(Originally published on Sun-13 on September 30th 2020)
Today marks the global day of action for #WeMakeEvents and in a year where there haven’t really been any, this event cannot come before time.
Most people don’t see what it takes to make a gig or a big show work, most people don’t look, they don’t have to, hell they shouldn’t need to. The sheer level of ingenuity and forward planning that it takes to bring a show to town is astounding and the people who do it are magicians.
The initial planning, booking and managing advance of a tour are probably the easiest bits to do, no offence to any bookers out there. The real work starts when you get on the move; you have to deal with physically transporting all the gear you need, delayed planes, border controls, alcohol licences, site planning, safety and the occasional explosives licence for pyrotechnics, there is a lot to think about.
That’s before you get to moving people around, getting them there on time, getting them into radio stations and onto stages at the right time, making sure they’re at the right stage, in the right town…
At the right venue.
If you consider that some acts will deliver the better part of 200 gigs all over the world in the space of a year, the planning and coordination in their lives become something of a nightmare.
That’s before you get to very low bridges outside Frankfurt.
Ask Es Devlin.
There are a huge number of people involved in all of this. When you get past that lot, you normally need to add in considerably more, the local venue bods acting as home for the support acts, local PR, sound engineers, lighting techs, guitar techs, drum techs, electricians, drivers, dressers, makeup, the list is exhausting to read never mind fathom.
And just about everywhere, right now, those people are out of work.
One of my guilty pleasures is standing in a venue just before it opens. By that stage, you know everything has clicked together, that everything is tickety boo and you’re tantalisingly close to delivering a great gig.
I always get a beer and watch the soundcheck.
There is something quite solitary and peaceful in that moment, just before the chaos; I get to watch people I admire work through their preparations, making everything just so. I haven’t done that since March.
Though it probably shouldn’t need to be said I am going to reiterate it anyway. I don’t think that people understand just how critical the situation is for tens of thousands of committed, hard-working professionals.
It is dire.
If you consider that just a handful of West End venues feel like they may be able to open at the moment and that Broadway, arguably the home of theatre, is closed until at least 2021 and that there have been thousands upon thousands of cancelled shows, the scale of this starts to show itself.
Bars are closing everywhere.
Cirque du Soleil has shed three and half thousand jobs and filed for bankruptcy. Live Nation has furloughed or fired thousands, the only thing keeping it afloat seems to be the number of people keeping tickets for rescheduled shows.
If you consider this year alone there has been no Sound City, no Glastonbury, no Download, no Blue Dot, no Cream, no gigs at the Arena, no gigs at the Invisible Wind Factory, no gigs at the O2.
It’s all gone.
There are some suggestions that almost all live music venues could be forced to shutter without support or a change in the rules. Who would have imagined a Liverpool gig scene without the Zanzibar?
Arts companies of every shade are in trouble, and with a worldwide workforce of some 12,000,000 people affected it is not an insignificant number of people unable to earn a living, pay their rent, feed their families…
If those people aren’t around there are no shows.
The way things are looking, there will be a knock-on effect for some years to come, consider for a second that the Foo Fighters‘ 2020 Van Tour that was rescheduled to 2021, has been cancelled completely.
The successor to the furlough scheme which was announced just a week ago has already been lambasted for how it is completely unfit for purpose, many venues cannot open and so cannot pay 50% of staff wages to generate the 30% government section, for many it is simply not possible.
The arts are yet again a gaping hole in the government’s plan, and that is especially so for those who work behind the scenes, but the bigger problem is that this government don’t seem to get it.
Just a few days ago the Conservative MP Anthony Brown offered some advice to musicians and others in what were described as un-viable jobs, we will paraphrase here, but he more or less said everyone shouldn’t ‘wait around for 5 years’, that they should engage in other sectors now and if they felt it was necessary, they should ‘re-train as quickly as possible’
I’ll throw that in again.
“Re-train as quickly as possible”
The chancellor of the exchequer tells that the government cannot be expected to protect every business, and while there is some truth in that, some will do exceptionally well out of this pandemic (Hello, Amazon), the arts and cultural sectors cannot even begin to recover if they cannot open.
The Live Music Industry has been forced to shut down, by law, for more than six months, and that closure will be permanent for many.
If the government makes your work illegal, surely it has a moral duty to support you with appropriate packages, with compassion?
The vast majority of those who work in the music industry are self-employed and the new rules suggest that they should be able to survive on just a fraction of their usual wage until such times as they can begin to work again.
The previous Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) missed over a million people because they didn’t fit in the right column, that is a quarter of the workforce.
It seems cruel to mention this but the vast majority of people I have spoken to don’t expect to be back to full business until at least next year summer.
But things could potentially get much worse.
The post Brexit transition period ends at the New Year, at this point, it still looks like there will be no deal, there is talk of breaking the rules in a “very specific and limited way” that is likely to rattle a few countries who signed up to those rules.
Whatever happens, we can expect there to be more regulations, more paperwork, carnets, confusion, taxes, import, export and all kids of delays at borders that people always said wouldn’t be borders.
Those things won’t make a difference if you’re organising a Rolling Stones final final final farewell tour, or an Elton John we’ll meet again tour, but if you’re a small band from the Wirral or Wigan you would have to ask yourself some very serious questions.
Namely, could you be arsed?
And if you can’t be arsed, how much do we lose?
Art, music and culture that come from this small collection of Islands is world-beating, without match, if we turn a whole generation off working in it, what do we lose, what becomes of us?
If elected representatives tell artists to retrain, if the laws around travel, touring and working overseas become so fractious, if the ability to make any money, fund projects or engage with European partners becomes impossible because we’ve cut ourselves off from EU funding and replaced it with nothing, could you be arsed?
We have shown artists so little love and support at a time when we have all leaned on them more than ever with streaming, Netflix, and the rest, that we have lost a part of ourselves.
We have allowed so many talented people to drift off, we have let so many down.
But you can do something, you can go to that artist’s website, you can buy directly from them, buy from their Bandcamp, you can support the campaigns set up to help the workers and crew we don’t see and you can write to an MP with a click of a button.
Before it’s too late.