2018 is a year of big events for The SSE Arena, Belfast and we would love for you to join us on our journey! This week we begin a blog series entitled, ‘Meet The Team’. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be spotlighting members of our SSE Arena team, their backgrounds, roles, and unique perspectives, so you can get to know the people that are working hard to make The SSE Arena Northern Ireland’s premier entertainment venue.
David Lamont – Senior Event Manager
When I go to meet David, he grins and pulls out his notebook, “I have some stats”. (It couldn’t be a more David Lamont response to a question if he tried). In just under the seven years he’s worked in the Arena, there has been a HUGE 1,674 event-related activities/days. David doesn’t claim to have worked them all but has been involved in nearly all, which include 234 Belfast Giants games, 72 artist rehearsal days, 121 production build days, 15 exhibitions, 188 public skating sessions and 602 individual events. That’s an event based activity averaging just over every 2 days since he started working here. (The Operations team are one busy department!)
David explains he undertook a Degree in Health and Leisure Studies. A few different jobs came and went, including being a Sports Development Officer with Ballymena Borough Council, to then becoming a temporary Duty Manager at Ballymena Showgrounds. Both jobs helped him realise his passion for events and showed he had the meticulousness to become an Event Manager (at the age of 24 to be precise, can you guess his age now?). When he applied and interviewed for the role of Event Manager he still to this day says he “doesn’t know how he got the job”. (It didn’t stop him because since then he’s been promoted and excels in his role).
Explain your role in 3 words?
“Let me google this” are his first words…he then answers with hectic, non-stop and enjoyable.
So what’s a normal day for you?
In another very David Lamont answer, he notes that he has 3 different types of days.
His first day is known as a ‘Dark Day’. This is when there are no events, (a very rare occurrence in the arena), where he catches up on things. A typical dark day could include setting up new events and drawing new plans in liaison with the Event Booking and Development Manager, Box Office Management and Promoters. David explains that there is always a lot of paperwork associated with every event and getting ahead of tasks is vitally important. Many hours are spent advancing up-and-coming shows with Promoters as well as providing the operational team, all staff, contractors and partners with information on the next event so everyone is aware of what is required. One of David’s favourite tasks on a dark day is taking prospective new clients on site visits at the Arena to see how best the Arena can cater for their shows. Oh! and one of the most important things about dark days are obviously the opportunities to get a day off to relax, catch up on things at home and turn off from events (well, except the 50+ emails per day!).
The second is a ‘Build/Load-In Day’. These are the days, or parts of a show day, where the operational team come into their own. They oversee and assist with the physical set up of the shows. This involves agreeing and overseeing the stage and set build, helping with any queries regarding the lighting, rigging and PA systems as well as any dressing room requirements. These days can begin as early as 2am with the end goal to be fully set up and ready to welcome the public into the building at 6.30pm. David explains that this part of an event is ever changing and is where communication between productions, promoters and the venue is key. Simple things like a production element changing can affect so many aspects of a show set up, like capacity, fire exits, and barrier set up, to name but a few. One of David’s favourite parts of this type of day is the health and safety checks on special effects which are being used in the show i.e. laser displays, pyrotechnic usage, flame effects and flying / aerial effects.
The third and final type of day he explains is the ‘Show Cover’ where David, or another Event Manager assume responsibility of the public when doors are opened. The Event Managers not only continue to oversee the production and artist side of the event but the customer experience, care and liaison which is achieved through hundreds of staff from Technical Teams, Safety Officers, Cleaners, Medical Teams and Security / Stewarding Teams. A typical night for David can range from dealing with meet and greets with the artists to dealing with a customer complaint, from overseeing an emergency situation to Michael Bublé walking from the main stage through the audience to his b-stage or delaying a show because there is an accident on the West Link (there really is no definite job description during a live event, you do whatever is required!).
David jokes that it doesn’t end when the show ends. He’ll tend to leave the technical reps within the Operations Department to look after the load out (where all the show is taken down, packed up and loaded into trucks to move onto the next venue) whilst he compiles all the outcomes from the events and writes reports into the small hours of the morning.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the Arena since you started?
For David the biggest change he’s noticed is the scale of the production elements in the shows. From Queen’s guitar shaped stage, to U2’s vertical screen down the middle of the arena, to a 40ft animal (a prop, not a real one!) on Miley Cyrus’ stage or to Katy Perry filling the Arena with the smell of cotton candy (YUM!). He notes that the shows are getting bigger and becoming more technologically advanced, while the shape and size of the venue never changes. However, alongside the advances in technology and bigger productions comes with it the heightened experience for the customer, making for a more enjoyable and memorable show!
What’s the favourite part of your role?
David loves nothing more than a challenge, so his favourite part is the more difficult productions. As a self-taught AutoCAD wiz, he loves a challenging drawing. With these drawings comes a very special privilege as he knows about what shows are going to be announced before anyone else does! David was one of the first to know Adele was coming to the Arena, a concert that we never expected to get!
What’s your favourite show to work on?
Coming from the country, (one thing no-one lets him forget), he loves to get stuck in! That’s why his favourite show can only be Arenacross. From their complex setup, the prep before a show, lots of health and safety related elements and then importing 3,500 tonnes of dirt to the arena, it can only make for an enjoyable show!
What’s your favourite show that’s come to the Arena while you’ve worked here?
David has thought about this one and knows his answers straight off (another David Lamont response, he’s given me lots of shows!) Firstly, MTV EMAs and BBC Sports Personality of the Year, because these are two of the biggest events ever hosted in Belfast.
Secondly, Bruno Mars for the sheer entertainment value he and his band brought to the Arena as part of his 2013 Tour. He describes the energy within the venue as bouncing and that he didn’t see one person sit down during the whole show – what an amazing way to spend a day at work!
Finally, he also reveals Adele’s intro during the first night of her world tour in February 2016 was outstanding because he wasn’t expecting the “hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end”. He adds that he was standing at the back of the Arena surveying the 10,000+ customers waiting with anticipation when the lights dropped, a reverberating base tone rung out of the sound system, the graphic of Adele’s closed eyes on a 60ft wide LED screen changed as they opened and then the most haunting ‘Hello’ from Adele’s dulcet tones echoed through the arena several times before she was revealed.
The dream act you’d love to bring to the Arena (dead or alive)?
When asking him this, the following was not to be expected from a self-confessed country boy. Firstly, Hans Zimmer because he loves soundtracks and is a big fan of a lot of the movies Hans Zimmer has composed soundtracks or songs for.
Secondly, Eminem because he has always loved his music and simply because “he’s Eminem”!
And last but not least, he wishes he had started working in the Arena earlier so he could have witnessed superstars like Coldplay, Beyonce and Pink!
Top 3 songs?
Well this proved to be a difficult question for David as he really doesn’t dislike any music. So here’s how he’s played it (he’s broken the rules again and picked 4!):
1) Current favourite song – Rag ‘n’ Bone Man – Skin (because the man is class, this is one show I am busting to get to the Arena!)
2) One of his favourite songs he’s heard played live in the Arena – Lush Classical with the Ulster Orchestra – Insomnia (because the Arena was pumping!)
3) A song he’s heard in the Arena which he would now listen to – Lionel Richie – Dancing on the Ceiling (because it is one of the biggest crowd pleaser songs of all time).
4) Best song heard in the Arena – the 9,000 person sing-a-long before a Carl Frampton fight. David explains it’s one of the best atmospheres to experience in the arena. “If you haven’t experienced this in person you need to buy a ticket and get to his next fight! I wouldn’t like to be his opponent walking out after him!”
Quote you live by?
“Start small, dream big”. This answer perfectly describes David’s career to date…Claire, he’s coming for your job!