Q’s With Mark Mackie, CEO Of Scottish Promoter Regular Music

Mark Mackie
– Mark Mackie
CEO of Regular Music and one of Glasgow

As part of Pollstar’s first city focus on Glasgow, we spoke with Mark Mackie, CEO of Scotland’s longest-standing promoter Regular Music. Topics include the city’s history and how it affected the Glasgow live audience, which is renowned for its energy around the world.
We also touched upon Mackie’s own history and his events, which includes Summer Nights at the Bandstand in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park, which hit £1 million ($1.3 million) at the box office for the first time in its five-year history. This year’s headliners included Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry, Pretenders and Jimmy Cliff.
How did Summer Nights at the Bandstand develop into the boutique, but high-profile concert series it is today?
It was always our intention to have a high-quality event. From day one it was no burgers and chips, no chemical Portaloos. It had to be good bar service, good catering. And its just such a beautiful site, the bandstand itself, set in the center of the park. 
The stage backs on to the River Kelvin, the ambience in the park is pretty special, especially at night, when we light the trees and everything. It would be a crime to treat the bandstand any differently than that.
The audience like going there. It’s only 2,250 capacity, so it’s like seeing these artists in your living room half of the time. Audience and artists love it.
How to you make the economics work?
We don’t try and save money on any of the infrastructure, because, as I said, it’s important to the quality of the event and makes people come back. Our ticket prices might be slightly higher, but not much. They range from £35 to £60 ($39-77), with the average being probably about £37.50 to £40.
It’s not overly charging, but because we’re in for two weeks, we can spread the costs of the PA and the lights and the stage. Also, because it’s so popular with the audience, we don’t have to waste a lot of money on marketing.
Basically, our philosophy from the beginning has been that most of the gate money goes to get the artists. And we’ve got good sponsorships with Heineken, we run the bars, and we’re not greedy. That all helps make it add up for everybody.
We find that when we do go on sale in January, when we announce our lineup, the majority of them sell out on announcement, or certainly over the weekend we announce.
People are waiting to go, and I get a feeling that some people go to more than one concert. I think they just like the idea of it, in the west-end of Glasgow, on the doorstep for a lot of people. And I think they like showing off to friends, buying tickets for them and invite them over. There’s a real community buzz. 
You’re celebrating £1 million at the box office for the first time in 2018. How do you feel?
We’re delighted. We hit 95 percent sales across the board, which is incredible. And we didn’t spend all of our marketing money. We didn’t need to.
Did you have a personal highlight this year?
Difficult to say. It’s always stunning to see Van Morrison almost smile – when he realizes that he’s in the middle of this beautiful park, and the trees are lit around him. He is fighting the smile, you can almost see it.
What’s the general feedback you got from artists?
They all loved it. Van Morrison, for example, came back, because he loved it two years ago. He said, ‘I want to come back’. A lot of them will come back, hopefully, in a couple of years time, and they’re very welcome to do so.
We just got our dates for next year, and we’ll start to open our diary on that once the dust has settled.
Does the City of Glasgow offer any support?
They don’t offer any financial support, we’ve never asked for that, and as I’ve told you before, we don’t agree with that. 
Throughout the year, the bandstand is kept up by them, and they do a great job. We find liaising with their staff etc. great, everybody from the refuse collections to the people working on the road for parking and stuff like that, to the administration at the Parks Department, they’re very helpful.
Do you get a lot of noise complaints?
I think people love the event for what it brings to the city. There’s always going to be the odd thing, I think we’ve had eight noise complaints over five years. Those noise complaints are met with somebody at the door with a noise meter, who’s speaking with them. Once they feel listened to, and you’re taking on board how they’re feeling, it tends to appease them, and they understand what’s going on.
We don’t do Metallica in there. There’s no point in putting an audience in there that would enjoy a more frantic set-up and mosh pits etc. 
Texas played Summer Nights at the Bandstand in 2017
– Texas played Summer Nights at the Bandstand in 2017
Artists and adience love the vibe in Kelvingrove Park

Speaking of the Glasgow audience. You hear a lot of great things about them. Would you say it’s a more dedicated audience than in other places?
I think so. Well, I’m Glaswegian myself, so I’m biased. It’s my home city, so I would say that. So you should probably ask someone else.
My experience of growing up in Glasgow and going to gigs as a kid was always that: there was a magical atmosphere. People in Glasgow enjoy a night out, that’s the simple way to put it. They’re going for a night out, they’re going to give it their all. They put as much effort in as the bands. They leave their troubles at the door, they don’t mind the odd drink, and they’re going to enjoy themselves. That’s what they’re there for.
Do you remember your first live experience?
My first live concert was the Boomtown Rats at the Glasgow Apollo. The old Glasgow Apollo, before it was pulled down [in 1985]. I must have been 13. The Glasgow Apollo was famous worldwide for that Glasgow audience.
But even before that, back in the variety days of the 50s and 60s, there was a venue called the Glasgow Empire. And all of the comedy the acts on these variety bills used to always say, if you went down well at the Glasgow Empire, you’d go down well anywhere. And some of them were so scared, they would shit themselves going on. It was like being thrown into a bear pit, and if you could survive that, you could survive everything.
There’s a famous English comedian called Des O’Connor, who thread the boards around all these theaters, and he once said that when he was in Glasgow, he pretended to faint when he was on the stage, because he was so scared of what the audience were going to do to him. There’s thousands of stories like that with the Glasgow Empire.
Glasgow audiences have always been very vocal. They want their acts or the band to know they’re there. They want a communication. They don’t want to just sit back and enjoy, it’s a two-way street for them. Glaswegians can be loud and brash, and then they sway. It’s a friendly loudness. They want them to know, ‘hey, we’re here’, and take part.
What the reason for this zeal?
I think an important thing to mention is the sociological history of the city. It was the second city of the Empire, a heavy-industrial city, and very proud of its steel works and ship building, which was world renowned.
The people of Glasgow were very hard workers, working long-shift in terrible conditions etc. When they got to the weekend, they really wanted to party. They worked very hard and they knew how to party very hard.
Glaswegians take real ownership of their city, and they’re very proud of it. The song “Glasgow Belongs To Me” sort of sums up that attitude.
How did you end up working in this business?
I went to Glasgow Uni, the Bandstand is actually a stones-throw away, so it’s my old stomping ground. I was on the student union board, and the girl that was the entertainments officer took ill, so I took over, because I liked helping organize the different disco and club nights.
They didn’t do many bands then, so I reintroduced live bands, that was my thing. I just learned as I went. I was only 19 when I started booking bands in 1983. That was 35 years ago, I guess I’m celebrating.
The London agents didn’t know us, we didn’t know them, so I just booked local bands to begin with. A lot of them went on to have great careers, including Del Amitri, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, the Bluebells. These would all fill my hall, the 1,000 capacity Queen Margaret Union of Glasgow Uni.
We did all that, and the we thought, “right, we’re running out of Scottish bands here”. By then the London agents had heard of this new gig that had opened and was working well. I then remember booking The Smiths in March 1984 for their first show in Glasgow, the Pogues first show in Glasgow, and then we were on the map. After about six months to a year of doing a lot of Scottish bands, we had arrived on the circuit. People would start phoning us, offering us acts.
What were other developments in Glasgow that opened up the city to live entertainment?
The Apollo had closed down, and gigs were put on at Tiffany’s on Sauchiehall Street, only for a year. And then the Glasgow Barrowland was reopened by Regular Music and Simple Minds in the early 80s. That was very important, a pivotal turning point in the history of Glasgow.
Simple Minds opened the venue for the video to “Waterfront”, one of their big hits. It was with a live audience, and everybody loved it, and said, “why don’t you do this more, keep it open, Glasgow needs this”.
That was the birth of the modern Barrowland.
Were you already working for Regular Music at that time?
I was just joining. I remember helping out, but I was still at the Uni.
Who founded Regular Music?
Barry Wright and Peter Irvine. Pete and Barry both left about 20 and 10 years ago, respectively. I joined leaving Uni in 1985.
Any other milestones after the repoening of Barrowland?
The SSEC opening up, Scotland’s first real arena, we did the first show there with UB40. We also did Simple Minds, U2, Eurythmics, all of those bands touring at that time. That was very important, just to get Scottish people into arenas, because they hadn’t been.
And now that’s been taken over by the Hydro, which is fantastic. The SSEC was a make-due arena that was built for conferences not for concerts. They quickly realized they could make more money from concerts than conferences, because they don’t buy beer and burgers at conferences. I’m just being cynical.
They tried to make it better for us, but the sound was always crap. Eventually, we got our properly designed audience arena called the Hydro. And we’re delighted it’s here.
Then there’s our beloved ABC, which sadly burned down two months ago. It was doing so well, it was a 1,300 capacity right in the center of Glasgow. We found and opened it in 2005. It used to be a cinema, which lay derelict for about 20 years.
Are there any chances of recovering the venue?
There might be, it’s with the insurers and the landlords. We’re all in discussions, and maybe it will rise out of the ashes. It was brilliant, Glasgow is going to miss that while it’s gone.
The SSE Hydro
The SSE Hydro
– The SSE Hydro
Mackie is a big fan of the venue

What’s the general venue situation in Glasgow like? Are there enough venues of different capacities to build artists?
Yes, there are. There’s really good smaller rooms for building acts, a fantastic choice of those, everything from the Oran Mor, Nice N Sleazy, Stereo. There are great options available at that level, there’s even smaller ones like the Glad Cafe.
And then you take it up to the next level, that’s where the ABC sat nicely, before you went to the Barrowland or Academy. And unfortunately, we’re missing that. It was a really important stepping stone, and we’re going to have to find a replacement for that really quickly, or gat the ABC rebuilt as quickly as we can.
Above and beyond that, we’ve got the Concert Hall, which is a fantastic facility for seated concerts, with a 2,000 capacity. We’ve got the Armadillo over at the SEC as well, 3,000 capacity. And then you’re at the Hydro, which is so well-designed, it looks good even when it’s only on 6,000 or 7,000.
Some arenas say, “we can drape, and it looks good”, but you’re standing there on a windy night, the curtain blows, and you can see all the empty seats, and there’s no atmosphere. You could have sold 7,000 tickets and look like a failure going out there.
Even at two-thirds filled, the Hydro can be draped and walled and look fantastic. And that was put into the thought and design of the building, because they realized not every night is going to be a 12,000 sell out.
Any challenges live entertainment professionals are facing in Glasgow at the moment?
Glasgow realizes how important live music is to it, and it doesn’t want to jeopardize that. Everybody from the council buy tickets, everybody likes their live music. It’s a nice place to be.
Is there any act you always wanted to book for the Bandstand, but haven’t managed to get?
There is one, but I’m not telling you, because someone else will book it.
Fair enough.
I’m joking, there is one: I keep missing Patti Smith every year by about a week. One year I’m going to get her, I promise.