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Morningside Management





Morningside Management - represents some of the best tribute bands and tribute artists in the business


Morningside Management offer the highest quality tribute shows to Neil Diamond, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Marley, Elvis, Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, U2 and Oasis, amongst others.

Here, Digger talks to Steve Barker about his 'stable' of tribute acts and shows, about what makes Morningside Management different and about his position as market leader in providing the UK's theatres with these high quality tribute shows.



Steve: Good morning. Morningside Management.

Digger: Hello Steve, it’s Digger at Retrosellers.

Steve: Hello there.

Digger: Are you well?

Steve: Fine thanks.

Digger: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in the business?

Steve: My introduction to the entertainment industry... I actually worked for ten years as the UK Sales and Marketing Director for Columbia Tristar, which is part of The Sony Corporation these days.

Digger: Yes. We see them at the start of lots of movies.

Steve:  Indeed.

Digger: How many logos can they get on the front of movies?

Steve: (Both laugh) Well, how many film studios are involved in financing it?

Digger: That’s right.

Steve: From my standpoint there were frequent trips between London and Los Angeles to visit the movie studios. And so I met quite a few of the big name stars. I met people like Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek – it was all very exotic and exciting. And a lot of fun to be involved in the entertainment industry, but it involves a lot of commuting. I had a two-hour commute to London every day and two hours back, living in Southampton, and after ten years I was really looking for a change. Working for Sony was great fun and you certainly learn how the wheels of a marketing organisation work. How I actually got into this business though was that a good friend of mine, who actually performs the Neil Diamond tribute show, heard I was leaving Sony. He contacted me and asked me what I was going to do. I said “Well, I’m not quite sure.” And he said “Have you considered managing and promoting tribute shows.” (Laughs) So I said “I’m not at all sure I want to do that.” (Both laugh) He said “Well look, there’s tribute shows and there’s tribute shows and they’re not all created equal.” He said “You can get them from the pretty ropy that perform in dives here and there right up to the really talented individuals who do this. And I’m one of them.”

Digger: The kind of people that the real groups come along to see or book for their private parties?

Steve: Exactly.

Digger: A lot of the real bands ask the tributes to remind them of the chords and the lyrics, or so I’ve been told by a few members of tribute bands.

Steve: There’s many instances where the tribute bands are playing them much more frequently than the live artists ever did. This friend of mine, who was doing the Neil Diamond Show, persuaded me to ago along and see him. He’d put a live band together and was just starting to perform in theatres. And I went along and saw his show and thought “I’ve been a bit hasty here, this guy actually is incredibly good. I think this is marketable.” But I realised fairly quickly that if I was going to do this I’d have to do it a little differently from most other management companies or promoters. And the reason for that was if you get a really top quality tribute show, first of all they’re rare because there are a lot of them around who are enthusiastic but not quite there. But also, if you do have someone who is good, then they’re incredibly good entertainers and they’ve got a lot of talent and skill. So they deserve to do their show and to perform in front of very appreciative audiences which I can’t always find in the places they’re playing. And it’s quite hard for them to break into theatres. So, typically if they would go to a management company or a promoter, they would be in contact with a company that had maybe fifty or a hundred artists on their books.

Digger: And they'd get a 50th or a 100th of their time?

Steve: Exactly, they won’t get the personal attention and that’s a problem. And so they have to go to many, many companies to get a few bookings. So I thought we’d turn this model on it’s head and our plan was that we would deliberately limit the number of shows that we would manage. And right now we’re managing a dozen. We do that on purpose because if I take a show on I’m virtually saying to that show “If you come with us, we want sole representation in theatres.” And that’s where we specialise – we only book shows into theatres and we only book tribute shows. So because we’re only focused on twelve or so shows, what we can say to the artists is “We will open the theatre doors to you and let’s see how this show is received by the general public.” But we do open the doors and, because we limit the quantity of shows we have, we insist that we only represent the very highest quality artists. For us if a show in our opinion isn’t the very best within its field in Europe then we will not represent it. And the reason for that is quite clear – because we’ve been in this business for five years now, so we’re a fairly young company, but theatres now know us very well and they know that what we provide is extremely high quality. Consequently, when I ring up theatres and say “We’ve got a new show” there’s never a question about whether or not that’s going to be a disappointment.  It’s clearly going to be good because all of their experience with us has validated that. So it’s a different way of approaching this business than most management companies or promoters do.

Digger: Have you ruffled some feathers?

Steve: No I don ‘t think so. The theatre managers know we have a different model.

Digger: And the competition carry on regardless I suppose?

Steve: Well, you know, there’s other promoters out there and we’re all in the same business together and good luck to them all. But from our standpoint this is a niche that we have created for ourselves. There are not many companies like ours who focus exclusively on high quality tribute shows and exclusively on the UK theatres circuit. So with that degree of focus we’re happy with the results that we can get. And it does mean that artists actually call us and it’s very rare that we have to go out and look for artists. We get calls all the time from people who say “We’d love to get into theatres, we can see what you’re doing and we can see you put certain shows into twenty, thirty, forty, fifty theatres a year. We’d like some of that. Will you represent us?”  And then it’s a question of our going along and having a look. We never sign anyone that we haven’t seen perform live. So we spend a little bit of time moving up and down the country and viewing these shows. And we really do love it.

Digger: You’re covering all the decades?

Steve: Well, pretty much so. We have an Elvis show for the fifties and Hendrix and quite a few of the sixties ones.

Digger: Simon and Garfunkel is unusual – I haven’t heard of a tribute to them elsewhere.

Steve: No, well what we do find is that there are plenty of Abba’s and so on around and quite a few Elvis shows around – there aren’t many really good ones. But then again we’ve got what we consider to be the best in this country. But quite a few, as you quite rightly identified, quite a few of the shows that we do are in a niche of their own. We find them to be quite successful because the quality is superb. You go and see them and in some instances you don’t even have to close your eyes – they look so much like them and sound superb.

Digger: I do the old squinting thing sometimes (Steve laughs) when I go to see tributes. I was too young to be there the first time round for some of these acts.

Steve: How sad!

Digger: I know. So if you go to see a Pink Floyd Tribute or Stones and Beatles tributes – I’ve seen loads of those and you do, you squint. And then you could almost be back there in the sixties.

Steve: Indeed.

Digger: They get the sound so right because they’re doing it day after day.

Steve: The very best of them are extremely good at what they do. We think that when an audience goes to a theatre, and bear in mind when someone goes to a theatre rather than a pub he’s parting with £16/£17, something like that. And specifically to see a tribute show. So they deserve to be amazed and hugely entertained when they go. So that’s our philosophy. And we also think that when a theatre manager books a show from us they’re entitled to expect their audiences to have had a good night. We make sure that they do.

Digger: Have you got a Queen tribute on your books?

Steve: No, we don’t and probably the reason for that is that the best Queen show is already managed by somebody else and I don’t want the second best one.

Digger: I was on an Ocean Village cruise and the entertainment was very good. There was a Queen tribute duo, May and Mercury, and the auditorium was full with passengers of all ages and backgrounds. Within thirty seconds of the act starting the Freddy character had people eating out of his hand and singing along, clapping and participating. Amazing and that shows the power that Freddy Mercury still has.

Steve: Yes, a tremendous entertainer. Absolutely.

Digger: So why are these tributes such a big phenomenon these days? You could argue that they’re as big as a lot of the original bands.

Steve: Well, I think that’s true but I think it goes back to the fact that people long for the days when they were younger and were captured and caught up in this music. And there are good shows and good musical performers these days, but I don’t know that you’re ever going to see the likes of The Beatles and The Stones and Hendrix again. They belonged to that time and if you want to experience that, if they’re not around or not performing anymore, you have to go to something like this to see it. And if it’s done well it delivers. Sadly, if it’s not done well it does nothing expect disappoint. So that’s why the quality issue’s paramount for us.

Digger: What are the best things for you about running the business?

Steve: For us, I’m something of a musician myself. I’m not gifted enough to perform but I can sit and play a guitar and probably be just below the standard of Paul Simon’s playing. But I certainly can’t write music like him and neither can I sing like him. I love music, and so I love working in this industry where I get the chance to take bands who want to move onto the circuit of theatres. That's really the premier circuit and about as high as it’s going to get for them. To take a band that I think is wonderful quality, and who have not had the opportunity to present in front of this appreciative audience, and for me to actually put them there gives me a great deal of satisfaction. The audiences have enjoyed it and the theatre managers are appreciative of it. So it’s really just a delight.

Digger: How many theatres are we talking about?

Steve: We deal with about 250 theatres in the UK on an ongoing basis.

Digger: Who looks after the promotion of a gig?

Steve: It’s a mixture. What we would tend to do is, once I’ve spoken to the theatre manager and convinced them that they need to take one of our shows we negotiate the terms of their appearance. Then we have a marketing director who works for me and she will contact the marketing department of the theatre and they will agree a marketing plan. And she will also contact press, local radio and local TV stations and generate some local PR and information. Then hopefully we watch the general public buy the tickets and come along and have a wonderful night.

Digger: It may be a daft question but have you done any shows where you’ve got several of your acts appearing in the same bill?

Steve: We tend not to do that. We’ve done a little of it – we had a show in the north east of England on one occasion where we’ve got a David Bowie tribute show and a Rolling Stones tribute show and we did one half of Bowie and one half of Stones. It went very well. The problem that you have in doing that is that if you’ve got someone who’s a really big Stones fan but not so much Bowie then they’re sitting there in the first half twiddling their thumbs and then the second half they love it.

Digger: And in the second half some people leave.

Steve: Exactly, so in many respects you can put off as many people as you attract. For us, what we generally find is that if you’ve got a headliner show and the quality is right then the target audience for that will come.

Digger: Is there usually some support with them?

Steve: No, we tend not to do that. It’s quite interesting actually, because if you were to go back to the sixties and watch Jimi Hendrix playing at the Liverpool Empire he’d be on with The Move and a couple of other sixties bands. He’d top the bill but he’d be playing for twenty minutes. (Laughs) They certainly had a rag tag and bobtail approach there but in those days that’s how it worked. So now what we do – the big stars of course fill arenas and they play for two hours so we replicate that as far as possible so that each of our shows in the theatre will do two hours. One hour then a 20 minute break and then a second hour. When people come along that’s two solid hours of live performance of very high quality.

Digger: For £15 or so, that’s not bad is it?

Steve: Not bad.

Digger: What about feedback from the clients and the theatres Steve?

Steve: What we do find is that after the shows quite a few members of the audience will take the time to email either us or the band at their website and be quite enthusiastic and complimentary about what they’ve experienced. I always ring the theatre manager after any of our shows and ask them what feedback they’ve had. It’s invariably good, because we wouldn’t have sent them there unless we knew it was going to be good. And our reputation depends on that. If I send someone out and the theatre manager says “Do you know what Steve? That really wasn’t the right kind of standard for us then it’s going to damage me and it’s going to damage every other show I represent. So that’s why when we sometimes get approached by people who are themselves very enthusiastic, but when we see them perform it’s not quite right, we don’t wish to offend someone but we just have to be truthful.

Digger: You can’t please everybody and sometimes the sound system at a venue might not be set-up right. Sometimes people will moan just because they didn’t play a particular hit.

Steve: Well, you can get that. You can imagine, can’t you?  If we put the Hendrix show out – Hendrix is not whispering Hendrix, he’s noisy and he was always noisy. Now we don’t replicate the same kind of level of sound, but if you want authenticity you should not go along to a Hendrix show and expect it to be quiet because it won’t be. So we do occasionally get a few members of the audience who say “Boy, that was loud!” But maybe it wasn’t for them and they shouldn’t have come. At the same time if we turn the volume down then all of the people who come along expecting authentic Hendrix are going to be upset as well. We put it out as authentic as we possibly can and the people who think it’s too loud, had they been around at an early Hendrix show in the early days, would probably have taken that view as well.

Digger: Has The Internet had a big impact on what you do? Or is it just another tool in your armoury as it were?

Steve: For us it’s still very much a personal contact business. I have to make contact with every theatre manager by phone on every individual show that I want to discuss and so there’s a lot of personal contact. That can’t be done over The Internet. But what I do find is that our website – we embed promoting DVDs for almost all of our shows in there. So I can be talking to a theatre manager and say “Just click on the site, click on here and watch one of our shows performing live in a theatre and what you see is what you get. There’s no jiggerypokery – it’s a live performance and it makes them see the quality for themselves. So that’s very handy to do.

Digger: I should imagine that the majority of ticket sales are done online these days?

Steve: Oh yes. Obviously for the theatres themselves that certainly happens but also a lot of tribute bands come across us either by reputation or by searching on The Internet and they will make contact themselves. So it certainly has had an impact on or business.

Digger: You’ve touched on the nostalgia angle but why is it so big in people’s lives?

Steve: I think there’s a huge element of nostalgia here and it does take people back to an earlier time when things were different and at a time when the bands they loved were around and it takes them back to those days. But, interestingly enough ... and a lot of people do think this, that Jimi Hendrix, who we’ve not seen for a while and he’s not touring anywhere soon - that show would be much bigger than a show that’s currently touring but we don’t always find that. We’ve got a tribute to Bon Jovi and Bon Jovi were touring in the UK last year and they’re coming again this year and yet the Bon Jovi Experience, our tribute band, sells phenomenally well. So it’s not just bands that are no longer around but bands that still tour. So if you get the quality right people still want to see it. You can go to a theatre and be up close and personal and you might only have 500-600 people in the theatre as opposed to thousands in an auditorium where Bon Jovi are a speck in the distance.  You’re going to get a good seat and you’re going to get a good night.

Digger: What are you plans for the future Steve? More of the same?

Steve: Well, very much so. We’re very happy with what we do. We constantly get queries from shows that would like us to represent them and we’re always happy to go and look at something if we think the quality’s right. And if we think there’s a market for it in theatres. But it will still be our plan to limit the number of people that we have. I might see an excellent band, but if my roster if full right now I won’t take it on and damage the attention to detail I need to give to the ones that I’m currently working with.

Digger: That’s very disciplined because there would be a temptation for a lot of people to think that it’s working well so one more won’t do any harm.

Steve: Unfortunately, if you’re not disciplined that can be the route to ruin so for us we would say to a band if we were in that situation “Well, we’ll keep you on our waiting list, as it were, and come back to you when an opportunity opens up.” But this works for us incredibly well as a business and it is a point of differentiation between ourselves and our competitors. And we don’t  ever want  to change that. We want to make sure that if someone is signed to us they’re getting the attention they deserve.

Digger: Thanks for that great insight into the management of tribute shows Steve and long may the success continue.

Steve: Thanks David.


Morningside Management represent tributes to Neil Diamond, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Marley, Elvis, Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, U2 and Oasis.

Morningside Management proactively promotes, manages and represents selected music artists, and specialises in extremely high quality Tribute Shows, mostly within the UK theatre circuit

Tel:  01780 781530


 Morningside Management






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