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Ally Pally: “The entire industry is learning”

While the majority of the UK’s stages have remained silent throughout the pandemic, the team at London’s Alexandra Palace (more commonly known as Ally Pally) have been on a pioneering streak to achieve the opposite.

Since opening in 1873, the Grade II listed venue has remained open even throughout the war and took only a brief period of respite when the pandemic took hold in March before launching back into activity.

During the pandemic, the venue has produced Nick Cave’s Idiot Prayer live stream; hosted the Melody VR-produced Wireless Connect, and began delivering a modest programme of events for autumn/winter – all the while, acting as a charity base for the local community in Harringey.

Dubbed ‘The People’s Palace,’ director of operations at the venue Simon Fell tells IQ how that title has governed the way the venue is going about things now.



 


IQ: What’s it like behind the scenes at Ally Pally at the moment?

SF: For me, things are really busy as we sadly have a much smaller team now and still have events and film shoots etc happening whilst navigating our way through new restrictions, as well as trying to plan our way out of this in 2021.

Has it been difficult to work out the logistics?

None of it is rocket science. All the information is there in the government guidelines. Sadly, people have been bamboozled by so much change in legislation. We’ve made practical decisions on what we need to do; we scaled down the numbers, put in one-way systems, encouraged longer interval times, established three different exits and increased cleaning regimes. It’s about being pragmatic about what we can achieve safely.

What are the logistical advantages of a venue like Ally Pally when it comes to restrictions?

And as soon as the pandemic hit, we needed a bit of time to get our heads around it and catch our breath. But very soon, we realised that one thing that we’ve got here is a huge amount of space. And that was the one thing that came out of all [the advice] – in space you’re safe. We followed the guidelines and in the hall, where we can usually fit 3,000 people, we’ve got a maximum of 700 so we’ve really scaled down the numbers but it’s a nice atmosphere – it works and we’ve only had positive comments.

“It’s about being pragmatic about what we can achieve safely”

What was it like having Nick Cave performing without an audience in the vast expanse of the West Hall?

It was brilliant and eerie. There was a video that came out of it of Nick walking through the building, this empty palace, and the team that had remained here during that time, looking after the space, really related to this person walking through an empty building before he started singing his atmospheric, solemn songs. Nick’s show captured a moment for us as a venue.

Is it financially viable to do small shows in such a huge venue?

It’s not financially viable at all. At the moment, we’re doing really small events that you would normally do in a 300-400 capacity venue. And that doesn’t substantiate when you’ve got many 200 acres of land and a building of this age that you need to upkeep.

What’s the value in doing events during the pandemic, if not for financial gain?

The little things don’t pay as much as the big shows, like exhibitions, concerts and festivals, but it’s important that we are doing them. They’re contributing to the palace more so than they would do if we’d have shut the doors. Also, it keeps morale in our industry alive and gives everyone hope. Every time you hear of a venue opening or doing something, there’s camaraderie and respect in the industry – even if previously they were your competitors. There’s nothing but positivity now.

“Every time you hear of a venue opening or doing something, there’s camaraderie and respect in the industry”

Ally Pally is somewhat of a bastion in the UK’s music scene. Is there a greater significance in keeping its doors open?

We are the people’s palace. We’re a huge part of the community here. We’ve been around since 1873 and never really closed at any point. We were open during the war and we’ve always had a place in society through the bad times and the good times. The venue is almost like the Sacré-Coeur of North London, sitting on top of the hill with its big aerial antenna, and I think when people look up and know that we’re open, it gives people hope. I think it’s as good for the local community, as it is for London as a music hub.

How will you utilise the knowledge you’ve accumulated from doing these events?

If DCMS turned around tomorrow and said: “Right what we need to do to open venues safely?” We can give them a case study and tell them what’s safe and what’s not. With the learnings we’ve made, we wouldn’t have to start from scratch. So we’re poised to open as soon as we safely can and we wouldn’t be making it up as we as we go along. The entire industry is learning.

“We’re poised to open as soon as we safely can and we wouldn’t be making it up as we as we go along”

What’s your approach for programming next year?

I think if there’s one thing that we feel a bit more confident with, it’s doing things outdoors. Outdoor events seem to be something that we’ve got a bit of control over ourselves. For 90-95% of indoor events we rent the space out to promoters but we do a lot of the outside stuff in-house, so we’re able to take that risk and make decisions ourselves rather than relying on someone else.

We work in the financial year so we’re looking at April, which is what the government has put down as their line in the sand. There’s nervousness but I’m sure a lot of people will want to start doing things again. On paper, everything’s looking positive. Going towards the end of next year, we’ve never had so many inquiries and bookings for concerts and music-related things.

 


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Artists join call-to-arms for crew support

A number of artists including Nick Cave, Niall Horan, Amy MacDonald, and Marillion, are rallying support for live events technicians who have been financially impacted by the pandemic through fundraising events and memorabilia donations.

Solo artist and ex-One Direction member Niall Horan recently announced a one-off livestream show at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 7 November to raise money and awareness for his touring crew.

Amy MacDonald is launching her new album with a socially-distanced show and interview at The Mildmay Club in London, with proceeds going towards the #WeMakeEvents campaign. The event, titled An Evening With Amy MacDonald, will take place on 1 November and be livestreamed from 7 pm GMT.

Elsewhere, 80s rock band Marillion has already raised over £30,000 from the virtual tip jar at their Couch Convention weekend, which they split equally between their 10-man crew.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” says Andy Lenthall, general manager at PSA, the live production trade association which also runs Stagehand, a live production hardship fund. “There is so much goodwill towards crew that people don’t know about,” he tells IQ.

“It is an ecosystem and artists appreciate they need crew to amplify, magnify and illuminate the shows”

“People say, ‘Why can’t the artists pay?’. Well some of them can, and some of them are, and some of them can’t. It’s about what we can do, not what we can’t do. Artists at the top of the pile work with the same crew a lot and many are supporting them,” he maintains. “It is an ecosystem and artists appreciate they need crew to amplify, magnify and illuminate the shows.”

Lenthall says Stagehand has received many anonymous contributions from artists, in the form of cash and memorabilia. Most recently Nick Cave donated one of his guitars for an upcoming memorabilia raffle, organised by the association.

The raffle, along with Stagehand’s ‘tip the crew’ concept, is part of the fund’s longtail business model based on fan engagement. “Fanbases are where we hope to make lots of small bits,” says Lenthall.

Stagehand has also received donations from companies such as PPL, BPI and Sony – though Lenthall maintains that the fund is a long-term project and will require several different initiatives to raise the money needed.

“It’s about what we can do, not what we can’t do”

“We all know it’s going to take a while for the industry to restart so we need to raise a seven-figure sum and it needs to last around six months,” he says.

The Stagehand fund opened for applications yesterday (15 October) and is initially awarding grants of £500 to help with “keeping a roof over heads and food on the table”.

“Houses are on the market and it’s the beginning of the sofa-surfing season for some people. We’ve opened the fund now because at the end of October rent arrears will be due and the mortgage holiday is over. People will have accumulated a lot of debt over the summer,” Lenthall explains.

However, he’s confident that now some companies have been saved through packages such as the Culture Recovery Fund, attention is turning to crew.

“We need to focus on retaining people. Crew are tenacious, hardworking and diligent. We don’t want to lose them.”

Make a donation to Stagehand here or donate to similar funds supporting live technicians such as #WeMakeEvents; Live Nation’s Crew Nation; and the recently launched hardship fund We Need Crew.

 


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Acts revealed for AEG’s Peaky Blinders festival

AEG Presents is promoting a music festival based on hit BBC drama Peaky Blinders this September, in collaboration with the show’s creator Steven Knight.

The promoter today (20 August) added new names to the event’s line-up, including Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, John J Presley and Saint Agnes. The acts will play alongside already announced artists Slaves, Anna Calvi, Primal Scream and the Streets’ Mike Skinner.

The Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival will take place from 14 to 15 September in Birmingham, UK, where the popular TV show is set.

The event will see actors recreate scenes from the 1920s-set drama, as well as immersive theatre performances, fashion shows and a Q&A between the Knight and the show’s cast.

An “immersive performance” of the show’s theme tune ‘Red Right Hand’ will close the event on the Sunday evening

Festivalgoers will hear music from the 1920s to 1940s at the event’s Carousel stage, with a BBC Introducing stage showcasing local emerging talent.

An “immersive performance” of the show’s theme tune ‘Red Right Hand’ by Nick Cave, featuring 200 actors and dancers from ballet company Rambert will close the event on the Sunday evening.

A “major cast announcement” and “special guest performance by global superstar” are yet to be revealed.

Tickets for the Peaky Blinders-themed event are priced at £67.35 for each day, with VIP packages starting at £149 per day.

 


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52,000 people attend 25th Istanbul Jazz Festival

Celebrating their 25th year with 52,000 jazz fans, the events of 2016’s failed coup d’état are a distant memory for the Istanbul Jazz Festival. Two years ago, organisers were grateful for just avoiding cancellation amid the political unrest; in 2018, organisers are celebrating the festival’s most successful series in years.

Over the course of the 22-day festival, 450 artists performed in venues around the Turkish capital. Local artists and jazz heavyweights shared the 27 stages of the festival, organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). Among the most high-profile of performers, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds played to a crowd of 9,000 fans, whilst Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters welcomed nearly 200 refugees to their performance, in connection with the UNCHR.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters welcomed nearly 200 refugees to their performance, in connection with the UNCHR.

Among the more traditional jazz offerings, this year also welcomed back networking and showcase event, Vitrin, for the second time. Turning a spotlight on musicians and artists from Turkey, the showcase offered a mix of jazz-crossover performances alongside indie, electronic and rock groups.

Since the events of 2016, jazz fans from across the world have rallied around the festival. In 2017, organisers were given a confidence boost as 25,000 people returned to the Istanbul concert series, just one year after the failed coup. At the time, festival director Pelin Opcin said: “The audience reaction was amazing. We were delighted – the eagerness and enthusiasm I saw among attendees this year is really promising.”

Opcin went on to say last year that she was confident future editions of the Istanbul Jazz Festival would see the event bounce back to its former glory, once again attracting the 40,000 to 45,000 festivalgoers that previous years had enjoyed. The scale and success of this year prove her thoughts were well-founded.

 


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