Since launching London-based Kilimanjaro Live in 2008 as a live music promoting business, Stuart Galbraith has evolved and expanded his operation both geographically and in terms of the breadth of entertainment interests.

His recently launched KMJ Entertainment operation is a multi-armed live entertainment beast representing no less than 16 companies, including promoters Killi Live, Regular Music, FORM, ShowPlanr, and Singular Artists; spoken word producers Fane and How To Academy; theatrical companies Flying Music and JAS Theatricals; ticket companies Gigantic and; festivals Belladrum Tartan Heart, Let’s Rock and Pennfest; exhibition venue Arches London Bridge and production company Kontour. Owned by Berlin-based Deutsche Entertainment AG, KMJ Entertainment has interests throughout the UK and Ireland that collectively sell around 4 million tickets per year.

Here, Galbraith offers insights on the big issues, including how the outdoor live events sector is performing very differently to its indoor counterpart, KMJ’s continued expansion plans, and how the grassroots live music sector needs urgent help across the entire ecosystem.

You have expanded the business far beyond live music in recent years, does it remain a core focus?

In terms of strategy, the ambition, and certainly the delivery over the last few years has been to broaden the base of the business. We’re happy with the way that’s going. We basically still have a core rock and pop music business, and we still promote artists at all levels, whether that be Ed Sheeran, Sam Fender, Andrea Bocelli, Don Broco and a whole slew of others. Our music offering was extended and consolidated by the setting up of Singular during the pandemic, and we’re certainly promoting more and more shows in Ireland and Northern Ireland. A year and a half ago we acquired Regular Music, we have continued to do everything with Killi Live, and we also have a significant shareholding in FORM. We are now the second biggest promoter in Scotland, and the third biggest promoter in Ireland. Obviously, we’ve got the Belladrum festival in Scotland, and we have UK Live which runs Penn Festival and the Let’s Rock touring festival. We’ve added to that having bought a great little company called ShowPlanr, which is working in the older audience area at the Civic Theatre level. Music is very much the core, and we are happy with it. We’re busy, and we are continuing to look at options for expanding.

“We are now the second biggest promoter in Scotland, and the third biggest promoter in Ireland.”

Ed Sheeran. (Photo: Ralph Larmann)


With the margins in live music, and especially outdoor events, having become increasingly slim in recent years, is that part of the motivation for KMJ’s diversification?

It’s part of the reason but it’s also the fact that we were seeing good solid business opportunities in growth areas, and we can apply the management skill sets to those new areas. Consumer-facing public exhibitions is a very good example. We spent several years looking for what we thought was the right location and venue in central London, having identified that London really doesn’t have a venue for commercial exhibits, whether it be immersive art, artefact exhibitions or visitor attractions. There are many tours that you see play major cities around the world that were not coming to London. So we’re very happy to take what we’ve learnt over the years and apply that to a new venue in the exhibition space.

Are you looking to open other exhibition venues?

No. The Arches is an open venue, we are happy to rent it to anybody. It just so happens that the first project in there, we also produced. For Elvis, we did the deal with Graceland to get those artefacts brought to London. There is room in the marketplace for more venues in London but it took us five years to find The Arches. If there was a pool of property that was just readily accessible other people would have been doing it much quicker. It’s a growth area but the difficulty is finding the right venue in the right location.

So, which entertainment areas are the priorities for investment at the moment?

The priority is across the entire portfolio because the elements come with different benefits and different risk exposure. The company was founded out of music, and music will always be central to what we do. It’s brilliant we can still actively be a market participant in the music sector because it gives us profile and our staff huge benefits and enjoyment.

“It has become less of an obvious benefit to own your own gear.”

What led to the launch of the umbrella company KMJ Entertainment?

It was really just to provide clarification both internally and externally. Killi was known as the overall group, but its trading activity is rock and pop music. We felt we needed to give a clearer definition of what the group was, and a clearer definition as to what each company within the group was doing.

Two of your companies have partnered with Party In The Park in Scotland to work collectively on the one event, which makes a lot of sense bearing in mind the tough market conditions out there. When you acquired UK Live you talked about the benefits of them owning a lot of their own infrastructure. In what ways are you working smartly to cope with the challenges?

There are two very different aspects of the live music sector at the moment; indoors and outdoors. Everything that we have on sale indoors we’re comfortable with, there’s nothing that is struggling. I can’t remember the last time that we were in that position, where we literally have nothing that we’re concerned about indoors. Outdoors is a tale of two different strands. There are some things that are doing very well, and some aspects of outdoors that are really tough at the moment. The costs associated with outdoor shows have escalated more than the cost increases indoors. Also, there are now too many outdoor music-based events in the UK. The competition is way too high. The combination of the costs and the competition led us to come to the decision that we made in Scotland, where we had a discussion with Party At The Palace. We have a well-established Let’s Rock product and they have a well-established Party At The Palace product, but the costs on each were escalating to the point where it was becoming very hard work, so we came up with the idea of combining the two.

“There are now too many outdoor music-based events in the UK. The competition is way too high.”

Did UK Live’s owned infrastructure come into play?

There’ll be elements of UK Live’s infrastructure that will be in there but part of the issue with outdoor events is the huge cost escalations we are seeing across areas including labour, storage, transportation and diesel. It has become less of an obvious benefit to own your own gear because it now costs so much to move it around. You need to look at it very, very carefully. While we do use some of our own gear, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to move it all away from Reading to Inverness and Edinburgh when it’s cheaper to rent locally.

Belladrum Festival

What are the latest developments with Belladrum?

Bella came back in 2022 brilliantly, and then 2023 was our most successful year ever. We certainly had some traffic issues last year, so we’ve completely redone our traffic and car parking plan. I’m confident, and very hopeful, that the issues we had last year will be addressed and sorted out this year. Bella is established and it’s doing very well, it was just shy of selling out last year and we’ll do a similar level of business this year. I always describe Belladrum as being a ‘festival in the highlands run by highlanders for highlanders’. Our festival office is in Inverness and the people that run it have been involved with it for over 15 years. Very few people come to it from Glasgow and Edinburgh, it draws people from the highlands and its look, feel and atmosphere are absolutely unique. The strategy with Belladrum is not to stand still, there are new things that go into it every year. There’s a different theme for the audience every year, and we’re consistently and constantly changing things. Last year, we moved the main stage to a new location, which worked brilliantly by enabling more people to stand in front of it.

There are widespread concerns about the precarious state of the talent pipeline. What are your views on the current situation the grassroots end of the industry finds itself in?

I am concerned. One of the things that Killi prides itself on is that the vast majority of acts that we work with, we began working with very early on in their careers. Take the longest serving example of that; I did my first show with Simply Red at Manchester International on 15 June 1985. Steve Tilley did his first show with Ed Sheeran at the Scala. There are literally hundreds of other examples. I think that the solution though is not necessarily a levy, there are some very big impediments to that. We need to make sure that any industry support looks not just at venue operators, but bands, PA and trucking companies, crew – all of whom are trying to work at that level and finding it more and more difficult. I don’t think a statutory levy is viable or would solve the issue, but many of us within the industry are now talking and I do think we’re going to come up with a solution.

What form is that solution likely to take?

There is a desire across the industry to come up with a scheme that would help every aspect of that ecosystem but, equally, politically there are other ways that the sector can be supported. I think one of the biggest wins that the sector can have would be to have a Culture Secretary and a Treasury department at government which recognise the extreme issues that are taking place, and, as is the case in many countries around the world, give some support to the sector. That could be in the way of either business rates abolition, or indeed the establishment of a lower rate of VAT for the grassroots level.