Profile: Julian Spear, South West Group

Julian Spear trained as a violinist and then worked as a sound engineer till illness caused him to rethink his career. He found solace in event production - and now his company, South West Group, is targeting the corporate market.

On meeting Julian Spear it's obvious that his time is precious. On two separate occasions the director of supplier South West Group has apologised to me for the numerous interruptions that come via his mobile phone, and at the most recent meeting he interrupts the conversation to negotiate the removal of a forklift truck from a proms site in Derby.

"At the end of the day I set up a relationship with my clients," he says. "I don't just sell a show and then disappear. Clients get a hands-on experience across the director level of the company. Everyone gets access to my direct line and my mobile. If they need to talk to me then they can."

He is undoubtedly passionate about his role and can't foresee a time when he will be any less involved. And it's this personal touch around which the South West Group's ethos is built, with the team aiming to be the best that it can in audio, lighting, rigging, power and production.

"Ultimately people buy people," he adds. "You can be the best supplier in the world but if you don't get on with the customer it's never going to work. All our staff, we like to think, enjoy working with the company and stay loyal. We've got people that we trained that are now some of the top people in the country."

Spear's CV demonstrates his eclectic mix of skills. He is a professionally trained violinist, and after being introduced to advances in music technology at college, his fascination with this developing sector led him into sound engineering - a specialism that dominated his early career.

However, following an ear infection in 1991, Spear developed tinnitus in his right ear. In one fell swoop his career as a sound engineer was over due to his loss of tonal recognition. Soon after, a chance encounter found him managing his first proms event, marking his first tentative steps to becoming a freelance production manager.

"I had enough knowledge from my sound engineering days to know it was a route I could take. I looked at how it was put together and went through all the things that I felt I could do better," he says.

With the event a success, Spear slipped seamlessly into the life of a freelance production manager and in 1995 launched a production company called Reality Check. The firm soon found a constant need for good audio support and regularly teamed up with Alister Pook at South West Audio.

By the beginning of 2005, he felt that combining forces with Pook on a more permanent basis would be more beneficial and thus the South West Group was formed.

Since its early days the firm has continued to carve itself a niche in the outside events market. Its projects are plentiful and varied, ranging from areas of Glastonbury to the Derby proms, from the Paul McKenna tour to China White's party at Cartier International Polo, which it works on with agency Hype Party Planning.

But Spear and his team aim to spread their wings. Having cornered a market that sees them working almost constantly from June to September, the aim now is to target the corporate events market.

"At the moment our summer work is ludicrously busy," he adds. "It's manic early June until September. We have such peaks and troughs that I now want more all-year-round stuff to grow the company and it's the corporate market that I think that we can deliver a damn good service to. We can get wacky - if people want to do something completely outrageous we will probably be able to manage it."

Certainly South West's problem-solving skills were tested to the limit this summer with record levels of rainfall producing the most challenging of seasons.

"The weather has multiplied the workload by a factor of five or six. By the middle of June there was not a piece of trackway left in the country. We spent a lot of time re-orientating everything via the nearest hard standing road," he says.

Never has the saying been more true: it never rains but it pours.

SPEAR on...

The importance of a joined-up approach... We've got a lot of expertise across the board as we've got the audio, lighting, rigging and power. It avoids the need for sub-contracting and means that lighting and sound people, for example, are talking to each other properly.

Making anyone think they can produce events... It should look easy. There is a level of calmness that I demand from everybody. So people think, 'That's easy, isn't it?' But it's actually just that the planning has been done right and all the right people are doing the right jobs

The company brand... It was a natural progression to become South West Group even though we service the entire country. We didn't want to adopt an anonymous-type name just so that people know that we don't just work south west. I would say if anything we do the least amount of our business in the south west.


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