UTA’s Gary Howard talks the N-Dubz comeback tour
UTA agent Gary Howard is hoping to build on N-Dubz’ success internationally after the trio sold 260,000 tickets for their UK arena comeback tour.
The British hip-hop group – cousins Dappy, Tulisa and Fazer – recently reunited following an 11-year hiatus and Howard tells IQ the enormous public demand for their live shows has left many within in the business eating their words.
“The whole industry thought we were completely mad,” laughs Howard. “An email from one agency, which will remain nameless, said, ‘Gary Howard is off his head, this is no more than a Shepherd’s Bush [Empire level tour].’ And all the record companies were going, ‘This is never going to work.’ But what no one saw at that point was that the mere fact they were all talking about it showed you how big it was.
“There were only three people that really believed this was going to be big if I’m being honest and that was Tulisa, her manager and myself. We knew what would happen.”
“We announced the first 10 shows and they just popped out in minutes, it was unbelievable”
Promoted by AEG Presents, the November/December tour now comprises more than 20 dates, including four nights at The O2 in London.
“We [announced] the first 10 shows and they just popped out in minutes, it was unbelievable,” says Howard. “We then added another seven shows and they all went within 10 minutes.
“Keep in mind, they’d already sold 100,000 tickets, so we announced another seven shows and within 10 minutes, had sold out another two O2 arenas. But we still had half a million people waiting to buy tickets. That was crazy and it was a lovely moment for us all, given the band had had a lot to deal with and some dark moments over the years.
“Of course, at this point, everyone’s calling us now and telling us what geniuses we are all of a sudden! So we put the other six nights on sale and they went as well.”
“Everyone asks me, ‘What’s the secret? Why does it work?'”
Howard represented the band during their first run and has previously guided successful comeback tours by the likes of Craig David and Steps.
“Everyone asks me, ‘What’s the secret? Why does it work?’ And it works because one, they left enough time, which is the first point,” suggests Howard. “But two, what people forget about N-Dubz is they were very ingrained into British pop culture and the kids related to them.
“When the band split up, I knew that if we were ever going to get back together, we needed that long period. Tulisa and Fazer came to see me in 2019 and were like, ‘Gary, we’re ready.’ We started discussing it and I felt there’d be enough water under the bridge and said, ‘You’ll be bigger this time around.’ I knew it because what I’d seen when we brought people like Craig and Steps back is that your audience broadens a lot.”
N-Dubz dropped Charmer, their first single in over a decade, ahead of the tour going on sale in May. The presence of new material was a key part of the promotional strategy, explains Howard.
“When we brought Craig David back it was massive, but this was a different level”
“Obviously, we had [the pandemic], which put us back, and then we were hanging on for the first song, because the whole point of bringing them back wasn’t just a nostalgic trip, it was to make them contemporary again, as we had done with Craig David,” he says. “As soon as we got Charmer ready, we knew we were ready to go and we put everything in place.
“We announced the tour and the swell was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it. When we bought Craig back it was massive, but this was a different level. We expected the audience to be 25 to 35, but 21-year-olds were losing their shit.”
Howard, who reveals the group have outdoor UK shows in the offing for next year (“We’ve got a surprise or two up our sleeve”), is now bidding to guide the trio to the global success that largely eluded them first time around.
“The hope is that we can make N-Dubz international this time around. Nothing would please us more”
“We did some stuff in Greece, Norway and maybe Germany, but there was no real push from the label,” recalls Howard. “Keep in mind that back then, Europeans just weren’t into British urban music, which is what it was called at that point. They weren’t listening to it and didn’t understand why they needed it when they had hip-hop coming out of America.
“When you think of artists now like Stormzy and Dave, what they’ve done internationally is absolutely brilliant, so the hope is that we can make N-Dubz international this time around. Nothing would please us more.”
Howard, who says he is also working on a live comeback by another blast from the past, adds he is staggered by the amount of shows seen in the UK this summer.
“It’s mind blowing what’s going on in the industry right now,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many shows in the summer as I have done in the past month or so. Live music it definitely back and business is great. It’s probably a little bit flooded at the moment, but it’s good to be back.”
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