Nottingham has long been a thriving live events destination, bolstered by its many vibrant gig venues and its inhabitants’ seemingly insatiable appetite for live music and sport. Access explores how the city is preparing to emerge from the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, Nottingham’s events scene had been growing steadily and as the impact of Covid-19 recedes that expansion is expected to continue, as illustrated by the launch this summer of the Meadowlands Festival – a new event series at Victoria Embankment.

The East Midlands city, a hotbed of grassroots musical talent, offers a selection of outdoor spaces such as the spectacular home of Splendour Festival (25,000), Wollaton Park, along with legendary indoor venue Rock City (2,000), and The Motorpoint Arena (10,000) – the largest indoor venue in the city.

Key to the Nottingham events infrastructure are a handful of notable, locally based, promoters including DHP Family and the UK branch of pan-European live events promoter FKP Scorpio, as well as ticketing companies See Tickets and Gigantic.

The city is also home to its fair share of sporting action. As well as boasting two of the oldest professional clubs in European football – Nottingham Forest and Notts County, who play at the City Ground (30,000) and Meadow Lane (20,000) respectively, the city also has Trent Bridge cricket ground (17,500), two horse racing tracks and Motorpoint’s adjoining arena, the National Ice Centre (7,500).


Festival operator, promoter and multi-venue owner DHP Family grew out of the acclaimed Rock City venue in the heart of the city centre. The venue, famed for hosting up-and-coming bands, student gigs and club nights, was founded in 1980 by George Akins senior – the father of DHP CEO George Akins. Forty years after Rock City opened with an Undertones gig, the 2,000-capacity venue was supposed to celebrate its anniversary in 2020 with shows and parties but these were sadly crushed by Covid.

DHP director of live Anton Lockwood says there is plenty to look forward to this year, not least with the promoter’s Splendour Festival – which was rolled over from 2021 and will take place at Wollaton Park in July. The festival was founded in 2008 by DHP, in conjunction with the local council, with the aim of introducing an annual family-friendly festival that would host high profile acts.

Last year, DHP, which also owns three venues in London, received just under £1m via the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund – a sum that Lockwood says “disappeared almost instantly” due to event cancellations. Amid stringent event restrictions, DHP introduced Arboretum Sunsets – a series of intimate outdoor events at the picturesque Nottingham Arboretum. Lockwood says DHP intends to take the event forward but its scope may change due to the rampant return of mainstream outdoor events and changes in the festival market.

The company also organises multi-venue event Dot To Dot, which also takes place in Bristol and Manchester. Held in September last year rather than its traditional late May bank holiday weekend slot, the event is staged at Nottingham Trent Union, Rock City and DHP’s other venues Rescue Rooms (450, 120), Bodega (220) and Stealth (660).

Lockwood says he launched Dot To Dot after being inspired by Texas event South by Southwest (SXSW), with the aim of enabling audiences to see multiple acts throughout the course of the event rather than missing some due to clashes. Dot To Dot began with two venues in 2005 and has now grown into the “beast” that it is today, with some 80 bands on its main stage and other fringe activity also taking place.

Lockwood says, “In Nottingham everyone thinks we’re the big dogs, but when you look at it nationally, you’ve got an O2 Academy in every city except Nottingham because Rock City is there.”

He says it is important that each of DHP’s venues retain an individual character and identity to avoid the feeling of “waking up in a Premier Inn and forgetting which city you’re in”.

“Having multiple venues gives us a big talent pool of people that we can pick up and promote through to become the general managers of each venue or become promoters. Our finance director started on the bar. There’s is a tremendous pool of talent there, and that’s really what makes it possible,” says Lockwood.

From bar to boardroom

Another individual who knows Rock City like the back of his hand is FKP Scorpio MD of live Daniel Ealam (pictured), who started out behind the bar at the venue, while studying at university, before becoming its general manager. Having left DHP, after 19 years, Ealam now works alongside fellow former DHP director Scott O’Neill, and is promoting Ed Sheeran’s huge 2022 tour – 12 years after he first booked the then budding singer-songwriter to play at Stealth.

“The reason I went to Nottingham University is because of Rock City, I used to see it in the back of NME and it had all the gigs I wanted to go to,” says Ealam. “Nottingham just seemed like a place where there was big stuff happening all the time and it was a dream come true to get a job there. I couldn’t believe you got paid to watch all the best bands there, I probably would have done it for free.”

FKP Scorpio, which has had an office in Nottingham since launching in the UK in September 2020, has big plans for the city this Summer.

Three days before speaking to Access, Ealam had a production meeting with the council about the Meadowlands Festival, which will host around 25,000 people over the Jubilee Bank Holiday Weekend. Ealam says that with Splendour’s having a family friendly feel, there was a gap in the market in Nottingham for an event focused on attracting a younger festival audience from within the city and beyond. He says Meadowlands will cater for acts who are perhaps too big to play at Motorpoint Arena, which is one of the smallest arenas of its kind in the UK.

Gerry Cinnamon will headline the debut Meadownlands Festival series, which will see Nottingham’s Victoria Embankment, on the River Trent, host commercial live music for the first time since 2001.

Collaborative approach

Motorpoint Arena and National Ice Centre chief executive Martin Ingham says his team has built a strong relationship with DHP, which bring shows to the venue that are too big for Rock City.

The arena is also planning more events with Detonate – the local promoter team behind the electronic music focused Detonate Festival at Colwick Country Park.

Ingham, who is also deputy chair of the National Arenas Association, says following an unsurprisingly slow start to the year, the February schedule will pick up and March to May is looking particularly busy. Among the acts scheduled are Sam Fender, Stormzy, Little Mix and Dua Lipa.

The arena boss predicts 2022 is going to be the busiest year to date at the venue, as the backlog of tours play through, with a larger number of shows than normal already on sale for September through to December: “We have seen customer confidence ebb and flow depending on the mood of the nation and that has manifested itself in fluctuating ticket sales and no shows ranging from 5% to 30% [of an event’s sales].”

“I am seeing a lot of people who have contracted Covid in the past few weeks and months now recovered and raring to get out there and make up for the past couple of years, so I’m very optimistic about 2022.”

Ingham says the council-owned venue is responsible for bringing many headline stars to the city, and is the venue where many locals experience their first gig: “We give the local population the chance to see major artists on their doorstep and then make a night of it in Nottingham with all the local bars and clubs, instead of having to travel miles to London or Manchester. Live music is such a broad canvas and without the arena, Nottingham’s breadth of live musical offering would be poorer for it.”

Nottingham just seemed like a place where there was big stuff happening all the time and it was a dream come true to get a job there.” Daniel Ealam

Tied up in Notts

 Another Rock City event that DHP works on is Beat The Streets, alongside charity Framework, in aid of tackling homelessness. The event fronts local artists, with all door and bar money going to the charity. It raised £100,000 in its first year and Lockwood says that because of its success there are now fewer people sleeping on the streets in Nottingham.

Following Nottingham City Council’s successful launch of the Christmas at Wollaton light trail series, promoted by Kilimanjaro Live, the council’s head of events Patrick Loy says there is a packed schedule of content for 2022.

As well as working with DHP and FKP Scorpio on festivals, Nottingham City Council also runs events such as the annual Goose Fair – one of Europe’s largest and oldest touring fairs that attracts around 450,000 people over five days.

It also brings together 220,000 people for the three-day summer event Riverside Festival on the banks of the Trent, as well as hosting events in city centre locations including the Old Market Square.

The council has worked a lot with British Triathlon on events, its last being the Accenture World Triathlon Mixed Relay in 2019. Loy says it is working with another national governing body for a sports event to take place later this year.

“We’re always working with partners to develop new content,” says Loy, who points out that  the council does not operate on a large commissioning budget but “punches above its weight” in terms of the scale of events and their audience reach.

Nott to be missed

 Among the companies focused on encouraging emerging local talent is the Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, which owns the 400-capacity venue Metronome. The venue, which opened in 2019, is described by in-house promoter Kristi Maria as “built by musicians for musicians” with state-of-the-art facilities for recording.

Another key element of Nottingham’s event infrastructure is the Vivendi-owned ticketing powerhouse See Tickets. Headquartered in the city, the international business started as the local Way Ahead Records in the 1980s and now has 15 offices in Europe and the US, led by CEO Rob Wilmshurst.

Nottingham-based Gigantic, which employs around 20 people in the city and tickets all the council events, experienced its busiest ever quarter in December 2018, with a 21% increase in turnover and sales of £26.3m.

Gigantic Tickets business development manager Simon Carpenter says the company was founded by Mark Gasson in 2007 with the aim of being more customer focused than other larger ticketing services.

Says Carpenter, “There are a lot of interesting creative types in Nottingham doing different things but the scene’s the right size so that everyone knows each other and works together.

“We’ve got that natural progression in the city where an artist can play the Bodega, Rescue Rooms, Rock City and then finish at the arena – so you get a lot of touring bands coming through.”

Despite its impressive range of venues, Carpenter says Nottingham could easily accommodate another venue in the city, especially given the huge number of shows booked in following the postponements during lockdown.

Carpenter praises the work of promoter, record company, and music publisher I’m Not From London, which operates events across the city and has given platforms to artists such as Jake Bugg and Sleaford Mods during the early days of their career.

Reflecting on his university years at Nottingham, Ealam says, “When I turned up in Nottingham in 2000, you had Rock City which had all the bigger gigs, but if you wanted to watch smaller ones, we would go to places like Leicester or Derby, because a lot of the cooler bands we were into weren’t necessarily playing in Nottingham.

The promoter says that in subsequent years smaller venues, such as Bodega (formerly The Social), became steppingstones for the Nottingham’s live music scene that exists today: “The advent of Rescue Rooms in 2003 meant a lot of those acts started going to Nottingham on earlier tours, which was great for everyone in the city.

“Nottingham, up to a certain level, can compete with Birmingham these days as the best place to go to in the Midlands to see an artist early on.”

This article was published in the February edition of Access All Areas. Read it here, and/or subscribe for free here.