Hard Times For Hessenthaler

John Hessenthaler’s Suffolk, England-based concert promoting business looks set to hit the wall, leaving as many as 24,000 ticket-holders out of pocket and a messy trail of canceled U.K. shows.

Steven Law of Ensors, the Ipswich-based accountants handling the administration, told the East Anglian Daily Times July 12th that he’d like to save Hessenthaler’s July 29th McFly show in the town’s Christchurch Park “because it would be good for Ipswich and for Suffolk.” However, the band’s agent, Paul Franklin of Helter Skelter, was already in the process of pulling the plug on it.

Ensors’ Nigel Mayhew and Bryan Hunwick were still insisting July 15th that the show could happen but, the same day, Franklin provided Pollstar with a statement that read, “The concerts scheduled have been canceled due to John Hessenthaler Concert Productions Limited (JHCP) going into administration.

“For the past few days, both McFly’s management and myself have been working tirelessly, without success, to put together a rescue package with the administrators in order for the shows to proceed.

“The administrator will now be writing to all ticket holders to explain the procedure for claiming back their money. The band sincerely apologises to all ticket holders for a situation that is totally out of their control.”

The other shows Franklin referred to were Hessenthaler’s McFly dates at Romsey’s Broadlands August 7th and Exeter’s Powderham Castle August 8th.

In what looks to have been a desperate bid to keep Hessenthaler’s boat afloat, Ensors was appealing for a sponsor or sponsors to come up with £30,000 to rescue McFly’s Ipswich date. The local Suffolk Evening Star ran a headline July 12th saying, “Save Our Shows!”

Reacting to suggestions that continuing to pass around the begging bowl was pointless as the show’s already off, Hunwick said, “Then you must know something we don’t.” He promised there would be a press statement July 18th.

An estimated 3,600 fans have bought tickets for Ipswich, according to BBC News. The park has a 15,000 capacity and current sales are no more than a dribble at around 350 per week.

Only those who bought tickets after the company went into administration are guaranteed a refund, although there may be some protection for fans who bought by credit card.

Hessenthaler’s nonstopconcerts.com Web site continued to advertise the shows alongside dates with Paul Weller (Powderham Castle, July 17th), although Ensors admitted it had already given up on that one. Hunwick said it had not been possible to renegotiate terms with the act. As Hessenthaler can no longer be involved with the running of the company, Ensors is presumably responsible for the Web site.

Ensors was put in charge of the Colchester-based company’s “voluntary administration” June 20th. However, Primary Talent agent Dave Chumbley – who had a July 10th Daniel Beddingfield show with Hessenthaler at Powderham Castle – said he didn’t find out until several days later, and then only after his assistant had been unsuccessfully trying to chase a late deposit.

In a June 29th e-mail, Hessenthaler wrote, “As of midday [June 20th], the above company went into administration. Ensors (Chartered Accountants & Business Recovery Practitioners) have been appointed to assist with the positive development of the company from June 20th onwards and hopefully we can count on your continued help and support at this time.

“It is hoped that JHCP Limited will continue to trade as usual and with the help and support of everyone involved the 2005 summer series of advertised concerts will proceed as planned and we are all now working to not only protect the creditors’ position but also improve this.”

Chumbley did have a dialogue with the administrators but it wasn’t one that could be described as fruitful.

“First of all, they said the show could only go ahead if the artist performed for nothing,” Chumbley explained.

“When I said no to that, they came back with a paltry offer that was a little over 10 percent of the original fee.”

The gig bit the dust as did Jools Holland dates in Exeter and Romsey, a Will Young concert at Milton Keynes and a Status Quo show in Warwickshire’s Hatton House.

The loss of Holland’s Romsey show left manager Paul Loasby (One Fifteen) fuming about journalists not checking facts as the Southern Daily Echo ran a “Mystery As Jools Cancels Concert” headline.

“After all the problems we’d had with the shows, I needed that like a hole in the head. Nobody from the paper called to ask why Jools wasn’t doing the date,” Loasby complained.

As the company is in administration as opposed to liquidation, Ensors isn’t releasing any details about the number of creditors and the amounts they’re owed. If the rescue isn’t successful, it would take at least a year before a full creditors list could be drawn up and for the company to become officially liquidated.

If there are any preferential creditors, the unsecured creditors (including the fans that bought tickets before June 20th) aren’t likely to see many pennies back for their pounds.

So far, it hasn’t been possible to get a comment out of Hessenthaler.

He’s already had one legal battle over shows at Broadlands and Powderham and also at Braintree’s Towerlands Arena. Three months ago, Mick Gray – formerly the booker for Cambridge Corn Exchange – took Hessenthaler (personally) to court over unpaid “finder’s fees” for 2004 dates with Van Morrison, Yes, and James Taylor.

Gray said his Marmalade Productions company had a legal agreement with Hessenthaler that entitled him to commission on the shows, while Hessenthaler was telling Pollstar – even in the week before the case – that he didn’t owe Gray anything.

Two days before the April 4th High Court hearing at Cambridgeshire County Court, Hessenthaler tried to buy Gray off by offering him 30 percent of what he claimed he was owed. Gray declined and the case looked set to go ahead, but a last-minute second offer from Hessenthaler was accepted.

Gray refused to give the financial details of that settlement on the grounds that he’s bound by a confidentiality agreement, although he confirmed that Hessenthaler has now paid up the full amount.

John Gammon