Rolling Stones and Ed Sheeran back call to help live music venues

Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones are among more than 1,500 music stars calling for government action to prevent a catastrophic collapse of the live music sector because of the Covid-19 crisis. 

A joint letter — including some of the most famous names in the industry — has been sent to Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, calling for specific financial help and a clear timetable for venues to reopen.

The names include Rita Ora, Annie Lennox, Sam Smith, Rod Stewart, Iron Maiden and Little Mix. Liam Gallagher, the Oasis singer, said: “Amazing gigs don’t happen without an amazing team behind the stage, but they’ll all be out of jobs unless we can get back out there doing what we love.”

Many of the artists were due to perform during Britain’s festival summer season — but hundreds of events such as Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds and Download have been cancelled because of Covid-19.

The letter warned that tens of thousands of jobs could be lost this year with concerts unlikely to take place again until 2021 at the earliest.

UK live music had been one of the UK’s biggest social, cultural, and economic successes of the past decade, it added.

“But, with no end to social distancing in sight or financial support from government yet agreed, the future for concerts and festivals and the hundreds of thousands of people who work in them looks bleak,” the letter said.

“Until these businesses can operate again . . . government support will be crucial to prevent mass insolvencies and the end of this world-leading industry.”

Many of the artists who signed letter were due to perform during the UK’s festival summer season, but hundreds of events such as Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds and Download have been cancelled because of Covid-19 © Neil Juggins/Stockimo/Alamy

The letter calls for a clear timeline for reopening venues without social distancing, full VAT exemption on ticket sales and a sector-specific employment support package — including a government-backed insurance scheme, extension of the furlough scheme, rent breaks for venues and an extension of business rate relief.

Live music has been a key driver for the British economy in recent years, generating about 210,000 jobs, boosting tourism, hospitality revenue and the music sector directly.

Revenue from live music events grew 10 per cent in 2018, according to a report by UK Music, generating £1.1bn for the economy and £4.5bn in music tourism spending, despite Glastonbury Festival — a key event in Britain’s music calendar — not taking place that year.

The lockdown has put huge strain on the live music sector and triggered dire warnings about the ability of many venues to survive. UK Music has estimated the hit to the economy this year at £900m. 

The Music Venue Trust, a charity promoting smaller venues, has argued that 90 per cent of grassroots venues could collapse if the government does not intervene with a stimulus package of almost £50m to help with rents. 

Mark Davyd, the charity’s chief executive, said the collapse of grassroots venues would be devastating to the entire sector. “This is the R&D wing of the music industry. Coldplay, Adele, Ed Sheeran, they all lost money on their first tours and so did the venues but then they made it . . . no one plays in front of 800 people at their first gig. They play in front of eight people in Bromsgrove and you’re lucky if they bring the dog along too.”

The letter added that the German government recently announced €150m in financial support for live music as part of a €50bn package of grants and loans for its cultural sector, while France has announced a further €50m to “build support plans” for the live music industry.

Emily Eavis, Glastonbury organiser, said: “If the government doesn’t step up and support the British arts, we really could lose vital aspects of our culture forever.”

According to the consultancy PwC, the UK’s live music market was the fourth biggest in the world in 2019 by value of ticket sales.

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