From football ground to major music venue - how Carrow Road will be transformed for pop superstars Take That
PUBLISHED: 09:59 09 March 2017 | UPDATED: 10:27 13 June 2017
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Sixty thousand people will watch Take That perform the final two dates of their Wonderland tour in Norwich.
Norwich City Football Club’s director of commercial, Ben Kensell, talks to arts correspondent Emma Knights about turning the Canaries’ home ground into a music stadium.
With everything from a giant mechanical elephant to a 70ft robotic man rising from the stage to a custom-made flying machine featuring in previous tours, Take That’s elaborate live shows are legendary, and this May the band will be heading out on their latest tour - Wonderland.
Mark Owen, Gary Barlow and Howard Donald will be touring venues across the country with their latest pop spectacle which is described by organisers as “their most exciting live experience to date.”
They will be performing at Newcastle, Glasgow, Dublin, Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham, London, Swansea and Take That’s home city of Manchester - and for the first time ever they will also be taking to the stage in Norwich.
The final two dates of the pop giants’ tour - June 15 and 16 - will be played at Norwich City Football Club in what is a major coup for the city.
It follows on from rock legend Rod Stewart gracing the Carrow Road stage in 2016 and 2011 along with Elton John in 2005 and George Michael in 2007.
However, the Take That concerts are expected to be the biggest at the venue to date.
Each night about 30,000 people, about 80pc of who are from East Anglia, are set to flock to the venue to watch the band perform songs from their forthcoming Wonderland album mixed in with Take That classics such as Pray, Relight My Fire and Never Forget.
The man who secured the ambitious deal is NCFC’s director of commercial Ben Kensell who now has the task of overseeing the transformation of the football ground into a major music venue for some of the biggest names in pop.
Take That facts
Take That’s many hit songs include Rule The World, Relight My Fire, Greatest Day, Pray, Back For Good and Never Forget.
Originally a five-piece band, Take That now performs as a trio after Robbie Williams and Jason Orange left the group.
Since the group first formed in 1990, In the UK Take That has achieved seven number one albums, 15 number one singles, sold more than 45 million records, and won six Ivor Novellos and eight BRIT Awards. Internationally, Take That has achieved 54 number one hits and 35 number one albums.
Take That’s last album, III, went straight to number one when it was released in 2014.
Their new Wonderland album is due out on March 24, and Giants is the first song to have been released from the album.
“It’s a real coup. I think it’s actually quite extraordinary to bring an act of that size that has sold out Wembley Stadium countless times over, to get them to do their last night of their tour at Carrow Road, in Norwich and in Norfolk. That’s really special...they will put on a really, really great show,” he said.
“Usually you don’t see these shows unless you travel to London or unless you travel to the Midlands or up north, this is on our doorstep in our great stadium.”
Mr Kensell, who has more than 15 years experience of working in football including the last two-and-a-half years at NCFC, is no stranger to working with big music names as he previously brought major acts to the Emirates Stadium while working for Arsenal Football Club.
Explaining that an important part of his role was working out ways to generate revenue when the football season stops, he said: “We did some great concerts at the Emirates Stadium with Coldplay, Muse, Green Day and [Bruce] Springsteen, and I’ve taken that and brought that to Carrow Road in my role here where we’ve literally looked at classing ourselves as a concert venue.”
As soon as he heard last summer Take That were planning to tour he got in touch with their management, and he explored the prospects of other acts too.
“I discussed Stevie Wonder, I looked at Little Mix. We also explored Robbie Williams...but Take That was the one that immediately, when I realised that they were going to go out on tour with the new album, that was the one that I felt perfectly matched our demographic and was in my opinion the biggest act that we could sell.”
He was certainly proved right, with the first Norwich date announced - June 16 - selling out in lightning speed and the second date - June 15 - quickly added to cope with demand.
He said it was Take That’s mix of music and spectacular showmanship that he thought made their shows so popular.
“The music is so phenomenal with Take That, with their set list they could probably play for four or five hours and we’d still know all the songs, and that’s what makes them special,” he said.
Now the attention has turned to working out the practicalities of bringing such a major show to the football ground, including how long it will take to build the elaborate stage set which for the first time ever will see Take That perform entirely in the round with the audience watching from all angles.
“The stage will be in the centre of the pitch, you can pretty much take the centre circle of the football pitch as the footprint,” said Mr Kensell.
“This is the first time that Norwich has ever had an in-the-round show which brings with it a lot of complexity but also a load of excitement.”
Take That’s management have already visited Norwich twice to work out the details of constructing the stage which is expected to be quite dramatic judging from previous Take That shows, although no specific details have been revealed.
Mr Kensell said: “They will come in 10 days before the actual show date to start putting the pitch covering down, to start putting in the steel structure that the stage is actually on....then the technical and production team comes in from Swansea. They come out [of the Swansea show] on June 14 at about 11pm or midnight, they come in to Norwich on the morning of June 15 and then they finish off the stage with the production and sound, and all of the effects that actually make up the show.”
Backstage will also see eight or nine offices set up for the crew as well as eight to 10 dressing rooms allocated for Take That themselves as well as their dancers, musicians and support act All Saints.
On each of the two nights about 30,000 people will be coming to see the show - up to 10,000 will be standing on the pitch and 20,000 will be seated - and there is lots of planning taking place to make sure everything goes smoothly front of house.
A giant robot man was one of the defining moments of Take That’s sell-out Progress Tour in 2011 – and he started life on a factory floor in Thetford.
Known as ‘OM,’ the huge 70ft steel, aluminium and fibreglass creation took centre stage towards the end of the show when he stood upright and band members danced in his giant hands.
Two companies, Warren Services and Boniface Engineering, both based at the Fison Way Industrial Estate, were tasked with turning the designs of Hertfordshire-based stage specialists Brilliant Stages into reality.
Mr Kensell said: “The public start to come in from 5pm onwards and they look forward to a fantastic show. Obviously from a venue perspective we have to make sure that people are fed, watered, they are safe, the venue is well signed, the queuing systems are right, we have the right provision in place from a medical perspective, from a security perspective”
Of course the club is used to dealing with thousands of spectators on match days, but Mr Kensell explained there are different considerations for the Take That concert.
“One of the key things is with football there is a familiarity, with the 27,000 fans that come to Carrow Road, yes there are some nuances around the match to match purposes or the away fans but generally people are familiar with the venue...it’s a very tried and tested formula whereas with concerts it’s so unique, it’s so bespoke, every concert is different, the stage location is different, the way that people enter and exit the stadium is different but mainly it is because people visiting Take That won’t be football fans or may be football fans but won’t be familiar necessarily with Carrow Road. It is no longer a football stadium at that point, it becomes a concert venue and the two are very, very different.”
And as well as giving Take That fans two great nights’ of entertainment, Mr Kensell said ultimately his hope was that the concerts would attract more major acts to the football club in the future.
“From my perspective this is the showpiece and then what you do is you move on from that point and try and use it as a springboard to bring acts for the forseeable future, year on year,” he said.
The June 16 Take That concert at Carrow Road, in Norwich, is sold out but there are still tickets available for the June 15 concert. For more about booking tickets, visit www.takethat.com/live/