It must be the best-known music city in the world and although it’s faced a few challenges these past couple of years, the launch of a Music Board has given promoters and venue operators a new skip in their step, as Allan Glen reports
As befits a city whose musical heritage is central to its culture, earlier this year Liverpool launched an initiative that is likely to have far-reaching implications for venues and promoters, a region-wide Music Board.
The Liverpool City Region Music Board (LCRMB), comprising 18 members and seven observers, will work to ensure music businesses and communities have a stronger voice in local and regional decision-making.
Board members will be tasked with five key priorities, identified through the recent Developing a Liverpool City of Music Strategy report, which aims to sustain, support and develop its music sector.
The priorities include safeguarding and protecting music venues, growing current and future music heritage, developing the Beatles’ legacy, increasing access to music education and engaging and developing new talent.
The launch of the LCRMB has been welcomed by promoters across the city and comes at a pivotal moment for the local music scene.
“Liverpool has had a tricky couple of years, with a host of live music venues being closed, either as a result of developers, increasing rent, noise issues or general lack of support,” says Sam Crombie, director of Invisible Wind Factory Ltd (cap. 1,300) and the IWF Substation (300). “But it feels like the city is back in a better place now.”
Promoters, he adds, are now more confident going forward, in no small part thanks to the new Music Board.
“Liverpool City Council is implementing the much-needed Agent of Change bill to protect venues against noise complaints from new residential developments, and the gig-going public seems more aware of how easy it could be for us to lose the live music scene.
“A huge help has been the creation of the Board and the work of the team behind the UNESCO City of Music,” adds Crombie.
Chris Zorba, owner of the Eventim Olympia (1,930), agrees. “The Music Board has been created to, among other things, safeguard venues and to nourish new talent in the local area,” he says. “Music is already firmly established as part of Liverpool as a city, we just need to be able to keep this part of it alive.”
More of both Crombie and Zorba later, but first, one of the Board members is Ben Williams, commercial director of the ACC Liverpool Group, which operates the M&S Bank Arena (11,000).
“Liverpool is globally renowned for its musical heritage, influence and impact on music the world over which was recognised when the city was awarded the UNESCO City of Music,” he says. “The creation of the Board – consisting of experienced people from a variety of venues and organisations as well as artistes – ensures that the region works together to develop and drive live music into the city.”
Acts playing the M&S Bank Arena include Gladys Knight, promoted by Kennedy Street Enterprises with tickets averaging £58.74, Il Divo (£63.26), Olly Murs (£50.07), Rita Ora (£37.60), Little Mix (£57.07), Mumford & Sons (£55.96) – all promoted by SJM Concerts; Westlife (£59.76), Eagles (£117.56), both Live Nation Entertainment (LNE), and Vamps promoted by AEG Presents.
The ACC complex also includes Space by M&S Bank Arena (7,000), utilising the flexibility of sister venue Exhibition Centre.
In addition to the new naming rights, which took place in last January, investment remains high at the venue, which hosts up to 40 concerts a year, as Kay Wilson, head of sales – concerts, entertainment and sports, explains.
“We recently invested in a new draping system ahead of our busy autumn/winter programme,” she says. “The system provides a wide range of easily configurable layout options, including up-stage blacks, straight line drapes and the ability to mask all, or parts of, the upper-tiered seating providing a more intimate feel for smaller theatre shows, comedy or standing floor events and offering greater flexibility for clients’ requirements.”
Forthcoming shows at the venue include Gerry Cinnamon, with tickets from £19.50, Catfish and The Bottlemen (£23.50), The 1975 (£35.00), David Gray (£35) – all SJM, and Liam Gallagher
“In 2017 we opened the Liverpool Collection Lounge, a mezzanine floor inside the arena concourse, transformed into a stunning hospitality space with spectacular views across the waterfront,” adds Wilson.
Venue chain Academy Music Group (AMG) has a significant presence in the city, with a portfolio that includes the O2 Academy (1,200), O2 Academy 2 (500), and the Arts Club (500), which has a secondary venue, The Loft (250).
AMG also has a management partnership with Liverpool Guild of Students, to manage its 2,300 capacity Mountford Hall, the largest standing venue in Liverpool after the M&S Bank Arena.
Around 220 events a year are staged across the O2 venues, with a further 165 in the Arts Club.
Acts playing the O2 Academy include Bear’s Den, MoStack, Gary Numan, Newton Faulkner, Dave, Primal Scream, Heaven 17, Gabrielle Aplin (all SJM), The Good, The Bad and The Queen (Metropolis Music). The Icicle Works (AMG’s in-house promoter Academy Events) and Sleaford Mods (Crosstown Concerts), with John Power (Academy Events), The Faim (LNE) and Hugh Cornwell Electric (The Gig Cartel) performing in the Arts Club.
“O2 Academy2 and the Loft are both often the first point of call on the local band circuit,” says general manager Patrick Doherty. “It’s chosen by local promoters and the likes of LIPA [Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts] for newer emerging artistes.
“The theatre at Arts Club is a much-loved alternative space and often hosts bigger artistes that want a unique space doing under-plays.”
Overall, says Doherty, live music remains vibrant, with the AMG venues central to the infrastructure.
“Our venue capacities are definitely right for the city,” he adds. “O2 Academy is a beautiful former 19th century warehouse that lends itself well to many styles of events due to its industrial feel. It’s a clean space and works very well across all genres of music.”
While the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (1,677), a fully-seated venue, undertook a £14 million refurbishment four years ago, improvements are ongoing with an upgrade to in-house lighting stock earlier this year.
Ticket sales, says Richard Haswell, head of programme (hall and events), remain good, although he does issue a caveat.
“There’s an air of uncertainty out there – dare I mention the B word –and I know we are far from the only venue saying this,” he says. “Though, having said that, everything has held up very well through the Autumn.
“However, our biggest event by a mile was the in-house produced show ‘And in the End’, a collaboration between the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bootleg Beatles, and hosted by Neil Innes, to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of [Beatles albums] Abbey Road and Let It Be. We opened the show in September, followed by a national tour, including the Royal Albert Hall [5,520].”
Other acts currently playing the Hall include Midge Ure (The MJR Group), Squeeze and Heaven 17, The Lightning Seeds, Katherine Jenkins (all SJM), Marillion (Kilimanjaro Live) and Adam Ant (Triple A Entertainment), with Isobel Campbell (Liverpool Philharmonic/Harvest Sun Promotions) and Sharon Shannon (in-house) performing in sister venue The Music Room (250), which hosts up to 160 shows a year.
“In its fourth year, the Music Room is still developing and growing and word is still getting out,” adds Haswell. “Artistes and audiences alike love the sound in the space and the quality of the experience and sales are strong.”
Also undergoing significant change is the Eventim Olympia, which concluded a naming rights deal with ticket agency Eventim UK in 2018 and hosts approximately 25 shows a year.
“The venue has undergone many improvements, namely a state-of-the-art sound and light installation provided by Adlib Audio, which are based in Liverpool,” says Chris Zorba. “We’ve also been making constant improvements backstage and to the exterior of the venue and are currently working on some of the less exciting behind the scenes renovations.
“We are always kept busy, and hope that each time a touring party returns to the venue, they are noticing improvements time after time.”
Among artistes playing the venue are The Zutons, Manic Street Preachers, Hobo Johnson & The Love Makers (all SJM), Nick Cave (VMS Live), Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Elbow (both AEG), Night Café (I Love Live Events), Paul Weller (Crosstown) and The Specials (DHP Family).
Business is also good at the Invisible Wind Factory, with acts such as Steve Mason, Fat White Family, Snapped Ankles (all Harvest Sun Promotions), Ibibio Sound Machine, Mahalia (both I Love Live), Elder Island (DHP) and Rolling Blackouts (SJM) playing the venue.
“We host around 30 music shows a year, and ticket sales are strong,” says Sam Crombie.
Liverpool’s club scene, of course, includes The Cavern (350, 300), although no longer the original venue where The Beatles played.
“We have live music all day, every day, with up to five ticketed-events a week,” says director of music and events Jon Keats, who points to local acts Red Rum Club, The Mysterines and Zuzu as ones to watch. “Ticket sales are generally very good.”
Acts playing the venue include Andy Fairweather Low, A Flock of Seagulls, Martin Stephenson & The Daintees, The Christians, China Crisis (all in-house), Big Country (RAM), The Parlotones, From the Jam and Jah Wobble (all AGMP).
Sounds of the city
With 2,000 delegates attending this year, multi-venue convention and music festival Liverpool Sound City continues to be a major fixture in the live music calendar.
This year festival line-up included more than 300 acts from 27 countries with approximately 75 local artistes playing across three days in May. Headliners this year included Loyle Carner and Mabel.
Sound City marketing manager Lois Warrington says the event is internationally renowned as one of the UK’s leading independent festivals and conferences.
“Sound City provides a huge platform for emerging acts in Liverpool as we take to 18 amazing independent venues across the city and the Baltic Triangle,” she says. “Over the three days, we are joined by industry professionals from not just the UK but from across the entire world.
“We are able to bring both artiste and industry together for them to learn from one another and develop their careers.
“Year on year we are amazed by the calibre of artistes we have join us and we are proud to be able to present an exciting and diverse line-up and give new acts new opportunities to establish a presence here in Liverpool.”
One of the most renowned Liverpool-based national promoters in is Chas Cole of CMP Live, which has Deacon Blue and Brit Floyd in M&S Bank Arena, plus Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, Rumours of Fleetwood Mac and The Classic Rock Show in the Philharmonic Hall.
“Most of our acts are touring internationally, across Europe and the US, and what is interesting to see is the locations where we are regularly having to put on multiple dates,” says Cole. “Liverpool definitely falls into that category.
“We are seeing more and more of our artistes doing multiple nights in the city. In 2020, Rumours of Fleetwood Mac have three dates in Liverpool and will sell over 6,000 tickets.”