Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Backstage at... Christmas With The Rat Pack

Tonight was the last show of our busiest time of year.  Christmas With The Rat Pack is a wonderful West End style show that features replica performances of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis Jr.  Our Front Of House teams can now relax and enjoy a less manic couple of months ahead, before things start to pick up again at the end of February.
Rat Pack is a unique show in that it's one of the rare ocassions that you will see people smoking inside a building these days.  The show is incredibly authentic to the original performances of these playboys, and as such, cigarettes flow.  And flow.
To smoke on stage, or in fact anywhere indoors, is generally illegal.  However, we are able to apply for dispensation on artistic grounds, and this is the only show we generally do it for.  I saw the show last year, and the effect of the singer/actors lighting up does add to the authenticity of the characters.
However, for this years show, the Tour Manager from the shows producers didn't compile the paperwork in time, which means our audience tonight saw a different show to the rest of the country.  A smoke free one.  I'm looking forward to hearing whether this compromised the enjoyment of the 1500 people in the crowd, and therefore whether this last outpost of the indoors ciggie is doomed.
Thank you for reading.  I wish you a very merry Christmas!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Backstage at... One Night Of Queen

Setting up right now in the arena is one of the most fun shows of the year tonight: One Night of Queen. The show is fronted by Gary Mullen, who since winning the Stars in Their Eyes final in 2000, has carved out an excellent live career for himself as the mighty Freddie Mercury. One of the few regrets in my life is that I never made it to a Queen concert. I did however come to One Night of Queen last time they were here, and it blew me away. His performance is so astonishing and accurate that Brian May himself has written that Gary bears a remarkable likeness to Freddie, in more than just voice and appearance on stage.

I’m unfortunately unable to come tonight, which was already a shame. However, I’ve just learnt about something special for this evening, which is leaving me feeling gutted right now:

I know from conversations with Gary how much he genuinely enjoys his performances at Plymouth Pavilions. We’re the biggest venue he plays on his tour, and the crowd are always fantastic. As a way of making it a great night tonight for those of you coming for a Christmas night out, he has added something special for one night only: he will be joined on stage by opera star Ruth Kerr, to perform a special rendition of Barcelona, the song that Mercury had a massive hit with Montserrat CaballĂ« in 1987.

If you’re going to be here tonight, I’m extremely jealous – you’re in for a right royal treat!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The sound

The sound, or acoustics, is a fairly regular topic of conversation when people talk about The Pavilions. Plus with the amount of shows we have at the moment, it's a topic that has come up elsewhere on thisisplymouth. So let's talk about it: why is "the sound so bad at Plymouth Pavilions"?

The first of two points I want to make is that I don't agree with the above statement. You're probably thinking that you'd expect me to say that! Well until a year ago, before I joined the venue, I was probably one of those people that shared the view that the sound quality of the arena is rubbish. It was a view based upon the fact that we've all said it for years, and years ago, whenever I went it wasn't great.

My view today is that the arena CAN sound imperfect. And it CAN sound amazing.

So why was it historically "bad"? In essence, the shape of the room isn't great, and the finishes that were originally put into the space doubled the problem. There were loads of angles and corners for sound waves to ricochet off, which means you get unclean sound and echos all over the place. What's changed? Our technical teams have done their upmost to address this where possible. This hasn't been cheap, and has therefore been a long process. And as anything, there's more we can try. I had a conversation just last week about another investment we can make to dampen the sound from the walls, and it's something we should do, just as soon as finances allow.

To sum up the above, I guess the point is that yes the venue isn't perfect in acoustics, but we do try hard to mitigate that, and I believe we have got to a point where the sound CAN be great.

Which leads me on to my second point: why is it not consistent? I have talked before about the way in which the live arena business operates, in that I don't book the acts direct, but simply hire out the room to a "Promoter" who puts the show together, books the artist, sets the ticket price, and organises the supporting infrastructure, including the lighting, PA (sound), and the guy operating the sound. So every time you come to a gig, it's a completely different sound system, and a completely different person operating it. The speakers have probably never been in the venue before, and on one night shows there is simply no opportunity to play about with the sound and get it right. The roadie will try during the day, but that's when the huge room is empty, which in itself makes a room sound totally different. It's a problem that exists across all venues that host one night shows. We do work with the touring sound technicians to advise on the types of sound settings that work best, but we don't always get there, and they don't always listen.

Last weekend I went to Them Crooked Vultures, and Jools Holland. The first one, in my opinion could have been better sound wise. The second one, just one night later, in my opinion could not have been better sound wise. I believe that these days we get far more of the latter than we used to, and we strive to get to a point where our reputation is no longer based upon the past.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Silly Season

We're right in the middle of the busiest time of the year in the Arena. For reasons I still don't fully understand, tha majority of "Rock N Roll" tours all go out on the road for the six weeks or so before Christmas. What that means for our customers (and also for our PR), is that this is a good time of year: a great range of top flight shows to choose from. What this means for us is that our team are working on full steam. It also means that our financial model for the year is incredibly dependant upon these few weeks. For me and my fellow Directors, will we deliver on the targets that we set this time last year (before we even knew what the line up would be)?

What's fantastic about this time of year is the diverse range of work we can have in a short period of time. The versatility of the Pavilions' Arena means that it has to be a Jack Of All Trades. With that comes sacrifices, which the designers recognised. A wonderful setting like The Theatre Royal would never play host to Them Crooked Vultures. Or basketball. Or a banquet. So it's ironic that one of the things that is the Arena's biggest weaknesses is also one of it's biggest strengths.

By way of an example, here's last weeks diary:

Sunday: Lazytown - childrens theatre show
Monday: The Herald Sports Awards - gala banquet and presentation ceremony
Wednesday: Alice Cooper - Music, poison and death
Friday: Madness - 4000 people moshing
Saturday: Airwaves Plymouth Raiders
Sunday: Grumpy Old Women - Comedy with a Gin & Tonic

In my opinion, no other venue in the UK can provide such a range of shows back to back. If you're with us this season, enjoy!

PS - Talking of Them Crooked Vultures, we've been able to release a few extra tickets for this supergroup on Thursday night (by reducing the size of the stage a little). They will go very quickly, so don't say I didn't warn you...

Friday, 27 November 2009

The weekend

Here's an example of how quickly we have to work sometimes.  As I type this, it's 6.50pm on Friday evening.  I'm at home.
An hour ago (so after 5.30pm on a Friday) I received an email telling me that a pop concert we've had "pencilled" in the diary for almost a year is definitely happening.  Cool!
All we need to do is have our ducks in order, ready to announce the concert on Monday.  Not so cool!
It won't actually go on sale on Monday, it will likely be later in the week.  I haven't had that detail yet, but it's just one of many details that has to be confirmed ahead of our Marketing team sending the Press Release to The Herald and others on Monday.  We need official photos of the act, their biography, date of the show (which we have), time of the show, ticket prices, details of any support act, age restrictions, whether each customer is only allowed to buy a certain amount of tickets.  I could go on.
Then we need to get the official paperwork together and back to The Promoter for their sign off, plus write and proof the Press Release.
At the weekend.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Don't miss the cycle

Like many things in life, the pattern of what shows we can bring you often goes in cycles.  For instance, 2009 has been a quiet year in our entertainment line up for international acts.  The reason for that is quite straight forward: this time last year, as the world was in financial meltdown, the value of the Pound plummeted against the Dollar (and the Euro), which meant that it suddenly became a whole lot more expensive for Promoters to bring foreign stars in.  Thankfully the exchange rate has recovered a little of late, and as such it's started to trickle back, with shows like the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures next month - heck that was a coup to be proud of!
On the flipside, this year has been huge for comedy.  Again, there's an explanation: when recession bites and times get tough, it's much cheaper for Promoters to put one funny guy and his Manager on the road for a tour, than it is 2 bands (the headline & support), their instruments, the stage set, sound and light systems, a bunch of roadies, and a catering team to keep the other 30 fed.  The latter requires 3 or 4 lorries and a couple of buses, the former a car. 
Thankfully comedy is having somewhat of a resurgence due to TV shows like Mock The Week.  Therefore the Promoters, venues like the Pavilions, and all of us as fans have found a way to get through the tough times thanks to the brilliant talent of people like Michael McIntyre.
Something else that's been big this year is children's shows.  Just this year we've had Bob the Builder, Chuckle Brothers, Milkshake, The Wiggles, Scooby Doo and more.  Next weekend the brilliant Lazytown is back with us.  Kids shows do however seem to me right now like an area that will be less well served in 2010.  These productions are planned and booked well in advance, and from the current enquiries I have, I get the feeling that the cycle is shifting here too.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Making sure your seat is actually there

Things are pretty busy in the office at the moment. We've quite a few shows going on sale at the moment, including Jimmy Carr & Britain's Got Talent Winners Diversity. One of the great things about the Pavilion's Arena is that it is versatile: we can change the way that it is laid out significantly. We have over a dozen regular formats, plus we build bespoke ones for things such as snooker tournaments and fashion shows, not to mention all the corporate and business activity we undertake, which I'll talk about another time.

So for this reason, getting each show on sale can be a military operation. We have to ensure that every detail of how the arena will be laid out is sorted before the show goes on sale. Because once you've put seats available to buy, and someone buys them, you can't take them away again. Here's just one example. Each touring show usually brings in their own equipment. Things like the sound mixing desk. The best place to control sound effectively is somewhere in front of the speakers, to hear what the audience hears, and that often means it is right down in amongst the seating.

So we need to know where they want to put the mixing desk, so that we can clear some seats away to create a space. But how many? Is the mixer 5 or 7 feet wide? 2 or 3 feet deep? Those small changes can mean the difference of 6 seats.

For some shows, our Show Co-Ordinator works on this level of detail for 6 months before we get to a point where we can put it on sale. At othe times, where an artist is suddenly in the public eye, and the Promoters want to seize the moment, we have maybe 48 hours notice.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Backstage at... Flo Rida

I've just got back from the Flo Rida gig. The best part of 4 hours of entertainment was lapped up by a buzzing crowd tonight. Local Promoter Alex did a great job of not only pulling off Flo Rida, but also crafting a perfect supporting cast, in the shape of Bashy, Sway, and local dance outfit Beat Breakers. They had a busy day, as they also squeezed in The Plymouth Christmas Lights Switch on between and earlier rehearsal and tonights show.

As I mentioned yesterday, Flo Rida flew in overnight for this gig. His flight from Los Angeles was due in to Heathrow at 1.30pm. Let's allow an hour to get through the airport, then the journey down from London is say another 3. That meant that without hiccups, our star of the night would arrive in Plymouth at 5.30pm. Just enough time for a sound check before we opened the Arena doors to his fans.

From the moment I got to my desk this morning, I have been watching Heathrow's live flight info online. Today has been a nervous day. Our acts don't usually fly in and fly out with no time to spare. So imagine my relief when his team of eight touched down 3 minutes early. We were on schedule.

And then it got wobbly. It took them around two and a half hours to get through Heathrow immigration today. At half three this afternoon the international rap star, whos fans would walk into the Pavilions arena in 3 hours time, was still sat in a London airport.

One major queue on the M5, and a night out for thousands of people would have been ruined tonight.

Thankfully the roads were clear. Flo Rida went on stage to a huge roar from the crowd, without having had chance to do a soundcheck, and without anyone in the crowd knowing how close it was to not happening tonight.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Taking the risk

One of the interesting things about working on the shows at the Pavilions is that no two are the same. Tonight we have US rap star Flo Rida here, and it's a perfect example of how each show is unique. For example, the majority of the big rock and pop concerts that come to Plymouth are organised by a small handful of companies, called Promoters. They are usually based in London, and can be huge organisations. Promoters are the people that pull all the bits together. They book the artist, hire the venue, organise the sound systems, the lighting, the promotion of the event, and all the logistical stuff that goes on behind the scenes, like transport, accommodation and catering. They also take the financial risk: if a show doesn't sell as well as they'd envisaged, they've still got the same bills to pay!

Those big Promoters are sometimes even more heavily involved. Some of them actually run the venues the shows tour around. Some of them also act as the artists Management. Some of them sell tickets to shows themselves. It takes an incredible amount to put a singer on a stage these days. And that's why it's incredible that Flo Rida is here today. Because tonight's show is promoted by Alex Goss, a twenty-something guy from Torpoint, who wants to make a go of it as a Promoter. We first spoke to Alex about his idea at the start of the year. At that time, it was just another enquiry, of which we get several a day. As I've outlined above, it takes an incredible amount to pull a show off, and for that reason most enquiries never get past the first phone call, as it quickly becomes clear whether or not there's any legs in it. I'll happily admit that with that backdrop in mind, I was sceptical about Alex's approach at first. But we all stuck with it, and here we are, more than 6 months later, and an international star has flown across the Atlantic overnight to play Plymouth tonight. The last time he did that was to appear on The X-Factor!

The fact that Alex is based locally has also meant that he's been able to add some unique elements to tonight's show. For instance, support comes from local dance group Beat Breakers – good luck guys – as well as DJ Jonezy, and hip hop gurus Sway and Bashy. Should be a great night.

Alex has beaten all the odds to reach this day. Hat's off to you.

There are many more reasons why tonight's gig is out of the ordinary. More about that next time..

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


Hi there! I’m Gavin, and I’m the Programming & Marketing Director at Plymouth Pavilions. What that basically means is that I’m the one that books the various things that happen in the arena, and then oversees the marketing & ticket sales. It’s a really cool job in a fun industry, and my hope is that I can share some of that with you right here.

I thought it would be useful if I use this first post to tell you a little bit about me. I’m 35, married with 2 children, and live in Oreston. I’m Plymouth born & bred, and love this city. My previous career took me away from Plymouth, spending a few years in Cardiff & Ipswich, but we missed Plymouth too much, and decided to return for good. That was a year ago, and that’s when I came to work at the Pavilions.

Running an arena was a new line of work for me, so it’s been a year with a very steep learning curve: getting my head around how the industry works, booking shows, turning many more away…I’m loving every minute of it. My aim is to share as much of the interesting stuff as I can with you here, and as we’re just about to go into our busiest time of year, I’m hoping for plenty of gossip from backstage too!