With events cancelled across the UK for the last 15 months due to Covid, Fleetwood’s own Sam Newson was tasked with putting on the first trial event that saw 6,000 enjoy non-socially distant raving fun
(Image: Sam Newson)
With the coronavirus pandemic bringing normality to a standstill for the last 15 months, it’s been a turbulent time for anything and everything involving leaving your house and meeting other people.
Countless gigs cancelled, festivals postponed, community events binned, pubs closed and entire industries out of work.
But for many, especially in the events business, there is now a glimmer of light at the end of the pandemic’s tunnel.
And that glimmer of light could be seen shining through the roof of the Bramley Moore Dock on the River Mersey last Friday and Saturday.
It was there that – despite some locals thinking something illegal was going on and calling it in to Merseyside Police – the first legal non-socially distant event took place since the first few months of 2020.
Dubbed The First Dance, it saw some 6,000 people crammed into the venue across the two days in what was the first trial event for returning to large, close contact gatherings as the country appears to finally be firmly in control of the Covid-19 world we find ourselves living in.
And the man behind making the logistics of making those two raves happen was Lancashire’s Sam Newson.
The Fleetwood-born events management boss was roped in by Merseyside promotion outfit Circus to make it a reality.
In a normal year, Sam, who heads up The Events Company UK based in his hometown as well as Los Angeles and Manchester, would put on 200 shows in 40 to 50 countries.
“The buck falls with us for these events,” Sam said, who has previously put on shows for Calvin Harris and The Chainsmokers.
“We’re brought in to sort everything out from the toilets to the lights, the security fences, signs, queuing, branding. But for the last year, it’s been non-existent.”
Back in 2020, Yousef Zaher from Circus had spoke to the likes of Keir Starmer and Prince William about the possibility of test events in the coming months.
“He said if there are any test events going on, please look at us as we’ve a great site and a great production team. But we didn’t hear anything for months and then we went back into lockdown,” Sam said.
But the call did eventually come, testing the waters for possible trial events.
Not long after Sam and Yousef were given four weeks to make The First Dance a reality.
“It was a mammoth task and Circus asked ‘can you deliver?’ to which I said of course we can,” Sam said.
Daily calls started between Sam, and Circus, Liverpool City Council, police, the fire service, and government ministers.
Sam said: “This was the first non-socially distant music event in the country for 15 months. It was an incredibly nervous thing to be doing, the pressure of what the results of this could mean for the industry and reopening was immense.
“Our industry is a life. It’s not a nine to five job, people dedicate their lives to this.”
With the events industry being non-existent since early 2020, Sam described those in it as part of a “collaborative” movement right now with “everyone talking to each other and working together”.
“A 3,000 capacity gig is for many in my line of work one of the smallest events we’ll put on in a year,” Sam said.
While it lacked in numbers, for Sam, the historic nature of the event saw it become the biggest of his career to date.
Those who attended The First Dance had to have a negative lateral flow test – commonly called a rapid test – 24 hours before heading on down. They were they given the option of taking home a PCR test after the event to take – something Sam said there had been a “positive” uptake for – followed by a follow up PCR test five days later.
“For us it is a bit of a cliche but it is simple. Test today and reopen tomorrow. And I think the public are onboard with that message,” Sam said.
Even with the capacity of the event being somewhat small compared to large scale gigs that we’re used to, some 400 members of staff were involved in making it happen, including 60 security staff and 150 bar staff.
“It was amazing,” Sam said.
“I genuinely got a tear in my eye. On the morning of it arriving at the site I knew this was something special. I was stood on the stage just after the first DJ come off and the second act broke into tears at being back doing what they love to do. It’s something that at one point saw us asking ourselves ‘will we ever get back to doing this?’
“For me it was the all for the staff. These are people who have been around the world together, who see their colleagues more than their own families. I believe I work with the best group of people in the world and to see them celebrating this together was one of the most special parts of the weekend.”
(Image: Sam Newson)
The Events Company UK is a family affair for Sam, with dad Richard working for the firm after serving in the police for some 20 years. The First Dance events also saw Sam rope in mum Joanne to help.
“I couldn’t deliver what we do without dad,” Sam said, who started his events career doing mobile discos at the age 12 with dad Richard driving him around the Fylde coast from event to event. The Events Company UK was founded in 2012 after Sam focused on the events management side of the industry.
“He’s an integral part of the business. In a standard year I can spend months abroad – in 2019 I spent six months in LA – so I rely on him when I’m out the country.”
Dad Richard took to local Facebook groups in the last few days to celebrate the success of the events – and his son’s part in making them happen.
Richard wrote: “Proud dad post – my son Sam Newson is the person responsible for putting on ‘The First Dance’. From all the production companies in the world he was asked to plan and organise the show.
“It was amazing and hopefully will lead to the reopening of pubs and clubs across the country
“Not bad for a Fleetwood lad.”
Back in Lancashire, The Events Company UK helps make Lancaster’s Highest Point Festival a reality. Sam is also keen to organise a large community event in his hometown of Fleetwood in the coming months, with the company behind the Fleetwood Fireworks Extravaganza in non-Covid times.
For 2021, the festival has expanded to include an extra evening of music through iconic Manchester rockers James.
“We’ve been with Highest Point since day one,” Sam said. “There’s almost a symbiotic relationship there.
“It’s been doing good this year and we thought that we could do something a bit different on the Thursday. It’s a gamble but hopefully it will work and take off.”
The outcome of the trial raves wont be known for a good few weeks, with scientists set to analyse relevant data outcomes of how it went to see if it can be deemed a success – and what that means for events in general.
“Everyone is poised and ready to get back to it,” Sam said.
“For now, we don’t know what will happen. But it is important to plans in place for the public and for the public to keep buying tickets. Without them we can’t continue.
“All the signs are pointing in the right direction to get back to doing what we love most.”