This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Steve Strange, partner, X-ray Touring.
Steve Strange’s roots are as a popular Belfast-based musician prior to becoming one of the most respected booking agents in UK music history.
Among his booking clients at X-Ray Touring in London are Eminem, Coldplay, Chance the Rapper, Snow Patrol, Queens of the Stone Age, Jimmy Eat World, Kodaline, and Bright Eyes.
As well, his Strange World Management’s clients include Lightning Seeds, Last in Line Wayward Sons, FM, Equador, Sweet Savage, Sweethead, Toseland, and Toby Jepson. It also co-manages Sheppard with Chugg Music in Australia.
Born in Lisburn near Belfast in 1968, Strange was raised in Carrickfergus in nearby County Antrim. At 11, after his cousin took him to see UFO at Ulster Hall in Belfast, his love of hard rock developed
With Strange deciding to become a musician, his father bought him a drum kit the following year, and he played in several local bands. He then joined the popular Irish band No Hot Ashes in 1985, two years after it had formed.
After signing a record deal with Pye Records’ affiliated GWR Records in 1988, No Hot Ashes members relocated to London; but with no recording released, the band called it a day in 1990.
Strange, however, had stayed on in London. After working on building sites for about a year, he was hired on at Siren Artist Management. After 10 months there, he next became an agent at the Bron Agency, and then Prestige Artists before returning to Northern Ireland to work for Irish promoter MCD/Wonderland overseeing bookings at The Limelight club.
Returning again to London 14 months later, he joined the F.A.B. Agency which was followed by working with John Giddings at the Solo Music Agency for 18 months, and then in 1997, he came onboard Fair Warning/Wasted Talent which morphed into Helter Skelter.
In 2005, Strange, Ian Huffam, Scott Thomas, Jeff Craft, and Martin Horne launched the independently-owned X-ray Touring.
In 2017, X-ray Touring formed a pivotal joint venture partnership with U.S.-based Paradigm Talent Agency, and investment firm Yucaipa. Paradigm had an existing partnership with London-based Coda Agency, which in turn formed an affiliation with UK full-service talent agency Independent Talent Group (ITG), a Yucaipa partner.
Today over 500 acts are shared globally between X-ray Touring, Coda Agency, and the Paradigm Talent Agency.
You are 50?
I will be 51 in April. I’m in my 50th year. Past the first century, and into the last century.
At the Commencement address in 2005 at Stanford University delivered by the late Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, he said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Now that you are in midlife do you reflect back on the amazing things you’ve done in your career?
Yeah, I don’t take anything for granted. I am very proud of some of the achievements that I have been part of over the years, yeah. I reflect on those things regularly. You have to be grounded in this business. At the end of the day, you have to appreciate what a blessed industry that we are in. I thoroughly enjoy my work. The way I gauge it is that I don’t have a job where I look at the clock for the last two hours of the day. Reading the clock at a certain time. Our jobs are our lives, and I’m very happy for that to be the case.
Would you consider going on the road with a band again?
Maybe the odd show here and there, but not to any full degree.
So, on the road once more with No Hot Ashes?
We do the odd thing every so often. We did a couple of festivals last year….
C’mon, after a long hiatus, the band reformed in 2013 for what was supposed to be a one-off charity gig; and then went on to support Aerosmith, Foreigner, FM, and UFO as well as playing Hard Rock Hell AOR, Download, London Calling, Ramblin’ Man and Steelhouse, Rockingham, and the Frontiers Rock Festival.
No, Hot Ashes was a band that I was in from 1985 to 1988. We reformed the band for a bit of fun really because there was a legendary club in Belfast called the Rosetta Bar, and it was closing down. It was more of a remembrance of the venue. really. We reformed for that, and it went so well we felt, “We may as well do a few more of these.” So that is what we ended up doing.
(In September 2013 No Hot Ashes played a tribute gig for Belfast’s famous Rosetta Bar, The Rosie, the cornerstone of Northern Ireland’s rock and metal scene from the early ‘80s.)
No Hot Ashes’ bassist Paul Boyd died of cancer January 17th, 2017.
Yes, he did. Oh gripes, he did. It was very sad. He’s been gone now nearly two years. It was very sad to have him go. His 50th birthday, you know.
Over the decades, the role of an agent hasn’t really changed. The job is to find work for clients. What has changed is the business around them.
No argument. there. The landscape has definitely changed around us, but everything has to evolve in any capacity. Everything in life evolves. It’s good to experiment with new technology. The difference is between where we were in1990 before the Internet, and everything else. Years ago you would get 30 faxes in a day, and you were the king of the castle. Now that’s been replaced with 500 emails.
You had joined what became Helter Skelter in 1997, but in 2005, you, Jeff Craft, Ian Huffam from Helter Skelter, and ITB’s Martin Horne and Scott Thomas shocked the UK music world by forming a new independently-owned agency, X-ray Touring. Was the fact that your contracts were coming up for renewal one of the reasons why some of you left Helter Skelter?
Yeah, our contracts had all come to an end, and because we had all signed at the same time our contracts ended up expiring at the same time. It (leaving) was just from discussions that we had with people. Some didn’t want to renew their contract. I was asked if I would like to be part of it (X-ray Touring) and I said, “Yes.” Part of the (Helter Skelter) office that I sat in was where Jeff Craft and Ian Huffam sat as well. So that was my area. I would have been left there all by myself.
(One of the biggest industry shake-ups UK music, X-ray Touring combined leading agents from Helter Skelter and International Talent Booking, and amassed a roster that included Coldplay, Eminem, Gomez, the Polyphonic Spree, the Pixies, P.J. Harvey, the Breeders, Robbie Williams, Moby, Green Day, Outkast, Nick Cave, Stereophonics, Black Eyed Peas, the Mars Volta, and Wyclef Jean.)
How long were you at Helter Skelter?
Eight years, I think. It was Fair Warning/Wasted Talent when I joined. ICM owned the company. Then we bought the company back. With Sanctuary’s money (from The Sanctuary Group) we bought the company back from ICM and changed the name to Helter Skelter.
I remember Sanctuary Group’s CEO Merck Mercuriadis being at Virgin Music Canada in Toronto as an A&R and marketing director when he was only 19.
I knew him when he started at Sanctuary at the very beginning. I was doing a band for him in 1990. That’s how far back I go with him.
Ian Huffam was the first to leave Helter Skelter?
He left shortly before, yes. He left shortly before me. I think that there was a three weeks difference in our contracts and that why it was a little scattered. Jeff and Ian went around the same time.
Jeff started out as a booker for both Cowbell and Derek Block before joining Fair Warning/Wasted Talent as an agent in 1984. He has since retired.
He has retired, yes indeed. A man of leisure these days. He was looking forward to that leading up to it for at least a couple of years. He had made his mind up. He obviously has enough money to be able to do that. God bless him for it. He’s enjoying life. He’s very relaxed. He’s come in and seen us a few times over the period. He has always been a very favorable character in my book. I love Jeff. He’s great.
In 2017, X-ray Touring entered into a strategic partnership with the Paradigm Talent Agency, joining fellow UK outfit Coda Music Agency, acquired in 2014, as the second British partner of the American full-service powerhouse. Coda Agency also formed an affiliation with UK full-service talent agency Independent Talent Group (ITG), a Yucaipa partner. What is the strength of the 3-way alliance?
It’s a fantastic alliance of companies. We are proud to be partners with the Paradigm umbrella. I spend a lot of time in Los Angeles. I work out of their office. I have an office within the Paradigm building. I think it’s great because it gives us a global reach of the complete scene.
In the face of the touring business contracting, and consolidating, was it a matter of doing this affiliation rather than being taken over by another agency? It’s difficult being a boutique agency today when clients expect to work globally as well as expecting to be represented in so many different parts of their career.
Yes, it is, and I think that’s where…it also gives us many more income streams to tap into as well have a branding department. Having a TV/Lit department, having the movie department of the agency as well. It’s all very handy to have. It’s great extra things to have to offer to an artist when needed.
As a full-service agency Paradigm Talent Agency has a big footprint in film, TV, theatre, and the literary world which may provide X-ray clients with increased career opportunities. It’s a game changer with respect to what your artists are able to be a part of, and can experience under the Paradigm umbrella. All of the different divisions, different agents with different specialties—it’s really extraordinary coverage for your clients. Before this alliance did you have clients seeking expanded services?
To be really honest, it never really happened to me. There was every potential that it was going to. I think that ultimately that I fully benefit from all these different areas that I can tap into. It’s been a pleasure getting to know some of the people in the Paradigm office. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to the various departments and getting my head around what they do, and who’s the “go to” is in certain situations. There are already some things in play where some of these departments are being utilized by us.
With this alliance, are you still able to work with outside agents as you have with Robby Fraser at WME Entertainment over the years?
Well, I’ve got a great relationship with Robby. We share clients. We share Queens of the Stone Age. We share Refused, and Echo & the Bunnymen. So we are doing three acts together. I get on great with my competitors.
So you can go outside?
Of course, yeah. I do a lot of work with Cara Lewis (of Cara Lewis Group). She’s fantastic. I really like Cara. We do a lot together. We share Chance the Rapper. We do Eminem together. She’s been a friend, and a great colleague to work with over the years. We work well together.
What new groups are you working with?
Well, I am working with this artist NAV with Cara. We are looking after Lil Dickie (aka David Burd) a comedian who is doing quite well. He’s a rapper as well. So that’s going good. I’ve just recently taken on City and Colour which you will probably know being that you are from Toronto. Three very new acts, Emotional Oranges, which are fantastic, Moontower, plus my newest signing, Patrick Martin.
You split Coldplay with Marty Diamond (East Coast head of the Paradigm Talent Agency’s Music Department). He has the band for North America, and you have them for the rest of the world?
Yeah. I book the world outside North America, and Marty has them inside North America. I book them from Mexico on, really.
You first saw Coldplay in a London club with about 50 people after a publicist persuaded you to come out?
Yeah, it was the original press officer, before they signed with Parlophone Records, who put me onto them a long time ago. That’s correct, yeah. And they were amazing. Even back then they were a force to be reckoned with. As soon as I heard “Shiver,” “Trouble and “Yellow” you knew that this was something very special going on here.
Why didn’t your booking agreement with Coldplay cover America?
As international agents, we really don’t book the States. None of our company does. We are international agents though. I actually introduced Marty to Phil Harvey, who was their manager at the time. Marty came across to see them at the V Festival (sponsored by Virgin Media). It has been a great relationship with Marty over the years. We work well together with him.
You booked Coldplay’s “A Head Full of Dreams Tour” (2016-17) which reached 3.6 million fans, and you got to watch Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California in a box seat with actor John Travolta, and the governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper. How cool is that?
That was crazy that. It was. I think it was (CEO of the Oak View Group) Tim Leiweke’s box.
Did you pinch yourself?
It was surreal.
The timing of the Paradigm Talent Agency alliance, leading up to Brexit, was somewhat perfect. The affiliation makes X-ray Talent bulletproof to some degree because it provides further international opportunities, and increased expansion.
Brexit is definitely something that is a touchy subject for anyone due to border control, and the currency situations. A lot of bands are finding it hard to be able to come, and tour Europe now because they compare their budgets and their airfares against the dollar rates that they were getting before, and they are not getting anywhere close to as much because the starting equivalent is killing them.
Yes. Most of my roster, a lot of my roster tends to be American. A large percentage of my acts.
It has been said that for Americans the bottom has dropped out of touring Europe in terms of fees.
For American artists, the current change of exchange rate has made it much more difficult for them to budget these days.
Britain has only weeks left, perhaps, as a member of the European Union. Or maybe not. Staying weeks, months, even years longer is up in the air. Or having a no deal or a soft deal or a hard deal. Without an extension, the UK will formally leave the EU on March 29th at 11pm UK time (midnight in Brussels). Eventually, the clouds will clear.
Personally, I voted to stay in, and most people I know think the same. I personally like to be part of the EU. It’s better for the economy and I think just being part of that whole strategy. I was gutted when the vote went the other way. I really was.
Surely the uncertainty of Brexit is holding up things because people are waiting for the other shoe to drop are they not?
Pretty much. It is still relatively unclear to what the overall devastation will be.
With Brexit looming have people been scared of coming to the UK because they aren’t sure what’s going on?
I personally haven’t encountered any problem yet. Certainly, from my perspective, it really hasn’t had that effect on me for sure. It could do in the future. Who knows? As you said a minute ago, we just need to let the smoke clear and see how this thing all turns out. There are a lot of complications with it.
There’s a lot of uncertainty leading up to it. The music industry and entertainment do not like uncertainty, nor do investors.
You have a point there. People are being cautious. I think that it’s going to affect not just the music business, but everything
Do you recall past cross-border issues in terms of equipment, and the whole customs situation? Back before the EU, it was at the discretion of the customs officials whether or not they wanted to inspect a band’s van. They could order truck drivers to unload their trucks while they identified everything. Do you remember that?
Oh, of course. Carnets and everything had to be done. Absolutely.
(UK Music is taking a delegation of senior MPs and music business leaders to SXSW 2019 to discuss how to maintain the UK’s music industry after Brexit.
Chaired by UK Music CEO Michael Dugher, the panel is slated to include Conservative MP Damian Collins, chair of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee; Labour MP Julie Elliott MP Peter Leathem (CEO, PPL); Nigel Elderton (Chair, PRS for Music); and Vanessa Reed (CEO, PRS Foundation).
The event will take place on March 12th from 4.30pm to 5.30pm, at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 in Austin.)
The UK music market itself already seems distressed with venues closing, and some festivals on hiatus. UK Music has called an end to “discrimination” over business rates that could force grassroots music venues to shut. The Hub, one of Plymouth’s biggest live music venues, will close in June due to many of the buildings along Bath Street, Millbay being demolished to redevelop the area. Venues in the UK are suffering now for sure.
Without a doubt. Without a doubt. You are not wrong.
Meanwhile, despite Brits being seemingly mad for summer outdoor music, some festivals are taking a break this year. In the UK, there are an estimated 1,000 festivals. Too many?
There are a huge amount of festivals in Europe these days as well. To be honest, I don’t how some of them survive with the amount of competition that there is. It amazes me that people can afford to go to so many of them, but I am delighted that they can. You have to give a hand to those people.
Many UK festivals have evolved into being multi-faceted events. Bluedot, for example, set against a backdrop of the iconic Lovell Telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Macclesfield, Cheshire; along with the Deer Shed Festival in North Yorkshire both blend music with science, and technology. Not every one of the independent festivals is the Reading Festival. Reading is Reading. As is Leeds being Leeds.
That is very true.
There is also the growth in the UK of numerous urban-based festivals including Liverpool Sound City, The Great Escape, and AEG’s All Points East.
Yeah, that’s true. They are more city festivals than anything else using a lot of different venues that the city has. I love them to death. Live in Leeds
We all work within two separate sectors of the music industry today. One is a cottage industry with people working for small label or management offices or handling their careers DIY from their homes. The other is the broad industry of huge players like Live Nation with a festival portfolio in the UK that includes the Reading, Leeds, and Isle of Wight festivals. Last year, Live Nation acquired Camp Bestival.
If you are routing a tour to Australia would you be considering dates in Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and India as well? Like trying to get Fuji Rock in Japan for Queen of Stone Age when they played Australia? More so probably back when the dollar was stronger, and the tours were making good money, you could really book acts out there.
Generally, when we put something together, we try to tag in Japan and Asia to the best of our abilities as well. Sometimes it just doesn’t work financially. Sometimes you just end up doing Japan, and Australia. Asia can be up and down.
What are the international markets that should be watched for future touring? China obviously.
Yeah, and India has opened up quite a lot as well over the past few years. They just got Spotify there. I’ve done a few bits and pieces there. Coldplay did the Global Citizen Festival fairly recently. There’s a lot more activity in India than there was. They are starting to get Westernized in the sense of production, and everything else now. So it’s definitely a changing market.
Could it be a two-way street with more Bollywood artists like A R Rahman making headway in the West?
I don’t know how well that would travel, to be honest. I think that the cultural difference and the language are obstacles. Some of those Bollywood acts come to the UK, and you wouldn’t even know that they are playing, and they are selling out in big venues.
The People’s Republic of China’s influence on the global music business is growing, and labels and artist managers are recognizing the potential to engage with a large group of new fans. AEG has played a decisive role in developing the live event industry there. Live Nation not as much.
You no doubt work with promoters Michael Chugg (aka Chuggi) of Chugg Entertainment, and with Michael Gudinski at Frontier Touring in Australia.
I work with all of them. I work with Roger Field, and Michael Coppel as well. I work with Chuggi, and I work with Gundinski and Gerard Schlaghecke, from Frontier (Touring Company). I work with Paul Dainty as well.
Chugg Music, an arm of Chugg Entertainment that provides artist services, including artist management, label services and consulting to primarily domestic artists, has hit its stride with the success of Sheppard, and Lime Cordiale along with Megan Washington, Hey Geronimo, Dappled Cities, Deep Sea Arcade, Major Leagues, the Griswolds and New Zealand’s Avalanche City.
I co-manage Sheppard with him. We have co-managed them pretty much since Chuggi got involved.
I know Strange World Management manages Wayward Sons, FM, Equador, Sweet Savage, Sweethead, Toseland, Toby Jepson. Any others?
I’m managing Lightning Seeds, which is Ian Broudie, and Last in Line which is basically (Northern Irish rock guitarist) Vivian Campbell from Def Leppard. It’s the original Dio band.
Why be a manager, which is hands-on working 24/7, and being available long after the agent has gone home to bed?
I’ve got a partner, Martin Tibbetts, that takes care of a lot of work. He used to be an agent himself many years ago. He was the agent at Solo directly before me.
Did your relationship with Interscope on the back of representing Smash Mouth lead to Eminem being on your radar early on?
It did actually. It was through working with Smash Mouth that I ended up hearing Eminem. Absolutely. Having gone in to meet Martin Kierzenbaum (then Sr. VP of International at Interscope Geffen A&M), and Don Robinson (then International Product Manager) working with both Smash Mouth and Eminem at the time, was perfect timing. They showed me the video for “My Name Is” (from his major-label “The Slim Shady” LP (1999) which was just being released to MTV at the time. I loved it. It was brilliant.
Besides Eminem and Coldplay you have spotted numerous bands early in their careers starting with Ash but also including Lemonheads, Pop Will Eat Itself, Alice In Chains, and the Boo Radley’s. Of course, It really is a joy discovering a young act, taking them on, and then changing their lives.
Yep, it’s a big responsibility but it’s a pleasure to watch something unfold like that in front of you. I’ve never forgotten watching Ash selling out their first L.A. two show with 1,000 people. I remember just standing there being so proud that this was finally happening.
What advice do you give an act when you know that their lives are going to be changed forever? When you yourself know that. You know what’s about to happen. What do you tell them?
It’s on a case by case basis. Different things apply to different artists and different career paths happen. No two set things are the same. I like to build things based on…I’ve always been a big believer of not being overambitious with your venue sizes. In the building part of your career, you need to think about it organically. Those shows should sell out. You shouldn’t leave a question mark in anyone’s head about that. Whenever there’s 70% of the venue sold, people know that there’s 30% of the people not there. And it shows the roof (career ceiling) of the act. I like the underplay. I like the fact that you don’t eclipse levels. Everybody band shouldn’t just appear at Wembley Arena straight away. It’s nice to have some sort of organic build.
A booking agent often has to tell a client, “This is not a realistic fee for this promoter.” To say, “Don’t overprice yourself with this promoter; he might not be there next time around.” If they are successful, they might get that high fee but, particularly an independent promoter, may not survive.
Absolutely right. You are technically representing both sides. For a promoter to survive—I’m not saying that you cut a slack deal–but you cut a fair deal, and a fair deal is what has to be done. At the end of the day, you can charge whatever you like for a ticket, but there are buts. At the same time, you can’t price yourself out of the market. You have to be sensible with the ticket price. You have to be sensible about the venue size that you are going into. And, ultimately, the end result is that you try to sell a show out.
Are most acts and managers agreeable these days to those dynamics?
I think so. I’ve got a group of good managers. I work with some of the best in the world. Paul Rosenberg, John Silva, Peter Mensch, and Dave Holmes. All of those people are very, very good businessmen and they are smart with it (ticket prices and fees). They understand, and they trust me as well. They trust my guidance.
If anyone of those didn’t know a market I know they’d trust your instincts.
To do this job you have to have strategy.
Being a musician in several bands; has that helped you working with your clients in that you have that background, vocabulary, and insight into how musicians think. Has it been helpful?
I honestly think so, yeah. It has been a very valuable box to have ticked. You understand a little bit more of the mechanics of being in a band. Also from a chemistry point, you understand. You get the opportunity to know just what makes a musician tick and have the ability to have them lock into your groove, and just be able to feel that greatness that a musician gets from doing what they do. It has been an invaluable help.
While you can discover a promising new band, you also can likely quickly work out if there are members that are problematical, and that you might not want to work with.
Well, luckily I have never had that problem over the years. I always ended up walking in with good people.
As a music person, you must have been saddened by the closing of the HMV store in Oxford Street in London. It closed along with 27 stores with 455 job losses. The Oxford Street was first opened by Sir Edward Elgar in 1921, but the high rental value and business rates forced its closure along with other prime HMV outlets, including Westfield London.
Yeah, it’s terrible. Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times. It just shows the state of the record industry, especially that physical sales are a thing of the past now. It’s all iTunes and Spotify. You can access so much music in a different way, but music has lost its value. That’s the problem. I always thought that when I bought an album that I was supporting not just the artist but you actually felt that you were purchasing something. You look at your CD collection or your vinyl collection it had an importance and that importance, is starting to disappear because of all of this.
I would imagine that on one of your first visits to London you would have gone to the Virgin and HMV stores on Oxford Street.
Absolutely right. We’d spend hours in the booth room.
You grew up on Rush, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Kiss and Pink Floyd?
Absolutely. I came from a hard rock background. That is what started me, really. Every penny that I got went to my local record shop.
Right. There was a place called Crag Crak. There used to be another that was actually my favorite called Pete’s Place. Pete was blind. He was a remarkable character because he knew absolutely every single bit of vinyl that was in that shop, and he knew how to find everything. It was incredible to watch a blind man being able to look through thousands upon thousands of vinyl discs, and be able to find the correct one immediately. It was pretty sensational.
Betcha, he was a Ted.
(Laughing) I think that he probably was.
Who agrees to buy a drum set when you are 12? Your parents?
Yeah. I tested them so much they had to give in.
Belfast’s place in rock music is often centered on Them with Van Morrison, Eire Apparent, and Stiff Little Fingers. What’s overlooked is how great the scene has been to bring forth the Adventures, Snow Patrol, Ash, and Two Door Cinema Club as well.
I picked up Ash when I had just moved to London. I had put them on one or two bills when I was the promoter at The Limelight in Belfast. When I moved back to London again at that point I promoted for 14 months and then come back again. It was in that period that I discovered Ash and I put them on a couple of supports that I had available with a couple of different bands.
Your career has rebounds all over the place as you seemed unable to figure out if you want to be an agent or promoter or whether to live in London or Belfast. Why did you become an agent rather than a promoter?
I think the agency was always my core business, really. I realized that. I had to go back to Ireland to be honest because I just couldn’t afford to keep living in London. It was not through choice that I went back. I just had to go back, dust myself off, earn a bit of money to come back with to give me a period to build up a roster properly. Luckily, I managed to do that. It sort of went from there.
You first lived in London from ’88 to ’91.
I went over as a musician, and then when No Hot Ashes broke up, I stayed there I met Jon Vyner who helped me. He gave me a start at the Bron Agency through Gerry Bron. Very nice guys.
You only stayed at the Bron Agency for a year before joining Adam Parsons’ Big Rock Inc., and from there you switched to Prestige Artists, working with Clive Underhill-Smith, and Rob Hallett.
Yeah. I wasn’t at Bron that long. I think that I was an agent at that point probably the first time around for just under two years, and then I had to go because I couldn’t afford it.
You later worked again in London with Rob Challice.
Yeah, more actually when I came back into that when I came back into the agency business. I had been previously at Prestige. I went back to Ireland for a year and a half for Prestige, and then come back again to be an agent with Rob Challice, and I spent three (years) I think with him.
While booking The Limelight were you doing shows with the Lemonheads and the Cranberries?
John Giddings gave you an opportunity at the Solo Agency.
Giddings was a great time for me too. After Solo, I joined Fair Warning/Wasted Talent which later became Helter Skelter. Both them and ITB (International Talent Booking) were the two biggest international London based agencies in the world at that point. They were way before the Americans come in, the William Morris (WME Entertainment), and CAAs (Creative Artist Agency), but they were the two biggest international agencies. I was with a great team of people there I have to say.
After No Hot Ashes, you went on to play with Fastway with the legendary guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clark who was then the last remaining member of Motörhead. He died last year. Of Motörhead’s classic lineup, which consisted of Lemmy Kilmister, himself, and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, he was the last surviving member.
He was. He was the last of the classic three.
Despite numerous lineups, Fastway was quite a cool group.
It certainly was. I joined the band in the late ‘80s just towards the end of their careers. Then when Eddie broke up the band. He was having some issues at the time and he wanted to stay clear of the road (leading to Clarke being admitted to hospital, spending time afterward in recuperation), so after 10 years we put the band (No Hot Ashes) back together, and that was great fun. We’ve done a whole bunch of festivals. We played Japan and we played Sweden Rock and we played a whole bunch of festivals in mainland Europe.
Touring throughout the UK is torturous. I’ve never seen so many crappy venues than I have in the UK. Yes, there are some great venues like Ulster Hall in Belfast—a virtual cathedral…
It’s a beautiful venue. It is still the same to this day.
I’ve been in grubby venues in the UK that are unmatched in North America. It takes a lot to be an English band motoring up and down the M1, and M6.
Yeah, there are those I suppose. There are a lot of good cities to play in England in all honesty.
Scunthorpe is not one of them.
Scunthorpe is definitely not one of them. You are right there. The joke goes, “Who took the **** out of Scunthorpe?”
Two years ago I met Ed Sheeran at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala in New York, and we got to talking about the British club circuit which I know from my wife being from Grimsby. He told me he’d played all over England. I said, “You probably haven’t played Scunthorpe.” He then grabbed my arm, and said, “I’ve played Scunthorpe twice, mate.”
That’s twice more than he should have played it.
As the UK’s first UNESCO City of Music, there are a wealth of venues in Glasgow. I recall a venue there that is up these massive stairs.
Barrowlands (aka Barrowland Ballroom). it’s a bugger of a load in, but I’ll tell you what. It’s probably one of the best gigs in the country. The atmosphere that is created in that place is incredible. It really is.
(Barrowlands is an impressive sight in the heart of the Gallowgate part of Glasgow. The original building opened in 1934 in a mercantile area east of Glasgow’s city center. The Ballroom is a major concert venue with a capacity of around 2,100 people. David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Foo Fighters, U2, Oasis, the Stranglers, the Clash, the Smiths, and Muse are among the acts to play the hall. Scottish singer Amy Macdonald wrote and recorded the tribute “Barrowland Ballroom” for her 2007 album “This Is The Life”).
With the rising tide of social media, and national broadcasting are there still distinct regional music markets in the UK?
Well, there are. There are regional scenes. Some of them you have to be careful that you don’t go toe somebody’s else’s’ catch if you know what I mean. For example, I would never put an act in Nottingham and Leicester on the same tour. I just feel that they are just a little too close together (being 27.9 miles apart). There’s a very big difference between Liverpool and Manchester. There’s a big rivalry between them. It is the same between Edinburgh and Glasgow as well. Again two great cities to play but there is a regional difference.
Much of the rivalry is fueled by football.
What part of London do you live in?
I live in Marylebone. It’s nice and central. You can get to anywhere quickly. I can be in Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 5 or 10 minutes. I can be in Camden in the same time. It is just one road strip to my office really, Marylebone Road
You maintain a house in L.A.?
Yep, just off Mulholland Drive
Does your family come over?
It’s just me and my friend John, he travels with me. I don’t drive so he does.
You don’t drive?
No. I never learned. When I moved to London originally, I couldn’t see having a car. You couldn’t park anywhere. So I just thought, “The hell with this.” I have never learned since. I like taking the train anyway.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.