Good morning. Morningside Management.
Hello Steve, it’s Digger at Retrosellers.
Are you well?
Can you tell us a little bit about your background
in the business?
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.
Yes. We see them at the start of lots of movies.
How many logos can they get on the front of movies?
(Both laugh) Well, how many film studios are involved in
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.”
The kind of people that the real groups come along
to see or book for their private parties?
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.
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.
And they'd get a 50th or a 100th of
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
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.
Have you ruffled some feathers?
No I don ‘t think so. The theatre managers know we
have a different model.
And the competition carry on regardless I suppose?
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.
You’re covering all the decades?
Well, pretty much so. We have an Elvis show for the
fifties and Hendrix and quite a few of the sixties
Simon and Garfunkel is unusual – I haven’t heard
of a tribute to them elsewhere.
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.
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
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.
They get the sound so right because they’re doing
it day after day.
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.
Have you got a Queen tribute on your books?
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
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
Yes, a tremendous entertainer. Absolutely.
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.
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.
What are the best things for you about running the
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.
How many theatres are we talking about?
We deal with about 250 theatres in the UK on an
Who looks after the promotion of a gig?
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
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?
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.
And in the second half some people leave.
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.
Is there usually some support with them?
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.
For £15 or so, that’s not bad is it?
What about feedback from the clients and the
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.
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.
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.
Has The Internet had a big impact on what you do? Or
is it just another tool in your armoury as it were?
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.
I should imagine that the majority of ticket sales
are done online these days?
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
You’ve touched on the nostalgia angle but why is
it so big in people’s lives?
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.
What are you plans for the future Steve? More of the
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.
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.
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
to change that. We want to make sure that if
someone is signed to us they’re getting the
attention they deserve.
Thanks for that great insight into the management of
tribute shows Steve and long may the success