In the wake of the interest generated by Cuffe & Taylor's recent acquisition by Live Nation, here is Music Week's 2016 interview with founders Daniel Cuffe and Peter Taylor:
Lytham St Annes, Scarborough, Betley, Wigan, the Scottish Highlands - it’s not quite an A-Z of musical hotbeds, yet those locations have provided a winning formula for Cuffe & Taylor’s rapid rise in the promoting world.
Focusing on some of the UK’s less fashionable regions, Daniel Cuffe and Peter Taylor (pictured, L-R) have found their niche in an otherwise congested market. What started out as a hobby for the music-loving pair has evolved into a successful business, capable of staging concerts by acts of the calibre of Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, Ray Davies, Neil Diamond, Olly Murs and Rita Ora.
One of the UK’s fastest-growing promoters, 2016 is shaping up to be the Preston-based outfit’s biggest year yet, led by an eight-date Rod Stewart stadium tour and their flagship Lytham Festival. Before the year is out, they’ll have worked with artists including Bryan Adams, Simply Red, Will Young and Jools Holland And His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra.
It’s been quite a ride for the north west duo, who had unwittingly been promoters for six months by the time they realised that’s exactly what they were.
Taylor, the firm’s main mouthpiece, explains: “I was a trustee for a theatre and I’d started programming, so I had some experience, and Dan was doing a degree in sound engineering, so we had an interest and a bit of an idea, but we didn’t really know what the word ‘promoter’ meant.
“When we set up our company, it was as Cuffe & Taylor Event Management because that’s what we thought we did. Then, about six months in, somebody said to us, You’re promoters now, and we were like, Oh right, is that what it’s called?
“We do a bit of event management as part of the job, but predominantly our work is promoting our own shows.”
The duo’s first taste of the music industry came in 2010 when they partnered with Fylde Council to revive their local classical music-oriented festival, Lytham Proms, in Lancashire, headlined by soprano Lesley Garrett. Cuffe notes: “The council wanted to bring it back and Peter and I famously said, How hard could it be to do it again?”
So how hard was it? “It was all right the first year,” he reflects. “One night in 365 days is quite simple - it’s when you’ve got to put on 100 nights in 365 days that things become more difficult.”
Billed as a one-night commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle Of Britain, the 5,000-capacity event sold out, turning a modest profit and convincing the fledgling entrepreneurs that they were onto something.
“We didn’t think, Oh we’ll start a business,” explains Taylor. “We just thought, Let’s just do Lytham Proms for one year. But when it went so well we thought, Actually, we could make a business out of this.”
The festival widened its horizons, doubling in capacity and offering eclectic line-ups over two and then three nights in subsequent years. Artists included Status Quo, Olly Murs, Katherine Jenkins and Boyzone. Last year, it was rebranded as Lytham Festival, expanding to a full week and featuring comedy and literature alongside four nights of live music. Bryan Adams is among this year’s headliners.
“It’s our flagship event,” proclaims Taylor, proudly. “Last year, Faithless opened the festival as the only northern date on their 20th anniversary tour. We also had McBusted, a Last Night Of The Proms with Elaine Paige and Marti Pellow and we extended that to a week-long festival. We had events in various venues - 60,000 people came into the town that week.”
After the success of the 2010 Lytham Proms, the following year saw Cuffe & Taylor bring Courteeners and The Coral to Wigan’s Haigh Hall, an outdoor venue famous for hosting The Verve’s homecoming concert in 1998.
“The indoor market is very saturated and, although we are doing little bits in that market, we feel there is a gap in the outdoor market for concerts in unusual places - that has been our ethos” explains Taylor.
“The venues we use are away from Manchester, London, apart from Greenwich, Birmingham and Glasgow. If you take the right act to the right region there is massive potential, especially in places that don’t normally get big acts.
“When we go to those places we receive a lot of local support because the communities are so pleased to host an event.”
It’s a philosophy that continues to serve them well. One of their more unlikely triumphs - a 40th anniversary bash for Celtic rockers Runrig - was held in the Highlands in 2013. “We had 25,000 people up in the Highlands, that was quite a challenge,” says Taylor, with some understatement. “Driving there was a challenge,” interjects Cuffe.
“It was near Inverness, so it took a whole day to get there,” adds Taylor. “Site visits were quite interesting. It was a challenge because we almost had to create a festival from nothing, just for one year. It wasn’t just a one-night show, people camped and we held a ceilidh [Gaelic social gathering] the night before. But it was great and was another big opportunity for us as a company.”
“It attracted a lot of fans from Europe, we had to do business in a few other countries to get fans over,” notes Cuffe. “We’d only sold tickets in the UK before and we’re now selling quite a lot of tickets overseas.”
The pair remain grateful for the help they received while trying to find their feet in the industry. “Heulwen Keyte at The Agency Group [now UTA] was really good with us at the start, when we were working with classical shows, and then she introduced us to her colleagues,” acknowledges Taylor.
“We rang plenty of companies who wouldn’t give us the time of day,” smiles Cuffe. “It’s funny because some of those companies are now coming to us and you think, So you didn’t want to bother with us in year one? I won’t name names but obviously now we’re bigger we have to deal with everyone as well and there are no hard feelings.
“Mick Spratt at [audio services company] Wigwam was instrumental in terms of guiding us down the right path. He pointed out there were a lot of [promoters] out there not making a very good job of it.
“We have benefited from doing things the correct way - not necessarily always for the bottom line or the spreadsheet.”
In 2014, the firm stepped up to stadium level to promote three of Rod Stewart’s five open-air concerts, and has come back for more this year. In June it will stage all eight of the legendary rocker’s UK Hits Tour stadium gigs – in Norwich, Plymouth, Southampton, Cardiff, Hull, Kilmarnock, Inverness and Carlisle – its biggest undertaking to date.
“We beat stiff competition to secure the whole tour,” beams Taylor. “We think we did a good job last time, so they’ve taken a bit of a leap of faith and this time we’ve secured the whole tour. It’s eight venues and 174,000 tickets overall, so it’s a big tour, our biggest yet.”
With Neil O’Brien Entertainment, it organises the Greenwich Music Time festival at The Old Royal Naval College, which has featured acts including Tom Jones, Ray Davies, Jools Holland and Goldfrapp. Roxette, Jamie Cullum and 2Cellos are the first headliners announced for the 2016 event, from July 6-10.
After presenting a Tom Jones concert at the venue last year, Cuffe & Taylor inked a five-year deal to programme Scarborough’s 6,500-capacity Open Air Theatre, previously booked in-house. The agreement will see it bring 12 shows per annum to the theatre in a partnership that will also see them handle the production of each event and manage all marketing and box office requirements. Acts announced so far for 2016 include Simply Red, Alfie Boe, Will Young, Status Quo, Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott and a Legends Of Pop event featuring Tony Hadley, Rick Astley and Jason Donovan.
Its expanded calendar, which also includes concerts by Simply Red and Jools Holland at Cartmel Racecourse, an Aled Jones cathedral tour, a Symphony At The Tower event held near Preston and the Betley Concerts series in Cheshire, has led to the firm anticipating hosting 500,000 fans in 2016 – a huge upturn on previous years.
“We are mindful of our competition,” points out Taylor. “We try and go to places where stuff isn’t already happening, rather than compete with existing things.”
Having worked with SJM Concerts on a UK tour for former Britain’s Got Talent winners Collabro, the pair are hopeful of further partnerships with the top brass.
“We are definitely a national promoter now and are also exploring international options,” declares Taylor. “Our concert turnover was in excess of £10 million in 2014 and over the next couple of years we project that will increase to £20-30m.”