ILMC Founder Martin Hopewell: “We’re All Kids That Want To Enjoy Rock ‘N’ Roll”

The International Live Music Conference turns 30 this year. We caught up with the event’s founder Martin Hopewell, to talk about his “baby.”

Martin Hopewell
– Martin Hopewell
ILMC’s founder and honorary chairman

The first ILMC was a pure business meeting, to which Hopewell had invited whomever he though relevant to the international live music scene. One couldn’t call it a sector back in 1988, let alone industry. 

“This was before computers. Our database was a ripped-up piece of cardboard, a felt tip and a Tippex pen,” Hopewell remembers. “We were sending out fax messages to people, talking about having an international live music conference. We only invited about 40 people, but around 170 turned up. It was one of those.”

The first ILMC didn’t have a theme. It didn’t even have lanyards for delegates. Hopewell and his crew had hastily written up name-tags for delegates, so they would recognize each other. “I thought we should have a logo for this thing,” Hopewell recalls. “I looked at the logo of a certain German manufacturer of kitchen appliances and though: that looks rather neat.”

The ILMC logo you see today was achieved by cutting out letters, pasting them onto a sheet of paper and photocopy them. “I’ll probably get sued for that, believe it,” he jokes.

“We weren’t working with any infrastructure at all. It was just being done by me and my better half at the kitchen table, writing on chopped-up bits of paper, with help from the people at Primary and a few others. This was never supposed to be the start of something, it was always just a one-off meeting. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined to be involved in it 30 years later. Not even one year later.”

The day Hopewell realized there was a need for a meeting point of international delegates came at the New Music Seminar in New York City in 1988. Standing outside, and chatting with both Herman Schueremans (founder of Belgiums biggest music festival Rock Werchter and now MD of Live Nation Belgium) and Rune Lem (back then of Gunnar Eide Concert, now MD of Live Nation Norway), he realized that both men did not know each other. “I was amazed, because they do all the same tours,” says Hopewell.

It was the time global offers were being made by tour producers in both North America and Europe. As a result some of the main European promoters ended up being heavily pressurised by both sides. “It was getting stupid, and we had to address that,” according to Hopewell.

The first ILMC in 1989 took place in a ballroom at the Mayfair Hotel in London, which had been divided into two. One room was for having sausage rolls and tea, the other for the conference, which already featured the ILMC’s now famous arc-chair formation. Hopewell is obsessed with this particular way of arranging chairs. He claims it’s the actual reason he is called chairman of the ILMC. To this day, it drives him nuts seeing all these dreadful straight chair formations at music conferences.

– ILMC 29
Hopewell is obsessed with setting up conference chairs in an arc formation

Without being able to recall the exact years, Hopewell explains how the conference moved from the Mayfair to the Portman Hotel in Portman Square, a place that brings him “many happy memories.” Too many, really, to choose one highlight, so here’s a random pick.

“One Sunday night 30 very pissed international delegates decided that [Italian promoter] Claudio Trotta looked like Saddam Hussein. So they hoisted him onto their shoulders and carried him around, chanting “Saddam, Saddam.” 

“The problem was that there were a group of Kuwaiti citizens at the bar, who took slight offense to this, had a word with hotel security, who, for some reason, decided to call the police. The police then arrived and told the delegates to please vacate the bar. The story then has it that Claudio simply went to pick up his coat from a chair, although I’m not too sure if that’s really what he was doing, and then five policemen jumped on top of him, and a police woman on top of that.”

“Jackie Lombard then got really upset about it, and tried to pull the policewoman off the pile, and in so doing, she ripped open her jacket and shirt. Claudio got marched off, thrown into a van and taken to the police station. He was actually arrested. The van was pursued by about 30 quite drunk ILMC delegates, who then formed a sort of demonstration outside the police station, yelling ‘Free Claudio.’“

It’s one of the reasons, Hopewell decided to start hosting ILMC dinners, so delegates wouldn’t be inclined to wander off the premises.

The conference moved to the Landmark in Marylebone next, where they got thrown after a couple of years. “They’ve got this huge atrium with palm trees in it, and the hotel got a bit upset because our delegates were having a competition to see who could climb up the highest.”

What followed was a brief stint at the Intercontinental, before the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, right next to Hyde Park, became the event’s long-standing headquarters. “They have become our friends, and they understand us. Most five-star London hotels really wouldn’t get the ILMC. They get it, and they love having the ILMC delegates there.”

Hopewell calls the ILMC his “baby. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into it, and it has given me a lot of pleasure over the years. I feel very fondly about the whole thing. One of the only things I’m actually quite proud of that I’ve done professionally.”

In 2014, Martin Hopewell handed over the reins to Greg Parmley, who, alongside the late Alia Dann Swift, had been  Hopewell’s right hand. To Hopewell, it felt “more like an inheritance, like I was passing it on. I’m still involved in a consultant’s capacity, although I think I’m consulting rather more that I thought I would.”

Parmley’s main focus over the past five years has been ensuring that ILMC stays as relevant for the next generation of industry professionals as it is for the long-standing members. “Over the last few years we’ve changed the structure of the conference, adding more sessions and new formats including workshops; we’ve increased the amount of networking space for people to meet, and there’s more live music and social events over the three days,” he told Pollstar (you can find the full Q&A with Parmley in Pollstar‘s ILMC Bonus Issue).

In the early days of ILMC, Hopewell recalls, he sometimes felt like Don Quixote, fighting against windmills. And while Hopewell admits that he didn’t manage to fight all of the windmills put in his way, he at least had a go at them. With the result that he isn’t too impressed by most of today’s issues plaguing the industry.

“I’m trying to think of one that isn’t boring, but they’re all kind of corporate, people getting more inventive about milking that extra drop of money out of a ticket and stuff like. This is just horrible. I kind of preferred it when people would just queue up at a venue and form a line that went a mile down the road to get a paper ticket. But, there you go, I’m still old fashioned.”

He could talk about his “baby” for days on end. “There are a zillion things to add, so many funny moments, when things went completely wrong. The stuff that we prepare is sometimes funny, but it’s when the stuff that we prepare goes completely, irrevocably tits up, when it gets really funny. The stuff that delegates would get up to is just hysterical, and you could fill a book with the bloopers.”

Hopewell is aware that to many guest coming to London, March 6-9, ILMC is just another date in the calendar, one of many industry conferences. “They’re arriving in the middle of a story that has been going for 30 years, and they haven’t got a clue. They’re unaware that 30 years ago they was no meeting place outside of America for the international business. That’s why the ILMC succeeded in the first place: because of the people you could meet here, because of it’s members.”

It is important to Hopewell to put this down in print somewhere: “it may now look like another conference, because so many have sprung up around it – and, frankly, quite a few have copied a lot of the ideas that we had, even if they never get the chairs right – but it’s still a business meeting at heart. And it’s fun. And it’s recognizing that irrespective of where you come from, or what you’re doing, we’re all the same. We might have different accents, and look different, but we’re all kids that want to have fun and enjoy rock ‘n’ roll.”

The current ILMC crew
– The current ILMC crew
Conference head Greg Parmley is recovering from another sold-out edition

Update: this article originally stated that Martin Hopewell was going to be interviewed by Ed Bicknell in the ILMC’s famous Breakfast Meeting, which is incorrect. Peter Mensch is this year’s interviewee.

It also originally named the Portman Hotel as the Portland Hotel, which has also been corrected.