Malcolm Weldon: The Gaffer
Harbouring teenage dreams to be a producer, Malcolm Weldon found himself becoming a stage manager and then production manager by default. But the recording industry’s loss has definitely been live music’s gain. Gordon Masson talks to 2023’s winner of The Gaffer award, who will also participate in IPM’s Inside P!nk’s Summer Carnival session on 29 February at this year’s ILMC…
Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Malcolm Weldon decided very early on that he wanted to pursue a career in music, and his unfailing work ethic saw him working multiple jobs to get a foot in the door. But live music was not on his radar.
“I loved jazz music, and I would study the liner notes on records to find out what all the associated jobs were,” he tells IQ. “I played bass, but by a certain age, I figured out that I wasn’t going to be the kind of musician that I aspired to be – Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke. Instead, I made up my mind that I would become a recording engineer and producer.”
Determined to fulfil his dream, Weldon enrolled on a college course and worked every hour he could to pay for his tuition. “That was back in the early 80s, and it cost close to $10,000 – that was a lot of money for a poor kid from South Central LA. But I worked multiple jobs to put myself through school, and somehow, I managed it.”
That perseverance is something that has been a mainstay of Weldon’s career for the past 40 years and counting. “I mainly got it from my grandmother. My family were from Oklahoma and migrated to Southern California in the late 1940s, and my grandmother just had an amazing work ethic. Those were very hard times for people of colour, back then, but she just told me as a kid, ‘Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it if you put your mind to it and work hard.’ So that’s what I believed.”
Earning himself the credentials to be a recording engineer was one thing, but actually finding a job to match those qualifications proved to be a frustrating exercise.
“I didn’t want to do live. I just figured I’d be at the theatre for a couple of months until I found a gig, but that never came through”
But luckily, Weldon’s grandmother – the fantastically named Sweetie Magnolia Ruff – intervened, with a little help from the force…
“My grandmother was a housekeeper and nanny for this family in Beverly Hills, the father of whom, Stanley Freberg, was one of the premiere comedy writers in Hollywood. My grandmother helped raise their daughter, Donna Freberg, and they became really close so that even when my grandmother retired, they stayed in touch.
“Once I got out of school, I kept looking everywhere trying to find a job, but I couldn’t get one. Then my grandmother told me she had been speaking to Donna, who said I should call her, because her husband, Todd Fisher, the brother of actress Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia in Star Wars – might be able to help.
“I really didn’t think my grandmother had the slightest clue of what I was doing, so I didn’t really pay her attention. About a week later, she asked me if I had called Donna, and I told her ‘no.’ So she forced me to call Donna, straight away. It turned out her husband had a recording studio complex, and he used to do all these live tapings, so I found myself working with Todd. There was a church congregation that used one of the studios, and when that church started to grow, I moved with them to another studio, and then when they outgrew that, I followed them to the Beverly Theater, and that’s kind of how I got started.”
Even having landed the in-house sound engineer gig at the theatre, Malcolm had not given up on his recording engineer ambitions and continued to work the nightshift at a grocery store as he awaited his big chance.
“I was still trying to get into the recording business. I didn’t want to do live. I’ve just figured I’d be at the theatre for a couple of months until I found a gig, but that never came through,” he says.
“Having worked in the theatre, I was used to rolling up my sleeves and helping out everywhere”
Meantime, his enjoyment of the role in the Beverly Theater grew and before he knew it, he had been the building’s sound chief for seven years.
That position came to an abrupt end when the venue closed. “I was forced to go on the road,” he says. “I had already been out with a little gospel group called the Winans who used to come through the theatre and who had asked me to go out with them for a couple of days or a week and stuff like that. After that, I did another offshoot called BeBe & CeCe Winans, and that led to a jazz artist, who also came through Beverly Theater, called George Howard.”
Starting out as Howard’s front of house engineer, because of budgetary constraints Weldon soon found himself stepping up his role to also mixing monitors, as well as setting up all the backline for the saxophonist.
“Having worked in the theatre, I was used to rolling up my sleeves and helping out everywhere. When I wasn’t doing my sound stuff, I would help with building renovations, so I did all the painting, screwed seats back into the floor, and a bit of carpentry here and there, so that was something else I was able to offer when I went on the road.”
A Foot Out The Door
Keen to learn as much as possible, Weldon pleaded with tour manager Marty Hom to take him on the road. “He would come through the theatre every year with different artists, and we always got on. Eventually, he asked me to help him out at a little event in LA called the Asian Pacific Festival. I think he wanted to see how I was outside the theatre and how I handled myself, so he hired me as a stage manager. It was a good move because sometimes people perform very differently when they are in an unfamiliar environment. But I guess I did a good job because a couple of weeks later, Marty offered me a gig working with Paula Abdul.”
“I’d come from a live jazz world. But I had seen some pop acts performing to backing tracks, so I didn’t quite realise what the situation was”
At the time, Malcolm admits he knew nothing about the artist. “It wasn’t the music that I listened to,” he says. “But at that point, she was growing and quickly became the Taylor Swift or Beyoncé of that time: she was on every magazine cover, and her albums were huge.”
The first work with Abdul was as part of the Club MTV Live tour in 1989, which also starred the likes of Tone Loc, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Was (Not Was), Information Society, and Milli Vanilli.
On the back of that tour, Weldon found himself working on the live shows for controversial lip-synching German duo Milli Vanilli. “It was interesting because at that point, I did not know about that kind of thing because I’d come from a live jazz world. But I had seen some pop acts performing to backing tracks, so I didn’t quite realise what the situation was,” he comments.
But having impressed Hom on the Club MTV set up, he was asked to return for Abdul’s Under My Spell world tour, meaning he found himself applying for his first passport as the production visited the likes of Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. “I was pretty young, when I think about it: I was 27 or 28, so it was an amazing experience.”
Indeed, as Malcolm began to get in the routine of life on the road, he began to forget about his recording engineer aspirations.
“I’m not just a production manager: I do whatever needs to be done at the point when I need to do it”
If I Had A Hammer…
Earning an early reputation as a reliable stage manager and carpenter, Weldon’s career began to morph, thanks in no small way to his willingness to get involved across all production disciplines, and he found himself involved on shows in a stage manager, quasi production manager role.
Talking about his desire to learn on-the-job skills, Weldon notes, “I see every opportunity to learn as another stepping stone for myself, and I think that’s true with a lot of production managers. For instance, I remember working with Chris Kansy when he was a guitar tech, and now he’s PM for Coldplay, Roger Waters, all that stuff.”
Weldon’s own promotion to production manager came at the behest of legendary artist manager Roger Davies. “I had been stage managing for a number of years for Roger, who I first met on a Janet Jackson tour in 1994. After that I stage managed Ozzy Osbourne shows, and then I went out on a Tina Turner tour. She was also managed by Roger Davies, so I was stage manager for that and a bunch of his tours.
“Eventually, Roger asked me to be production manager for Janet in 2000/2001, and that’s primarily what I’ve been doing since. But I still put my hat on as a stage manager or a site coordinator from time to time. I’m not just a production manager: I do whatever needs to be done at the point when I need to do it.”
As someone who regards every day as an education process, Weldon namechecks a list of people that he recognises as mentors. “Bobby Thrasher, who is also known as Boomer, was the production manager for Springsteen and for Billy Joel, and I worked under him for a while,” he tells IQ. “I also worked under Jake Berry, who is just a legend, but it’s not just all the different production managers, it’s also tour managers you learn from. I tend to take a little bit from everybody – ‘I dig what that person does; I’m not going to do what that person does, I’m gonna do it this way instead…’ so you take what you see as the best practices and adopt them to create your own persona.”
“The only reason I became a production manager was so that I could hire and fire people”
Higher & Fire
While Weldon remains as humble as ever, he has deservedly earned a reputation as one of the live entertainment industry’s elite production managers. But his motives to become production chief were not because of any personal ambition.
“The only reason I became a production manager was so that I could hire and fire people,” he reveals. “That’s literally true because I’d been a stage manager for so many tours where I’d try to get everybody to listen to me and do what I needed them to do. But it’s difficult, because they may have their own agenda and every department is trying to do their own thing. And because you didn’t hire them, you’re just stuck with them.
“I knew the only way to get around that would be to become the production manager. Now, I can bring in the people that I want to work with, knowing that they’re going to do it my way. If they don’t, there’s the door!”
Detailing some of his work ethic and philosophy, Weldon says, “Working as one, our common goal is making sure, at the end of the day, whoever the artist is, they know that everybody behind them has done their best.
“One of the main tasks of the production manager is to get everybody to work together, as opposed to each department just thinking about themselves. For example, when you start in the morning, if you have a lighting guy running cable across the floor that he may not need for an hour or two, you have to ask, ‘Why did you run that cable across when I gotta get all this other stuff across? If you’re going to run it, put a cable ramp down.’ It’s those little things that can add up throughout a day, so trying to get everybody to work together in concert to have an end goal is my biggest task.”
“Anyone who works with me knows that I’m not going to ask anybody to do anything that I wouldn’t do. But unfortunately for them, I’ll pretty much do anything to get things to work”
With more than 40 years’ experience, Weldon has amassed a contacts book of the industry’s finest crew and has assembled his own core personnel on whom he knows he can rely.
“You learn pretty quickly who the best people are, but I’m a production manager who’s really a stage manager with the power to hire and fire people, so I still think of everything in stage manager terms. I’m thinking how everything gets put into the carts, how the carts go into the trucks, how the trucks get unloaded, what order the trucks should come in, and what order stuff comes onto the floor.
“Unfortunately, for some people, I’m an old-school production manager, like Jake Berry, where I’m involved and engaged with loading. I’m not a production manager who sits in an office all day; I don’t even know what I would do in an office all day. But I know a lot of my guys would prefer me to go to the office,” he says.
“At the same time, I do try not to micromanage because that can also be incredibly irritating. Bottom line, I try to lead by example. Anyone who works with me knows that I’m not going to ask anybody to do anything that I wouldn’t do. But unfortunately for them, I’ll pretty much do anything to get things to work.”
The riggers, however, are safe. “I don’t climb. I’m not going up in the air; I’m sticking down on the ground,” laughs Malcolm.
“It does not matter how good you are, or you think you are, you’re only as good as your team. It’s like casting a movie: you’re trying to find the best possible cast”
That’s The Way Live Goes
Already armed with a dream team of crew he loved working with, Weldon assembled some of the finest talent in the business for his first PM job with Janet Jackson. “I just was lucky enough to get some of those people. And some of them are still working with me,” he reports.
“I had this gentleman that I kind of came up with in LA as a stagehand, called Kurt Wagner, aka Slap. He’s one of the best guys in the business: just a good, hard-working gentleman. Slap helped me from the start and although we kind of split up for a while because he left to work with Opie on the [Rolling] Stones, I was able to sneak him back for a little bit, so he’s my site coordinator for this P!nk tour.
“As a production manager, it does not matter how good you are, or you think you are, you’re only as good as your team. It’s like casting a movie: you’re trying to find the best possible cast.”
But Weldon is always on the lookout for new people to add to his crew and has earned a global reputation for mentoring scores of up-and-coming production talent. “I’d rather have somebody who has a good attitude and a good work ethic over somebody who can be the best at what they do but they’re just an asshole,” he says of his recruitment sensibilities.
“I’ve seen tours where one person with a bad attitude can slowly permeate throughout the crew like a cancer. You could have people that never had a problem with anything, and then, next thing you know, they’re complaining about something goofy. And you’re like, well, where’d that come from? It came from that one bad seed.”
“There’s no reason to be in the venue when you don’t need to be there. Even if it was only two hours or an hour, just to have your own private time is important”
Keeping It Together
Weldon is also renowned as being one of the best organised PMs in the business, taking great pains to make sure his crew members are not left waiting around for hours on end when they could be resting.
“That kind of thing can cause problems,” explains Malcolm. “Having everybody come in all together often means each department doesn’t have the tools they need to do their job yet because each department has a certain order of the day. You do rigging first, you get the power in, the lights come in and stuff starts to float up in the air, and everybody that goes underneath it all starts to build. There’s no reason to be in the venue when you don’t need to be there. Even if it was only two hours or an hour, just to have your own private time is important.”
However, he acknowledges, “The artists and managers only have a certain amount of time within the year where they need to make their money, so the tours are much more compressed these days, meaning that there’s less time for the crew to do everything.
“Between the promoters and managers, they understand that this is how much money needs to be made per week, and therefore, we need to do this amount of shows per week to sustain the tour. Often, the thought that people need sleep and time away from the venue is not necessarily taken into account and that falls upon the production manager to figure out.”
What About P!nk
At press time, Weldon was overseeing elements of P!nk’s Trustfall production equipment undergoing maintenance and servicing before being packed into shipping containers for the journey to Australasia where the tour resumes in February for a 20-date stadium run.
“P!nk, or Alecia as we know her, is the biggest star down there – she just does phenomenal business in Australia: there is no one bigger!”
“P!nk, or Alecia as we know her, is the biggest star down there – she just does phenomenal business in Australia: there is no one bigger!” states Malcolm.
Indeed, P!nk’s spectacular shows have been wowing audiences in Europe and North America over recent months, and when it comes to her aerial routines, her acrophobic PM explains that the aerobatics originated in arenas and have since grown in scale for stadium and festival shows. “It comes from the artist’s desire to get out and be as close as possible to the fans at the far end of the arena or stadium,” says Weldon, noting that the technology involved is very similar to the spider-cam systems used by sports broadcasters to get closer to the action, with P!nk effectively taking the place of the camera equipment.
“It’s all programmed – every move that she’s doing, there’s no way you can do what we do without it being automated,” he says.
The importance of that daring performance to the Trustfall show means that Weldon’s site coordinators and advance teams are key to the tour’s success. “I consider my head rigger, Gabe Wood, to be the best in the business, and we try to go to each building before we get there, just to make sure there’s nothing like pillars or anything in the way of the aerial part of the show. So, in stadiums for instance, we make sure we can get her up high enough to fly over the top of the delay towers. But at the same time, there are other things that are up there – lighting fixtures can often get in the way – so we’re trying to make sure there’s nothing in the way of the flight path.”
Another challenge for Malcolm and his crew are the trampolines that are used during the show by P!nk and her dancers and acrobats. “That set piece is 49 feet wide by 14 feet deep, so it’s a big space that it takes up on stage that you can’t do anything with – it’s just a dead area: once it’s built, it pretty much kills that part of the stage,” he explains.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re working with your best friend, if you see them every single day for 12 or 18 hours a day, they are bound to get on your nerves”
The production chief pays tribute to carpenter Judy LeBeau who has been tasked with the trampolines set-up and maintenance. “It can be split apart into two separate trampoline areas, and when it is split, we can raise the video wall, and that’s how we bring in all the support gear and whatever else has to come on,” he adds.
But the main challenge on the Trustfall tour, according to Malcolm, is quite simply the routing and making sure personnel get adequate rest.
“It’s a tight schedule – we work every single day,” he notes. “It doesn’t matter if you’re working with your best friend, if you see them every single day for 12 or 18 hours a day, they are bound to get on your nerves. So, the challenge is to give crew members time off, away from the venue, away from their co-workers.”
As a result, Weldon has set some procedures in stone. “All load-ins on the stadium runs start at 12 noon. Even if we arrive at the venue at six o’clock or eight o’clock in the morning, I won’t load in until 12 to give people as close to eight hours of sleep as possible.”
While stadiums often require three sets of steel, in Australia, the Trustfall tour will rely on just two sets. “The steel will leapfrog from stadium to stadium, and we’ve been able to plan for just two sets because we’re doing double dates in each city,” adds Malcolm.
“I hate postponements because I don’t want to build it all and then have to tear it down and then have to come back at a later date”
Post Australia, P!nk has already confirmed a return to stadia in Europe next year, while there’s also the matter of some North American dates that need to be rescheduled following recent postponements in Tacoma and Vancouver.
“I hate postponements because I don’t want to build it all and then have to tear it down and then have to come back at a later date,” says Weldon. “It’s a pain for everybody, starting with the patrons that bought a ticket. But it also means you have to figure out a place in the calendar that will allow you to go back to that city to make up that date, which can be especially tricky for stadium shows where the window for availability in a calendar year is very short.”
But he is in no doubt that the artist will do her best to make sure her fans are not disappointed. “Alecia has an amazing work ethic,” states Weldon. “She’s expecting everybody to show up and put their A-game on because she is putting her A-game on, every show. So we’re all doing the most we can to prepare for her so that she can do her best.
“She’s also a very kind and generous person who cares about her crew, and her band, and dancers, and everybody else around her. And she tries to provide as much love and respect for all of us, so that we all feel comfortable.”
However, when it comes to the best artist he’s ever worked for, Weldon doesn’t hesitate in his answer. “Tina Turner. She was just an amazing person – one of the most humble, kind, generous human beings I’ve ever met in my life. And you would think she’d be the opposite of that, through all the hardship that she went through in her life, but she was incredible. I don’t know if it was through her Buddhism, or whatever it was, but she just embodied kindness, and when she walked in the building, she would say, ‘Mal, how are you? How’s everybody doing? How’s the crew?’”
“Prince was an enigma. Nobody that I’ve ever worked for, or ever seen, compared to his artistry on stage. I’ve never seen anything like that”
Weldon’s importance to the artist can still be found online, with Turner singing Happy Birthday to Malcolm live on stage in Stockholm in April 2009.
Recalling another artist, who wasn’t quite so humble with his crew, Malcolm tells IQ, “Prince was an enigma. Nobody that I’ve ever worked for, or ever seen, compared to his artistry on stage. I’ve never seen anything like that. We did a bunch of shows in Madison Square Garden, where he literally had the band leave, and it was just him on stage, playing a guitar and a piano at the same time, totally captivating the audience like you could not imagine – especially a New York audience who can be a bit jaded, but he blew them away.
“But then, earlier that day, he had pissed me off, because he would ask for something last minute and it would be something I’d have to try to create out of nowhere. And then he’d be back in my face asking where it was. ‘You just told me; I’m working on it.’ And Prince would come back with, ‘Then why are you sitting here talking to me, when you should be getting it?’
“He was infuriating. But then you’d see what he could do on stage, and it was impossible to be mad at him.”
Outside of his work life, Malcolm admits to enjoying the simple pleasures. “I like gardening, I really do,” he says. “I like hiking and anything that basically allows me to enjoy fresh air because I’m always in a venue or in a hotel or an airport or bus. So, when I relax, I gravitate to anything to do with the outdoors.”
“Coming up in the business, and being a person of colour, I found out how hard and difficult it was for me to be seen and to get a gig”
Otherwise, any downtime he finds is spent with family.
“I have a wife, Laverne, two kids, and four grandkids, who are very important to me. My son, Nicholas, is a camera operator/video director, while my daughter, Camille, pivoted in a whole different direction. She graduated with a degree in clinical psychology and worked with kids with disabilities, autism, and all that kind of stuff. And then she decided to go back to school to get a doctorate and a degree in business so she could open her own non-profit. But she realised that after she would have gotten out of college, she would have probably owed over a quarter of a million dollars. So, she decided to take a little break, and she fell back in love with music, and now she’s a DJ.
“As a father, all you want is your kids to be happy. It may have taken Camille an extended route, but she’s happy, so it’s all good.”
With that female influence at home, the historic influence of his grandmother, and the fact that he has worked closely with the likes of Janet Jackson, Cher, Tina Turner, Sade, and latterly, P!nk (all clients of Roger Davies), it’s perhaps not surprising to learn that Weldon is also a big champion of having more women on the road.
“Coming up in the business, and being a person of colour, I found out how hard and difficult it was for me to be seen and to get a gig,”he says. “But because of that, I want to try to take some of the stumbling blocks away for other people trying to find a career.
“There have been many times when I’d walk into a building and people would look around everywhere before they’d come to me to ask me where the production manager was”
“At the same time, I’ve found that women can multitask a lot better than men. You can tell them, ‘This is what I want you to do.’ And they go off and do it. And you tell them how you want it done, and you know you can leave them to it. Whereas, a lot of times, guys think they know everything. You know, it’s like a guy who’s driving to the beach with his wife and kids. And the
wife is asking, ‘Why don’t you look at the map?’ And he’s like, ‘No, I don’t need to,’ even though he’s lost in the forest.”
Elaborating on some of the prejudice and ignorance he has encountered, Malcolm opines, “Just because it’s the entertainment industry, doesn’t mean it’s different to anything else in society – it’s the same people. As a person of colour, I had to work twice as hard. I’d get up early to be the first to report for duty, and I’d make sure I was one of the last ones to leave, just to show the weight of my convictions and what I was capable of.
“There have been many times when I’d walk into a building and people would look around everywhere before they’d come to me to ask me where the production manager was. But I’ve dealt with that ever since I was the sound guy at the Beverly Theater – I would be the last person that they would think of as the house sound guy. That’s just life; I try not to dwell on it.
“It still happens. Fairly recently, I came across a gentleman at a venue who was ignoring my requests to move some equipment. When it eventually dawned on him that the boxes needed to be moved so that we could get on with things, he came to me to ask where the production manager was… He knew he was in the wrong, so there was no need for me to rub his nose in it.”
That calm demeanour has served Malcolm well over the years, and he is quite rightly regarded as one of the safest pair of hands with which to entrust an artist’s touring vision, and a deserving recipient of The Gaffer Award for 2023.
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The Gaffer: Nicole Massey
As the production manager for Billie Eilish, Nicole Massey has become one of the most high-profile roadies in the world, thanks in no small part to presenting the young star to an audience of millions at The Grammys this year.
Her résumé includes working with some of the biggest stars to ever grace the stage – Coldplay, Beyoncé, Madonna, Prince, Rod Stewart, and Van Halen, to name but a few. But it was the Divine Miss M who first ignited Nicole’s passion for touring, while her insatiable desire to learn new skills has seen her seamlessly switch roles from performer to production guru. Unlike some of her peers who fell into the production sector, Nicole’s fate seemed sealed from the start. “My parents met while working on a theatrical production, so you could say it’s in my blood,” she reveals. Indeed, the smell of the greasepaint has never been far away. “I was a dancer and performer from a really early age – I was always being excused from school to go to New York for some audition or another,” she recalls.
Raised in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania – in the same county as global production hub, Lititz – Nicole was given free rein to exercise her imagination, as her parents could obviously see where her natural talent might take her. “They encouraged my creativity. I had imaginary friends as a child – Shamen, Camen, and Amy – who we would pick up on the side of the road on car journeys. My sister’s friends would be wondering what on earth we were doing, but it was a regular thing,” she laughs.
Growing up surrounded by adult actors and performers may have helped instil self-confidence in the young Nicole, too, because when she had the chance to compete for a dance scholarship across the country in Dallas, Texas, she persuaded her parents to let her undertake the trip on her own. Needless to say, she won the scholarship.
Having made a name for herself in theatrical circles, Nicole found herself living in Los Angeles until her first taste of life on the road on a live music show changed everything – dancing for Bette Midler on her 1999 Divine Miss Millennium tour. “It was my first rock-and-roll-style tour. And, honestly, within days I decided that I never wanted to not do this,” states Nicole.
Nicole next found herself out with Backstreet Boys, which saw her having to use her passport for work for the first time. “I remember being in Buenos Aires and just so excited that I could go see the Eva Peron balcony, because I’m a dorky theatre girl,” she says. “At any opportunity, I’d do all the sightseeing and stuff, so I got the nickname Pollyanna because I was so excited to be everywhere… I’m just a girl from little Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I’ve been to Uzbekistan; I’ve been to Prince Charles’s birthday party. I never want to take this for granted.”
“It was my first rock-and-roll-style tour. And, honestly, within days I decided that I never wanted to not do this”
Determined to keep touring, Nicole would offer artists her dancing prowess while taking on additional roles behind the scenes. “I was a professional dancer until about the age of 28 or 29,” she notes. “But even when I was on tour, I’d take jobs where I was dancing and doing wardrobe.”
Working for Rod Stewart offered such an opportunity and also allowed her to participate in one of the music industry’s favourite side-lines: nepotism. “Rod loves using people’s skills to the maximum – he has a drum tech who is also the percussionist, for instance. So, when we hired my sister, Danielle, for wardrobe on the tour and Rod discovered she was a Rockette – one of the dancing girls at Radio City [Music Hall] – he asked us to choreograph something for Hot Legs and for Sexy. As a result, we danced all of the 2008 tour. I would go from being a tour manager to dancing in the show and coming back, with full stage makeup on, to deal with promoters and stuff like that. It was funny.”
Taking on wardrobe duties for the likes of The Chicks and such costume-heavy outings as Madonna’s Re-Invention tour in 2004, Nicole’s curiosity for all aspects of production started to develop early on, but it was her long, on-off touring with Rod Stewart she points to as opening new doors.
“The first real production job was before working with Rod, when Bill Leabody asked me to be his production assistant on Enrique Iglesias,” she explains. “However, with Rod Stewart, I started out doing wardrobe, and then when the band’s tour manager was leaving, they were confident I could take on that role as well, so I was doing both for a while. And then that’s when we hired my sister.”
I didn’t change my number
Gaining a solid reputation for her can-do attitude, Nicole was on the end of a call from Craig Finley when he was planning Coldplay’s 2009 European stadium tour – drafting her in as production coordinator. And when Leabody took over for Coldplay’s 2012 world tour, the writing was on the wall. “I ended up telling Rod during a tour of Australia that I was going to work for Coldplay the following year, so I gave him about six-months’ notice.”
Rod Stewart’s influence continues in Nicole’s life, however, as his 2009 tour date in Ireland had life-changing repercussions.
“My dear friend, Tom McCarthy, who is an Irish guy that owns a couple of bars in New York, told me he’d be coming to Rod’s shows when we were in Ireland. And the night before the Dublin show, he asked if he could bring his friend, Dick Massey, who was in the movie The Commitments, to the show. Naturally, I said yes because I love that movie, but I didn’t know which one he was, and I hadn’t seen it since about 1991. In fact, one of my childhood friends reminded me that we had to sneak into the movie theatre because the movie was R-rated – up until Pulp Fiction came out, The Commitments held the record for the most F-bombs.
“But anyway, Dick came to the Rod Stewart show, and three months later I was living in Dublin. And three years later we got married.”
“I would go from being a tour manager to dancing in the show and coming back, with full stage makeup on, to deal with promoters”
Immersing herself back in the production side of touring suited Nicole perfectly. “I just fell in love with being part of the crew,” she tells IQ. “I truly love taking care of the crew and being the mama. When you’re the production coordinator or production manager, half of the job is just dealing with people, personalities, and managing their expectations.”
My strange addiction
Prior to her long stint with Coldplay, which took her from 2012 to 2019, many of Nicole’s jobs involved fulfilling more than one role – a work ethic driven by her determination to learn as many disciplines as possible.
“From the time I was on the road with Backstreet Boys, 24 years ago, I’d travel on the audio bus and ask, ‘How do you guys know whose cables are what?’ And they’d say, ‘Why don’t you come load PA with us to find out!’ And so, I started loading in and out PA on Backstreet with the Clair audio boys. That’s how I learned where everything was going and started to feel more comfortable on the floor, rather than hiding back in those offices.”
She continues, “I found out very early on that it’s good to push your cases to the truck: you have to find the things that actually help the whole tour, rather than just thinking of yourself.”
Eager to learn about different roles, Nicole would consistently volunteer for other production-related tasks. “I helped with confetti on lots of tours,” she reports. “I did confetti on The Chicks, on [Michael] Bublé, and I used to call the confetti cues on Coldplay.”
Her natural curiosity made every day an education process. “I just asked the questions. I realise that there’s no way that anybody can know everything, especially with how technology changes so quickly. But I guess it comes back to me being bold and not afraid to say I have a different idea about how to do something.”
Certainly, her work on arena and stadium tours offered countless moments to build her knowledge base, which for one of those rare people who can boast a photographic memory, has resulted in an encyclopaedic skillset. “Being a part of such big, heavy productions, you almost have to possess the knowledge just to operate,” says Nicole. “As the [production] coordinator, I had no freight knowledge until Bill [Leabody] let me be a part of the email chains, which really allowed me to learn.”
“You have to find the things that actually help the whole tour, rather than just thinking of yourself”
Citing other colleagues who nurtured her, she continues, “On Enrique, I had a tour manager called Jerry Levin, who encouraged me and made me his assistant. Through him I learned a lot about dealing with the artist directly in the sense of their needs, hotels, and flights, and all that stuff. Cary ‘Slim’ Ritcher was a production manager who I worked with on smaller shows, and he explained why we’d run the cables a certain way because we were near the [loading] dock, and you didn’t want to be rolling road cases over the top. There are a ton of dumb little nuances of touring, whether it’s in a theatre or whether it’s in a stadium. But if you treat every day as a learning experience, it all mounts up.”
Everything I wanted
As one of the most popular characters on the global tour circuit, it’s somewhat astonishing that Nicole’s work with Billie Eilish marks her debut as a production manager. Indeed, if she had not been vocal about her ambitions to become the boss, it’s conceivable she might still be waiting in the wings.
The magic moment came in South Africa on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s 2018 world tour. “Bill Leabody and I were in a runner van, and I just said out loud that I wanted to be a production manager. I put it out into the universe, and less than four months later, Bill recommended me for the Billie job,” says Nicole.
Taking up the story, Leabody tells IQ, “I first met Nicole nearly 20 years ago on a tour with The Chicks when she was in charge of wardrobe. We shared an irreverent sense of humour and hit it off straight away. Nicole was always in a good mood and was wonderful at her job.”
Reunited on the next Chicks’ tour, Nicole became Leabody’s production coordinator. “Other tours followed and, when Coldplay came around, I of course took Nicole with me,” continues Leabody. “We did two stadium tours together, which Nicole handled effortlessly.
“When the OTR2 tour, with Beyoncé and Jay Z came in, Carmen Rodriguez was already in place as coordinator. However, there was an opening for someone to go in advance to deal with steel crews and make sure production needs were all ready for us coming in hot. Nicole took on this challenge and did an amazing job.
“To say that Nicole has excelled is an understatement. She is now universally accepted as one of the best”
“[When] Nicole [subsequently] asked me if I thought she could step up to be a production manager, I had no doubt at all that she could do it, and I told her so.” Within weeks, Leabody was made aware that Billie Eilish needed a new production manager. “Unfortunately, I had other commitments, but when Billie’s manager, Danny Rukasin, asked if I could recommend someone else, I immediately thought of Nicole.” Leabody adds, “To say that Nicole has excelled is an understatement. She is now universally accepted as one of the best, and I am so honoured to welcome her into the community of ‘Gaffers’: the first woman to be invited to join and a fabulous role model.”
Nicole comments, “I’m very proud to be the first female Gaffer, and more so because of the company I’m keeping. I’m just so honoured to join Bill and Jake [Berry] and Chris [Kansy], and all those guys. I’ve known them all for a long time.”
Turning to her first official PM job, Nicole states, “Having the backing of a Gaffer – Bill – on speed dial has been a blessing. I’m so fortunate that I can call upon all kinds of people who I’ve worked with over the years to ask their advice about something. But sometimes I’ll say, ‘This might seem like a stupid idea…’ And it turns out it’s a winner and the feedback is ‘Why didn’t we think of that?!’ So, I’m definitely putting my own stamp on being a production manager.”
She continues, “I’m sure I annoy some crew members because I’m very positive and try to constantly motivate them. I was so involved in dance teams and sports teams growing up that I thrive on the camaraderie. Nobody on tour does this for the crazy hours and the stressful times. They do it because of the people. I look out into that crowd every night. And I look at those kids. And I’m like, ‘Oh my god…’ That’s why I do it!”
As for Happier Than Ever, The World Tour, Nicole has nothing but praise for artists Billie and Finneas after the lengths they went to in order to make sure the crew were kept as active as possible when Covid shut things down very early in the original tour schedule. “We got three shows in, and then the pandemic happened,” says Nicole. “It was pretty scary, and I felt very responsible, trying to make sure that everyone was okay.”
“I look out into that crowd every night. And I look at those kids. And I’m like, ‘Oh my god…’ That’s why I do it!”
Two of the crew were easy enough to keep an eye on – husband Dick, who is Nicole’s production coordinator, and four-legged, tail-wagging production chief, Reggie, whom Mr & Mrs Massey chaperone around the world. “Dick and I worked together on Coldplay, but we were in different offices: he was doing VIP ticketing when I was production coordinator. So, we’ve been out together before, but when Billie was about to go out in 2020, I asked him if he’d come and join me and Reggie in the office.”
Come out and play
Despite the moratorium on live music, Eilish’s core crew were only side-lined for a matter of weeks before a plan was actioned to keep them busy. “We actually started going to LA in July of 2020 because Billie created a whole bunch of different live projects, such as an Amazon project and a Disney project at the Hollywood Bowl,” reveals Nicole.
“Then, when her documentary came out, we did a little video release party. And for all the stuff like that, she used her touring crew: the backline guys, audio control… A small group of us would fly to LA, where we’d quarantine for the first few days, then we’d all test and stay at a hotel that had an outdoor firepit so that, after work, we could sit outside and have a beer, like you would normally, and hang out, distanced but safe. We even agreed that nobody would eat indoors to minimise the chances of catching Covid: those were the rules if you wanted to keep working.”
While the postponed tour dates remained on hold, the various other projects eventually rolled into Eilish’s festival season. “And then that rolled into the tour for this year,” smiles Nicole. “We loaded in for rehearsals in Los Angeles on January 2, so we were pretty fortunate in terms of work compared to a lot of our touring colleagues.”
While Nicole admits she has worked on more fraught tours, the production on Happier Than Ever, The World Tour is a complex affair.
“This show is a beast,” she tells IQ. “Normally, a show comes in, the stage is built at the other end, lighting goes up, stage rolls in. Bam! You have a show. Billie’s production involves lighting coming in, then some of the staging, then lighting deals with some of the moving trusses, then we roll in the diamond part of the stage, then we finish the lighting, then we have the lighting on the sides, then we roll in the thrust. It’s like an onion that you have to just keep peeling, layer on layer.
“This show just shows what is capable with an amazing team. I relied on my stage manager, Jayy Jutting, and then he relied on the crew chiefs, who were so dedicated – if we didn’t have Mattie Rynes, my head rigger, Jack Deitering, my head carp, Wayne Kwiat on lighting, Scott ‘Bull’ Allen from Strictly FX, Matt McQuaid with audio, Dave Keipert and Racheal Hudson from Team Video, Brian Benauer with Tait Automation… every department needed a strong leader or else we were just going to fail.”
“This show is a beast… It’s like an onion that you have to just keep peeling, layer on layer”
That respect is patently mutual, as Nicole has been affectionately nicknamed ‘The Hammer’ by Billie’s crew members, impressed by the way that the PM quietly goes about making sure her plan is adhered to, without having to raise her voice. “I hate shouters; it’s my pet peeve,” she says. “If you keep it internal and then use your loud voice when you need to, people know that you’re serious.”
Indeed, despite the North American dates requiring crew to wear full PPE to mitigate against Covid-19, Nicole’s strategy for that leg set the benchmark for the entire tour, with zero dates being lost to the virus.
Moving to Europe where restrictions were more relaxed should have been a relief. However, while the majority of American venues have loading bays, the opposite is true in Europe, where new driving regulations further complicated being on the road.
“I had a little breakdown in Dublin,” confesses Nicole. “I was very nervous about a few of the overnighters and worried we weren’t going to make it. So, I got all the crew chiefs together and told them that I needed help. It turned out to be a good moment for me as a production manager – just to gather all the people who I know are really good at their jobs, so we could figure it out together.”
One of the major headaches for the daily routine was dealing with the B stage: a crane that takes Eilish far and wide around venues so that she can literally be just a few feet from fans, even when they are seated in arena balconies.
“That arm weighs 8,000 pounds,” states Nicole. “We took it from the US to Europe to Australia, and it’s now enroute back to Los Angeles for Billie’s December shows at The Forum.”
Explaining the intricacies of dealing with such a massive piece of equipment, she says, “To load the turret you actually have to tilt it on its side because the containers are not wide enough. We even took it to festivals a couple times, like at Austin City Limits. It just makes such a cool impact because the people that Billie is looking right at never thought that they could get the chance to be that close to her. But it’s complicated. In Dublin, for instance, we had to change the orientation of the arm so that it was parallel to the audience because of how short it is inside the 3Arena. Each venue had to be approached on a case-by-case basis, and every day was different because of the elevations of where the seats were, etc. Our programmer, Pat King, did a great job.”
“I got all the crew chiefs together and told them that I needed help. It turned out to be a good moment for me”
As for the tour’s trickiest shows, Nicole cites the visit to the Accor Arena as a date that literally led to sleepless nights.
“My scariest day was back-to-back Cologne then Paris,” she reports. “On that overnight, a couple of us jumped ahead on the catering bus and were in the venue in Paris to start just dumping things as they came in.
“The planning worked well, though. We did a pre-rig and motors were in the air when we got there. But it took a lot: I had the video crew chief walking around checking on all the other departments to see where he could help – people just stepped up to go that extra mile for Billie. I mean, at 5:45pm, I was on my hands and knees doing barricade because I was determined we were not going to be late for doors.”
She adds, “We had to come up with an A, B, and C show because of timing. We knew that it would take minimum two hours and 11 minutes to complete the building of our automated video tile ramp once the main stage was in place. But I have the most amazing head [carpenter] Jack Deitering. If it was not for that man, I really don’t know if the show in Paris would have happened.”
With the spectre of Covid requiring the services of EMT (emergency medical technician) Gordon Oldham, trying to keep crew healthy was a fulltime task. “I’m not gonna lie; I don’t think I ever want to do a tour without some kind of medical person on tour, now,” says Nicole. “Gordon did a great job and proved invaluable for all kinds of things outside of the Covid situation.
“The crew was very international,” she says of a crew that sometimes had to be patched together to deal with Covid absentees. “We had Lithuanians, Polish, Ukrainian drivers, so we had a lot of language and communication issues, but Robert Hewett at Stagetruck was beyond helpful throughout the whole thing.
“In Ireland, we had riggers from Budapest, I believe, and there were one or two places in Europe where we struggled, but surprisingly we were never more than 20 short, so we managed to deal with it.”
“I don’t think I ever want to do a tour without some kind of medical person on tour, now”
Such issues were a piece of cake compared to Australia. “In Sydney, we had only 45 people out of 110 on the load-in,” Nicole says. “Luckily, we had a full load-in day and we organised accordingly: we talked to the crew chiefs and said when they officially really needed the hands, then great. But otherwise, these guys would break off and give lighting six hands, and then the special effects hands would go straight to audio, and we just had to juggle around like that. Sydney and Perth were the only ones where it was a little crazy.”
Having made the grade as one of the world’s top production managers, Nicole is determined to encourage other women in the business that they have the skills to do likewise. Not that everyone universally recognises her as the production chief, yet. “As a woman, people come up and start to talk to the stage manager before me, because they just think I’m a girl standing there,” she tells IQ. “It happens all the time in the office, where Dick has to say, ‘Have you met Nicole, our production manager?’ It’s ridiculous, but I’m lucky that I have really wonderful people around me that support me in that sense.”
She also namechecks some of the many women who have helped her on her journey and inspired her to aim for the top job. “Working with Marguerite Nguyen on Coldplay, I was given so much of an opportunity to do different things that most coordinators would never do on a tour. So, I feel like I was prepared to take the step up to PM, more than most, because that tour is just so massive.”
Advocating that more tours consider elevating women to production chief, Nicole observes, “We’re multitaskers and organisers. There are lots of amazing female leaders out there – we have Emma Reynolds-Taylor running the production for Glastonbury; Duchess [Sue Iredale] has been running productions forever; Bianca Mauro runs a stage at Austin City Limits. So, we have all these women that are running big festivals and stages and events, and while it just hasn’t happened as much on the road, there are still plenty of amazing women out there, day after day, delivering shows to fans. There just needs to be more, in the crew chief roles and upwards, but also just more women in touring, in general.
“What I think needs to happen is that women need to be trusted with management positions in touring and throughout the music business. We need to start pushing more of these strong-willed women, like myself, forward a bit more. There are lots of them out there who have been working their ass[es] off for years and feeling very good about what they do but who do not necessarily know or believe that they can do what I’m doing. But they can, and it’s a situation that we can all work on together to provide more support and encouragement to drive the change.”
“Women need to be trusted with management positions in touring and throughout the music business”
Indeed, citing one example of where her own personal experience as a dancer came to the fore, Nicole remembers a dilemma ahead of Eilish’s February 2022 concert at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena. “Billie’s toaster had a power issue,” states Nicole. “It’s the mechanism that allows her to pop-up onto the stage at the start of the show, and we all worked hard to try to fix it, but I finally knew it was time to go and tell her. But before I did that, I went out with the carpenter; we looked at putting a set of stairs in place and a bunch of different things so that I had three options for her to make her entrance.
“I’m not gonna lie; I really was proud of myself in the sense that it was my dance background that made me figure out the best way for her to enter. That was the first time I had that realisation that I can bring things to the table that a male production manager wouldn’t necessarily come up with.”
Breaking such news to the artist may be daunting, but Nicole’s bond with Billie is strong. “She’s an amazing artist,” states Nicole. “The thing that makes Billie so special is she doesn’t need the bells and whistles. So as the tour progressed and that muscle memory, night after night, developed, it was so good to just see her so happy and having so much fun out there.”
Indeed, that respect goes both ways, when Billie asked Nicole to introduce her Grammy performance when the Academy wanted to feature women in touring.
“The Grammy thing was an amazing moment; I had so much fun,” she smiles. “My friend, Patrick Logue from the Rod Stewart Camp, once told me that chewing gum was easier to get off the stage than me – and it’s kind of true; I’m such a ham! But I didn’t realise the impact it would have. Two weeks after The Grammys, when we were at Coachella, I had people I didn’t know coming up to me and thanking me for being the voice of our industry; speaking out for women. So, a really proud moment turned into this thing where I just had people stopping me left and right. And I was so honoured that it was perceived that way because I truly, truly love this industry.”
And having attained the top job, Nicole concludes that it’s given her a newfound understanding of her peers and former PM bosses. “I have so much more respect for all the production managers that I’ve worked with, because I used to keep my inbox as a to-do list, while I’d look at the likes of Bill’s email and think, ‘Oh my god, how can you let get it that way?’ But now I understand – I have 64,000 messages in my inbox now. It’s never-ending.”
“The thing that makes Billie so special is she doesn’t need the bells and whistles”
As for what’s next, Nicole reveals that industry nepotism has benefitted her once more, while the enforced time off that she and Dick enjoyed at the start of the pandemic has made her a little more relaxed about looking at next year’s employment contracts.
“After Billie’s hometown shows in December, the crew will all go our separate ways, but we’ve also got a little Finneas tour in Australia starting in January, where he’s doing the Laneway Festivals. So, we’ll get back together for that. And then we’ll come back to do some rehearsals before Billie heads to Latin America, then have a break in April.
“After that… I don’t really know, there’s nothing 100% confirmed, so I’m just going to play it by ear. Everybody keeps asking me what I’m going to do when The Happier Than Ever Tour ends, but I don’t stress about stuff like that anymore.”
Unsurprisingly, remaining in the camp for whom she described at The Grammys as “The best 20-year-old boss in the world,” would be top choice for Nicole, who concludes, “When it comes to work, I trust my gut and am hopeful that it means we’ll get to continue working with Billie.”
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Nile Rodgers steals the show at ILMC 34
Nile Rodgers brought the house down at ILMC 34, regaling the (Late) Breakfast Meeting with tales of his work with legends such as David Bowie, Prince and Diana Ross.
The Chic co-founder even squeezed in a shout out to his promoter, Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery, during yesterday’s 90-minute chat with former Dire Straits manager and raconteur Ed Bicknell.
The multi-award winning, genre-defying musician, whose career stretches over five decades, has written, produced and performed on albums that have sold over 500 million units worldwide, and 75 million singles. In 2018, he co-founded Hipgnosis Songs with manager Merck Mercuriadis.
“No one in the club was talking to him, because he didn’t look like David Bowie”
Here is a selection of some of his best anecdotes from yesterday’s interview…
David Bowie & Billy Idol
“David had just been dropped from his record label. I was about to get dropped from mine. The day that we met, we met early in the morning. I thought that I had driven up to this brand new after hours club in New York, called The Continental, with Billy Idol. But, in fact, what happened is I had driven there with someone else, but Billy was right there at the front door. Billy and I loved each other, we partied all the time. We walk in the club and Billy goes, ‘Bloody hell, that’s David fucking Bowie!’ And as he says ‘Bowie’, he barfs, because he had been putting down the sauce all night.”
“At that point, I had seen David. It was so strange because no one in the club was talking to him, because he didn’t look like David Bowie. It was the beginning of the metrosexual look, and he was dressed in a suit while everybody else was all club kitted out. He was the only one that looked like he ran Exxon or something. It was so weird, he was completely by himself. We start talking, and right away, it flipped from us talking about pop music to jazz. I now find out that David Bowie is a complete jazz freak, as a matter of fact, an aficionado. So now we’re trying to out-jazz each other. We’re going for the most underground avant-garde shit ever, it’s like we were playing poker. We’re just going on and on and on and on and on. And it was like no one else in the world existed. We found our thing, and we talked for hours and hours. At some point, he must have asked me for my phone number. A couple of weeks had gone by and my house was being rebuilt, and one of the workers said to me, ‘Hey, Mr Rodgers, some fucking guy keeps calling up every day saying he’s David Bowie.’ I said, ‘Well what did you do?’ He said, ‘I hung up on the cocksucker!’ I said, ‘The next time that cocksucker calls, could you give me the phone? That is David Bowie!’ Anyway, I finally take the call. He and I laugh and we joke. And it was magic, it was so magical because he got dropped. I was getting dropped. By the time we decide that decide we’re going to make this record [Let’s Dance] together, it was just the two of us against the world.”
“There’s no Prince. We finish the song and I see him running away”
“The first time I played with him was here in London, at some little joint in Camden. I walk in and all I hear is Prince go something like, ‘Oh my God, Nile Rodgers.’ He was playing guitar, he and [Ronnie] Wood. I walk up on stage, he gives me the guitar and he sits down on the keyboards and starts calling out R&B tunes. Poor Woody, who is a sweetheart, didn’t know any of these songs. So Prince and I are all into it, but Woody’s looking for the key and looking for the groove. We finished the first song and I said, ‘I think you should sit down now,’ and it was all cool. It was all love, because we were having the time of our lives. So Ron sits down and then Prince and I… I don’t even know how long we played. The next day I bought every rose in London, and [Prince] told me that when he got back to his room, it was filled with thousands of purple roses. I guess I went overboard, I was so happy with that jam.”
Prince (Part II)
“Years later, we’re playing down in Turks and Caicos where I have a home. Prince has one there too because when he found out that I was building a recording studio, he said, ‘Really? Okay, I’m going to move to Turks and Caicos!’ I never built the recording studio, I’ve got a little writers’ room, but Prince moves down there. We’re doing a concert and Prince happens to be on the island. He comes over and he says, ‘Yo, can I play Let’s Dance with you guys?’ ‘Hell, yes, of course, bro!’ We get to the middle of the show where we do Let’s Dance and I say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, a really great friend of mine and a really great artist – Prince!’ And we go into the song, but there’s no Prince. We finish the song and I see him running away. I’m like, ‘What the hell?’ A year later, we were playing in New Orleans at the Essence Festival to 70,000 people. He says to me, ‘Hey Nile, can I come out and play Let’s Dance with you?’ ‘Of course Prince, but I’m not falling for it this time.’ So we set up his gear, we play Let’s Dance and we get to the part where we have the whole audience jumping up and down. In the middle of the jump sequence, we heard this roar. And I look to my left, and there’s Prince with one hand in the air jumping up and down with his guitar strapped on. He’s soloing his ass off and he’s killing it. We’re jamming together and it was amazing, it was like my heart was flying. I happened to post a picture of Prince jumping up and down with me and I’m waiting for how long it’s going to take for him to pull it down. [But] Prince reposts the picture. And this is exactly what it says. No words. And I feel like a gazillion dollars. I never had another encounter with him. I never called him and thanked him. I never did anything because he wound up passing away fairly soon after that event. But it was amazing. When you’re a live musician, everything is about playing, giving back and sharing. That’s the shit I live for.”
“We had to fight every step of the way to give her the biggest album of her life”
“Every song I’ve ever written is based on a non-fiction event, and then we use fictional elements to help complete the story. One night, I’m club hopping and I go to this transvestite club because they have the best music, they don’t have to worry about the Top 40 records, they can play all the records that they think that the crowd is going to be down with. I go to the bathroom. I’m standing there at this trough and on either side of me are at least five Diane Ross impersonators, and a light bulb goes off in my head – I’ve got to write a song about the queer community’s love of Diana Ross. So I call [Chic co-founder Bernard Edwards] and I say, ‘Bro, write down, “I’m coming out,” because I’m gonna stay up, I’m gonna get drunk and I’m gonna forget this. Imagine that she walks out on stage and the first words out of her mouth are, “I’m coming out.” We’re gonna sell a million records just to the queer community alone!’ The next day, he comes in the studio and we put together I’m Coming Out. Today, to you guys that probably just sounds like a pop record. But when we wrote that, [Motown founder] Berry Gordy was furious. He was like, ‘Whoa, this is not a Diana Ross record.’ After months of lawsuits and this and that, they decided to put it out. The biggest record of Diana Ross’s life is the album Diana. We had to fight, fight, fight, fight, every step of the way, to give her the biggest album of her life, and I’m so proud that we had that fight. I’m Coming Out has historically meant something to the LGBTQ+ community, which is exactly how I got the idea that first place.”
“He works his butt off. He’s the sweetest, sweetest guy, and we work in a business where I’m fortunate to have worked with some wonderful, charming people. I’d like to say a few things about him because he’s just so awesome. He’s been a part of my life for a number of years now. He’s celebrating his 50th year in the business, which is amazing to me. And I just want to give thanks to him for being one of the loveliest guys I know. Happy 50th Phil, I love you. David [Bowie] always called me ‘Darling’? Well, Phil always calls you ‘love’. I just want to say, ‘Thank you, love,’ to Phil Bowdery.”
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60 years of SSE Arena, Wembley celebrated in pictures
Heroes – the Exhibition, a photographic exploration of the sixty-year history of the SSE Arena, Wembley, is opening to the public on Thursday 28 November at Getty Images Gallery, Wembley Park.
The exhibition will feature over 100 photographs of artists at the London music venue, which celebrated its busiest year yet in 2018.
From 1960s snaps of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to more recent images of Kendrick Lamar, Queens of the Stone Age and the Prodigy, the exhibition will cover the arena’s rich musical history. Other artists to feature in the collection include David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Whitney Houston, Queen, Prince, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Rihanna.
Words by the arena’s vice president and general manager John Drury accompany the photos, which are taken by renowned music photographer Michael Putland and former and current Getty photographers Dave Hogan and Brian Risac, among others.
“Over the past 60 years The SSE Arena, Wembley has earned its place as one of the most iconic live music venues in the world,” comments Drury. “There is a chemistry that keeps bringing artists and fans back, that feeling of connection, passion, and shared experience.
“Heroes brilliantly captures the magic on stage and in the audience that could happen nowhere else”
“Playing Wembley for the first time is a special milestone in any artist’s career and each show builds on its legendary status. That is what Heroes brilliantly captures, the magic on stage and in the audience that could happen nowhere else.”
Built in 1934, the arena in Wembley – originally known as the Empire Pool – has been a live music venue for over six decades. Following a £26 million refurbishment, the arena reopened in 2006, taking the name of the SSE Arena, Wembley in 2014.
“Wembley Park has always been about people coming together to share experiences, and The SSE Arena, Wembley is central to this,” says Josh McNorton, cultural director of Wembley Park.
“Over the past 60 years, it has played an enormous part in the cultural history of the area and in global music history, and Heroes is a great way to celebrate this through the performances of some of the world’s most famous performers.”
The exhibition is open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Getty Images Gallery, Wembley Park. Admission is free for the first three days. All photographs are available for purchase, priced from £70 to £648.
The O2 celebrates 25 million ticket sales
Twenty five million tickets have been sold for shows at London’s O2 Arena since 2007, the venue team announced today (22 October), following a busy summer with concerts by Ariana Grande, Travis Scott, Muse and more.
The 20,000-capacity O2 Arena, which was crowned the world’s busiest venue for the 11th consecutive year in 2018, has this year seen performances from the likes of Daddy Yankee, George Ezra, Post Malone, Cher and Khalid.
Bjork, the Chemical Brothers, Liam Gallagher, Krept and Konan, Little Mix and the Lumineers are all set to perform at the arena before the end of the year.
Since opening in 2007, the O2 has hosted over 2,000 individual performances and now holds an average of 200 events per year, covering music, sport, comedy, family entertainment and esports.
“To reach the 25 million ticket milestone is a huge achievement and we’re so grateful to have hosted so many artists for the first time this year”
“To reach the 25 million ticket milestone is a huge achievement and we’re so grateful to have hosted so many artists for the first time this year,” comments Emma Bownes, vice president of programming.
“London has the best fans in the world, and we’d like to thank promoters, agents, managers and our partners for continuing to work with us to help bring the very best performers from the worlds of music, comedy, sport and entertainment to the O2”.
Canadian rapper Drake was this year inducted into the venue’s ‘21 Club’, joining acts including Prince, One Direction and Take That to have performed at the London arena 21 times.
Take That hold the record for the most number of shows played at the O2, whereas the attendance record belongs to Metallica, who played to a 22,211-strong crowd in 2017.
Tickets are not the only thing being sold in large quantities at the O2. In 2018, the venue sold over 172,000 portions of chips, 72,500 hot dogs and more than 993,000 pints of beer.
The Power House: Creative Artists Agency at 35
“We walked into work on January 3, 1984, just three agents with three clients and a bit of a dream.”
35 years later, Rob Light, now managing director of Creative Artists Agency (CAA) can rightly look back on the growth of the music department and say that dream came true.
With headquarters in Los Angeles, London and Beijing, the agency works across film, television, music, sports, digital media, marketing and much more.
The music department alone is made up of over 100 agents around the globe and generates over US$3 billion in worldwide touring revenue, according to Billboard. It claims to have more women agents than any other agency, more women in power than any other agency, and a more diverse agent breakdown.
Yet, insists Light, it still runs like a boutique business. “We’re a big agency, but we still care. For us it’s not about being cool – if you want to break and have a career this is how we do it. We’re never cookie cutter.”
New kids on the block
CAA was founded in a whirlwind of drama in 1975 when five hungry William Morris Agency staff quit the biggest film and TV agency in Hollywood to start their own business. It was a major shake-up – the story is worthy of a movie in itself, and is described in great detail in James Andrew Miller’s book, Powerhouse.
Nine years later, in 1984, the company created another stir. It launched a music department and poached one of the biggest names in the music agency business at the time to head it: Tom Ross, head of International Creative Management (ICM)’s music division.
“We’re a big agency, but we still care”
Ross’s assistant at the time was Light. He’d started in ICM’s mail-room six years earlier, aged 21, where he lasted for seven days before being spotted by Terry Rhodes (now running his own agency, Patriot Artists).
When CAA co-founder Mike Ovitz approached Ross, Light was invited to join his boss at the fledgling department. At the time, ICM was a powerhouse. And although it had a reputation for its film and TV work, CAA had just 27 agents, so the move was something of a gamble.
“I believed in Tom, plus Mike Ovitz was an incredibly seductive guy,” remembers Light. “So at 26 I thought I’d take a shot.”
The next five years saw explosive growth. Ovitz had assured Ross that CAA’s music and film departments would work together, and came good on his promise. “When I started at CAA all the film agents were excited we were there,” says Light.
Until then, film, TV and music departments at agencies were like separate kingdoms. But there was increasing demand from musicians to fulfil their other creative ambitions, and CAA’s close working relationship across the teams was ready to help realise them. This cross-departmental ethos has been integral to the company’s success ever since.
“It felt like the agency business had never seen that type of approach, attitude, energy or level of teamwork”
One of the first signings the new music department made was in summer 1984. Prince had long held a desire to make the movie Purple Rain and CAA got him on the books by promising to make it a reality. Light went on to work with the artist for the next 13 years, outlasting many managers and lawyers.
It was the teamwork mentality that was so unique. As agent Rob Prinz told James Andrew Miller: “It felt like the agency business had never seen that type of approach, attitude, energy or level of teamwork and co-ordination.”
CAA was the first agency to have a crossover agent, which saw dedicated TV and acting agent Brian Loucks installed in the music department. Loucks was a massive film and TV geek with an encyclopaedic knowledge of avant-garde film as well as the mainstream.
Loucks’ embracing of the cross-departmental approach can be typified in his Living Room Sessions, which started out as an informal gathering and have turned into an industry networking tour-de-force. They see about 200 carefully selected people invited to his home in LA’s Studio City to see performances by artists such as Annie Lennox, Christine and The Queens, Keith Urban, Two Door Cinema Club and Tim McGraw. These carefully selected invitees are A-list Hollywood, music business and brand names, including renowned manager Simon Fuller, Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson and actor Chris Pine.
“What we’re doing is trying to serve the artists’ needs. If they say they want to try acting, we can give them the tools”
“What we’re doing is trying to serve the artists’ needs,” explains Light. “If they say they want to try acting, or like Billie Joe from Green Day, wanting to do a Broadway play [American Idiot]. If they really want to do it, we can give them the tools.
“It’s easy when you have a company that’s built that way. Everybody here wants to work in this way. You have to have somebody in place to help the artist fulfil what they want to do.”
A reputation for innovation
Light’s rise to the top came when CAA co-founder Michael Ovitz left in 1995 for an infamously short-lived stint as Michael Eisner’s deputy at Disney. His departure was a big deal for the company, which was by now one of the biggest agencies in the world.
It meant a shake-up at the top of the company’s administration. Ross stayed a few years longer, but left in 1998, fed up of the way the live industry was going. It was the time of Live Nation precursor SFX, when media mogul Robert Sillerman was buying up promoters around the world. Ross was one of the most vocal opponents of the new behemoth and after three decades at the top, wanted out of the agency business.
What happened next set the roadmap for CAA’s success and confirmed its reputation for innovation.
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 81, or subscribe to the magazine here
IQ remembers the musical talent lost in 2016
The deaths in December of George Michael and Status Quo founder Rick Parfitt have brought 2016 to a sad end. Quite simply, none of us can remember a year that claimed so many celebrities, with barely a week going by without the news of some musician who had helped to shape the lives of at least some of us.
While the likes of David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen might steal most of the headlines, we thought it would be an idea to remind everyone of the breadth of artistry to which the world has said goodbye, from the young members of Viola Beach, who perished along with their manager in a car accident in February, and the murder of Christina Grimmie in June, to conductor and composer Harry Rabinowitz, who celebrated his 100th birthday just three months before his death.
25 December: George Michael, aged 53
24 December: Rick Parfitt, 68
11 December: Valerie Gell, 71
7 December, Greg Lake, 69
24 November: Colonel Abrams, 67
21 November: Jean Shepard, 82
20 November: Craig Gill, 44
18 November: Sharon Jones, 60
13 November: Leon Russell, 74
7 November, Leonard Cohen, 82
25 October: Bobby Vee, 73
23 October: Pete Burns, 57
8 October: Phil Chess, 95
5 October: Joan Marie Johnson, 72
5 October: Rod Temperton, 66
2 October: Sir Neville Marriner, 92
24 September: Stanley Dural Jr., 68
21 September, John D. Loudermilk, 82
1 September: Fred Hellerman, 89
28 August: Juan Gabriel, 66
24 August: Billy Paul, 80
20 August: Matt Roberts, 38
9 August: Padraig Duggan, 67
6 August: Pete Fountain, 86
16 July: Alan Vega, 78
28 June: Scotty Moore, 84
24 June: Bernie Worrell, 72
22 June: Harry Rabinowitz, 100
17 June: Attrell Cordes, 46
10 June: Christina Grimmie, 22
3 June: Dave Swarbrick, 75
21 May: Nick Menza, 51
17 May: Guy Clark, 74
21 April: Prince, 57
12 April: David Gest, 62
11 April: Emile Ford, 78
6 April: Merle Haggard, 79
22 March: Phife Dawg, 45
20 March: Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman, 73
16 March: Frank Sinatra Jr., 72
14 March: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, 81
11 March: Keith Emerson, 71
10 March: Ernestine Anderson, 87
8 March: Sir George Martin, 90
5 March: Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 86
4 March: Joey Feek, 40
25 February: John Chilton, 83
15 February: Denise Matthews, 57
13 February: Kris Leonard, 20; River Reeves, 19; Thomas Lowe, 27; Jack Dakin, 19; Craig Tarry, 33
4 February: Maurice White, 74
28 January: Paul Kantner, 74
26 January: Colin Vearncombe, 53
18 January, Glenn Frey, 67
17 January: Dale Griffin, 67
16 January: René Angélil, 73
10 January: David Bowie, 69
7 January: Kitty Kallen, 93
5 January: Pierre Boulez, 90
4 January: Robert Stigwood, 81
Celebration 2017 festival set for Paisley Park
Prince’s Paisley Park estate, which IQ last month revealed would be hosting concerts and live events following its reopening as a museum, has announced details of the first such event: Celebration 2017, which will “celebrate the life and legacy” of the late singer with panels, presentations and performances by his former backing musicians.
Performers at the event, which runs from 20 to 23 April, include The Revolution, Morris Day and The Time and members of The New Power Generation and 3rdeyegirl, with tickets starting at an eye-watering US$499 for general admission – $100 more than Desert Trip – or $999 for VIP passes.
Paisley Park – Prince’s 65,000sqft private estate and recording complex in Chanhassen, Minnesota, now operated by PPark Manamagent – recently opened permanently to public tours, just over six months after his death.
Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, died from an accidental fentanyl overdose at Paisley Park on 21 April. Read IQ’s tribute here.
Prince memorial concerts mooted for MSG, Staples Center
Prince’s friends in the music industry are reportedly planning “big memorial celebrations”, including tribute concerts at 18,000-capacity arenas Madison Square Garden in New York and the Staples Center in Los Angeles, in the wake of his death aged 57 last Thursday.
According to an anonymous source quoted by Radar, performers will include The Bangles, Chaka Kahn, Mavis Staples, Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham and “loads of big-name friends”.
An unrelated free memorial concert, hosted by Danish festival Golden Days and featuring music and spoken-word performances, will also be held at Vega’s Lounge in Copenhagen tonight.
Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Rihanna and David Gilmour (who performed a medley of ‘Comfortably Numb’ and Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’) are among the high-profile musicians who have incorporated a tribute to Prince in recent live shows.
Read IQ’s tribute to Prince (pictured), described as “a pioneering live performer who changed the face of the concert industry forever”, here.
Prince: A lust for live
Prince, who died yesterday, was many things to many people: A sex symbol who defied social, racial and gender norms; a self-taught musicians’ musician who mastered “thousands” of instruments, including bass, piano, drums, various synthesisers and percussion and – of course – guitar; an early advocate for artists’ rights who fought his major label, Warner Bros, for ownership and artistic control of his own music.
To many in the concert business, however, Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson on 7 June 1958) will be remembered for the joy he took from simply playing live. Standing only 5’2″ tall, Nelson was nevertheless a giant on stage, a combination of his charisma, sex appeal, dazzling musical chops (an apocryphal tale has Eric Clapton, when asked what’s it like to be the best guitar player alive, responding: “I don’t know; ask Prince”) and four-inch high heels lending the diminutive singer, songwriter and producer a towering stage presence that transcended mere inches.
And after no less than 28 concert tours – including the unplugged Piano & A Microphone tour, ongoing at the time of his death – the 57-year-old showed no signs of a desire to stop touring. Nor did audiences show any signs of a desire to stop listening: the dates comprising his final completed tour, the spontaneously plotted Hit and Run trek of 2014–15, were consistently sold out and generated huge critical acclaim for the artist and his touring band, 3rdeyegirl.
One of Prince’s most memorable highlights in the world of live performance remains his landmark 21-night residency at The O2 in 2007, which paved the way for similar residencies by Bon Jovi, the Spice Girls, One Direction, Beyoncé and Michael Jackson
One of Prince’s most memorable highlights in the world of live performance remains his landmark 21-night Earth Tour residency at London’s O2 Arena in 2007, which changed the touring landscape irreversibly, paving the way for similar arena residencies by Bon Jovi, the Spice Girls, One Direction, Beyoncé and Michael Jackson with the ill-fated This is It.
“Everything’s changed this summer,” he told the cheering crowd, without a hint of hyperbole, at the time. “It doesn’t matter who came before or who comes after. From now on, The O2 is Prince’s house.”
The O2’s general manager, Rebecca Kane Burton, said this morning: “We are all shocked and deeply saddened to hear the news that Prince has died. […] [He was a] true artist and musical genius. RIP.”
Cameron Strange, CEO of Warner Bros Records, with which Prince repaired his relationship in recent years, said in a statement last night: “He leapt onto the scene in 1978 and it didn’t take the world long to realise that pop music had changed forever. He played the studio like an instrument and shattered the definition of live performance. He defined a new kind of superstardom, with a transformative impact not just on music, but on video, film, and style.
“Prince was the epitome of cool and mystery – an inspirational soul who created his own universe by bringing together different genres, races and cultures with a purity of sound and spirit unlike any other. His visionary gifts as a songwriter, vocalist, musician, performer and producer placed him in a league all his own.”
“He played the studio like an instrument and shattered the definition of live performance”
A statement from the 4,678-capacity Fox Theatre in Atlanta, where Prince played his last live show on 14 April, said: “Prince was a music pioneer, innovator and cultural icon. His music moved and inspired many, including the fans that were able to join him as he took the stage for his final performances last week…
“We, along with the world, mourn the loss of a music legend.”
Watch Prince performing one of his signature songs, ‘Purple Rain’, at the Fox, courtesy of gig-goer Jake Reuse, below:
We weren't supposed to use phones at Prince in ATL last week, but I couldn't resist. Last performance of Purple Rain pic.twitter.com/6FjkJTksJO
— Jake Reuse (@ReuseRecruiting) April 21, 2016