The Interview: Stamford’s Colin Ward
This month we’ve an exclusive interview with Stamford live events entrepreneur Colin Ward about his life and work with Live Promotions as he celebrates 50 years of life among the stars…
As the saying goes, find a job you love and you’ll never do a day’s work again in your life. It’s certainly true for local businessman Colin Ward, whose career as a promoter this month reaches the milestone of 50 years. It’s a job which has taken him around the world, but also grounded Colin in the area, where he’s lived all his life. We recently caught up with Colin at The George of Stamford in between meetings to find out how his many interests in life have intersected with his career as a live events promoter.
Are we correct in saying that you’ve always been a local boy?
That’s right. I was born and raised in Spalding and was schooled at Spalding Grammar, then at college and the finally the School of Art studying what was grandly referred to as Industrial Art – otherwise known as printing!
And art was your first love, specifically album covers?
That’s right. I aspired to work either as a designer or in the music industry, and album covers is where the two interests intersected. I was in a band at the time, it was called Sounds Force Five, and we were fortunate enough to be making waves in the local music scene at venues like the area’s RAF camps, and so on. The area was an incredible place for music at the time with Jimi Hendrix, Cream and many others performing locally.
We all eventually fell into a hippy counter-culture frame of mind and the psychedelia movement yielded some stunning album covers. We had a great time travelling far and wide. The most memorable gig for me was on the beach at Perranporth in Cornwall a phenomenal open air gig that really takes me back!
But then adult life beckoned?
I was torn between music and pursuing a career in art and design, so I ended up working in Peterborough and London as an artistic buyer, commissioning art for EMAP. These included promotion for events like the Isle of Man TT, my first taste of life as a promoter; needless to say, one which quickly began to appeal!
It was a good job but one that was fraught with frustration too. I regularly quit the job, to the extent that it became an in-joke between my wife Daphne and I. She and I would be sitting in the car and the Managing Director would tap on the window asking me to come back into the office and come back to work!
How did you begin your own events company, Live Promotions?
Some time around that point, a friend asked for help promoting a folk music event, which neatly ensured all of my interests came together; an ability to be creative, working with talented musicians and to play a part in organising an event. There was a lack of good event venues and good music acts in the area so circumstances, I felt, were right and we began Live Promotions in 1972. I say we, because as well as Daphne’s constant support, I’ve always been blessed with some excellent colleagues like George Slinger who later departed to run Birchgrove Garden Centre, and Bob Limming who has been with me for 40 years now, and is also a Director of the company. My son-in-law Tom also joined the company 12 years ago and it’s great to have a family connection in the business too.
Together we began to host events at Boston’s Assembly Rooms, local cinemas or theatres and venues as far afield as London, with acts across the genres of jazz, country music and pop music.
But live music events were only half the story?
That’s right. We picked up corporate work, which was a crucial period of change for the business. Some of our clients included breweries like Skol & Tetley beers and Marlborough tobacco.
We became the ‘can do’ company, satisfying any client’s brief. We held a German-themed medieval banquet at Belvoir Castle, organised concerts on boats on the Thames, and in our most ambitious – and generously monetised – campaign, which saw us hiring Concorde to fly over the offices of one of our clients whilst hosting a ‘street party’ in their head office compéred by Phillip Schofield!
And then the ‘digital revolution’ happened?
Yes. It was a changing business climate and client work was changing as well, to become more rewards-oriented. In the mid to late 1980s we created Truckfest, and our Land Rover events.
These were our in-house projects and the company underwent a huge change, hosting our own events – which were more secure by virtue of the fact that we owned them – rather than working for our clients.
With success soon following?
The company grew from just a handful of people to around 20. We built relationships with venues like Lincoln Castle, Burghley House and stately homes, as well as taking Truckfest nationwide.
How large is Live Promotions now?
We have 18 people in the office and host about 26 events a year, entertaining about 200,000 people annually including 60,000 at Peterborough’s flagship Truckfest event.
What was your most successful moment in business?
The most prestigious event that we were involved in took place in 2012, when we organised The Queen’s Jubilee event at Burghley House. I was on the organising committee and it was attended by over 10,000 guests.
I worked closely with the late and very great Tony Worth and met HM The Queen briefly, which was one of the proudest moments of my life. Aside from that, Truckfest has been the greatest achievement… I suppose every poet has a sort of magnum opus, and that’s ours.
It’s so popular and well-attended that I feel really proud to be associated with it, and we’ve had no end of celebrities making appearances at the event over the years, like Noel Edmonds.
Do you have any business regrets?
Not regrets as such. In hindsight, I wish we’d have hung on to the corporate work a little longer. It was a great industry to be in, and a different matter entirely to working in the music industry.
What stars and celebrities have you worked with – any favourites?
I’m no longer starstruck and I try not to have favourites, especially when we’re planning an event; we’re there to work. It sounds blasé, but when you’re putting your name to the event you have to deliver the concert and to ensure that it’s successful regardless of the talent.
And you’re not a fan of backstage pass requests?
Afraid not! I cringe because musicians have to work hard and perform to the best of their ability so they can’t be begrudged their time to mentally prepare before and to ‘recover’ mentally after the event. I don’t like intruding on that.
Who has impressed you most?
We’ve been very lucky to work with lots of very hard-working acts, and I’ve a bulging contacts book of really good people who are totally professional, dedicated to putting on a really great event for their audiences.
I’ve worked with Jools Holland on a number of occasions and he’s very good indeed. His drummer, Gilson Lavis, is local too and I’ve become good friends with him. They’re an incredibly successful pair. Likewise I’ve organised events with Bryan Ferry who is a total gentleman. He’s a great performer and a real professional. The presenter Fiona Bruce also worked with us three years ago to host an event akin to the last night of the proms, which was a real pleasure too.
But generally you’re not in the business to work with celebrities?
Oh absolutely not! I absolutely love running the business, and I couldn’t contemplate retirement. I could never fully retire as I’d be very bored. I’ve always had an interest in music and I love facilitating it for the enjoyment of other people. That’s the best thing about it.
I never switch off from the business, I’m open all hours and always on the look out for projects I can get involved in. In that sense it’s full on but it’s still a profound pleasure too.
And what music is on your CD player or streaming playlist right now?
I return to Jools Holland time and again, and love the energy and skill with which he performs. I’ve also been listening to the guitarist Albert Lee and to Rod Stewart. I’ve seen Rod live, and the Stones too quite recently, but my musical tastes are quite eclectic, and both Daphne and I enjoy classical and opera as well.
We travelled to the oldest opera house in Venice where Callas made her early musical debuts, and to the destinations which inspired Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
You take pleasure in researching your musical interests?
Absolutely. And history is a great interest too, one which will see me go through phases of mild obsession… my period of fascination with the artist John Constable last year for instance.
I try to visit Venice each year, and have been to Rome a couple of times too. They’re such beautiful cities and they’re all home to really unique stories which I love exploring.
Which is how you enjoy relaxing when you’re not in the office?
Yes, but principally I love spending time with my family. We’ve two grown-up children who work in the aviation industry and in the family business respectively. We’ve five grandchildren, whom I absolutely adore. I’m a real ‘family man’ and I think it’s great having the kids and grandkids around us at home. We’ve a couple of dogs too; a lively wire-haired dachshund and a Cairn terrier.
I love nature and I absolutely adore wildlife. We’ve a family of foxes that visit the garden, badgers too. I really enjoy birdwatching and escape to Norfolk regularly to watch the world go by on a beach. Simple pleasures are often the best.
What’s the secret to a happy family life?
Daphne and I are approaching our 50th wedding anniversary, and I think the secret is tolerance. Too many people give up on marriage these days.
Every couple will have moments that aren’t as good as others but in a marriage you’re there to support each other. My marriage has brought me more pleasure than anything else in my life as we’ve shared so many day-to-day experiences together; that’s the beauty of marrying your best friend.
- Colin is the founder of Live Promotions; www.livepromotions.co.uk.