How do you talk about a career as illustrious and impactful as Barrie Marshall’s without writing a book? It’s impossible.
We still managed to touch upon all the important milestones in this interview for his 2022 Impact International honoree profile – from promoting the first ever show at London’s Roundhouse when the legendary Stax/Volt roster toured Europe in the 1970s to working with Tina Turner, Cher & Sade to accompanying the incredible careers of Paul McCartney and Elton John, who may be looking at the longest tour in history, once “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” closes, to a 20-year working relationship with Pink.
Kick back and enjoy this journey through the decades with one of the world’s most experienced promoters and artist agents the world has ever seen: Barrie Marshall, founder and chairman of Marshall Arts
Please describe your state of mind at the end of 2022?
During the past few months, I have had a more positive attitude to our industry. Tours have happened and audiences have returned, hungry for live entertainment. There has, of course, been the challenge of Covid and maintaining the protocols to keep everyone safe. Some shows had to be re-scheduled, but somehow people have worked through this.
Brexit has been an interesting challenge for many artistes and service industries.
The consequences of the Pandemic forced many very experienced and valuable technicians – and in fact all persons involved with life on the road – to seek other jobs to survive. Many have not returned to the industry and this has been worrying in order to maintain the level of excellence the world has become used to.
It has also increased the cost of everything – so making plans and achieving the needed income is another challenge. My great good fortune has been to work with superb production managers – and selfless technicians and crew members – who continue to support everything we try to do and have my total respect and admiration.
These challenges continue to cause great concern as we head towards the end of the year – the economic crisis, which is global, the war in Ukraine which I don’t believe will end soon, is an extremely sad situation. We can only hope that some sort of peace can be realised. Music remains the international language – so we hope it will continue to bring people together – rather than cause divisions which seem to exist everywhere else.
It’s been an intense couple of years. How do you maintain a calm mind and continue to deliver, even under intense pressure? Any tips or tricks for less experienced promoters?
Yes, it has been a very intense couple of years, and no one could predict what would happen. We had to make many adjustments to maintain positivity and find a way to look to the future. Like everyone else, the working pattern changed somewhat – but the thing which is most important – and which I value most highly, is that we were able to keep our team pretty much together throughout.
In terms of numbers, we are a relatively small company, built over many years. We have grown together, and each person has vast experience and dedication. Finding the right venues and availability, planning the right possibilities, marketing, timing – and simply finding ways to staff and create the productions – certainly increased the pressure.
But team is everything and I have immense pride in everyone who contributes so much to Marshall Arts and the Artistes we serve. I constantly remember there is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’
You’re in the middle of one of the biggest tours of all times. Never mind the gross, just the sheer scale of it. Can you sum up your emotions when thinking about touring with Elton John. Especially considering that next year in summer it’ll all come to an end?
Due to the Pandemic, Elton’s tour may turn out to be one of the longest in history! His team are excellent to work with – and his success worldwide has been nothing short of phenomenal! We have had to move his shows several times and are impressed by the loyalty of his fans – who go with him and patiently wait for his appearance for them, holding on to their tickets for not months, but sometimes years. This is testament to his talent, his incredible catalogue of songs, his warmth and personality to please his public.
I think it’s clear to see that Elton simply loves music, not just his own, he manages to remain totally current and so happy to work with contemporary Artistes. His dedicated and selfless work for charity, particularly his Aids Foundation, has changed millions of lives and I feel sure that will continue once he reaches the final date of the tour.
Even if he stops touring, I have to believe he will still continue to write and undertake other projects, but probably not involving so much travelling! He will definitely not disappear, just to watch his piano playing is an experience in itself !
It’s natural for someone like Elton John and Paul McCartney to steal all the limelight. What else have you been working on this past year, and what do you have in the pipeline?
We feel lucky and privileged to work with both of these icons. Paul’s tour in America earlier this year was an absolute triumph. Again it’s the incredible set list of songs, hard to choose which to leave out. That never fails to inspire and bring joy. The amazing night at Glastonbury was a fitting climax for Paul’s year– with Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl joining the party. It’s a night I don’t think anyone will ever forget.
I am so proud that we also represent Herbie Hancock, surely the greatest living jazz icon. He was due to tour in 2020 to celebrate his 80th Birthday. COVID changed that of course, but he returned to the UK and Europe this summer to rave reviews.
Another amazing talent: Pink, who is incredibly special to us, having worked with her since 2002. (Can that be twenty years? I guess so.) She has been so busy writing and recording but will soon be back to thrill again with her live shows.
Celine Dion, her dates have had to be moved, but we look forward to her returning next March. Lionel Richie also had to postpone his tour, so we hope to be seeing him in 2023.
We enjoyed shows this year with Miles Graham, Pabllo Vittar, Paul Weller, Jonatha Brooke, Night Flight and Snarky Puppy. More on the drawing board, so we’ll see what comes to fruition!
Most promoters seem to agree that ticket prices cannot go up any more, or at least not by much. The other option is to scale down production. What do you predict in the coming year for the live events business?
It’s hard to predict. There has been a feeling that production may be scaled down, due to the availability of equipment and personnel. But Artistes have their specific ideas about how they want to present themselves, so I feel close collaboration with their managers and designers will probably dictate the final outcome.
Do you remember the moment you fell in love with live music
There were many moments to be honest. Becoming aware of Elvis for the first time was quite a jolt – so different from anyone or anything else.
Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, but then when Jack Good’s ‘Oh Boy’ started and Cliff [Richard] and the Shadows featured so heavily, it became apparent that the Brits could do it, too! I think that’s when I got really interested. And, of course, to prove the point, The Beatles started the avalanche of British talent around the world. I also loved Motown and so much soul, R&B, and jazz! It was a thrill to work with Stevie Wonder in later years.
I loved the magic of Barbra Streisand, and the genius that was Paco de Lucia. So, it seems I was – and still am – rather diverse.
What do you reckon you’d be doing if you weren’t in the music business?
I was training to be a civil engineer when music took over my life. My ambition was actually to be an architect.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishments in your career and why?
That question has given me rather a lot to think about!
Maintaining relationships with all the Artistes and their managers over so many years is something I value above all else.
The honor of travelling the world with Paul McCartney on so many adventures wasn’t something I expected when I first started out in this business. “Magical Mystery Tour”doesn’t even begin to tell the stories – or describe the real magic!
My journey with Roger Davies, working with him on all his amazing Artistes these past decades has been more than special. Presenting Pink’s first Madison Square concert was very important to me.
Cher and Sade. Tina [Turner], of course, holds a huge place in our hearts – we started working with her and with Lionel Richie in 1978 and are blessed to still have them, their music and their friendship in our lives.
Promoting the first ever show at London’s Roundhouse with the Stax Volt package, including Otis Redding. (Strange that my office window now looks straight across to that building!)
Achieving concerts in amazing locations, The Colosseum in Rome (inside and out), Zocalo Square in Mexico City. Independence Square in Kiev and Red Square in Moscow. Seems quite ironic now!
And the first concerts to open the new Wembley Stadium with George Michael, and the Concert for Nelson Mancela’s 70th Birthday at the old Stadium. What a moment when he finally walked free. That really proved that music makes a difference!
It was a pleasure to present shows at Woburn Abbey, at Tina’s show it was a great moment watching Princess Diana sitting at the mixer chatting with Dorothy Davies, Roger’s mum. Then, Elton and Dire Straits.
The immense joy of working for so many years with those we have lost, including Whitney [Houston], – since she first arrived in 1986. Joe Cocker, George Michael, Al Jarreau, Prince, John Denver, Joe Sample, Paco de Lucia, Mary Wilson, Lavine Hudson, Tony Joe White and, most recently, John Miles – sadly the list goes on. But nothing can take away their gifts to the world and the legacies they leave behind.
Thoughts of Annie Lennox and Kate Bush and, if I go way back, to Man, The O Band, Canned Heat, The Kinks, Dave Dee, The Walker Brothers, Terry Reid – I guess I’m starting to write a book rather than give simple answers, but I suppose I’ve been around quite a while! Let’s just say our lives have been very full. There have been so many wonderful moments with so many unique talents!
Having an international company, too, because I always wanted to take music everywhere. I consider that we are always ‘auditioning,’ so to have the privilege of working with people again and again, I think says something about the quality of this team’s work and I feel rather proud of that.
The business philosophy you live by?
It is always about the Artiste and the Audience. They are the reason that we are here and lucky enough to do this job. Trying never to be in the Artiste’s space (or face), when they have more important things to think about.
Preparation is key, advance planning, and visits to meet the personnel we will be working with. It’s important to focus on all aspects and all departments. Crucially, attention to details, no matter how small they may seem, on show day, they will become very relevant.
Respect others. Recognize and value their experience and knowledge.
When visiting new territories, leave your own culture at home, and embrace and accept the differences.
There is always something to learn. Listening is very important!
The most memorable concert/show of your life?
It really would be too difficult to pick just one! That just shows how fortunate we are!
Your favorite grassroots music venue to go see a show
If I reminisce, in the early days I always loved the Marquee Club. I think the Jazz Café is a great place to see a show.
The one thing you love most in life?
My wife, Jenny.