AEG Presents UK CEO Steve Homer is in a positive mood; demand for the company’s festival All Points East (40,000) in London’s Victoria Park is strong, it is looking to add new dates to Cornwall event series the Eden Sessions, and plans are afoot to bolster AEG’s venue operations with two new buildings.
The promoting division of global event and venue giant AEG, and one of the UK’s leading festival operators, AEG Presents recently announced that it will expand its venue activity beyond its London buildings – the 5,000-capacity Eventim Apollo and Indigo at The O2 (2,800).
Next year will see the reopening of Wolverhampton Council-owned Wolverhampton Civic Halls with AEG Presents managing it. The venue complex, which comprises the Civic Hall (3,000), Wulfran Hall (1,134) and Slade Rooms (500), was closed in 2015 and has since been the subject of a near £40m overhaul.
When it opens in 2024, a new 4,400-capacity, purpose-built, live entertainment venue within the £1.3 billion Olympia London development will also be added to AEG Presents venue management portfolio.
The company cancelled its 65,000-capacity series of BST Hyde Park concerts in July, due to ongoing concerns surrounding the pandemic, but it is pressing ahead with its other events including French festival Rock en Seine (40,000), All Points East and Eden Sessions.
“We have got plenty of time. We feel that we can get these events to happen providing there is an unlocking”
All Points East (APE) will take place over the August bank holiday weekend, rather than its usual late May slot, with three APE day shows in Victoria Park joined by the single-day Field Day event owned by Broadwick Live.
“All four [Victoria Park] events have done incredibly well, with tens of thousands of tickets sold across them,” says Homer. “On the whole it’s been amazingly well received; customer confidence is through the roof and the local council, Tower Hamlets, is very, very keen to help make sure it goes ahead.”
In 2019, AEG Presents formed a joint venture with educational charity the Eden Project to manage the Eden Sessions alongside John Empson; who founded the Eden Sessions in 2002 and has programmed every concert since. The event series traditionally takes place in June but has this year been postponed to September.
With the Eden Project site not usually open to events outside the summer, AEG had to negotiate moving the Eden Sessions back to September, but Homer says the outcome is proving positive: “We needed to have a minimum of five shows to make it work as an entity. We’ve currently got five but we may have at least one more; there’s been a lot of interest from artists wanting to play.”
The current Eden Sessions line-up includes The Script, Diana Ross, My Chemical Romance and Idles. APE headliners include London Grammer, Kano and Foals.
With news of any potential Government-back event indemnity not expected until 14 June at the earliest, AEG Presents is among the many promoters pressing ahead and hoping for the best.
Says Homer, “Currently the Government is not providing an insurance get-out for us or assistance in any way, shape or form, so by still being on sale and moving towards the events we are taking a risk. Obviously, we have insurance for all the other requirements but there’s a massive exclusion for Covid and the most likely reason an event is going to be cancelled will be Covid related.
“There is a genuine feeling of optimism out there, which is unfortunately not shared with our European counterparts and elsewhere but in the UK there’s a real positivity.”
“We are pushing but there’s no guarantees at the moment. If the situation worsens, we’ll have to reassess at that point but at the moment we feel quite confident that with the unlocking as it stands we should be able to operate without losses because we will be able to let the events to take place, but there comes a point where you have to commit to suppliers and that is where we’ve seen a couple of casualties along the way, like Boomtown.
“We operate with far more traditional suppliers and more traditional setups than Boomtown, we also own a lot of the equipment, but there’s still a lot of stuff we rely on from suppliers. Those commitments are on hold at the moment but we’re on hold on the basis of; we’re all in this together and if it happens we all get paid. That’s the way the line is being held at the moment – it’s not how anyone would normally go into this period.”
Homer says that by moving the two event series back to the tail end of the summer, AEG has given them the best chance of taking place: “We don’t have to be on site until at least two weeks prior to the events taking place so there’s no disruption or a need to be concerned even if the [step 4 reopening] announcement was pushed back a couple of weeks. We have got plenty of time. We feel that we can get these events to happen providing there is an unlocking”
A board member of umbrella body Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment (LIVE), Concert Promoters Association and National Arenas Association, the AEG chief says a mood of cautious optimism is prevalent across the live music industry.
“There is a general mood of confidence,” he says. “The good thing to come out of this pandemic is the cross-company support, it’s about the industry coming together to talk about the things we can learn – everything is being very openly shared because it’s for the benefit of all.
“There is a genuine feeling of optimism out there, which is unfortunately not shared with our European counterparts and elsewhere but in the UK there’s a real positivity. The test events have shown that it’s not all doom and gloom, these things can work.”
Aside from the focus on festivals, Homer is excited about the two new venue additions to AEG’s portfolio, not least the Olympia London project.
“People are on site at the moment,” he says. “It is an enormous project with apartments, hotels, loads of retail and a theatre in there – it is a massive undertaking. The venue will fit well into the London venue landscape. There are two London venues around the 5,000 capacity mark, which are Brixton Academy and our Eventim Apollo, and then you have venues such as the Roundhouse and Troxy at 3,000 but there really isn’t anything that sits in the 4,000 mark so it is a unique opportunity to play to a different sized room in London.”
He suggests the reopening of the Civic Halls will also have a positive impact, not onlhy for touring acts but the city.
“We’ve got a partnership there with ASM Global, who will run the bars and food services, while we handle the venue operation side including booking and music tech set up. There’s a lot of energy and expertise going into this and we feel there is a really great opportunity for Wolverhampton to get back to the forefront of UK touring.”