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Electric Group details £1.5m refurb of former O2 Academy Newcastle

Independent music venue owner Electric Group has unveiled plans for the £1.5 million redevelopment of its newest acquisition NX, the former O2 Academy Newcastle.

Opening in October 2022, NX will be a “state-of-the-art 21st-century independent music venue”, to open in March 2022.

The company’s venue portfolio also includes Electric Brixton and SWX Bristol.

“After many years in the planning, I’m delighted to announce our exciting vision for the refurbishment of the O2 Academy Newcastle, which of course has a seminal history and we have the important task of curating the next stage of the venue’s development,” says Electric Group CEO Dominic Madden.

“NX will be a state-of-the-art 21st-century independent music venue. Our vision is to undertake a comprehensive refurbishment of the venue, with a focus on making the main room a more intimate gig experience, both for the music fan and the artist.

“Our vision is to undertake a comprehensive refurbishment, with a focus on making the main room a more intimate gig experience”

“Our plans include the creation of new standing mezzanine staircases on either side of the main room, and with access to an intimate standing platform within the existing balcony and with bars and access to a contained roof terrace for music fans to use.

“This redesign will improve sightlines for music fans and bring them closer to the stage. This 21st-century vision also fully respects the grandeur and history of the existing venue whilst putting the artist and fan experience front and centre of our plans.”

The live diary for NX is already open and is being overseen by Electric Group head of music Mike Weller.

“We operate with an independent mindset, shaping an easy and collaborative culture for promoters to embrace NX with as few financial strings attached as possible,” adds Madden.

“We will be investing substantially to make the venue production complete and we are focused on providing a perfect platform for shows so we can help promoters smash ticket sales.”

 


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UK promoter Magnitude Live launches

Newcastle, UK-based event production company Ingenious Events Group has launched Magnitude Live, a new national promoter headed up by Kieran Stewart, formerly of SSD Concerts.

At SSD – responsible for last summer’s socially distanced Unity Arena – Stewart worked across the company’s portfolio of events and venues, including festivals This is Tomorrow (15,000-cap.) and Hit the North (5,000-cap.) and venues Riverside and Think Tank (350-cap.).

Operating out of Ingenious Events’ Newcastle office, Magnitude Live will focus on “bringing a new wave of artists to the forefront of UK music, offering opportunities to independent artists and delivering a diverse programme of live music entertainment across the country”, according to Ingenious.

“This is a fresh start and the possibilities are endless”

“I’m excited for this new opportunity and taking the reins driving forward this new division, which I believe will be an excellent addition to both the north-east and national music scenes,” says Stewart. “This is a fresh start and the possibilities are endless. We’re looking forward to getting back into venues with some amazing talent as we begin to return to live.”

Ingenious Events Group director Daniel Burnett adds: “This is an extremely exciting move for the company, and with Kieran’s invaluable expertise within the industry I really feel we have the key to bringing a plethora of fantastic live events nationwide. After over a year of isolation we are ready to hit the ground running, bringing gig-goers and fans up and down the country exactly what they have been waiting for.”

Upcoming Magnitude Live shows include Sigma, James Hype, Karen Harding, Shane Codd and Harlee. The company has also struck an exclusive ticketing deal with See Tickets.

 


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SSD Concerts boss quits following allegations

Steve Davis, the managing director of Newcastle-based promoter SSD Concerts, has resigned with immediate effect following allegations of inappropriate behaviour at the company.

The company runs four music festivals – This Is Tomorrow, Hit the North, Bingley Weekender and Corbridge festival – and five venues in Newcastle and Tynemouth. In July 2020, the company launched the UK’s first dedicated socially distanced music venue, the Virgin Money Unity Arena in Newcastle.

The allegations about SSD Concerts were posted on workplace review website Glassdoor last week and subsequently shared on the company’s Instagram account, when it was reportedly hacked.

According to a statement posted on SSD Concerts’ instagram yesterday (5 March), Davis will take no further part in the running of the company. He said: “It would appear some people have been upset or made to feel uncomfortable while working at SSD and for that I’m truly sorry.”

The news was also confirmed to NME by Davis’s representative.

According to the statement, an outside organisation will be conducting an independent investigation into recent claims and will act as a point of contact for complaints.

 

 

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Anyone who would like to raise a complaint directly to SSD Concerts’ head of HR can email HR@ssdconcerts.co.uk.

 


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New lockdown forces early Unity Arena closure

The final shows at the UK’s socially distanced Unity Arena will no longer be able ahead after the government announced new lockdown restrictions in north-east England.

Promoter SSD Concerts confirmed today (17 September) that shows by Jack Savoretti (Friday 18 September), Kaiser Chiefs (Saturday 19 September) and Declan McKenna (Sunday 20 September), as well as 19 September’s Bongo’s Bingo event, have been called off. Tonight’s Chase & Status show will go ahead as planned.

Since opening its doors in August, Unity Arena has hosted the UK’s only major live shows since March, welcoming more than 50,000 fans in total and employing over 200 staff and crew.

Jim McGee of Engine No.4, the production company behind the venue, told IQ last month that he’s proud to have been involved in its creation, noting that the open-air venue – which separates fans with a 2m gap between viewing areas – could be used as a model while social distancing is necessary. “A lot of hoops have had to be jumped through to make this work, and it isn’t particularly economically sustainable, but what we’ve managed to create could be used as a model going forwards,” he explained.

The perfect storm: Inside the UK’s only live shows

Since launching, Unity Arena has welcomed performers including Van Morrison, Sam Fender, the Libertines, Supergrass, Ronan Keating and comedian Jimmy Carr.

Commenting on the early closure of the venue, SSD’s Steve Davis says: “It is extremely disappointing to have to cancel these final shows at the end of what has been an incredible six week run of successfully socially distanced concerts. We’re honoured to have been able to provide a little happiness and joy to thousands of music and comedy fans throughout the region and the UK, in what has been such a tough 2020 for everyone.

“We have complied with all government guidance to ensure the safety and enjoyment of our audience, artists and crew throughout. We’d like to thank all who attended these genuinely heartwarming and uplifting events. For the last six weeks, Newcastle has been the leading light for the live music industry and for that, we should all be very proud.

We’d like to thank all who attended these genuinely heartwarming and uplifting events

“Unfortunately, due to the rise in infections in the north east, we must comply with the council’s and the government’s latest advice. This should not take away from the fact that the people of the north east and from all over the world have embraced this pioneering run of shows.

“On behalf of everyone involved – our sponsor, Virgin Money; Newcastle City Council; the dedicated crew and staff who have worked so hard to make this a success – again I thank you so much. Sadly, the new lockdown measures will bring an end to our run, but the safety and the wellbeing of the people of the north east is our prime and utmost concern.”

As of this evening, the north-east of England – Newcastle upon Tyne, Sunderland, Gateshead, Northumberland, South Tyneside and County Durham – is subject to new restrictions, including a 10pm curfew, to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

 


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The perfect storm: Inside the UK’s only live shows

Selling over 72,000 tickets for a concert series that began when live shows in the UK were – strictly speaking – not allowed, is no small undertaking. But then neither is building a new outdoor arena for shows at a time when strict social distancing rules are in place.

All the things that could have gone wrong would’ve gone wrong on the opening weekend but they didn’t,” says Jim Gee, a director at Manchester-based production company, Engine No.4.

Gee and his team have spent the last few months working tirelessly on the launch of the UK’s only major summer concert series of 2020 at the country’s first socially distanced arena in Newcastle. And it’s a remarkable story in a time of lockdowns, postponements and cancellation.

The Virgin Money Unity Arena is set to host 29 events in 26 days, featuring artists including Supergrass, The Libertines and Maximo Park.

Sam Fender opened the series on 11 August with a sold-out show, which Gee deems were an enormous success despite the high stakes. We went from never having done this kind of event before, straight to a full-capacity for the first show but it opened with a bang,” he says.

“We went from never having done this kind of event before, straight to a full-capacity for the first show”

The 2,500-capacity shows are the vision of SSD Concerts boss Steve Davis, with whom Engine No.4 worked on Newcastle-based festival This Is Tomorrow.

Having one pandemic project under their belt already – the UK’s first socially distanced dining concept, Platform 15, at Escape to Freight Island at Depot Mayfield, Manchester – Engine No.4 was the ideal choice for Davis and SSD, and the team set to work on finding the perfect site for the concert series they’d dreamt up.

We looked at various places around Newcastle and the Racecourse ticked all the boxes. We needed a big car park capacity, a big arena capacity and a big capacity in between those sites for walking and socially distanced queueing,” explains Gee.

The site features 500 viewing platforms each accommodating up to five people. Attendees were given 20-minute slots in which to arrive, though Gee says that was the only aspect that didn’t quite go to plan on the first night.

Avoiding queues was one of the key factors in the event running smoothly, along with space and sanitation

“The thing that slightly caught us off guard was how quickly people arrived. They were raring to get in ahead of their segmented times so we ended up having slightly longer queues getting into the event than anticipated, but we tweaked that after the first night,” he says.

Avoiding queues was one of the key factors in the event running smoothly, along with space and sanitation, says Gee. And the rest is “purely common sense and over-speccing things”.

“Over-speccing things” meant equipping the arena with 150 hand sanitizer stations; eight food operators; more bar frontage; and approximately four times more toilets than an event of that size would usually require.

But of course, over-estimating facilities is just one of the factors driving up costs for an event like this. “Holding an event for 2,500 with facilities that could normally take 35-40,000 people clearly isn’t a brilliant financial model,” he laughs.

Gee notes that for events like these, commercial support from sponsors like Virgin Money is crucial. He also says that although the financial model of socially-distanced events like this one isn’t sustainable, it is a step closer towards a viable model.

“There was a lot of stakeholders working together in the perfect storm”

“I think you can mitigate those costs in some way with the length of the run,” he says. “What we’ve done here is a bit like the venue model. If you can create a temporary venue and put enough shows into that venue then at some point you might start to break even and maybe make a bit of money but to try and do this for a weekend or a festival or a week doesn’t make sense,” he adds.

The desired time frame was another crucial consideration when choosing the site, says Gee, but the Racecourse was able to provide the licences and planning permission required for the event.

However, the success of the event wasn’t just down to right place, right time. “There was a lot of stakeholders working together in the perfect storm,” says Gee, crediting the enthusiasm of Newcastle City Council, the emergency services, Virgin Money and the artists who have to “buy into the concept”.

According to Gee, the series has been such a success so far, Newcastle City Council has been approached by a number of other local authorities asking for pointers. On top of that, the Department for Culture, Media and Sports and Public Health England has accepted an invitation to view the systems in place.

“A lot of hoops have had to be jumped through to make this work and it isn’t particularly economically sustainable but what we’ve managed to create could be used as a model going forwards,” says Gee.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Socially distanced Unity Arena announces opening line-up

UK promoter SSD Concerts has announced the opening line-up for its new Unity Arena near Newcastle.

The 2,500-capacity venue – the first of its kind – ensures social distancing with a “parking-to-platform” system that sees concertgoers arrive by car and then proceed to a dedicated viewing platform located at least 2m from other viewing areas.

Unity Arena will open on 14 August with a DJ set by broadcaster Craig Charles, with the first live concert performance coming courtesy of Two Door Cinema Club the following night.

They are followed Supergrass on Saturday 22 August, Tom Grennan on Thursday 27 August, the Libertines on Saturday 29 August and Maximo Park on Saturday 5 September.

“We’re excited to be working with artists who have the same desire to make something happen during difficult times”

The first slate of programming also includes three comedy performances, from Jason Manford on 30 August and Bill Bailey on both 1 and 2 September.

Steve Davis of SSD Concerts, which – backed by sponsor Virgin Money and production company Engine No 4, is the driving force behind the arena – comments: “We’re excited to be working with artists who have the same desire to make something happen during difficult times for the industry and the general public.

“The rock’n’roll, can-do attitude of the artists performing and the team behind Virgin Money Unity Arena will make these shows ones to remember for the rest of our lives.

“We were determined to make this special, and hopefully today’s line-up is a strong statement of intent. We’re not finished yet and we’ll be announcing yet more acts soon.”

 


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‘First socially distanced arena’ launches in UK

A new outdoor venue, billed as the UK’s first dedicated socially distanced music venue, will launch in Newcastle, in the north-east of England, this summer.

Unity Arena, sponsored by Virgin Money, will be located at Newcastle Racecourse in Gosforth Park, around four miles from Newcastle city centre, and open soon after its first line-up announcement on Tuesday 7 July.

The venue, the brainchild of regional promoter SSD Concerts, will be built in partnership with production company Engine No 4 (Parklife, Kendal Calling). SSD, the organiser of This is Tomorrow festival, promises a completely socially distanced “parking-to-platform experience” offering “full safety” for concertgoers.

Punters will stand on viewing platforms placed two metres apart, with food and drinks available for preorder. A one-way system, meanwhile, will allow for the “safe and full use” of toilet facilities.

Unity Arena will have a capacity of 2,500, a spokesperson tells IQ, with organisers promising a “festival experience” with “full production”.

“This feels like a unique opportunity to celebrate music and all the wonderful emotions that come with it”

Steve Davis, managing director of SSD, says: “Since all of our scheduled concerts have been postponed to later in the year and all venues in the city closed, the staff at SSD had a willingness to continue.

“We can’t be without music during these times, so our only thought has been how can we bring music back to the British public safely and responsibly.

“We have been hosting loads of live sessions and DJ sets across our social media, supporting local artists and raising money for the NHS. Now, we’re taking it one step further as the UK slowly comes out of lockdown.

“Working with our brand new partner Virgin Money has been exciting, and we think, even in these hard times, the people of the north east will come out in their thousands to see the artists they love.”

Helen Page, group brand and marketing director of Virgin Money, adds: “This feels like a unique opportunity to celebrate music and all the wonderful emotions that come with experiencing it live alongside other music fans. We’re looking forward to partnering with the Unity Arena on this event near to our Virgin Money home in Gosforth.”

 


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Newcastle Arena becomes Utilita Arena

Arena operator SMG Europe has announced that its 11,000-capacity arena in Newcastle, UK, has entered into a naming rights partnership with energy supplier Utilita Energy. The former Metro Radio Arena will now be known as the Utilita Arena.

Utilita Energy currently supports sporting venues, including the football stadiums Villa Park (Aston Villa), Ibrox Stadium (Rangers) and Selhurst Park (Crystal Palace). The company hopes that the partnership with Newcastle Arena will facilitate expansion in the entertainment industry.

“We know just how important this venue is to the north east, so to have our name above the door is an absolute honour,” comments Nic Rhodes, head of brand marketing at Utilita Energy.

“As Utilita continues to grow, our Utilita Extra customer rewards programme becomes increasingly important to us – and the Utilita Arena will play a major role in this. The venue has a brilliant reputation across the UK so we are absolutely delighted be on board.”

The energy supplier takes over from regional radio station Metro Radio as Newcastle Arena’s naming partner. The radio station sponsored the arena for 15 years and will continue to be the official media partner for Utilita Arena.

“We know just how important this venue is to the north east, so to have our name above the door is an absolute honour”

Ailsa Oliver, who became general manager of Newcastle Arena in January 2017, says: “We are thrilled to begin this new phase in the arena’s timeline. I look forward to an extremely dynamic relationship with Utilita Energy and our continued exciting work with Bauer Group Media Metro Radio going from strength to strength.”

Executive vice-president of venue operator SMG Europe, John Sharkey, says he is “delighted” by the appointment of the new naming right partner.

SMG Europe’s arena portfolio includes the Manchester Arena (21,000-cap.), the First Direct Arena in Leeds (13,500-cap.), the SSE Arena, Belfast (11,000-cap.) and the Event Complex Aberdeen (12,500-cap.), due to open this summer.

“The north east has an exceptional community spirit and loyal connection with the Arena. We are excited for all involved to reap the benefits Utilita will now offer not only to guests of the venue but the industry as a whole,” comments Sharkey.

This year, Utilita Arena will welcome artists including Boyzone, George Ezra, Westlife, Rod Stewart, Little Mix and Kiss. The arena is the largest concert and exhibition venue in the north east of England.

 


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Gary Hutchinson out at Wembley Stadium

Gary Hutchinson is to leave his position as head of venue sales and commercial partnerships at Wembley Stadium.

The former Sunderland AFC exec joined the UK’s largest stadium earlier this year, effectively replacing its ex-head of business development, Jim Frayling. He will leave the FA, the venue’s owner, at the end of 2017 to run a private hospitality venture, Chrysalis Leisure Group.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the FA, and I’m committed to supporting the organisation over the next few months, until they have plans in place to take [membership organisation] Club Wembley forward in the new year,” he says.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the FA and I’m committed to supporting the organisation over the next few months”

“However, I have been pursuing a new business venture for the last few months, and it has very quickly moved from being just a concept to something I am ready to push the button on and turn into a reality. It’s moving ahead rapidly, and I am sure it will continue to develop quickly.”

The Sun FM radio station reports Hutchinson has taken over the Fat Buddha restaurant in Newcastle, which he plans to transform into a “must-visit Tyneside venue”.

A spokesman for the FA tells IQ Danielle Russell, the stadium’s partnership development manager for music and new events, will continue to be the key contact for live music, while her colleague James Taylor supports sporting events.

 


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New GMs for Leeds, Newcastle arenas

Arena operator SMG Europe has appointed new general managers for two of its venues in northern England.

Jen Mitchell becomes GM of the 13,500-capacity First Direct Arena, in Leeds, after eight years at the helm of London entertainment complex Kings Place, while Ailsa Oliver – formerly deputy GM of the First Direct Arena – takes the top job at the Metro Radio Arena (11,000-cap.) in Newcastle.

Oliver begins her new role with immediate effect, replacing Paul Tappenden, who retired last year. Mitchell takes over in Leeds in May, replacing outgoing GM Ben Williams.

“SMG Europe continues to grow its stronghold in the north of the country”

John Sharkey, executive vice-president of SMG Europe, says: “I’m delighted to announce both appointments as SMG Europe continues to grow its stronghold in the north of the country.”

SMG Europe is a wholly owned subsidiary of SMG, the world’s largest venue operator. SMG was sold to private-equity firm Ares Capital for US$3.43 billion, or $14.95 per share, last June.

 


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