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Coronavirus: Numerous UK venues close in single day

A number of UK venues declared they were closing for good today, as the insolvency of two companies making up UK event and venue management specialist VMS Live leads to the shuttering of Hull venues the Welly and the Polar Bear, and Mission Mars-operated Gorilla and Deaf Institute in Manchester also announce permanent closures.

Hull Live reports that VMS CEO Bert van Horck and non-executive director Kate Forster yesterday (15 July) transferred their authority as directors for the VMS Live companies VMS Live (2011) Ltd and VMS Live (Venues) Ltd, with the expected loss of 20 full-time jobs..

As a result of the insolvencies of the two companies, Hull venues the Welly (600-cap.) and the Polar Bear (200-cap.), which VMS took on in 2018, as well as ticketing outlet Hull Box Office, are closing down.

The remaining four VMS Live companies, which operate/book venues including Eventim Olympia Liverpool (1,960-cap.), Asylum in Hull (1,100-cap.) and the William Aston Hall in Wrexham (1,200-cap.), will continue to operate as before.

“I am deeply saddened that we had to make this decision, following the completion of the yearly accounts, the announcements of the government and the bank reconciliation, which lead us to be at immediate risk of trading whilst insolvent,” comments van Horck, who has served as CEO of the company since 2019.

“I am deeply saddened that we had to make this decision”

“I would like to thank all of our staff on behalf of Kate and I for the magnificent efforts made to try and save these two companies, both between September and March during normal trading and beyond into the Covid-19 enforced closure.”

The news comes as two other well-loved UK venues, Mission Mars-operated Gorilla (600-cap.) and Deaf Institute (260-cap.) in Manchester, close under the pressure of Covid-19.

“The Deaf Institute and Gorilla have been at the forefront of the music scene in Manchester for many years and it is with great sadness that we announce that we will not be reopening,” says Mission Mars CEO Roy Ellis.

“This difficult decision has been made against the backdrop of Covid-19 and the enforced closure of all of our sites and with continued restrictions upon opening of live music venues.

“We appreciate that these music destinations are well loved and have provided an early stage for many acts in the North West and are therefore well known in the world of music.

“We would encourage any industry and music entrepreneurs who might be interested in this as an opportunity to please get in touch.”

 


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Hull venues unite for Hull City of Music initiative

The leading music venues in Hull, in north-east England, have joined forces to promote the area as a ‘city of music’ in the vein of Liverpool or Manchester.

Hull City of Music – comprising venues including Bonus Arena (3,500-cap.), Welly (600-cap.), Adelphi (200-cap.), Asylum (1,100-cap.), the 1,200-seat Hull City Hall and the Humber Street Sesh festival – aims to “encourage the experience of live music within the community through attendance, participation and education” and put “put the city’s live music scene will on the map in the same way as Manchester and Liverpool’s musical heritage”, according to a launch announcement.

Famous musical exports from Hull (in full Kingston upon Hull), a city of some 250,000 people in the East Riding of Yorkshire, include Sade, the Housemartins/Beautiful South, Fatboy Slim, Throbbing Gristle and Bowie collaborator/Spider from Mars Mick Ronson.

The Hull City of Music group will work alongside Hull City Council and Visit Hull to:

“Hull City of Music gives all venues, regardless of size, the chance to come together”

As part of its longer-term aims, the group hopes to inspire young people to get involved in the music industry, whether as artists or promoters, technicians or other industry professionals.

It is also hoped that by working together, the city will be able to take a “joined-up approach” to hosting a multi-venue event, similar to Live at Leeds or Tramlines in Sheffield, which attract thousands of visitors from outside of their respective cities.

It is the first time in at least 30 years that all major venues in the city have pledged to work together.

Dan Harris, general manager of ASM Global’s Bonus Arena, explains: “Over the last few years Hull has welcomed some enormous bands and artists to the city, with even more planned in 2020. Hull City of Music gives all venues, regardless of size, the chance to come together and celebrate the rich cultural offering, promote the city’s grassroots acts and clear a pathway to continue to put the city on the musical map.”

“Multiple musical hearts from local government to enterprises and media have joined forces to emphasise the unique and vibrant live music scene in Hull,” adds Bert van Horck of VMS Live, which operates the Welly, Welly 2 and Polar Bear. “Music is a vital anchor in the social fabric of our society, and we will continue to drive this forward to the benefit of the audience and the musicians.”

“Hull City of Music is a really exciting partnership that promises to make this city great again”

Mark Hall, business manager for Hull Box Office, comments: “In nearly 30 years of working in the live music scene in Hull, I have only ever dreamed of a group that brings all of the city’s venues and promoters together to promote the vibrant and diverse music scene that exists in this great city.

“With the full support of Hull City Council and VHEY [Visit Hull and East Yorkshire], Hull City of Music is a really exciting partnership that promises to make this city great again!”

Cllr Dave Craker, portfolio holder for culture, leisure and tourism at Hull City Council, adds: “It is great for the council, through Visit Hull, to be part of a partnership of venues that will help to rightly establish Hull as one of the country’s best destinations for seeing and playing live music.”

A Hull City of Music website, including combined gig listings for all member venues, will launch in the coming weeks.

 


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VMS Live expands team in new London office

UK-based promoter and venue operator VMS Live has hired three new team members in its London office, which opened late last year.

Former Mean Fiddler general manager James Gall is joining VMS Live as southern manager and acting head of venues, taking responsibility for all VMS Live venue operations and venue management teams.

Gall states his aim is “to improve efficiency of management systems”, “ensure health and safety compliance”, and create “bespoke marketing to help drive shows”.

Also joining the London office is graphic designer Filippos Saltsidis, who brings experience from working for agencies, media companies and as a freelance designer in countries including Greece and Germany. Saltsidis will act as the main graphic designer in the VMS Live marketing department.

The final addition to the team is Yara Magarino, who joins as a marketing executive, having previously worked for festival discovery and travel platform Festicket.

“Establishing a central team in London is a key part for VMS Live in supporting our nationwide network of venues”

Magarino has also worked as an assistant brand and product manager at PlayStation, Pernod Ricard and Grupo Planeta.

“Establishing a central team in London is a key part for VMS Live in supporting our nationwide network of venues,” comments CEO Bert Van Horck.

“These three people combine experience and youthful talent and I’m confident we are well positioned to provide our clients with enhanced promotional, operational and marketing support.”

Founded in 2007 by the late Steve Forster, VMS Live operates and/or books mid-size UK venues including Eventim Olympia Liverpool (1,960-cap.), Asylum in Hull (1,100-cap.) and the William Aston Hall in Wrexham (1,200-cap.), and counts Eventim UK, the local arm of Germany’s CTS Eventim, among its clients.

The company is promoting upcoming tours by 808 State and Grand Magnus, as well as promoting dates by Jools Holland and Milton Jones.

 


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VMS Live to open London office, launch marketing arm

Independent British promoter and venue operator VMS Live is making changes to its business model, opening a central London office and creating a new marketing division.

Founded in 2007 by the late Steve Forster, VMS Live operates and/or books mid-size UK venues including Eventim Olympia Liverpool (1,960-cap.), Asylum in Hull (1,100-cap.) and the William Aston Hall in Wrexham (1,200-cap.), and counts Eventim UK, the local arm of Germany’s CTS Eventim, among its clients.

Following the appointment of Bert Van Horck as CEO in September, VMS is undergoing changes to improve customer service and enhance marketing support for venues.

From 6 January 2020, VMS’s booking, ticketing, marketing and music divisions will operate out of a new office in King’s Cross, London, headed by High Voltage festival promoter Abbie Marshall. Central services such as finance and HR will also be based out of the London office.

“To align our aims and those of our clients, we will invest in new systems, and a new office, and create a new marketing department”

The company has also hired Ioana Mosteanu, who formerly worked on music brand partnerships at Red Bull, and digital marketing and design specialist Yara Magarino to work in its newly created marketing division. Mosteanu will also take charge of the ticketing department.

VMS’s former operations assistant, Aoife Niblock, will take on the role of northern regional manager, supervising VMS venues in Wrexham, Liverpool and Hull.

“We have taken a very close look at the heart of the company and consulted with the great team of people working here and fantastic clients to make some well-informed, bold decisions,” comments Van Horck.

“To align our aims and those of our clients, we will invest in new systems, and a new office, and create a new marketing department, for which we have appointed two marketeers.

“This signals our ambitions to help our clients grow their businesses and expand our portfolio of venues.”

 


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Bert Van Horck succeeds late Steve Forster at VMS Live

Multifaceted UK venue management outfit VMS Live has appointed Bert Van Horck as CEO, effective 21 September.

Van Horck – whose CV includes producing stadium shows by Shakira and Depeche Mode, as well as major sporting events such as the Baku 2015 European Olympics and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games – succeeds VMS founder Steve Forster, who passed away earlier this year.

Forster’s widow, Kate, also joins the VMS Live as a non-executive director.

She comments: “I am focusing on the opportunity to preserve and continue to grow the legacy of my late husband. This is the appropriate time to extend a huge ‘thank you’ all the staff, suppliers, clients and other stakeholders who all contributed to keeping VMS Live running over the difficult past five months.

“Bert has a unique track record in the event industry, including promoting and producing live entertainment and starting up venues, and I am looking forward to working with him to take the company forward.”

“Bert has a unique track record, including promoting and producing live entertainment and starting up venues”

Van Horck’s other experience includes serving as CEO of event crowd management specialist ICMS, trading as Showsec in the UK, and managing director of De Boer Structures UK.

“VMS Live is in a great space in this dynamic sector, and I am very much looking to working with the new team to build on the incredible foundations and legacy Steve Forster, Richard Maides and Carl Bathgate have put in place.

“We’d also like to give special thanks to Richard and Carl, who led the company over this difficult recent period. Both have now resigned following a transfer of their duties.

“The company is grateful for their long-standing service and contribution to its growth, particularly their special efforts over these five last months. They played a major part in developing the USPs which make VMS Live such a unique group of companies, blending venue management, promoting and ticketing into a one-stop-shop entertainment organisation.”

VMS’s venues include the Welly in Hull, the Foundry in Sheffield, the Waterfront in Norwich, Brixton Electric in London, the Lemon Grove in Exeter and the Eventim Olympia in Liverpool.

 


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VMS Live’s Steve Forster passes

Steve Forster, founder and managing director of VMS Live and a widely respected figure in the UK live music industry, has passed away.

After a stint as a musician, DJ and roadie in Newcastle, Forster’s live music business began in 1987 when he set up his own company, NPS, promoting shows, managing tours and organising club nights.

After a three-year stint as operations director at the old Wembley Stadium, Forster joined Academy Music Group (AMG) in 1999, when it ran two venues, staying with the company as main board director and shareholder until 2007, by which time that number had risen to 13. He then set up VMS Live, and for three years ran the live music division of MAMA (now part of Live Nation).

Since 2011, Forster had led VMS as a standalone business, opening and acquiring several new venues, including most recently Hull clubs the Welly and the Polar Bear.

“Everyone at VMS Live is deeply shocked and saddened at the recent passing of our managing director and founder Steve Forster,” says the company in a statement. “He was involved in a serious car accident on Saturday 30 March, heading south after having watched his beloved Leeds United win. Steve sustained a number of serious injuries, which were treated in Sheffield, after which he was transferred to Royal Surrey Hospital. Following complications, Steve passed away peacefully on Friday 19 April 2019.

“Whether you knew Steve from his early days in Newcastle or through the many venues and events he worked with, we are sure you will agree that he was a focussed and determined operator, a man who knew his own mind and, overall, a truly unique and talented individual.

“He was a truly great man”

“Steve was respected and influential throughout the industry and has passed on a great deal of knowledge and experience to those around him, and for this legacy we can all be eternally grateful.

“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with his family, friends and all those who were fortunate to have known him.”

Details of Forster’s funeral arrangements will follow shortly.

Forster’s passing is the second such tragedy in the past year for VMS, which lost its longtime operations consultant, Dan Pike, last September.

Among those to have sent condolences to VMS and Forster’s family include AMG, which offers its “heartfelt thoughts, love and strength” on behalf of his former company, and Showsec, which sends “condolences from all of us at Showsec to Steve’s family, friends and colleagues at this sad time”.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who Forster promoted at Hi-Voltage in 2010, expressed their “great regret” at his death, while the Welly pays tribute to Forster’s passion for “Hull and live music, and we hope to carry on his legacy using the wealth of knowledge and experience he has shared with us.”

A statement from Sheffield venue the Leadmill, meanwhile, says: Our sincerest condolences to every one of the VMS and Forster family from everyone here at the Leadmill.

“He was a truly great man.”

 


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VMS Live acquires the Welly, Hull Box Office

Fast-growing UK venue management company VMS Live has acquired Hull venues the Welly and the Polar Bear.

The deal sees VMS, run by ex-Academy Music Group/MAMA director Steve Forster, securing the freehold of the 880-capacity Welly and the lease on small bar venue the Polar Bear, as well as the IP of ticketing business Hull Box Office, from former owner Humyne Ltd.

VMS has worked with Humyne for the past three years as venue consultant and event booker for both the Welly and the Polar Bear, as well as developing the Inner City Live series of outdoor events in Hull.

The venues will fall under the operational control of VMS operations director Richard Maides. “The Welly is an institution in Hull and is both a great live and club space,” he comments, “and I feel the Polar Bear is a venue with both great history and massive potential. We intend to develop both venues sympathetically working with the existing staff team to help them bring to life some of the plans they have had in place for some time, particularly in relation to the Polar Bear, where we will be extending the venue to create new toilets and dressing rooms, as well as a new stage area and an increased floor space.

“We are looking to commence the works as soon as possible, with the new venue reopening late January with a new permanent PA and lighting installation as part of the overall improvements.”

“What makes the acquisition really interesting is not just the addition of another two venues to our estate, but also the inclusion of Hull Box Office”

VMS bolstered its venue portfolio in July with the addition of Liverpool Olympia (renamed Eventim Olympia to reflect VMS’s relationship with the eponymous ticketing company) and Lemon Grove in Exeter. Other managed and partner venues include Manchester Academy, the Waterfront in Norwich, Preston Guild Hall and Coventry’s the Copper Rooms.

Forster, VMS MD, comments: I really am pleased that we have managed to get this deal over the line. I have know Humyne owners Dave [Mays] and Andy [Balman] for many years. […] When it became apparent that the Humyne business was potentially up for sale, I declared our interest at the earliest opportunity.

“What makes the acquisition really interesting from a VMS perspective is not just the addition of another two venues to our estate, but also the inclusion of Hull Box Office [HBO]. HBO already sells in excess of 80,000 tickets a year over and above those from the Welly and Polar Bear, these being for other events and venues in Hull and the East Ridings, and we think there is much more growth in this area of the business.

“The plan is to integrate the HBO operation into our VMS tickets platform, provided by Eventim, and use the existing HBO team up there to oversee both ticketing as well as marketing and advertising for all of the VMS businesses. In terms of our overall business and strategy going forward, I firmly believe the Hull venues, as well as the recent acquisition of the William Aston Hall in Wrexham and management contract for the Lemon Grove in Exeter, make VMS a far better balanced business.

“There a few other deals currently in discussion, but after this VMS will enter a period of consolidation and focus on our existing businesses and contracts.”

 


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VMS announces series of new partnerships and appointments

VMS Live has announced a series of new deals which managing director Steve Forster has said “will be key to their future success.” The deals include two new venue partnerships and the appointment of BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Timzee to the position of development manager.

The first of the deals is with the Liverpool Olympia, which will become the Eventim Olympia Liverpool. The name change is the result of the ‘mutually supportive’ agreement with Eventim, which was made earlier this year. The deal includes a five-year partnership with the venue owners, Argent Leisure, and will see £250k invested into the 1,900-capacity space.

Speaking about the new partnership, Chris Zorba of Argent Leisure comments: “The new agreement with VMS will allow Silver Leisure to invest in the fabric of the building to improve the customer experience.

“We very much feel that the area and the Olympia in particular are on the cusp of another golden age.”

“As an entirely self-funded independent, with no debt or bank loans, we are incredibly proud of the way we have developed the business over the last 7 years”

The second of the new deals is a five-year agreement with the University of Exeter’s Student Guild. VMS will take over the direction of the University’s events and entertainment programme, as well as the operation of their venue, the Lemon Grove. Both sides are hopeful the deal will revamp the fortunes of the Lemon Grove, with Guild director of commercial services Nicola Carter saying it is, “an incredible opportunity to develop our existing programme of events and to showcase the Lemon Grove as a leading venue in Exeter for live music.”

Working closely with this new acquisition will be newly appointed development manager Timzee. Focusing particularly on the student venue section of VMS’s portfolio, he will work on developing new ‘club’ brands for the the company. Tim brings with him an extensive list of experience, additional to being a BBC 1Xtra DJ, he also acts as content director for productions including a 3,000 capacity warehouse brand in his home city.

VMS hopes these new developments will encourage lasting success for the company. Commenting on its success until now, Forster says: “As an entirely self-funded independent, with no debt or bank loans, we are incredibly proud of the way we have developed the business over the last seven years.” He goes on to name this a ‘really important period’ for the company.

 


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VMS Live partners with Eventim UK

Eventim UK, the UK division of German ticketing giant CTS Eventim, has added independent British promoter/venue management outfit VMS Live to its portfolio of clients.

VMS operates a host of mid-size UK venues, including Manchester Academy (2,600-cap.), Copper Rooms (900+300-cap.) at the University of Warwick and William Aston Hall (1,200-cap.) in Wrexham.

“As we’ve grown and deliver more, we needed a ticketing partner,” says Carl Bathgate, promotions director at VMS Live. “We need access to the best technology and wanted bespoke developments. We selected Eventim for this role, as they have an ideal mix of skills that will allow us to develop and mutually support each other.”

“Eventim’s initiatives tie into our ethos as a business”

James O’Mullan, finance director at Eventim UK, says: “We wanted to work with VMS as they are the fastest growing promoter in the country, and we have experienced exponential growth in 2017. We both have similar ambitions for the future, and working together we will be able to help each other reach those goals.”

“VMS are currently a small business in the context of the major players out there, but we continue to double in size year on year,” adds VMS managing director Steve Forster. “Eventim approached us about a partnership, and their flexible approach and ability to modify their standard offering to suit our business needs convinced us to partner with them.

“Eventim’s initiatives tie into our ethos as a business – in particular we really like FanSALE, their fan-to-fan, fair-price ticketing resale platform. Overall, Eventim just felt right for us at this stage in our development.”

 


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VMS bolsters promotions division with new hires

VMS Live, the venue management and booking consultancy run by ex-Academy Music Group/MAMA director Steve Forster, has made two appointments as it bulks up its promotions division.

Veteran promoter Isla Miskelly, who joins from Live Nation, will work alongside commercial director Carl Bathgate and promoter/booker Joff Hall, ensuring VMS “can gain access to the widest range of live music and club talent, as well as ‘experiential’ activity”, explains Forster. Prior to joining Live Nation, Miskelly – one of Music Week’s ‘30 Under 30’ 2016 –  she worked at DHP Family, and before that was a booker for Truck Festival in Oxfordshire.

Also joining VMS Live is Sarah Louise Jones, who moves from the 1,200-cap. William Aston Hall in Wrexham to become promotions assistant.

Forster explains that VMS – which offers a range of services, including venue management, development and refurbishment; event booking and production; sponsorship and brand partnerships; health and safety management; ticketing solutions; and advice on licensing – is in future increasing the number of shows it books in both indoor and outdoor venues.

“Bringing Isla on board gives us access to a new range of artists and contacts. We have some exciting plans to develop going into 2018 and we can’t wait to get stuck into it”

“For example, this year we have developed the Inner City Live concept in Birmingham and Hull, with a number of other locations asking to work with us for 2018,” he says.

Commenting on the new appointments, he tells IQ: “In the last 12 months our business as a whole has continued to develop, with the promotions side – both the shows we are promoting ourselves and those on behalf of our clients – having more than doubled in size over that period. While we are certainly a very small player in the greater scheme of things, what we are focusing on is different sorts of events and expanding into different territories.

“Bringing Isla on board gives us access to a new range of artists and contacts. We have some exciting plans to develop going into 2018, and, to be honest, we can’t wait to get stuck into it. [This year] has been a great year for us, but we are very much looking to the future with these new appointments.”

 


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