Rockefeller Productions: the sequel
Readers may recall this post from June 29 on Rockefeller Productions and their problems promoting shows by Ute Lemper, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Tony Curtis, Marilyn and The Chippendales. During the course of researching that piece, I made several attempts …
Readers may recall this post from June 29 on Rockefeller Productions and their problems promoting shows by Ute Lemper, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Tony Curtis, Marilyn and The Chippendales. During the course of researching that piece, I made several attempts to reach the company’s boss James Delaney O’Neill to get his side of the story, but never received a reply. On July 1, he contacted me by email and, over the next few days, we talked on the phone a number of times. I then emailed him a list of questions about Rockefeller Productions and those shows and he replied to these. Those questions and answers are below. A news story based on this Q&A ran last Friday.
(1) Why did you cancel the Ute Lemper show at such short notice? Did you communicate the reason for this cancellation with the act’s agent?
I really regret the cancelation of Ute’s performance. She always gives a truly outstanding performance and is such a powerful singer. The simple answer to this question is that I was undercapitalised after Marilyn was pulled and payments I was owed were being paid slowly. Henry McGroggan, Ute’s agent, was aware of my financial situation. I had three large acts booked for one week, and with Marilyn’s cancellation, a domino effect happened rapidly. I am a small promoter and should have been more realistic in terms of the timing of the shows.
(2) Ute Lemper and her agent Henry McGroggan claim that you did not respond to their calls and communications and ceased all contact with them. Why did you stop communicating with the act and her representative?
I dealt solely with Henry Mc Groggan at all times and had no direct communication with Ute Lemper. In recent times 80% of tickets for shows are sold in the last two or three weeks for most types of shows. People now leave things until the last minute with most shows. I am sure most venues and promoters will tell you that. When tickets first went on sale for Ute’s performance there was a bounce. I was waiting to see the results of the marketing in the last few weeks for the show. I was speaking with Henry quite frequently. If ticket sales had been very robust, I would have tried to negotiate a post payment. When I knew that this was not going to happen it was a serious matter. I have been dealing directly with Harbottle & Lewis, the acting London lawyers for Ute and Henry McGroggan’s company. The artist and the agent will be paid in full over the next few months and will not suffer any financial loss. The artist was not in any way responsible for the cancelation, and we have tried to handle this as best we could, as well as representing the artist in a positive manner.
(3) You were initially the promoter of the Marianne Faithful show. Why did this show end up being promoted by the venue, the Grand Canal Theatre?
Henry McGroggan was the agent for Marianne Faithfull up till the end of 2009. I initially contacted him to do a small concert with Marianne Faithfull at St Patrick’s Cathedral sometime in summer 2010. Through a set of events, and having Marilyn at The Grand Canal Theatre, it was decided to have Marianne perform there also. In any event Marianne told me at a later stage that the surroundings of St Patricks would have been too over powering for her. So, with Marilyn being cancelled, I had to relinquish Marianne’s show also. I didn’t have the cash flow at that time to continue. In the end Marianne made more money out of her show at the Grand Canal Theatre than she would have if I had remained involved. By that stage I owed cancelation fees to the venue in relation to Marilyn and Ute. I am very happy that the Marianne show did go ahead.
(4) Grace Jones’ agent Michael Schweiger is claiming that you went ahead with her Irish shows without “a fully executed artist agreement”. Is this true? Did you have a contract in place with the artist for these shows in Dublin and Cork?
Michael Schweiger was fully aware of the situation and that the shows were being promoted. The fee and performance length were still being discussed. In all my communications with CEG Talent, I had stated that I would pay the booking fee in July.
Things rumbled on slowly though, as all matters had to be run by Grace for approval. I was made aware of “Grace Time”. She was in France, then at Cannes, then it was her birthday and then Naomi Campbell’s birthday, then she had a cold and went back to Paris. Then on a Wednesday I was told if money wasn’t in an account by Friday the show would not go ahead. I was also told that Grace would now only perform for 30 minutes per night. When I was told this, I tried to renegotiate the artist’s fee, so I would be able to get other acts to perform – I had been in contact with Amanda Lepore. I was told we could talk about this after the agent and artist deposits were paid. The contract was not signed, and I was acting on the rider I had been given.
At all times, CEG Talent was aware of what I was doing, and that the shows were being marketed. I had also been asking for weeks for approved photographs of Grace for marketing and advertising. There is no real reason why these shows couldn’t have gone ahead as ticket sales were extremely robust. I was slightly concerned about the length of the performance. But anybody who has seen Grace Jones live will know that it is pure magic. Grace ticks every box – art, fashion, performance art, singing, dance to style and presence. She really does leave Gaga in the dust.
(Last Thursday, July 8, The Irish Times contacted Michael Schweiger from CEG Talent about these details and timelime. He said that contracts were signed, but deposits for the show were incomplete. He confirmed that he told Rockefeller Productions of a deadline for the deposits and the length of Grace Jones’ set. However, he noted that “if the management and agent do not get the deposits for the show, the show does not go ahead”. He also observed that “if sales were so robust, why didn’t he send on the money?”
I subsequently contacted James Delaney O’Neill about these comments. He described his situation with CEG Talent as “kind of a pickle”. He confirmed that he had sent back signed contracts to CEG Talent for the Grace Jones shows, together with documents relating to deposits, but that there was not enough money in his bank account to cover these deposits. He said that 40 percent of the tickets for the four Grace Jones’ shows had been sold at this stage. He also said that there were “six or seven companies I owe money to” and that he is currently working on repaying those debts.)
(5) What happened with the Irish tour for Marilyn? Why did it not go ahead?
I was extremely disappointed and saddened that the Marilyn tour could not go ahead. It is such a beautiful show. Everyone would have loved it. The reality is that, regardless of the amount of marketing and advertising I organised, it simply did not sell well. The Irish audience was not familiar enough with the dance company.
It was a performance by the Peter Schaufuss Ballet company, a very dynamic company which produces wonderful shows and it is well known throughout Europe. Marilyn had had a run in The Apollo on The West End. Peter Schaufuss coined the term ‘dancical’. Ballet is now considered more high-brow than opera. Peter’s company brings people to ballet who would never even think about going to the ballet. Some ballet enthusiasts may look down on the company for what it does but this company is all about getting new people to go and see just how beautiful ballet is. The Marilyn production is such a great show. The problem though was quite simple. I have always been told by my family ‘you cannot dictate to the market place’. I had hoped that was not the case but this experience has taught me that it’s true.
The Irish go mad for Riverdance, they know what it is and they like it. And I believe any production by this company will be better than Riverdance. I think it would take two years to promote the Peter Schaufuss Company in Ireland, so people get to know how great it is. And then I believe they could tour here ever year with different shows. For Ireland’s sake, I really hope that happens.
(6) You were also involved with the mooted visit of Tony Curtis to Ireland last month. Why was this visit cancelled?
I had a wild idea and I contacted Tony Curtis agent to see if it would be possible for Tony to come to Ireland to open Marilyn. His trip to Ireland hinged on the Marilyn show. Having Tony Curtis open a show on Marilyn Monroe would have been pure magic. Also, personally, I would be much more of a movie fan than a music fan.
Tony Curtis is 85 years old, still highly active and is an excellent painter. He had spent some time working on a new movie called “An Affair with Tony Curtis”. He made this movie out of love, and you can see his zest for life in it. It is a movie that is more of an evening with Tony. There are about 12 intermissions in it where he would talk to the audience and answer questions. So I was asked by his agent Preston, to help with the promotion of the movie in Ireland and the UK. You mentioned that I was to pay a 45K fee to Mr Curtis. This was not the case at all. I was to pay a much smaller fee plus flights. As Tony said, “It’s important to come home with some dough in your pockets”
In the meantime I had contacted the IFI and other cinemas in relation to showing Tony’s movie. I stuck with the IFI as they were going to also show his other classic movies. I contacted several cinema groups in the UK to see if they were interested in showing his movie. I spoke with the Curzon Cinema group in London, which is the largest arthouse cinema chain in the UK. I discussed having Tony show his movie in one of their theatres in London on the 4th of July.
To try to make the trip more profitable for Tony, I spoke with Jonathan Ross’ HotsauceTV Company. They were going to have Tony on one of Jonathan’s last shows, and were willing to pay a fee. I also spoke with another British TV company which was interested in doing a TV special in front of a live TV audience. This still could go ahead. I am going to put Tony’s agent in direct contact with this company, and hopefully one day soon we all will see “An Affair with Tony Curtis”
(7) Can you outline your previous experience when it comes to promoting shows? Were you involved with the cancelled Chippendales’ tour in Ireland in April 2009? Were you also involved with an organic grocery shop in Temple Bar?
I did indeed have an organic grocery shop in Temple Bar. It opened at the end of the boom. I read on your blog that my prices were too high. I have to disagree. I kept my prices at the same price level as the Dublin Food Co-op and actually beat them on many prices. The prices could not have been cheaper.
Promoting is such an exciting industry. It’s what I love. You are creating an event. It is a high risk sector. It’s all about calculated chance taking. I really don’t do what I do to make money. You have to experience it, and get many tastes of it. I have always been connected to entertainment and art. My family had cinemas and dance halls. My mother worked in clubs in London, and I am surrounded by artists, musicians, and people in the industry.
Dealing with The Chippendales was definitely an experience, and I was the promoter for that also. I started dealing with them before the recession really hit, and yes, that was another show that cancelled.
(8) It seems surprising to many that you were able to secure the services of such high-profile acts. Were you offering larger than normal fees for these gigs?
I did not offer huge fees to any artist. All the agents I have dealt with have been in the business a long time. If you were to offer an artist, or an agent a large sum of money for a concert they would just laugh at you. The market is way too soft for any promoter to be throwing large amounts of money around. There are more artists, festivals, concerts and events than ever before, worldwide and in Ireland. I wanted to promote Marilyn because it is beautiful. I believed the Irish people would agree.
I contacted Henry McGroggan about Marianne Faithfull for an intimate show at St Patrick’s, and he asked if I could do a concert with Ute. Marianne and Henry actually parted company earlier this year. I know that the cancellation of Ute’s show at The Grand Canal Theatre was of great concern.
With Grace Jones I thought the time was right. She is in the news because of Lady Gaga. She had an amazing sell out show at the Albert Hall, has had an new album out recently enough, and her concerts in Ireland would have been hot on the heels of her headline at London’s Lovebox in July.
(9) Some people have observed that your spate of cancellations and inability to provide immediate answers for the reasons behind these cast a bad light on independent promoters trying to get access to the bigger venues. Do you care to comment on this?
This is by far the most important question. Every venue, bar, club, golf club, cafe, stadium, field owner is crying out for people to come to them with bright ideas. You have to take risks. No, I didn’t do everything correctly and I have learned from my mistakes. I was working seven days a week, almost every waking hour since last Christmas, The last two weeks I just needed a break.
I wish that more young people in Ireland would be brave and go to venues with ideas. If you want to throw ahip-hop night in a chipper, an exhibition of Dolly Parton’s wigs, a medieval puppet show, anything – go do it! A company in New York just put a theatre show together for deaf and blind people. How fascinating is that?
These are the types of shows I am interested in. It’s what Ireland lacks. That’s the kind of country I want to live in. Be brave. We all need more excitement. It’s a hard industry. Promoters, venue owners, small business will always listen to you. Having a promoter with a few shows cancelled is going to be the least of another promoter’s worries. This country is in a state. People need to be entertained. Even gossip is entertaining. The entertainment industry is tied up by some big players, and yes, they do an excellent job. They sometimes make mistakes, but it’s up to smaller people to do something more creative and push boundaries.
(10) What are your future plans as a promoter?
I still have financial commitments to my acts that I cancelled, and also the business I am in debt to. My intention is to honour my commitments and keep on working hard, be more creative, wiser, and keep going. I have a few shows already booked in over winter and into next year. I am going to be more careful about how these are organised. I love what I do. Obviously the last few weeks have been hell for me, and it’s been a PR disaster.