Harvey The Reluctant Anti-Trust Spokesman

Harvey Goldsmith is annoyed that he’s being called a prominent spokesman against Live Nation and Denis Desmond’s teaming to buy half of Academy Music Group while “most everybody in the live music business” is very wary of the deal.

“They’re all fucking chicken,” he told Pollstar after the Irish Sunday Business Post was the latest to single out the internationally known entrepreneur as one who opposes the takeover.

“I wasn’t even involved in this until I came in one day and had about 15 e-mails in my box, all telling me that I should be doing something about it,” he explained.

Although the Irish paper quoted him saying the deal would mean Live Nation and Desmond’s Gaiety Investments could treat the public however they wanted, Goldsmith said he has little reason to be worried about the two companies controlling a raft of London venues and a string of provincial ones.

“I don’t do 2,000 shows a year and don’t need their crummy venues every week,” the Live Aid and Live 8 impresario explained before reeling off a list of some of the agencies and promoters that lobbied him for support.

The raft of London venues includes Hyde Park, Wembley Arena, Brixton Academy, Shepherds Bush Empire, Hammersmith Carling Apollo, The Astoria, The Forum, Borderline, The Garage, The Islington Academy, Jazz Café and a couple of clubs.

The provincial Carling Academy-branded venues are in Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and Newcastle.

Hamsard 2786 Limited, a joint venture Desmond and Live Nation chief Michael Rapino formed to buy The Mean Fiddler Music Group, is looking to acquire 52 percent of AMG that’s owned by London venture capitalists.

Desmond already holds one-fourth of the remaining 48 percent, as do London-based promoters Metropolis Music, Manchester’s SJM Concerts and AMG chief exec John Northcote.

Apart from Emma Banks of Helter Skelter and Paul Fenn of Asgard, who were both named by Goldsmith, a quick straw poll of some major London agencies revealed that a vast majority responded to the Office of Fair Trading’s request for comments.

The OFT, which is expected to complete its review of the proposed deal and announce its findings by the end of August, didn’t reveal the number of objections.

Agents and promoters are understandably reticent to speak out, as they either want to sell acts to Live Nation and Desmond or use their venues in the future.

Banks, who uses Live Nation and Desmond to promote Red Hot Chili Peppers tours, denied that the music business has ganged up against them taking half of Academy Music Group.

“I don’t think people are forming a gang to oppose it. They’re just answering the OFT questions and doing it to the best of their ability,” she explained. “It’s not a comment on how Live Nation and Denis Desmond do business, it’s more of a comment on having a choice.

“If the punters and the industry were asked if they wanted to have one huge agency or one promoter, they’d probably say they’d prefer to have a wider choice,” she added. “It’s the same with any business, whether it’s live music or baked beans.”

Fenn, a member of both The Agents’ Association and the Concert Promoters Association, confirmed that both organizations have circulated their members with copies of the OFT documents.

The most prevalent rumor running through the London live music companies is that Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which is increasing its activities in Europe and has control of the old Millennium Dome set to reopen as The O2, is detailing its legal team to fight the deal.

Many industry observers see it as a strategic move by Live Nation and Desmond to corner as much of the market as possible before AEG has the chance to establish a firmer foothold.

At press time, it wasn’t possible to get comment from AEG.

As the issue is obviously sensitive and the result expected within days, it’s understandable that Desmond and Live Nation were saying nothing, with Rapino blocking Pollstar enquiries with a flat, “No comment.”

The only open support came in the Irish paper, which quoted Simon Moran – whose SJM will continue to hold about an eighth of the company – saying, “We are supportive of it, as I see it as positive to create new funding in the industry.”

The OFT has no statutory time limit on how long it takes to decide if the issue needs to be referred to the monopolies authorities, but pledged to reveal its findings within 40 working days of sending out the original letters requesting industry input.

– John Gammon