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Veteran British rockers attract the cruise ship crowds

Rock concert on cruise ship
Image caption Top rock acts such as Steve Hackett are a way of enticing passengers on to cruises

The classic sounds of Los Endos by Steve Hackett, formerly of Genesis, and Close to the Edge by Yes pound out from the stage as musicians who made their names selling millions of albums back in the 70s play in front of their adoring fans.

"Phenomenal," said Terry, from Ontario, who loved what he saw and heard. "Rub shoulders with a few celebrities, see them perform up close. You can't buy those tickets nowadays."

But this is a concert with a difference. Musicians and fans are all on board the 3,000-passenger cruise ship Poesia for a five-night rock cruise through the Caribbean.

The fans are being enticed on board by the lure of sharing a trip with musicians from a number of veteran British rock bands.

This year, musicians from the Moody Blues, Genesis, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer have all played concerts on cruises from Fort Lauderdale in Florida to the Caribbean.

The last of the series was called Cruise to the Edge - echoing the title of the celebrated 1972 Yes album, Close to the Edge.

Between performances, the ship called in at Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios in Jamaica, giving the fans and stars a chance to explore ashore.

Meeting the musicians

The gigs have attracted prog rock fans from all over the world. They have each paid from about $800 to several thousand to be on board.

For this they get five nights of concerts in an intimate setting, along with special events for those fans who buy a VIP package.

These include meet-and-greets, where they get a photo with one of their heroes and a chance to hear rock stars talk about the inspiration for their music.

On board is Scott Richards, a psychiatrist from southern California. He has seen Yes in concert more than 100 times already and this experience alone must have cost him several thousand dollars as he opted for the VIP package.

Prog rock fans are not normally known for dancing but Dr Richards was so entranced by the occasion that he stood up to whirl along to the music.

The cruising experience was clearly new to many of the musicians. The guitarist playing with drummer Carl Palmer was unsure if the giant food plates provided for passengers were in fact trays.

'Cruising with their band'

Being on a cruise ship threw up its own musical challenges. A trough of low pressure that had settled south of Florida meant stormy weather and rough seas.

On some nights, anything not taped down on stage, including the performers, was in danger of sliding back and forth precariously.

Image caption Fans can get to meet top rock stars such as drummer Carl Palmer (right)

Yes guitarist Steve Howe was less than amused to see his slide guitar continuously sliding across the stage, though a few nights later he was able to see the funny side.

Most of the bands on board played two concerts, varying the set list so passengers did not see exactly the same performance twice.

Drummer Carl Palmer, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, says the idea of playing on a cruise had obvious attractions for the fans and the musicians.

"They're on holiday, cruising with their favourite band. That's what they get out of it. There we are in the morning and you can see us having breakfast."

The stars also benefit from the sale on board of merchandising, such as T-shirts, CDs and DVDs. Palmer was also showing to prospective buyers works of art he had helped create.

Star experiences

One night the former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett was woken by the sound of his TV falling off its arm and crashing to the floor. Jokes followed about stars in their 60s now being too old to trash their hotel rooms.

Image caption Specialist cruises are an important way for the industry to grow, says William Tatham

Hackett said that in the past he would very much have guarded his privacy but on experiences like these he accepted he was effectively public property.

Fans regularly asked him for pictures and photos during breakfast in the buffet restaurant.

Lee Donovan, from Pittsburgh, believes the price of his cruise ticket was money well spent.

"I'd never taken a cruise before. I honestly think the concept of the theme cruise is really something which will catch on.

"Your friends would never believe you're eating 10ft away from Steve Hackett from Genesis."

These niche cruises are helping to maintain growth in the sector. The industry says it has averaged about 7% per annum in recent years.

Globally, about 20 million people go on a cruise every year, with the majority of passengers coming from North America.

William Tatham, vice-president of cruise shipping and marina operations at the Port Authority of Jamaica, says cruise lines and charter companies have been aware for some time that there is money to be made from catering to customers' interests.

"They've continued to be innovative and reinvent their product, being able to go from general cruising to be able to now start focusing on the interests of their passengers."

Industry innovation

Michael Vanderbeek, business development director for Port Everglades in Florida, one of the busiest cruise ports in the world, agrees that the customers are now being given a choice of cruises that may be targeted at their interests.

Image caption About 20 million holidaymakers go on cruises each year

"There's really a niche market for everyone."

"If you're into music, there's jazz and rock. Dancing with the Stars also appears on sea cruises, and you have culinary cruises and sports - baseball, football, soccer."

Larry Morand, from the company On The Blue, produced the Cruise to the Edge. He also helped organise this year's Monsters of Rock and Moody Blues cruises, which also started at Fort Lauderdale.

He is confident that prog rock fans will want to repeat the experience.

"I think it will help rejuvenate the progressive rock style of music. We'll be back on next year in April 2014."

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