One guaranteed blockbuster concert series this summer is the American Express Presents British Summer Time in Hyde Park festival. It will stage the most shows in its history between June 24 and July 10, with two concerts apiece by Adele, the Rolling Stones, and Pearl Jam, and additional gigs by Elton John, the Eagles and Duran Duran.
AEG Presents CEO of European festivals Jim King tells Variety that this summer the event will set new records for its most tickets sold, highest gross, largest number of sponsors and highest sponsorship gross.
“We’ve got the biggest line-up we’ve ever had, both in terms of quantity and the stature of the artists,” says King. “To have these nine shows play in the same season is pretty unprecedented. In terms of a ticketed festival, it’s arguably the biggest in the world. It’s certainly the biggest in Europe, so 2022 has been a huge success for us.”
Adele is set to play her first live shows in five years on July 1 and 2, and King says the festival “could have sold several million tickets to the shows, such is the demand for her.” The superstar pulled her Las Vegas residency at the last minute, but King says everything is proceeding smoothly for British Summer Time.
“All of our conversations with her camp have been hugely positive,” he says. “They’re very professional, detailed and thorough and we’re very thankful that they allowed us to do these shows with them.”
Earlier this year, there was a backlash first about Adele’s abruptly postponed Las Vegas residency, then in the British press about ticket prices for the shows, which King dismisses as “completely manufactured.”
“I take great issue with it – it’s grossly unfair that she was singled out for that, when it’s not the case,” he fumes. “The fact of the matter is over two thirds of the tickets to her shows were available for £75 ($95). You can’t go and watch major sport for £75. Here’s the biggest artist in the world touring for the first time in five years, there are only two shows and it’s still cheaper than going to watch Chelsea!”
King says he has already booked his 2023 headliners, when the artists will be “younger-leaning.” And, while he also looks after several other wildly successful events across Europe – including Rock en Seine near Paris, which this year expands from three to five days – he warns there is a danger of the market becoming over-saturated.
“The one hurdle we still need to overcome is how we manage the supply into the marketplace effectively and make sure there aren’t too many tickets for people to choose from,” he says. “That’s going to be an on-going issue certainly for the next 12 months, but probably more like the next 24. We know fans want to support live music and want live music experiences, we just need to make sure we don’t overservice them.”
+ The U.K.’s Eurovision Song Contest journey usually ends in “nul points” and a return to obscurity for our contestant. But this year’s British entry, Sam Ryder’s “Space Man,” finished second, behind only Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, and his label is determined it will just be the start for Ryder’s career.
Parlophone co-presidents Mark Mitchell and Nick Burgess signed Ryder 18 months ago after he became a lockdown sensation on TikTok, and while Mitchell admits the Eurovision entry – masterminded by TaP Music’s Ben Mawson and Ed Millett – was “a massive gamble,” they’re confident it will pay off.
“A lot of other people struggled with it, but we felt it was an incredible opportunity that you can’t say no to,” Burgess tells Variety. “Maneskin’s success last year proved that you could use it as a platform like any other promo opportunity, and become a global superstar on the back of it. They’ve redefined what it’s like to be a Eurovision winner.”
“Somebody from another country said to me, ‘Every year, we invite the U.K. to this great party. We know they’ve got a brilliant wine cellar – but then they turn up with a bottle of supermarket wine!’” laughs Mitchell. “So this year, it was a case of getting a decent vintage out of the cupboard…”
“Space Man” has already hit No. 2 in the U.K., and is a hit across Europe. Parlophone and Warner Music’s international team are now also targeting U.S. success, with Ryder booking Stateside promotion and gigs this summer and hoping to capitalize on interest generated by the Eurovision-style American Song Contest.
“Sam has all the qualities you need for an artist to be a global star,” says Burgess. “Incredible charisma, incredible voice, great songwriter, a unique artist proposition and people like him. There’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t emulate the success of all the other big, singer-songwriter male vocalists throughout the ages.”
Mitchell says Ryder will release a new single soon in order to “continue the success beyond the Eurovision dream.”
“We’re getting him out to do more promo around the globe, but we’re not going to just let ‘Space Man’ sit there for the whole summer,” he says. “It’s really important we bring through Sam the artist, as well as having a hit song.”
Ryder is the latest breakthrough for Mitchell and Burgess in their reinvention of Parlophone, which was a dominant U.K. A&R force during the ‘90s and ‘00s with the likes of Blur, Radiohead, Coldplay, Lily Allen and Tinie Tempah, but had fallen off the pace before the duo took over in 2018.
Now, however, Parlophone is again enjoying breakout success with Ashnikko and the Snuts, while the hotly tipped likes of Pink Pantheress and Gabriels, who Burgess says “could be as big as any band in the world at this moment,” are also coming through.
“They’re all slightly unconventional artists,” says Burgess. “We’re not signing straight-forward, straight-to-commercial-radio artists, we’re signing artists who are building into the mainstream through long-term artist development. We’re proving that we can live up to the high standards of Parlophone’s past.”
+ Sam Ryder is also the first name to announce shows at the new high-tech Outernet entertainment complex, which is finally set to open in central London this summer.
The development will bring two live venues to central London, which has been starved of such spaces in recent years. The first, Here at Outernet, is a brand new 2,000-capacity venue while the other, the Lower Third (a nod to David Bowie’s early musical history on the Denmark Street location) is a revamp of the famously compact 12 Bar Club, which will showcase new and emerging artists. The new programming team, comprising experienced live music and club execs such as Leo Green, Chloe Mitchell, Nicolas Matar and Simon Denby, is also now in place and booking shows across a range of genres, as well as the wider arts.
“We have a lot of people approaching us for album launches and underplays,” says co-operating partner Karrie Goldberg, speaking exclusively to Variety. “I can’t reveal too much, but we have big artists looking at doing three or four nights in the fall. They are banging on the door asking how they can support us.”
Central London is still suffering from reduced footfall compared to pre-pandemic times, and the U.K. cost of living crisis means Goldberg is being “very price conscious” with shows. But Goldberg — who founded the Kagency booking agency and has SFX/Really Useful Group veteran Robert Butters as her co-operating partner — is confident Here at Outernet can fill the huge gap in London’s music scene left by the closure of its most storied venues.
“The Astoria and the Marquee are the two names that keep coming up,” she says. “And the opportunity that those two venues offered to artists is exactly the space that we want to sit in, although we’ll have a broader range of programming. You can never replace something, but we want to provide a home for those people that have been displaced.”
Details of the grand opening are expected soon, and Goldberg says the venue is happy to take its time in establishing itself.
“We have a 24-year lease and this is a long play,” she says. “We don’t have to draw a definitive line in the sand, we can develop our brand organically. We’re going to feel our way through it and develop something that is here for the long haul.”
+ Meanwhile, the rest of the U.K. live business is gearing up for the country’s first full festival season since 2019, after the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the sector.
Legendary rock and metal event Download is staging a full festival for the first time in three years (although it did run the small-scale Download Pilot as a government test event last year). It has even retained two of its scheduled headliners from 2020 (Kiss and Iron Maiden, with Biffy Clyro replacing the third, System of a Down) for the event at Donington Park on June 10-12.
“Pilot was a great weekend but it wasn’t the big Goliath that we’ve got with a normal Download,” Download promoter, Andy Copping of Live Nation, tells Variety. “I can’t imagine the faces of people as they come through the gate having not had a Download for three years, it’s going to be huge…”
Copping says the event is also crucial for the health of the rock and metal genres, which rely heavily on touring to make money.
“These acts live and die by the touring part of their business,” he says. “It’s how they build their reputations and fanbases. And not being able to be out there touring has been really tough. Festivals put them in front of more eyeballs and that’s how they win fans over.”
Thankfully, Copping reports ticket sales for Download have been “really good” and he has already booked all three 2023 headliners. He also cites high-selling summer shows by the likes of Tool, My Chemical Romance, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses, Rammstein and others as proof the genre is bouncing back strongly after the pandemic, despite continued outside pressures.
“I really enjoyed that time between COVID finishing and Putin invading Ukraine,” he quips. “I look back now and wish I’d been a bit more productive!
“So I’m not going to say it’s stronger than ever because we’re being hit with a really tough economy and everything that’s going on with Ukraine,” he adds. “But the future for rock music overall is really bright. Business is super-strong in this market. New artists such as Spiritbox, Sleep Token, Wargasm and Cassyette are coming through and rock music as a whole is starting to really show its teeth.”
+ The looming cost of living crisis is also concerning Alex Hardee, a partner at the new Wasserman Music U.K. agency and one of the top British booking agents.
Wasserman recently mirrored its acquisition of Paradigm’s music arm in the U.S. by purchasing Paradigm and Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa’s shares of Paradigm U.K.’s music business. The move reunites Hardee and fellow partners Dave Hallybone, Tom Schroeder and James Whitting with their Paradigm American colleagues. The U.K. partners retain their stake in the business.
Hardee says Wasserman’s presence in sport, branding and Hollywood will help boost his U.K. music clients, which include the likes of Liam Gallagher, Lewis Capaldi and Bastille.
“I’ve already got three DJs who want to play in the Premier League!” he laughs. “But if you look after the leading athletes, the leading musicians and the leading brands in the world then there’s some synergies there. We now have a powerbase in Los Angeles and the music business is based in LA these days. In [Wasserman CEO/chairman] Casey Wasserman, we now have a figurehead that is an A-lister in that Hollywood scene, which opens doors for everyone. It feels very positive.”
Recent British Wasserman successes include a huge U.K. stadium tour by My Chemical Romance, while this coming weekend Liam Gallagher will return for two sold-out shows at Knebworth, scene of Oasis’ legendary 1996 gigs, in what’s likely to be one of the summer’s highlights.
“When he left his last agent, Liam was doing 2,500 tickets in London,” notes Hardee. “We took him over and he’s now selling 180,000 tickets at Knebworth. That has everything to do with the fact that I’m a brilliant agent, and nothing to do with the fact that he started to sing Oasis songs!”
Despite the constant quips, Hardee – renowned as one of the U.K. biz’s biggest characters – is serious when he warns that tough times are on the way for an over-crowded British live sector facing huge cost increases.
“It’s going to be a hard summer, lots of things will get pulled,” he predicts. “Too much has been put into one year with a recession and mass inflation, it’s a recipe for some disasters. The expression before COVID was, ‘The bubble’s about to burst’ – and it’s bursting now.”
While Hardee expects there to be more tickets sold this summer than ever before, he says the explosion in the number of events, thanks in part to cancelled 2020 and 2021 shows rolling over to this year, means fewer tours will break even.
“There’s not enough people or enough money going around to buy all these tickets,” he warns. “If you’re hot it’s selling, but the middle is very tough out there, especially in Europe. And things aren’t selling for the autumn as well as they might. If people can’t pay for heating, they’re not going to be buying gig tickets.”
So, will it be a summer of love or a winter of discontent for the U.K. live business? Watch this space…