ILMC’s Martin Hopewell & Greg Parmley On their 30th Year, Hairy Sloths And “Freeing Claudio”

This March 6-9 the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) turns 30. Many people have been instrumental in its success, but two men have become the face of the event: founder and honorary chairman Martin Hopewell and his successor Greg Parmley, who took the reins in 2014. Pollstar caught up with both of them, separately, so we could get them to comment candidly without compromise.

Martin Hopewell and Greg Parmley
– Martin Hopewell and Greg Parmley
Closing ILMC 26

Did the first ILMC have a theme?

Hopewell: 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 – let alone one year later. It was only at the end of the first one that people said we should have a part two. Giving it a theme wasn’t even conceived of at that time.

It always cracks me up that the No. 1 question I get asked by long-standing delegates is not “What are we going to be discussing,” but always “What’s the theme going to be?” What amazes me about ILMC is how it appeals to the 12-year-old child that lives inside even the most hard-nosed industry professional.

What’s been your favorite theme so far, and why?

Hopewell: I couldn’t say, they all cracked me up to be honest.

Parmley: Probably ILMC 27 – superheroes. We randomly generated fictional superhero names and printed them on all of the passes. Remembering certain notable individuals walking around wearing names like “The Hairy Sloth,” “Nifty Goat,” or “Eager Queen” still makes me chuckle. It was a great conversation starter in the bar. Actually, this year we took the idea one step further, but that’s a surprise for when everyone arrives.
Why are the Arthur Awards called the Arthur Awards?

Hopewell: I think it was ILMC 7, and we were at the Landmark Hotel, and I just thought it would be funny to do something at the bar, like a tongue-in-cheek awards show. I was looking through a catalogue of trophies and I found this trophy, this funny little guy standing on a suitcase with his jacket open, selling watches. I think it was called the wheeler-dealer award or something. We bought those and then, of course, a year or two later, we bought the entire stock. And then we made molds of them, so we would never run out.

Arthur Awards
– Arthur Awards
Today, the Arthurs are a well-respected music industry prize. In 2017, Martin Hopewell presented Live Nation Belgium’s Herman Schueremans with the Bottle Award

We used to really take the piss out of the Arthurs, it was really the award you never wanted to win, and that nobody ever wanted to give you. It was a piss-take of the whole backslapping in other industries. Very casual.

There was a TV character at the time, who was a real kind of dodgy, wheeler-dealer type, called Arthur Daley. So I thought the Arthurs would be good. Plus, when I was a teenager, I used to get one spot that came back about every year, and he was also called Arthur. I thought of the awards coming back every year being as a bit similar to a zit that reappears once a year. That’s the thinking behind the Arthurs.

People started to take it seriously. We give away one of these things, and the next year the festival poster would have “Winner of the Arthur Award 1995” on it. What the fuck? Or you get a Belgian journalist calling up and saying, “I see we won this big award in London. Would you mind telling me what it is, and how the voting is decided,” and you go, “Whoops!”

Now we have to be very, very clean, have been for years, but in the early days it was just a joke.
When did it become clear to you that Greg would be taking over?

Hopewell: That, for me, is quite a serious issue, and I’m going to get real pompous here: I genuinely believe that there is a time when you should move over and let somebody else in, rather than just getting old and hanging onto a pay packet.

I think it’s a young person’s game, always have. I felt that when I first started. It used to really offend me when I went to some sort of social secretaries conference and there’d be some poor sod out there who had to be wearing a suit and with a bald head, and you think “What the fuck are you doing here you old bastard, get out.” I just figured, as with my agency career, when you get to certain milestones it’s OK, own up, move over, and let somebody else have a go.
Greg, what were your first thoughts when it became clear that you were going to take over?

Parmley: I thought, “Does this mean I’m going to have to spend hours stuck in the lower ground floors rearranging chairs?” As it turned out, it did. Martin has passed on his obsession with chair arranging to me. You wouldn’t know it, but each seat at an ILMC session has been labored over and over. Still, it’s the secret of a successful session.

(Read Pollstar‘s in-depth feature on Martin Hopewell to find out what this chair-thing is all about.)
How would you describe your conference strategy since taking over? What were your main aims to advance the event?

Parmley: Our main focus over the last five years has been ensuring that ILMC is as relevant for the next generation coming into the business as it is for the heads of industry that meet there each year.

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.

ILMC has always supported positive initiatives and best practice, and I think there are more ways that we can be doing this. So beyond the discussions in the panels, the events and the networking, ILMC as a platform for the business can do much more.
Martin, what are the qualities you appreciate most and least in Greg?

Hopewell: Greg gets it. He understands the ILMC, and he loves it as well, it’s very close to his heart. His biggest failing is refusing to dress up in silly costumes, I think I’d have to say. Trying to get Greg to even put a fucking hat on for the opening session is like squeezing blood out of a stone.

I’ve walked out in a dinosaur outfit, and as Captain Birdseye, and as a gangster with his cheeks padded out with cotton wool that you then can’t get out of your mouth to speak – that’s not exactly Greg. Plus, you’d have trouble finding a costume that fits him.
Greg, same question to you about Martin.

Parmley: Martin is a very smart, creative and principled man, and someone who I respect enormously. At a time when his peers were focused purely on commercial enterprise, Martin was dedicating time and energy to improving the business for everyone. He should have had an OBE years ago.

My least favourite thing about Martin? Probably that he tries to make me wear ridiculous outfits every year for the opening session. It’s incessant.

– ILMC 29
It may not look like it, but Greg Parmley hates wearing costumes

Martin, speaking about the live industry, what would you like to bring back from the old days?

This will sound trite, but it is the fun. The fun and that element of risk that was present in the early days. I arrived in a business, luckily, just after the time when people hung other people out of hotel windows by their ankles to get them to sign contracts. I arrived at a time when a lot of post-hippie social secretaries were coming out of university and occupying the seats in the agencies.

We all spent years just booking acts around the UK, in clubs, colleges, universities and, occasionally, we got to do a major gig at a city hall somewhere, and maybe a big concert hall like the Free Trade Hall in Manchester or the Colston Hall in Bristol. 1,000 people was a huge crowd then.

The idea of booking something outside the UK was like going to Mars. It was really exciting to send a band to Norway or Holland. It was challenging, you had to learn about all the different cultures, the language, who was good and bad, and how to get deposits off of people in certain hotter parts of Europe. The hotter it gets, the crazier it gets.

So, I miss the times when the business was inventing itself, and standards of practice were being made up. And that was one of the things the ILMC facilitated.

And is there anything you’re glad isn’t part of the business anymore?

Guns and knives and heavies. I’m glad that’s largely gone. I’m not sure how many there were in the first place, be we used to suspect that there were. Just danger in general. I remember shows where the security used to be Hells Angels.
This year’s theme is called “Close Encounters of the 30th Kind.” Are you into science fiction at all?

Hopewell: I love science fiction. I’m a massive astronomy fan, as people know. I love all this stuff, so it’s been great fun getting ideas together for this one. The first science fiction book I ever read, which my dad got me, was called “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester, which I incidentally just reread for the first time in 50 years.

Parmley: I’m from the “Star Wars” generation, so definitely the first trilogy. I’ve probably read “Empire Strikes Back” more than any other book – Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were my first rock stars, long before Guns N’ Roses released Appetite for Destruction and changed what I wanted to do with my life!
A personal ILMC highlight from each of you, please. I know being asked to pick highlights is unfair, but please try.

Parmley: Isn’t that like picking a single song? There’s been so much laughter. Like Ed Bicknell interviewing Doc McGhee which had everyone in tears, or seeing Harvey Goldsmith and Carl Leighton-Pope go at it back in the day, which was hilarious. But a lot of the best memories relate to the community around ILMC.

A few years ago, the Royal Garden’s bar manager, Luis, passed away. This was a man who knew half of the delegates by name, including what they drank, and was a fixture every year. The following ILMC, the whole bar broke into a rendition of “Hey Jude,” changing the title to “Hey Luis.” It was one of those moments where you remembered that regardless of job title and status, we’re all just humans inhabiting the same space as each other.

Hopewell: One Sunday night [when the conference was still taking place at the Portman Hotel in Portman Square] 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 sat 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.”

ILMC Producer Lou Percival
– ILMC Producer Lou Percival
One of the women without whom ILMC wouldn’t be possible

Who are the people without whom ILMC would not be possible?

Parmley: There’s a big list, including ILMC’s producer Lou Percival, our head of sponsorship and marketing, Chris Prosser, our production manager Bill Martin, Allan McGowan and the agenda team, the long-suffering production team who somehow still come out smiling…by the time we get to ILMC there’s around 60 people making it happen.

Hopewell: Alia Dann Swift, the conference director and “ILMC Mum” until ILMC 25, Peter Maloney, former head of accounts and pillar of strength, Greg Parmley and the current team, Kim McCarthy & Robyn Jellef of True North, who directed the conference around ILMC 10 for a few years. When they moved to Australia, I thought it was all over, but then Alia stepped in. Rob Hollingsworth, my early days right-hand chap; Mick Kluczinsky, the original production manager, who, just out of the kindness of his heart took care of the production of ILMC in the early days; Britannia Row, who’ve always helped us out with gear, as well as the current production heads John Ayres and Bill Martin.

Greg, any ambitions to grow the event in terms of sheer delegate numbers?

Parmley: This year we’ve seen greater demand for passes, and ILMC sold out sooner than ever. But remaining invitation-only is important – if we opened the doors, let anyone register and increased numbers dramatically, it would become just another music industry conference, of which there are far too many. ILMC was founded as, and still remains, a meeting place for the key individuals in the live music business.

We have grown in other areas though. Can I mention IQ or is that politically incorrect? The International Festival Forum sold out each of the first three years, again invitation-only. Last year we launched the Event Safety & Security Summit in partnership with the arena associations, which was invitation-only and sold out too. Maybe we should stop running invitation-only events. We could definitely sell more tickets.

What’s your favorite live band of all times?

Hopewell: That’s unfair. I’m still booking bands. The people I owe the most to are Robert Smith, Paul Weller, Peter Gabriel. Without them I wouldn’t be speaking to you now.

Parmley: Prince. What a showman. Just crazy talented.

What do you do to unwind?

Hopewell: How long have you got? Clay shooting, riding, archery, astronomy, guitar playing and collecting, and I like pointy, shiny things.

Parmley: I walk Oscar the dog, or ride my Triumph Bonneville to interesting places.

Do you have a role model, spiritual guru or inspiration in general?
Hopewell: Without being soft, it would be my dad, who died a long time ago. He was somebody who showed me that you could be nice to people and have fun, that it didn’t have to be about shouting and bullying and being an asshole to get on in business.

Parmley: Martin Hopewell. And Han Solo.