There may be supply chain issues aplenty and concerns around the cost-of-living crisis, but the Scottish events industry is rising phoenix-like from the ashes of lockdown to produce a record number of outdoor events up and down the country this summer. Access explores the industry’s road to recovery.

Major events such as the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, The Open Championship, Edinburgh Hogmanay, Royal Highland Show and countless music festivals, including TRNSMT and Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, are among the many major outdoor events that play a significant role in supporting the Scottish economy and attracting tourists.

According to a recent Deloitte study, tourism supports 270,000 jobs in Scotland, contributes £11 billion annually to the economy and supports around 10% of employment in the country. Almost 16 million tourists take overnight trips to Scotland every year.

The Scottish live events industry, a vital ingredient in Scotland’s tourism offering, contributes an estimated £6 billion to the country’s economy, according to the last pre-pandemic UK Events Report.

The industry was hit hard by Covid restrictions and underwent sustained pressure. While England’s businesses were able to press ahead under far less stringent ‘Plan B’ guidelines after Omicron hit, on Boxing Day 2021 Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, banned indoor events with more than 100 people standing or 200 seated, and outdoor standing events for more than 500 were also barred.

Those restrictions were lifted for outdoor events on 17 January and indoor events a week later. Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme ended on 28 February and, on 21 March, all remaining restrictions, including the wearing of face coverings, ceased.

The previous two years had been a torrid time for the Scottish live events industry, during which The Events Industry Advisory Group was established to provide a coordinated voice for the sector. The Scottish Government provided funding channels, including VisitScotland’s Event Industry Support Fund and Creative Scotland’s Cancellation Fund for Cultural Organisations. In January, culture secretary Angus Robertson announced a package worth £65 million for culture and major events.

The support continues, and as recently as May a £1 million Community Cycling Fund was set up by EventScotland to support cycling projects and events.

VisitScotland director of events Paul Bush OBE says the organisation recently funded a £1 million consumer-facing media campaign with the slogan ‘The Buzz Is Back’. Designed to encourage people back to events and convince them that they are safe environments, the campaign kicked off in April and ran for two months, with activations across radio, TV, online channels and print.

Bush says VisitScotland is committed to helping the industry work through the many challenges around consumer confidence, escalating costs and a lack of manpower: “We have stood by our events, some have had very tough times and we have continued to fund them. We accept that for most event operators the present is the hardest time they will ever face in terms of trying to break even or make any money. We have not walked away from that, and government ministers here are keen to support the industry.”

Tom Clements, an industry veteran who is president of the National Outdoor Events Association (NOEA) and director of Glasgow-based Specialized Security, says that despite the many challenges he is delighted with the way the industry is fighting back after such a long and painful period of inaction.

“The outdoor events industry up here is without doubt moving on with things,” he says. “We do a lot of wonderful events, we have no shortage of beautiful settings for a wide range of shows that attract huge crowds; from major music festivals to events such as The Open and Royal Highland Show.”

Promoting success

One of the clearest signs that Scotland’s events industry is back with a bang is the workload the team at Glasgow-based DF Concerts is handling. Scotland’s leading concert and festival promoter, Live Nation-owned DF Concerts, is working on 33 outdoor shows this summer, including nine stadium concerts.

It is a record for the company that was founded in 1982 by Stuart Clumpas, and it is estimated that the promoter’s summer shows alone will have a £72.4 million economic impact in Scotland. Including indoor and outdoor shows, DF’s events will host 1 million ticketholders over the summer, 800,000 of them in Glasgow. By the end of the summer, the promoter will have staged 15 major outdoor shows in Glasgow alone, including the 50,000-capacity TRNSMT festival on Glasgow Green, concerts by acts including Green Day at Bellahouston Park, and six huge gigs at Hampden Park (cap. 58,000).

Glasgow is one of the key live music markets in the UK, with an impressive musical heritage that includes Gerry Cinnamon, Simple Minds, Primal Scream, Texas, Lewis Capaldi, Teenage Fanclub, and Belle and Sebastian.

DF owns Glasgow’s renowned King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (300) and is a prominent player across the city at venues big and small, but its work stretches throughout Scotland. In Edinburgh this summer it is working on the revived Connect Music Festival (15,000), which will take place from 26-28 August at the Royal Highland Centre. In June it launched a new series of Big Top shows at the same venue, and in August it has the Summer Sessions at Princes Street Gardens with shows by acts including Tom Jones and Simple Minds.

DF’s extraordinary spread of outdoor events is far from limited to Scotland’s two main cities; among its many shows further north have been two dates by The Killers at Falkirk Stadium and, in June, it launched the Summer Sessions in Dundee’s Slessor Gardens. “We are all very tired and we are only halfway through the summer,” says DF Concerts CEO Geoff Ellis. “There is a strain on personnel, but it is great to be back out working on so many events.”

With so much content coming through Scottish venues, the promoter says event professionals across the country are taking a proactive approach to problem solving: “We had Green Day at Bellahouston Park and Kings of Leon at the OVO Hydro (14,300) on the same day so we had to bring the load-in forward a couple of hours at the Hydro so the crew could do both events.

“People are being understanding and accommodating, everyone knows we are all stretched and trying to achieve a lot.”

The collaborative efforts have extended to sharing infrastructure and staging at events, which not only helps address some of the challenges around the supply chain but is a considerable step forward in making shows more environmentally friendly.

Ellis says the same stage was used for all the promoter’s six stadium shows at Hampden Park and it worked with AEG Presents to share some of its infrastructure and the pitch cover for the promoter’s two Ed Sheeran shows at the venue.

“People are being understanding and accommodating, everyone knows we are all stretched and trying to achieve a lot.” – Geoff Ellis

He says the industry would benefit from continuing with that collaborative approach once the supply chain issues have subsided: “There is no reason why people can’t share stages, particularly when you have a good stage that has good sight lines. There are lots of different stages but to have a general stage with the same general spec and load-in for production; that is something the industry must look at more and more. It reduces costs and means you can do more shows in a stadium too because you don’t have to spend the time dismantling the stage. Stadium availability is at a premium, their windows are small in the summer so the more infrastructure sharing there is the more tours can go into stadiums.”

When it comes to ticket sales, Ellis says that while there is a pattern of later-than-usual purchases, overall sales are strong despite the delayed reopening in Scotland not having helped matters: “It meant it took longer to get going again because when you are opening up and closing down again that’s not good for public confidence. It has taken longer in Scotland for people to feel it’s okay to go back to an event again, but now we have hit the summer it is really bouncing back.”

Among the leading concert promoters in Edinburgh is Regular Music, which promotes around 200 shows per year, including the Castle Concerts series at Edinburgh Castle (8,450). Among the acts to play there this year include The Script, Texas and Elbow.

Despite being based in Edinburgh, around 70% of Regular Music’s shows are staged in Glasgow. For the seventh year, Regular is running its Summer Nights shows at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park, which this year involves a 14-night run including sold-out shows by Pixies, Happy Mondays, Belinda Carlisle and Van Morrison.

Regular Music’s John Stout says the sheer number of events taking place across Scotland this year has meant it is an incredibly competitive market at a time when consumer spending power is waning. Despite the challenges, the promoter’s business is holding up well.

“We are looking at a good year but I know some people’s shows are struggling,” he says. “For a lot of people this year will be a bumpy ride, and that may continue into 2023. In 2023 and 2024 show numbers are shaping up well, so it is certainly not all doom and gloom.”

Stout was impressed by the level of Government support throughout the lockdown period. With the pandemic wreaking havoc, the industry formed the Scottish Commercial Music Taskforce which went on to forge a stronger relationship with Government. Both Regular and DF were among the founding members.

Stout says an ongoing concern is the impact of the pandemic on grassroots talent: “There was a lot of time lost for artists and they needed the live income. It would be good to see further support for artists to help them create new material and get back out on the road. We don’t want to see that impacting in two or three years’ time when perhaps there are not as many artists coming through. Without new artists there is no industry.”

“It’s been a very exciting year to come back and work towards an event but it’s probably the most challenging yet.” – Dougie Brown

Highland spirit

Inverness-based Dougie Brown is the event producer at Kilimanjaro Live-owned Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, and co-owner and promoter of The Gathering Festival.

Brown has worked on the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival since 2005 and seen it grow from a 1,500-capacity event to hosting 25,000. He launched The Gathering in 2019. Located in Northern Meeting Park in the centre of Inverness, the one-day festival has a capacity of 6,000 and last took place in May.

The biggest festival in the Highlands, Belladrum takes place at the Belladrum Estate in Kiltarlity near Inverness. This year’s 28-30 July event will involve headliners including Nile Rodgers, Van Morrison, Emilie Sande and Sam Ryder.

“I came to Belladrum as a punter in the first year and fell in love with it,” says Brown. “Over the years I have worked on everything from artist liaison to the management of press to taking over the event’s production and programming.”

He works closely with event manager Lesley Strang and the team at Kilimanjaro to produce the event. The DEAG-owned promoter purchased the festival in 2018, having helped to programme the festival for the previous eight years.

Brown says that the support from London-based Kilimanjaro complements the core team’s local knowledge: “Every successful festival across the UK has a unique identity and local knowledge is key to maintaining that, especially when you are in the Highlands.” While the Highlands attracts around 12.5 million tourists each year, who collectively spend £1.5 billon, according to VisitScotland, Brown says the vast majority of Belladrum’s audience are from the surrounding area: “The demographic hasn’t changed much since year one – around 70% of the audience is Highlands and islands-based.”

While Belladrum is on the verge of selling out, Brown says faltering consumer confidence resulting from the soaring cost of living has impacted sales for May’s The Gathering: “There is definitely a huge appetite to get back out to events, but I think the combination of the cost of living crisis, mixed with the saturation of the festival market, is having an impact – there’s only so much money in people’s pockets.

“The number of shows taking place this summer is just incredible. It’s been a very exciting year to come back and work towards an event but it’s probably the most challenging yet.”

Director of Edinburgh-based promoter and producer EE Live, Simon McGrath co-founded Terminal V festival in 2017 with Derek Martin. Around 2,000 people attended the inaugural event, which now takes place twice a year – with a two-day, 20,000-capacity, festival at Easter and a one-day Halloween event for up to 15,000. Both are staged at Edinburgh’s Royal Highland Centre.

McGrath says that although there have been ups and downs along the way, the local authorities have been very supportive of the festival and it is recognised as contributing substantially to the local economy.

“We now drive in attendees from throughout the UK, Ireland and across Europe, and that brings a boost to Edinburgh’s accommodation and hospitality industry. That’s a big plus point, especially after the last two years,” he says.

The Terminal V brand is now being rolled out further afield, with shows planned in European cities including Berlin.

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Productive approach

Among the Scottish shows London-based event production agency We Are The Fair is working on this year is the launch of the 10,000-capacity Otherlands Music & Arts on 19-21 August at Scone Palace, a heritage site located in Perth. The festival is being promoted by Edinburgh-based promoter FLY Events – the team behind the 4,000-capacity bi-annual dance festival FLY Open Air.

The festival will include six stages spread across the grounds of Scone Palace, where Scottish kings including Macbeth and Robert the Bruce were crowned. In more recent years it has hosted events such as the 40,000-capacity Rewind Scotland.

We Are The Fair production head Yasmin Galletti di Cadilhac works on events across the UK and has found the cost of acquiring kit, infrastructure and experienced staff this year to be higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK because the pool of staff and equipment is smaller north of the border.

“We are having to order things like fencing and staging from England, which adds to the cost,” she says. Other differences Galletti di Cadilhac has found in Scotland include the licensing process.

“It is completely different in Scotland,” she says. “There are things called occasional licences for individual bars, and whereas in England you have a 28-day consultation period and once you have a hearing you know if you have the licence, in Scotland you can be given the licence on the day of the event; so there is a higher risk.”

Edinburgh-based festival and live event production specialists Rogue City Productions also work on major outdoor events throughout the UK. In Scotland, its projects include Terminal V. It has also worked with EE Live to launch new festival Out East (6,000), which is due to debut on Scotland’s East Lothian coast in August.

“We soon realised that things weren’t going to be easy on the journey back because there was a shortage of kit and a massive shortage of crew.”  – Shane Grieve

Previously handled in house, the production and site management of this year’s Royal Highland Show is being overseen by Rogue City.

“We have around 400 marquees and 250 cabins on site. That’s a chunky one; there’s a lot to build,” says Rogue City director Shane Grieve. “The Royal Highland Show production has been handled in-house for the past 20 years, but their team was reduced considerably during Covid so they asked us to do it. The show usually takes a year to plan but we only had five months because Omicrom set that back. It is attended by 260,000 people over four days, and the site’s absolutely huge.”

Grieve says that while the Scottish Government’s prolonged closure of the events sector was unhelpful, its move to host Cop 26 in Glasgow last year provided a much-needed boost: “One good thing the Scottish Government did was to host the biggest conference on the planet that year. It was a massive undertaking for a country the size of Scotland, and everyone I knew in the events industry was involved in it in some way.

“Cop 26 helped kickstart the industry but at the same time it was an eye-opener – we soon realised that things weren’t going to be easy on the journey back because there was a shortage of kit and a massive shortage of crew.”

Building momentum

Scotland has no shortage of venues of all shapes and sizes; from lush parkland, stately homes and imposing castles to much-loved theatres and club venues, such as Glasgow’s Barrowlands Ballrooms (1,900).

It also boasts two of the best equipped and modern arenas in the UK – Aberdeen’s P&J Live (15,000) and Scottish Exhibition Centre’s (SEC) OVO Hydro (14,300) in Glasgow.

OVO Hydro

The SEC has played a key role in Glasgow’s live events industry since it hosted its first concert; UB40’s

1985 show in Hall 4. A Simple Minds show there two years later proved another landmark, with the hall becoming the first arena-style venue in the UK to be granted permission to introduce a standing floor.

Since it opened at SEC in 2013, the Hydro has regularly been among the busiest arenas in the world for live events. Just metres away stands

the equally architecturally impressive SEC Armadillo (3,000), with both buildings having been designed by Foster + Partners with a space-age flourish.

Business at the OVO Hydro this year is buoyant, according to SEC director of Live Entertainment Debbie McWilliams. She says the past six months have been among the busiest the venue has ever experienced, with sold-out shows by acts including Billie Eilish, Sam Fender, Diana Ross and Queen + Adam Lambert.

“Tickets are selling, no-show percentages are greatly reduced and are almost back to pre-Covid levels, and despite concerns about the cost of living, fans continue to spend on live events,” she says.

The hugely flexible venue is able to host show formats ranging from a 600-seat theatre layout to a 14,300-capacity mix of standing and seating.

“The tiered design and shape of the OVO Hydro creates a unique intimacy for a venue of its size, along with our flexible draping system that allows us to offer a variety of capacity options for standing/seating and fully seated configurations,” says McWilliams.

SEC not only hosted the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference last year but announced a commitment to become a carbon net zero venue by 2030. It has since become the first arena in the world to be awarded A Greener Arena status.

Aside from the financial benefits of staging the event for the SEC and wider Scottish events industry, McWilliams says it brought sustainability into sharper focus. Cop 26 was ISO20121 Sustainable Management System certified, and SEC used the paperwork for the standard to implement the management system into its full site and operations.

She says another important outcome of COP26 for the events industry was the Net Zero Carbon Events pledge, which attracted hundreds of signatories.

When Aberdeen’s £333 million P&J Live opened in autumn 2019, replacing the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (8,500), the new 15,000-capacity venue not only meant the city was able to offer promoters and artists a far larger ticket sales potential but also cutting-edge facilities.

Named after local newspaper the Press and Journal, following a naming rights deal between venue operator ASM Global and publisher DC Thomson Media, P&J Live is owned by Aberdeen Council.

The venue got off to a flying start with sold-out 2019 shows including BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Michael Buble’s only Scottish 2019 tour dates; two all-seated 10,000 capacity shows. It also holds the record for Scotland’s largest indoor arena show standing audience, with 15,000 people at a Gerry Cinnamon concert in November 2019.

P&J Live entertainment sales manager Ross Allerton says the venue was designed to offer promoters a wide choice of show formats, from 3,000-capacity upwards, via a “touch-of-a-button” retractable seating system.

Rated by sustainable built environment certification system BREEAM as excellent, P&J Live incorporates an energy centre that creates power from food and garden waste from around Aberdeen. The rubbish is digested in an onsite anaerobic plant and the resulting hydrogen gas is harvested and used to power the energy centre which supplies heating, cooling and power to the arena and nearby hotels.

P&J Live may be the most northern arena in the UK but Allerton says its location is an advantage: “Its geographical position opens artists up to a relatively untapped population that extends from the central belt all the way up to the Highlands and islands of Scotland. Music fans were having to travel three hours minimum down to the central belt to see global acts previously, which just isn’t feasible every time a show is on.”

Edinburgh remains one of the few major cities in the UK to not have an arena venue, but that may be about to change. The Birmingham-based NEC Group, which operates the Resorts World Arena (cap. 15,685) and Utilita Arena Birmingham (15,800), is partnering with leisure and sports consultancy Lothian Leisure Development (LLD) to build the 8,000-capacity Edinburgh International Arena in Straiton, five miles outside the city centre. Construction is expected to begin this year.

There is already a hugely flexible option for promoters looking to stage shows near Edinburgh. The Royal Highland Centre (RHC) is the home of the Royal Highland Show and an increasing number of large-scale concerts and festivals. Among the many live music shows this year are Connect Festival, Terminal V, The Hot Dub Time Machine, gigs by acts including Rage Against The Machine, and DF’s Big Top series that included gigs by Madness, 50 Cent, James and Biffy Clyro.

Located in Ingliston, RHC offers a range of spaces including the South Arena (40,000), West Arena (20,000), Highland Hall (8,000) and Lowland Hall (6,000).

“We have got more live music this year than ever,” says Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland CEO Alan Laidlaw.

He says promoters are appreciating the results of a recent multi-million-pound investment in the RHC’s facilities: “It is a plug-and-play ready venue that’s hugely flexible.

“Scottish weather isn’t as kind as we would like so to have the mixture of spaces works really well. DF used the West Arena for its Big Top series. To have 50,000 people on site on the Saturday of the Royal Highland Show and a sell-out Biffy Clyro show the same day, with no issues, shows how much space and what a professional team we have.”

Supply and demand

Scotland has not been immune to the industry-wide supply chain issues resulting from a combination of huge demand, rising costs and a shortage of manpower and materials.

With some of its regular suppliers caught up in other projects, including The Open, DF Concerts is working with some new suppliers this year, and Ellis is happy with the results so far. Among them are Glasgow-based Loc Hire and Gap Hire Solutions, and Perth’s Scotloo.

“We are welcoming some new suppliers into the rock and roll industry and hopefully they will stay,” he says.

EE Live’s Simon McGrath says it is usually possible to use suppliers based in Scotland for around 90% of his festivals’ requirements, with the remainder being resourced from south of the border.

For Otherlands, We Are The Fair is working with Edinburgh-based Five Star Group, which comprises four divisions including event crew, security and projects; with the latter supplying temporary structures and rigging services.

For Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival and The Gathering Festival, Brown says Inverness-based Limelight Event Services play a key role: “They have grown in tandem with Belladrum and they provide full production and set-up for The Gathering. On Belladrum, they provide full production, PA and lighting for the main stage as well as lighting on the second and third stages.”

Qdos Event Hire may be headquartered in Surrey, but its reach extends into Scotland via a depot in Newmains near Glasgow. Qdos has been busy working across Scotland on some of this year’s biggest events, including The Open, Women’s Scottish Open, Women’s Open, Royal Highland Show and many of DF Concerts’ shows.

“This is the busiest June and July in Scotland I can recall. We have been inundated with work, which is great following the challenges we have all faced over the last couple of years,” says Scotland regional manager Jonathan Reid.

He says Qdos’ work on The 150th Open involved the supply of cabins, modular buildings, ticket offices, anti-vandal and anti-doping units, hospitality units and storage containers – around 400 units in total. It added 40 units to its fleet this year, especially for the contract with The R&A. Reid says he has a long-standing relationship with both The R&A and DF Concerts but with The Open being bigger than ever this year and demand being huge across the board, something had to give: “We’re doing a huge run of stadium shows with DF this year; including The Killers, Harry Styles, Coldplay, Gerry Cinnamon, The Eagles and Calvin Harris. While our involvement with TRNSMT this year isn’t as much as we’d like, due to our contractual commitments with The R&A, we’re pleased to still be supplying a large number of toilets.”

Earlier this year infrastructure specialists GL events acquired multi-service specialist Field & Lawn, which has a base near Edinburgh. The combined operation has seen a significant rise in business in Scotland, and GL’s new contract with the European Tour Group to deliver temporary infrastructure for the Scottish Open, over the next four years, has seen the UK Group’s revenue from Scottish events double.

GL events has worked with The R&A as a supplier of temporary infrastructure to The Open since 2013. Among the items it provided this year were TV Towers, grandstand seats and a double-deck player’s lounge. Field & Lawn’s key Scottish clients include the Royal Highland Agricultural Society, St Andrews University, Scotland RFU and Archerfield House.

GL events UK CEO Scott Jameson says the company invested heavily in its rental fleet in preparation for the 2022 season, both in terms of structures and seating. Meanwhile, Field & Lawn MD Nicholas Radcliffe says it is using temporary distribution depots at additional locations in Scotland this year in order to operate as efficiently as possible.

Says Jameson, “2022 has been a year like no other, following on from a couple of other years like no other”.