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Florence and her magic machine

Features
February 22, 2019

Whether it is performing impromptu in a club toilet or headlining a festival with a broken foot, Florence Welch and her Machine’s career has been driven by a mixture of will power, creative endeavour and a team of professionals dedicated to helping her deliver barn-storming performances worldwide, Christopher Barrett reports.

Florence Welch has come a long way since November 2007, when she convinced The Queens of Noize DJ Mairead Nash to manager her, by delivering a one-on-one rendition of Etta James’ Something Got A Hold On Me while they were together in a nightclub toilet.

On her current tour Florence will become the first female artiste to headline a British Summer Time (cap, 65,000) concert in London’s Hyde Park twice, and, in January, she broke the attendance record at Australia’s The Domain in Sydney, with an audience of 27,500.

“Florence’s worldwide success is the result of the progression of a truly talented artiste,” says her international agent Emma Banks at CAA, in the UK.

“It is very rare that I say this about an artiste, but I don’t think I have ever seen Florence play a bad show. Even if she comes off stage thinking it wasn’t great, no one that watched it agrees with her. Florence puts 100 per cent into every concert.”

Having already toured Australia and New Zealand, North America and the UK, as part of the High As Hope Tour, Florence + The Machine will commence a mainland Europe trek in March.

Then, in May, she will head back to the US, Canada and Mexico before returning to Europe for a string of festival performances over the summer that include Hungary Sziget Festival (75,000) and Electric Picnic (40,000) in Ireland.

Following Welch’s impromptu washroom showcase back in 2007, Mairead Nash and her fellow Queens of Noize associate, Tabitha Denholm took the plunge. They agreed to move into management and began representing the singer, working with X-ray Touring agent Hannah Giannoulis to book some clubs across London.

Early landmarks include a support slot with MGMT in 2008, and in June of that year Moshi Moshi released the her first single Kiss With A Fist.

In February 2009, before the band had even released their first album, they won the Critic’s Choice Award at the BRITs.

Nash and Denholm formed Luv Luv Luv Management and took on Giannoulis to help handle the burgeoning work load. They then approached Banks to act as agent.

The first time she saw Welch perform live was at London’s Bush Hall (400) in 2007, supporting Courtney Love.

“I thought Florence was very charismatic but there was a lot of work to do,” says Banks. “I took her on in 2009 and by then she had played a lot of shows and had put a lot of ground work in. I greatly respect her management team, who sorted that out, because she came along in leaps and bounds.”

Welch’s dramatic stage shows, incorporating thundering beats, soul-stirring melodies and flamboyant set design have graced many of the world’s best known venues and festivals, including Glastonbury (140,000).

Her headline slot on the festival’s Pyramid Stage in 2015, and the resulting BBC TV broadcasts, proved another landmark for Welch. She had been asked to step into Foo Fighters shoes at the 11th hour and headline the event, after Dave Grohl injured himself and had to pull out.

Welch seized the moment with vigour, not only delighting the audience with her hits including Dog Days Are Over, Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) and You’ve Got The Love, but a powerful rendition of Foo Fighter’s Times Like These.

“A lot of people saw Florence for the first time at Glastonbury because of the enormous amount of TV coverage her performance received,” says Banks. “Everything she has done, all the moves she has made along the way, have added up to put her where she is now.”

Global strategy

Welch is now managed solely by Hannah Giannoulis at HFG Management, who worked closely with Banks and her North American agent Samantha Kirby Yoh of William Morris Endeavor to construct the tour around the release of fourth album, High As Hope.

“After the album came out in June, Florence played some festivals in Europe and smaller shows there, but we took the decision that the majority of festival and outdoor work would be in Europe and the UK in 2019,” says Banks. “The positioning of the UK tour fell into place nicely in November because it gave us enough time to get the album out and make sure we were cross-promoting it with the UK dates.

“What we don’t want to do is have Florence committed to multiple trans-Pacific and trans-atlantic flights, so we divided the year up into manageable chunks of time and made sure we maximised her time in each place.”

Florence’s rise in North America has also been significant with many significant shows along the way. Among milestone performances were the band’s Coachella Festival (80,000) debut in April 2010, and performance that September at MTV’s Video Music Awards. The day after the latter appearance, Florence + The Machine became the most searched-for name on Google.

WME’s Samantha Kirby Yoh says she will never forget the band’s return to Coachella in 2015.

“She broke her foot while leaping off the stage and then continued performing the last few songs, and sprinted through the crowd, but all of her shows are memorable – Florence gives everything every night.”

Creative vision

The tour has run incredibly smoothly so far, says Banks, thanks largely to the on-the-road team led by production manager Narci Martinez.

“Narci also works with me on the Red Hot Chili Peppers and I love it when he is production manager, because it gives me a level of comfort to know that any issues will be handled well,” she says.

Alongside Martinez on the High As Hope Tour has been other members of the Chili Pepper’s team, including stage manager Philip Dannermann and head rigger Gabriel Wood.

Featuring an asymmetrical wooden stage, the set was designed by ShowFX, with Welch’s creative vision brought to life by creative director Willo Perron.

“Florence has developed and matured and owned the space that she works in through the years,” says Banks. “She is 100 per cent involved in the artistic process and everything you see comes from her.”

Keeping the show on the road in Europe is trucking operator Brian Yeardley, which used its 10-acre site in the UK, to unload 14 containers of equipment from the first US leg of the tour, before setting off on the November dates.

“We are going out again with them in March for the European tour, which will involve 14 trucks,” says the company’s live events logistics director Glenn Savage. “Because it’s a pretty long tour, we will fly extra drivers to Oslo [Norway] to double up with the existing drivers.”

Promoting Loyalty

When it comes to selecting promoters to work on the tour, Banks says she doesn’t like to change things unless they are broken.

“It is about repayment, you start with an artiste playing tiny club gigs or on a support tour that makes no money,” says Banks. ”The promoters invest in an artiste whose career they believe in, and often go over and above by putting marketing money in and teams of promo people on to the shows.

“We develop acts through the clubs into the theatres, ballrooms, arenas and festivals and if someone has done a good job for them, you don’t change it. Florence has pretty much had the same promoters, in almost every market, since the outset.”

Matt Woolliscroft at UK promoter SJM Concerts has been promoting Florence + The Machine in the country since 2008.

“The earliest show that really stands out was a fantastic gig at St Phillips, a 300-capacity church in Salford. It was June, she played in front of a stained glass window and went on with sun coming through the window and finished when it had gone dark,” he says. “The atmosphere and performance was breathtaking.”

Woolliscroft says that, among the many highlights since was a 2015 show at Manchester Arena (cap. 15,000 for concerts).

“She ran to the back of the hall and up in to the lower bowl seats, and sang half a song surrounded by wide-eyed overwhelmed fans. It was one of those gigs you never wanted to finish,” he says.

The High As Hope tour saw the band return to the Manchester Arena last November, along with six other arena shows, including at London’s The O2 (20,000), where she played two dates.

“Everything sold-out well in advance, quicker than the previous tour, which on a fourth album campaign is very impressive,” says Woolliscroft.

The band will return to the UK in the summer for festival dates including British Summer Time and Boardmasters (50,000).

Another long-time Florence + The Machine associate is Dominique Revert at Alias-Production in France, who is promoting the Paris show in March, AccorHotels Arena (9,078).

Revert first worked with the band at Le Bataclan (1,500) in February 2010. He says other early highlights include their performance at the Festival De Nimes (24,000) at the town’s Roman amphitheatre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, later that year.

“She is just a magic star during her shows, charismatic, a real show-woman,” he says.

“We used social media networks, of course, but also ran a billboard campaign in the Parisian Metro and worked with RTL2, which is the perfect radio station to target the Florence audience,” he says.

Rising up down under

Florence + The Machine released new single Moderation in January, which she had been performing live during the Australian leg of the tour that kicked-off in Perth at the 15,000-capacity RAC Arena.

The seven-date Australian tour took in a series of outdoor venues including The Domain in Sydney (27,500), before crossing to New Zealand for a show at Auckland’s Spark Arena (12,200). The concerts were co-promoted by Chugg Entertainment and Lunatic Entertainment.

Chugg MD Susan Heymann says the highlight, of what was the band’s sixth Australian tour, was The Domain show.

“It was a huge moment,” she says. “It was a record-breaking crowd and a beautiful Sydney summer night. The show went off without a hitch and everyone in the audience walked away having experienced something very special.”

Lunatic Entertainment’s Danny Rogers has worked with the band since their first tour of Australia in 2010, as part of the Laneway festival, which hits five Australian cities and Auckland. Having played Auckland’s first Laneway Festival in 2010, Florence + The Machine’s returned to headline the event on 28 January.

Rogers says it has been a pleasure working alongside Giannoulis and Banks.

“[They are] extremely respectful to our knowledge of our home markets, and always open to creative ideas,” he says. “They are clear, professional and appreciative people who have demonstrated that loyalty still exists in the world of music.”

Heymann says demand for tickets for Florence’s January shows were the strongest yet.

“Florence + The Machine has come through Australia six times and each tour has been incrementally stronger than the last, it’s an incredible story and a testament to a committed and growing fanbase,” she says.

“With a consistently incredible live show, every fan who attends a Florence + The Machine show wants to come again.”

Rogers agrees that, aside from the strength of her management team, Welch’s continued ascendance comes down to the fact she always delivers on stage.

“I’ve watched her play over 80 shows and I’ve never once witnessed a show that wasn’t genuinely incredible,” he says. “She’s a highly personal performer with a proper punk rock instinct.”

Stepping-up

Back in Europe the mainland leg of the tour starts in Germany with shows including Munich‘s Olympiahalle (11,822), Lanxess Arena (14,689) in Cologne and Berlin’s Mercedes Benz Arena (12,672).

Scumeck Sabottka, CEO of MCT Agentur, has promoted the band in Germany since day one. Of all the shows he has been involved in, the concert at Berlin’s Postbahnhof (900) in October 2009 proved particularly memorable.

“On the afternoon of the show a panic-stricken tour manager called us and said, ‘Guys, our trailer caught fire on the way to Berlin and our backline is burnt, including the harp. Can you please get a backline and harp to the gig for tonight’s show?’. The backline was easy, the harp was not,” says Sabottka.

“We ended up sending a runner to Leipzig [149 kms/93 miles] to rent this precious instrument from a musician in the Leipzig Philharmonic Orchestra. In the end it all turned-up and it was a fantastic concert.”

Sebastienn Vuignier at Takk Productions, who has the show at Zurich’s 13,700-capacity Hallenstadion, has been working with Welch since the outset.

“We have taken it step by step, starting with the 500-capacity Mascotte venue in Zurich on the 17 October 2009. That sold out 24 hours before the show,” he says. “A few months later, in spring 2010, the band sold-out the 900-capacity Rohstofflager, and two years later we went for a 4,700-capacity venue which sold-out two month in advance.

“In 2015, and again this year, she has filled the largest arena of the country, the Hallenstadion.”

Vuignier says the strategy of starting in small venues and working upwards helped the band create a dedicated and loyal fan base, and they will return to Switzerland to play the St Gallen Festival (30,000) in June.

Live Nation Norway promoter Odd Inge Sneve first worked with the band at Oslo’s Parkteateret (450) in 2009. On this tour, it’s in the city’s 8,100-capacity Spectrum Arena.

“It’s always a pleasure working with Florence and the band,” he says. “The only challenge this time has been figuring how to release more tickets, because the demand has been so high.”

In Poland, Go Ahead has promoted all the band’s headline concerts and has a show at the 14,850-capacity Atlas Arena in Lodz.

“This show sold out so fast that we could have easily sold-out a stadium,” says Go Ahead’s Lukaz Minta, who believes that the band’s originality and performance prowess are key to it appealing to a broad range of fans, young and old.

Another long-time collaborator is Mojo Concerts promoter Ron Euser in the Netherlands. He was hooked after first seeing the band in 2008 in the 250-capacity room at Amsterdam’s Paradiso (1,500), as part of showcase festival London Calling.

“She had an amazing voice and stage presence, you could see she was really ambitious,” he says.

Since then Florence + The Machine have played festivals such as Lowlands (55,000) and Pinkpop (60,000), as well as arena shows including Ziggo Dome (17,360) in Amsterdam.

“Florence has matured and takes on these big stage shows in a really professional way,” says Euser.

The European leg of the tour will end at the Rotterdam Ahoy (16,562) on 25 March, which Euser says is on the cusp of selling-out.

For Banks, this tour is a natural continuation of Florence Welch’s upward trajectory but the focus is not simply a matter of booking bigger and bigger venues.

“Business in Australia was up eight per cent on last time and we are seeing similar increases in sales in Europe,” she says. “For an artiste that isn’t all over the radio and doesn’t make obvious pop songs, it is a huge success.

“I am sure we will see Florence playing stadiums at some point, but she also loves being close to the action and what you will see from her is a varied career in terms of how she presents the art that she is making.

“Florence has a career that is as long as she wants it to be and that is what is so exciting —  she is a career artiste that transcends the charts.

“She will go on forever if she feels like it.”

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