Event booking and development manager at The SSE Arena Belfast (cap. 10,800) Sharon McCrea has come a long way from working shop tills to fund her vinyl record collection. She now plays an instrumental role bringing acts including Kylie Minogue, Iron Maiden and U2 to Northern Ireland’s capital.
What are your first live music memories?
“My first live concert was Erasure in the Ulster Hall in 1988. The crowded sweaty hall, the band at the height of their career and feeling part of the whole experience with my best friend Janet. I can still see Andy Bell in a dress wearing fruit on his head – I was blown away!
“That was followed closely by Bananarama at The Kings Hall. Unfortunately there was a bomb scare, we were all chucked out and the concert didn’t happen. Northern Ireland has
changed a lot in the intervening years and so have my music tastes.
“I attend a lot of live gigs, mostly in smaller venues like the Limelight where I’ve seen acts like the Scissor Sisters and Moloko before they made it big and others like Public Enemy at the other end of their career span and still amazing.”
How did you get into the music industry?
“When I was at college and university I worked on the till at a local supermarket in my home town of Portadown – this was back in the days before scanners, it was grim but essential and in particular to have the money to buy singles (vinyl)
every weekend in Woolworths where my friend worked the record counter.
“In 2000 The Arena was part of Northern Ireland’s major Millennium Project along with the other components on the Odyssey site (Arena, Pavilion, W5 and the site car park). I was recruited to join the pre-opening team in the role of executive assistant to the then CEO, Nicky Dunn. This was an immensely varied role which included being the main liaison with the majority of external stakeholders including event promoters and running the venue’s event booking diary and contract execution system, customer service and believe it or not HR.”
How has your career developed?
“Over the year’s my strengths, skills and business relationships have developed a lot and I am currently the Arena’s event booking & development manager.
“My mentor was Nicky Dunn (London Docklands Arena, Odyssey Arena, and currently Chairman of the Jockey Club Live), she taught me pretty much everything I know about this industry, challenged, pushed and supported me.
“We are still in touch on a regular basis and can depend on each other for advice.”
What were your greatest low and high points?
“There is one event which comes straight to my mind, which shall remain unnamed. I never like to view anything as a complete failure but it had the potential to disillusion not just me, but my colleagues in the wider team. It was a new area of event development so from the outset we faced many challenges and things did not work as we hoped. I would say however, that I learnt a lot from the experience and I am better at my job for it.
“On the flip side there are many high points getting to work with so many promoters and convincing them that The SSE Arena is a must play venue and actively looking for and working on new event and show concepts is what I thrive on. The most challenging aspect is accepting that there are forces outside my control which means that Belfast will not be on the tour schedule for every event we would like.”
Where do you see the live music business going?
“I think we are in a real period of change. A lot of the big banker acts are retiring, everyone’s costs are rising, it’s hard to know which technology will or won’t be “the future” to invest in, customers are wanting bigger and better “experiences”.
“I believe while these are difficult challenges, live music will always hold something special and in the future the type of personal interaction you only get at a concert, or festival, will be more important than ever in our digital age.”
How do you unwind?
“I have been married to my husband Thomas for 18 years. The first gig we went to together was Morrissey in The Point (now 3Arena) in Dublin. He ditched me to make it to the front of the stage as soon as we got in but 27 years later we are still together and music is one of our shared passions. Our most recent gig was Nick Cave outdoors at Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
“I love to read, in particular autobiographies and at weekends can easily binge watch documentaries from the History Channel or PBS. The ultimate wind down is plugging in the record player and delving into the vinyl record collection, reading the sleeves notes for the umpteenth time and generally talking rubbish while eating cheese and drinking red wine.”