Q: What was the legacy of "The Wall"?
A: What I tried to utilize and influence in my life is there's more to an artist or a major star than just performance and that star can use his glory and power for the common good, for causes and charities or whatever. "The Wall" was such a major political shift in all of our lives that all the artists that played in that show went there because they knew what was going on and why. They knew that was the celebration of it.
Q: One of your few missteps was trying to bring professional basketball to England in the '90s. What happened?
A: In the '90s, we just didn't have deep enough pockets to sustain it…At the time, we tried to set up a British Basketball League to emulate the NBA because they weren't really here and I got involved in it, [Chrysalis founder] Chris Wright got involved in it, another promoter named Barrie Marshall got involved in it. We tried very hard to make it work, but we just didn't have deep enough pockets to keep it going and you need a huge amount of money to persevere with it.
Q: In the mid-90s, SFX began buying concert promoters, such as Delsener Presents and Sunshine Promotions, as well as their venue assets. How did that affect you?
A: So when all this started, all of the major agents and promoters are calling me up saying, "We will never ever join these people, no way, never." And one by one they were all selling (laughs). It cracked me up. Every single one of them was doing a deal with them except basically [Jam's] Arny Granat.
Q: Arny Granat and Metropolitan's John Scher.
A: For me, I didn't particularly want to be part of some massive, great company. I was intrigued by it. I thought it was quite fascinating. I didn't like the idea of it because it was only a matter of time where everything with them becomes like a huge bureaucracy and, you know, less creativity and more about business of money and profit-driven and all the rest of it, but the business was going that way anyway. So I just watched it all happen with amusement.
Q: Did they try to buy you?
A: No. By the time they were already in England or buying beyond that, when Clear Channel bought SFX, nobody gave a shit about assets. It was power and positioning and value,
Q: How did it affect you?
A: It absolutely affected me! It meant from that point onwards I either had to do global tours or, to some extent, hope and pray that certain acts would stick with me because I'd always worked with them, which, in truth they did. At that point it didn't bother me and the acts that were going to go would have gone anyway. And the scumbag agents that told me one thing: "Don't worry, you'll always get it," and managers: "Yes, yes, yes, you're the person; you'll always work with it" and [then] took the money, well, fuck 'em.
And to some extent, I knew the point when all this was going on, that I'd kind of run my course as the dominant promoter, and, to some extent, I was getting bored with it because it wasn't improving and I just felt that I wanted to diversify; I've always diversified in my life and this time I felt I could diversify. I was annoyed about it, but I realized unless I could put 25, 30, 40, 50 million on the table, I'm not going to get a global tour. I'm not going to get the loyalty that I had.
Q: Jumping ahead to Live 8 in 2005, you brought back Pink Floyd for the first time in 25 years. Any thoughts that you could get them to do a tour?
A: Had Rick not passed away over the passage of time, it probably would have happened in some way shape or form, but when [keyboardist] Rick [Wright] went, that was the end of it.
Q: You and Kevin Wall own brand leverage company Ignite, which works with a number of sporting events. Are there things the music world could learn from the way sporting events are run?
A: Yes. A little bit of humility and structure and the fact that most of the great sports of the world are controlled by associations, where, of course, our business is controlled by Irving [Azoff] and Ticketmaster.
Q: Talk about Led Zeppelin's reunion in 2007.
A: When [Atlantic Records co-founder] Ahmet [Ertegun] passed away, Ahmet's wife Mica contacted me and said Ahmet would be really thrilled if you could do something in England. Phil Carson, who worked for Ahmet, and Bill Curbishly got involved and between the three of us we started to map and plan it out. Originally it was going to be two days. We went to each act and said, "Maybe if you did 30-40 minutes each because you can't just do one number and walk off." I said there's one band that's not involved in this and that's Led Zeppelin. That's ridiculous. That was Ahmet's closest act, other than Mick Jagger, in his life. And so I went to each of their managers and I was getting nowhere. What happened was I got fed up with it and so I wrote to each of them a personal note and said, "Look, set aside whether you're going to do a tour or not going to do a tour or this, that and another, I'm talking about your respect for Ahmet Ertegun and I think it would be really important if you guys would perform for 40 minutes." Literally within 30 minutes of each of them receiving the letter, they phoned up and said we'll talk about it because we don't actually know if we can play.
Q: You mean you sent letters to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant?
A: And John Paul Jones as well. Then Robert and Jimmy said we're going to set aside three or four days without anybody anywhere just to figure out if we can do it. I had a meeting with them all and the managers and Jimmy said, "We've been working for three or four days, we played together, and our conclusion is that we're going to do it." I think, "Great." They said, "But, we don't want to do 40 minutes." And I thought, "Oh, shit; they're going to want to do less." And they said, "We want to do a whole show." So I said, "Well, in that case, you want to do the whole show, done."
Q: What are your memories of that night?
A: What happened was I went out and introduced the first section of the show which was a mixture of all the other Atlantic acts. As I walked down the stairs, my phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing and eventually I got to the bottom step and I answered the phone and I discovered my father in law had just passed away. I had to get my wife, who was upstairs watching the show. I had to get her out and get her down to the hospital. Literally, one minute before the show started he passed away. So I had a bit of a weird evening.
Q: In Billboard's Top 25 Touring Acts of the Decade, not a single one of them started in the 2000s. If you look at the Top 25 tours of 2009 in Billboard, only four of the acts who had the top tours debuted in this decade. What's wrong with this picture?
A: The whole business spends all its life worrying about U2, Madonna and, you know, the Rolling Stones and whatever and we are not spending nearly enough time nurturing new talent. The record business is basically stuffing itself because it doesn't have the vision and is totally caught up in the piracy issue and the free downloading issue when it should be conquering it and dealing with it. The biggest failure our business has is we don't talk to each other on a senior level. There has never, ever been a gathering of the heads of record companies, the key publishers, the principal agents, the principal managers and the key promoters, ever, to actually discuss the future of the business. So there are very, very few, if any, new promoters who are given a shot at it to come up with a different way of doing it, who bring up their new acts and stay with it. And I blame the agents and I blame the business for that.
Q: Do you think people are afraid a meeting like that could lead to collusion?
A: I didn't say we're collective bargaining. It's not about screwing the world; it's about the future of the business. Everybody has been throwing that at me for the last 10 years, that's complete bollocks. What it's about is a meeting, an understanding. The record industry, up until recently, has always considered promoters and the live work as derisory. They couldn't ever give a fuck about it. It was fun, they used it, whatever. They never understood it. Paul Allen & Co, every year, host a weekend where all of their key investors all come together and they talk about how to do business. Warren Buffett has these Berkshire Hathaway meetings every year. You're telling me, that's not in the same boat as all the antitrust bollocks they throw around here? Nonsense. It isn't about conquering the world, it's about how to deal with common issues and make them work.
Q: If you could zoom yourself back to your favorite events you've been involved in, what would they be?
A: Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton at Black Bush in 1978, I think, '79. Taking Elton John to Russia in '78. Pavarotti in Hyde Park, which was an extraordinary event. It was his 30th anniversary. About 11am on the day of the concert, it started raining. Everyone was soaking wet, they were holding up umbrellas and whatever and I could see that people were jostling around. There were 125,000 people there in the rain and it was unprecedented. I literally, after Pavarotti's second number, rushed on the stage and grabbed the microphone, which you don't normally do with artists, and said, "For the inconvenience of some and the benefit of most, could you please take your umbrellas down?" And Princess Diana literally stood up and basically had her flunkies and aides take their umbrellas away. She had a big hat on that she took off and she just sat there and from that point, it was like a ripple effect. It went all the way down and this concert took off and it just became magical.
"Born in the USA" was pretty wild. Madonna's first day at Wembley was pretty sensational. You can go on forever.
Q: Whom have you never gotten to work with?
A: The only person I never worked with—and I got very close—was Elvis Presley. Just got very close to it, obviously didn't understand what the issue was about him coming abroad and playing and all the rest of it and it just didn't happen, but we got very close to it.
Q: You're far from finished, but how do you look back on it all?
A: I've had a charmed life. I feel my life is all about a sense of timing and I've always believed with artists and performers, it's the same. When something inside them, when that alarm bell goes off and says it's time to go, you know, the clock starts. Tick, tick, tick, tick. It's when those artists know it's time to go out and perform and play and so on and I have a sixth sense of knowing when that is, so I've been charmed all my life. I've been lucky all my life in terms of meeting some incredible people and working in an industry that I kind of helped to shape, I suppose.