hmv Empire, Coventry, venue, live music,

Writing for PR

I don't do much PR these days but it's a pleasure to be part of the upcoming success story that is the hmv Empire, Coventry - taking live music to the centre of the city. I always like to write a press release and take pleasure in publications that use my words in their entirety. I recognise that this is often due to the dwindling numbers in newsrooms around the country but the story still has to be good enough and well told to get the results. This was our recent statement.

Empire and hmv join forces:

Empire Coventry strikes landmark deal with legendary entertainment brand hmv

Coventry music venue, The Empire, has today announced details of a partnership with leading entertainment brand, hmv. The venue, which is in the process of re-locating to the city centre, will be known as the hmv Empire in this historic three-year deal.

hmv Empire, Coventry will open on Hertford Street this year following a £500,000 re-development of a former retail site and cinema. Although Covid-19 has delayed the opening by a number of months, this exclusive partnership gives the music venue a significant boost, placing them at the forefront of the national touring scene.

hmv Empire, Coventry Head of Programming, Dave Brayley, welcomed the partnership: "We've had a long association with hmv back to our original site in Far Gosford Street where we co-hosted a number of exclusive performances including a fantastic show with Sam Fender.

"This extended commercial relationship is a great step for us, putting the venue and city firmly on the map with artist, agents and labels".

Patrizia Leighton, Marketing and Commercial Director, hmv, said:

"hmv has had a very close relationship with performing artists since we started selling recorded music in 1921. We wanted to show our support for live music, performers and all those working behind the scenes at a time when that support is more vital than ever.

“As Coventry celebrates being the City of Culture for 2021, and as we celebrate our 100th anniversary, hmv’s sponsorship of this incredible new venue will help cement live music’s place at the heart of Coventry’s cultural scene and introduce music fans to new bands and artists. Together with the hmv Empire team, we’re looking forward to offering amazing live experiences as the country comes out of lockdown.”

Empire founder, Phil Rooney, is delighted to have hmv on board: “When we first thought about commercial partners for the Empire, we were keen to avoid the usual lifestyle and utility companies, we always wanted a brand with a strong musical heritage and there’s none better than hmv.hmv Empire Coventry, live music, venue

“Growing up in Cov, the hmv in Hertford Street was the one place you were guaranteed to find me every weekend. To think now that we’re going to have a premier entertainment venue in the centre of the city, carrying the name of this iconic music retailer, it just blows my mind”.

The sponsorship, which runs until 2024, is hmv’s only venue naming deal in the UK and includes the potential for artist showcases and unique album launch events, bringing a host of names to Coventry. Shows already confirmed at the hmv Empire include Tom Grennan, Arlo Parks, Roy Ayers, Maximo Park, Jimmy Carr and a number of events curated by Specials frontman Terry Hall as part of the City of Culture.

Subject to further Coronavirus restrictions the hmv Empire, Coventry is due to open with a socially distanced performance from the comedian, Al Murray, on June 11th.

 

So far we have gained coverage from Music Week, Complete Music Update and a number of industry titles plus significant social media andall the main local news outlets including a breakfast interview with BBC Radio CWR. When we have the branding in place and the venue is closer to completion, we will look to execute a 'reveal' which will be staged for TV and online use.


Covid 19 and events

The future’s so bright…..

Events at the end of the pandemic

By mid-February I’d read so many contradictory reports and surveys about how to resume live events and concerts that I’d begun to doubt if we’d ever be able to open a venue again.

An example of the conflict is summed up in two German studies – one claimed that the transmission risk at indoor concerts was negligible, provided that good ventilation, social distancing and face masks were in use

At the same time the Germans were celebrating this ‘win’, another report suggested that the risk of aerosol spread was reckoned to be higher if you sing in certain languages, like, er, German.

Promoters and venues were already well aware that the risk factors are hugely dependent on a number of issues, from type of venue to genre/style of show. A seated, socially distanced performance in an airy, high-ceilinged hall would be entirely different to a standing gig in a sweaty basement. The trouble was that governments and licensing bodies were insistent upon treating everything the same.

So, whilst we could have some hope that cultural events were safer than schools there was little public clamour to test that proposition. Yet in the UK, after months of barely acknowledging that the sector exists, we were finally given a glimmer of hope and, astonishingly, actual dates. It looked like a plan, which was astounding for all those who had been asking for evidence of one since before Christmas.

Naturally the dates came with caveats, but they were enough for some festivals to go on-sale and sell out, almost before the PM had stopped speaking. The following week produced future amazement as industry experts like the Music Venue Trust  noted that the plan looked to be based on data rather than guesswork. The predicted roll out of the vaccine and continuing expected fall in infection rates make these dates likely to become a reality.

Whilst I see few people clamouring to hit the May deadline for restricted capacities, July and beyond look like reasonable expectations. The industry will have its own caveats of course, the most notable being insurance. Where EU governments and some others have stepped into the void where commercial firms fear not tread, UK authorities are more tight-lipped. Perhaps the upcoming budget will give us a better steer, but I fear the chancellor is keener to tighten the purse strings than keep the coffers open.

 

covid 19 and the music industry
Can live events resume in 2021?

Talent may be another thorny issue in 2021. The UK may relax but that possibility seems unlikely across Europe. If you’re an international artist and dependent on the economies of scale that multiple shows offer, flying in for one or two UK shows might not cut it. That’s if you’re even able to escape your own country’s restrictions.

On that basis the future looks more optimistic, as long as you like British artists. Frankly, since everyone seems to be straining at the leash to be released, this looks to be less of an issue than it normally would be. New UK acts may thrive on those festival slots that may previously not have been available and, as Brexit & Covid restrict their ambitions, popularity may well have to start at home. Bring it on.


World Tour Melbourne March 2020

Passport to Freedom

The road to recovery for live events

This is Christmas, what have you done?

For most of us in events and subsidiary industries, the answer for 2020 is likely ‘not enough’. Many of us started the year well before seeing all the work crumble and disappear in March.

 

World Tour Melbourne Stage
World Tour Melbourne, Albert Park

For my part I was in Melbourne working on the first event in a planned series of concerts following the F1 circus into different countries. It was ambitious but we’d negotiated with promoters, commercial partners and venues worldwide; everything looked great. We’d planned and designed our bespoke stage with environmentally friendly touring in mind, we even built it ready for event one – March 13 & 14, Albert Park. On Friday March 13th that was cancelled and, as we dismantled it, we assembled in production offices and bars and watched our summer shows tumble one by one.

Everyone has a similar story to tell. The great bonfire of the live events industry, spring and summer 2020. Many of us were optimistic that some of the later summer events might be rescued and that by the time of peak touring, Oct-Dec, we’d be back to normal.  It hasn’t happened and even the 2020 shows that were pushed into corresponding time slots for 2021 are looking dubious. Some of this may depend on your location but, from a UK perspective, there’s little cause for optimism.

 

Albert Park Melbourne World Tour
Stage construction with screens

Whether large-scale touring can resume, with giant productions being hauled across continents, seems doubtful. As I scribble these words many borders to the UK are closed and lorries litter the M20 and Kent countryside.  The solution that they’re suggesting for that problem is the only one likely to rescue the 2021 festival season: testing.

I originally wrote of this a few months ago, since when the UK Government has rolled out wider, general testing for cities such as Liverpool and schools in London. There remain some doubts about the reliability of the ‘quicker’, lateral flow or lamp tests but the standard PCR is highly regarded, and results can, in some cases, be produced in under 2 hours. A promoter’s willingness to hand over half his festival site to become a testing facility is unlikely but, given the pace of vaccine roll-out in the UK, there may be few other options to save 2021.

Whether the Govt will make generalised testing more available in the future months is open to question. There’s no doubt they’d have to sign off on any plans to resurrect live events and give substantial reassurance of no further instantaneous tier systems. One potential route is for Governments to provide ‘insurance’ to promoters as none will be available/affordable commercially. Testing and vaccination go hand in hand towards greater immunity and a combination is essential for us to be able to move forward.

There’s been a lot of kick-back against a ‘Covid passport’ for some justifiable civil liberty issues, but whatever name it goes under there seems little chance that artists, crew or audience will be allowed to stage or attend large capacity events without a recent clear test or proof of vaccination. The sooner we start to plan for this eventuality the better state we’ll be in. The campaign to save 2021’s concerts has started, who’s listening?

 

Footnote.

This is always going to be a rapidly evolving scenario. The US view has them banking on mass vaccination and a return to live by September:

The vaccination prospect seems optimistic and September feels like a very long way away. Also, how will you know who’s had it?

The Guardian reported of the slow pace of British vaccination which, at current rate, would take about 5 years to cover the country.

We should have additional reservations over how similar industries have been treated. The travel industry lobbied for testing and clearance to travel for months with apparent apathy from the Government. Then the policy was dumped on them with very little notice or detail on execution.


Culture war, what is it good for?

Happy Pogues day everyone!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, that annual event when people, usually spurred on by click-bait media organisations, lose their minds over whether Fairytale of New York should be censored. Previously it may have been known as the day when radio stations started playing Christmas songs (a month & a bit prior to the date) and we’d all ruminate over whether it was ‘too early’, but now we have a real argument to get our teeth into.

In some senses it’s a more orderly and less divisive re-run of the Christmas vs Winter Festival or ‘war on Christmas’ debate favoured by the ‘red tops’ and right-wing shock jocks which blighted the start of festivities for many years. At least we can sing-a-long to this one.

The decision over whether to clip or obscure some lyrics which can be construed as homophobic and misogynistic is one of changing and challenging cultural norms. What may have been acceptable once upon a time is not always going to be the case and all media outlets have to be sensitive to the times and opinions of their audience.

fairytale of new york censorshipCulture wars demand that we pick a side and defend it but there are instances, and this may be one, where it is possible to see both sides. When this argument bubbled up again last year, I was minded to reflect that you must always consider the context, particularly in a work of art. The questionable lyrics are exchanged in the setting of an argument, one conducted by characters in a different time and place. This being the case, a fixed mindset benefits no-one and there are rarely any good reasons to willingly cause offence. I might defend your right to express an opinion but choose not to share it with others, and certainly not broadcast it.

This time around the BBC are executing their right to straddle both sides of the fence as befitting an impartial broadcaster.  The decision - playing different versions dependent on the choice of station - seems rational in many senses, in that it changes the use relevant to the market the station is serving and their respective attitudes. It also allows the debate to fester, which in turn promotes the fact that the Christmas songs have started up again. It’s a win-win in a situation that rarely produces a positive outcome.

That Christmas is often known as a time for consternation and celebration, of tradition and turbulence possibly reward the song’s legendary status: it reflects the mood of the times, it is universal, and it is loved. If we remember nothing else each year it should be that The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl created the definitive Christmas anthem and caused almost everyone else to give up trying. Happy Christmas your arse.


Chris Hadfield 2018

For the third year running we are delighted to be assisting Unique Lives & Entertainment in the promotion of Chris Hadfield's UK tour. The ever-popular astronaut will be appearing in Southampton, Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast next February. Full info is here.

Chris Hadfield at Symphony Hall
Howard Szigeti, Unique Lives; Paul Flower, Profound Media; Chris Hadfield; Chris Proctor, Symphony Hall