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Rod MacSween: Agent of the Decade

Ask any of his friends, colleagues and clients about Rod MacSween and you soon learn the true meaning of the term enigma. 2019 marked his 50th anniversary in live music, but aside from receiving an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Exeter, the year passed without too much fanfare for MacSween, who simply got on with the business of booking tours and festival slots for his astounding roster of headlining clients.

“He’s married to ITB Ltd – that’s his real passion,” states Colin Newman of accountants and business advisors SRLV, whose relationship with MacSween dates back the entirety of those 50 years. “His dedication to his clients is incredible and I think that’s what still drives him.”

ITB partner, Barry Dickins, agrees. “Rod lives to work, while I work to live. You could not find two people more unalike than Rod and I, but it works, and he has helped to make me a rich man. He’s one of the best agents of all time and if I was a manager, I’d definitely want Rod to be my agent.”

Early years
Born in Southampton, England, Rod grew up with his siblings in the New Forest on England’s south coast. His surname (and Scottish roots) hail from the remote Isle of Lewis, where, in days gone by, he would regularly visit the family croft – a farm smallholding.

“His parents were both academics, so I think they were ecstatic when he decided to study chemistry and statistics at Exeter University,” says Diana Pereira, MacSween’s long-time assistant at ITB. “I don’t know if that’s where it comes from, but nobody knows numbers like Rod does. He remembers the tiniest details from deals decades ago and he even remembers the dates and capacities of the rooms.”

“His dedication to his clients is incredible and I think that’s what still drives him”

Dickins adds, “He’s very private – we’ve been in business together for 42 years, but we’ve probably had dinner outside of a working relationship about three times. But I’ve learned a few things about him over the years.”

Talking to IQ for ITB’s 40th anniversary celebrations in issue 76, MacSween acknowledged the chalk-and-cheese nature between him and Dickins. “We don’t see an awful lot of each other, but we each have much respect for what the other does,” he said. “We have always remained friends and been there for each other, as partners should be.”

Backtrack to 1969 and MacSween’s passion for music was evident. No sooner had he enrolled in university than his fellow students elected him social secretary of the Students’ Guild. He held that post for three years, bringing the likes of The Who, Pink Floyd and Robert Plant’s first group, Band of Joy, to play on campus, where 1,800 students would regularly pay £1 each to pack into the venue to benefit from MacSween’s latest booking coup.

Recalling those early days when picking up his honorary doctorate, MacSween said, “I brought The Who to Exeter on 1 May 1970 and they performed the whole of Tommy plus some hits. After the gig, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend went back to London, but Keith Moon and John Entwistle stayed, so I took them out to a nightclub and with my meagre funds I bought two bottles of champagne. Keith Moon was so overwhelmed that a student had bought him champagne that he went out and ordered a crate. Many years later, in 1992, I told that story to Eddie Vedder as a new client and the singer of Pearl Jam, and Eddie [later] told me, ‘Rod, that was the day I trusted you.’”

Agent Mike Dewdney, who has been at ITB for 31 years, observes, “That’s the thing about Rod, he’s a great storyteller, and he has hundreds of amazing stories to tell. He’s a fascinating man – like a cross between Peter Stringfellow and Inspector Morse.”

“He’s very private – we’ve been in business together for 42 years, but we’ve probably had dinner outside of a working relationship about three times”

Career moves
While his sister, Catriona, followed their parents’ path into academia, Rod turned his back on chemistry and statistics to start working life as a booking agent.

“The first time I came across Rod, he was working for Johnny Jones in a room where Johnny would sit on a riser, like a teacher, and Rod was sitting in the lecture room, along with another agent and an assistant,” recalls Live Nation chairman of international music, Thomas Johansson.

Meanwhile, Dickins’ early career saw him at the Malcolm Rose agency, then moving to work with powerful agent/promoter Harold Davidson, who later sold to MAM. “In 1975, I was in the rock department at MAM with John Giddings and Ian Wright; Rod, at that time, was at the Bron Agency with Steve Barnett, and I was hearing some good things about him – he was a hustler and a really good agent,” says Dickins. “I was a director at MAM, so I had a meeting with him and offered him a job, but Rod wanted more money than I was on, so that was the end of that.”

Having attracted a number of such offers, MacSween eventually agreed a deal to work with Don Arden’s Jet group of
companies. That role introduced him to Arden’s daughter, Sharon, who a few short years later married another longtime confidant and MacSween client, Ozzy Osbourne.

“[Sharon] was working with her father at the time,” MacSween recalls. “We, and then Ozzy, became great friends. With all their help, ITB was set-up in 1976. Barry came and joined as a partner in 1978.”

“Rod’s the best agent in the world, and in terms of financial relevance, he’s been the best in the world for many, many years”

Business manager Colin Newman says, “I was working with Don Arden as a junior accountant and that’s how I first met Rod and Sharon. I remember that Rod was the agent for the Electric Light Orchestra, who were Jet Records’ biggest act.” Dickins brought the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, The Kinks and Joni Mitchell to the fledgling ITB set-up, while MacSween’s other acts included Steve Hillage, Kiki Dee, Roy Wood’s Wizzard, and Whitesnake.

“When I took over management for Whitesnake, for some reason Rod and I were not speaking,” says Wizard Promotions founder Ossy Hoppe. “I asked the band’s lawyer, Tony Russell, to invite Rod to his office so he could meet the new manager and when Rod turned up and saw me, he said, ‘I may as well go home now.’ But I told him he was keeping the band, because he was a great agent, and we’ve never fallen out again. In fact, he’s my son, Oliver’s, godfather.”

“[Sharon] was working with her father at the time,” MacSween recalls. “We, and then Ozzy, became great friends. With all their help, ITB was set-up in 1976. Barry came and joined as a partner in 1978.”

Setting a trend for the company’s managing partners, ITB’s office set-up started out uniquely. “We’ve never had offices next to each other, but when we first started working together, the gulf was even bigger – Rod was in Tilney Street and I was at the other end of Mayfair in Hanover Square,” says Dickins. “It was a few months before me moved into the same building together when I found a whole floor in Hammer House in Wardour Street. So Rod set-up at one end and I took the other end. It’s been like that in every office since.”

Although Arden was involved, he rarely visited the ITB premises, allowing Dickins and MacSween to get on with the job of building the business. “Don was a silent partner, but I was tasked with keeping an eye on the finances for him,” explains Newman, who subsequently arranged the management buyout of the company on behalf of Dickins and MacSween in the 1980s, and remains the financial advisor for ITB, the Osbournes, and numerous other music clients to this day. That puts him in a great position to rank MacSween’s achievements. “Rod’s the best agent in the world,” he states. “And in terms of financial relevance, he’s been the best in the world for many, many years.”

Creating an empire
Until the management buyout of ITB, ownership of the company…

 


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Ill health affects major tours despite best efforts

Worldwide concert tours by Ozzy Osbourne and Elton John have been disrupted this week, as the stars battle with poor health.

Earlier today (18 February), Ozzy Osbourne cancelled the North American leg of his upcoming No More Tours 2 tour – which had been rescheduled from last year – “to recover from various health issues”.

“I don’t want to start a tour and then cancel shows at the last minute, as it’s just not fair to the fans,” reads a statement on the singer’s website. “I’d rather they get a refund now and when I do the North American tour down the road, everyone who bought a ticket for these shows will be the first ones in line to purchase tickets at that time.”

Osbourne was due to start the Live Nation-promoted tour in Atlanta at the end of May. A run of European tour dates starting in October 2020 are currently due to go ahead as planned.

Another artist to experience health-related issues this week is Elton John, who was forced to leave the stage during a show at Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium in New Zealand on Sunday night. The singer had been diagnosed with walking pneumonia – a milder strain of the illness – earlier that day.

“I don’t want to start a tour and then cancel shows at the last minute, as it’s just not fair to the fans”

Chugg Entertainment, which is promoting Elton John’s upcoming shows in New Zealand and Australia, has confirmed that the star’s two remaining Auckland dates will be postponed to 2021.

“Despite the best efforts of a performer who never wants to disappoint his fans, upon further consultation from doctors and specialists, it has this evening been decided that Sir Elton John’s two remaining Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, performances will be rescheduled to Friday 15 and Saturday 16 January 2021,” reads a press statement.

The rescheduled dates extend the singer’s mammoth Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, which was due to conclude at London’s O2 Arena on 17 December 2020. Tickets for this year’s postponed shows will be valid for the dates in 2021, with those unable to attend next year able to request a refund via Ticketmaster.

Ill health has also troubled Madonna recently, causing the cancellation of 11 of the 93 dates on her Madame X tour. The singer called off three shows of her recent 14-show residency at London’s Palladium theatre due to injury.

“As you all know I have multiple injuries and have had to cancel shows to give me time to recover,” said the artist in a statement.

Photo: Ernst Vikne/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) (cropped)

 


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AEG, Osbournes both claim victory as lawsuit ends

Lawyers for Ozzy Osbourne have agreed to drop their lawsuit against AEG after the US venues giant ended its ‘Staples Center Commitment’ tying booking between Staples Center in LA and the O2 in London.

The long-running ‘booking war’ between AEG and Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) reached its conclusion earlier this month after Jay Marciano, chairman and CEO of AEG Presents, confirmed the company is no longer block booking its LA Staples Center and London O2 venues.

The Black Sabbath frontman had previously sued over the policy, which the suit said was a “explicit”, “brazen” violation of US competition (‘antitrust’) law.

Welcoming the end of the legal action, AEG says in a statement: “This dismissal with prejudice is a victory for AEG. We were fully prepared to see the case through to vindicate our policy, but now that Osbourne has decided to dismiss with prejudice, the case is over.

“Our policy was an appropriate, lawful and effective competitive response to Irving Azoff’s pressure tactics seeking to force artists into the Forum [by requiring them to also play Madison Square Garden]. If those tactics resurface, we will redeploy our policy as needed.

“It is no surprise that once AEG refused to back down, Azoff, MSG and Live Nation became eager to drop the case as soon as possible”

“The Osbourne suit was instigated by Azoff and paid for by MSG and Live Nation. It was hatched on the back of an artist who we believe had no idea what he was biting off. The suit was a transparent public-relations ploy that failed to pressure AEG into backing down from a booking policy that was an effective competitive response to the MSG–Forum tie.

“It is no surprise that once AEG refused to back down, Azoff, MSG and Live Nation became eager to drop the case as soon as possible. They dismissed the case with prejudice after realising AEG would aggressively defend it, costing them tens of millions of dollars and posing a source of embarrassment once their questionable tactics were exposed in the course of discovery and trial.”

Unsurprisingly, and in characteristically outspoken style, Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy’s wife, soon offered a rebuttal of the AEG line and instead claimed victory for Osbourne/Azoff/MSG.

A full statement, sent to Rolling Stone, reads: “We know Mr. Anshultz [sic] (aka “Daddy Big Bucks”) is living in his billionaire bubble, but the fact is that Ozzy sued AEG for the right to perform at the O2 in London. We won the case and Ozzy’s show at the O2 went on sale on September 5 for a show next year (February 11, 2019)–so in my world that means we won the case. Ozzy is playing the O2 without having to play the Staples Center, which is all that mattered to us. From the start of this dialogue in February, this has been a battle about respect for the artists and their personal preferences. It wasn’t then and isn’t now a battle between promoters, which is how this is being portrayed by the recent statement from AEG claiming this as a “victory.”

“To say this suit was ‘instigated by Azoff and paid for by MSG and Live Nation’ … is untrue and disrespectful to Ozzy, myself and the entire team”

“To say that this “suit was instigated by Azoff and paid for by MSG and Live Nation,” and that “it was hatched on the back of an artist who we believe had no idea what he was biting off,” is untrue and disrespectful to Ozzy, myself and the entire team working on this tour. Whatever differences you have with Irving Azoff, don’t presume you know who instigated the lawsuit or you know anything about Ozzy Osbourne, because you obviously don’t know anything about Ozzy’s history or mine. So stop with your hubbildy, bubbuldy BULLSHIT and your little pissing contest with Live Nation and MSG.

“Regarding the allegations in the AEG statement that this “suit was a transparent public relations ploy,” if that was indeed the case, why then did AEG rush out a statement of victory? While we, throughout this process, until now have only made one statement around the initial filing.

“Ozzy’s preference was to perform at The Forum, a venue that has been a part of his music history for more than 46 years. From the start, this was not a battle solely for Ozzy, as much as one for other artists who were being forced to abide by these rules and regulations. Let’s not all forget why you’re here … the artists.

“The only thing remotely interesting in your statement was your pitiful attempt at humor with your quote that Ozzy “had no idea what he was biting off.” If you’re interested, Ozzy and I have got something nice for you [to] bite on … our assholes … see ya loser!”


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Booking war: Ozzy sues AEG over “blatant anticompetitive conduct”

Ozzy Osbourne has brought legal action against for AEG for its block booking policy between The O2 and Staples Center, alleging that forcing artists to play both venues is an “explicit”, “brazen” violation of US competition (‘antitrust’) law.

In a class-action lawsuit filed yesterday in the US district court for central California, lawyers for Osbourne (real name John Michael) claim AEG’s policy of requiring acts who want to perform at the 20,000-cap. O2 Arena in London to also play Staples Center (21,000-cap.) in LA – allegedly dubbed the ‘Staples Center Commitment’ by AEG – is an “unlawful tying arrangement that unfairly leverages AEG’s dominance in greater London to distort and deter competition in greater Los Angeles”.

It is the latest twist in the long-running ‘booking war’ between AEG and Madison Square Garden Company/Live Nation – the latter of which has a similar tying of Madison Square Garden in New York and the Forum in LA – and marks the first legal action challenging the practice. A complaint lodged by Live Nation in the UK aimed at ending the so-called Staples Center Commitment was dismissed by the Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) last December.

Osbourne (pictured), represented by San Francisco’s Latham & Watkins, aims, “on his own behalf and for all similarly situated artists, to prohibit AEG from enforcing the Staples Center Commitment”. The suit also seeks legal fees and “all other relief the court may deem proper and just”.

“The harm to competition from the Staples Center Commitment is profound, immediate and irreparable”

“The harm to competition from the Staples Center Commitment is profound, immediate and irreparable,” alleges the suit, “and must be enjoined”.

The lawsuit follows follows an open letter sent by Osbourne’s wife, Sharon, to AEG last month demanding the end of the block-booking policy and accusing AEG of “bringing artists into a power struggle you’re having with your competitor, Live Nation”.

After revealing AEG had sent Osbourne’s tour promoter, Live Nation, an agreement which “clearly states that Ozzy cannot play at The O2 in London unless we legally agree to play at Staples Center in Los Angeles”, Sharon warned: “If you do not confirm the date for Ozzy at The O2 in London then I will be forced to take legal action against AEG [Presents] without delay.”

Court documents make clear The O2 is at the centre of the dispute, with Latham & Watkins’ Daniel Wall, Timothy O’Mara and Andrew Gass describing the arena as “a singular concert venue – the only indoor arena in London with the capacity to host major concerts. The O2 is a ‘must-have’ venue for the top international touring artists, as witnessed by the steady stream of marquee artists who play The O2 annually.”

“This suit is without merit and we will vigorously fight it”

AEG – which also operates Wembley Arena (12,500-cap.) and the Eventim Apollo (5,039-cap.) – is, therefore, “a clear monopolist in the market for arena-sized venues in greater London”. That’s a situation set to continue for at least the next few years, although Madison Square Garden Company’s hotly anticipated new MSG Sphere London venue will shake up the market when it opens sometime around 2020.

In a statement provided to IQ, Jay Marciano, chairman and CEO of AEG Presents, responds: “This suit is without merit and we will vigorously fight it. We welcome a closer look at the global live entertainment market and, specifically, our practices and the practices of our competition.

“AEG has always worked hard to put artists first. At the same time, we must respond to the actions of those we compete with, specifically Live Nation and Madison Square Garden. Fighting for a level playing field is fair competition at its core.”

 


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Sabbath play last-ever show at Genting Arena

Heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath capped off their 49-year career with a final, hometown show at Genting Arena in Birmingham, UK, on Saturday night.

Their farewell tour, aptly titled The End, saw the band – comprising founder members vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler, with only original drummer Bill Ward opting not to take part – play 81 shows in Europe, Australasia and North and South America, beginning last January. The health of Iommi, who has lymphoma, was cited as the reason for quitting touring, although Osbourne will continue to play as a solo artist.

At the final show, Osbourne bowed out with a simple “Good night, thank you so much” following the last song, ‘Paranoid’.

“For Black Sabbath to perform their final show back in the city where it all began is a very apt end”

The Genting, which welcomed 14,500 fans (among them deputy Labour party leader Tom Watson) to the concert on Saturday night, says it was a “great honour” to be the venue for the Sabs’ final show.

Guy Dunstan, general manager of the NEC Group’s Arenas, said before the show: “This is a monumental evening that will go down in history, and I am very thankful that the Genting Arena has had the opportunity to be a part of it. For Black Sabbath to perform their final show back in the city where it all began is a very apt end to what has been an outstanding career for the band.”

Sabbath are represented in the UK by Rod MacSween of ITB.

 


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