By Mike Southon, FT Columnist

Selling your company should bring financial security and the chance to indulge a neglected hobby or pastime. In my case it is live music, so after buying a house in a nice area I put together a pastiche retro band and hit the college circuit as Mike Fab-Gere.

All went well until I decided to turn this into a touring theatre show, which was well-received and reviewed but ultimately lost money. Looking back, this was due to a combination of over-confidence and poor financial control, traits often found in unsuccessful entrepreneurs. But my fascination with theatre remains, so I was intrigued to attend an early preview of Backbeat, a West End show based on the early days of The Beatles.

The show’s producer Karl Sydow gained his first business experience while computerising bookshops. He then devised the automated booking system for the Barbican Theatre before setting up First Call in 1985, offering the then radical service of providing telephone booking for a fixed fee.

This approach was dismissed by more traditional agencies and he was always challenged to justify his charges. But the public flocked to the shows he promoted and the business grew, acquiring less nimble competitors such as Keith Prowse before ultimately selling the business to Airmiles in 1998.

Sydow realised that being in the front line of marketing every kind of event enabled him to identify those that stood the best chance of success. It was therefore a logical step to start originating the shows, and he is now well established in London and New York as the successful producer of a wide range of entertainment from Dirty Dancing to Chekhov’s The Seagull.

Sydow explains that first he has to have a passion for the material. Then, the production is put through stringent tests, including read-throughs and early previews. Finally, there is a trial run in a provincial theatre before the show is brought into the West End.

He had seen the original film of Backbeat on an airplane, and was struck by its dramatic potential, rather than just as a vehicle for the music of the time. He worked with Iain Softley, the writer and original director of the film, and the show was built in partnership with the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre, where the show premiered.

Greg Lunnon started his career in accountancy before moving into tax planning and wealth management, specialising in the entertainment and music industries. He helped Brian Dunham and Nicky Graham set up Bolanic Productions to develop Twentieth Century Boy, a musical about the life and music of Marc Bolan.

Lunnon’s responsibilities include negotiating certain music rights to the songs, liaising with angel investors and organising the business structure to ensure that all interested parties benefit fairly from the ultimate success of the show.

Again, this production was scrupulously prototyped and has just finished a very successful 28 date run at The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich where it achieved average audiences in well excess of 90%.

Backbeat is very enjoyable, not just for myself, a self-confessed Beatles fan, but also for my family, who appreciated the excellent performances and music. For Twentieth Century Boy, I must defer to Bolan expert Danielz, who fronts the UK’s leading tribute band T-Rextasy and also starred in my ill-fated theatre show.

Like Backbeat, the real story is altered for dramatic effect, but he describes Twentieth Century Boy on his web site as “an enjoyable slice of rock’n’roll entertainment”. I am happy to take his recommendation, and will see the show as soon as possible, from the safety of the stalls, rather than the producer’s box.

Backbeat can be found at
Bolanic Productions can be found at

Originally published in The Financial Times: Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon- Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker-

Mike is one of the world’s top business speakers, a Fellow of The Professional Speakers Association. Mike is a Visiting Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London South Bank University. He has made frequent appearances on television and radio, has a monthly sales column in Real Business magazine and is a regular commentator in the Financial Times.

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