Canadian Icons Find Fans Everywhere
Loyal International Followers Wait Years Between Rush Tours
By Steve Adams
The allegiance of Rush fans worldwide explains why the group has sold some 10 million albums outside North America, according to its management, about one-quarter of its career total of 35 million units.
The act's biggest market beyond the United States and Canada is the United Kingdom, followed by Germany, Brazil and Japan. The band also has a healthy following in northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia (led by Sweden) and Holland, and in South America.
Universal Music, which distributes the band's pre-1989 catalog, reports sales of close to 1 million units in Europe during the past 12 months. Yet despite consistently solid sales, the European media barely acknowledges Rush's existence.
The situation is especially apparent in the United Kingdom, where the trio was initially criticized by a punk-friendly music press and has been largely ignored ever since. This is despite top-five album chart placings for the best-selling "Moving Pictures" (1981), as well as the likes of "Signals" (1982) and "Grace Under Pressure" (1984).
"The British press prefers gimmick acts," says Peter Noble, managing director of Noble PR
in London. Noble PR
is currently publicizing Rush's U.K. DVD collection "Chronicles" from Universal Music DVD Video, "Rush in Rio" from Sanctuary Vision Entertainment and the group's upcoming U.K. tour.
"When it's a respected rock group that's been around for 30 years," Noble observes, "[the British press is] not interested."
Noble says Rush has the most dedicated fans he has come across, so campaigns for the DVDs and the tour have been "fan-centric," with the Internet playing a major role.
Shows at London's Wembley Arena and Birmingham's NEC sold out immediately, with the remainder likely to post sold-out signs long before the band opens its European tour in London Sept. 8.
"The success of the U.K. tour is not down to media support at all," he says. "The dates are selling out through word-of-mouth and the loyalty of the fans, many of whom will attend more than one show."
Neil Warnock, chairman of the Agency Group in London, echoes Noble's views. The Agency Group has booked all of Rush's tours outside of North America, from its first tentative steps into Europe in 1977 to its largest shows to date in Brazil in 2002.
TICKETS MOVE FAST
"Rush has an amazingly dedicated fan base who are very sharp at getting hold of information, so the marketing almost takes care of itself," Warnock says. "Tickets sell fast because of a loyalty factor that goes back for years."
Jacob Harregaard, international marketing director of Warner Music International, also praises the dedication of Rush's fan base. WMI has released Rush's albums since it switched U.S. labels from Mercury (PolyGram) to Atlantic in 1989. European sales have been solid, if not outstanding, ever since.
"Rush is a difficult band to market but has a very loyal fan base," Harregaard says. He notes that European sales during the past 15 years have averaged 250,000 units per album, with "Presto" (1989) leading the way at close to 300,000 units.
"The band's European status is atypical for this type of act-sales find a level and stay there because the fans stay loyal," Harregaard adds.
That support, he says, "creates great opportunities to work the catalog and do something special for the fans, though it must be high quality to reflect the nature of the act."
WMI is considering a new best-of package featuring post-1990 material and is also looking at repackaging the Rush catalog, including upgraded vinyl replicas. That strategy worked well in a recent campaign for Led Zeppelin.
"The focus is very much on celebrating the band's career, but most of the activity is U.S.-led," Harregaard states. "The U.S. has been very much the key market in later years."
That last comment is of little surprise, given the lack of media support the band receives across the Atlantic. However, another factor is that Rush has only played European dates twice since 1983.
Warnock, a self-confessed fan of the band, is as frustrated as any other follower by its lack of live appearances.
"It's been a long time between drinks," he says with a laugh. "I'd love them to have played every couple of years, but they tour in a way that feels right for them and I respect that.
"Having said that, I do all I can to encourage them to tour and let them know where they can go. For instance, if they wanted to go back to Japan, I'm sure they could do very well." (The only time the band played shows there was in 1984.)
Warnock, who encouraged Rush's management to book the band's first dates outside of North America in 1977, says the success of its first South American shows in 2002 "proved to them that they had fans down there" and could encourage the trio to play other new venues in future. This year's European tour includes debut appearances in the Czech Republic and Italy.
"The band has always been very particular about production," Warnock notes. "On the early tours they brought everything with them, including the PA and lights. One of the reasons they haven't toured more is the sheer cost of bringing their shows to Europe, because they want to ensure the fans see the same show as in the U.S. and Canada.
"That remains true today, but production elements in Europe have caught up with the U.S., so they don't bring as much gear with them. Even so, it's a very unique production with several hundred tons of equipment."
Judging from the brisk ticket sales for the 30th Anniversary tour-the band's first European dates in 12 years look certain to sell out-fans abroad have been waiting eagerly for Rush's return to the international stage.