P&J Live has declared “the intermission is over” as the venue prepares to welcome back live entertainment – including global superstars – for the first time in 18 months.
Even as the tireless NHS Grampian vaccination centre team were being piped out of the building on Sunday, work crews were moving in get to ready to welcome back big name shows and events, from Sir Elton John’s farewell tour to tennis extravaganza, Battle Of The Brits.
“It’s full steam ahead and it feels like it did back in 2019 when we opened for the very first time,” said Louise Stewart, head of entertainment, exhibitions and marketing at P&J Live.
“We only had seven months of actually being open, so now it’s great to finally be doing it all again, so everyone is buzzing. We are back to basics, but so excited about it.”
Comedian and musician Tim Minchin, who is expected to attract 4,500 fans from across Scotland on October 16, will be the first live act since Lewis Capaldi played to a capacity audience on March 15 2020.
Didn’t hear the music for almost two years
“Little did we know we wouldn’t hear the music play for almost two years after Lewis Capaldi put down the mic,” said Louise.
P&J Live was used as Aberdeen’s main vaccination centre from January this year until last week and Louise says her team felt an immense sense of achievement at being so central to the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, working closely with the NHS staff and nurses.
“We were so proud watching the footage on Sunday night with the piper leading them out, that just got us, it was amazing. We have bonded so much with all the team, the nurses, the project management team. We’ve made some lifelong friends,” she said.
However, the vital vaccination project was tinged with sadness that the state-of-the-art venue couldn’t do what it was built for – hosting world-class entertainment, events and conferences.
The vaccination centre, though, did help soften some of the blows of the pandemic on P&J Live.
Louise said: “It helped keep us ticking over in terms of the building was still running. It we had to shut down completely there would have been so much cost in having to reinstate everything – switch the electrics and power back on.
Time to be busy, busier and better
“We haven’t had to do the big clean as there hasn’t been tumbleweed running through the building. We have been lucky.”
That said, the pandemic did still take a toll on P&J Live, including cost-cutting redundancies, as it did across the venue’s parent group, ASM Global, which runs venues around the world.
“We were lucky to have the backing of the whole group, but with no events, there’s no revenue so it has had a massive impact on the whole business,” said Louise.
“But we are still here and we’ve got a lot of making up to do, so that means we have to be busy, busier and better.”
Now, though, there is a renewed sense of purpose around the building. As Louise was speaking, crews were hard at work taking out the last remnants of the vaccination centre and preparing the huge arena to host shows, events and conferences.
Host of superstars set for P&J Live shows
And P&J Live is bursting back onto the north-east’s entertainment scene in a blaze of glory, said Louise, with shows such as Steps, Madness, Ball & Boe, Gary Barlow, Deacon Blue and Bill Bailey all due before the end of the year.
She said: “We really do see a big increase in shows in November and December time and we are really excited about what we have to offer.
“The biggest piece for the year music-wise has to be Elton John,” said Louise, with the Rocket Man appearing at P&J Live on December 9 and 10 to capacity crowds of 10,000 people.
“Elton John’s been practically sold out for three years, so finally, we actually get to see him on stage and that’s massive.”
Louise also said there was a real buzz about Andy and Jamie Murray bringing the tennis event, Battle Of The Brits to the venue on December 21 and 22.
“We hope to have around 18,000 people across the sessions, so it’s a big show and the Murrays have been great to work with.”
As audiences come back into P&J Live – granted an exemption to the maximum indoor event capacity of 2,000 by the city council – measures will be in place to keep everyone safe.
Ticketholders are advised to take a rapid lateral flow test before attending and wear face coverings inside except when eating, drinking or dancing. For some events, ticketholders may be asked to show vaccination status.
Who is lined up for next year?
Louise said she hoped people would be responsible and considerate to make the return to live entertainment enjoyable for everyone – especially with even more huge names waiting in the wings into 2022 and 2023, including some American artists, being kept under wraps for the time being.
Already lined up for next year are acts like John Bishop, Andre Rieu, Stereophonics, Bryan Adams, Alan Partridge, and Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals.
Louise said the people of the north-east also have a role to play in helping P&J Live recover and prosper by supporting it and coming along to see shows.
“The key to success is absolutely selling tickets. Shows choose us, we don’t choose them, and they will choose us if they know they can sell out,” she said. “That is what will lead our success in terms of growing in the future and getting bigger and better shows.
“So support local and come and have a great time. Whether it’s an exhibition, a comedy show or a sporting event, give it a try.”