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Careers aren’t always made in the university classroom. Often it’s the sports field or student society that provides the inspiration and passion for future success.
When Rod MacSween (Chemistry, 1970) was co-opted into the Guild Social Committee in his first year at Exeter, he had no idea where it would lead. Within a few short years he had founded leading live music-booking agency, International Talent Booking (ITB) and has been responsible for booking some of the most eminent artistes in the world.
Today Rod still personally represents artistes including Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Judas Priest, KISS, Lenny Kravitz, Maroon 5, Ozzy Osbourne, Pearl Jam, Morrissey, Tool, Scorpions, and The Who. He is currently busy with another client on Guns n’ Roses’ three year ‘Not in this Lifetime’ reunion tour – the third highest grossing tour of all time. Another acclaimed recent reunion on Rod’s plate is that of the politically charged ‘Rage Against The Machine’, heading into Europe this summer after a 10 year absence.
“I always loved music and social interaction but was fortunate to get involved with the Guild activities.” said Rod. “In 1969 I ran to be Social Secretary. It was a proper campaign – hustings, canvassing, knocking on doors, etc. My slogan was ‘For experience on the social scene, it has to be Rod MacSween.’ Corny I know, but those fliers were all over the campus and it worked... I got elected!
“I loved every act I booked at Exeter. It was like being a child in the sweet shop. But some of the particularly memorable ones were The Who, Pink Floyd, T Rex, and Robert Plant’s Band of Joy.
“I was always very persistent when approaching bands. I did not accept no as an answer! At that time (1970) The Who were planning a university run and Exeter, in its favour, had a larger capacity than most other university venues. Only Leeds, venue for the fabled Live at Leeds album from the same tour, was bigger.
“It was the year after Tommy was released and The Who were a huge attraction for Exeter. They played at the Great Hall on May 1st. I took them out afterwards to a nightclub and bought them two bottles of champagne from my meagre Social Secretary float. Keith Moon was so touched by the gesture that he immediately ordered a crate! We had a great night!”
Until he finished his degree Rod had ideas of going into teaching, but upon graduation was offered a job as a Junior Booker at a music agency and thoughts of teacher training soon went out the window. He spent some time at various London agencies before deciding to go it alone, founding ITB in 1976 with the help of infamous manager and impresario Don Arden (Sharon Osbourne’s father).
Rod said: “I met Don when I booked ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) at a smaller agency. Don was their Manager and Sharon was working for her dad at the time. They believed in what I was doing and Don put money in to help start me up. Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne are still two of my closest friends today.
“It was a fantastic era to start musically. It was a wild time, a real eye-opener with a few challenging characters and many crazy experiences. Being on the road with Ozzy was always a hoot!”
Despite growing into one of the world’s most important agencies, Rod likes to keep ITB personal and stays close with all his artists. At his Honorary Graduation ceremony last summer, students were surprised to see another famous face taking to the stage. Part way through Rod’s speech, Led Zeppelin star Robert Plant climbed the stairs to offer his congratulations... and to claim the £8 concert fee he was owed from all those years before!
Rod said: “I think an important ingredient of successful relationships is to always believe in the old adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and it’s very true – keep those you care about close. Robert is one of my most treasured clients and friends. I love him dearly.
“Ultimately, it’s all about the artistes. When they’re on stage, that’s where the magic happens. The rest of us all play an important part, but ultimately it all leads back to the musicans – without them you’ve got nothing.”
Rod still has the same passion for the job as 40+ years ago when he set up the company and he has his hands full with a roster most can only dream of. In 2015 he was also the recipient of the prestigious VIP Classic Rock Award honouring his achievements over the years.
So has Rod ever been tempted to book a show back on the stage in the Great Hall at Exeter?! “Honestly, it’s probably too small for the bigger shows these days but you never know... I’m tremendously fond of Exeter and
my history there.”
A place for entertainment
Rod’s not the only alum to jump from Social Sec to entertainment industry…
That student who co-opted him into the Guild? Andrew Bailey, later editor of Rolling Stone. Preceding Social Sec? TV Producer and Director Paul Jackson. The student who followed him into the role? Ian Flooks, music agent who looked after the likes of U2, REM and The Clash before moving into film. And just a couple of years later, Isle of Wight promoter and global agent, John Giddings joined the ranks.