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The O2 arena: No place like Dome

23 June 08 10:12 GMT

By Andy Dangerfield
BBC News

It has only been a year since Bon Jovi strummed his first chords at the public opening of London's O2 arena.

Since then the former Millennium Dome has become the most popular music venue in the world, with the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Spice Girls selling out its 20,000-seat arena.

But why has the O2, in Greenwich, south-east London, been such a success, and has it damaged other music venues?

When David Campbell became chief executive of the O2's owners, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), he knew it would be a challenge, but thought the capital was crying out for a decent music arena.

"Our main competitors - Wembley Arena and Earls Court - were built in the 1930s and neither was primarily a music venue," he says.

"The Dome was an iconic building recognised around the world. It's in a great location. The issue was its content."

But he was surprised how quickly the O2, as it was re-christened in 2005, took off.

"We thought would take years but it happened in months," he says.

'Big impact'

Much of the O2's success is down to the artists who perform there and the fact that AEG is the world's second largest event promotion company has helped draw in the big names.

Prince's 21-night residency in the summer of 2007 was the draw Mr Campbell has been most proud of.

"No-one's going to force him to do anything," he says. "But Prince wanted to return to Europe and make a big impact."

"He was keen to break the arena residency record, which was 14 nights of Pink Floyd."

"He is very big into numbers and wanted do a multiple of 7. So 21 nights it was."

In the first year, over 400 acts will have played in the building, which also includes the smaller Indigo club venue.

"One night we had Barbara Streisand in the main arena, Joss Stone in Indigo and the Simpsons premiere in the cinema," says Mr Campbell.

But how have other music venues fared in the face of the O2's rapid ascent?

Across London, at Camden's 1,400-capacity Koko, head of music David Philips thinks the O2 could put smaller venues at risk.

"People look at what they have to spend in a month and save it for the big one, possibly at the detriment of smaller places," he says.

And he questions whether the Spice Girls' 17 nights at the O2 really represented a boom in live music.

"Are they a new kind of entertainment that goes in hand with The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent?" he asks.

Staying ahead

So what can smaller music venues do to stay ahead?

"Part of it is about them discovering bands before they move onto bigger venues," Mr Phillips says.

Meanwhile in Aberdeen, The Lemon Tree, with a capacity of 500, reopened last weekend.

"Quite a lot of smaller venues have opened up and blossomed recently," says Lemon Tree chief Duncan Hendry.

"Live music is thriving across the spectrum," he says. "But small venues must change with the times."

'Honeymoon period'

Metropolis Music promoter Bob Angus, whose clients include Foo Fighters, does not think the O2's success has affected smaller venues' ticket sales.

"Small venues will continue to thrive. Bands have to start somewhere before breaking through," he says.

But he is sceptical whether the O2 can maintain its success.

"It's in its honeymoon period," he says. "People want to play there because they haven't before. But that will settle down."

Nevertheless, the O2's line-up for the next year looks impressive.

Coldplay, Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner are booked and talks are being held with U2.

"We would love to have U2 playing," says Mr Campbell. "They've been down to the arena two or three times and like the place.

"We've knocked ideas around and It is just about finding the right thing to happen."

And what of rumours of a Michael Jackson residency?

"We're close but not there yet," says Mr Campbell.

"But, Prince happened in a couple of months, so you never know who the next phone call's going to be."

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