When The Rolling Stones announced that they would be touring Australia in 2014, fans around the country rejoiced. One of the most legendary bands in rock history was to return Down Under for the first time in almost a decade.
By some estimates, the tour, promoted by Michael Gudinski’s Frontier Touring and AEG Live, sold 150,000 tickets and was set to gross around $40 million, as well as giving a boost to the travel industry, with fans booking flights and accommodation to come see the rock icons.
But even with such massive names attached to the tour, no one could have anticipated what transpired once the Stones touched down in Australia. Shortly after landing in Perth, news broke that Mick Jagger’s longtime girlfriend, L’Wren Scott, had committed suicide.
Reports abounded that the tour was on the verge of cancellation, with Jagger quickly boarding a flight back to New York as the rest of the band stayed in Perth, lingering in limbo, much like their fans.
Eventually, Frontier announced that the dates would be rescheduled for later in the year, which some reports indicated would result in a $10 million loss for the promoter. The tour took place in December and was a resounding success aside from the cancellation of one Victorian show.
Of course, this is the version of events that we’ve all heard. Behind the scenes, it wasn’t as simple as merely postponing the dates for a later time. For a while there, the future of the Rolling Stones’ 2014 Australian tour was in a very real crisis.
As for the $10 million loss, insurance policies taken out by Frontier and the Stones likely shielded all affected parties, but as it turns out, no promoter ever expects to make money on a Rolling Stones tour anyway.
“There’s no guide book that explains what to do next when you’re touring the biggest band on the planet, you land them in Perth, then the lead singer’s long term partner commits suicide and the band wants to leave the country and you’re risking $52 million,” writer Stuart Coupe tells News Corp.
As the author behind The Promoters: Inside stories from the Australian rock industry and the recently released Gudinski: The Godfather of Australian Rock recounts, what happened on that morning in March is one of the most impressive deals ever struck by a music promoter.“With the Stones you never assume that you will make money. All you try to do is minimise how much you will lose.”
“At 3am Perth time, Gudinski gets a tip-off that without consulting him, the Rolling Stones are 15 minutes away from issuing a press release announcing that their Australian tour is cancelled,” Coupe tells News Corp.
“Gudinski has always believed that if a tour is cancelled, it never comes back on, so he wanted the band to announce a postponement instead that would have given him time to renegotiate with Stones management.”
“He gets on the phone at 3am and speaks to the global tour promoter and argues his case so ferociously that this guy in the US is so convinced that he agrees to phone London to talk to the woman who is the effectively the manager for the Rolling Stones.”
“Basically, Gudinski was so persuasive in his argument that the UK based manager was also convinced that they shouldn’t cancel the tour, so with probably 10 minutes to spare in the middle of the night, Gudinski managed to convince the Rolling Stones to announce a postponement of their tour instead, which they did at 5.30am that morning.”
“It allowed Gudinski to restructure the tour and subsequently bring the Stones back later that year. That’s an unbelievably audacious, brilliant stroke of sheer bravado to go up against the Stones in the middle of the night and go, ‘No, you’re not going to cancel.’”
So was it all worth it? Was the Rolling Stones’ 2014 Down Under tour a massive pay day for Gudinski and Frontier? Well, not quite. Take, for example, the case of fellow promoter Paul Dainty, who toured the Stones back in 1995.
According to Coupe, Dainty “did a fantastic job” with the Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour. The Aussie promoter managed to sell 98 percent of the tickets for the tour, which one would think would result in a decent profit for Dainty.
Think again. “He still managed to lose over $2 million,” says Coupe. “The Rolling Stones to this day are notorious for being the toughest negotiators in the business. It’s understood by promoters right around the world that you don’t tour the Stones so you can buy a new house or car. You’re doing it for the prestige.”
“Michael Gudinski… once said to me, ‘With the Stones you never assume that you will make money. All you try to do is minimise how much you will lose.’” So did Gudinski lose money on the Stones? Not exactly.
“Having said that, Michael Gudinski does insist that Frontier didn’t lose money on the Stones’ 2014 tour. Someone claimed to me, and I’m not sure if it’s true, but they claim to know that Frontier did make a profit… of seven cents.”