George Akins Talks DHP Success

16 April 18 interview: Jared Wilson
photos: Curtis Powell

Rock City. Rescue Rooms. The Bodega. Stealth. Four of the city’s best-loved venues, all part of the DHP Family. It’s been a big year for this bunch, what with Rescue Rooms turning fifteen and the launch of the mammoth Beat The Streets festival. We had a word with George Akins, DHP’s main man, to find out more...

We first interviewed you back in December 2005. How has life changed since then?
That’s a long time ago. We’d only really started flirting with being promoters outside our own venues at the time; we were really just a club business with venues. We’ve grown a national promotions arm since, and now my day is mainly made up of booking bands and managing the live team. I don’t really get into the nitty gritty of what club nights are on at Rock City, Rescue Rooms or Thekla anymore. Also, personally speaking, I’ve got a family with two kids in school. That’s probably a bigger change than anything else.

One of the big artists you manage tours for these days is Ed Sheeran…
Yeah, we co-promote that with a company called Kilimanjaro. We started out doing all the northern shows for Ed and they did all his southern shows, but eventually we decided to team up and do them all together.

Is that the biggest music show in the UK right now?
It’s actually the biggest show in the world in terms of bums on seats. His current stadium run goes all around the world and ends back in the UK this summer. It’s fifteen stadiums – including Wembley, Manchester, Newcastle, Cardiff – and it’s a big deal. Ed isn’t the only artist we’ve got either. We run the tours for Garbage, James Blunt, Flaming Lips, Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave, The Dropkick Murphys, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, War on Drugs and Grizzly Bear, and we do a few eighties acts like The Human League and Belinda Carlisle, too.

Is the promotions side financially bigger than the venue side, these days?
Venues are still the major breadwinner for our company, but the live element is catching up fast. In a year where Ed Sheeran is touring, I can imagine we’ll probably do similar numbers with our live business as we do with our venues.

Despite running all that, you still found time to put on Beat The Streets; a music festival that raised over £100k for Framework. How did that come about?
I kept seeing people sleeping in doorways and it’s definitely got worse in the last eighteen months. I was talking to a taxi driver about it, and as he was dropping me off he said “So what are you going to do about it?” I’d not really thought of it like that before. I decided to meet with the council, the police and with various charities and social services, and when I asked what kind of money could make a difference, they told me £50k could make a real change. We decided to aim for £100k and thankfully we managed it. We want to do it annually if we can. It’s not just about the festival itself either, we collect donations on our venue guest lists and make private donations. A lot of our staff agreed to work it for free too…

Can you give us some idea of how Framework will use that money?
Around half will go towards their winter shelter fund, which means people can get a bed when it’s really cold. That’s an emergency situation which wasn’t being dealt with very well as they didn’t have enough money for it. They’ve also been able to employ two people to do proper social work around mental health, so hopefully that can help the long-term situation, too.

The DHP Family have venues and business interests across the country nowadays. Is Nottingham still home?
Definitely. This is where I was born, it’s where my dad started out in business as a barrowboy and where his side of the family are from. The core of our business is based here, and it’s important to see that the scene grows and becomes more successful. I remember when Mark Del first pointed out that no-one was really doing anything for the Nottingham music scene. He was right; there wasn’t much here for teenagers who wanted to make music and get noticed by a record company. We stumbled across Dog is Dead and then Jake Bugg came through, then Sleaford Mods, Saint Raymond, Indiana, Ady Suleiman, Nina Smith, Natalie Duncan and many more. It’s improved hugely. That’s credit to people like Mark, I’m Not From London, Dean Jackson, Tommy Farmyard, and you guys.

The DHP Family keep scooping national awards too...
Yeah, well there’s the Live UK Business Awards, and the Music Week Awards, they’re the two main awards bodies in our industry. We’ve won stuff at Live UK three times and we’re nominated for Music Week every year, so we’re hoping to win that one day.

Rescue Rooms turned fifteen this year. Did that feel like a big moment?
Yeah, I remember when I got Ozzy Osbourne to play Rock City when it turned fifteen, and I remember thinking how amazing it was that it’d been going so long and thinking of all the history it was steeped in. Rescue Rooms wasn’t even alive then, and now it’s been going that long too. We’re really proud that the place has done so well.

It’s not the only thing that turns fifteen this year…
Yes. Happy Birthday to all of you at LeftLion too. I read it every month. It’s definitely the go-to place if you want to find out what’s going on in the city.

So what’s your ideal night out in Notts when you’re not on the clock working?
I like the Pelican Club, Bar Iberico, Piccolinos and Junkyard. But invariably I’m out so much at concerts that on a night off I actually quite like staying in. Staying in is kind of like my going out. You can tell I’m getting older…

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