Talking Shop With Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith
Summer is here, the outdoor season in the U.K. is in full swing. Tours are back on the road and many festivals are returning for the first time in three years. Belladrum Festival, which went down in Scotland last weekend, July 28-30, with a capacity crowd of 25,000 is one of them. “It was brilliant to have Belladrum back in near perfect weather & a capacity crowd. The festival ran flawlessly even despite a burst water main on the Thursday night and it was brilliant to see the Bella team in full flow and the Bella family back together after three years,” promoter Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith told Pollstar.
Kilimanjaro Live came out of the pandemic with some 750 shows on sale, “more than we’ve ever had before, and to be quite honest, too many,” according to Galbraith, who said, “I think that’s reflected over the market generally, which is that there’s too much product in the market this summer.” He reckons, “that we’ve had about two-and-a-half years worth of product this year, which has taken three years worth of work, but has given us a year and a bit worth of profit. There’s been a lot of things that have done very well, equally though, I think the market generally is off by 20% or 30%, particularly at theater level.”
Many fans have been holding on to their festival and concert tickets since 2020, their loyalty has enabled a lot of promoters to survive the pandemic. It also means, however, that many fans cannot buy tickets to new shows, because of time and/or money constraints, which only got exacerbated by the current price hikes in all areas.
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Kilimanjaro Live is slowly but surely getting through that backlog of shows, bringing events down to “a much more manageable level,” according to Galbraith. The only rescheduled shows still waiting to take place at press time were two Andrea Bocelli concerts in London, England, and Dublin, Ireland. “Everything else that we’ve got pretty much is new product, which is a relief,” Galbraith explained.
Despite the challenges, the U.K. promoter is looking at a very successful summer, led by Ed Sheeran’s stadium run, for which Kilimanjaro sold just under a million tickets in the England and Wales, where it is the promoter. Stereophonics sold more than 100,000 tickets for two stadium shows in Cardiff, the capital of their home country Wales. “And then we’ve done hundreds of thousands of tickets with Simply Red, Craig David, UB40, Jeff Dunham, Sam Fender, etc. The Kilimanjaro produced Live at Chelsea, Kew The Music, and Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival all returned for the first time in three years.
At the end of the summer season, Kilimanjaro Live will have attracted about one and a half million fans outdoors, and “probably a similar number” indoors, according to Galbraith, who found it hard to pick a highlight. “To finally see Kew and Chelsea both take place after two years of rescheduling, to see Ed back out on the road again, and the huge show that he’s got out in stadiums, and for me personally, having worked with the band for so long, it was brilliant to see Stereophonics play two of their biggest ever shows in Wales,” he said, adding that he was “hugely proud of the team and everyone that we work with at Kili. Certainly, everyone made sacrifices to get through the pandemic, but we’re very pleased that we actually were able to deal with the huge volume of shows. And we’re massively relieved to get through without having to lay anybody off.”
Not every company has been in such a fortunate position, though, and many professionals were forced out of this industry in search of new jobs. Galbraith confirmed, “a lot of people have left the business whether that be in security, bar staff, stewarding it on a venue level, riggers, truck drivers, video operators, even stage crew. There are shortages in most of those areas, and we’re certainly seeing those across the board both indoors and outdoors. I think the pressure is particularly acute during the summer season, because there is so much product. But I would hope that we start to see those issues ease as we move into the autumn.”
Galbraith is one of the people instrumental in establishing the U.K.’s first live entertainment trade organization LIVE. Current research undertaken by LIVE shows that the fans’ main concern at the moment isn’t COVID, but rather the general rise in living costs. Looking ahead, Galbraith is therefore filled with both optimism and an awareness of new challenges. “I do think the market will come back. I’m hoping that next spring and summer will be less crowded than this year has been. But I do believe that we’ve got some real financial challenges ahead. We’re aware of inflation, we’re aware of supply chain pressures that ultimately are causing things such as trucks, buses, PA, lights, and all staffing to be more expensive. And we also need to be very mindful of our customers’ concerns with regard to inflation, cost of living increases, etc. There’s going to be a very narrow path on which to tread in terms of being able to increase ticket prices. And I think while strong tickets will always be strong, the mid-range touring market will need look very carefully – in a collective effort between agents, managers, production managers, tour managers, promoters and venues – at what we’re actually presenting. If the ticket price can’t go up, but the costs have gone up significantly, does the production actually have to be cut to fit the cloth accordingly?,” Galbraith explained.
Galbraith has weathered many a storm during his career in live entertainment, and he does not hesitate to describe the past two years leading into the current challenges as unprecedented “on every level, both from a personal point of view, a societal point of view, and a business point of view. I’m old enough to have promoted through two recessions, one in 99, and one in 2008. And while those times were tough, nothing compared to what we had to go through in 2020, because it wasn’t just affecting some people, it was absolutely universal.
“And I think one of the positives to come out of the pandemic was the fact that, because everybody was universally affected, everybody pulled together. I’m personally hugely proud or the formation of LIVE. And the fact that out of that massive adversity and that white heat of the pandemic when it was at its at its worst in terms of its impact upon the business, everybody came together. The longevity of live will be a testimony of how well people work together. From a sector point of view, it’s a massive positive that came out of what was a crisis.”