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Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith discusses the strategy behind its parent company DEAG’s acquisition of Let’s Rock and Penn Festival (cap. 10,000) promoter UK LIVE.

Earlier this month, Kilimanjaro Live and Gigantic Tickets-owner Deutsche Entertainment AG (DEAG) announced it had acquired a 90% stake in promoter UK Live, owner of 1980s music festival brand Let’s Rock and events including the Penn Festival. It has also promoted concerts by acts including Craig David, Kim Wilde, Rick Astley and the Kaiser Chiefs.

Founded by Nick Billinghurst and Matt Smith in 2009, UK Live has invested in its own infrastructure, including staging and marquees. Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith (pictured) says the company’s ability to provide its own infrastructure was a key attraction, that and the fact the duo had developed the Let’s Rock festival brand to the extent that its 14 annual events collectively attract an attendance of 300,000.

“One of the key advantages Let’s Rock will have, particularly this year as we head into a busy period for festivals at the end of the season, is that it does not rely heavily on external suppliers,” says Galbraith. “Because Let’s Rock has developed over a period of 10 years and because it plays 14 different sites on consecutive weekends, they’ve bought their own stage, PA, lights, video screens – and this year we’re buying our own toilets – so those supply issues that are potentially going to affect other festivals will not be a problem for Let’s Rock. It’s similar to a touring circus model; the package just rolls into each town.”

In the past, during the winter period the equipment goes into storage but Galbraith says that under DEAG’s ownership there will be a concerted effort to use it on indoor events during the period. With the intention to expand activity at each of Let’s Rock’s festival sites, the equipment will also be used on more outdoor shows.

Billinghurst and Smith, who have stayed on board as shareholders and will continue to manage the company in the long term, recently met with Galbraith to discuss launching events using the same sites and infrastructure as Let’s Rock, which takes place on Saturdays.

“When the pandemic came along, we figured that there was one of two things that we could do; we could either batten down the hatches and literally say ‘ring us when it’s over and we will emerge out of our bunker’ or we can really go for it. We chose the latter.”

“We are having discussions about developing Friday Night Live as a festival brand, which would use the Let’s Rock event sites on the Fridays, and adding in another show, Sunday Sessions, the day after Let’s Rock,” he says.

Due to the pandemic and delayed Step 4 of the prime minister’s conditional reopening roadmap, Galbraith says the Let’s Rock schedule has been severely impacted with five of the events cancelled while others have been postponed to later in the year: “Let’s Rock usually runs every weekend from early May through to mid-September but there aren’t enough weekends in the year remaining to run everything that we want to this year.

“Festivals in Newport, Essex, Kent, Belfast and Dublin have had to be postponed to 2022. The Dublin and Belfast events were particular difficult to plan this year because obviously the release of lockdown is behind even the English roadmap and those events just aren’t going to be able to happen this summer under current regulations.

“We’ve rescheduled everything that we can towards the end of the summer.”

The acquisition is the result of two years of talks between DEAG and UK Live, and is the latest in a succession of acquisitions of UK businesses by the Berlin-based pan-European promoter, venue operator and ticketing conglomerate.

It follows the purchase of a majority in Gigantic in December 2019, with DEAG having already acquired the promoter The Flying Music Group in 2017 and Belladrum Festival in Scotland in 2018. Kilimanjaro acquired a stake in Collective Form Ltd earlier this year, and DEAG strengthened its market position further in the UK and Ireland in the autumn of 2020 by founding the joint venture Singular Artists in Ireland.

Says Galbraith, “We’ve been growing our business by organic growth and by acquisition over the last five years, and when the pandemic came along, we figured that there was one of two things that we could do, we could either batten down the hatches and literally say ‘ring us when it’s over and we will emerge out of our bunker’ or we can really go for it. We chose the latter.

During pandemic we announced the formation and opening of Singular Artists and the opening of the Dublin office. Once the Irish market gets going again that’ll be an operational hive of activity – we already have two shows on sale at 3Arena in Dublin and many more to come once that marketplace opens up.”

While the immediate focus will be on working with UK Live to grow the UK business, Galbraith says international expansion of the Let’s Rock brand is very much a long-term consideration: “That’s probably for 2023 and beyond, 2022 is going to be about just consolidating, getting back into the UK marketplace after an absence of two years, and solidifying everything again. If we are to go out into Europe it would need a duplication, because at this point in time the infrastructure for Let’s Rock and UK lLve is utilised every single weekend of the summer.”