Some time in the summer of 1993, I strolled into an independent record shop in Yeovil and bought two tickets for a forthcoming concert. I can’t remember the price, but they were probably about £20 each.
I was beyond happy (even though I was living in Yeovil). I was off to see U2 perform at Cardiff Arms Park during their Zoo TV tour – a worldwide extravaganza which followed the release of the Achtung Baby album two years earlier.
At the time U2 were, undoubtedly, one of the biggest bands in the world. In terms of rock music, they were probably THE biggest. They put on the best show too. I’ve seen the band five times now but they have never been better than they were in south Wales 25 years ago.
As a stadium rock gig, it was virtually unsurpassable. And because I queued for hours beforehand, I was pretty near the front when Bono and his buddies took to the stage.
That was then, and this is now. And now the days I have just described are long gone, never to return.
Now if I want to see U2 in the flesh it pays to become a member of the fan club – and that’s not cheap, about £50. Members have a variety of benefits including the chance to buy tickets for concerts before they go on general sale. Note the word ‘chance’ – no guarantees here.
At a given time, you have to log online and hope you get tickets before they sell out. If successful, your tickets could cost well north of £100. Each.
Last year, I saw U2 at Croke Park, Dublin. Cost £186 (2 x £92 tickets). We were virtually as far from the stage as it was possible to be without the band going out of eyeshot. Thankfully, as U2 are Jedi masters of the giant video screen, it was easy to see them without resorting to binoculars.
U2 are still a big band, obviously. They still put on a stunning show. But are they as big as they were in 1992, when they were up there with Guns 'N' Roses, Nirvana and REM as the biggest on the planet? I would say not. But in 1992 I could walk into a record shop in an unremarkable market town in rural England and buy two tickets (and these had gone on sale weeks earlier) to see them. Easy peasy. No hassle, no booking fees.
Almost three decades on, and no doubt influenced by the rise of the internet, you have to cough up a fair sum to stand the best chance of coughing up a lot more. And don’t get me started on booking fees! How did this happen?
Of course, if you miss out in the rush for tickets, fear not. You can always visit Viagogo or some other ‘ticket resale’ site for the chance to pay hundreds of pounds more for tickets that people have bought and instantly put up for sale. It’s almost ticket touting, and that’s illegal, but Viagogo et al are allowed to trade seemingly without anyone in a corridor of authority batting an eyelid.
Back in 2012, they moved their offices from London to Switzerland, and in an instant made themselves exempt from UK law prohibiting the resale of Olympic tickets. Remind me – where were the games held that year again? Exactly.
Look at some of these prices. Want to go and see a World Cup cricket match at Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl between South Africa and India next summer? You’re in luck, well kind of – there are tickets on Viagogo for £649. Each. More good news – they’ve got an unrestricted view!
Cricket not your scene? OK, how about some former pop queens warbling along to their greatest hits? The Spice Girls are in Cardiff next summer and Viagogo have tickets. They’ll cost you £242 each, but it could be worse – at least Posh Spice is not ‘singing’.
Fancy watching someone with a bit more musical longevity? Elton John is appearing at Hove next summer. Do you like his music? Viagogo have tickets for £442 (each). Do you like him THAT much? No, me neither. I agree those sort of prices are the unacceptable face of ticketing for popular events. But the price for many concerts or theatre shows these days are worryingly high, and could be pricing the average man or woman (or, as it’s 2018, anyone transgending) out of the market.
Let’s look locally, starting at the Kings Theatre in Southsea with festive panto Cinderella. Say I wanted to go on the evening of December 20, and say my partner and one child were keen to join me for a bit of ‘he’s behind you’ jollity. Total price for the three of us = £80.50 (adult tickets £27.50 x 2 and under-15 ticket £25.50). Yep, under-15s pay just £2 less than adults, and OAPs and students are also charged £25.50.
To me, that seems like a lot of money. For one reason – it IS a lot of money. Those are Band A prices. Band B are £4 cheaper across the board. But still, that’s £68.50 for a couple of hours entertainment. There are discounts for families of four, but it’s still £93 for Band A tickets (or £80 for Band B).
Perhaps you’re happy to pay those prices. Or do you think that for something which is generally regarded as classic family entertainment – a panto – should be cheaper for younger (and older) family members?
At those prices, some families probably couldn’t all afford to go to the ball, so to speak. I know there are some cheaper showings – all tickets are £17 for the morning show on Thursday, December 13, for example – but still, some people can't get time off easily from work.
Over at Portsmouth Guildhall, they’ve got some decent musical acts coming up. Let’s see how much it’ll cost to watch them ... Here’s Travis next week, performing ‘The Man Who’ – the UK’s biggest selling album of 2000 – in its entirety. But would you pay £45.24 a ticket – no reductions for the young or the elderly – to sing along to it 19 years later?
That price includes a booking fee, according to the Guildhall's website, of 12 per cent or, in other words, £5.40. Sounds an awful lot just to book a ticket. Oh well, it's not 1992 any more, is it?
Here’s a Tina Turner tribute act, with tickets £29.50 (including booking fee and £1.25 restoration levy for venue improvements). Again, as with Travis, under-14s are allowed in accompanied by an over-18, but there’s no price discount for them.
And look, here’s UB40, a very well-known act. They’re visiting Portsmouth as part of their 40th anniversary tour, with ticket prices ranging from £43.25 to £48.85. Good value?
Now let’s come on to Brit Floyd, who as their name suggests are a British Pink Floyd tribute band. Cheapest tickets are £32.50, while for £115.80 there’s a meet and greet opportunity with the band and the chance to sit in on their soundcheck. Pardon me, but for that price I’d want to meet Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason in person and hear them belt out Floyd’s biggest hits rather than some people pretending to be them.
For hard rock enthusiasts, there’s a Led Zeppelin tribute act. Cheapest ticket is £34.85, which includes booking fees etc of £4.85. It would be interesting to know how much the UK public pay in booking fees every year.
Finally, how much would you pay to watch Jurassic Park on a big screen? A tenner, £15? Now add in the Czech National Symphony Orchestra playing the film’s soundtrack at the same time as T-Rex and his chums are causing mayhem in front of you. Would you pay a little more? How about a lot more? How about £55.32? That was the price for the dearest tickets at the Guildhall earlier this week to see just that.
Good luck to you if your eyebrows aren’t remotely raised by those prices I’ve just mentioned. If you like any of those bands, perhaps it’s a price worth paying. But I love Led Zep, I love Floyd and I’ve got a CD copy of The Man Who somewhere in my loft. But would I pay those sort of prices? No.
Let’s chuck in a comparison, which might or might not be worthless depending on your view. Adult tickets for Pompey home league games are £23 this season (if bought in advance, £25 on the day). Unaccompanied under-18s are £10 and accompanied under-18s just a fiver. To me, that’s good value.
Why under-18s aren’t offered similar reductions to musical concerts and theatre shows I don’t know. But I do know this – if the tickets were more reasonably priced, you would almost certainly see more bums on seats. I appreciate such thinking is irrelevant to bands such as U2 – they would sell out if tickets were £20, £50, £100 or £150. That still doesn’t make it right, though.