Last month the U.K. live music sector was rocked by news of the removal of freedom of movement for British musicians wishing to perform in Europe, following Priti Patel’s immigration crackdown. “It will hinder, if not crucify, the bottom tier of the industry,” comments Ross Craib, drummer and author of The Touring Musician’s Survival Guide. “Touring is many musicians’ largest income stream, and for some, their only income stream.”
Maddy Radcliff, campaigns official from the Musicians’ Union, agrees, “Everyone we speak to gets the problems that Brexit poses for musicians straight away. That includes hundreds of MPs and ministers too. The music industry is worth £5.2 billion, and live music alone is worth £1.1 billion, but it does feel like the government is making it harder to be a musician.” The union is calling for a musicians’ passport to help their members who rely largely on touring and performing in the EU in order to make a living.
A further government bombshell was dropped on the U.K. music business yesterday when the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, advised the public to avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and music venues. Music and creative industry leaders were quick to criticize his lack of clarity for the music sector, which is worth almost four times the country’s fishing and fish processing industries.
Caroline Norbury, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England, warned that the fallout from Johnson’s remarks would be “a crippling blow” to the creative sector. “As the social distancing measures announced this afternoon are only advisory, rather than an outright ban, we are deeply concerned that creative organizations and cultural spaces will find they are unable to claim compensation for the huge losses they will experience as a result of COVID-19,” said Norbury.
Today the beleaguered music industry may have been hoping for some good news from the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a business rescue package to fight the coronavirus fallout. However, many were disappointed when the package appeared to sidestep some pressing issues for the creative sector, which under normal circumstances contributes almost £13 million to the U.K. economy every hour.
Paul Pacifico, the CEO of the music industry body the Association of Independent Music (AIM), stated, “I hope the Prime Minister is going to do more than just wash his hands of the fantastic and vibrant U.K. music industry. He needs to urgently announce further measures to support the dynamic but fragile small businesses and self-employed specialists that bring so much joy and fulfillment to us all and who will provide much-needed comfort across WiFi, broadcast and airwaves during the coming time of social isolation.”
Acting UK Music CEO Tom Kiehl delivered a powerful message on behalf of the industry, particularly in light of Johnson’s statement that the government will no longer be “supporting” mass gatherings by using emergency workers. “The virus is having a catastrophic impact on the U.K. music industry and will threaten many jobs and businesses right across our sector. The Prime Minister’s latest advice on mass gatherings has resulted in huge uncertainty and confusion over what exactly it will mean for the music industry.”
Kiehl continued, “We need urgent clarity about what exactly these new changes will mean. The government must spell out whether there will be a formal ban, when that might come into effect, which venues and events will be impacted and how long the measures will remain in place. As well as clarity we need swift action from the government to mitigate the immense damage and disruption this will cause to our music industry that is the envy of the world.”
Paul Reed, CEO of the Association Of Independent Festivals (AIF), also spoke of the enormous financial impact on their members. “The Prime Minister’s announcement amounts to a ban on live events, and while we understand the measures taken, we also urge the government to classify it as such. The lack of such clarification creates widespread confusion and greatly harms promoters’ efforts to weather this unprecedented storm. Our members have already spent millions of pounds in non-recoupable costs and there is no safety net. We also call for immediate, decisive action to support these businesses and help minimize the lasting effects this crisis will have on the livelihoods of those working in the independent festival sector and beyond.”
Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, delivered a strongly-worded open letter to Johnson this morning, lambasting his lack of clarity. “You created the conditions where these venues are forced to remain open while simultaneously requesting that the public do not go to them. This is not a policy at all. If Public Health demands that these venues should not be used, Public Health demands that the government should act to close them. You cannot ask Grassroots Music Venues and the thousands of people who work in them to pay the cost of a Public Health policy decision that the government needs to take.”
Davyd outlined the human cost of yesterday’s announcement. “Without a direct decision by the government that Grassroots Music Venues should close, these cultural spaces are opened up to unmanageable risks. Those with insurance cannot claim on it. Those with lease agreements based on trade are in breach of their contracts. Rent, mortgage, rates, VAT, Tax, wages will have to be paid and the entire liability falls on the individual venue operator. We work with those venue operators every day; your announcement has provoked a new public health crisis of unmanageable stress and mental health challenges among this community that was completely unnecessary and could have been avoided.”
To help begin to remedy the situation, Davyd called for the 2022 Festival of Great Britain to be scrapped and for part of the budget to be used to protect grassroots music venues. “The government has committed £120 million to delivering an event that no one in the public has demanded, and many sectors of the public simply do not want. It has little backing in the cultural and creative industries and is neither urgent nor necessary. The entire Grassroots Music Venue sector can be mothballed for eight weeks and saved permanently for just one-third of the money you have already allocated to this single event. With the remaining £80 million, we would strongly urge you to create a Cultural Sector Hardship Relief Fund. That fund could take action on grassroots theatres, arts centers, community pubs, any space that is a vital hub of culture and social interaction in our communities.”
Despite the concerns raised by music business leaders on the matter, the Association of British Insurers stated, “Irrespective of whether or not the government orders closure of a business, the vast majority of firms won’t have purchased cover that will enable them to claim on their insurance to compensate for their business being closed by coronavirus.”
Notwithstanding what is likely to be a running battle between the creative industries and insurance companies, it is sobering to consider that even the most famous performers are already feeling the financial impact of coronavirus. Music legend David Crosby recently confided to GQ Magazine, “If I lose the tours, I probably will lose my home.” If this is true for one of the most revered musicians on the planet, one can only imagine the challenges facing musicians in the U.K. who are dealing with the double whammy of Brexit and the fallout from COVID-19.
Sean Read is a highly respected musician who has played and toured with Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Pretenders, Beth Orton, Manic Street Preachers, Edwyn Collins, Graham Coxon, The Charlatans and McAlmont & Butler. He is candid on the negative impact of Johnson’s announcement. “The government’s statement is pretty irresponsible to say the least. It’s hard enough for musicians to earn a living these days without the reckless abandonment shown by our leaders. I, and most of my friends and colleagues, have lost most if not all of our work for the foreseeable future. We literally live the gig economy. Some clarity is the least we deserve.”
Originally published in Forbes.
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