‘We’re Going Out On A High’: ITB’s Barry Dickins Talks Paul Simon Farewell Tour & More

Paul Simon is about to wrap up the European leg of his farewell tour. During his July 11 show at The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland, Simon explained that he was very much staying around, clarifying that he was merely retiring from doing “this,” he said, gesturing to the stage and audience around him.
He cryptically added that “this” had been one of many ideas, and that it was time to move on to the next one. His final solo show in Europe will be the July 15 concert in London, at British Summer Time in Hyde Park. The festival kicked off on July 6, and will close with Simon’s farewell concert on Sunday.

Barry Dickins
– Barry Dickins
Co-Founder of ITB in London, and agent for Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and many more

Pollstar met Simon’s UK agent Barry Dickins, who represents his client everywhere outside the U.S., at ITB’s offices in London, a city Simon shares a big connection with. Like any artist that has mastered the art of playing live, Simon honed his skills in grassroots venues, and London’s folk clubs played a huge part in that.

Dickins opened up about working with Simon and, indeed, many of his childhood heroes. He also shared his views on the current state of the live business, on making money, growing old and grumpy, the importance of knowing when your number was up and much more.
Do you remember your first show with Paul Simon?
The first time was a one-off. I think it was 1990 at the Hammersmith Odeon. I remember, he was playing the show, took an intermission, and said: “You’ve been such a great audience, I’m going to buy you all a drink.” He came off stage, and I went: “Are you crazy?”
His manager, or whoever looked after him at the time, said: “They’re not all going to get a drink, we haven’t got enough time.” And I said, “Believe me, this is London, you’re going to get through a few.”
Do you remember what the capacity was?
Around 3,500. 
So the fee probably went on drinks.
I don’t think he made a profit out of it. I think he’s done quite well with his songwriting and record sales, though.
Since when have you been properly working with Paul?
I guess for about 15 years. I work with him everywhere outside of North America. So when we go to South America, Asia or South Africa, it’s me, plus the UK, Europe, and wherever else I can find. I’m greedy. 
Is there any market you haven’t toured with Paul Simon?
We haven’t played India, ironically, and he’s very into their culture. It’s never worked out. He’s been there on a visit, but we never commercially played there. And we haven’t played China. We can’t, because he’s friendly with the Dalai Lama.
What could be the reasons it hasn’t worked out in India yet?
It’s a strange market, because it’s a new market. The same with China. You’ve got to remember, the music is so different. Indian music is nothing like western music. It’s the same with Chinese music.
It’s very hard to get those cultures. Obviously, the younger generations are exposed to much more western music, they’ve got TV programs, computers and smartphones. They can listen to whatever music they want to listen to.
Paul Simon was having hits in the ’60s, they didn’t know who he was. The same happened in Russia, by the way, because Russia didn’t play western music.
What’s the biggest show he’s played with you?
It’s going to be Hyde Park. He’s played it twice before, with Simon & Garfunkel [in 2004], and with Graceland [in 2012]. But we’ve sold more tickets now than we did on either of those two.
How many people fit into the venue?
Around 60,000, and we’re close to that. But it’s a bill, it’s Paul Simon, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, that era.
If you had to summarize working with Paul in one word, what comes to your mind first?
I’m lucky. It’s not just Paul Simon. My history is Neil Young, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan. I grew up with them, they were my heroes. So to actually work with them? Fantastic. I never even dreamt about it.
I was a kid that was into music, and I worked at the stock exchange. I hated it. I had to wear a starchy tie and a shirt, which used to have a collar that was made like cardboard and was cutting into my neck.
Suddenly, I find myself in this business. I made a lot of money doing things I absolutely love. What’s better? It’s not even the money, you do something you love. And even now, in my ripe old age, I enjoy watching the younger guys. It’s been a great experience for me. A great experience!

Paul Simon
Paul Simon Archives
– Paul Simon
A picture taken during the Tom and Jerry years in the late fifties

What was the most memorable Paul Simon concert you booked?

Every show I’ve ever seen him play has been incredible. I can’t pull out one. I suppose, really, if I had to go, I’d have to say Simon & Garfunkel [at Hyde Park], because it was the last time they played. Graceland was great too. 
Paul has the most incredible musicians in his band, and he is a genius. This is a guy who is as close to perfection as you can get. Every little thing he checks, it’s unbelievable. The soundcheck is nearly as long as his show. He’s a perfectionist. 
What’s the secret to your long-time working relationship?
Compared to some of my clients, it’s not that long, 15 years. I’ve [worked with] Neil Young for 50 years. We were both very young together. Paul had the same manager as Bob Dylan, and I represented Bob Dylan for over 30 years. The relationship was through the manager.
Have you become friends?
As far as I’m aware, I seem to be getting along well with Paul. He likes my wife a lot, he seems to always laugh with her.  I’m not one of these guys that wants to hang out every two minutes. I’m there if they need me. I just enjoy being in the presence of a genius. It’s a thrill to sit there and let him pontificate, which doesn’t mean that he doesn’t ask your opinion.
We played a show on the last tour, and I remember meeting Paul at his hotel after. He asked me what I thought of his show. And I told him it was fantastic. To me, unless somebody’s made a complete booboo and played completely flat or off key, I wouldn’t know. His ear is unbelievable, and he said that it hadn’t been quite right, and that it would be better the next show.
How does it make you feel to know that your final UK show is about to come up?
I want to do more, but this is the end. It’s rather sad. Elton John is doing a three-year “I’m retiring” tour. I’ve got nine shows in Europe. It’s heartbreaking, because it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It’s a joy to work with somebody who’s that good. He performs well, his band’s great. Not to ever see it again, that’s sad. But we’re going out on a high. The last show in Europe is going to be at Hyde Park, that’s pretty decent. 
What do you think of the British Summer Time Festival?
It’s a brilliant event, and it’s become very successful. It seems to be an older-demographic festival. It’s not really a festival, it’s a series of concerts. It’s quite an easy place. I think people like it, because you can get three subway lines that go there, there’s bus stops, you can park your car not far off. Normally a greenfield site is in the middle of nowhere. The infrastructure is really good.
How’s working with Goldenvoice and Jim King?
He’s a lovely guy. We have arguments, but that’s the nature of the game we’re in. I’ve known Jim for a long time, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him.
Regarding ticket sales…?
I never give my figures to Pollstar
Well, then let’s scrap that question.
What do you want to know?
Is Paul Simon one of your best-sellers?
That’s a tough call. We’ve got Adele, one of Lucy [Dickins]’ artists. She did four bloody Wembleys. That was nearly 400,000 people, and she did eight bloody O2s.
It’s hard to compare. Paul has always done decent business in some markets, and less in others. This industry is strange. You can be huge in Belgium, but not in France, [although] they’re next door to each other, and half of Belgium speaks French. We sold out the
He sold out two Ziggo Domes [17,000 capacity] in Holland, but isn’t so big in [neighboring] Germany. In England, we sold out Manchester Arena [21,000] and the [12,000] SSE Hydro in Glasgow. For the [July 13] show at RDS Arena in Dublin, we’re at 20,000-odd tickets.
We can’t compete with the U.S. [where he’s represented by Brian Greenbaum at CAA], where he sold out three Hollywood Bowls in a day, which is around 60,000 tickets.

– Farewell
Paul Simon detailed his reasons for putting touring to rest in an open letter

Has Paul Simon’s rider changed over the years you’ve been working with him?

Slightly. His rider’s not terrible, I’ve seen far worse. He likes comfort, but there’s no “take out the brown M&Ms” in there or anything like that. It’s pretty straightforward.
What inspires you most about Paul?
He’s so professional, which, believe me, isn’t the case for all acts.
Even on that level?
Especially on that level. How do you think I got these grey hair?
What’s your stance on secondary ticketing, and have you taken any measures to curb the practice on Paul’s Europe tour?
I hate secondary ticketing, period. We try and do everything we can, but if somebody sells a ticket, the law is weird. If you buy a ticket, that’s your ticket, you can do whatever you like with it. I don’t have a problem if somebody’s charging [a 10 percent markup], I do have a problem if somebody’s charging 500 percent. I think it’s immoral, but I don’t know what the answer is. 
The problem with all the ticketing now is, you pay so many fees, it’s unbelievable. By the time you add it all up, a ticket that would cost you £30, will cost you £42. That’s a big difference. But there’s not much I can do, because I don’t control the tickets. 
If you look at the market in general, do you think tickets are too expensive?
You know, my answer would have been yes to that. However, I took my grandson to the theater to see Lion King. The tickets cost me £79.50 [$105] each. It was a nice production, but if I think about the productions we put on, some are 20-times bigger, with top musicians that are paid top money. People also don’t realize how much the venue costs. Then you’ve got PRS, which has just gone up, and, of course, VAT.
Some venues’ rent is 15 percent of the gross. Add on 20 percent VAT, that’s 37 percent gone. Then you’ve got another 4.2 percent [PRS], so 41 percent is gone in taxes and rent, before you even start calculating your sound, lighting, trucking, catering, the band, the opening act. It’s a lot of money. You look at the expenses and think, “maybe tickets aren’t that expensive.” I think some tickets for some artists are too high, and I think it’s wrong. 
What about the argument that the secondary market has shown that the industry charges too little for tickets?
That’s always the answer: that there’s always somebody out there that’s going to pay for it. Even VIP tickets, and it’s not against VIPs, but, to me, I want a fan, who’s a fan. You don’t judge your fans by their wealth. You can be a guy, who cleans the streets, or a billionaire hedge-fund manager, they can both like an artist, and should both be entitled to good seats. It’s very hard to gauge, because ticket prices have certainly gone up, and it’s a concern, because you’re cutting certain people out.
It also depends on the artist, and, to be fair, for Simon & Garfunkel we may not have had a VIP area, but we had a golden circle. It’s an older demographic, those guys have their mortgages paid up, their kids left university. People over 60 are worth more money than anybody else, because they paid everything off. They can afford to pay £200. But how many can do that?
The only time I really understand paying a high-ish ticket price is when you play a beautiful smaller venue like the Royal Albert Hall, or the Palladium, or the Royal Festival Hall, it depends on who the artist is. The worst seat in a 3,000-capacity building is usually better than the P1s in an arena like The O2 or a stadium like Wembley. People will pay for that, and the fact that it’s in the town center.
Do you have a favorite venue in London?
No is the easiest answer. 
How about internationally?
I like Radio City Music Hall a lot, it’s a great facility. I like the Greek Theatre, I like the Hollywood Bowl. I haven’t been to The Forum since they redid it. I like the Staples Center, the O2 of Los Angeles, that’s a great venue. Lanxess Arena in Cologne is a great venue, Ziggo Dome in Holland, I could go on and on. I think venue-wise we’re actually in good shape now, sometimes I think we’ve got too many of them.
When it comes to large-scale venues. How about the small ones?
It’s different, and it’s a worry. Grassroots venues are important, which is why I’m a patron of the Music Venue Trust. It’s where everyone learns their business, how to do their job. Going back to Adele, she played all these places, and no one even realizes it. Just her and her guitar. This girl wasn’t a particularly good guitar player, that’s for sure, but she was a great singer. She went out, and she played all these small spaces, and you could see how she grew. She has a great personality, and she learned that by going out and playing in front of 20 people, who weren’t really interested. That’s your apprenticeship [as an artist].
So many of these spaces are being closed down. Some probably deserve to be closed down, but there’s a lot of them that don’t deserve it. It’s really important that we keep those. 
You can’t keep going on “X Factor” or “The Voice.” Please! That does not make you [an artist]. They didn’t pay their dues. If you become a car mechanic, you spend five years being an apprentice. You learn a trade, you don’t just suddenly go on a TV show and go, “hey, I’m the greatest car mechanic in the world.”
Young Paul Simon
Paul Simon Archives
– Young Paul Simon
And the lyrics and notes to “Homeward Bound,” taken from his tour program

How do 54 years in the music business change a man, and how do you stay sane?
Who said I was sane?
Well, you are at least able to conduct an interview in a civil manner, so let’s take that as the benchmark for sanity.
Believe me, I do have some insane moments.
But has it has changed you?
That’s not for me to say. It’s easier for someone else. My wife tells me I’ve changed, because I’ve become a grumpy old fart. But I don’t think I have changed. I got a bit fatter, I look at some of these lines and go, “I’m sure that wasn’t there last week.”
Somebody mentioned a great line to me the other day, he said: “It’s better to be over the hill than under the hill.”
I’m blessed. I have a great life – that sounds like I’m going to croak any second. I’ve had 54 years, and a good 85 percent of it I’ve absolutely loved. Ten percent of it was okay, and five of it I’ve hated. That’s pretty decent odds in any job. 
This is a great industry, if you enjoy music. You deal with young people, therefore you have a mindset of a younger person. I’m obviously not going to be a 30-year-old, because I’m not a 30-year old. But when I go to dinner with friends of mine, I suddenly think, “Fuck, where are they from? They haven’t got a clue.”
You couldn’t talk to them about different acts. If I turned around to them and went, “Kendrick Lamar,” they’ll think it’s a tyre business or something. I mentioned to a friend the other day, that I had Spotify. He looked at me like I was mad. 
“What’s Spotify?,” he asked.
“You don’t need anymore records,” I said.
“What do you mean, I don’t need anymore records?” 
“Now you pay this money and you play any bloody song you want.”
He looked at me: “Really?” 
I know who Kendrick Lamar is, because of my daughter, and a lot of young people here. They keep you and your ideas younger, you’re still an old fart, but with a slightly younger mindset. 
I’ve worked very hard, and my wife thinks, now it’s time I gave her some time – I think I give her plenty of time, she doesn’t think so. She goes: “why you’re still working five days a week?”
I love doing what I do. Plus, I don’t know what else to do. It’s not even a financial thing anymore. It’s, what do I do?
Does that mean we can count on you forever?
No, at some stage you got to go. I looked at my guys recently. Tom Petty passed away, it’s Paul’s last tour, so that’s two gone. Bob Dylan will probably carry on until he’s 90. ZZ Top, believe it or not, are younger than all the others, they’re still in their sixties. Billy Idol’s in his sixties, Randy Newman is 70-plus.
Do you have a favorite live act of all times?
I won’t tell you, I’ll piss off everybody else. But, yeah, I do. I could give you like four or five.
Okay, your top 5.
No, I won’t. It’s not fair. Actually, one of them is an act I don’t even work with. Put it this way, I love all my artists, and they’re all different, you can’t compare them.
Last few questions. You’ve mentioned twice how grumpy you’ve become. What does that mean?
I get pissed off easily. When you’ve been doing something for a long time, and I’m not just talking about a job. When you’ve been around for a long time, you expect everybody to know what you know. My brain doesn’t go, “They don’t know what you know.” And I get pissed off, I get grumpy. The good thing is, I’m only grumpy for a little while, them I’m okay. I’m not a grump that goes on for days and weeks, never have been.
My wife and I are the same. When we clash, you don’t want to be around. But the next day, we’re back to normal. You’re supposed to get it out, not carry a grudge forever. If I did, I wouldn’t be grumpy, I’d be sick.
You’ve been married for 48 years. What’s your secret?
I remember my father saying to me: “Are you good friends?” I thought, “What a weird thing to say.” But that’s it: You do need to be friends, it’s very important.

Simon & Garfunkel
Sony Music Archives
– Simon & Garfunkel

Would you share your farewell words to Paul Simon here?

I want to thank him for taking me on a great journey. It’s been a fabulous journey being involved with him, and the people around him, and watching his shows, it’s been a pure joy. And I’m very sad not to be able to have that joy anymore. I guess that’s the nearest I can come to what I think of it. It’s been a joy and a pleasure.
What advice would you give to young people who want to become an agent?
I think it’s the same advice you’d give anybody with anything: keep your head down, work hard. You’ve got to have good ears. The problem with this industry right now is, a lot of it is built up by people purely for money-making reasons. But you know what, money comes, and if you look at all the people that have done really, really well, they didn’t start out to become multi-millionaires, they just did it for the love of doing it. 
If you love something, you tend to do it. And if you’re prepared to work hard, and you’ve got a half-way decent ear, then you’ll do very well. You’ve got to be knowledgeable [about talent], and you’ve got to be personable, there’s no good in being a grump.
What advice would you give to old people?
As you get older, you think, “I’m going to take life a bit easier now, I’m not going to kill myself.” May, June and July are crazy for me, I’m all over the place. I’m on a plane at least one time a week. I want to take it easy, I want to try and live a bit longer, that’s my aim.
I’ve been lucky that I had a very long stay at the top. It’s kind of like a soccer player. You saw him play for Manchester United, and then you watch him go to a second division team, and a third division team, and you think: “God, he was such a good player, but he’s slow now.”
You’ve got to know when your time is up, and I’m hoping I’ve got a little while longer yet. But I know some people in this business, who are 80, and this is not an 80-year-old man’s business. You shouldn’t be doing this at 80, you just shouldn’t. 
I’ve done very nicely, but it’s for the youngsters now. My son’s very successful as a manager, my daughter’s very successful as an agent. I’m very happy, I’m proud, and, financially, I’m in good shape. It could always be better, but the years left to spend it are getting less.
Any closing words?
Somebody once said to me he was scared of flying. So I said, “You’ve got more chance of being knocked down crossing the road outside of your house, than you have of a plane crashing,” and added, “when your number’s up, your number’s up.”
He said, “yeah, I understand that, but what if the pilot’s number’s up?”
Thank you for your time Mr. Dickins.