Setting course for the stars
T HEY rounded off 2012 by picking up an award for National Promoter of the Year, beating industry giants Live Nation, SJM and Metropolis. It was an acknowledgement of how far the DHP Group had come in just a few years of running tours around the UK, something that isn't so well known about this independent Nottingham company.
DHP (Daybrook House Promotions) is probably better known for being the parent company of Rock City, the iconic Talbot Street venue now in its 33rd year. Then there are the Rescue Rooms, Stealth, the Black Cherry Lounge and the Bodega, plus Thekla in Bristol.
"Rock City is still the flagship venue and the venues are the biggest earners for us, but everything else is growing, particularly the tours," says chairman George Akins.
Unless you've read the finer detail on your gig tickets for venues across the city and seen "DHP presents..." above the artist's name, you may well have never heard of them. But DHP puts on around 1,200 gigs in the UK every year with artists such as Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Ray, Rufus Wainwright, the Human League, Flaming Lips and New Order.
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A promoter hires out venues for a tour, organises the publicity, sells the tickets and guarantees the artist a fee.
"As the promoter you take the risk because you are guaranteeing the artist their money," says George.
"They get that come what may."
DHP began promoting shows in Nottingham, building relationships with bands who had played smaller venues like the Bodega and the Rescue Rooms, bringing them back to the city as their popularity grew to play Rock City and the Capital FM Arena.
Says George: "We did that with the White Stripes who had first played at the Social (now the Bodega) when few people knew who they were. In 2005 we put them on at the arena."
The same year they also promoted Incubus and System Of A Down at the arena.
"We then moved out of Nottingham. Our first significant tour was Dropkick Murphys around the UK, then we did Human League, the Flaming Lips, Garbage, Imelda May...
"Last year we did nine shows for Ed Sheeran, a couple for Lana Del Ray, 11 dates for the Human League, some for Rufus Wainwright and New Order.
"This year we'll be doing more with Lana Del Ray, the Gaslight Anthem and the Flaming Lips."
As a festival promoter, DHP is responsible for Splendour at Wollaton Park, Hit The Deck (Nottingham), Dot To Dot (Nottingham, Bristol, Manchester) and Gathering (Oxford).
"We have more city festivals than any other company. Gathering is a new one that we did in Oxford in October and that sold out. We'll expand that to another city this year. Hit The Deck we'll expand to another city as well. Dot to Dot is essentially an indoor festival for new artists with a couple of names as headliners. It's an important stepping stone for new acts."
In Nottingham it's held at Rock City, Rescue Rooms, Stealth, the Bodega and Jongleurs, with a 4,500 capacity. Hit The Deck festival in April is the rock equivalent.
DHP also runs a ticket agency, Alt Tickets, and relatively recently moved into artist management with Dog Is Dead.
Although DHP had tinkered with developing a band with House of Brothers, Dog Is Dead were their first "proper" signing and led to a major label deal, Radio 1 playlists, sell-out shows and TV appearances.
"I first heard about them from my manager at the Bodega, who phoned me up and said 'these kids have brought about 70 people down with them for a support slot and their sound-check was really good. You should come and have a look'.
"At the time I was looking for a band for DHP to manage and develop and I was blown away by their songwriting. We didn't actually sign a deal with them for a year or so because they weren't yet 18. They committed to a gap year before going to university, then they committed to another gap year... and went from playing Junktion 7 to Glastonbury to Skins, Atlantic Records, selling out the Scala in London, the Radio 1 playlist...
"We've got a great band there that are going places. We expect them to sell out their show at Rock City in March."
The band have been a part of the wave of Nottingham artists enjoying national acclaim, along with Jake Bugg and Natalie Duncan.
"There will be more from Nottingham this year. And we are looking at developing other acts. We are in a unique position to do that because we manage venues and promote shows nationally. We had the money to put out their first three singles before they signed to Atlantic."
Who will be getting the Dog Is Dead treatment from DHP in 2013?
"We've been looking but we haven't decided yet ," he says.
DHP employs around 300 staff and HQ is on the corner of Talbot Street, behind Rock City, but there are plans to move into the Lace Market.
The company was started by his dad, entrepreneur George Akins, who made his fortune in bookmakers, amusement arcades and property.
The entertainment arm of the business came in 1980 when George senior transformed the variety venue Heart of the Midlands into Rock City. At the time, George junior (who also has a son named George), was just five.
"I think it was inevitable that I'd work in the family business. It just happened sooner than I'd expected," he says, recalling the time he was called back from a jolly in Australia to begin managing the venue. He was just 19. His older brother Sean looks after the property side of the business, Bildurn.
George, 37, says: "It was just Rock City at the time, but we started expanding pretty quickly after that, with The Rig (now Black Cherry Lounge) in 1995 and RKO, the sports bar (now Rescue Rooms/Stealth) in 1996. I did my first festival in 1997, which was City in the Park at Wollaton Park with Saw Doctors."
These were the pre-Splendour days and more followed with the Corrs and Bryan Adams headlining, then Green Day for Distortion.
"It didn't really work for us back then but we teamed up with the city council six years ago for Splendour and that's become a successful annual event."
It returns this summer but he's staying tight-lipped on possible headliners.
The glass trophy awarded to DHP at the end of last year for National Promoter of the Year is hidden away in a drawer.
"Don't say that," he laughs. "Say it's pride of place in my office."
It's an industry award voted for by agents, bands and record companies.
"It's the first time we were nominated and we won it. And to have someone from outside London or Manchester winning was quite significant."