News

11 Aug 2022

The Come Together Tour

by Jenny Barrett

Dedicated to the memory of Michael ‘Snapper’ Knapp, who passed away not long after this interview

The Come Together Tour is one of the first tours off the rank as promotors and production managers navigate the entertainment world post COVID restrictions. Simone Williams and Michael Knapp share their thoughts before the tour kicks off.

Simone Williams, Liberty Stage

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Simone Williams

The challenge for a boutique promotor lies in capturing audiences as a glut of postponed and new events compete in an uncertain market, “We’ve gone from famine to feast. We are in a highly competitive, very crowded market and after two years of no income, risks are high. We cannot afford to lose money. Add to that rising costs of flights, accommodation, and production, and no one’s business model can involve reducing ticket prices.”

Simone’s solution is to explore niche products, “We are focusing on finding something that sits outside of the general offering. I’ve got my thinking cap on all the time!” The Come Together Tour fits that brief. Great albums covered by New Zealand’s top musicians. The concept was born during the first lockdown, “We wanted to develop something that required only local resourcing and provided opportunities for New Zealand talent.”

Goodbye Yellow Brick Rd, Sticky Fingers, Live Rust, Brothers In Arms, and Abbey Road went ahead in-between lockdowns and achieved stellar reviews and over 25,000 concert goers, “It was one of the most rewarding things we have been involved in, with a huge sense of camaraderie.” Postponed from 2021, Rumours gets underway in July and the next tour starts in August with Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, then in October with Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes and finally in November with The Beatles’ White Album.

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Keen to promote emerging talent and discover new exciting combinations, Simone approached Christchurch-based Adam Hattaway encouraging him to shift from the alternative space into the mainstream and get in front of new audiences. He joins Jon Toogood, Delaney Davidson, Deva Mahal, Anthonie Tonnan, Lou’ana, Milan Borich, Dianne Swann, Brett Adams, Matthias Jordan, Sam Scott, James Milne, Alistair Deverick, Mike Hall, Finn Scholes and Nick Atkinson with Jol Mulholland as Musical Director.

The last few weeks have seen good ticket sales but booking patterns are unpredictable, “Usually you would expect a certain amount sold by this date, and another big wave by this date, but everything has gone out the window now. There are no benchmarks, I’m just riding the wave!” Simone’s gut feeling isthat tickets will sell closer to the date of shows than pre-COVID as audiences wait until they are sure that they won’t be sick or in isolation, “I’m consistently adjusting the marketing approach.”

Competition and the vagaries of the market aside, Simone is overwhelmingly glad to be back in the saddle, “There is a wonderful community feeling within the industry in New Zealand. We have our own regular suppliers and contractors, so we have felt their pain. We all want to support each other and help everyone to survive. After the last two years of uncertainty, having no sense of purpose and not knowing when it was all going to end, there is a really good feeling to be back at it.”

The Production Manager: Michael Knapp

Vale Michael ‘Snapper’ Knapp, seen here focussing his beloved Par Cans for one of the last times

Michael Knapp has worked alongside Simone for over fifteen years and acknowledges the success of the ‘Come Together’ model, “Simone has really fought to survive and to keep our industry and the musicians going. The historic albums concept has captured the over-forties market. Many of the audience who are coming to Rumours will have seen Fleetwood Mac in 1974. That’s the kind of niche businesses need to survive in the market, especially once the international acts start to arrive.”

Michael’s production caters to the audience too, with sepia-tinged visuals, vintage amps and Par Cans galore, heaven to the self- acclaimed Mr Par Can, and very handy in light of COVID-related supply chain issues.

Speaking two days out from the first Rumours show and having worked on a show last week, Michael is already adept at dealing with production post-pandemic, “The major impact has been on staffing. The business owners and designers have clung on, but the foot soldiers have been forced to find other options. Venues and suppliers have lost the people who get everything from A to B, who plug this into that, who make it happen. Some have shifted into the movies, others retrained, had a family, or moved out of cities.”

Michael counts himself fortunate that he has a long relationship with suppliers and venues from as far back as 2016’s The Last Waltz Anniversary tour, “We travel light; just myself and a front of house engineer, and I have been able to rely on our suppliers to ensure everything is in place in every city. Western Audio, Sound People, AC Lighting, NW Group, Oceania and Hang Up have all been amazing. Our venues – Auckland Live, Isaacs Theatre and Wellington Opera House – have also prioritised us as they know we are regular. But you still feel it in the air and sense that things are very thin on the ground.”

Michael supports suppliers and venues taking on as many shows as they can to recoup the losses of the last few years, “I try and give as much notice as I can but if someone hasn’t got what we need, it isn’t the end of the world. I feel as if there is a new sense of cooperation in the sector post-lockdowns. No one complains, we just come up with a plan B. It reminds me of putting shows on in Christchurch after the earthquake. There is always another way to hang or fly something, and there’s always Par Cans!”

He is seeing the solidarity in the workplace too, “People are really looking out for each other. If it’s been a while and a tech is having trouble patching a cable, we step up. Where time is getting tight, someone finds another loader. People are being really proactive. Everyone is aware of the stress that staff have been carrying and we are all trying to ensure that being back at work is as enjoyable as it can be.”

Sickness is another threat facing all shows, “Last week we lost a French horn player and had to transpose the part for trombone, a drummer was replaced the day prior, and we lost a violinist on the day itself. And it was the same for crew. We are very careful, wearing masks and adhering to health and safety protocols but that bug is a menace and you have to be ready for plans to change.”

The bugs have a knock-on effect on logistics too, “Travel is a minefield at the moment. Flights are being cancelled, not just because of the weather but due to staff shortages. Luckily Liz at Liberty Stage is like an air traffic controller and expert at rerouting us!”

Flexibility is key, in terms of gear, staffing, well- being, even getting there and away. Michael recalls Jon Toogood on the Sticky Fingers tour just prior to the last lockdown telling the audience if you want to do some dancing, you need to do it tonight, “There is still a sense of making the most of every show, because you aren’t a hundred percent sure that tomorrow’s show will go ahead.”

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