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Sinead O’Connor: 1966-2023

The music industry is mourning Sinéad O’Connor following the Irish singer-songwriter’s death at the age of 56.

Police say the BRIT and Grammy Award-winning artist was found “unresponsive” and “pronounced dead at the scene” at her home in London yesterday (26 July). No cause of death has been reported, but officers say it is not being treated as suspicious.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad,” says a statement by her family. “Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

O’Connor’s last live concert took place at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz, California, in February 2020. A scheduled 2022 tour was cancelled following the death of her son Shane, aged 17, in January last year.

Her former agent Steve Zapp, of International Talent Booking (ITB), tells the Irish Independent: “I was lucky enough to get the chance to work for a while with the incredible Sinead – a legend, huge spirit who was never frightened to speak her mind and one of the most talented and inspiring people that I’ve ever had the honour to meet. I’ll treasure that time forever and send my heartfelt condolences to Sinead’s family and all that were touched by her life.”

O’Connor’s biggest hit was her iconic cover version of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U, which topped charts around the globe in 1990. Her most controversial moment came two years later, when she ripped up a photo of the Pope on US late night TV show Saturday Night Live to protest the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church – an incident that led to the artist being treated, in her own words, “like a pariah”.

“Sinead O’Connor was one of the most important artists to come out of the British Isles for the last 40 years”

“People say, ‘Oh, you fucked up your career’ but they’re talking about the career they had in mind for me,” she told the Guardian in 2021. “I fucked up the house in Antigua that the record company dudes wanted to buy. I fucked up their career, not mine. It meant I had to make my living playing live, and I am born for live performance.”

Glassnote Entertainment Group founder Daniel Glass, a former executive at O’Connor’s longtime record label Chrysalis Records, tells the Guardian: “Live, she would always have hip-hop artists opening for her. That was her thing. No one was doing that. Not the commercial producers, but the really rock, hip-hop, political people in the business that had a voice – she gave them a voice and she had them opening for her.”

O’Connor, who spoke openly about her mental health struggles through the years, released 10 studio albums over the course of her career, from 1987’s The Lion and the Cobra to 2014’s I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss.

Jeremy Lascelles, CEO of Blue Raincoat Group, part of the Reservoir Group of companies which includes Chrysalis Records, also paid tribute.

“Sinead O’Connor was one of the most important artists to come out of the British Isles for the last 40 years,” says Lascelles. “The bravery of her music and the stance that she took on many issues makes her stand out as a champion for women’s voices on every level. She was both of her time and ahead of it, and has left us with a legacy of music that means so much to so many.

“She remained hugely creative right to the end, and the world is a sadder place with her passing. The Chrysalis and Reservoir family pays tribute to a true visionary, a true legend.”


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Livestreaming: What happens next?

A panel of industry experts debated what the future holds for livestreaming following the return of touring.

The ILMC session: Livestreaming: On trial was presented by Eleven Management’s Estelle Wilkinson, with speakers Ric Salmon of Driift, Grazia Tribulato of LiveNow, Max Wentzler of Zart Agency and agent Steve Zapp of ITB on hand to pass judgement.

While the format flourished during the pandemic, concerns have been raised that it has fallen down the list of priorities amid the return of IRL concerts.

But Driift CEO and co-founder Salmon, whose company has sold hundreds of thousands of tickets for livestreamed gigs with acts including Nick Cave, Niall Horan, Kylie Minogue, Biffy Clyro, Andrea Bocelli and Laura Marling, said he is convinced it is here to stay.

“I’d be shocked if it doesn’t become just part of the standard lexicon of what we do”

“I think we need a couple of years for us all to work out where this is going and hopefully, businesses won’t lose too much money through that process,” he said. “Unfortunately, development in [the digital] sector tends to be slowed down and stymied by arguments and disagreement, and it would be nice if we can find a way of that not happening this time.

“But in long term… I’d be shocked if it doesn’t become just part of the standard lexicon of what we do.”

Germany-based Zart Agency launched Zart.tv in 2020, with the first hybrid livestreaming concert with AR content in the country. Wentzler said he had been left scratching his head at the reluctance of certain parties to embrace the fresh opportunities created.

“There’s a potential revenue stream… And people are shutting their doors to it”

“What I think is a bit mind boggling about this whole conversation is there’s a potential new revenue stream… And people are shutting their doors to it,” he said.

“In five years, I would love to see labels really understanding the potential, especially with younger artists and up and coming hot artists.

“What I’m seeing right now in Germany – because of state funding – is that a lot of venues now have five, six cameras, all remote controlled. The house technicians are actually learning to do sound and do video at the same time. We’ve seen this a lot in jazz clubs in Germany, and they’re doing a lot of revenue – some that I’ve talked to have been doing six figures. I would love to see that business model being extrapolated on to bigger areas.”

Zapp’s artist roster includes Biffy Clyro, who played a behind-closed-doors global livestream show from Glasgow Barrowlands in 2020 to launch their A Celebration of Endings album. He spoke of the advantages offered by the format, particularly geographically.

“[There are] certain countries that you can’t tour because it’s too expensive to get to,” he said. “The streaming scenario is an opportunity to get the artist to be seen in those countries. You could put a bit of a spend behind it and maybe try and build it to then be able to afford to tour in the future.”

“If it’s a standalone livestream, completely outside of any campaign that’s going on, it’s really difficult to market”

LiveNow’s most successful livestream to date was Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054 livestream, which saw more than five million people tuning in live, according to organisers. However, more generally, Tribulato advised a certain amount of education on livestream events was still required for consumers.

“I think everybody is still quite confused on what are they going to get when they buy a ticket for a livestream,” she said. “When they get a ticket, what do they get? Are they watching the show live? Are they watching a pre-recorded show? Can they watch it after 24 hours? Can they watch it forever? There’s still a lot of confusion. and a lot of marketing is spent on actually explaining what it is.”

Tribulato suggested it makes more sense to position livestreams as part of an artist’s wider promotional campaign, rather than a one-off concert.

“If it’s a standalone, completely outside of any campaign that’s going on, it’s really difficult to market,” she said. “So what we tend to do is ‘tentpole events’, as we call them: big events… in the campaign of the artist. So I think the main task is to find a way to incorporate the livestream in the cycle.”

Salmon countered that Driift had seen considerable success with The Smile’s groundbreaking trio of gigs in London in January, where each performance by the Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood side project was held in front of a seated audience of 1,200 and livestreamed in real time for a different timezone.

“I don’t think you can make a blanket rule that they don’t work in isolation,” he said. “Admittedly, it was with a couple of famous people from a very famous band, but it was the definition of ‘in isolation’, because it was a launch event, and the first time they’d ever done anything, and the first time anyone had ever heard any of the music.

“Now it’s slightly different, of course, because it’s an offshoot from Radiohead so you’ve got a ready made fan base. But it was phenomenally successful and vastly outperformed our expectations.”

“The pandemic accelerated the understanding of the sector so rapidly”

Driift sold more than 85,000 tickets for Little Mix’s livestream from The O2 in London last month, which marked the final date on the group’s Confetti Tour.

“There’s loads of evidence that consumers want this stuff,” said Salmon. “There’s a convenience to it and there’s a geographical reach that you can achieve with with livestreams that you can never reach with physical shows, so there’s a demand for it.

“We were very fortunate that we were working in this vacuum of the pandemic, so we had this captive audience. But it accelerated the understanding of the sector so rapidly. It’s now a case of us as an industry catching up with that and working out how best to use it. Because, frankly, we’d be fucking mad not to find a solution for it going forward.”

Salmon also addressed discussions with performance rights organisations (PROs) over the livestream tariff, including the well-documented dispute with PRS for Music.

“One of the biggest realisations we had at the beginning of all of this was there was there was no precedent,” he said. “There was no licensing structure for this stuff, which was kind of remarkable in the fairly advanced industry we think we are, and so it’s been a challenge.

“The labels have  a very vocal view. The publishers have a very vocal view. Artists, managers, songwriters and everybody in between have a very vocal view. Some PROs have been very robust in their negotiations, others have been a lot more understanding and open-minded. But generally speaking, we’ve got it to a fairly good place and I think we’re getting to a point now where [Driift] will be signing some licensing agreements with the PROs that don’t set a terrible precedent.”


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Wide Days to host virtual event

Scottish live music industry conference Wide Days is putting on an afternoon of virtual discussions and socials tomorrow (24 April), when the event was originally due to take place.

Wide Days is among a number of industry conferences to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak, with organisers moving the three-day event from April to 23 to 25 July.

To mark the original dates of the Edinburgh conference, a free virtual event will take place from 1.30 p.m. (GMT) tomorrow.

Kicking off with a TikTok webinar, the programme also features ITB agent Steve Zapp in conversation with Wide Days founder Olaf Furniss, as well as a social workshop, allowing live event professional to swap tips on useful platforms, webinars, podcasts and initiatives and an end-of-day music quiz.

The event will also include a virtual chatroom on Zoom, to facilitate networking and catch ups throughout the day.

Those interested in attending the event can sign up here.


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The Cult awarded for sell-out UK tour

Veteran British rockers the Cult celebrated the 30th anniversary of their fourth album, Sonic Temple, with a sold-out UK tour that sold over 25,000 tickets.

Promoted by Kilimanjaro Live, the UK leg of the Sonic Temple tour saw the band play venues including Rock City (2,000-cap.) in Nottingham, the O2 Apollo Manchester (3,500-cap.), Portsmouth Guildhall (2,500-cap.) and the Eventim Apollo (5,000-cap.) in Hammersmith throughout October.

Pictured at side stage after the Hammersmith Apollo date on 27 October are (L–R) agent Steve Zapp of ITB, Cult band members Billy Duffy and Ian Astbury, and Kili promoter Alan Day.


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Opposites attract: ITB at 40

At ITB, they call it “going over to the dark side.”

You walk out of the open-plan space where Barry Dickins is king, and most of the other agents and assistants reside, cross reception and follow the corridor down to the other end. There, you might find Rod MacSween and his team, surrounded by shelves of highbrow books and photos of MacSween arm-around-shoulder with the cream of classic rockers: Ozzy, Page and Plant, Steven and Joe.

“We’ve always liked the idea of the company all being set out over one level, with Rod at one end of the office and me at the other, and everyone else in between,” says Dickins.

The demarcation of ‘dark’ and ‘light’ sides is jokily acknowledged by little Star Wars icons above the key-code entry systems on opposite sides of reception – on MacSween’s, the rock giants, on Dickins’, the classic singer-songwriters.

Office geography aside, Dickins and MacSween remain one of the live business’s most indivisible partnerships, still intact after 40 years that have included a 14-year spell within Live Nation, a latter-day return to independence and long-term relationships with artists including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Paul Simon and ZZ Top (Dickins’ list) and Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, The Who, Pearl Jam, Kiss, Guns N’ Roses and Maroon Five (MacSween’s).

But it’s been some time since the company was solely the sum of the founders’ still-formidable rosters.

“Me and Rod are completely different – mentally, physically and artistically. That’s probably why the business works so well”

In 2018, ITB offers strength in depth, with Dickins’s daughter Lucy famously turning up talent including Adele, Mumford & Sons, Hot Chip and James Blake, and other senior agents such as Mike Dewdney (Kasabian, Blink-182, Eels, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and Steve Zapp (Biffy Clyro, Courteeners, Editors, The Cult) holding their own.

But while there’s plenty of work taking place at ITB between the two poles of Dickins and MacSween, it is their chalk-and-cheese relationship that still defines the public face of the business. And the more you look at it, the more you suspect this is the evergreen marriage that remains harmonious largely because they live substantially separate lives.

“Me and Rod are completely different – mentally, physically and artistically,” says Dickins. “That’s probably why the business works so well. If we were similar people then we probably would have killed each other by now.”
MacSween agrees. “We don’t see an awful lot of each other, but we each have much respect for what the other does. We have always remained friends and been there for each other, as partners should be.”

Different they may be, but the two are genuine legends of equal stature in the pantheon of agents – MacSween the tough negotiator, not one for small talk, who lives and breathes the music he represents; Dickins the charmer but certainly no pushover, with encyclopaedias of touring know-how under the silver barnet.

“He is really humble; he is not a chest-beater about how well he has done,” says Lucy Dickins. “But he is a fucking genius in this business – he is so good.”

“[Barry] is a fucking genius in this business – he is so good”

Independently, her father extends exactly the same compliment to his business partner. “Rod is a fucking genius,” says Barry. “If I was a manager then he would be our agent. He is, hands down, the best agent I’ve ever come across. He’s incredible. He gets great deals. I swear that people just give him the best deals to get him off of the phone.”

It is no coincidence that Dickins, “the hands-on, running-the-company guy,” in the words of agent Mike Dewdney, works among the rest of the agents, while MacSween maintains a separate team – three assistants, plus another agent, Ian Sales – that allows him to focus intently, even obsessively, on the needs of his artists.

“I’m a bit anal sometimes,” says MacSween. “I still make numbered lists of things to do each day. If I don’t complete any, I asterisk them and carry them forward to the next day.”

The Arden connection
When they talk to IQ – at different times, of course – Dickins, while still a very active agent, tends to survey the company as a whole, while MacSween’s focus is his faithful dedication to his own family of acts.

For such a long-lived partnership, Dickins and MacSween took a little time to get off the ground. The former, the son of NME founder Percy Dickins, had come up in the 1960s, representing The Who, Jimi Hendrix and The Nice at the Malcolm Rose agency, before honing his trade under agent-promoter Harold Davidson, who later sold to MAM.

“If I was a manager, Rod would be our agent”

“I was in the rock department at MAM in 1975, and Rod was at the Bron Agency and I’d heard good things about him,” says Barry. “I actually offered him a job at MAM but he said he wanted more money than I was on, so that conversation was fairly short.”

MacSween came into the business like many – as social secretary at the University of Exeter in the early-1970s. He spent time at various London agencies before eventually coming into the organisation of notorious manager Don Arden, where he first met Arden’s daughter, Sharon Osbourne – now a longstanding friend. “She was working with her father at the time,” MacSween recalls. “We, and then Ozzy, became great friends. With all their help, ITB was set up in 1976. Barry came and joined as a partner in 1978.”

“Don didn’t have the best reputation but I have to say that he was always good with me,” says Barry. “Anyway, it was a pretty good offer and I was young, so I thought what the hell – what did I have to lose?”

In the early days, Dickins could boast Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, The Kinks, Joni Mitchell and others. MacSween, yet to deck his office walls with most of the rockers that nowadays make up most of his client base, had ELO, Steve Hillage, Kiki Dee, Roy Wood’s Wizzard and Whitesnake.

Together, they built a formidable reputation for smart negotiating, a strong eye for career development and notably tight artist relationships. An in-depth company profile from 25 years ago in Applause magazine describes the business as much admired, big-hitting and fully formed, the characters of its co-managing directors distinctly recognisable as the ones we see now. Even then, Dutch promoter Leon Ramakers marvelled at the co-managing directors’ unlikely union, declaring it an example to all the peoples of the world of how to live in harmony.


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 76, or subscribe to the magazine here

New conference Music Cork kicks off this week

A new music-industry conference and showcase festival makes its debut in the Republic of Ireland tomorrow.

Music Cork, which runs from 10 to 12 May, hopes to create “unique opportunity in Ireland to listen to the best industry professionals talk about their work and experiences, see the best new talent perform and enjoy plenty of opportunities to network with speakers and delegates over three days of intimate social gatherings and shows”, say organisers, who include Indiependence Festival promoter Shane Dunne, The Delphi Label’s Alexis Vokos, music barrister Willie Ryan and manager Jim Lawless.

Speakers include agents Geoff Meall (UTA), Steve Zapp (ITB), Josh Javor (X-ray) and Sarah Casey (LPO), Kendal Calling co-founder Andy Smith, MCD promoters Brian Spollen and Stephen Curran, consultant Andy Edwards and a host of label execs, with topics touching on building artists, festivals, working with agents, music publishing, sync and more.

In addition to the showcases, an “informal” night-time programme will include dinners and pub crawls across the “most fun and friendly city in Ireland”.

Tickets are are still available from Eventgen.ie, priced at €155.


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The unstoppable Steve Zapp

… Branded one of the hardest working agents around, Zapp tells Eamonn Forde about his work ethic and his first 25 years in music…

If your earliest experiences of live music involved sleeping on train platforms, being physically assaulted and getting the sack for booking an act deemed enormously inappropriate, then the chances are you’d probably want to cut your losses and get into a more stable career path.

Steve Zapp, despite his placid demeanour and antipathy towards swearing, is made of sterner stuff. He is marking 25 years in the business and 15 years at ITB where he looks after a roster of around 55 acts that include Biffy Clyro, a band he spotted, like an alt-rock Brian Epstein, in The Cavern Club in Liverpool, and has taken to headlining festivals and touring arenas.

Zapp cites three London shows as pivotal in his early life: The Wonder Stuff at Brixton Academy, Energy Orchard at The Borderline and Pete Wylie & The Mighty Wah! At Subterranea

Born in 1973 and growing up in Folkestone, Zapp was introduced to music via The Smurfs and The Wombles but soon expanded into Adam & the Ants, Wham! and Duran Duran. His dad was into music, but it was Thursday night’s Top of the Pops that really kicked the doors open for him.

“I lived in Kent and there weren’t many acts that played live,” he says of the dearth of concerts in his formative years, which amateur psychologists would suggest he has spent his professional career making up for.

He cites three London shows as pivotal in his early life – The Wonder Stuff at Brixton Academy, Energy Orchard at The Borderline and Pete Wylie & The Mighty Wah! At Subterranea. “I hung out too long after the Pete Wylie gig and missed my last train so had to sleep in the station,” he recalls. “I got through it.”


Read the rest of this feature in issue 67 of IQ Magazine.

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