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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 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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