x

The latest industry news to your inbox.


I'd like to hear about marketing opportunities

    

I accept IQ Magazine's Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

This Life on Tour: On the road with Take That

As one of the biggest boy bands of the 90s, Take That have been selling out venues for more than 30 years, while racking up millions of record sales, numerous awards, and a reputation for putting on spectacular concerts. Current outing, This Life on Tour, is only enhancing the band’s status, while taking the group into new markets internationally. IQ reports.

As one of the UK’s most-loved acts, Take That have sold more than 14m albums in their home nation alone, consistently setting the bar high with live performances that thrill arena and stadium crowds alike. But unlike many of their peers, the trio of Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, and Mark Owen are determined to further build their fanbase, with the current tour taking them to new territories, as well as markets they haven’t visited in decades.

Last year, Take That switched allegiances by entrusting James Wright and Oliver Ward at United Talent Agency to handle their representation globally.

In their native UK, however, the band has a longstanding arrangement with SJM founder Simon Moran, who is often credited with persuading them to end their nine-year hiatus to reform. That decision saw SJM enjoying phenomenal success on The Ultimate Tour in 2006, in addition to the six tours prior to the current outing.

Nonetheless, Moran admits to being once again surprised by the volume of ticket sales. “We never take anything for granted,” Moran tells IQ, in the knowledge that 700,000 ticket sales makes them the biggest-selling UK tour by a UK act this year. “The high level of the tours previously and the production values thus far have delivered tremendous results, but it’s nice to see thew sales come through to this level.”

This Life marks Take That’s 12th tour, but ever ambitious, the band are taking their production to a number of new markets. “We want to go to places they’ve not been to,” says Moran. “We haven’t played in Leeds before, so to sell-out four shows and 40,000 tickets is a great result.”

“We’re very careful on pricing to [ensure we] have a wide range. There were probably 15-20% of the tickets priced at £60, which is great value”

And the SJM founder observes that the band’s popularity seems to still be expanding. Detailing the demographics of the ticket holders, he comments, “We still see the original fans from the 90s and then there’s a whole new fanbase that came on board with the Beautiful World [2007], Circus [2009], and Progress [2011] tours, but we also see the sons and daughters of the original fans and maybe even of the ones from [the noughties] as well.”

The fact that the tours attract so many young fans also plays a part in ticket prices, according to Moran. “We’re very careful on pricing to [ensure we] have a wide range. There were probably 15-20% of the tickets priced at £60, which is great value. At the other end, we have some VIP tickets, but we want to keep prices affordable for the vast majority of people.”

New relationships
While Moran promotes the UK tour leg – along with DF Concerts in Scotland and fellow Manchester-based operation Kennedy Street Presents – globally, Take That are now represented by UTA’s Ward and Wright who went back to basics for the set-up of This Life on Tour.

“We took the decision, collectively with management, to speak to every promoter in every market, including historical promoters,” says Ward. “Essentially, it was an open door, with us being the new agents, to have fresh conversations with everyone to find the right partners for the band in every territory. The enthusiasm amongst the promoters to bring the band to these markets, where they hadn’t been for ages or [had] never been, was massive.”

Disclosing some of the research undertaken in pulling together their proposal for Take That, Ward explains, “Our IQ Department here at UTA is an amazing resource and using their analysis we could see there were some really prominent markets, at least in terms of digital audience, where the band either had never been or hadn’t been for years. We took that information in good faith to [band manager] Chris Dempsey, and he then took it to the boys to show them there might be some untapped markets that should be considered.”

“The boys themselves were very keen on this campaign to do more in these markets and meet these fans for the first time or for the first time in a long time”

Wright says, “The boys themselves were very keen on this campaign to do more in these markets and meet these fans for the first time or for the first time in a long time. So it just became a big part of our conversation in the lead up to us working with them.

“We were also able to present an understanding of where fans were looking at things like Take That’s Wikipedia pages, so we really had a deep understanding of exactly where their fanbase was.”

That data has helped Take That plan a routing across 51 cities in 21 countries, as the band plays 79 dates before the end of the year, plus their own bespoke festival in Malta.

Burning ambition
Underlining the scope of the new markets that UTA’s research identified, the tour will see Take That play their first-ever shows in Portugal, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Czechia, and Slovakia. Additionally, Ward and Wright have agreed deals that will see the band performing in Asia for the first time since the 90s and their return to Spain after a 17-year absence.

Wright comments, “There’s a fundamental fear when a band or an artist has been going for that length of time, they want to sort of sit back. But Take That’s energy is quite remarkable – it’s very infectious to be around. And it just drives us to step up and deliver for them.”

And flagging up the professionalism of the artists, Ward says, “We’ve got a band who’ve been willing to do the promo and to go to these markets to excite the fanbase. The best example is Australia, where this will be only the band’s second visit since the 90s. Working with the promoter, Gary [Barlow] went to Australia to launch the tour with four days of packed promo. Credit to Gary, that has helped us have the best sales the band have ever seen in Australia.”

“We have many original fans, but we also have lots of teenagers coming to the show – it’s about a 50/50 split between the generation”

Susan Heymann, chief operating officer at Frontier Touring, which is promoting the band’s six-date tour, is delighted with the band’s return down under. “Gary was adored everywhere he went on his Australian promo trip,” she says. “The band and their team are some of the nicest people we’ve worked with and incredibly hardworking.”

As one of the new promoters on the tour, Heymann tells IQ, “We had a great response to the announcement of their November tour and with the addition of their old friend, Sophie Ellis-Bextor on the bill, announced right around the time when her hit Murder On The Dance Floor had re-entered the global charts, this Take That tour is reaching a broader audience than ever before.”

Back in Europe, Carsten Svoldgaard at CSB Island Entertainment is looking forward to welcoming the band back to Denmark, having hosted their only non-UK date in 2023.

“They played Hindsgavl Castle here last year and sold out 10,000 tickets, so we were very keen to be involved in this year’s tour as well,” says Svoldgaard. “We did not know how popular they would be for the Hindsgavl show because we had not worked with them before and it had been a long time since they had performed in Denmark, but it worked really well.”

Having sold out all 5,500 tickets for the 27 June gig at the Skovdalen amphitheatre in Aalborg, Svoldgaard reports that the fans span the generations. “We have many original fans, but we also have lots of teenagers coming to the show – it’s about a 50/50 split between the generations.”

“That’s what I find so inspiring – here they are all these years later, still going really strong and still massively ambitious in a way that not all artists are”

Further south, Will Anderson at Madrid-based Mercury Wheels is promoting six of Take That’s seven shows in Spain, including dates in Marbella, Seville, Murcia, and Jerez, as well as the capital city. “We have these outdoor concert series in Spain that are quite popular, so they’re sort of a festival vibe, but they’re all outdoor headline shows, essentially,” says Anderson of the gigs.

“Take That haven’t been to Spain for 17 years, so that was part of the conversation when Olly and James at UTA got in touch, as there’s a lot of pent-up demand from Spaniards to see them. But naturally, there will also be a lot of British expats that live here, as well as people flying in for the shows – the audiences should be a real mixture.”

While this will mark the first time that Anderson himself has worked with the band, he is relishing the experience. “Expectations are pretty high,” he tells IQ. “Just speaking with the agents at UTA, you get a sense of the ambition coming from the band themselves. That’s what I find so inspiring – here they are all these years later, still going really strong and still massively ambitious in a way that not all artists are. They could very easily sit on their laurels and not do very much if they wanted to. But they want to get out and see their fans in all parts of the world.”

In terms of ticket sales, Anderson reports, “In Madrid, the show sold out in a day, while Marbella was one of the fastest-selling shows they’ve ever had in the history of the concert series, so they ended up adding a second date. But right across the board, it’s going great guns, so we’re really happy with how it’s coming together.”

The agents are similarly enthused. “Spain’s been a big one,” confirms Wright. “We’re just delighted that having not been there since 2007, we’re now doing seven concerts. The show in Madrid sold out in 24 hours, which was one of the fastest sellouts ever by an international artist at that concert series.”

“The sales are tracking very well against our other recent arena shows, and the band have both a strong ex-pat and international following”

Also on the tour routing is a 25 October date in the United Arab Emirates where MAC Global previously promoted the band’s 2017 Wonderland Live outing.

“We fully expect people to travel from Dubai and other Emirates in the UAE: we are seeing the ticket-buyers more willing to travel from Dubai to Abu Dhabi for shows and vice versa,” comments MAC Global co-founder and chief creative officer, Daniel Goldberg. “Take That have a huge global following, and we fully expect to see fans travel from the UK to attend the show and build in a short winter break around it.”

With the band’s agents looking to potentially add dates to the Middle East leg, Goldberg notes, “We’re hoping Take That will do two or three regional plays. We are based in Dubai, but our remit, being part of the Sony Masterworks network, is very much regional routing. Even dating back to 2015, we successfully routed Ed Sheeran to Dubai, Oman, Qatar, and India in one regional run, and we always try and route artists to more than one market here.”

Indeed, he reports that demand for the October show is encouraging. “The sales are tracking very well against our other recent arena shows, and the band have both a strong ex-pat and international following. Robbie Williams recently sold close to 14,000 tickets in Abu Dhabi, so we’re hoping to hit a similar number.

“Their UK sales speak for themselves and there’s a huge amount of excitement for them coming to Abu Dhabi. The band and entire team are a delight to work with, and this will surely be one of the event calendar highlights for the UAE this year.”

“Generally, when it comes to the live show, it’s about communication of what it looks like, what it feels like, and how it works with new gags or new equipment”

Large-scale production
Having formed in 1990, Take That have worked with many professionals in the industry over the decades, but one member of their team who dates back beyond their first tour is creative director Kim Gavin.

“Weirdly, the band contacted me as soon as they had a hit, back in 1992, so I’ve now been 32 years with them,” Gavin informs IQ.

Recalling his first encounter with the band – which was then a quintet – he explains, “I was working for the BBC, doing the Children’s Royal Variety Show, and the director wanted a pop act at the beginning of the show. We saw four different acts, and when the director asked who out of the four I would put on stage, I said, ‘Without doubt, Take That.’ I remember having to splice in cheers and screams when they entered the stage in the edit, because nobody knew who they were.

“When their third single, It Only Takes a Minute, went to number seven in the charts, they decided they wanted to go on the road, so I did that first tour with them. I choreographed all the songs on the album and staged their tour, and that’s been my position with them right through till this moment.”

Renowned for their state-of-the-art sets, Gavin has been at the forefront of Take That’s spectacular shows since day one but reveals that this tour is putting more emphasis on the repertoire than aesthetics.

“Generally, when it comes to the live show, it’s about communication of what it looks like, what it feels like, and how it works with new gags or new equipment. On this tour, what Take That want to try and get across is more the singing and what the songs are, inherently. So, they’ve stepped back from the spectacular, even though they still do pyro and all sorts of special effects. But it’s the first production since 1995 where they haven’t had dancers, for instance.”

“We make sure that things are fairly elastic, so that we can respond once we get into rehearsals”

Gavin says planning for the current production started last autumn. “We’ve gone with a very big stage on this because it’s got these two swivelling staircases, and it needs to be that big in order to do everything we want it to do. But the stairs portray the ups and downs of This Life, so they are integral to the show.”

Providing some insight into the creative process, Gavin says, “Even back in ‘92, Mark [Owen] would be concerned about what they were wearing, and he’d involve himself in the clothes. He still does that now, but now he also likes to be involved in the concept for the tour and what the album evokes. So, in the early stages of planning, Mark and I discuss what we could do, and that evolves until we bring the other two – Gary and Howard – in, when we’ve got something to talk about.”

When it comes to the video elements of Take That’s live performances, Luke Halls Studio has been working on the creative side since the 2007 Beautiful World Tour.

“It’s usually a collaboration between the guys, Kim Gavin, and myself,” says company principal Luke Halls. “Usually, the band will have an idea – Mark being the more visually led member of the band – then I will get a sort of amalgamation of their hopes for the show, which I can respond to with some ideas or concepts, and we take it from there.”

Using animation that can be quickly tweaked during rehearsals, Halls reports that This Life on Tour saw about 15 members of his team working on the video content.

“We make sure that things are fairly elastic, so that we can respond once we get into rehearsals. Thankfully, there’s a level of trust that’s been built over the years, so we’re left very much to generate the visual elements.”

“As soon as you go outdoors in the UK, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen – as Middlesbrough proved”

Detailing some of the differences between the indoor and outdoor shows, Halls says, “We have to make sure that those images are bigger and clearer for the outdoor show just so that everyone gets the experience that they’ve paid for.”

He adds, “We call ourselves sculptural film-makers. Everything that we do has a sculptural outworking, so we don’t just generate for rectangular screens: we make sure everything is very bespoke to the stage and the shape and everything that we’re playing with. That’s really our skill.”

Backed for good
With production manager Chris Vaughan pulling the strings, many of the professionals working on This Life on Tour have been involved in Take That’s world for a number of years.

Audio expert Liam Tucker, of Skan PA, has been working in a senior role since 2015, although his relationship with production manager Vaughan dates back further on tours for the likes of A-Ha and Muse, while he also worked in a junior position on Take That’s 2009 Circus tour and 2011’s Progress shows. “I was the extra delay guy when they had extra speakers and things like that,” he recalls.

Highlighting one of the main challenges of outdoor shows in the UK, Tucker comments, “As soon as you go outdoors in the UK, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen – as Middlesbrough proved.”

Recalling the deluge the crew experienced at the city’s Riverside Stadium ahead of the 24 May concert, Tucker says, “Load-in was just rain all day, from every single angle – it was coming in sideways, it was bouncing off the floor. Technology is as rated as it can be, but sometimes it doesn’t like the weather.

“From an audio point of view, the main issue was network, as some of the inclinometers decided they weren’t going to work, while the rain also refracted the lasers, so it was difficult to get a true reading. But those are hurdles rather than problems.”

“Festivals are always good fun because you’re walking into something different in every location”

While the audio team, including engineers, numbered seven on the arena shows, it gained two additional members for the stadium run. “They do the extra hangs, the delay masks, that sort of thing. And when we go into the European leg, we drop down to four audios, including the engineers.”

The difference between the indoor and outdoor shows also entails more equipment, although from an audio point of view, Tucker says, “The stage itself and the inputs stay the same, but outdoors it gets bigger and wider. It’s the way the show is put together that changes. So, rather than having one truck of speakers on arenas, we’re up to two trucks of speakers for stadiums. And when we go into festivals, we have no trucks of speakers because it’s all supplied by the festivals.”

However, it’s the festival run that Tucker is most looking forward to. “Festivals are always good fun because you’re walking into something different in every location – it’s not Groundhog Day. That’s why we get asked to come back. The challenges are what makes your day a bit different.”

Stewart Scott at Phoenix Bussing tells IQ the company had been working with Take That ever since Chris Vaughan became PM. “We supplied seven sleeper buses for the arena and stadium tour: two 14 berths, and five 16 berths, while for the European tour we go down to two buses,” says Scott.

“However, we need some double drivers for the European journeys because there are some long distances involved between some of the dates – in fact I’ll be going out myself to drive the Bologna to Barcelona route, which allows me to see the clients at the same time.”

He adds, “Chris Vaughan is one of our top clients and it’s always good to be involved on one of his projects because they are always superbly organised and run smoothly, with a lot of great people working on them.”

“Stufish did the set design, and they always come up with some clever things. It’s up to us to make it happen”

Having been involved with the band since 2017’s Wonderland Live tour, Belgium-based stage motion specialists WICREATIONS are used to delivering the complex scenic effects that wow audiences.

“Stufish did the set design, and they always come up with some clever things. It’s up to us to make it happen,” says key account manager Koen Peeters. “The main show elements are the two large tracking staircases, which are about 8 meters deep, 4 meters wide, and 3.5 meters high. They track over the stage at stage level, and can spin 360 degrees. But we’re talking about an object that weighs around six tons, each staircase, so we need to use an embedded and integrated tracking system that sits below stage level.”

Despite the complexity of those operations, the WICREATIONS crew numbers just six people on the road, managing and operating all the WIMOTION machinery. “There is a long term history between Chris Vaughan and myself,” says Peeters. “Before we did the Wonderland tour in 2017 with WICREATIONS, I worked at Stageco where I had done many projects with Chris since 2009.”

The performers’ entrance on stage hints at the production’s groundbreaking elements. Appearing from a hidden elevator behind a semi-transparent video screen, Barlow, Donald, and Owen effectively appear to walk out of that screen as the giant staircases slide apart, splitting the video wall in two.

“That performer lift is also used to evacuate the technicians who operate each of the staircases for that opening scene,” states Peeters.

A further telescopic lift is used to bring Take That from stage level to the top level of the staircases, again hidden from the audience. A third elevator is used multiple times during the show to bring different sorts of pianos up and down stage, while other tracking systems are embedded in the stage to track the band’s musicians by around ten meters up and downstage.

“Every act seems to look for things that have not been done before, and that makes it so interesting and challenging to be in this business”

Finally, WICREATIONS also supply a six-by- six-meter B-stage, featuring a rotating and elevating circular stage for the artists.

“Every act seems to look for things that have not been done before, and that makes it so interesting and challenging to be in this business,” adds Peeters, noting that those those heavy-duty WICREATIONS motion elements and the complete rolling stage fill ten trucks.

“We had 34 production universal trucks for the arena run and a couple extra for the stadium shows,” says Matt Jackson at Fly By Nite. “This is a pretty unique scenario where the band has gone from arenas straight into stadiums, but the logistics issues are more for the crew than us.

“We’ve mainly been able to operate with single drivers in the UK because we’re getting into each new city in plenty of time. The most complex move was from Dublin into London, where we had to rely on a sympathetic ferry operator who delayed the crossing so that we would make it in time to The O2 Arena. We needed double drivers to facilitate that, but otherwise, Chris Vaughan plans brilliantly well, so it’s been a very smooth project,” adds Jackson.

Another regular supplier is special effects wizards ER Productions, which have been working with Take That since the company’s launch in 2007. “In a nutshell, we’re doing all the water effects, we’ve got a load of flames on the show, confetti, and a lot of pyrotechnics for the outdoor shows,” says ER director Dan Mott, who has been part of the company since it merged with his operation, Pyrojunkies, two years ago.

“We’ve fabricated some of the equipment specifically for the tour, such as a snowstorm, where we’ve created a custom dolly that mulches 60 kilos of confetti with high-powered fans and CO2 blowers that carry a whirlwind of confetti through the guys standing on stage straight into the audience as the show opens.”

“It was really refreshing to be involved in that early design stage and have input, to be honest, because we work in a last-minute industry, usually”

ER also supplied eight low-smoke machines for use during ballads, while the band are also the first beneficiaries of the company’s bespoke Flamber equipment used during Relight My Fire. “It allows us to set fire to the two automated staircases,” says Mott. “It involves 72 custom flame units, allowing us to chase flames and pulse the flames to the beat of the music.”

Elsewhere, ER has brought in multiple flame blazers, while a water feature activated for the song Back For Good that makes it rain onstage indoors, is replaced outdoors by over a ton of pyro.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff, but there’s a lot from every department,” observes Mott. “I think the crew is 150 people, who from the minute they wake up are busy. Everyone’s putting so much equipment in on the show, so we’ve all got to interact and work closely with each other, but Chris Vaughan runs a tight ship, and everyone’s really nice to work with.”

Indeed, Mott tips his hat to Vaughan’s approach to the tour, which engaged suppliers from the planning stages. “Myself and Marc Webber from ER went down to Chris’s house back in December, to sit down with Stufish and all the other departments to talk through the show from start to the finish. It was really refreshing to be involved in that early design stage and have input, to be honest, because we work in a last-minute industry, usually.”

But the results speak for themselves. “Ultimately, it’s a really good show; the whole concept is fantastic, and everybody puts the effort in, so we’re really proud to be working on it,” says Mott.

The greatest weekend
With a reputation as one of the hardest-working bands on the circuit, it comes as no surprise that Take That are once again setting new records as part of the current tour – including an astonishing 50th hometown show in Manchester’s AO Arena.

“Amidst all their ambition to go to all these other countries, there was also an idea early on of the band having essentially their own festival takeover”

“We’re delighted that we’ve been able to celebrate Take That’s 50th show at the AO Arena, right here in the heart of the action,” states venue general manager, Jen Mitchell. “Not only do we enjoy having the band here, we love hosting their fans and making every moment memorable.”

Always looking forward, the band’s tour itinerary also includes their first-ever curated festival – The Greatest Weekend – which will see the trio visiting Malta for the first time, where Festival Republic is organising the event.

“Amidst all their ambition to go to all these other countries, there was also an idea early on of the band having essentially their own festival takeover, which is what the Malta event is,” notes UTA’s Olly Ward. “It’s exciting. Four days in Malta with two Take That sets, one a never-before-seen front-to-back of the album, Everything Changes, and the other a greatest hits set.”

The event’s undercard of talent will include Sugababes, Ella Henderson, Daniel Bedingfield, Heather Small, and Sam Ryder, amongst others, while Howard Donald will host a DJ takeover at Café Del Mar, among a host of other bespoke experiences.

“For fans used to seeing the band in stadiums or arenas around the world, this is a chance to have a four-day Take That extravaganza in a much more intimate environment,” says Ward. “And it’s again credit to the band’s ambition that they wanted to do it this year, when they’re doing so much already.”

Delighted by their first experience of working with Take That, Wright concludes, “This is a band that had a huge amount of success pre-social media, meaning that not all the fans will be connected to the band via social media. Sean Hill who is head of music marketing at UTA, here, and Emily Rhodes from his team where a huge part of looking into this for us.

Consequently, there was a need to reverse engineer this a little bit with promoters to make sure they understood the value of traditional media and marketing alongside digital marketing, but that worked and that’s why these shows – and this tour – are a success.”

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

SJM and Prime announce JV to manage New Order

SJM Management has partnered with Rebecca Boulton and Andrew Robinson of Prime Management on a joint venture to manage both New Order and members of Joy Division.

The JV with Conrad Murray, Simon Moran and the SJM Management team is designed to ensure the band’s catalogue releases, live shows and new musical output continue to influence new generations.

Boulton and Robinson have represented the band since the death of legendary Manchester music figure Rob Gretton in 1999.

“We have sought to future proof the band’s management and protect their legacy so the merger with SJM management is a good fit and maintains our independent sensibilities”

“We have sought to future proof the band’s management and protect their legacy so the merger with SJM management is a good fit and maintains our independent sensibilities,” says a statement from Boulton and Robinson.

“It’s a great honour for SJM Management to be working with New Order and Joy Division, two of the greatest acts of all-time, and joining forces with Rebecca and Andrew at Prime Management,” adds SJM’s Murray.

New Order, who most recently toured North America in autumn 2022, release a box set of their 1985 album Low-Life on 27 January and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the biggest-selling 12” of all time, Blue Monday, in March.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

Music of the Spheres – the tour report

While other acts opted to wait until 2023 for their stadium tours, Coldplay took a risk to push ahead this year with their Music of the Spheres tour. And the pay-off has been extraordinary, as fans starved of live music for two years are helping the band smash records. Gordon Masson reports.

With more than 3.5 million tickets sold in 2022, at the start of what is mooted to be a four-year project, Coldplay are in the midst of the biggest tour of their career – not a bad achievement considering it’s also the most eco-friendly stadium tour ever.

When frontman Chris Martin revealed the band would not tour to support their Everyday Life album in late 2019 but would instead try to “work out how our tour can not only be sustainable, [but] how can it be actively beneficial,” the industry wondered whether such ambitions were even possible.

But it turns out that those ideals had been simmering for a couple of years before the shock announcement, as stadia around the world were already on hold for the band’s current Music of the Spheres spectacular, which is laying down blueprints on how to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of touring.

“To be honest, we started to plan this tour when we were on the last tour, in 2017,” band manager Dave Holmes tells IQ. “It seemed crazy at the time, but we were holding venues for 2022 and 2023, as some stadiums actually need to be booked that far in advance.”

“The rate at which they sold – I’ve never seen anything like it, especially in South America where we couldn’t put shows on sale fast enough”

Coronavirus meant that every act had to shut down touring activities, but with Martin’s bold pronouncement never straying far from the headlines, the decision to push ahead with the tour, as scheduled, when many other A-list acts decided to keep playing their wait-and-see strategy, seems to have paid off. Big time.

“We took a big risk in terms of holding these multiples. But the rate at which they sold – I’ve never seen anything like it, especially in South America where we couldn’t put shows on sale fast enough: they’d just sell out on the day,” says Holmes.

With sales for around the 3.5m tickets mark for this year alone, the gamble has been more than worth it. But the challenges the tour principals have had to overcome along the way have been considerable.

Strange Planning
Represented by Marty Diamond at Wasserman Music for North America, Coldplay’s agent since day-one for the rest of the world was Steve Strange, who passed away in 2021. X-ray Touring colleague Josh Javor worked with Strange for many years on the band’s live career and reveals that Music of the Spheres was the final tour they planned together.

“The first show in Costa Rica was very emotional because normally I’d be arm-in-arm with Steve on those occasions,” says Javor. “Steve had been talking about this tour specifically, for a very long time. The band’s last tour was ground-breaking, but it was all just building up to this. He knew that Coldplay would be bigger than they were on A Head Full of Dreams and the venues we booked and tickets we’ve sold prove he was right.

“Just as Steve predicted, this tour is the band’s biggest to date. It’s like his legacy, and it’s very sad that he isn’t around to see just how successful it is.” Holmes comments, “Steve was brilliant. It was never about the money with him: of course, he’d always fight for you to get the best offers, but his focus was always about building the right way; taking it step by step.”

“We sold all six stadium shows in one day, and we could have easily added a couple more dates if there had been availability”

Indeed, the band themselves had to be convinced about the scale of the current tour. “When we were putting the routing together, the band were definitely a little bit unsure,” says Holmes. “It was a little bit shocking for them to see the number of dates – the multiples, in particular. It was eye-opening for them just to realise, ‘Wow, this is where you guys think we’re at now.’ But it’s the biggest tour the band have done, and a lot of that is thanks to the work Steve Strange did over 20-plus years.”

Paradise
In addition to the millions of fans they are thrilling, Coldplay’s promoter partners are a happy bunch. With Live Nation promoting the tour, along with a number of local promoters in key territories, there is universal praise for both the band and their production crew.

At press time, Simon Moran’s SJM Concerts was co-promoting Coldplay’s six dates at Wembley Stadium alongside Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery. “The demand has been incredible,” says Moran. “There was a presale that offered tickets to anyone who bought the album, but when we did the general on-sale, we sold all six stadium shows in one day, and we could have easily added a couple more dates if there had been availability.

“Coldplay’s live shows are just legendary. The number of hits that they have and just the fact that their live performances are so engaging mean that word of mouth basically sells the tickets. A Coldplay stadium show is just a massive event because there’s so much goes into it.

“I’ve never known anyone who has not been blown away by their stadium shows, and I have to say that the current tour is just the best they have created.”

“The tour being eco was very educative for all concerned: the audience, the venue, and us”

Wembley Stadium’s senior commercial manager, James Taylor, notes that Coldplay are only the second act to sell six shows in one year at the new stadium. “This takes them to 12 shows in total and equals the all-time new Wembley Stadium record – a huge achievement,” he says.

“Demand for tickets has been amongst the biggest we have ever seen at Wembley and is testament to the ongoing popularity of the band, who continue to innovate and excite with every tour.”

In Poland, Live Nation’s Grzegorz Kurant is jubilant. “It was a triumphant return,” he says. “Their last show took place in Warsaw in 2017, and it was a great success, but the demand for this year’s show was unprecedented. If there were any new [ticket] releases they were disappearing in seconds.

“The tour being eco was very educative for all concerned: the audience, the venue, and us. Even though we all do our best to be more environment-friendly, the tour was a good reminder and educator of how much still needs to be done.”
PGE Narodowy stadium is also celebrating. “It’s not only the band but also the whole team of technical support and other coordinators who made the concert in Warsaw so special,” says venue manager Jarosław Bodanko. “It doesn’t happen often that the entire production team brings so much passion and commitment to the event’s creation. Coldplay concerts are not only a unique show for concert attendees but also an extraordinary experience for everyone working on its production.”

Kurant adds, “The band are on great form. The modernised [PixMob] wristbands with all the new features are astonishing. The only challenge we had was to find enough tickets to satisfy the demand.”

“We were just coming out of Covid, and we did not know how the public would react or if they had the financial resources to go to a concert”

That’s a similar tale worldwide.

Memo Parra, director of international talent at Mexican promoter OCESA, promoted the band for back-to-back shows in March at Estadio BBVA in Monterrey and a further two dates in Guadalajara’s Estadio Akron. Then, in early April, they smashed records in the capital city.

“We sold out four shows at Foro Sol – more than 250,000 tickets in total. They are the first international act ever to do that,” Parra reports. “It was a very important time for us because we were just coming out of Covid, and we did not know how the public would react or if they had the financial resources to go to a concert. But in the end, we were delighted. Coldplay are a class act, and it is great to work with them.”

Parra is also promoting appearances at Bogotá’s Estadio El Campín – a sales feat he again lauds. “It’s not easy to sell out two stadium shows in Colombia,” he says. “Coldplay are just huge in Latin America now, and we cannot wait to have them come back again next time.”

The most impressive sales numbers, however, belong to Argentina, fulfilling the dreams of local promoter Diego Finkelstein.

“We have ten sold-out dates at River Plate Stadium – that’s 650,000 tickets in one city – but I am not surprised because Coldplay have a huge connection with people in Argentina”

“We have ten sold-out dates at River Plate Stadium – that’s 650,000 tickets in one city – but I am not surprised because Coldplay have a huge connection with people in Argentina,” says Finkelstein who runs DF Entertainment.

“On the last tour, I had lunch with Dave Holmes and told him that we could sell out ten stadiums in Buenos Aires, but he was reluctant to commit to that many at the time. So when we went on sale, we went with four shows at River Plate and that was supposed to be the end of the tour leg, but the speed they sold out at was incredible, so I pushed for more.”

Praising Josh Javor for his part in proceedings, Finkelstein says the FIFA World Cup’s unusual November kick-off means a halt to domestic football, thus freeing up River Plate Stadium.

“We invested $2m [€1.96m] in pitch protection to persuade the stadium to give us more dates,” he continues. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get so many dates at River Plate, so we begged the band to extend the tour. On 24 May, we put shows five, six, and seven on sale and they blew out in one day. The following week we sold out shows eight and nine.”

Coldplay were similarly blown away and recorded a video in Spanish to thank their Argentine fans. “It was perfect,” says Finkelstein. “The tenth show went on sale on 7 June and sold out in two hours. It was incredible, but if we wanted, the demand was still there to sell even more dates.”

“I came in just six or seven weeks from the start of the tour, so there was a lot of catching up to do”

Having already seen the spectacle in Chicago (twice) and Paris, Finkelstein is counting the days until Coldplay arrive in Buenos Aires. And citing the use of the third-generation PixMob – that in keeping with the rest of the tour are now produced using plant-based materials – Finkelstein believes that incorporating the audience into the show has elevated Coldplay to the top.

“What they deliver is this amazing immersive show for all the family. I cannot wait to see all ten shows in Buenos Aires.”

Don’t Panic
Another unforeseen challenge for team Coldplay happened earlier this year when long-time production manager Bill Leabody had to step back because of health issues. He recommended Jake Berry as his replacement, and thankfully the production guru was available.

“I came in just six or seven weeks from the start of the tour, so there was a lot of catching up to do,” says Berry.

As Leabody had spent months setting everything up, Berry found himself in unfamiliar waters, inheriting suppliers he hadn’t worked with before. “When I came along, everybody thought, ‘Oh, here comes the hatchet man: everybody’s gonna leave,’” laughs Berry. “But that was never going to be the case – there’s no point breaking up a happy crew. And besides, I couldn’t have found any suppliers able to do it in terms of equipment and the logistics that were already in place.”

“It’s a bit like stepping back in time for us old enough to remember the 70s and 80s, when we used to have to deal with carnets”

With Covid policies still in place at the start of the tour, the initial shows from Costa Rica to Mexico entailed lockdown bubbles. “Our policy would be if somebody felt sick, we would test; if they were positive, we would isolate,” says Berry. “That would mean leaving somebody behind, on their own in a hotel, and they’d catch up later. So that could be for ten days, but now it’s down to five days.”

Another dilemma to deal with has been the aftermath of Brexit. Berry is unfazed. “It’s a bit like stepping back in time for us old enough to remember the 70s and 80s, when we used to have to deal with carnets.” And he’s pragmatic about related issues. “New driver regulations and things that have changed because of the British structure in Europe didn’t really fall upon us – it fell upon the suppliers to make it work. We order what we need, and we expect the companies to do all the logistics.”

The Scientist(s)
Having very publicly proclaimed that touring would not resume until the band had figured out a more environmentally friendly way to hit the road, team Coldplay has been involved in an intense three-year period of research and development.

“Luckily for us, once Chris had mentioned it in an interview, we had an overwhelming response of people approaching us with different ideas and technologies,” explains Holmes.

As a result, the array of new tech and concepts that are being used on the production is extensive, including: state-of-the-art batteries supplied by BMW, wind-turbine technology on delay towers, solar blankets on unused seats in venues, trucks powered by Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) fuel, and floor covers that can turn the kinetic energy created by fans dancing into electricity. More on the latter two, anon.

“Coldplay set a very high standard. They’ve invested a lot of time, effort, and money into trying to meet their sustainability goals”

Those measures have been put in place to meet the band’s pledge to make the tour “as sustainable and low-carbon as possible,” guided by three key principles: reduce, reinvent and restore.

Indeed, ongoing development will result in the 2023 introduction of generators that can run on either hydrogen, diesel, or biodiesel. “I wouldn’t want to say the name of the company behind them, yet,” states Holmes, “but their generators are a quarter of the size of the ones we currently use. And the fact they can be so versa- tile with different fuels will be a game-changer for the whole world.”

Other proposals, such as a bamboo stage system, however, had to be dropped, reluctantly. “We realised there was no guarantee that we could tour a bamboo stage everywhere in the world because different countries have different rules about bringing in trees, plants, and vegetables, and it would have fallen under that category,” says Holmes.

The Hardest Part
The band’s ambitions to cut the touring carbon footprint by 50% has forced suppliers and their logistics experts to take a long hard look at their own operations and equipment. But that task has, reportedly, been universally welcomed, as any savings made with Coldplay can be implemented – and improved upon – for future clients.

“Coldplay set a very high standard,” says Berry. “They’ve invested a lot of time, effort, and money into trying to meet their sustainability goals, and they’re so far ahead in their planning that government infrastructure is not up to speed. If it was a 100-metre dash, we’d to be ten metres in front of them at the finish line.”

“We feel proud to be part of their commitment to bringing music to the masses whilst being respectful of the world we live in”

As an example, Berry cites sourcing HVO fuel for vehicles as particularly irksome. “We used it wherever we could in America, but it was very regional,” he says. “It was great in California and places like Texas, but when we got to the east coast, it was really, really difficult. We are try- ing to set a standard, but the infrastructure isn’t there to support us.”

Determined to meet their targets, the band purchased 65,000 litres of HVO through truck- ing vendor Stagetruck, meaning the trucks were fully fuelled when they left the depot in England. “The idea was that we would buy more HVO along the way in Europe, but it’s just not avail- able in certain places, and it’s not worth the car- bon footprint to deliver it to the trucks onsite.”

However, the ‘green’ solution to that problem has been very grown up. “Now, when there’s a tour going out from the Stagetruck yard, they fill up those trucks with our fuel,” reports Berry. “The fuel is still being used to cut the carbon footprint. It may not all be on the Coldplay tour but it’s a very clever idea.”

For his part, Stagetruck boss Robert Hewett says, “We have a long-standing relationship with the band and spent time working with production to ensure we can supply the 40-plus strong team of trucks and drivers, to fit in line with their pledge to tour in an as environmentally friendly manner as possible.

“Along with staging, lights, audio, and cater- ing, we are also trucking two trailers of rechargeable [BMW] batteries, which [provide] power via solar photovoltaic panels. Our trucks are monitored to run as efficiently as possible, and the routing is carefully planned to ensure we are not burning extra diesel unnecessarily. It’s always a great pleasure working with Coldplay and their team, and we feel proud to be part of their commitment to bringing music to the masses whilst being respectful of the world we live in.”

“Everyone decided that even if it costs a little bit more money to get the same effect, if it has less environmental impact, we should do it”

Other suppliers have also upped their game in terms of reassessing efficient touring.

Nashville-based Strictly FX is supplying lasers, confetti, and pyro for the tour, which have also been put under the eco microscope. “All the confetti is biodegradable and doesn’t contain any PVC,” says the company’s art director David Kennedy, adding that their pyro product is also more sustainable. He notes, “There have been cost implications, but everyone decided that even if it costs a little bit more money to get the same effect, if it has less environmental impact, we should do it.”

However, he stresses that wellbeing remains paramount. “Sustainability comes second to the safety of something that explodes next to the band,” he says. “The flames use a standard fluid, so we’re generally getting that locally wherever we can because it doesn’t make sense to ship it. And the flame cannons themselves are now smaller units, so our freight impact is drastically reduced.”

Speed of Sound
On the audio side, Wigwam Acoustics has been working with the band for around 17 years, and company founder Chris Hill reveals the green goals of the latest tour mean that rather than flying most of the PA, “we’ve gone back to more conventional PA towers.” The company is also using equipment that requires significantly less power than on the previous Coldplay tour.

And noting the new leadership in the band’s touring set-up, Hill says, “When there’s a change of production manager, it usually means change everywhere. But Jake has basically left us to it because the audio department is kind of self-contained and doesn’t give him any grief.”

“Logistically, it’s been a major operation, as we have planned the most eco-friendly routes for supplying our equipment in all territories”

Indeed, highlighting the camaraderie among rivals in the audio business, Hill adds, “Going from zero into the summer madness where the challenges are not only with crew but also warehouse staff, manufacturers, and various supply-chain issues, has not been easy. Luckily, I have a great relationship with most of our competitors and most of them are good friends, so we all talk and try to support each other.”

When it comes to steel, Music of the Spheres is one of the few genuine world tours currently being serviced by Stageco, according to its project manager Dirk De Decker. “Logistically, it’s been a major operation, as we have planned the most eco-friendly routes for supplying our equipment in all territories,” he advises. “Jake Berry’s production team assess which local services can be called upon to meet the design’s requirements, and we provide the remaining custom elements that are irreplaceable.”

A significant engineering effort, four separate systems have been fabricated for the tour by Stageco. Two systems have been travelling around Europe while, to avoid shipping across the Atlantic, the other two were based in the United States. Each system is contained within 15 trucks and includes the materials to build each iconic part of the scenery, including the stunning moonrise arch.

In addition, Stageco’s crew – headed by Johan ‘Bellekes’ Van Espen, Stefaan Van Den Bossche, and a third team leader in America – build a50m upstage arc, two 23m high ‘pylons’ at left and right to support video screens, and a pair of custom sound towers, each with a large cantile- ver, designed in collaboration with Coldplay’s head of audio.

De Decker adds, “It’s a 72-hour steel build for us [with a single-day load-out]. All of the elements we are constructing are unconnected. No single element depends on the other, and this offers us a lot of practical flexibility on-site.”

“The artwork resembles galaxies in the universe, so the TAIT scenic team added designs in several layers to make it feel like the stars, words, and symbols were appearing from the darkness”

Another significant partner on production is TAIT, which is providing a custom mainstage sprung floor made to interact with the show’s various stages.

“Every deck surface is treated with an anti-skid treatment to allow the performers safety out in the elements, but more powerful than that is the hand-painted scenic over the entire stage,” explains TAIT senior project manager Shannon Nickerson.

“The production team provided renders and TAIT was able to create a system to paint the custom designs and layout words in Kaotican – the language created by Coldplay. The artwork resembles galaxies in the universe, so the TAIT scenic team added designs in several layers to make it feel like the stars, words, and symbols were appearing from the darkness.”

TAIT also constructed the show’s multi- coloured alien mirror ball, which houses eight lasers within it, meaning the cueing has to have pinpoint accuracy to ensure the safety of the audience.

Prospekt’s March
Among the most high-profile tech that the band is using on the tour is their kinetic floor covering – one of a myriad of products that specialists eps are supplying for the tour.

“Coldplay was my first tour, so I have an emotional connection to the band”

“Being involved on Music of the Spheres is a very special situation for me because Coldplay was my first tour, so I have an emotional connection to the band,” says eps chief Okan Tombulca.

“We do the barriers, the cable covers, the seat drapes, and we also have a solar system that we can place on the unused seats in the grandstands, depending on whether they face the sun or not. And, of course, we have the kinetic floor, which we developed together with a Dutch company to try to realise one of the ideas Coldplay themselves had.”

Indeed, Tombulca believes that the state-of-the-art floor might quickly pay for itself because it is no bigger than normal ground protection systems. “The truck space for the floor is probably around about the same,” he says.

PM Berry observes, “We have two of the kinetic floors – they’re about five-metre disks and they’re quite sophisticated. I tell people, ‘the more you jump, the louder the band will play,’ but we’re actually using the energy to help power the C stage a little bit for the lighting.

He continues, “They are brand-new so the technology’s not there yet where we can create enough energy to do it all. But back when the Vari-Lite first came out, there was only one moving light. Now there are 4,000, and they’re all 100 times better. So somebody will take this kinetic floor idea and build something that creates more energy.

“Their partnership with Coldplay is very experimental, so there will be successes and failures, but the goal is to try to change the whole paradigm of international touring”

“We’re learning as we go,” admits Berry. “We didn’t know it all to start with – certainly, I knew nothing – but it’s very, very exciting.”

Freight specialists Global Motion have worked with Coldplay for 16 years and have recently helped the band establish a new partnership with shipping giants DHL, which runs an extensive number of proactive sustainability programmes, such as windfarms in India and dams in Laos.

“We’ve worked lots with DHL in the past, using their infrastructure and helping them with projects, where the need arises,” explains managing director Adam Hatton. “Their partnership with Coldplay is very experimental, so there will be successes and failures, but the goal is to try to change the whole paradigm of international touring.”

Hatton believes everyone now has to make decisions on what is worth spending carbon on and what is not. “Everyone needs to carry less equipment internationally to make a difference,” he says. “That means less work and less profit for Global Motion, but in my view, going forward there will be more tours that are smaller, rather than the huge spectacles we’ve become used to.”

Ahead of personally handling the freight needs for Coldplay when they return to Latin America in September, Hatton reports that the crippling pandemic fees of up to six- and seven-times normal costs are gradually falling. “It’s now about 250% of where it should be,” he reports. “It’s a lot better than what it was and, personally, I don’t think it will ever come down to what the costs were pre-Covid.”

“Right now, you really have to entice local crew to come to work. Nobody’s going to show up if you’re going to pay them for four hours”

Immensely popular with contractors and their personnel, Coldplay are renowned in production circles for factoring in generous breaks to the touring schedule, often with a three- weeks-on, two-weeks-off rotation to allow band members and everyone else to spend quality time with their families.

Newcomer Berry believes such concepts en- gender loyalty, but he notes that the post-Covid scramble to assemble skilled staff has still been a significant test. “We’re not frugal on local crew because we want to get the production up and running quickly and tweak it in the same day before going into 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning,” explains Berry.

“Right now, you really have to entice local crew to come to work. Nobody’s going to show up if you’re going to pay them for four hours. It’s not worth it – they won’t show up. So you need to consider day rates. And if you need 20 hands, you always book 24.”

Appreciative of the way Coldplay take care of their crew, Wigwam’s Hill tells IQ, “They’ve al- ways tried to do the right thing, and we’ve always felt like part of the Coldplay family… it makes people go the extra mile because they’ve been looked after.”

Explaining that the generously scheduled time off also allows suppliers to carry out maintenance on equipment, Hill adds, “The amount of consoles we have on this tour is quite spectacular. Because we had some custom built, we took them back in the break between Paris and Brussels and literally stripped them down, fixed a few bugs, and serviced them.”

“Sustainability is now ingrained in every event, production, and tour we cater for”

With more than 300 mouths to feed on a show day, caterers Eat to the Beat have a 14-strong party on the road with the band – a far cry from when the company worked on Coldplay’s first tour in 2000.

“Sustainability is now ingrained in every event, production, and tour we cater for. We’re constantly striving to minimise our carbon footprint, and Coldplay is no exception,” says Kim Joyce, Eat to the Beat account manager. “Specific examples include sourcing local produce; accurate head counts to reduce food wastage; minimising single-use plastics and having a varied selection of delicious plant-based meals in our menus.”

She adds, “We have a relay system in place whereby we send an advance team on to the next city on the tour to source the local produce. We have completely cut out plastic-bottled water on the entire tour. We have aluminium bottles or cartons of water, and everyone has a refillable water bottle for use at the water cooler. We’ve also given everyone an Eat to the Beat branded mug and reusable coffee cup with a lid, which has massively reduced waste.”

In My Place
One major factor in the band’s plan to cut emissions is the tour’s residency feel – stopping in capital cities for multiple dates.

“You can’t tour in a sustainable way by travelling every day,” states Javor. “The great thing about Coldplay is there is such demand in each country and city for them: they can sell 180,000-200,000 tickets in Berlin; Frankfurt, Brussels, and Paris are similar. And when we look at where the audience is travelling from, they’re not travel- ling that far – they’re mostly locals – so we’re cut- ting down on carbon footprint for the fans, too.”

“It might sound crazy because of the volume of tickets we’re selling, but there’s still a fair amount being left on the table”

Berry observes, “You can recite the European tour on a postage stamp – three Frankfurts, one Warsaw, three Berlins, four Parises, four Brussels, six Wembleys, and two Glasgows. That’s Europe. And then we go to South America where, once again, the band is so popular that we can afford to stay in cities for two, three, four, six dates, and in the case of Buenos Aires, ten nights.”

Agent for North America, Marty Diamond, had the band play a dozen shows in May and June. “Josh [Javor] and I work in lockstep in terms of the scheduling and the band’s availability, while we also work very closely with our promoter partners,” says Diamond.

He says that while Coldplay are capable of playing multiple dates in the metropolis cities, for the first US leg of the current tour, “We were trying to cover off a lot of territory in a very short period of time, so that’s why most of the cities were just single dates.”

Diamond reveals the band will return for another stadium run in America in 2023, adding, “The band are always pushing the envelope in terms of creativity. This tour just takes everything to the next level.”

Javor says that plans for the current tour remain consistent with previous outings. “When Coldplay last toured in 2017, we left a lot on the table even though we sold out everywhere. It might sound crazy because of the volume of tickets we’re selling, but there’s still a fair amount being left on the table this time, too.

“We’re playing eight stadiums in Brazil, plus a 100,000-capacity festival – Rock in Rio. We’re playing ten shows in Argentina, two shows in Colombia, two shows in Peru, four shows in Chile. It’s huge but, in truth, we could have sold more.”

PM Berry is a newly converted fan and is also looking forward to the record-breaking run in Argentina. “I love the energy that Coldplay have,” he says. “It’s a family show where you can bring your three-year-old kid or your 80-year-old grandmother, and they’re all gonna leave singing or whistling a song. And that’s why we all do what we do.”

This feature appeared in the current issue of IQ Magazine (113), which can be read here.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

Arenal Sound promoter acquires Benicassim

Spanish promoter the Music Republic has acquired the Festival Internacional de Benicàssim (FIB) from Maraworld.

The Music Republic, owned by brothers David and Toño Sánchez, promotes festivals including Arenal Sound, Viña Rock, Granada Sound and Madrid Salvaje.

In a statement, the Sánchez brothers state they will “take over the festival and run it for successive years.” The new FIB owners also note they intend to “maintain [FIB’s] essence and position it once more as a leader on the global scene.”

According to El Mundo, the acquisition of FIB signals the end of Maraworld, which is majority owned by MCD Productions and SJM Concerts.

“We have been told that we are shutting down but we do not have any more details,” a representative from Maraworld’s offices in Madrid told the publication.

“We intend to maintain [FIB’s] essence and position it once more as a leader on the global scene”

Former FIB festival directors José Luis and Miguel Morán founded Maraworld in 1997. Irish promoter Vince Power acquired the company in 2009, selling his share to MCD Productions owner Denis Desmond and SJM Concerts director Simon Moran four years later, after encountering financial difficulties.

With Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn as festival director, the new team revived the struggling festival, putting on “the best FIB of the decade” in 2017, which saw 177,000 festivalgoers view performances by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kasabian and Foals, among others.

The 25th edition of FIB took place from 18 to 21 July 2019 and was attended by 114,000 people, almost 30% less than the previous year’s 160,000. The festival saw performances from Kings of Leon, Lana del Rey, George Ezra, Jess Glynne and the 1975.

Live Nation and SJM Concerts declined to comment.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

SJM’s Chris York: becoming the guvnor

The first time that Chris York recalls meeting Simon Moran was at a Levellers concert at London’s Brixton Academy in 1993, promoted by Moran’s company SJM Concerts. “I was there purely as a punter and this man came up to me and berated me for trying to steal his acts,” remembers York with a smile. “I pointed out, probably not as eloquently as I might have done, that that was actually my job seeing as I didn’t technically work for him. He retorted, ‘Well, you should do then.’”

A few months later, York made the 200-mile journey up the M1 from London to Manchester to take up Moran’s offer and join SJM. Back then, there were five of them working out of a nondescript workspace shared with post-punk band The Fall, where the “much-missed” Mark E Smith could regularly be seen “swaying in the lifts in the mornings.”

Fast-forward a quarter of a century to today and SJM employs 65 people, puts on around 2,500 concerts and events a year, and proudly stands as the UK’s biggest independent promoter, with The Stone Roses, Take That, Coldplay, Muse, Robbie Williams, Peter Kay, Adele, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, The Courteeners and Little Mix just a few of the many acts it has worked with in recent years.

“I’ve always felt at home at SJM,” says York, who recently celebrated 25 years at the company that he has played a key role in turning into a promoting powerhouse. “It’s always had the right ethos. We’ve always been artist-focused and tried to develop talent, and I think Simon and I share the right attitude about how we want to take things forward. Certainly, whenever we’ve been recruiting new staff we are always keen to add people who aren’t identical to ourselves. In order for the company to keep progressing and be relevant to new challenges, you’ve got to find people who aren’t doing exactly what you do.”

“In order for the company to keep progressing and be relevant to new challenges, you’ve got to find people who aren’t doing exactly what you do”

“Chris has been a huge part of the SJM story over the last 25 years,” says Moran. “He’s made a massive contribution in all facets of the business – clients becoming bigger, getting and retaining new clients, growing the business and gaining people, [investing in] buildings. He’s a very, very bright guy. He works hard. We’ve become really good friends and we’ve got implicit trust.”

“I think Simon’s style and my style are distinctly different, but they work well together, and I guess the biggest barometer of that is that we have gone on to be a very successful company,” reflects York, whose personal clients include Noel Gallagher, Foo Fighters, Massive Attack, Stereophonics, Lily Allen, Smashing Pumpkins, Underworld, Fatboy Slim, Green Day, Placebo, Lorde, Robert Plant, Morrissey, Kraftwerk, Swedish House Mafia, and The Chemical Brothers, among others. York is also one of SJM’s four directors alongside Moran, Rob Ballantine and Glenn Tyrrell.

Respect and admiration for the 49 year old extends throughout the industry. “Chris is, if not the best, one of the best promoters that I have ever worked with in the world,” says Underworld manager Mike Gillespie, who has known him since the mid-1990s. “He is loyal and sticks with his artists. Whereas a lot of promoters are naturally very cautious and hedge their bets, he is a bold and confident risk taker and is always looking at what the next step can be.

“At the same time, he can be stubborn, belligerent and awkward, but that’s part of what makes him brilliant. He will tell it you like it is and he doesn’t hold back. When you have an act that is doing well people tend to tell you what you want to hear. Chris isn’t one of them, and I really like and respect that. He understands that you’re only as good as your last gig and he’s not afraid to say to the manager or the artist, ‘That’s not good enough.’”

“Chris is, if not the best, one of the best promoters that I have ever worked with in the world. He is loyal and sticks with his artists”

By way of an example, Gillespie turns the clock back five years to when “Underworld had reached a ceiling” in terms of how many tickets they could sell. Through working closely with York over a series of releases and tours they rebuilt momentum and were able to sell-out two nights at London’s 3,000-capacity Roundhouse.

“Chris’s response off the back of that was, ‘Now we do the (10,000-capacity) Ally Pally,’ which really knocked me out,” recalls the manager. The gig sold out six months in advance and Underworld are now selling more tickets in the UK than ever before, he states. “A huge part of that is down to Chris’s willingness to take a risk, his determination to be bold, and his clear vision.”

York-shire
The Roots of York’s promoting career can be traced back to his childhood in Yorkshire where he developed an “unhealthy interest” in music from a young age and became immersed in Leeds’ post-punk and goth scenes as a teenager. To earn some extra cash while studying chemistry at Warwick, he began crewing and stage managing bands that visited the university. That led him to being elected cultural affairs officer in 1989, booking gigs by The Sundays and De La Soul, and gaining a first real taste of how the industry operates.

“It was a steep learning curve initially, but through that I developed good friendships with people that I still work with today,” says York, who moved to London after finishing his studies and spent 18 months as a booker at punk and indie club The Venue in New Cross.

“It was a really exciting time in music and we put some great bands on,” he says, listing memorable shows by Lush, Pulp, Suede, PJ Harvey, New Model Army and Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. The job also saw him establish with Steve Lamacq the inaugural NME On Nights with On For ‘92, which ran at The Venue from 1991 to 1993, later evolving into the NME Awards Brat Bus tours.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 80, or subscribe to the magazine here

A&MAs: One Love Manchester team named ‘industry champions’

Ariana Grande, her manager, Scooter Braun, Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn and SJM Concerts’ Simon Moran were tonight honoured as ‘industry champions’ at the sixth Artist & Manager Awards, recognising their efforts in producing the One Love Manchester concert on 4 June 2017, which raised more than £17m for victims of the Manchester Arena bombing and their families.

The Artist & Manager Awards, organised by the Music Managers Forum (MMF) and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), celebrate innovation and achievement in the artist management sector. The 2017 ceremony took place this evening (14 November) at south London venue Printworks.

The industry champion award was presented by FAC’s Imogen Heap, who performed with Grande at One Love Manchester, and was accompanied by video messages from Braun and Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester.

“Although this is incredible, I want us to remember that the city of Manchester and all those families are the real heroes,” said Braun. “Sixty thousand people of Manchester came forward and filled that stadium. It was the greatest act of defiance in the face of evil that I’ve ever witnessed, and I will never ever forget it.

“On behalf of myself, Ariana and the rest of the team, I want to say to the city of Manchester, ‘thank you’ – this is your award tonight, and you have taught us all a valuable lesson. Evil will never win.”

Annabella Coldrick, chief executive of the MMF, added: “The terrorist attack at Ariana Grande’s Manchester Arena show was one of the year’s darkest moments, targeting young music fans and their families. It left 22 dead and more than 250 injured. To organise a concert in their memory, and to turn it into a joyous celebration of youth and music, was an incredible achievement.

“I want to say to the city of Manchester: ‘thank you’. This is your award tonight”

“The MMF and FAC are humbled to honour the team behind One Love Manchester, and would like to dedicate this award to all those still impacted by the events of 22 May.”

Other winners at the A&MAs, which was sponsored by Spotify, included Depeche Mode’s longtime manager, Jonathan Kessler, who picked up the Peter Grant award for lifetime achievement, and Tracey Thorn, who was crowned artists’ artist.

The award for manager of the year was presented to Tap Management’s Ben Mawson and Ed Millett by Lana Del Rey, while Rag’n’Bone Man was declared artist of the year, recognising his decade-long journey to success.

Giggs and his management team, Michael ‘Buck’ Maris and Trenton Harrison-Lewis, received the pioneer award from Island Records president Darcus Beese OBE, while Eleven Management’s Niamh Byrne and Regine Moylett received the entrepreneur award for their work on Gorillaz’s album campaign for Humanz. Echo Beach Management’s Jill Hollywood picked up the award for writer/producer manager.

A special tribute was also paid to former MMF president Jon Webster, who stepped down earlier this year to write a book about his experiences at Virgin Records in the 1980s. Performances on the night came from Dermot Kennedy, one of TAP Management’s priority artists, and ATC Managements’ the Boxer Rebellion.

A full list of winners is available from the A&MAs website.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.