INDUSTRY FIGURES and associates are paying tributes to Steve Forster, founder and MD of venue services company VMS Live, who died on 19 April, aged 55, following a serious car accident two weeks earlier.
Forster started his career as entertainment organiser of Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University), setting up his own promotion company before becoming operations manager at Wembley Arena (then cap. 10,000) in London.
In 1999 he joined The Mackenzie Group (MKG) as operations director, rebranding as Academy Music Group (AMG) in 2005, taking on promoter shareholders SJM Concerts, Metropolis Music and MCD Productions.
At AMG he was responsible for sourcing, refurbishing and opening Academy-branded venues in Birmingham (cap. 3,000), Newcastle (2,000), Bristol (1,600), Liverpool (1,200) and Islington, north London (800).
Forster left AMG in 2007 spending just over three years with rival venue owner MAMA Group, simultaneously setting up VMS to provide management services to other venue operators, leaving in 2011 to concentrate on VMS.
Renaming the operation VMS Live, he won contracts to operate the four venues (450 to 2,500) owned by Manchester Academy (no connection with AMG), Liverpool’s Eventim Olympia (2,000), and the University of East Anglia’s LCR (1,550), as well as ticketing facilities including the Hull Box Office, which sells over 80,000 tickets a year.
VMS’s operations director Richard Maides, who also worked with Forster at AMG, tells LIVE UK, “Steve made things simple, he told you what he expected and left you alone to get on with it. He directed all the venues at MKG nationally and had the vision to develop the new builds as the estate expanded. He had the drive and desire to make those businesses successful.”
Despite the loss, Maides insists, “It’s business as usual at our end, as Steve would expect.”
Abbie Marshall, a booker at VMS, says, “I don’t think I’ve worked with a more passionate and loyal person. He could be insanely frustrating, but that was part of his charm. Steve believed in people and that’s what made him great.”
A personal message sent by AMG to VMS reads, “We’re deeply saddened by the news of Steve’s passing. Our heartfelt thoughts, love and strength are with his family, friends and colleagues at VMS.”
SJM MD Simon Moran says, “I worked with him closely on the early expansion of AMG, where he was pivotal in driving the business forward. I always got on very well with him. He was doing great with the new businesses he headed up at VMS, and will be a big loss to the live landscape in the UK.”
According to George Akins of promoter and venue owner DHP Family, Forster was, “A great guy and a real tribute to the live industry, running great venues all over the country. “
Mark Harding, MD of Showsec International, adds, “Steve Forster was a brilliant entrepreneur, had simple tastes, he loved music and he loved Leeds [United Football Club]. We watched almost every home match together for the past decade. He loved his family and was so proud of his children’s achievements.”
Forster was probably directly involved in the opening of more major concert and club venues than anyone else in the country.
He is survived by his wife Kate and children Rosie and Ned.