2003 tops ticket sales chart as rock stages a revival

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The Independent Culture

Music lovers spent more on going to concerts last year than at any time since records began 90 years ago as the rock revival helped to fuel a new hunger for live gigs.

The Performing Rights Society said 2003 had been an "exceptional year" and that it anticipated declaring a record annual income from live concerts of more than £10m, the highest figure since the PRS was set up in 1914.

Huge shows such as the Robbie Williams concerts at Knebworth and performances by the Rolling Stones at Twickenham rugby stadium demonstrated that fans were willing to pay hefty ticket prices for spectacular events.

John Axon, executive director of the PRS, said: "It has been an exceptional year on the concert front and I confidently expect we will get more than £10m from concert income. It is the best year ever for featured concert revenues."

Mr Axon attributed the popularity of gigs to a combination of factors including the strong economy and good weather for outdoor concerts. He said: "It has become part of the culture to attend one or more of the big live events of the year."

The PRS revenue - which does not include money generated from smaller gigs at pubs and working men's clubs - indicates that concerts generated in excess of £330m in ticket sales last year.

The Musicians' Union confirmed yesterday that the live music scene was at its most vibrant since at least 1985 when the Live Aid charity concert was staged at Wembley.

Keith Ames, the union's communications officer, said: "We think this is going to be a golden era for live music and we are very enthusiastic about the future."

Organisers of the Brit Awards said they were looking at introducing a "live performance" category to recognise the renewed importance of gigs. Bernard Doherty, a committee member, speaking before the launch of the 2004 Brits tonight, said: "A live category is something we are considering. The live industry is thriving and there are a lot of people who don't consume music by going to record shops but by going to gigs."

The Brits will this year include for the first time a category for Best Rock Act to recognise the growing appeal of a genre that has recently spawned bands such as the Darkness and the Libertines.

Steve Parker, editor of Audience, the trade magazine for the live music industry, said that children as young as 10 were attending gigs by bands such as Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. He said: "This has brought a lot of the parents back to the live stuff because they have had to buy tickets for themselves as well as the kids."

With the demographic for rock and pop gigs now spanning all age groups, artists have realised that at a time when record sales are under pressure from internet downloads, money can be made from live performance. The Rolling Stones sold 250,000 tickets for their British shows this summer, while Robbie shifted 400,000 for his three nights at Knebworth.

The Glastonbury festival, hailed as the best ever by its organiser, Michael Eavis, sold out its 120,000 tickets within a day. Scotland's T in the Park sold out for the first time. The Leeds and Reading rock festivals and the V Festival in Essex and Staffordshire had their best years. Festivals were launched for Manchester (Move) and Donnington (Download, a heavy rock event). The indoor arena circuit continued to grow to meet the demand for major gigs, with Bristol's 10,000-seater venue being the most recent to open.

At grassroots level, young groups are crying out for venues to perform at, after the demise of the pub band circuit at the hands of dance culture in the past 15 years. Barfly, a national chain that specialises in 200-capacity venues, is attempting to meet the demand. Abbie Marshall, promoter at the London venue, said: "Everyone of about 14 and 15 wants to be in a band. We've got one of the biggest backlogs of demos that I've seen. People want to see bands that are only a few feet away rather than a spot on the horizon."

Last week the Government set up a Live Music Forum to monitor and encourage the industry, chaired by Feargal Sharkey, former singer of the Undertones.