Dedicated to the Business of Contemporary Live Music

Backstage Stars – Conal Dodds

Backstage Stars
11 December 2017
Conal Dodds

After ruling out a career in manual labour, Conal Dodds went on to co-promote one of the Britpop era’s defining events – two sell-out, 125,000-capacity Oasis shows at Knebworth in 1996. Having left Metropolis Music last year he set up Crosstown Concerts with Paul Hutton and businessman Fraser Duffin, promoting shows with acts including Massive Attack, Lana Del Rey and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, along with The Downs Bristol and London’s On Blackheath festivals.


What are your first live music memories?

“My first ever gig was Toyah at Sheffield City in May 1981 when I was 13. My second was Motorhead at Leeds’ Queens Hall, my ears rang for a week and I’d never encountered such a diverse bunch of people – punks, skinheads, bikers – it was ace.

“When I was 14 I went to my first open-air show, with The Police headlining an all-dayer at Gateshead Stadium in 1982 with U2, the Beat and Lords of the New Church as supports. I saved up the £14 and went on my own, on a coach with 50 strangers. That show opened my eyes to five great bands, but it was also a great life experience.”


How did you get into the music industry?

“I dropped out of A-levels aged 16 and went through a series of boring jobs. During one I almost decapitated myself on a gear-driven flatbed drilling machine, so I knew a manual job was not my calling.

“In 1990 having just watched The Killing Fields [film] about the dictator Pol Pot in Cambodia, I went to an Oxfam charity talk at Hereford Town hall and me and my friend were asked to help fundraise. We knew [ex Led Zeppelin frontman] Robert Plant lived in nearby Monmouth, so we decided to find where and ask him to do a gig.

“We hitched to Monmouth and knocked on the door of his Trellech mansion every Saturday morning for six weeks until we found him actually there, and persuaded him to play a show. We did the gig at Monmouth Leisure Centre and raised £2,000 to build a well in a Cambodian village.

“Robert Plant’s bass player Paul Martinez told me I should be a manager or promoter, so I took that idea and put on my own gigs as Elephant Music with little indie bands in Hereford, in 1990.”


How has your career developed?

“I started to promote shows further afield – Newport, Tamworth, Cheltenham and Worcester – and in 1992 promoted my first show in Bristol, and began a regular Wednesday night at The Fleece [450].

“Somehow, I became the go-to indie promoter in Bristol and promoted shows by Radiohead, Pulp, Elastica and The Cranberries. In 1994 agent Charlie Myatt [now director at 13 Artists] recommended me to national promoters MCP and they gave me a job. I started there in March and by June had club shows on sale with Oasis, Sleeper, Shed 7, Gene and Super Furry Animals. Britpop exploded and I was in the right place at the right time.

“I owe a lot to [MCP’s] Tim Parsons and Stuart Galbraith, so many people that worked at MCP are still around and successful in music and they were great at nurturing industry talent, and I aspire to that.”


What have been your greatest highs and lows?

“As a promoter, aka professional gambler, you learn to live with losing money and disappointment, and chasing after acts that you don’t get to work with. So you can’t really do the job if you can’t cope with the negative stuff. I’m still here after 25 years so I’ve managed it so far.

“Two years after joining MCP, I co-promoted Oasis at Knebworth in 1996, with Chris York at SJM. It’s pretty impossible to do a gig of more than 125,000 people and we sold out two nights in a single day, before the internet and mobile phones. I think that stands against Woodstock or the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 as a legendary era-defining moment in rock’n’roll history.

“Aside from a gig I think my best experience has been setting up Crosstown with two great mates, Fraser and Paul, and our brilliant staff.”


Do you have any observations about the way the industry is moving?

“People will never tire of watching great artistes play live, either in pubs or huge venues. As long as managers/artistes/agents are careful and don’t just chase the money to the detriment of their careers, than the live industry will continue to flourish forever.

“I am incredibly lucky to work in a dynamic industry that has some of the most amazing creative and fun people to work with, but everyone has to realise the general public who support our work have to struggle hard to earn their wages and we need to make sure concerts are affordable.

“The biggest ill in live music is secondary ticketing and is the biggest threat to our industry.”


How do you unwind?

“I am married to the beautiful Lee, we have three children – Gabriel, 19, Lily, 16, and Polly, 13, and Coco a cocker spaniel. Gabriel has down’s syndrome and has shown our family more of the joys of life than most people ever experience in a lifetime. Being a father to three wonderful children is my proudest achievement.

“My favourite place in the world is around Daymer Bay in Cornwall. Nothing makes me happier than body-boarding in Polzeath with Lee and the kids, followed by a cold pint of Doombar.

“I recently read a great book, Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks, who hitched around Ireland with a fridge. I like the sound of doing that with Lee at some point, though I can guess her answer.”

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