Manchester mega-arena descends into farce as Peter Kay show postponed – again

The Co-op Live Arena cost £365 million to build
The Co-op Live Arena cost £365 million to build - Andy Mallins/Bav Media
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Comedian Peter Kay has been forced to postpone his concerts at Manchester’s new Co-op Live mega-arena for the second time in a week as the £365 million venue still isn’t ready. US group The Black Keys have also postponed a show tomorrow night for the same reason. Kay told fans that he “can’t believe it either” – and said that the earliest possible dates for his rescheduled shows, billed as the venue’s “grand opening”, are almost a month away.

The news caps a terrible opening week for Co-op Live, which calls itself a “game-changer for the UK music scene”. On April 25 the Telegraph disclosed that its boss, Gary Roden, had resigned following a series of delays and comments he made about some small venues being poorly run. The 23,500-capacity arena, located next to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, is Europe’s largest indoor concert venue and has been part-designed by Harry Styles, who is also an investor.

In a statement, Co-op Live said: “To ensure that we can run all shows safely, regretfully we have now had to take the decision to reschedule the planned The Black Keys and Peter Kay shows.” Kay was originally due to perform on Tuesday and Wednesday this week but on Monday the gigs were put back to next week. They will now take place on May 23 and 24, with original tickets valid. The venue said refunds are available for those who can’t attend. “We deeply appreciate the impact this will have on excited fans,” the venue’s statement said.

Kay said: “To everybody with tickets, my apologies once again but unfortunately the Co-op Live still isn’t ready and so, as yet, remains untested for a large-scale audience. Consequently, they are having to reschedule my two shows yet again (I know I can’t believe it either).” Some fans were incredulous. “They need to get Brian Potter in to get it up and running,” said one fan, referring to the hapless nightclub owner played by Kay in his sitcom Phoenix Nights. Others said it was “embarrassing” for Co-op Live.

Roden resigned yesterday after his comments in an interview last weekend drew anger from representatives of small concert venues, who accused him of “talking b------s”. Roden also said that the idea of a £1 levy on arena concert tickets to help fund struggling pubs and clubs was “too simplistic”, although he said that Co-op Live is “embracing the conversation” about how to help grassroots venues. The £1 levy idea has been dubbed the “Taylor Swift tax” and has received sympathy from MPs.

Roden’s resignation added to a string of setbacks which included the (initial) postponing of the Kay concerts and a last-minute reduction in attendees at a Rick Astley test-event concert last weekend.

In a series of statements on Thursday afternoon, Jessica Koravos, the president of international at US-based venue operator Oak View Group (OVG), said that Roden had “decided to resign”. She added in a separate statement: “Neither Co-op Live nor Oak View Group share the sentiment expressed by former Co-op Live general manager Gary Roden regarding the grassroots industry.

Manchester's Co-op Live Arena
Manchester's Co-op Live Arena - Getty

“As OVG chairman and CEO Tim Leiweke has repeatedly stated, Co-op Live remains committed to grassroots music in Manchester and beyond, including teaming up with mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham on the Artist of the Month campaign, and as a founding partner of Beyond The Music [festival]. Co-op Live also donates over £1m a year to the Co-op Foundation to support communities and empower young people to take social action through its new Young Gamechangers fund.”

She added that Oak View Group and Co-op Live remain “happy” to meet with grassroots organisations once the venue is “fully operational”. She wished Roden “the best for the future”.

The problems started last Saturday when thousands of Astley fans were left “fuming” when, just an hour before the doors opened for the arena’s inaugural test concert, they received an email telling them that their tickets had been cancelled. The Never Gonna Give You Up singer performed to 5,000 people rather than the planned 9,500.

It was an inauspicious start for Co-op Live, which sits next to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. With a capacity of 23,500 people, it dwarves London’s flagship O2 arena. Harry Styles helped design it, while The Killers, Olivia Rodrigo, Take That and The Eagles all play there soon. Teething problems around the Astley gig were perhaps forgivable. It was a test event, after all. But things got worse on Monday.

The Co-op Live arena during construction
The Co-op Live arena during construction - Anadolu via Getty Images

Bolton-born comedian Peter Kay was due to perform Co-op Live’s official “grand opening” with a pair of shows on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. The shows would have marked what organisers called “a monumental moment in the city’s cultural history”. But on Monday afternoon, Co-op Live postponed the concerts by a week as the venue wasn’t ready.

“Truly gutted,” was how Kay responded, adding – however – that “it’s important that everything is finished and safe” at the arena. His dismay was felt by fans too. One ticketholder I spoke to, who would only identify himself as Duncan, spent £185 on a hotel and train tickets but can’t make the rescheduled show. “Disgusting” was how he summed it up. And now they’ve been delayed again.

As the initial Kay postponement was happening, a war of words was breaking out between Roden and the man who represents the UK’s grassroots concert venues over a proposed £1 levy on tickets at mega-concerts. Roden told the BBC over the weekend that the levy idea was “too simplistic”. He added that some small venues are poorly run and said the campaign for the £1 surcharge has been “quite aggressive”.

This drew the ire of Mark Davyd, who runs the Music Venue Trust (MVT) and spearheaded the campaign. He accused Roden of “taking bollocks”, on X. Speaking to the Telegraph, Davyd claimed earlier this week that it was actually Co-op Live’s owner who has been “extraordinarily aggressive” and had refused initially to meet with MVT (Roden and Davyd did eventually meet). In a sign of backstage tension in the live music sector, Davyd said he received two phone calls on Monday from music industry colleagues asking him to stop “having a go” at Co-op Live. There appears to be a distinct lack of harmony between the Davids and Goliaths of Britain’s concert venues.

Olivia Rodrigo is due to play Co-Op Live on May 3
Olivia Rodrigo is due to play Co-Op Live on May 3 - Getty

All of the above rather takes the shine off the big opening week. And things don’t get much bigger than this venue. While “Hello Co-op Live!” may not quite have the same ring as “Hello Wembley!” or “Hello Glastonbury!”, the venue’s ambitions are absolutely vast. Co-op Live is positioning itself as “the ultimate arena” (according to its website).

It boasts the largest floor-space of any UK venue with a standing capacity of 9,200, and has an “innovative sound bowl design” to give all punters the “best show possible”. There’s a backstage gym for performers, while outside the main arena stands a 22-metre long bar for thirsty music-lovers (£8.95 a pint) and a food market. Styles had a hand in certain design elements, such as having no distracting advertising hoardings in the arena.

And Styles, who also invested money into the venue, is just one of the big names involved. The behemoth is a 50:50 joint venture between Oak View Group, co-founded by music mogul and long-time Eagles manager Irving Azoff, and City Football Group, the Manchester City owner controlled by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and frustrated suitor of Telegraph Media Group. (The Co-op, whose name adorns the venue, is a sponsor.)

Trouble started at around 4.30pm on Saturday when thousands of the VIPs, arena workers, Co-op staff and journalists invited to the Astley event received an email telling them that their tickets had been cancelled so that organisers could “test the spaces effectively”. Attendee numbers were cut from around 9,500 to around 5,000.

One 19-year-old attendee, who declined to be named but had a standing ticket on the lower floor, says numbers were cut due to an issue with the power supply on the floor above, meaning that one of the entrances was shut. “This meant that it wasn’t safe for just under 10,000 people to [be rerouted] through one entrance,” he says. While the show and the acoustics were “great” – “the bass was amazing, you could feel it vibrate against you” – he adds that parts of the inside, such as restaurants, were “not completely finished”.

When it came to the initial Kay postponement, Co-op Live yielded a little more information. “It is critical to ensure we have a consistent total power supply to our fully electric sustainable venue, the completion of which is a few days behind,” it said. Refunds were offered to ticketholders (while people affected on Astley’s night were offered tickets to US rockers The Black Keys this Saturday). But “shambles” and “embarrassing” were typical reactions by Kay ticketholders on social media. Punter Duncan says he’ll try to move his hotel booking to another night if he can’t get a refund on it.

More concerning to the wider live music ecosystem, however, was the developing spat between Co-op Live’s Roden and small venue evangelist Davyd. The latter was particularly riled by Roden’s claim that some small venues are poorly run. “Gary has no experience of running a small venue, has never run one in fact no one at Oak View has ever run one. It [requires] a particular set of skills,” Davyd told the Telegraph.

Co-op Live has said it plans to offer training to people who work in grassroots venues. Davyd dismissed this as patronising. “I’m sorry, grow up. I would never say that Nathan [Clark] at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, one of the best venues in the world, should offer training to Oak View Group on how to run an arena. They should be a lot more respectful and a bit more professional about it, frankly,” he said.

Davyd claimed that for months from June 2022 MVT tried to meet with Oak View. When no meeting was forthcoming by January 2023, MVT “went public” to say how “ridiculous” it was. This resulted in what he calls an “extremely bitter and angry tirade at us on email” from the operator for going public. Davyd and Roden finally met last December (it must be pointed out that Roden only took the job in April 2023).

“I am genuinely sympathetic – I know it sounds mad – to the slightly uncomfortable embarrassing position that Gary now finds himself in,” says Davyd. “He’s a good [big] venue operator, he knows his own market, he knows his own sector. I don’t know why on earth he made those comments about small venues in that article.”

Roden declined to be interviewed earlier this week (he was quite busy to be fair) but he has said that Co-op Live is fully “embracing the conversation” about how to help small venues. He just doesn’t believe the £1 Taylor Swift tax is the way to do it. A Co-op Live spokesman said earlier this week that the “challenges facing the grassroots music sector are complex and the industry and Government need to find solutions that support everyone in the grassroots music sector”.

The spokesman added, as Koravos did in her statement, that Co-op Live is involved in numerous local initiatives to support grassroots music in Manchester, such as by supporting Mayor Andy Burnham’s Artist of the Month campaign, which will offer local artists the chance to play Co-op Live (a local band played before Astley, in fact), the Beyond The Music festival and the donations to the Co-op Foundation charity.

Addressing the tricky last few days, the spokesman said that the “scale and ambition” of the mega-arena are “enormous”, and that it is continuing to “refine and enhance the fan experience and put the finishing touches to this incredible venue”. A goodwill divi is factored in to Co-op Live – people genuinely want it to succeed (Davyd included, believe it or not). But, boy, have things got off to a discordant start.

Roden has been replaced as interim general manager by Rebecca Kane Burton, effective immediately. Described as a “seasoned veteran” of venue management and live entertainment, she has run both the O2 in London and theatre company LW Theatres. Signalling that it wants to put the last week behind it, Oak View Group said: “We are focused on opening Co-op Live.”

NB. This piece was updated on April 25, following the resignation of Gary Roden

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