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Rebecca Kane Burton: “Socially distanced venues don’t work”

Beverley Knight’s landmark 23 July show at the London Palladium was a “blessed relief” for everyone involved – but it also showed that socially distanced concerts aren’t viable for the vast majority of music venues, according to Rebecca Kane Burton, CEO of West End venue chain LW Theatres.

British soul singer Knight played to a crowd of around 640 – some 30% of the Palladium’s normal capacity – as part of government-backed ‘pilot’ scheme designed to how venues might operate with social distancing ahead of the planned return of indoor shows on 1 August (now pushed back to at least the 15th). A second pilot event took place at another London venue, the the 1,250-capacity Clapham Grand, on 28 July, with Frank Turner playing to a 20% full room.

“The most horrible thing about the past 19 weeks has been not being able to open these doors,” Kane Burton, reflecting on the Palladium pilot event, tells IQ. “The excitement and thrill of working with my team again to put on that show was a blessed relief.”

Kane Burton (pictured) is full of praise for both Knight and the Palladium team, describing the former as the perfect performer given the circumstances.

“Not many people would be ballsy enough to get on stage with the room only 30% full,” she says, “but Beverley did it with gusto – she got everyone up on their feet dancing, which in turn made people feel like they were allowed to enjoy themselves.”

“The excitement and thrill of working with my team again was a blessed relief”

As for the LW/Palladium team, the message from Public Health England was that “they couldn’t find one flaw” in how the show – which featured temperature checks and a host of hygienic gadgetry – was organised.

However, while she says she considers the Palladium show a success, Kane Burton – like Ally Wolf from the Clapham Grand – is clear that it should not be used a blueprint for how live events may reopen safely in the UK.

For a start, both shows lost money – “Normally the ratio of staff to customers [at the Palladium] is 1:40,” explains Kane Burton, “but for Beverley Knight, it was 1:10; no promoter is going to pay for that” – and while Knight did her best, even the PHE officials present noticed the lack of atmosphere present with a sparse, mask-wearing audience.

“Socially distanced venues don’t work,” says Kane Burton. With a 70% empty venue, “you’re not allowed to have that moment of escapism” that comes with seeing a show at a packed venue, as the Knight gig showed, she adds.

“To get an atmosphere you need to fill the place to the rafters. That’s how you get a rocking Palladium, and that’s how you bring venues back to life.”

Knight agrees. “I would not encourage any performer to step inside an auditorium where they’re playing to 30% capacity,” she tells IQ. “Financial considerations aside, that energy that you need isn’t there.

“To get an atmosphere you need to fill the place to the rafters”

“And equally for the audience listening: they appreciated what we’re doing on stage but they didn’t feel ‘in’ the gig. The euphoria wasn’t there.”

Along with much of the UK live music industry, Kane Burton is now pushing the British government for a reopening date for non-socially distanced shows, as well as working with PHE to develop guidance for post-Covid-19 performing arts.

While the Beverley Knight show didn’t provide a roadmap for the future of live in the UK, it did signal to the rest of the concert business that venues are pushing hard to reopen when they’re allowed, concludes Kane Burton.

“We wanted to send a message to all promoters and agents that we, as a venue industry, are not resting on our laurels,” she says. “We’re here in the trenches, and everything we’re doing is about getting the industry back on track.”

“We need to get going again, because without live music, this country loses its soul,” she adds. “We can’t just sit here and do nothing.”


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Really Useful plans music push with Gaydon hire

Really Useful Theatres, which owns and operates six theatres in the West End of London, has appointed ex-Roundhouse head of music Dave Gaydon as its head of programming.

Gaydon will work alongside Rebecca Kane Burton, formerly general manager of The O2, to present more live music at Really Useful’s venues, particularly the 2,286-capacity London Palladium.

The Palladium, described in a press release as the “jewel in the group’s crown”, recently underwent a £1 million refurbishment, and has in the past 12 months hosted shows by Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Coldplay, Bon Jovi and Kaiser Chiefs. (Dylan’s agent, ITB’s Barry Dickins, describes his three nights at the Palladium as a “wonderful experience”.)

Gaydon (pictured) will remain as a director of GOAT Music, the events agency which last year staged its first festival, GOAT Festival, in Goa, India, although Really Useful says his “focus” will be chiefly on his new role.

“I am delighted and feel privileged to be part of the move into a new era for this incredible venue”

He comments: “I am delighted and feel privileged to be part of the move into a new era for this incredible venue. There are a whole host of both heritage and contemporary artists that I know will work fantastically well in the intimate setting of the Palladium, and I’m looking forward programming some great gigs.”

“Since taking the helm here, I’ve been keen to secure the right music person to propel the London Palladium forward and secure the calibre of acts this world-famous stage deserves,” adds Kane Burton.

“Dave’s credentials at the Roundhouse and beyond speak for themselves. I’m thrilled he’s joined us and can’t wait to see how the place flourishes under his creative direction.”

Really Useful Theatres is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lord Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. Its other venues are Her Majesty’s Theatre (1,216-cap.), Adelphi Theatre (1,500-cap.), Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (2,196-cap.), Cambridge Theatre (1,231-cap.), New London Theatre (1,024-cap.) and the newly acquired The Other Palace (312-cap.), which opened as the St James Theatre in 2012 on the site of the former Westminster Theatre.


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The O2 general manager steps down

Rebecca Kane Burton, vice-president and general manager of The O2, is to step down after four and a half years at the London entertainment complex.

As of 1 September, Kane Burton (pictured) will become managing director of West End theatre owner-operator Really Useful Theatres (RUT), a division of the Lord Lloyd-Webber’s Really Useful Group.

Tom Miserendino, CEO and president of The O2 operator AEG Europe, says Kane Burton has been a “valued member of our management team” and “can be rightfully proud of the legacy she leaves and the excellent team in place at the venue.”

“We wish her well for the exciting things she has planned next,” he adds.

Kane Burton was previously managing director of the Alexandra Palace, which she joined in 2008 from English Heritage.

“The world’s number one music venue will always hold a fond place in my heart”

Her appointment reflects “a change in emphasis for RUT”, says the company, which plans to grow its concert business, secure a number of new sponsors and launch its own ticketing company in the new few years.

“I am thrilled about this appointment and cannot think of a better or more exciting time to join Really Useful Theatres,” says Kane Burton. “I have a real passion for theatre and historic buildings and I am fortunate that this role combines the best of both. Working across some of London’s most iconic and innovative theatres in the heart of the West End is a challenge that I am delighted to accept.

“It has been a wonderful four and a half years at The O2 and I am hugely proud of what the team have achieved during my time as VP and general manager. The world’s number one music venue will always hold a fond place in my heart.”

The O2 Arena was once again the world’s best-performing in 2015, selling a total of 1,819,487 tickets, over 700,000 more than second-placed Manchester Arena.


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