Mr Music – An exclusive interview with John Giddings

He’s worked with the biggest names – Bowie, Madonna, Lady Gaga and U2. In an exclusive interview with Tomorrow, John Giddings talks about his stellar career and his love of the Algarve.

John Giddings always wanted to work in the music industry. But there was no silver spoon for John and no connections in the industry. All that changed when, as the ambitious young social secretary for the University of Exeter, he took it upon himself to book the likes of Genesis, Procol Harum and T. Rex. It was the early 70s, and you name them, John booked them. Crucially, he started making connections in the industry that still serve him well today. 

John and I chatted over lunch at a well-known restaurant on the upmarket Quinta do Lago resort, in the Golden Triangle, near Almancil. Dressed in his trademark black jumper and black jeans, John was great company. Funny, interesting and self-deprecating, he has many a tale to tell. “I was fortunate, he said, smiling. “I discovered at an early age I wasn’t a very good musician. It takes others a lot longer to realise that.” A career as a concert promoter and agent beckoned. 

John Giddings with Mariah Carey

John initially worked for Management Agency And Music, Ltd., but before too long, he’d gone solo – quite literally, as it happened – creating the Solo Agency Ltd. An early breakthrough came when they won responsibility for David Bowie’s legendary 1987 concert at Wembley Stadium. Then, the Rolling Stones took on John as their European promoter. U2, Madonna, and Celine Dion soon followed, as did The Corrs, The Police, Westlife, Little Mix, and many more.

If you look at any list of the top-grossing concert tours of all time, then John and the Solo Agency are there. The Sticky & Sweet Tour by Madonna in 2008 grossed $282 million. In 2009, Billboard named three of his clients as having the top-grossing tours of the previous decade – The Rolling Stones ($869m), U2 ($844m), and Madonna ($801m). I asked John what it’s like working with such stellar names. “You have to remember, they’re top professionals, incredibly hard-working and dedicated,’ said John. ‘That’s what helps make them what they are. And at the end of the day, they’re people, albeit very talented people.”

John with Pharrell Williams

I asked him how he keeps in contact with such an impressive client list. “It varies. With some, it’s more work-based, but certainly, with Bowie and others, it’s been a more personal relationship. He would often email and ask for my thoughts on all kinds of things, and me likewise. He was incredibly talented. I still can’t believe he’s gone.”

John considers the Isle of Wight to be home, though he plans on spending more time in the Algarve. A passion of John’s has been to restore the Isle of Wight Festival to its former glory. “It’s iconic. It was Europe’s Woodstock,” he told me. In the 20 years he’s been organising the festival, it has gone from being something of a sideshow for the top artists to one of the premier festivals in music, featuring The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, The Who, and Paul McCartney. This year’s festival takes place from the 18th to the 23rd of June. Headline acts include Robbie Williams, George Ezra, Pulp and Blondie.

Last year, John worked with Bono on his book signing tour. It generated positive coverage from the British press, something they haven’t always afforded Bono. “It’s really odd”, said John. “Bono decided a long time ago to use his fame to try and bring about some good in the world and, for that, he gets criticised. It’s a strange world we live in.” 

John with Adam Clayton from U2

As for those that got away? “Paul McCartney turned me down. His management team said he wouldn’t appreciate my sense of humour. It was the nicest turn-down I’ve ever had. When Take That were reforming, I was asked to represent them. I asked, ‘Is Robbie in?’ and they said, ‘No’, so I said, ‘No, thank you’. The girls in the office called me an idiot. And they were right: I was an idiot.” 

As for the Algarve, John first visited here over 20 years ago and, for him and his family, it’s a special place. “I’ve holidayed here many times,” said John. “A few years ago, I decided to buy a property. My work involves a lot of travel, so I’m away from home a lot. The Algarve is the place where I can reconnect with family.” John has three girls and one stepdaughter. He has a passion for Formula 1 racing. “I’m obsessed with it. I think Lewis Hamilton is incredible”. As for the future, “I’d like to reform Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd or Oasis. Or maybe some kind of ‘Supergroup’ with musicians from the top bands.” 

It was a pleasure speaking with John. He’s one of the titans of the music industry and fabulous company. John’s work, and that of his clients, has brought joy to millions. Long may that continue.


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