Geoff Ellis: ‘Not Just For The Paycheck’

 in Glasgow, Scotland, made it into Pollstar’s mid-yearTop 100 worldwide clubs, which is quite remarkable for a 300-capacity venue.  

Geoff Ellis
– Geoff Ellis
DF Concerts

It’s reason enough to talk business with the club’s promoter and head of DF Concerts, Geoff Ellis.

Ellis fell in love with live music in his hometown Manchester at the age of 14 when he saw his first concert: Rainbow at the Manchester Apollo.

The evening ended with Ellis getting stabbed in the butt cheek while waiting to be picked up outside. “That didn’t put me off live music,” he said, laughing.

Ellis started booking his first shows as entertainment manager of Middlesex University. A Certain Ratio was the first band he ever booked.

After leaving university, Ellis became the booker for London’s iconic Marquee Club, working with bands like Aerosmith, Poison, Lenny Kravitz and many more. In 1992 he applied for the job at DF Concerts’ King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow.

To this day, the club remains Ellis’ main office. The list of acts brought to the 300-capacity venue in the early years includes Radiohead, Oasis, MuseColdplaySnow PatrolThe KillersKings Of Leon and many more.

PJ Harvey and the Manic Street Preachers played their first Scotland shows there. His success at King Tut’s made DF Concerts founder Stuart Clumpas trust Ellis with bigger shows at bigger venues, such as Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom. It was during this time that Ellis built relationships with all the agents representing the world’s biggest acts. Ellis also took charge of booking T in the Park since it started in 1994.

“We got a lot of the acts we’d been booking at King Tut’s level, such as Rage Against The Machine or Crowded House, to do the first T in the Park. The company really grew after that,” Ellis said He took over running DF Concerts in 2001, when Clumpas sold the company to Denis Desmond.

Under Ellis’ auspices, T in The Park doubled in size, growing in capacity from 45,000 to 90,000. The 2017 edition did not go ahead because planning restrictions made staging the event impractical. On speaking about how the government treats live events, Ellis said, “There needs to be joined-up thinking. As council or government, you can’t just say, ‘We want to get more tourists in and run more events,” without making it easier for private companies to take the risk to do events.

“I don’t want to talk about T in the Park too much, but there’s the obvious difficulty of having to move site and then, because of a pair of Ospreys, jump through a load of planning hoops that made the event unviable.” Ellis is much more in the mood to talk about King Tut’s, which came in at No. 96 in Pollstar’s mid-year list of top 100 clubs by ticket sales.

Only four other UK clubs achieved this feat: the  (No. 45), the  (No. 78) and the  (No. 89), which all have far greater capacities (between 1,300 and 2,300).

Given that the ranking is based on cumulative ticket sales, Ellis has reason enough to be proud of this achievement. He thinks the club’s reputation is mostly thanks to its atmosphere.

“It starts off with the way we treat the artists and the audience. Radiohead always remark that when they were a support band and nobody had heard of them I still gave them hot food the first time they came to Scotland,” Ellis recalls.

King Tut’s has been going for almost 30 years, and has lost nothing of its appeal.

“We’ve got gigs five nights a week on average. If you’re worth 200 tickets, you’ll probably sell 50 more here, just because you’re playing King Tut’s,” he said.

In other words: the audience will pay to experience the club.

“On a Monday in July, we’ll have 250 people in to see local and unsigned bands. There’s tight quality control in place for bookings, and ending up in a worldwide top 100 when your capacity is only 300 is testament to everybody involved in the venue.”

Touching upon current challenges of the trade, Ellis lists “aggressive competitors that can throw money around but don’t necessarily have the artist’s career in mind,” increased costs due to the current security climate and the economy in general, “particularly in Scotland, where people have less money to spend.”

When it comes to ticketing, he uses soccer as an analogy, explaining that clubs at the top of Europe’s leagues could charge lots of money because they attracted glory supporters from all spheres of society, thereby pricing out the traditional working-class fan base. But it was those fans that remained loyal to the club even if it wasn’t doing well.

“With an artist, like with a football club, you need to keep that street-level fan base that will serve you well. Some of the bands that can still tour now and attract 2,000 people, haven’t had a hit record in a long time, but they have a loyal audience and they haven’t overpriced it,” he said. 

Ryan Johnston
– TRNSMT 2017
Biffy Clyro plays the Scottish festival July 9.

Speaking about the first edition of TRNSMT, which took place on Glasgow Green July 7-9, Ellis says: “We were delighted with it. It was always going to be hard, because people’s expectations were that we were moving T in the Park into Glasgow city center.

“It was always a completely different event, but until it happened, people didn’t realize it. I think now there’s a huge aura of positivity in the city, the council and police all think it was a fantastic event with a well-behaved audience and a great buzz around it.

“The artists were phenomenal. Stormzy was amazing, Radiohead, KasabianCatfish and the BottlemenThe 1975: all fantastic shows. We’re all set to do it again and make it an annual feature in the calendar.

“Seeing the smile on an audience’s face or the exuberance in a crowd, particularly a large crowd at a festival, that’s what raises the hair on the back of my neck. That’s when you know you’re not just doing it for the paycheck.”