Brentwood Centre entertainment bookers left with no choice but to bow out

The team behind a live entertainment venue in Brentwood says  it has been “completely shafted” by the borough council after claiming changes to its terms meant it was forced to cancel major bookings – including comedians Jimmy Carr and Rob Beckett.

The Entertainers, a father and son team, who attracted top shows, bands and comedians under the Brentwood Live banner, blame Brentwood Borough Council for forcing them to shut down.

Its managing director Mike Taylor, a former stand-up comedian who has been in showbiz for 50 years, claimed: “Brentwood Borough has completely shafted us and all the people who come to see our shows.

“We’ve invested more than £300,000 in improving the venue over the last two years with a dramatic overhaul to make it feel like a theatre rather than a sports hall, including state-of-the-art sound and light equipment, video displays, brand new dressing rooms and its been all for nothing.

“Instead we’ve been offered a short-term contract, significantly increased charges and 362 less seats in the auditorium which only held 2,000 anyway.

“Sadly, it is just not financially viable to carry on. All we wanted was the original terms and conditions that we had agreed with the Brentwood Leisure Trust and signed up for to continue.”

But the council says it was not possible to agree to what the company was asking for, adding that it could not assist or favour one creditor over another. Instead it could mitigate some of the risks.

CEO of Brentwood Borough Council, Jonathan Stephenson, said: “The issue was they wanted something at this time the council can’t give which was a five year exclusivity deal to put on shows and events.

“We have to go through a process and we can’t say we are going to work with one person over five years.

“Even if we thought the Entertainers were the best company possible it would be unfair for others for us not to have a best value review or competitive process.

“On the shows, we were going to do the same deal with them. There was no problem with that. It was the five year bit we could not agree on.”

He continued: “We are happy to have dialogue. The offer put to them was better than what they had previously, based on per event. What we couldn’t give them was a five year agreement.

“And their offer was if you can’t give us a five year agreement can you pay us to put the shows on. The council can’t pay people to put on shows.”

The dispute erupted when the Brentwood Leisure Trust, a charity running the venue, went bust in October with huge debts.

The council has since appointed new operators but has been accused of not honouring the previous agreement held with Brentwood Live – the five-year deal that still had about three-and-a-half years to run.

The Entertainers says it has been engaged in talks over the past month with the council but it is understood no joint resolution was found.

Mike, 70, has been booking artists like the Four Tops and The Temptations, as well as for shows all around the world, with his actor turned producer son James for the past 25 years.

He said: “The council is telling us they want to make it work but, in my opinion this is a total kick in the teeth considering what we have done and achieved in the last two years.

“We brought the venue back to life, building a sensational programme including bringing the biggest shows and star names; including the likes of Rob Beckett, Floyd Mayweather, Jimmy Carr, UB40, John Bishop, The Drifters, Fastlove and many more.

“We had a five-year deal with the trust to secure the venue exclusively, but now all the council is offering is a limited period either to fulfil existing bookings and not exclusive. To be honest we feel completely let down.”

The Entertainers, who were making Brentwood Live into the new music hub of Essex, has promised that everyone with tickets booked for shows in 2020/21 will get a full refund through nominated ticket agents; subject to their respective terms and conditions of sale.

The closure, which has already seen 10 full time staff lose their jobs in marketing and promotions at the company’s HQ in Canvey Island due to COVID-19, will also affect local temporary jobs. Many were employed on an ad hoc basis on show days, like backstage and front of house staff, security, bar and marketing teams.

It is not clear how the council intends to progress live entertainment at the venue long term but says it wants to work with all the promoters who currently have shows on.

Director James Taylor, 35, who has developed hit shows like FastLove, the biggest selling George Michael tribute show, said: “I really want the fans and the people of Essex who have supported us to know that this is not our fault.

“I feel the council has pushed us into a corner and they have a different agenda for the venue and it does not include our company or possible live entertainment.”

The Entertainers, who also create and promote over 1,000 shows a year to theatres all over the UK – specifically Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch and to Cliffs Pavillion in Southend – normally put on around 50 shows a year in Brentwood. It says it had paid advanced fees of £40,000 in February this year to the Leisure Trust and in addition said to have losses of over £500,000 due to the Trust going into administration. The concert venue has been closed since the outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic and artistes left unable to perform.

James continued: “The council are trying to squeeze us, they also planned to remove our percentage from the bar takings and charge us an extra £500 per hour for a late night licence which we had and need for some shows, plus now trying to charge us on top fees for the hire of security, bar staff and venues staff on the shows over four hours which was all previously included.

“We countered by asking them to contribute to the marketing costs and reduce our hire fee down as on the previous arrangement, £1,000 per show went to the trust which no longer exists, but they were not interested. Negotiations have ended as far as we are concerned.”

Joe Norris, director of Off the Kerb productions, one of the oldest and largest comedy agencies in the UK, said: “Brentwood Live has been a breath of fresh air, for the past two years, the team have worked incredibly hard to put the venue back on the map. Losing them is a very sad loss to the community and the venue won’t be the same.”

An official statement issued by James reads: “It is with great regret and sadness to inform everyone that Brentwood Live is no more. For the past two years we have worked tirelessly to build something we have been very passionate about and something special for the local community, creating jobs and giving back to the people, a place they could go to be entertained by bringing the best shows and biggest names back to Brentwood.

“As some of you may know, Brentwood Live is a local father and son team that have invested over £300,000 into getting this dream off the ground and establishing the great venue we had created.

“As you can imagine with COVID it has been an awful time for everyone especially people in the entertainment industry. In October we were informed along with the general public that Brentwood Leisure Trust, who were responsible for the Brentwood Centre had gone into liquidation, this was a huge shock to us as we had a full schedule of events in place for 2021/22.

“Since this time, we have been in discussions with Brentwood Council to try to come to an agreement to allow us to continue to provide shows and entertainment at the centre. Unfortunately, these talks have now ceased, and we have been left bewildered and saddened that we were not offered a viable option to continue.

“Our hopes were that Brentwood Council would have kept us at the Bentwood Centre to continue to provide something special for the people of Brentwood and surrounding areas to enjoy and be proud of but unfortunately this was not the case.

“We would have thought that there would have been a greater importance for Brentwood Council to keep us there, providing something for the people of Brentwood and surrounding areas to enjoy and be proud of, but unfortunately this is not the case.

“So today, sadly, the Brentwood Live dream has come to an end. It has been a very hard decision for us, but there is no other viable way for us to continue.

“All shows will be cancelled and all customers will be refunded via nominated ticket agents; subject to their respective terms and conditions of sale.

“Please contact your original point of purchase for this but please bear with them as they work through the vast amount of refunds. It will take each agent some time to process on our behalf.

“We would like to thank everyone for their support and all the people who believed in us and gave us a chance to create something wonderful.

“As to our own productions, including The Magic of Motown, Lost in Music, Fastlove, Big Girls Don’t Cry, 80s Live and Thank you for the Music and our programme of comedians and bands please look out for them in the surrounding theatres of Southend, Hornchurch, Basildon and Chelmsford.

“We hope to see you at one of our shows in the future.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter