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The Secret Agent

Features
February 5, 2019

Agents all have their own particular way of working and almost all learn by watching some veterans at work. But most of the job is learned through experience and rumour has it ITB’s Mike Dewdney likes to be seen as one who quietly and efficiently goes about his work, under the radar. Johnny Black reports

Mike Dewdney and Mo Green

Mike Dewdney is, by anybody’s reckoning, one of the world’s more respected live music agents, so it’s understandable that he made his presence felt from his earliest days.

Born in the Kent town of Pembury in England, on 17 June 1966, he was barely a month-and-a-half old when he was sat down in front of the TV during the historic England vs Germany football World Cup.

“I started crying,” he tells me, “which caused my mum to miss the famous goal.”

Although football has since become one of his driving passions – he’s an ardent Liverpool Football Club fan – it is music to which he has dedicated his career, serving as the international agent for artistes as diverse as Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, Kasabian, The Deftones and Rage Against The Machine.

“I had piano lessons as a kid,” he reveals, “but I didn’t take well to it, although I’ve always loved music.”

He knew then that he’d probably never become a successful musician, but he would soon discover a fascination for the business side of music, for all those often unseen elements that, if executed properly, can contribute to making an artiste successful.

His love of music grew at school where, in 1981, he bought his first album, Present Arms by UB40, followed soon after with Absolutely by Madness, and in February 1982, he attended his first live gig, Depeche Mode at Canterbury University Student Union’s The Venue (cap.  1,200).

“There was probably only about a 1,000 people there,” he remembers. “Their light show consisted of fluorescent tubes behind them, all different colours. I thought it was fantastic.”

At his next outing, a Psychedelic Furs show in The Dome (1,600) in Brighton, he inadvertently found himself mingling with the band backstage. “Don’t ask me how,” he laughs. “We parked the car behind The Dome, showed our tickets and somehow got backstage.”

Having experienced his first taste of life beyond the cheap seats, he became fascinated by the machinations of putting shows together, “but the reason I’ve gone on to become an agent is that, when I went to Sheffield Poly, a second year lad came and sat with us new boys in the hall of residence. I asked him, ’What are the best clubs to join?’ and his words of wisdom were, ‘Join the Entertainments Committee – you’ll get into everything free.”

So I joined and that was it. From then on I just got more involved and in 1986 I became the Ents Officer and I was on my way.”

Kasabian at Hard Rock Calling

At Sheffield he booked Erasure, Deacon Blue, Aswad and more, but perhaps most significantly, he started meeting agents, promoters and others who would become lifelong friends.

“Simon Moran, who now runs SJM Concerts, did one of his first-ever shows with me at Sheffield – Cabaret Voltaire [28 February 1986] – I remember counting out the money on the night in cash. He took his settlement away in a Tesco plastic carrier bag.”

Moran, of course, is now one of the industry’s biggest players, with SJM not only promoting hundreds of shows annually, but he also co-manages artistes such as The Stone Roses, Courteeners and Blossoms and owns a stake in venue chain Academy Music Group.

He well remembers that first encounter with Dewdney. “A Tesco carrier bag?” he ponders. “That’s probably right. There was a Tesco’s directly opposite where I lived. Mike was already a great guy to deal with back then. He thinks long-term which is one reason why so many of his clients stick with him.”

Dewdney quickly attracted so much attention that he didn’t even complete his course at Sheffield, being lured into the London music business scene in 1987, first to ABS Agency and then three months later, to Dan Silver’s Value Added Talent (VAT), where he worked on acts such as Depeche Mode, Erasure and Spear Of Destiny.

Two years later, he was head-hunted again, this time by Rod MacSween, co-founder of ITB, who remembers, “I needed a right-hand guy to assist with bookings on my acts and Mike did a magnificent job.”

This move required a dramatic change of musical direction for Dewdney. “He hadn’t looked after any hard rock acts before,” recalls MacSween, “but a good agent should be able to deal with any musical style, any genre.”

So Dewdney dived in at the deep end, booking hirsute heroes like Thunder, Saxon and Magnum. “All of my acts really loved to deal with him,” says MacSween. “Thirty years later, he’s one of the best agents in the world, and a very important element of ITB.”

For his part, Dewdney says, “Rod gave me some very good advice. I always remember him telling me, ‘If you’ve got a difficult call to do, just do it. Don’t sit on it.’ He was right. If you don’t tell people things, they’ll find out some other way.”

That an agent of Dewdney’s stature has remained at ITB for 30 years might cause an occasional raised eyebrow among those who wonder why he has never struck out on his own.

“I’ve had offers to move from ITB,” he points out,  “but the grass is not always greener over there. A lot of people think you achieve everything by waving a cheque book, but I’m not guided by that.

“If someone wants to pay you a fortune, then you’re going to be at their beck-and-call 24/7. What’s the point of that? If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not happy.”

Fond memories

Dewdney’s down-to-earth philosophy has stood him in good stead, and is much appreciated by those who do business with him, but he also knows how to party when the occasion allows it.

Andy Copping, president of UK touring for Live Nation in the UK, fondly remembers one such incident,

“Back in 1990, I was DJ-ing a night at Rock City in Nottingham on the eve of the Monsters of Rock Festival. The evening had gone on and the music had shot-off in all directions. Seeing Mike with promoter Paul Roberts from Phil McIntyre Entertainments moving across the dance floor on their knees singing, ‘Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work we go’ [imitating Snow White drawves], was a masterclass in being drunk and disorderly!”

Similarly, president of Live Nation Spain Robert Grima recalls, “spending a weekend with Mike at Reading Festival, about 25 years ago, where we became so stoned that we got a severe attack of the munchies, the hunger came into our bellies, which we solved with a huge overdose of doughnuts. That was such a funny night, but I don’t think he does that sort of thing any more. He’s a family man now.”

This is true. Dewdney lives with his wife, Rosie, two children and three dogs in Tenterden, Kent. “It’s gorgeous and tranquil,” he enthuses. “I grew up with trees and grass around me, and I’m willing to do the commute [64 miles/104kms] . With today’s technology I can work on the train, do e-mails and so on.”

As well as his love of football, he keeps in trim with tennis, volleyball, running the occasional marathon and skiing trips in the Alps.

“Sport can focus you a bit more. It enables me to back away from a situation and think, how can I address this better? How can I make this work?”

Live Nation France vice-president (VP) Salomon Hazot has worked with Dewdney since he started at ITB, on acts including Living Colour, Rage Against The Machine and Sonic Youth.

Hazot confirms that Dewdney’s healthy lifestyle extends even into his work. “Often, he arrives in town and, instead of demanding a car, he’ll ask me how long it would take to walk to the gig. I’ll say, ‘No, Mike, it’s too far.’ And he says, ‘Oh, you don’t know me.’ I remember him turning up late for one gig because he had walked for two hours to get there.”

Strong relationships

Dewdney and Hazot’s business relationship is rooted in a level of friendship that goes deeper than just dollars and cents. “On 13 November 2015, I had Eagles Of Death Metal at Le Bataclan in Paris,” remembers Hazot.

“So I was there when that dreadful terrorist attack took place. The following day I was due to do The Deftones, so Mike called me and I was so glad to hear his voice on the phone. He was very understanding, and that was what I needed on a night like that.”

George Akins, MD of UK-based entertainment group DHP Family and owner of Rock City (1,900) says, “I’ve worked with Mike since 1994 on acts including Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Deftones and Megadeath. When I was very young, trying to make a name for myself, he made it easy for me to get involved and do some shows when some of the other established agents wouldn’t give me the time of day. I’ve always loved working with Mike.”

Another who considers Dewdney a benefactor is John Witherspoon, a founding partner of the Austin-based Galactic Music Group in Texas. “I was at The Shaw Theatre [400, London] in 1992 to see Tori Amos, when Mike asked if I wanted to fill in as tour manager for a few shows.”

Witherspoon went on to become Amos’s manager and still fulfils that role. “Mike is really the only agent I know who can walk into Catering, no matter the size of the gig, and get warm greetings from the caterers, the crew, the artistes and, of course, the promoters, no matter how tough he has been on them. He’s universally liked.”

Another lasting connection made in those early days was with Steve Strange, co-founder of UK-based X-Ray Touring.

“My relationship with Mike goes back to the late ‘80s when I was booking shows at The Limelight [500] in Belfast,” he reveals. “I promoted several shows there for Mike. I’ve never worked with anybody who can juggle balls as well as he does.

“When you rang Mike there was always someone else holding on the other line, because he never stopped. He was like a human booking machine.”

Geoff Ellis, CEO of DF Concerts in Scotland, has always been impressed by Dewdney’s ability to remain unflappable in a crisis.

“Not only was Mike an integral element in rescuing the very first T In The Park festival [1994], when Cypress Hill famously refused to appear after being badly treated at UK customs, but, says Ellis,

“In December 2006, we booked Kasabian to headline Hogmanay [New Year’s Eve], not just in Glasgow, but also in Edinburgh. Then I got a call at about five o’clock from our rep Robin Scott, to tell me the wind was getting dangerously strong. While he was on the phone I watched the trampoline in my back garden blow over the fence and onto the nearby railway line. At the same moment, a Portaloo blew past Robin.

“Both gigs had to be cancelled immediately, before crowds started arriving. I got on the phone to Mike and he was great, no panic, just got on with the job.”

Striking out

Inevitably, as he became more established at ITB, Dewdney started to attract his own artistes. 

“I had introduced him to a lot of management companies,” says Rod MacSween, “but after a few years of assisting me he was able to start attracting artistes of his own. For example, Mike has been responsible for building up Kasabian from day one. That was an act that he found himself.”

By this time, Dewdney was also expanding his sphere of operations from the UK out into Europe. “I remember Rod telling me, ‘It’s not a problem. It’s just like the UK but bigger.’  You have to take the distances into account, but otherwise, it’s true.”

The Trust factor

One European promoter who quickly saw the benefits of working with Dewdney was Jan Gille of Live Nation Sweden.

“Early in 1992 Mike called and told me that I just had to book a gig for a band that was going to be very big. On Mike’s advice I booked them at the Kool Kat Club [800] in Stockholm. Tickets were released on the day of the concert and there were quadruple queues around the block.

“Without any doubt, this was one of the classic gigs that people are still talking about! The band’s name? Pearl Jam.”

For Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival too, Dewdney has proved a valuable associate, placing acts there including Tori Amos, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Deftones, Lauryn Hill and Kasabian.

“Things work out in a quiet way with Mike,” says festival’s booker Michaela Maiterth. ”The best ingredient one can have in a work relationship is trust, and that’s what he delivers. I cannot really come up with anecdotes about Mike, because they are mostly generated by drama and there is no necessity for drama with Mike.”

Evidence of Dewdney’s global reach comes from associates including Los Angeles-based Revelation Management, whose co-founder Jordan Berliant, says, “I have shared Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with Mike since 2014 and he’s a great agent, very attentive to details.

“Everything he does is in service to the band’s career, and the bigger picture. He ensures that the kinds of gigs they’re doing are reflective of the culture that the artiste is representing.”

And on the other side of the world, in Japan, Creativeman president Naoki Shimizu rates Dewdney among his most valued collaborators.

“He and I devoted ourselves to breaking Kasabian in Japan since their debut,” he recalls. “Mike has an eye for successful artistes. I remember a showcase performance for a splashy newcomer that a lot of agents were very interested in signing. I saw Mike there among them but he didn’t seem very impressed. Guess what, that band didn’t break.”

With such acclaim, it might seem as if Mike Dewdney can do little wrong, but he’s among the first to point out that nobody succeeds all of the time.

“I remember in 1999, when there was a solar eclipse happening, which was going to be visible from Cornwall [in south-west UK], we committed Kula Shaker to a major event called The Celebration Of The Lizard on Goonhilly Downs. But then every man and his dog also decided to put events on, and the scaremongers started predicting it would be a disaster.”

The Celebration flopped, but Dewdney had learned by then how to take the rough with the smooth.

One of his ITB colleagues, senior agent Steve Zapp, points out that it was Dewdney who, “taught myself and a number of young agents that there are ups and downs in this business and that to develop rhino skin is really important.

“By that, he meant to not take things too personally – that was really helpful advice for me back in the day.”

A decade later, Dewdney remains on top of the heap, guiding the fortunes of 31 acts at ITB.

“Is it that many?” he asks. “I never count them up like that. As long as I feel I have enough time to work them all, it’s fine. If I can’t do that, I’ll tell them they’re better off going somewhere else.”

Fortunately, it seems, he can.

What others said:

Scumeck Sabottka, MCT Agentur, Germany

“I can’t remember exactly when I first met Mike, but it seems a very long time ago. He is fast, he is fair, he has foresight and he is witty. He’s a joy to work with, and knows that there is a whole lot of grey, and not just black and white.”

Stefan Matthey, Good News, Switzerland

“The first act I worked on with Mike was Mr Big in the mid-‘80s, since when I have done virtually all of his acts, including Blink-182, Kasabian and Eels. Mike is one of the good guys. He is always willing to listen to you as a promoter. When you call him, he will pick-up the phone. When you send email, he replies. No bullshit.”

Michael Chugg, Chugg Entertainment, Australia

“My working relationship with Mike goes back to the late-‘80s, since when we worked together on Faith No More, Eels, Black Rebel Motor Cycle Club, Deftones, Blink-182, Angels And Airwaves and more. Mike loves live music and cares not only about his acts, but also promoters. He’s feisty, funny, has quick comebacks and I just love his accent.”

Geoff Meall, Coda Music Agency, UK

“Mike’s a top man, always a straight shooter – someone you can have a conversation with about life in general, instead of just work. He’s one of those rare agents whose assistant [Mo Green] continues to want to work with them longer than a year.”

Folkert Koopmans, FKP Scorpio, Germany

“It was probably around 15-20 years ago that I first worked with Mike. In a few words, he is human, fair, and straightforward. For example, once he had to cancel a headliner for one of our festivals and we simply moved them to the next year.  As my expenses for the replacement were higher, I managed to re-negotiate the fee for the following year.”

Paul Debnam, PSI2, Austria

“He is definitely a Dewd Dude and I have had a great working relationship with his acts since the early ‘90s. The ones we still work on together are really diverse, from Tori Amos to Eels and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. There’s always a good artiste/agent/promoter understanding which is a rare thing to see these days.”

Andy Copping, Live Nation UK

“Mike understands his artistes and the level of business they are at better than most. He understands the business on all sides and then gets what is needed.”

Nick Hobbs, Charmenko, Turkey

“Having worked with Mike since at least 2001, I can say he is pushy, doesn’t beat around the bush, doesn’t let anything get by him, but is also very human and likeable at the same time. If there’s a problem he listens and tries to help. An agent has to drive a hard bargain and he does, but he doesn’t screw you to the wall; it’s a tricky balance, but he gets it about right.”

Rune Lem, MD, Live Nation Norway

“Mike is always a pleasure to work with. He has such a sense of humour, we’ve been delivering witty one-liners to each other for decades, and he’s such a great personality that you want to do his acts just because you like him. We started working together shortly after he joined ITB, and have done Tori Amos numerous times, John Mayer, Deftones, Eels and Little Steven.”

Steve Zapp, ITB, UK

“When I was at Primary Talent I got excited about a new act, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, that I thought I’d discovered, only to find out when I called, that Mike was already their agent.”

John Cornwell, SJM Concerts, UK

“Mike gave me my first break when I joined SJM. We did a show with Blink-182 in September 1999 at The Borderline [280] in London and they went on to become one of the biggest acts that I’ve worked with over the years. They were the first act I got to arena level, and it was absolutely through Mike.”

Jeps Salfischberger, Mojo Concerts, Netherlands

“In 2010 I booked Blink-182 with Mike on the Lowlands [65,000] festival and they were planning to bring a very big production, with a mechanical drum riser that rose very high. We spent a lot of time getting things organised for that and then, on the day of the show, the riser broke down but Mike remained calm through it all and the show went ahead.”


Anders Wahren, Roskilde Festival, Denmark

“Our first booking together was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club for Roskilde 2013. Mike’s dry humour, combined with a sincere interest in the people he is talking to, makes him good company in person and one of the agents that is actually funny to write emails back and forth with.”

Andre Lieberberg, Live Nation Germany

“I’ve been working with Mike since 2002 and he is a real Mensch and a loyal business partner, once you have proven yourself capable of getting the job done. He’s smart, funny and great to hang with. When we felt bad about a Rock am Ring deal and mentioned that it left a bad taste, he offered to bring some sweets to the festival, to make the taste go away … classic Mike.”

Dave McGeachan, DF Concerts, Scotland, UK

“Mike and I have had a great relationship, working with the likes of Kasabian, who played King Tuts [300] in 2004, and have since done numerous arena sell-outs in Scotland. He always seems to know the right next step for a band, and pushes for the very best deal, but takes the promoter’s role into consideration. He’s also humorous, kind and wears shorts no matter what the weather.”

Willem Venema, Double Vee Concerts, Netherlands

“We always get the right deal with lots of sell-outs with only good and brilliant acts, and some even better than that. Mike is always in a good mood, and I will never forget his face when he was presented with a gold album for Rage Against The Machine at Pinkpop.”

Robert Grima, Live Nation, Spain

“Having worked with Mike for almost 30 years, I can say he opened up a lot of opportunities. He gave me Florence + The Machine when they were becoming huge, and in the early days we worked on Eels and Deftones. We have worked together on Kasabian, Stone Temple Pilots, Kula Saker, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. He’s one of the nicest people in the business.”

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