Ticket tout interview – The other side of the fence

Ticket Tout Simon Dempsey

Ticket Tout Simon Dempsey

One of the icons of the festival industry is the ticket tout. Now we’ve read tons of bad press about this character over the years, but on the other hand we’ve also been able to buy tickets at events for half price, and even been able to get into events that have supposedly been sold out thanks to these guys.

We decided to do a bit of research into the industry and met one of the UK’s top ticket touts, Simon Dempsey. We approached Simon, who’s also known as Tintin, due to his ginger quiff, for an interview and he said yes, giving us an exclusive view of what the world of the tout is really like.

How did you get involved in Ticket Touting? Were you involved in the music business in any way?
I wasn’t involved in the music industry in any way. I got into the business through a chance meeting with a friend called Brandon many years ago. I was young and naïve and was getting myself into a lot of trouble, he was a bit older and a bit wiser.

Brandon helped me get off the path I was on and onto a money making mission. That’s got to be around 18 years ago, so I must have been around 17 years old. I always wanted to be a fighter pilot, but a naughty school career and leaving home at an early age soon put pay to that idea.

So what was your first experience of Ticket Touting like?
I first went along just to help out and to get out of my town at the time, because I was in a bit of trouble with the wrong people. I wanted to lie low for a week. We went to Glastonbury, and not ever being one to just sit on the sidelines, I got up and got into it, much to the annoyance of many of the other touts. I just started shouting “buy and sell tickets” like the others, and then someone approached me, so I got Brandon to sell one to them, I took a small cut and off I went.

Why did it annoy the other Touts?
Well the touting industry is very, very clicky. You gotta remember a lot of these guys were spivs in the Second World War, or they’re the sons of spivs. They come from a background where people used to sell ration books and all kinds of things.

It was only after the war and at the end of rationing, when people started to go to shows again, when spivs started to turn their hand to other things in demand, such as tickets. To this day touting is still a profession that travels down the generations. So back then it was a very difficult industry to get into.

So when did you decide that this was the career for you?
I was working with Brandon when his older brothers Richard and Steve decided to poach me off him. Obviously between the three of us we were quite a formidable force. They were both family men, and right about that time I was expecting my first child. I changed and adapted to be more like them.

We’d stay in hotels instead of camping, have a good breakfast, arrive early and work till late. Then at the end of the festival I’d go home and keep the money instead of spunking it all on champagne and cocaine.

What sort of money could you make?
The most I’ve made is about £9,000 from the Download Festival. We’ve taken £6,000 from Reading and V. It’s not like that any more and the industry is getting very hard. Back then the wages were phenomenal. You were happy to go to work all the time.

Did you always go and see the bands at the festivals yourself?
Often not as we were too knackered after a hard days work, however I have seen more than my fair share of bands over the years. Brandon and me almost walked out onto stage with the Kaiser Chiefs once. We got some artist passes at Hyde Park and went right up to the door, about five seconds after they went out on stage, but we bottled it.

Ticket tout in field

What sort of reaction do you get out of people when you tell them you’re a ticket tout?
People are usually quite surprised. Its not the sort of thing they’re expecting. Most of them don’t really understand how it works, they think there’s a grey area or something shady involved in the business. You can’t really get more of a clear industry, we’re standing in front of people doing what we do, buying and selling tickets.

We’re there providing a service, because people instigate that service on their own. We buy the spares. There’s no way a promoter is ever going to refund someone the money because their friend dropped out. So that money is essentially lost to them until such a point as to when they sell it on to a tout. Equally on the other side of the coin there are loads of people who want to buy cheap or sold out tickets.

Sometimes people do look down their noses at you. They might walk past with an air of superiority because they got their ticket off TicketMaster. Quite often we sell tickets at less than face value. I love it when you see someone who’s paid £180 for a ticket and then you tell them that you’ve got the same deal available for £50. Especially when there’s 5 of them and they could have saved £800. There’s no amount of looking down their noses that can wipe the smile off your face.

On the whole people are pretty good to us, most people have a good experience when dealing with touts.

Other than buying off the public, is there anywhere else you used to get tickets from?
We built up a very good relationship with a number of the travel companies up and down the country. They’d buy tickets in bulk and often have a few left over. Now to them, that money is dead. There’s nothing they can do about it, so some of the deals we’ve had off such companies have been legendary. £90 face value festival tickets and we’ve bought 50 at £5 each.

What people don’t understand is that they think we buy tickets up front when tickets go on sale and that’s quite a common misconception. I wish I was rich enough to buy 60 tickets for Bestival and leave them in the bank for a year before I sell them. You have to have your money liquid to buy and sell tickets at the event. That’s how it works.

If I wanted to buy 20 tickets to Reading at £200 each that’s £4,000 I’d have to invest and have just sitting there for a year. Then you’ve got to do that for every event so you’d be putting out about £100,000 for tickets on speculation.

You do get people out there who buy 6 tickets for a festival when they only needed 4, then they’ll sell a couple online, for instance on eBay. They’re the people who’ve really killed the industry. So everyone’s having a go at that now and that’s destroying the industry at the sites.

So the industry just isn’t there any more?
Not really, it’s just too much hard work now. You really have to live it and work sports events, music and just about anything with a ticket. It’s too much of a lifestyle for me now. I consider myself retired now.

I do go to the Reading Festival every year however, as its my local festival and it’s a great chance to meet up with all the touts I know from around the country. I’ve made a lot of genuine, close friends in this industry and Reading is a great time to catch up with all the old faces.

So is there some kind of tout code?
Not necessarily, there’s a lot of competing. If I’m standing on a corner then you can bet your bottom dollar that two touts will go and stand on the next corner. Then two will do the same to them until you’ve got a line of touts all the way to the railway station. Everyone works where they feel they’re getting the best place.

For me I’ve always liked to work near the festival, because I feel that you get a better level of trust from the punters. If you’re near the site then the person who’s bought the ticket can come back if there’s any problems with it. If gives them peace of mind, making them more likely to deal with you.

Even though there’s a level of competition, we still help out each other. If we can’t help someone out then we’ll find someone else who can. There’s a special kind of tout language that we use to communicate with each other.

Can you give me some examples?
No, not at all. We’ve got to be able to have the ability to talk to customers in front of them, sometimes even argue about prices. For instance, I could be touting and find a customer who wants to pay £80 for a ticket, my tout mate wants to sell me one for £100, so I know it’s not worth it. So I have to tell him in the secret language that I only want to pay £70 whilst keeping the customer happy and unaware of what’s going on.

Go on, just tell me, I’m so intrigued, I promise not to put it in the article.
No way.

Tout bars

How do the authorities react to you, like security and the Police?
We’ve had tons of run ins. Fortunately I like to really know what the law is on this kind of business, so we often know more about what’s going on than the police. We don’t try and do anything unlawful like walking people into events, and of course at the end of my venture there’s the tax-man who’s ready to take his cut.

Being a red head and of Irish descent I’m the type of guy who always wants to stand and have it out with people. The security will tell you all kinds of things; it’s private property, that you can’t be there and will do anything to try to move you on.

The police too have tried all kinds of things on us. They’ve tried to move us on with an anti-alcohol dispersal order when none of us have been drinking. It’s the sort of thing designed to get rid of people hanging about after football matches or kids in a park, not for people touting at festivals. We actually went and got this over-turned at the local police station and went back to the same place to work.

The police are usually half and half, they’re either happy to stand alongside you or they want to move you on. Remember we need a certain amount of protection ourselves as we’ve often got large amounts of money on us, and that can be very worrying at times. Say there’s three of us working on Hackney Downs, and its getting dark after ten, then when you’ve got two grand in your pocket you’re happy to see the police there.

What’s the biggest amount of money you’ve ever made at a festival, what’s your greatest ever blag?
There’s been so many of them. I remember a few years ago at the Download festival, we were just sort of getting ready to go, having a coffee, and low and behold some bloke rather nervously comes over to us. Turns out he was a Dutch coach driver. Now tickets for Download were really hard to buy that year, there weren’t very many spares and the resale value was very high.

He came over and had 90 tickets for sale. We got him down to £50 per ticket  and it was a buy all or buy none type deal. Still I didn’t have that kind of money (£4,500) on me so I had to run round the festival borrowing money off all the other touts whilst keeping this bloke cool. He was pretty nervous and in a foreign country. I got everyone to pool their money so we all had stock the next day.

I managed to do it and pulled it off. He was overjoyed when he got the money and got on his bus. He probably felt we were going to buy them off him and bump him over the head and take all the money back. You can imagine how good he must have felt to be back in Holland chuffing on a big zoot with his big pile of cash.

So who are some of the biggest characters on the circuit?
Everyone’s got a nick-name and a story behind it. They keep their tout life separate from their home life. A lot of the touts are from that old school East End lifestyle, surviving on the streets. They still live like that. They can earn £500 – £600 a day and then they’ll be straight down the boozer at the end of it. Maybe calling up their dealer and getting an eighth of crack, or a brass, or putting loads of money on a horse, or maybe doing all of that, then waking up the next day to do it all again.

Final question, what is the future… Is there anything left for the industry, or is it going the way of the dinosaur?
I’d like to see some of the big boys in the festival tickets game get their fingers burnt with their own greed. The market will be there forever. There will always be someone who has bought a ticket and wants to sell it. Who runs that market and who dictates it, who knows?

I think now too many members of the public have had their fingers burned by selling tickets privately on eBay. If they don’t want to swallow their loss, which most people don’t they won’t ever do it again.

Of course, this is just the view of one individual within the ticket touting industry and we are not suggesting this is representative of the industry as a whole. This is however a look from the other side of the fence at a business that is known for sometimes employing underhand methods. It’s always good to get both sides of the story, so if you’ve got any ticket tout tales, experiences or views that you’d like to share with us on this article, we’d love to hear from you…