This week in the hot seat with Larry LeBlanc: Michael Chugg
Michael Chugg, executive chairman of Chugg Enterprises, may be a pioneering figure in Australia’s music industry, but he’s also been the leading flag-bearer for international acts down under for decades.
In 2008, the Sydney-based Chugg Entertainment division toured Elton John, Keith Urban, John Fogerty, Santana, Feist, Sinead O'Connor, the Kooks, and Jason Mraz.
Chugg Entertainment also promoted Coldplay’s Australian tour earlier this year--13 mega shows. The company is on deck for an upcoming 5-date Pearl Jam and Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 tour as well as it is co-promoting an 11-date AC/DC tour in 2010.
According to Chugg, Pearl Jam had sold 160,000 of 200,000 tickets for its tour, which begins Nov. 14. 2009. AC/DC’s 11-date stadium tour set for early 2010 has so far sold more than 600,000 tickets.
In March, Chugg and his long-time cohort Michael Gudinski, Frontier Touring’s managing director, were co-organizers of Sound Relief in Melbourne and Sydney that raised over $8 million (Australian) for charities.
With the Australian Recording Industry Assn. reporting CD album values dropping 12% in 2008 to $324 million (Australian), labels there are scrambling to change their business model.
This year, Sydney-based Sony Music entered the live music sector with a touring and events division, Day 1 Entertainment, that with Chugg Entertainment, co-promoted shows with Northern Ireland's classical crossover act the Priests as well as Simon & Garfunkel's 11-date arena tour in June.
In a partnership with Backrow Productions, Chugg Entertainment is also involved in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - The Musical” that premiered in Sydney in 2006 followed by a production in Melbourne. It is now one of the leading attractions of London’s West End.
Chugg's musical career began in Tasmania in the 1960s. At 15, he organized a dance at the Trades Hall in Launceston for the local cycling club. About 300 people turned up for a profit of £80.
Then Chugg moved to Melbourne where he worked at Michael Browning and Michael Gudinski's Consolidated Rock Agency. The company became the first national booking agency when it took over Phillip Jacobsen's Let It Be agency, which handled two of the leading Australian bands of the day, Daddy Cool and Spectrum.
ConRock soon developed a stranglehold over bookings on the Melbourne club/pub scene but folded in 1973 after Gudinski and Browning started an unsuccessful weekly music publication the Daily Planet
Chugg and fellow agent Roger Davies then opened a new agency Sunrise in Sydney. When Davies left in 1975 to start a very successful career in the U.S., Chugg joined Gudinski's Premier/Harbour Agency.
At the same time, Chugg was managing acts and working as a freelance tour coordinator with the Paul Dainty Corporation, arguably the top Australian promoter of the 1970s.
From 1977-80, Chugg spent a lot of time overseas with his management acts, Kevin Borich and Richard Clapton.
In 1978, Borich took him to the Lyceum in London to see a new band - the Police. Returning in Australia, Chugged suggested to Dainty that they should tour British new wave acts including the Police, the Clash, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker & The Rumour and Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
However, British-born Dainty, who preferred to promote event entertainment with broad appeal, was interested. This resulted in Chugg, Gudinski and Phil Jacobsen opening The Frontier Touring Company. Their first tours were with Squeeze and the Police.
The trio built Frontier Touring to be the biggest concert promotion company in Australia. As its GM, Chugg organized and promoted tours by the Police, Frank Sinatra (with Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli) R.E.M., Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Kylie Minogue, Elton John, Billy Joel, Madonna, Sting, Guns N' Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kiss, Pearl Jam, Tom Jones and the Cure.
In 1999, Chugg left Frontier and founded Michael Chugg Entertainment the following year.
In its first year of operation, MCE produced and promoted 19 national tours featuring international artists; and 5 national tours featuring Australian artists. One highlight was co-producing the opening and closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games in Sydney.
Through the past decade, until 2008, Australia's live sector had been booming. However, the live circuit there has been pummeled in the past two years.
Ticket sales for nonclassical music events fell 27.5% during 2008, according to the trade organization Live Performance Australia.
Leading international acts' ticket prices in 2009 have plummeted as well, down an estimated 30% from 2008.
Meanwhile, Australian promoters have been under pressure due to the Australian dollar's slumping in value from 98 cents (U.S.) in July, 2008 to 63 cents (U.S.) in February 2009. It has since recovered to .86 cents (U.S.) but Australian promoters remain wary.
This devaluation in currency has removed any margin to absorb additional costs associated with a tour and has resulted in considerable resistance to high ticket prices, especially for older superstar acts.
The touring market in Australia had seen annual growths of almost 20% for over a decade, up to 2008. What about 2009 for your company?
It’s been a fairly good year but it has been a consolidation year for us. We’ve had Coldplay and Simon & Garfunkel and a few other things. We have Pearl Jam, Keith Urban and Liza Minnelli ending (the year) off. It is very much a year of consolidation.
2008 was a bad year with the Australian dollar down?
Yes it was. We were lucky that we didn’t have any big attractions right when it crashed. We escaped a little bit better than some of the others. You certainly have to watch it. Even now, you’d be crazy to base an offer on anything over .80 cents (U.S.).
Is the international money market something you have to watch daily?
All of the time. (The Australia dollar) has been sitting between .83 cents and .87 cent (U.S.) for the past couple of weeks. Who knows what’s going to happen? It could go anywhere. Our nets (net incomes) are tied to the U.S., (currency) unfortunately.
Ticket prices are based on advances and band fees, really.
Well, that’s right. We have tried hard to keep prices down. Basically, we are trying to keep them down to what they were two or three years ago. Obviously, with the older retro acts, people are still prepared to pay big money to sit in the front rows. Two years ago, you might have had 2,000 of those in Sydney. Now, however, you’ve got about 500 (willing to buy such tickets).
With ticket sales for international acts down about 30% in Australia this year, besides considering pricing reductions, promoters are utilizing other strategies in order to attain some added value to a ticket .
Pearl Jam, for example, has introduced special digital bundles with its album "Backspacer" through (ticketing company) Ticketek Australia's web site.
That’s worked. We are really pleased with that. The other thing that has really worked is the website-TV stuff that we put together. This is now getting world wide attention, which is quite exciting. It has actually brought a few big managers out of the woodwork. Just to see how we are doing it. Some have been asking why other promoters aren’t doing it.
Tickets in the market should be $100-$150 (Australian) for top acts?
That’s where we were with Coldplay, about $149.90 (for top ticket) and it will be the same with AC/DC. I’ve got Pearl Jam (returning to Australia for the first time in three years) with Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 and Neil Finn doing stadiums in November. Top price is $120.00 (Australian) gross. That’s really good.
It’s great to work with a band like Pearl Jam who are so considerate of their fans. We were able to make (the tour) work for a $120.00 gross ticket which is fantastic. We’re over 200,000 tickets. Their album just went to #1 so we’re going to keep selling.
But there was also Simon & Garfunkel’s tour earlier this year where top end tickets were set at $350.00 (Australia).
Yeah. Well, we had four ticket prices. We struggled on the top end but people turned out and the shows were great. To be honest, we didn’t have a lot (of tickets) at the top price. So we got through that nicely. The market (for premium tickets) has been greatly reduced. There’s no doubt about that.
[Chugg co-promoted the Simon & Garfunkel tour with Sony Music's Day 1 Entertainment].
When a tour or a show isn’t selling many promoters will reduce the ticket. That doesn’t always work.
No, it doesn’t. If people want to go to a show they will go to a show. But there is a threshold (of what tickets will sell for), and you have to be aware of that.
What about the scalping market?
The scalping market in Australia has never been anywhere as it has been anywhere else, in England, Europe or America. We have people who sell (tickets) to corporates but as far as (ticket reselling), no. If the acts were getting a fair crack of (the higher ticket price) it’s all good, I suppose, but if the acts aren’t seeing any of that (revenue) I don’t think it should be happening.
In the U.S., some artists are allowing auctions of premium tickets to the highest bidders.
I’m not into that. I think that’s unfair.
How are you doing with the Australian leg of AC/DC's "Black Ice" tour, which you are co-promoting with Garry Van Egmond Enterprises?
Well, it’s been amazing. Between the two companies, we’re between 600,000 to 700,000 tickets sold.
[AC/DC's homecoming "Black Ice" tour in Australia broke box office records there by selling more than half a million tickets in the first day on sale ((May 25, 2009).
Third shows were added at the 60,000-capacity Etihad Stadium in Melbourne and the 60,000-capacity ANZ Stadium in Sydney after tickets sold out in about 15 minutes. A second date at Brisbane's 40,000-capacity QSAC Brisbane was added and sold out in similar time.
Dates at Perth's 40,000 capacity Subiaco Oval also quickly sold out, the first in 7 minutes and the second 15 minutes later. The 35,000-capacity Adelaide Oval show sold out in 90 minutes.]
The Australian Football League had to reschedule around AC/DC’s dates at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium. Rock and roll rules over football.
Do you like that? Yeah, Gary won (that legal decision). I was very impressed. He did a great job. But (Etihad Stadium) took the AC/DC booking (for February 11, 13 and 15th, 2010). We had the booking. It just so happens that 700,000 Australians and New Zealanders like AC/DC as much, if not more, than their football.
[Chugg Entertainment and Garry Van Egmond Enterprises had AC/DC playing February 11, 13 and 15th, 2010 at Etihad Stadium. However, the Australian Football League claimed they had a contract with the venue that gave them the right to host a pre-season NAB Cup tournament at the stadium on the same dates. The matter has since been resolved, and the concerts are set to go on. The deal, according to sources, will see the AFL split an additional $5.5 million (Australian) from the Stadium between 16 AFL clubs over a 15 year period, ending in March, 2025.]
Tickets for sporting events seem to remain high in Australia.
I was amazed that tickets for the (Australian League) Aussie Rules’ Grand Final (at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in September) were $249.00 (Australian). That’s outrageous. That’s a lot of money when you are talking 80,000-90,000 people.
Like elsewhere, Australia is volatile music market for the record labels.
Oh, it is. It’s going to be interesting in the next couple of years to see where it all goes. Obviously, you’ve got record companies wanting to be promoters.
You partnered with Sony’s Day 1 Entertainment to co-promote Simon & Garfunkel as well as the Priests from Northern Ireland. A label is not a promoter. Do labels still need the expertise of a concert promoter?
Labels have got a big learning curve, and we’re happy to let them learn. We were happy to (co-promote) those tours. My attitude is that if any of the record companies come to us and say that they have an act with its first record, and they done a deal where they are in on the bottom (splitting revenue) with the band on everything, we’re still happy to get involved. But, I’m not going to turn around and cut record companies into being active clients either.
In the future, you could lose a Pearl Jam if the label decides to co-promote them with another promoter.
Well, I haven’t toured Pearl Jam since their first tour 20 years ago. They asked me to do this one and I was happy to do it. Hopefully, the acts that are clients will stay loyal and hang with us. We’ll keep doing our job and we’ll keep progressing with the way we market and so forth. We have become quite the leader in web marketing. The acts love (that aspect of our company).
A promoter can fill a role in music distribution and marketing better today than a decade ago because of the shift toward marketing and distributing music on the Internet.
Well, that’s right. That’s one of the things we discovered when we were doing Robbie Williams’ last tour here (in 2006). We visited all of the country towns in the regional areas and promoted the tour with radio specials and TV (promotions), posters and handbills and things like that. We discovered that none of the record companies service regional areas anymore. All of sudden, by default, we are music companies in the country because we were going out to Burke, Newcastle, Canberra and Hobart promoting our events and distributing music.
You also have promoters today wanting to be record companies.
That’s right. We are about to announce our first record release under My World Records. Our first release will be Echo and the Bunnymen’s new album (“The Fountain”). (A record company) has been a natural progression for us. We have been looking at doing this for the last couple of years and just putting it together. It’s where we have to go. If we are touring these acts and they haven’t got a distribution or a label (deal) and if we think the record is good, we’ll release it. Obviously, we are marketing the tour; it doesn’t hurt to market the record at the same time.
We have been doing all of this anyway. When you do a big tour with a Sony or Universal act with a record coming out, we also promote the record as well as the tour.
It is easier for a promoter or any third party to oversee a record than it once was. The majors once controlled the distribution pipeline. But with the diminishing CD sales, there are now other ways of selling music.
Oh yes. In Australia, there are several major independent distributors now. Today, you also have Wal-Mart and all of those people (selling music). But the live show has become more important than the records today.
What do international acts do wrong about trying to work the concert market in Australia?
Some acts come back too quickly. I have a lot of clients like Bob Dylan who I love bringing in but we try to make sure he comes every three or four years. The same with Elton John. You have to be careful. It is a fairly limiting market as far as how many people there are here. Although, I have to say that since 2000 the potential concert going audience has probably quadrupled.
How early should international acts approach you?
These days, because of the Internet, the kids are getting onto (international) acts early and we are finding out about them too. We tour a lot of the young acts. We have that young (Portland, Oregon-based) band Blitzen Trapper coming in shortly. We do a lot of unknown bands. We love building them into big bands (here). I’d like to get (Canadian rocker) Sam Roberts here. It’s an endless list (of acts I’d like to get here), and it changes.
Australia is a long way to go for a new band from North America.
Yeah. But it’s getting easier and more affordable to get here. Some of the record companies are still supporting showcase tours. And some acts are prepared to put money up themselves and come here and start it themselves. Today, a lot of young acts are getting a crack (coming here) because of the many festivals here.
Not many American country acts tour Australia these days.
We’ve been working on that the last couple of years. Obviously, we have Keith Urban. But we’ve toured the Dixie Chicks. We just had Dierks Bentley down here and Taylor Swift was here earlier this year. We’ve done two tours with Brooks & Dunn. Alan Jackson is coming (in 2010). It’s slowly opening up here for country.
Of course, we’ve always had Dolly (Parton) and Kenny (Rogers) doing monster shows here. Charlie Pride used to come.
The acts have to look at (Australia) and consider it a breakout market where they are starting over again. That’s what they have to do. There’s one (American country) act at the moment, Zac Brown Band, we’d love to get them down here. We’d love to tour Kenny Chesney, and hopefully we well.
Are there American agents receptive to taking their country acts to Australia?
There are guys like John Huie at CAA Nashville who are. My relationship with him goes back to the FBI (Frontier Booking International) days with (founder) Ian (Copeland) and the Police in New York. There’s people like that in Nashville now. So things are changing.
It’s still hard for you to attract American country acts to Australia when they are getting such huge gates back home.
That’s still a problem. No doubt about that.
[In 2001, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) aired a six-part documentary on the history of Australian rock ‘n’ roll. In the episode, “Billy Killed the Fish,” Chugg described a Billy and the Aztec’s performance at Sydney's Bondi Lifesaver club in 1974 that was so loud as to kill a tank full of tropical fish in an upstairs area.
In 2002, Chugg, Phil Jacobsen (CEO of Sydney-based Arena Management) and Thorpe organized a related concert tour, “Long Way to the Top.” Performances at two Sydney concerts were broadcast on ABC-TV and subsequently released on DVD.]
In 2002, you were one of the organizers of the successful “Long Way to the Top” concert tour that featured a number of the legendary Australian music stars.
It must have been emotional to have (the Easybeats’ frontman) Stevie Wright performing on the tour.
That was very special for all of us, especially for myself because I had managed Stevie in the ‘70s when (the hits) “Hard Road’ and “Evie” (Parts 1, 2 & 3) were happening. That was my first shot at international. We got very close (to international success) but, unfortunately, Steve had a problem (drug addiction) which I didn’t know about at the time. I was a bit naïve, I suppose.
You also managed Billy Thorpe.
I first saw him probably in 1962 and he blew me away. I had never seen such energy and vibrancy in my life. It was first Aztecs (band) which had hits with “Poison Ivy,” “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” and stuff like that. He blew me away. (Seeing him) was really the catalyst that got me into the music business full-time. We became friends and business associates.
We did some wonderful things together over the years. Not the least of was the “Long Way To The Top” tour which came out of the TV documentary. Billy and I were the first ones interviewed for the TV documentary. After the producers finished with us, they realized that they didn’t know who half the (early Australian) bands were. They hadn’t heard of half of the bands that we were talking about. Then Billy took six months to convince me that we could put all of the old fellas back together and go on the road and we did. It was incredible.
What was the impact of the series and the tour?
One thing that “Long Way to The Top” did do was that it got a lot of (veteran) acts’ careers back on track.. It also reduced the divide between the older Australian musicians and the younger Australian musicians. Now, there are some incredible collaborations going on with young and old acts. There’s magnificent people like Mark Pope (of Mark Pope Music and Events which produces the ARIA Awards and such benefits as “Wave Aid,” Live Earth” and “Sound Relief”) spearheading these things.
A generation is in danger of losing its rock history if it isn’t acknowledged.
That’s the biggest concern with me right now. We are really starting to put pressure on to get the Australian Hall of Fame (established) and for the Australian music industry to have a regular Hall of Fame dinner every year. We are now inducting suitable people into it. We’d really love to see a (Hall of Fame) building in Melbourne. We really need to get that done.
People may forget the Easybeats and other veteran Australian acts in time.
Yeah. But we’re trying to make sure that they don’t. So far all we have had is a few biographies and things like. But we’re getting there.
You are working on a book.
I’m in the middle of writing a book now. It’s been a few years getting my head around it. But I am doing one at the moment.
You ran your first dance in Tasmania when you were 15 and made 80 pounds?
It was a big event. I thought, “This is for me.”
Why move to Melbourne?
Melbourne was the heart and the soul of (the musical activity then). There wasn’t much going on in Tasmania. That’s for sure. If I ever was going to do something, it had to be in Melbourne.
You entered the business during the ring-a-ding era—just as rock ‘n’ roll was starting to impact.
It was quite interesting because I walked into the ring-a-ding agency in Melbourne called Amber. It was the end of the ring-a-ding era. Michael Gudinski was the 15 year office boy for a very old chap called Bill Joseph who used to run all of the suburban dances. Out of that came (such bands as) the Chain, Bulldog, Healing Force (Australia's first super group), and Thorpie (Billy Thorpe) re-created himself. We were there at the beginning of what’s become the music industry here today.
[Born in Melbourne to Russian émigré parents in 1952, Michael Gudinski was running school dances in his teens. In his final year at school, while his parents were away, he dropped out to work for booking agent Bill Joseph. He started managing bands, including blues-based Chain, then regarded as one of the best acts in Australia.]
In those days rocks bands would perform on all types of shows.
(Promoters) used to tour The Follies and burlesque and all of that. Of course, we started touring packaged rock ‘n’ roll shows with the acts doing two or three songs each.
You worked for several agencies back then, including Consolidated Rock Agency with Michael Browning and Michael Gudinski.
Michael Browning was managing Billy (Thorpe) at the time and he went on to take AC/DC (whom he managed until 1979) to England. That (agency) went down the tubes and I went to Sydney (in 1971) and started Sunrise with Roger Davies (then road manager for the cult Australian band Company Caine).
Roger Davies went on to manage Sherbet, Olivia Newton-John, Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, and Pink.
Rog just keeps kicking goals. Pink’s brilliant (“Funhouse”) tour was phenomenal.
[For her “Funhouse” tour of Australia earlier this year, Pink played before 660,000 people at 58 shows in four months. Her “Funhouse” album notched 9 weeks at #1 in Australia. Her Australian promoter Michael Coppel of Michael Coppel Presents has since joked that Pink is so adored in Australia that, "We have booked all of 2012 for the next tour.”]
Was seeing the Police play in London in 1978 a turning point for you?
I was In London with Kevin Borich (who I was managing). Kevin said he was going to see this band down at the Lyceum and did I want to come. Off we went and wow. That was it.
I had been working as a tour director for Paul Dainty (at the Paul Dainty Corporation) for quite a few years. I had situation that if I found an act we would work on it together.
I came back and I said that I wanted to start bringing all of this new wave stuff from England but Paul didn’t want to know. I was also in a partnership with Michael Gudinski at the Premier Artists /Harbour Agency group (that had evolved from the Consolidated Rock Agency). One day, I said to Michael that we should start a touring company and start touring all of these acts. He opened up his bag—he had just got back from England—and he had the publishing from all of these acts. So that was the beginning of Frontier Touring. We did our first tours with the Police and Squeeze. It was quite funny because I was still on the road for Paul Dainty tour directing Fleetwood Mac. Their tour manager was giving Dainty such a hard time and that was the end of my working there.
Over the years you managed a number of acts including Kevin Borich, Billy Thorpe, Mich Hart, and Richard Clapton.
I virtually stopped managing in1983 because I wanted to get married and I wanted to concentrate on Frontier. When Billy came back to Australia in the ‘90s, everybody was selling him as a retro, has-been sort of act but he wanted to make (his career) happen again. So we got involved in his management.
Management, the worst job in the business?
It is I reckon. You never get thanked and you always get the blame. There are some great managers around today and hats off to them.
A lot Australian bands have had success in the U.S., including Midnight Oil, Silverchair, Savage Garden, and now Wolfmother. But America has been a hard nut for Aussie acts over the years.
We had a crack at (the U.S.) in 1977 or 1978. Billy had that big album “Child of the Sun” (in 1979, reaching #39 on the Billboard 200) which sold a few million. But it didn’t go on. That was the thing (about trying to break the U.S.). Split Enz got very close as did Crowded House, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, and the Sports. There were a lot of (Australian) bands that got half way there.
There are a couple of kiwi (New Zealand) bands in that list.
Well, we claim the kiwi bands. Neil Finn (of Split Enz and Crowded House) and I go a way back. I was the first person to bring Split Enz to Australia in1971 or 1972. They were a huge band in New Zealand and we brought them over to Australia. Obviously, with the support of people like (Michael) Gudinski they became monstrous. Now the Finn dynasty continues with young Liam who is Neil’s son. He’s going to be great. I am so excited that he’s doing the Pearl Jam and Ben Harper tour.
What other acts should we be looking at from Australia?
There are a lot of young acts starting to break today including Sam Sparro, and the Veronicas are doing really well. Jet’s new album (“Shine One”) is excellent. There are a lot of young acts getting out there.
When you were starting in promoting international acts in Australia, who took your calls to America for bookings?
Terry Rhodes (at ICM New York) was one. Michael (Gudinski) was traveling the world in ‘70s selling his music (with Mushroom Records which he sold in the early ‘90s). He met a lot of agents and we got to know them through that. We have always probably had a closer relationship with England than America because English music dominated our charts. That whole era of American music with Journey, Blue Oyster Cult, and Ted Nugent, none of that got away in Australia. Aerosmith didn’t get to Australia until the late ‘80s.
America didn’t send its acts to Australia for a long time.
That’s right. About 90% of touring acts (coming to Australia) were English. It changed (in the ‘90s) because a lot of English people moved to America and started managing acts or working at labels. They brought their international perspective with them. People like Simon Renshaw (founder of Strategic Artist Management in Los Angeles).
When I first started coming to America (in the ‘70s) not many people knew where Australia was. We’d go into supermarkets and be afraid to open our mouths because we were so different.
What are the opportunities for your company in Asia?
The one big thing about Asia is that the market for Western acts is still fairly small. But I have a desire (to work there). So we are working on mix-and-match (shows) with Asian and Western acts. That’s happening more and more. Slowly, but surely (the market) is opening up there.
We’re doing the One Movement For Movement Festival in Perth (Oct.16-18, 2009). It is a business/music expo and an 80 band showcase festival. We have acts from about 20 countries playing in the festival. We have delegates and speakers from India, China, Thailand, all over Asia. There are a lot of Asians coming and a lot of Asian acts playing.
China won’t likely be a marketplace for Western acts for years.
I’ve spent a bit of time in China because of doing this event in Perth and so forth. China reminds me a lot of ’62 and ’63 (in Australia) . It is the same sort of thing. They are under the radar like we were. Bands are rolling around China with no money. They are riding around in tired old vans playing wherever they can.
There’s still a shortage of venues in China for bigger shows.
That’s right. And the rules and regulations are very heavy. Opening China is a long way off. The rest (of the S.E. Asia region) is working. But the biggest acts are the local acts. We’ve toured Coldplay (in SE Asia), and we sold out the Singapore Indoor Stadium with Jason Mraz this year. I love him. We started off with him a while back playing 100-seaters, and now he’s selling out arenas.
[This week the Modern Sky Festival cancelled all 14 of the international acts slated to play Oct. 4-7 in Beijing's Chaoyang Park. Among those canceled are the Buzzcocks, Shonen Knife, British Sea Power, International Noise Conspiracy, the Futureheads and Radio4. The festival coincides with China's week-long celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. The cancellations may have been part of a tightening of security in anticipation of the celebration.]
Has working on the productions of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - The Musical” been fun for you?
It’s been amazing for me. I was lucky enough to be asked by Backrow Productions to do the 10th anniversary production of "Tap Dogs" in Australia a few years ago. It was very successful. We followed that up with Matthew Bourne's “Swan Lake.” Then I was asked if I wanted to get involved in the formation, building and production of “Priscilla,” I did because I truly loved that movie. We put it together in Australia and it exploded in Sydney and Melbourne. And now it is the #1 show in the West End (of London). I reckon it will be there for five years. We will be on Broadway in the next 12 months or so. We just had our 200th show in England.
Are we running out of headlining acts in the concert business?
I don’t think so. There are plenty around. And there are acts that seem to be slipping through like Coldplay, and Kings of Leon. Kasvain looks as if they are going to get through now. We are doing tours with people like Rodriguez and (the business) just gets bigger and bigger. The genres of music that people are open-minded to today is incredible. Mom and dad will go with the kids to a show and the kids will go with mom and dad to a show these days.
Kids are also finding these young bands on the Internet. It is now possible for new bands to tour without a hit record.
The web has become the radio of the 21st Century. When we were growing up there was radio that played Frank Sinatra just before Elvis Presley and before the Beatles. The web is bringing that (variety) back. There’s no doubt about that. Look at Edith Piaf, she’s exploding. The movie (“La Vie en Rose” in 1997) did that. Films on Ray Charles, and Johnny Cash have also opened a lot of young peoples” eyes.
Do you still get a thrill walking into a big venue that you’ve filled?
Oh yes. Nothing like it. The biggest thrill is standing on the side of the stage watching. Even if its only 200, 5,000 or 50,000 people having a great time Just living the moment, and forgetting everything else. It’s one of the great moments of music for me. Better than drugs. Not as good as sex.
You have done so many festivals. Are they a headache to pull off?
Big events are a lot of fun to be honest because you really have to work. You just aren’t putting a band on tour in six towns. You are putting together a major event. I love doing that.
Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.
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