Page last updated at 15:33 GMT, Thursday, 27 November 2008

Bringing the stars to the stage

Leonard Cohen and Rob Hallett
Rob Hallett (right) persuaded his hero Leonard Cohen to tour again

He coaxed Leonard Cohen out of retirement, staged Prince's 21-night London run, is bringing Britney Spears to Britain and taking Damon Albarn's Monkey opera to China.

Concert promoter Rob Hallett of AEG has been behind some of the landmark live music events of recent years. He now has a major reunion up his sleeve - just don't ask about the chances of a Michael Jackson comeback.

Leonard Cohen is finishing his UK arena tour - how did you talk him out of retirement?

It took some time. Leonard was trying to make some of the money back that had been stolen. [Cohen's manager stole $9.5m (6.2m) in the 1990s.] At first he said, 'I don't know if anyone wants to see me. You must be joking'.

We went back and forth over a couple of years. In the end, I offered to finance the rehearsals and said, 'we'll do some warm-up dates in Canada, and lets see what we've got'.

So we were about $3m (2m) in and 16 shows in Canada and we knew that we had a monster on our hands. When I first put an O2 show on sale everyone said, 'what? Leonard Cohen in the O2?' And we sold out three. It's been a fantastic success. Everyone who's seen the show almost without fail is saying this is the best show they've ever seen in their lives.

You also staged the Prince residency at the O2 - how did that come about?

Prince's 21-night run at the O2 in 2007 was a sell-out success

We were talking to Prince for some time and he said he'll come, but he wants to do 21 nights. He was insistent, so we said, 'OK, let's do 21 nights in London just as long as you're prepared for the last 10 to be in Ronnie Scott's. Who knows where the 21 nights will be, but they won't necessarily be at the O2'.

And Prince said, 'yes they will. It's going to work'. He wouldn't even consider the possibility of anything else. And it was pretty incredible. The man is a genius.

What lengths do you go to in order to keep these stars happy - did you really build a hotel for Prince in the O2?

That's rubbish. We didn't do that. Prince stayed at the Dorchester and had a fine time. I don't know where all that rubbish came from saying we built a secret hotel underneath the Dome in a secret location.

Prince is a perfectionist. Most of the best artists are perfectionists. The media would say diva, difficult to work with. But it's not that. I'd rather deal with a guy who's perceived to be difficult who cares about his show than a guy who's perceived to be easy and the night before he's paid to entertain 20,000 people, he's off his face in a nightclub with some dollybird till six in the morning.

AEG is reported to have made an offer to Michael Jackson to promote his comeback shows - what's the situation with that?

Michael Jackson
There have been reports that Michael Jackson could play at the O2

I dunno, who's Michael Jackson? Wasn't he the head of the BBC once? [A TV executive called Michael Jackson was controller of BBC One and BBC Two in the 1990s.]

Have you got an offer in?

I'm not really into TV execs turned into singers.

With the other Michael Jackson?

Is there another one?

I'll take that as a no comment. Moving on, who would be your dream artist to promote?

I would have said Leonard Cohen. I've now achieved that. There's very few to achieve. Led Zeppelin would be in any promoter's dream list. Yusuf Islam would be a personal one for me.

I do have another reformation up my sleeve that I can't talk about yet that is going to please a lot of people of a certain age.

Can you give me a clue?

If you were a teenage boy in the pre-punk '70s you're going to be very excited. The announcement of that isn't a million miles away. Outside of Led Zeppelin, this is probably the biggest reformation you can hope for.

Duran Duran
Rob Hallett was Duran Duran's live agent in the 1980s

These reformations are fun and interesting diversions, but I'm really concerned about building artists for the future otherwise whoever's sitting in my chair in 25 years time will have no fun reforming anyone because there's not many groups out there you'd consider worth reforming.

The Arctic Monkeys are probably the biggest group this century's kicked up... was Coldplay this century? I started in this business in the late '70s and early '80s and had a run as an agent of Adam and the Ants into UB40 into Duran Duran into Dexy's Midnight Runners.

Every five minutes there was a new band selling out what pathetic excuses there were for arenas in those days. And the first 10 years of this century, what's it kicked up?

Why do you think it has dried up?

I've no idea. There's a lot more competition than when I was a kid. There were only three channels on TV, there were no video games, sport wasn't as sexy, so it was music, music or music. There weren't the leisure options.

Will the recession have an impact on the live music scene?

Of course it will. You're going to put food on your table and petrol in your car before you go to a concert. The must-see things will always be must-see things. But the days of the Barbra Streisand tickets at 500 are definitely history. I certainly wouldn't get suckered into that again.

The exchange rate's a bigger worry for me, importing American artists, because we're paying them 30% less than we were 6 months ago, so will they still come?

Rob Hallett was talking to BBC News music reporter Ian Youngs.

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