The demand for tickets for Erasure’s extended Playhouse stint. and reports of slow sales for many of the 40 outdoor shows in Britain this year, suggest that the public still retains affection for the comparative intimacy ofthe theatre. But do they? Alastair Mabbott speaks to the backstage crew.
he mega-tour. whose natural environment is the wide open spaces of the stadium. arena or exhibition centre, is now virtually obligatory for any artist who gets beyond a certain level ofsuccess. Long nationwide tours of seated theatres and Barrowland-sized dance halls have gone by the board in favour ofa handful ofdates at some of Britain‘s largest ‘venues‘ — rarely. ifever. designed with live music in mind — to which the faithful must travel from far and wide. by car. coach or train. clutching a ticket which itself will have cost £15—£20. And while on their way there. they often wonder whether it‘s worth it for the proverbial ‘ants' on a stage hundreds of yards away (it takes a special breed of performer to project him or herself to up to 100.000 people at once. and not all the acts on the circuit have the knack). with a precisely-drilled set standing in for direct audience contact. poor acoustics and not always the greatest of toilet facilities to look forward to.
Pub-rockers and punks gave live music a shot in the arm; a decade later, Live Aid played a major role in the final transition of rock tours from theatres to their new natural home in the stadia. The public experienced that moment of global charitable communion and liked the way it felt. From that point on. other priorities dwindled in the face ofjust being there and being part of the experience. Wembley. now booked up further in advance than at any time in its history. was hardly ever used for music before it hosted the show.
These continent-crossing spectacles, variously described as being like traveling circuses. small cities or minor military campaigns. have developed almost like an evolving organism. responding to market forces and honing the different systems that work together to keep it alive. Today. it’s a professional‘s game. Chris Hudson. who tour-managed Glasgow rock band Gun through the Rolling Stones 1990 trek as part of the 383-strong crew. plumps for ‘a small city‘. and reckons that ifyou ran around on
site with a piece of paper in your hand looking busy enough. you could last for weeks without being rumbled. Even so. there‘s no room for doped-up crazies anywhere any more.
Like Hudson on the Stones tour. Tom Oliver looks after groups like It Bites when they are touring with major headlining acts. ‘I think all three ofthose would adequately describe it.’ he says. ‘lt depends really on the state ofthe leadership whether it‘s a military campaign or.‘ he laughs. ‘a circus. It does need to be highly organised. especially with the economics oftouring becoming harsher. because people like to be seen to be running a tight ship on the whole‘.
Billy Wharton (see below). who is now Runrig‘s production manager and saw what he calls “the tail end of70s extravagance. says. ‘What we have now is a much more educated audience with higher expectations. They want it to sound good and look good. It’s in everyone‘s interest to approach it as what it is: a job.‘
Rod McKay. a well-travelled sound engineer. remembers: ‘The first time I saw the Stones and The Who and all that was indoors. and they were far from small bands then. They would often do two or three nights in one place. The first outdoor gig that I saw was The Who at Parkhead. and that was a cracking line-up: you had The Who and Little Feat, The Alex Harvey Band. Linda Lewis — she was selling well at the time — and that would be ‘75—‘76. It was a good line-up and Parkhead had been sold out for yonks. The problem with outdoor jobs is that unless you‘ve got a good line-up which is going to sell out two months before the date. you’re totally dependent on what the weather‘s doing the day of the concert. as the Mean Fiddler found at at the Fleadh.‘
That‘s not the view ofTom Oliver: ‘For me. it has to be an exceptional event. and the larger the number of acts you have. I think the less value for money you get. If you‘re there to see a major band. say in a field. and you’re one of 100.000 people. it's really important that that feeling is directed towards one headline act.
He may have a point. in that the Rollercoaster package. when The Jesus And Mary Chain set out with My Bloody Valentine. Dinosaur Jr and Blur earlier this
year. was accorded significantly less
excitement than the Second Coming. But. then again. Lollapalooza (Jane‘s Addiction. Siouxsie And The Banshees. Nine Inch Nails. etc) was the surprise hit ofa rather moribund American stadium circuit last year.
Prince will no doubt leave Parkhead a satisfied man. and U2 sold out in the time it takes to say their name; but the prOphets of doom have been predicting a summer in which the stadium bands will have to sit back and take stock. At the end of May. under the headline ‘Ticket Slump Hits Adams‘. The Sun‘s Piers Morgan claimed that 50.000 out of 150.000 tickets for shows outside London remained unsold and blamed the increasing numbers ofopen-air gigs — forty this year. compared to eight in 1991 for putting too much of a strain on the pockets ofthe punters. '
‘Tickets were selling very slowly around February.’ we were told by a business insider who was sceptical of Morgan’s claims. ‘But I don‘t think there‘s any evidence to support it. despite that Sun story. These things do tend to sell in the end.’
Maybe so. but the deluge of big events can‘t continue without having any effect at all. surely? Tom ()liver thinks he knows what might result.
‘lt seems to me that there are certain artists who will always draw people. but it can‘t be guaranteed. 1 think there are too many major artists out taking money out ofthe pockets of the gig-going public. And what really happens is that the smaller artists suffer. from the pub to the club to the theatre level. People don‘t go to those shows much. Ifthey've spent £100 to see a major act at Milton Keynes. then that‘s going to affect the £ 15 or £20 they might spend seeing a band at their local theatre or club.‘
Datesforyour diary: DefLeppard, I8June, S E CC; Prince, 28 J une, Parkhead; Erasure, 29, 3OJune, 1,3. 4. 5, 7, 8July, Playhouse; Bryan Adams, 11 July, Parkhead; Michael Jackson. 14 August, Glasgow Green; Mike Oldfield, 4 September, Edinburgh Castle; Chris de Burgh, 12 September, SECC; Metallica, 27 October, SE CC; Cliff Richard, 29—31 October, S E C C .
8 The-List] 9'1 [tn—é 32—] uly 1992