Business Plus

Working In Concert

When the pandemic decimated the entertainm­ent industry, Fin O’Leary, Brian Hand and Simon Merriman lost their jobs at Aiken. The trio pooled their considerab­le experience and formed Singular Artists to take on Ireland’s ‘big two’ promoters, writes

- Fionn Thompson

Breaking MCD and Aiken’s strangleho­ld at the top of the music promotion’s food chain is no easy task. For over four decades the two behemoths have formed a virtual duopoly in the industry, with near-exclusive control of the island’s main concert halls, and rolodexes that would be the envy of any promoter worldwide.

Music promoters Fin O’Leary (46), Brian Hand (57) and Simon Merriman (33) are up for the challenge. The former Aiken trio, made redundant due to the Covid-19 pandemic’s devastatin­g impact on live entertainm­ent, banded together to form Singular Artists, the promoter that recently staged four gigs at the National Museum premises site at the former Collins Barracks.

The ‘Wider Than Pictures’ concert series at the end of August saw Alt-J, Simply Red and Fleet Foxes grace the central Dublin site, the first time the venue was used for commercial live music performanc­e. The open-air format was sedate, with chairs for everyone, and the promoters were blessed with fine weather. Not all the concerts were sell-outs, but the series went well, and for Singular Artists it was a step up from the Workman’s Cellar and Whelan’s.

Founded in 2020, Singular Artists is bolstered by investment from Kilimanjar­o Live, a sizeable UK music promoter, which has a 60% stake in the Irish venture. However, following the trio’s departure from Aiken, staying in music promotion was far from certain.

Brian Hand, who followed his father into the business and worked at one stage with Pat Egan, explains it was a sink-or-swim moment. “We started having conversati­ons about what we were going to do next – do we go back to flipping burgers or driving taxis?” he recalls. “We decided to align ourselves together and see if we could

try and find some way of continuing to do what we know best and establish something we could grow.”

Fin O’Leary, who spent 14 years at MCD and three years with Aiken, adds: “We wanted to continue with the relationsh­ips that we’ve built with artists over the years. When we were let go, there was a raft of people saying ‘If you’re still in the game, we’re still with you guys’. Through our conversati­ons, we realised the merit of the three of us sticking together. I think there’s been a yearning for a while in the industry for new ideas.”

The live music sector was one of the worst affected by pandemic restrictio­ns and lockdowns, with gigs effectivel­y shelved for two years. “I think the way the market shifted after all that’s happened over the past few years has created an opening for what we’re trying to do,” says O’Leary. “We’re not looking to take over the world – we’re just looking to exist and grow our own little thing.”

For Simon Merriman, who spent seven years with Aiken, the dearth of gigs during the pandemic was a blessing in disguise, as Singular Artists had time to plan their strategy and promotions. “Looking at how the industry has started back up again,

I’m delighted we actually had that time to put the whole thing together, rather than have the pressure of organising shows at the same time,” says Merriman.

Kilimanjar­o Live, founded in 2008 by Stuart Galbraith, works across all areas of entertainm­ent, from music through to stand-up, and runs numerous festivals in the UK, including Kew the Music and Live at Chelsea. This year ‘Kili’ copromoted Ed Sheeran’s UK stadium tour and was also involved in promoting Stereophon­ics, Simply Red, Craig David, Hans Zimmer, UB40, Jeff Beck, Nick Mason, Tony Hadley and Dita VonTeese.

With a majority equity stake in Singular Artists, Kilimanjar­o brings not only financial resources but also access to UK acts. “They have been a huge help to us,” says O’Leary. “It’s great to be able to pick up the phone

and ask questions about certain aspects of events that we might not have dealt with before.”

O’Leary, who had first thought of the Collins Barracks venue a decade ago when booking an artist in his MCD days, says the venue was a no-brainer. “It’s an absolutely stunning spot that we looked at very early on. We felt the need early in our existence to put together a late-summer series that sits just shy of Electric Picnic.”

The four ‘Wider Than Pictures’ concerts also signalled a move to bring “concerts back into the city centre”, according to Hand, citing the transport connection­s and the variety of “amazing venues” that the city has to offer but haven’t before been traditiona­lly used for hosting live music.

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 ?? ?? Left: Singular Artists founders Simon Merriman, Brian Hand and Fin O’Leary (right in picture) with (l-r) Simon Mulcahy, Jeremy Symth and Michelle Whitehead
Simply Red performing at Collins Barracks as part of the recent Wider Than Pictures concert series
Left: Singular Artists founders Simon Merriman, Brian Hand and Fin O’Leary (right in picture) with (l-r) Simon Mulcahy, Jeremy Symth and Michelle Whitehead RAY KEOGH Simply Red performing at Collins Barracks as part of the recent Wider Than Pictures concert series

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