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Q&A: Adlib MD Andy Dockerty

David Davies talks to the man in charge about business and Brexit

Live music remains a core activity, but Liverpool-based sound and lighting rental and installation company Adlib is now a highly diversified business with burgeoning interests in areas such as conference AV and education. Let’s just hope that Brexit doesn’t put the brakes on everything, says Andy Dockerty….

As we pass the mid-point of the year, how would describe overall activity levels in 2016?

It’s been a good first half-year. We have just finished working on the International Festival of Business here in Liverpool, which was a massive event taking place over more than three weeks and for which we supplied the full production including LED wall, projectors, screens, large-format displays, lighting PA and set. It was a really interesting block of work – albeit challenging at times with so many organisational factors to consider – and we came out of it with some great new contacts.

Is corporate work a growing part of the business then?

Yes. It’s probably leaning towards being 20 per cent of our workload now. It has been a case of having the right people in the right place at the right time. We added a few personnel who really helped to develop this marketplace for us. I wouldn’t describe it as a strategy to diversify, but you are always a bit concerned that bits of the business might dry up, so there is a constant lookout to see which other areas you can develop.

What about the core live music and entertainment side of the business?

We continue to support some major tours – an obvious example being Mrs Brown’s Boys, which we have been working on for 16 years from when it was filling 200 or 300 seat venues to today when multiple nights at stadiums are the norm. We also currently have the Foals, Ellie Goulding, Lana del Rey and Joe Bonamassa with FOH, monitor and stage packages, as well as identical ‘B systems’ for all of them. We have also been working on stages at a lot of festivals – T in the Park, V, Leeds Reading, Kendal Calling, Latitude, Glastonbury, Creamfields, Fusion Festival, etc. So that side of the operation is relatively busy, but the general autumn touring does not appear to be as busy as maybe it was three or four years ago – and of course we now have the whole Euro thing…

Ah yes, the dreaded ‘Brexit’. Uncertainty reigns supreme at the time of writing, but what do you think the impact on live music in the UK might be?

I think there could be more reluctance on the part of US-based artists to come to UK based companies because of currency and administrative issues, however, at the moment with the £/$ relationship, we could be quite attractive. There is also the more general question of ‘when does dealing with the UK become too awkward for international acts?’. They might opt to engage the services of some of our European friends. And if the carnet system is reintroduced, then there could be increased administrative costs. It’s hard not to feel that the whole change may bring with it a load of additional problems… and let’s face it, we’re not exactly the most popular nation in Europe at the best of times!

As you mentioned, the festival circuit remains buoyant for Adlib – and it’s clear that Kendal Calling is a particularly significant fixture on the calendar…

I have loved watching that festival grow. I went about two years back when it had got to the 15,000 attendance level and it was really nice to be there – a great atmosphere. But the growth of festivals can bring challenges because as they become more and more popular, the number of companies keen to do the audio increases – and so the prices are driven down to the point where it can be difficult to make a profit. Then you have to factor in the time and resources to return equipment to the point where it can be used again after a festival. Glastonbury this year was a case-in-point – it took a lot of our warehouse staff’s time to get the cables back to being anything like presentable. So much mud… It was pretty grim!

Fixed installation has been another growing area for Adlib in recent years, so what kind of projects have you been taking on in 2016?

We’ve specialised in the live venue market for the past 15 years and most recently we have completed successful installations at The Lowry Theatre [in Salford], The Core at Corby Cube, Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall and Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall.

We’re also very passionate about the education sector. We’re currently working on the infrastructure for LIPA’s [Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts] 6th Form College as well as several major secondary school projects across the North West that incorporate sizeable audio, lighting and video systems. We have really targeted the education sector with the idea that it’s preferable to specify industry-standard products that will last; not cheap and cheerful kit that is going to break within a year. We also try to work on projects that allow us to set up work experience at Adlib for students, who will then recognise the systems we use from their own colleges. It’s one of several ways in which we aim to offer some insight into the way we work at Adlib, and into the industry as a whole.