Can't Stop Their Music

Can't Stop Their Music - 31st January 2004
Credit: Sydney Morning Herald

WHEN Fleetwood Mac arrived in Australia in 1977, the man appointed as their tour manager was astonished by their ability to squander money. "They had huge entourages in those days and they carried pianos and gyms with them on the road," says Michael Chugg, now one of Australia's most experienced rock promoters. "They transported one grand piano all the way around the world and it was never unpacked."

Fleetwood Mac are still together and playing many of the songs they performed in 1977, the year they released the 30-million-selling Rumours album. They're still a top 10 group, but the ranking relates to concert revenue not record sales.

According to Billboard, ticket sales of $US69.2 million ($91 million) made Fleetwood Mac the third-highest grossing act in the world last year. They were beaten by the Rolling Stones ($US299.5 million) and Cher ($US76.3 million), but banked more than the Eagles ($US53.7 million) and Aerosmith and Kiss ($US50 million each).

Now Australia is contributing to Fleetwood Mac's coffers. Tickets to their three concerts at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in early March cost up to $199 each, but only a few thousand remained unsold last week.

"There's a history with these kind of artists," says Andrew McManus, the 40-year-old former manager of the Divinyls, who is promoting the Fleetwood Mac tour. "People know what they're going to get."

McManus, who is carving a niche promoting what he happily describes as "middle of the road" acts, has plenty more more artists up his sleeve. He's touring Lisa Marie Presley in March, bringing Kiss back in May and indulging a personal whim by staging English guitarist Peter Frampton (remember Baby, I Love Your Way?) in August. "I love his music, but I'll probably do my nuts [money]," says McManus. "I'm doing it for the art."

Details have yet to be announced, but it's likely somebody will bring Simon and Garfunkel here towards the end of the year.

BOOMER bands may not sell truckloads of records like they used to, but they've maintained a stranglehold on the concert market. Just look at the acts performing in Sydney over the next few months.

It's been 30 years since Bryan Ferry crooned "you're so sheer, you're so chic" on Roxy Music's first hit Virginia Plain. Ferry is playing the State Theatre on Wednesday and Thursday with tickets costing up to $121.60.

David Bowie, who morphed into a flame-haired Martian called Ziggy Stardust at the time Gough Whitlam came to power, plays the Entertainment Centre on February 20 and 21 (tickets $95.50 to $174.95). And America, the Crosby, Stills and Nash soundalikes who scored their first big hit (A Horse with No Name) in 1972, played the first of two shows at the Opera House last night to an audience that had paid up to $135 each to see them.

Upcoming gigs by relative youngsters such as The Pretenders, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, Meat Loaf, the B-52's and Rickie Lee Jones reinforce the retrospective mood.

Chugg is promoting The Pretenders as well as younger acts such as Beth Orton, Spiritualized, Korn and A Perfect Circle. He agrees most contemporary acts struggle to match the pulling power of big-name bands from the '60s and '70s.

One exception is the critically revered English rock band Radiohead. Chugg says they sold all the tickets to their two April shows at the Entertainment Centre in 30 minutes and could have sold tickets to "four or five" gigs at the giant venue if they had wished.

But it's harder to pick a winner from the younger, hipper bands. Fashion is still a factor here. They may be red hot when the tour contract is signed, but a few months and a dodgy single later, everything can change.

Promoters also need to be realistic about the size of the audience. "We toured 25 to 30 young acts last year including Super Furry Animals, Eels and The Ataris," says Chugg. "Most of the shows sold out, but you have to put them in the right venues. You don't put The Ataris [a Californian punk band] into the Entertainment Centre."

It's also vital that promoters adjust their promotional campaigns to reach the younger audience. "We find we can get to young people a lot more easily nowadays by using the internet," says Chugg. "We sold 80 per cent of the Robbie Williams tickets online and 90 per cent of Radiohead's tickets online. On Monday we'll announce [American singer-songwriter] John Mayer's tour. I already have emails from 500 kids who have heard online rumours that he's coming back."

Then again, it's not just the kids who use the internet to purchase tickets. Fiona Gulin, the marketing director of promoter Dainty Consolidated Entertainment, says many of the tickets to Bowie's tour were presold on the net.

HOWEVER it's done, tour promotion is a risky business. Even the boomer bands aren't bulletproof. Says Gulin: "You'd have to think there's a core market, but it's always hard to tell."

There are concrete examples of this. Bruce Springsteen's American concerts with the E Street Band made him one of Billboard's top 10 highest-grossing acts last year, but his Australian dates lost money for the troubled local promoter Jacobsen Entertainment.

Chugg says he lost money when the Woodstock-era guitarist Carlos Santana sold only 13,000 tickets in Melbourne for last year's Shaman tour.

Even so, a revered boomer-era band appears to be the closest thing to a blue-chip stock in the concert promotion world. Music commentator Glenn A. Baker is 51 and says his generation's devotion to the music of its youth is so entrenched that veteran rockers can look forward to at least another decade of healthy concert revenues. "I'm a boomer . . . and I don't see any slowing down in my enthusiasm for the music I love or the concerts I attend," says Baker. "Music is so seared into their consciousness, it was such an integral part of growing up and moving through key phases of life, that you can't imagine them casting it aside."

That's good news for the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Bowie and any other act that had substantial success in the '60s and '70s. Baker reckons they'll have an audience at least until they're ready to check into the rock'n'roll retirement village.

"The key is the confidence and sense of security they [the boomers] get from an act," he says. "If they buy the gold seats, pay the babysitter, park the car and spend hundreds of dollars, they know they'll get a good show."

Baker doubts if as many younger bands - those which became famous in the '80s and '90s - will enjoy the same longevity. "There are generations that have followed [the boomers] where music was just a component of the lifestyle," he says. "I tend to think acts mean a little less to their audience these days."

McManus is more upbeat about the longevity of today's acts. He reckons bands like Coldplay could still have an audience in 30 years and pop stars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake could do a "Madonna" and constantly evolve to meet changing trends.

If it's hard to imagine a 55-year old Spears singing Oops, I Did It Again to a stadium of toe-tapping mums and dads, then consider this. In 1965, it would have been difficult to imagine the 60-year old Mick Jagger would be knighted and still seeking satisfaction.


Michael Chugg Entertainment

Andrew McManus Presents

Dainty Consolidated Entertainment

Fleetwood Mac official website

The Rolling Stones official website

David Bowie official website


KISS official website

Cher official website

Coldplay official website



Sydney Entertainment Centre

Glenn A Baker (Saxton Speakers Bureau profile)

Signatures Network


The Great Aussie Promoters, by Greg Tingle

The Great Yankee Promoters, by Greg Tingle

Mr PR - Max Markson, by Greg Tingle

The Man They Call Harry M, by Greg Tingle

Mediaman Interviews

Phil Tripp, IMMEDIA!

Max Markson, Markson Sparks!

Kevin Jacobsen, Jacobsen Entertainment

Other links

Mediaman: Entertainment