can be toured seperately or South America,” he said.

“Nationally, we should be looking at our own artists that don’t have to leave the country and how best we utilise their time”

As for Brexit, Warnock believes that the UK will find a practical solution for touring because it has to, but until then “we become third country status”.

“If you look at that as a definition of where the UK is in the world, that then gives you an idea of what can happen in terms of work permits, and how we actually work with our partner countries across across Europe. So we’ll be treated in the same way as the US, or Australia or Canada going into Europe.”

During the keynote, Warnock also addressed the snowballing popularity of livestreaming and says he believes it’s going to be a component of the live experience going forward.

“I don’t see it going away. Some are saying if you’ve got an artist that can generally sell 15,000–20,000 tickets in London, why not put them in the Albert Hall and sell 5,000 concert tickets and 15,000 livestream tickets,” he said.

“My view is, fine, I would much rather keep the live component going and play to all of those 20,000 people but I think this is going to depend on the artist and what they want to do with their time and their lives.

“Not every streaming show has been an unbelievable success, the big ones where there’s been good investment have proved to do well. But even then, it’s not guaranteed that a streaming show is going to do which is the same with live.”

Eurosonic Noorderslag concludes today.

 


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Neil Warnock talks 150 years of Royal Albert Hall, 2021

Neil Warnock MBE, global head of touring for United Talent Agency, has said he’s cautiously optimistic about the potential for the impending Covid-19 vaccine to get the industry moving again after a “disastrous” 2020.

Speaking after today’s virtual Royal Albert Hall 150th anniversary press conference, Warnock – who is chairman of the London venue’s 150th anniversary committee – described the impact the pandemic has had on both artists and fans.

“This year has been an absolute disaster for the whole world and affected every strata of everybody’s lives,” he said. “The music element – of not being at a show and fans not being able to interact with performers – has, especially, been so harmful to everyone’s health. Music is such a key component in so many people’s lives.

“I’ve talked to artists who have been going up the wall, some of whom normally play 150 shows a year. It’s been such a loss for them, and so hard on everyone.”

Warnock said while some musicians have been able to take advantage of live music’s year off, it depends on the artist and their attitude towards touring. “Some of them have looked at it and said, ‘I should be working on music, I should be writing a book,’ or whatever it is they’re working on, and used [2020] extremely well, artistically,” he continued. “Whereas other artists have said, ‘No – just want to get out there and perform.’”

The Royal Albert Hall today unveiled the programme for its 150th anniversary celebrations, which kick off on 29 March 2021 – exactly 150 years to the day of its opening – and extend into 2022.

The arena’s chief executive, Craig Hassall, announced the plans, which include concerts, festivals, dance shows and more, at a virtual press conference streamed live from the 5,200-capacity venue this morning (3 December).

“Being involved in the 150th anniversary is such a fantastic honour”

“Despite the devastating impact of the pandemic, which has closed our treasured building to the public for the first time since the Second World War, we are determined to host a full celebration of our 150th anniversary,” he told journalists.

“Since its opening, this extraordinary venue has borne witness to, and played a central part in, seismic cultural and social change. The interests, manners and social mores of the people may have changed, but this beautiful building and what it represents remains the same a century and a half later: a meeting place, a reflection of contemporary Britain, and a home for exhilarating live performance and events of international significance.

“I want to thank the whole creative industry, our dedicated staff and all of the artists involved for their support in announcing this programme today.”

The hall was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, and named in memory of her late husband, Prince Albert. Closed since March, it will reopen to fans for a programme of carol concerts over the Christmas period, with capacity limited to 1,000.

Among the highlights of the venue’s 150th anniversary programme are headline shows by the likes of Patti Smith, Jon Hopkins, Gregory Porter, Tinie (Tempah), Brian Wilson, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel and Alfie Boe, while alt-folk act This is the Kit will perform in an ongoing concert series, Albert Sessions, and run a workshop for local teenagers.

Elsewhere, singer-songwriter KT Tunstall will lead a new mentorship programme for young female artists, and Nile Rodgers will compose a “pop anthem” for the anniversary, using a full orchestra and singers from across the community.

Non-pop/rock programming includes a special concert on 29 March 2021, which will see the debut of a specially commissioned multimedia piece, A Circle of Sound, composed by David Arnold; a new piece for the hall’s famous Henry Willis organ by Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino (Up, Rogue One); and a new staging of Matthew Bourne’s dance production, The Car Man.

“We are determined to host a full celebration of our 150th”

According to Warnock, there will be further live music events announced in the run-up the anniversary when there is more clarity on the regulations around Covid-19.

During the press conference, Warnock relayed a memorable anecdote about the Who’s Roger Daltrey being pelted with coins by angry teddy boys in 1969, and spoke of his love for the Royal Albert Hall, whose “magic” he says is unmatched by another venue anywhere in the world, and said he “can’t wait” to be in a position to be announcing more acts.

“Being involved in the 150th anniversary is such a fantastic honour, as I’ve been involved with the hall for 50 years,” he told IQ afterwards. “We’re going to have acts from right the way across the spectrum, from every part of the world and for every age range. It’s definitely going to tick every box.”

Lucy Noble, the Albert Hall’s artistic and commercial director, confirmed that while some plans have been postponed or deferred as a result of the pandemic, there are some “very exciting events to be announced in due course.”

With a vaccine against Covid-19 now approved in the UK, and the hope that other countries will soon follow suit, Warnock added that he’s cautiously optimistic about the resumption of touring next year, with something approaching a return to normal by the summer.

“We’ve got this pinpoint of light in the [form of the] vaccine, so hopefully that can be shared with as many people as soon as possible,” he commented, “which will then give us the health ‘passport’ we need so that artists can properly react with audiences, and fans can react with those artists, again. That’s all we can hope for.”

For the 150th anniversary programme as it stands so far, visit the Royal Albert Hall website.

 


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UTA hires new agent Sophie Roberts

Talent agency UTA has hired Sophie Roberts, formerly of 13 Artists, as an agent in its London-based UK office.

Other recent hires for UTA’s London office include music agents Sam Gill (Nubya Garcia, Akala, GZA, KRS-One, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80) and Beth Morton (Billy Bob Thornton and The Boxmasters, JD McPherson, Ren Harvieu, Southern Avenue), as well as Cleo Thompson, who left Burberry to expand UTA’s brand partnerships team.

At UTA, Roberts will report to head of global touring, Neil Warnock MBE.

“I’m thrilled to have Sophie join our ever-evolving team here at UTA”

Roberts joins the agency from 13 Artists in Brighton where she progressed from assistant to booker and later to agent. During this time, Roberts worked on tours for clients such as Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, Blossoms, These New Puritans, Interpol and Gaz Coombes.

She also developed a diverse roster of clients including the Amazons, Juniore, Bailen, Teeks, WOOZE and Pip Blom.

Prior to 13 Artists, Roberts served as programming and production manager at Green Door Store in Brighton, where she also ran an in-house promotions brand.

“I’m thrilled to have Sophie join our ever-evolving team here at UTA,” comments Warnock. “She is a consummate agent, not only working on global clients but equally at home developing new talent from the ground up.”

 


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Decade’s End: Neil Warnock on the challenges ahead

As we enter the new decade, IQ caught up with leaders from the global live music business to reflect upon the development of the industry over the past ten years, as well as looking forward to what we can expect in the 2020s.

In the near future we’ll share the insights of execs including CAA’s Emma Banks, Frontier Touring’s Michael Gudinski, Oak View Group’s Tim Leiweke, AEG’s Jay Marciano and more. In the hot seat, first, though, is Neil Warnock MBE, global head of touring for United Talent Agency, who talks global touring’s ups and downs, the importance of fan experience and his personal decade highlights…

 


IQ: The role that agents play in artists’ careers has undoubtedly changed over the last ten years. Considering the advent of global touring, and the various new income streams available to artists, how do you see this role evolving?

NW: Global touring is not a new phenomenon. It has been in place one way or another since before Michael Cohl became the promoter of the Rolling Stones. Elvis Presley, although he did not come to Europe, signed a global touring deal.

Global touring has its advantages and disadvantages. I always want my artists to play to their strengths for the promoters they are working with. In confirming global deals, it’s essential that the strength of each promoter in each market is evaluated, not only financially which can be an issue, but also ensuring that venues and marketing are strategically considered so that an artist can be taken forward in their aspirations.

Streaming has become a more sophisticated marketing tool along with all other social elements available to each artist, but essentially these should be viewed as extra add-ons available to artists, and not the be-all and end-all of making touring decisions. Our UTA IQ department is extremely useful when it comes to evaluating the data available to our artists.

In confirming global deals, it’s essential that the strength of each promoter in each market is evaluated

Consolidation has been a constant theme of this decade. Looking ahead, how do you see the balance between the industry’s key corporations and the remaining independent players?

Consolidation in the industry is interesting. When we see labels, agencies, managers consolidate, it also throws up a number of independents. My view is that it’s great to have both.

Consolidated companies give managers what they want but some managers like to have an independent view over the lives and professional status of an artist.

What more could the constituent parts of the music industry be doing to deliver a better proposition to both artists and fans?

The constituent parts of the music business being live, recording, publishing, merchandise, branding – all these elements should be fused together by good management and we should all work together so that our artists are getting the best service from each area. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.

Topics such as inclusion, diversity and mental health are commonly discussed these days. How is the live business shaping up compared to other sectors?

The fact that these topics are out in the open and are being discussed is fantastic and we are now seeing that the industry is working hard to continue to drive awareness to these areas.

Consolidated companies give managers what they want, but some managers like to have an independent view

UTA is a company that believes that diversity and inclusion are fundamental to our success as a business. This year we launched our employee-led, company-funded Employee Inclusion Groups (UTA Proud, Unity, Wellness and Women’s Interest). Two of our last three board appointments, Blair Kohan and Tracey Jacobs, have been women, and we are the first major talent agency ever to name a woman, Lyndsay Harding, as our CFO.

Looking ahead, what do you perceive will be the biggest challenges for the live music sector in the 2020s?

In my opinion, the touring outlook for artists is looking good. The challenges are to ensure artists give value for money to customers, and to ensure that the fan experience is outstanding so that a customer will want to come back and see that artist for another show.

What are your own personal highlights from the last decade?

I have many highlights from over the years, but from the last decade I would have to say the highlight that jumps immediately to mind is Dolly Parton live at Glastonbury in 2014.

Additionally, the tremendous steps that Nordoff Robbins have made as a charity and on a personal note, being awarded an MBE was tremendous for myself and my family.

 


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Helping others through music

I am frequently asked: Why Nordoff Robbins? What is Nordoff Robbins?

Back in the mid-70s Clive Robbins and Paul Nordoff had run out of funding for their early music therapy work. Somehow, they ended up in London and were introduced to Andrew Miller, a successful concert promoter, and William Robertson, of Robertson-Taylor, which became the biggest insurance broker operating in the music industry. At that time, I was doing business with Andrew and it was he who originally said to me, “we should do a couple of fundraisers for these guys.”

Back then, the main recipient of charity donations was the WWF or PDSA, neither of which struck a chord with us Young Turks for various reasons. Nordoff Robbins linked together music with therapy, and in those early chaotic days, everything was begged, borrowed and stolen to generate early momentum for the organisation. 1976 saw the first Silver Clef lunch at the Inn on the Park in Park Lane (now called the Four Seasons Park Lane) in London, with the Who as the first recipients of the Silver Clef. I haven’t missed a lunch since 1976!

Dave Dee persuaded me to join in a more formal way over a long lunch that went into dinner – which we later turned into a frequent meeting, often joined by Willie Robertson. Those were crazy days.

In 1982 the very first Nordoff Robbins Centre opened in north London, housing a music therapy service and training facility under Sybil Beresford-Peirse. Then, in 1990, we put on a show at Knebworth with performances from Paul McCartney, Genesis, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, which raised £6 million – shared between Nordoff Robbins and the Brit Trust.

Over £3m of that built our centre in Kentish Town in north London, which has now been totally refurbished and is a splendid building servicing our clients with working rooms for therapists, libraries and offices for all our support staff and leadership teams.

Since those early days, I’ve witnessed first-hand how Nordoff Robbins’ music therapy creates change, using music to create meaningful connections with young people who are struggling with personal difficulties, right the way through to the elderly, such as those suffering from dementia. We have therapists all over the UK in specialist schools, hospitals and old people’s homes, as well as a brand-new centre in Newcastle and the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Nordoff Robbins therapy unit attached to the Brit School in Croydon, just outside London.

Everyone leaves their ego, dramas and difficulties outside the door to support this amazing charity

Recently, we amalgamated with our colleagues in Scotland to enhance our offering throughout the UK. We even have Nordoff Robbins therapists at the Royal Albert Hall, thanks to their generosity in providing us with rooms to use at the venue.

I am always so proud when I go to the graduation ceremonies. At the latest, there were thirteen graduates who had attained their master’s in Nordoff Robbins accreditations at City University, and we now have PhD graduates, which makes us extremely proud. Currently, we are financially in a position to employ the vast majority of graduates and send them out to work across the country.

Our Get Loud campaign (which enables fans to see their favourite artists close up at some of the most iconic and intimate venues) is designed to raise awareness throughout the UK of the work Nordoff Robbins does. Nordoff Robbins might be a clunky name, but we are the leaders in music therapy and our ultimate aim is that Get Loud will become our own version of Red Nose Day.

We are fortunate that the whole of the UK music business is involved with Nordoff Robbins – including so many people at the top of their game, from the major agencies, management companies, record labels, publicists, publishers and artists – along with sports personalities and executives in the fields of football, rugby, boxing, golf and horse racing. Everyone leaves their ego, dramas and difficulties outside the door to support this amazing charity.

There is such a need for Nordoff Robbins that, in a strange way, it feels as if the work is just starting. The next generation of fundraisers are in the wings to take over. I just feel so blessed that I can play a part in enhancing the positive change and the incredible work that every one of our therapists brings to the community at large.

 


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Neil Warnock appointed MBE in new year’s honours

Neil Warnock, global head of touring for United Talent Agency (UTA), has been appointed a member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

Warnock (pictured), who founded the Agency Group (TAG) in 1981 and sold to UTA in 2015, was recognised in the 2019 New Year honours for services to music and charity. The MBE presentation will take place in spring this year.

Over a five-decade career, Warnock has worked with legendary acts including Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Simon and Garfunkel and Michael Jackson, and currently represents the likes of Mariah Carey, Deep Purple, David Gilmour and Dolly Parton.

He has also been involved with music charity Nordoff Robbins for 43 years, sitting on its board and currently serving as chairman of fundraising, where he plays a key role in organising the annual Silver Clef awards, which have raised more than £20 million for the charity.

Julie Whelan, CEO of Nordoff Robbins, comments: “Neil has worked tirelessly for Nordoff Robbins as he believes so passionately in the power of our music therapy to help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. This recognition is hugely deserved for him and we of course are just so grateful for his energy, determination and commitment to our work which has made a massive difference across the UK.”

“I’m absolutely honoured and humbled to receive this prestigious accolade”

“I’m absolutely honoured and humbled to receive this prestigious accolade,” adds Warnock. “The work that Nordoff Robbins does is so important and the changes that they have made to vulnerable and isolated people’s lives are immeasurable.

“I would like to recognise all the therapists and people working at the charity who work so hard to make a difference to those lives every single day.”

Other music industry figures recognised in the New Year honours include Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, classical violinist Nicola Benedetti and Ivor Novello-winning composer Nitin Sawhney, who are each appointed commanders of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), while Victims of Viagogo founder Claire Turnham has been made an MBE for services to consumer rights.

According to the Sun, American singer Ariana Grande turned down an honorary damehood for her work on the One Love Manchester charity concert, organised by SJM Concerts and Live Nation/Festival Republic after the Manchester Arena bombing.

 


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New signings & rising stars (Nov–Dec 2018)

Emmanuel Jal and Nyaruach (SS)

Agent: Serena Parsons, Primary Talent

Siblings Emmanuel and Nyaruach draw strongly on the unique sounds of their native kingdom of Kush in South Sudan, interweaving traditional folklore and love songs alongside infectious dance tunes.

Their music is often at odds with the image of war and poverty that has blighted South Sudan, instead focusing on its resilience and rich culture.

The duo’s background is challenging, to put it mildly: Emmanuel Jal was a child soldier in the early ’80s and has come through huge personal struggles to become an acclaimed recording artist and peace ambassador, now living in Toronto. Nyaruach was separated from the rest of her immediate family at the age of four and has witnessed family members killed and raped by government officials. Although reunited with Jal in Nairobi, in 2004, Nyaruach is forced to live in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, where her future is uncertain.

Emmanuel Jal and Nyaruach have performed together in Kenya for Oxfam, and in South Sudan’s first peace concert, and despite immense obstacles have now completed their first album.

 


Badflower

Badflower (US)

Agent: Neil Warnock, UTA

Badflower have quietly become one of LA’s most buzzed-about rock bands. Since their emergence in 2014, they have shared stages with the likes of Kongos and the Veronicas, earned acclaim from OC Weekly and Loudwire and achieved a two-week run at No1 on the KROQ Locals Only show with single ‘Heroin’.

Wielding their signature energy, the music taps into a gritty, grungy gutter-rock spirit complemented by jarring theatrical delivery and unshakable riffing.

Following the release of their Temper EP, Badflower became the first signing on the new Big Machine/John Varvatos Records joint venture. The crushing realness of their latest track, ‘Ghost’, brought the band to the attention of iHeartRadio, which highlighted them as one of their On the Verge Artists, and it later topped the Active Rock Radio charts.

 


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