Scottish music manager and promoter David McLean has staged gigs by Nirvana, Green Day, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Oasis and hundreds more. Ahead of his first film, Schemers – which tells the story of his early days attempting to book Iron Maiden to play in Dundee – he shares some handy tips for success.
1. Get your mum to make bacon sandwiches for Iron Maiden
My first big gig was Iron Maiden in Dundee. I didn’t read a word of the contract – I just put it under the sofa. I was used to promoting bands who turned up in a transit van but Iron Maiden turned up in a huge tour bus. Their tour manager said: “Where’s the crew?” I went: “The crew?” I ran outside, found four inebriated people standing nearby and went: “That’s the crew.” Then he said: “Where’s the catering?” I phoned my mum and begged her: “Quick! We need 30 bacon rolls, 30 egg rolls, 24 bottles of Newcastle Brown and a bottle of vodka.” She smashed this big whisky bottle full of cash that she was saving up for her holidays, went to Asda and brought everything down. The venue held 2,000 but we’d only sold 200 tickets because I’d forgotten to put up any posters. We took the band to the pub. When we came back, people were queuing round the block. It sold out on the door. After the gig, I went to the casino and blew the lot. I got home and my dad said, “I’m really proud of you.” If only he knew …
2. Only book Bruce Springsteen if you can afford him
After Maiden I thought: “This is easy,” and moved to London and lived in this cheap hotel. I asked my girlfriend: “Who shall I book?” She said: “Springsteen.” I looked up his manager’s fax number in Music Week Directory, and faxed Bruce an offer to play Glasgow’s 50,000-capacity Ibrox Stadium. Six days later, the hotel reception said: “You’ve had a call from Jon Landau,” Springsteen’s manager. It would have cost me hundreds of thousands of pounds, and I was on the dole living in a bedsit hotel. So I never called back. Six months later I got a job as an entertainment officer. My first gig was Keith Harris and Orville. I thought I was going to take over the music business, but I ended up doing the bingo for Little and Large, Cannon and Ball, and Rod Hull and Emu.
3. Get the drinks in when Nirvana are playing five-a-side
Nirvana came to the UK in 1991 to play 12 Nevermind shows. Everyone says Dave [Grohl] is the nicest man in rock. Kurt was great, too: I remember his piercing blue eyes. He was such a genuine person. He put up a disco ball in the tour bus and would sing Dancing Queen because he loved Abba. After Nottingham Rock City, the Chippendales – this group of male strippers – were in the hotel bar. For some reason, Nirvana’s tour manager said: “Fancy a game of five-a-side?” So Nirvana played a game of five-a-side versus the Chippendales in the car park. Kurt was quite fit, and Dave got stuck in. I can’t remember who won but for the rest of the night I pulled a bit of a fast one and put all the drinks on the Chippendales’ manager’s room.
4. Don’t bet your house on Oasis turning up
Years later, I met a drinks promoter in Bangkok called Cyril Legrande. He said: “I really want to put on a festival. I’ll sponsor $2m providing you book Oasis.” We got Oasis, Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand and Ian Brown. Then I got a fax: “The sponsorship has gone down to $1m.” Then another: “$500,000.” The Thai promoter said: “You’ll have to cut the band fees – is it absolutely necessary to have Mr Franz and Mr Ferdinand? Can’t we just have one?” Then he added: “You need to guarantee that Oasis turn up, or else you will have to pay their $500,000 fee.” This was when Oasis were renowned for cancelling. I woke up the next day and thought: “I’m going to have to sell my house.” When they walked out on stage I leapt in the air with ecstasy. My girlfriend went: “I never knew you liked Oasis so much … ”
5. Keep Placebo away from large cakes
I was on tour in Moscow with Placebo. We were met in a big limo from the airport and taken to the hotel. The guide said: “We have a special cake that is going in the Guinness Book of Records tomorrow.” It was literally the length of the hotel. We went out for a few drinks, then next morning the cake had lost 30 metres because someone had jumped in it, and the record attempt was off. Over breakfast, everyone was like: “What’s happened to the cake?” I’m not naming names but Brian [Molko, singer] and Stefan [Olsdal, bassist] were seen sticking rather a large donation into the charity box on the way out.
Schemers is in cinemas from 25 September