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Resurgent live music sector faces staff shortages

UK industry bodies including LIVE (Live music Industries Venues and Entertainment), the Concert Promoters Association, the Events Industry Forum and the UK Crowd Management Association have written to the prime minister regarding what they describe as crippling staff shortages across large parts of the UK economy.

The live entertainment and events associations are joined by trade bodies representing other sectors, including hospitality, food and drink and retail, in calling for government action to help remediate the situation, with the letter suggesting that EU workers could be allowed to return on a short-term basis to help fill the empty roles.

“While the overall picture is complex, one short-term solution with immediate benefit would be to temporarily ease immigration requirements for the large numbers of workers, particularly from the EU, who have returned to their homelands during the lockdowns. This has contributed greatly to the shortfalls,” reads the letter, which can be read here.

“Indeed, a study in 2020 by the UK’s Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence estimated that 1.3 million migrants left the UK between July 2019 and September 2020. This figure was based on UK labour statistics, and represents over 4% of the UK workforce.

“Unfortunately, evidence suggests that those unemployed within the UK workforce seem unwilling to take on many of the jobs where there are vacancies in the industries we represent. To help resolve this we ask that all those who have worked in the UK over the last three years are given the freedom to return to work here with less restrictive immigration regulations on a short-term basis.

“One short-term solution with immediate benefit would be to temporarily ease immigration requirements”

“A relaxation of the rules does not need to be open ended but it needs to happen quickly if we are to support the recovery of the UK economy.”

The letter comes as entertainment and hospitality businesses in other countries also warn they are facing a staff shortage as they begin to reopen this summer.

In the Netherlands, live music association VNPF is warning that the industry will likely be short of staff when full-capacity shows restart later this year, with many professionals having left the industry over the past 16 months.

Both venues and festivals are short of people, VNPF director Berend Schans tells NU.nl, with the former sector having laid off an average of 20% of their staff last year and the latter probably even more. “Exact figures are lacking, but because that industry [festivals] has been hit even harder than venues, and they have received relatively less government support, I would say that the situation there is even more serious, especially in view of the lay-offs at Mojo Concerts and ID&T, for example.”

Similarly, France, the US and New Zealand are all facing post-pandemic labour shortages, particularly in the hospitality sector, and while the issue has been exacerbated by Brexit in the UK, experts have been warning of shortages for months.

“This will need a government intervention to ensure that the industry has the ability to provide enough staff”

The UK Door Security Association (UKDSA) said back in march that venues and clubs could face trouble reopening as planned following an exodus of security staff during the pandemic.

In addition to EU workers who have gone home, many qualified door staff were forced to find work elsewhere when venues were closed in March 2020.

According to the Security Industry Authority (SIA), over a quarter of the UK’s total security workforce were non-UK nationals in 2018. The UKDSA estimates that over half of the vacancies in the sector may be left unfilled when business restarts gets back to normal later this summer.

“This will need a government intervention to ensure that the industry has the ability to provide enough staff,” says Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association. Concerning new elements in the SIA door supervisor licence which require more training for door staff, Kill adds: “While the training is welcomed, it is not timely given the current economic situation across most of the sector, and consideration needs to be given to it being pushed back to 2022.”

Read IQ’s feature on the challenges of recruiting and restaffing post-pandemic in the latest, 100th issue of the magazine.

 


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TM Suzi Green launches free workshops ahead of touring return

Tour manager and health and wellbeing specialist Suzi Green has commissioned a series of resilience workshops for the international live music industry as the touring sector begins its transition back into the demands of event production.

The three free sessions, Mindfulness for Touring with Craig Ali, Healthy Boundaries with Laura Ferguson and Sleep & Jet Lag with Matt Kansy, take place on Monday 21 June, Wednesday 14 July and Wednesday 4 August, respectively. The workshops will explore a range of topics, from coping strategies for dealing with ‘heated’ moments in high-pressure situations to how to wind down naturally at the end of an intense day, rate negotiation, managing workload and effective communication, maximising the quality of your sleep and techniques to combat jet lag and shift work.

The workshops were made possible through the Culture Recovery Fund and are designed for freelance touring community, though they are open to all music professionals.

The sessions are presented by The Back Lounge, an online support group for out-of-work touring professionals Green, the founder of Healthy Touring, created during the height of the pandemic.

“We will all need to take our health seriously to survive long periods during busy touring schedules in the future”

A seasoned tour manager, having worked with clients including Placebo, PJ Harvey, Katie Melua and Wolf Alice, Green experienced her own debilitating episode of burn-out and left touring for a decade. “I thought my touring days were over. The industry simply didn’t work for me,” she recalls.

Since retraining in various modalities, she later returned to touring with new skills in wellbeing to the benefit of artists and crew.

“People now have the opportunity to learn how to develop better coping strategies,” says Green. “We will all need to take our health seriously to survive long periods during busy touring schedules in the future.”

To book a place on the free workshops, visit the following links: Mindfulness for Touring, Healthy Boundaries, Sleep & Jet Lag.

 


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DEAG’s Kilimanjaro to acquire promoter UK Live

DEAG has acquired a majority stake in UK Live, the independent Buckinghamshire-based promoter behind Let’s Rock, the popular festivals of ’80s  and ‘retro’ music held in 14 cities.

Berlin-based DEAG announced last month it had raised more than €6 million to fund acquisitions in “key markets” around the world. Through UK subsidiary Kilimanjaro Live, the company has taken a 90% stake in UK Live, which has also organised headline shows by the likes of Craig David, Kim Wilde, Rick Astley and the Kaiser Chiefs, as well as festivals PennFest and Sunset Sessions (Exeter and Norwich).

In addition to organising shows, UK Live specialises in artist booking, stage construction and event technology. The company’s founders and managing directors Nick Billinghurst and Matt Smith, will stay on board as minority shareholders and will continue to manage the company in the long term.

“In view of the positive development with regard to the vaccination situation in our core markets, we expect to see our business activities increasingly return to normal in the coming months. We are already setting the course for a continuation of our successful business development and can further expand our strong market position in the UK with the acquisition of UK Live,” says Detlef Kornett, member of the executive board of DEAG (Deutsche Entertainment AG).

Other DEAG businesses in the UK include the Flying Music Company, Belladrum Festival, MyTicket UK and Gigantic Tickets, as well as Singular Artists in the neighbouring Republic of Ireland.

“We are very excited about our future collaboration with DEAG and look forward to driving our growth journey together”

“UK Live has its own productions and independently covers the complete infrastructure from stage set-up to technology. By focusing on the domestic market, UK Live’s business activities are hardly affected by the Brexit,” continues Kornett. “The partnership with UK Live offers us potential, especially for our ticketing and live entertainment business. For example, we will offer tickets for UK Live events for sale exclusively through Gigantic.com.”

“The acquisition of UK Live adds attractive events and concerts to our events portfolio,” says Stuart Galbraith, CEO of Kilimanjaro Live. “Nick Billinghurst and Matt Smith have many years of experience in the live entertainment industry and have shaped UK Live from its early days with Let’s Rock The Moor with 1,000 visitors to a successful company with over a dozen festivals and countless concerts within only a few years. Today, the four series of events, Let’s Rock, PennFest, Friday Night Live Norwich and Sunday Sessions, alone attract over 200,000 visitors annually.”

Billinghurst adds: “We are very excited about our future collaboration with DEAG and look forward to driving our growth journey together. With DEAG, we have a strong partner on our side, with whom we are ideally positioned for the post-corona era.

“Together we will soon be presenting our audience with top-class concerts and events again. I am sure that both sides will benefit from our merger in the long term.”

 


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The New Europeans: Live music’s Brexit exiles

When the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced on Christmas Eve 2020 that the UK had signed a free trade agreement, the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement), with the European Union, there was a collective sigh of relief across much of Britain. Four and a half tortuous years after the Brexit vote, the UK was finally out, and people on both sides of the new border could finally get on with their lives.

Well, sort of. That is, of course, unless you work in concert touring, in which case new requirements for visas (for people) and carnets (for goods) – as well as restrictions on cabotage (ie the right to transport goods and people within the EU and/or UK’s borders) for trucking companies – represented a less than ideal outcome for an industry built on decades of free movement across Europe.

In response, many UK-based firms, particularly hauliers affected by the new limits on cabotage in the European Union, are investing considerable sums to open new depots in mainland Europe or the Republic of Ireland.

In contrast to these ‘new Europeans’, many in the touring sector were “sleepwalking towards Brexit day,” according to Robert Hewett, founder and director of Stagetruck. “They were just completely indifferent to it,” he says, “thinking that we’d all just carry on as it was before. I would be saying to people, ‘Look, I don’t think you should assume that. This is how we make a living; it’s our livelihood…’”

However, with all touring still on hold because of the coronavirus, the impact of the TCA’s more restrictive provisions, particularly on cabotage, has yet to be felt fully, Hewett continues. “What happened with the pandemic when it hit is that it masked it [the Brexit question] for at least the next 12 months,” he says.

According to Stuart McPherson, managing director of KB Event, a ‘no-deal’ Brexit – repeatedly rejected as the worst possible outcome by most live music industry associations and professionals – would have been a better option for hauliers than the TCA signed by Johnson’s government and their counterparts in the EU.

“Bizarrely, for us that would have been a better outcome than the one we have,” he explains. “For rock’n’roll touring companies there was an exemption in place, from back in 1996, that allowed entertainment transport to move freely throughout the EU. That protocol was overwritten by the TCA, which came into law with the Brexit agreement and overrode the previous exemption we had under the ECMT [European Conference of Ministers of Transport] protocols. So for us, this is the worst possible outcome.”

A ‘no-deal’ Brexit  would have been a better option for hauliers than the Trade and Cooperation Agreement

When the TCA was reached and the Brexit deal done, what we were left with was something that said we can no longer tour in Europe,” McPherson continues, “and so the only solution for that – as it sits right now and for the foreseeable future – is for us to open up a full European operating centre with a European operator’s licence, which gives us more freedom in terms of cabotage and interstate movements in Europe.”

As a result of that outcome, all the major UK-headquartered concert trucking and transport companies, which also include Stagetruck and Transam/EST (Edwin Shirley Trucking), are now based at least partially in the EU, or are considering a move, with offices in places like the Netherlands and Republic of Ireland serving as all-important hubs for continental operations.

Under the current rules, Transam/EST will have to make a choice: “Either to become Dutch or Irish, or a bit of both, or to stay in the UK – but I can’t see the latter happening,” says senior manager Ollie Kite. “We’re going to have to re-register all our trucks, or a lot of them, into the EU, and that costs money. So we want to be able to be ready to do that, but we’re delaying it as long as possible. Because until work starts to return, we’re a bit strapped for cash…”

McPherson estimates that the cost to KB Event to set up an office in Ireland – including the operations centre with parking for 60 trucks, an EU operator’s licence, and duplicate fleet insurance – is already up to £500,000 (€578,000), with European CPCs (certificates of professional competence) for KB’s drivers set to cost a further £100,000 (€116,000) – a considerable outlay for a sector that has had little revenue since March 2020.

Stagetruck, which already had an office near Veghel in the Netherlands, is similarly facing a bill of between £100,000 and £110,000 to send its drivers to the Irish republic to do an EU-certified driver CPC course, says Hewett.

“All the European countries, at this moment, are standing together and saying, ‘No, unless you come and take a driving test [in an EU member state] you cannot drive a European-registered truck,’” he comments. “That is the nightmare that we’re all facing at the moment.”

Kite says Transam/EST is also looking toward Ireland, to minimise the language barrier for the company’s UK drivers. “The nonsense of it is,” he adds, “is that they already know what they’re going to be taught, as the course and the exams are exactly the same as in England – just that you have to take them in Ireland or somewhere in the EU instead. Nothing’s actually changed.”

Currently, explains Kite, the UK allows EU drivers to drive British-registered trucks on an EU licence, “although they’re hinting that they won’t let that continue” should it not be reciprocated from the other side.

All the major UK-headquartered concert trucking and transport companies are now based at least partially in the EU, or are considering a move

Keep on truckin’
As Craig Stanley of Marshall Arts, who is the chair of the UK’s LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) Touring group, told IQ earlier this year, the cabotage issue – the lack of an exemption for concert hauliers under the TCA – is by far the biggest problem facing hauliers who haven’t already made the jump across the English Channel or Irish Sea. “Unlimited movement by UK-based concert hauliers will cease,” he said. “The biggest impact of the cabotage regulations is that non-EU-based haulage companies will only be allowed to have a load going into the EU and then two further movements before having to turn back to their place of registration. So, as it stands, to undertake EU tours it will be necessary to have EU-registered hauliers.”

The Road Haulage Association (RHA), the UK trade association for haulage and logistics operators, has called on Boris Johnson to secure an exemption, or ‘easement,’ from the current rules for UK-based entertainment hauliers to enable them to continue touring Europe. “If the UK events haulage industry is to have any chance of survival it needs an EU-wide easement so that trucks moving touring equipment can continue to make multiple stops across Europe,” says RHA chief executive Richard Burnett.

Unfortunately, on the British side at least, there remain fundamental misunderstandings about the role of concert hauliers and their needs in the post-Brexit landscape, says Kite. “We’ve been lobbying for change, we’re talking to the Department for Transport, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but they don’t really understand. They think it’s just going from A to B, dropping off a kit and then picking it up again. We’re struggling with trying to get them to understand that under the TCA we simply can’t tour like we used to.

“We’re inching forward – whereas before, under other rules, cultural tours and events were exempt from the cabotage rule.”

“There is a lack of understanding in government about transport,” agrees Hewett, “even more than the lack of understanding about the music industry. Every headline you ever saw was about fishing, but if you compare what the music industry brings in – what it brings to every local economy when a big band arrives – it’s a massive injection of income into local areas, and they seem to have bypassed it completely. It’s amazing.”

“There is a lack of understanding in government about transport – even more than the lack of understanding about the music industry”

Teething problems
It’s not just hauliers who have been forced to set up costly EU offices to continue trading after Brexit. London-based World Touring Exhibitions, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has been forced to slim down its UK office and set up shop in Rotterdam – a reflection of visa considerations and the other expensive barriers against both UK–EU and inter-EU travel for a non-EU company, founder Corrado Canonici tells IQ.

“It’s a shame, but it is necessary, as we can’t really bring UK people [to Europe] at the touch of a button, like we could before,” he says. “For example, we are about to open an exhibition in Germany – I can’t get my crew there unless I get them all visas, which would have taken an enormous amount of time and money, which makes no sense when you only need them to work five days. What sense does it make to get them a 30-day visa?”

For exhibitions coming into the EU, “we have to do all kinds of paperwork – ATA carnets, rule-of-origin papers – in addition to visas for the crew,” Canonici continues, “so we just thought, ‘How about we continue to be part of [the EU]?’ Europe is 27 countries and the UK is one. So [by opening an EU office] we have 27 countries that we can serve and tour without any problems.”

From a freedom of movement perspective, the political climate in the UK would never have allowed for permit-free travel between the UK and Europe, suggests Andy Corrigan of Viva La Visa. “Anything regarding immigration would have needed a degree of reciprocity: that if we [the UK] were saying we are going to have visa- free travel, the EU would have said, ‘Well, we want it to the UK,’ and the UK – the Home Office and Boris Johnson – would have said, ‘No way.’ Anything regarding Brexit that would have led to increased immigration into the UK, they’d have said no, because of how that would play out in the Daily Mail: ‘That’s not what we voted for…’”

While Corrigan believes the problems surrounding other aspects of post-Brexit touring “are soluble, it’s going to take a bit of time to make everything run smoothly. And anecdotally, things are not terribly well organised at the moment. We had a sound company went out [to the EU] on a carnet last week. I had to get them the emergency car and the two-hour special service, and they got to Folkestone and the guy there refused to stamp it. I don’t know why – he just said he couldn’t do it and moved them on. So they got to France and, because it was Ascension Day, customs was closed. There was nobody there.

“It’s one thing saying you need a carnet to take your goods over. But the actual practicalities of it – the system and the infrastructure – are not all together yet. And I think you will get more random decisions being made by border people asking for the wrong things and discriminating and asking for stuff they shouldn’t, and the same coming into the UK. Hopefully, it will smooth itself out.”

World Touring Exhibitions’ new reality was illustrated recently as the company prepared to put the aforementioned exhibition into Cologne. Canonici recalls: “All of a sudden we found out that if we were using a British company, it would have been a problem. We were told, ‘You can’t do that without a big, big cost.’ So, we used a Dutch company instead and immediately the shipper told us, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ We literally just signed one piece of paper and that was it.”

“When the pressure is coming from the other side of the Channel, that’s when things will change”

‘Make it work’
Despite this exodus of profitable business out of the UK, McPherson is of the opinion that there is little appetite on the British side for renegotiating the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, even on a bilateral basis (between the UK and individual EU member countries). “At the moment, it’s being made very clear that there is going to be no reengagement or renegotiating on the TCA,” he says. “To read into that, the message is: this is what you’ve got, and you’ve got to find a way to make it work.”

While KB Event and companies like it have already spent hundreds of thousands of euros on doing just that, McPherson remains concerned about what he sees as a fundamental lack of haulage capacity for tours in the pipeline – particularly given the number of shows that have been postponed to 2022 and beyond because of Covid-19 restrictions.

“When we get to 2022 and there are not enough trucks in the EU to be able to cover the tours, you’re going to have European promoters saying they cannot deliver their tours as they have no way of moving them because 85% of trucks for touring come out of the UK.”

Hewett emphasises the importance of also keeping the pressure on the government in the UK, warning that the entertainment haulage sector – especially those smaller British outfits that couldn’t afford to become ‘new Europeans’ – is facing wipe-out under current cabotage regulations. “We really need a concerted effort now, with the press, the music industry and everyone to come on board and push this issue because it could decimate this industry,” he says.

For Corrigan, there’s “too much at stake, economically and artistically,” for the UK and EU not to get back around the negotiating table to resolve the outstanding issues facing performers, crew and hauliers. “It’s going to happen. In the past, things have been overcome,” he says. “We used to tour Europe with carnets at every border, which was a nightmare. But today’s major touring is a much more business-like activity than it was 30 years ago, and think how much it would upset the accountants if the lighting truck didn’t make it to a gig because it got stuck at the Belgian border for 12 hours…”

In a scenario like the one mentioned, where promoters cannot deliver shows for which fans have bought tickets (and in many cases held onto them for a year or longer), “that’s when the pressure is going to change,” says McPherson, “from the UK trucking company shouting about the fact we can’t do what we do for a living anymore, to promoters in the EU shouting at their country’s government, saying, ‘You guys need to do something here. We can’t move our tours. Our revenue streams have dried up for us, and for our nation.’

“At that point, when the pressure is coming from the other side of the Channel, that’s when things will change.”

 


Read this feature in its original format in the digital edition of IQ 100:

 


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Sara slams lack of regulation in South Africa

The South African Roadies Association (Sara) has hit out at the loose regulations governing live events production in South Africa, as it emerged no one has been held responsible for the death of a rigger over two years ago at the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100.

Speaking to the Weekly SA Mirror of 4 June, Freddie Nyathela, president of Sara, describes the sector as a “free for all”, blaming the Department of Employment and Labour for dragging its feet on a proposed new framework for the technical events production and production services industry.

Lack of transformation in the industry is ultimately responsible for the death of Siyabonga Ngodze, the 36-year-old who suffered fatal injuries after falling in the set-up for the Mandela 100 event, which featured performances from Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Ed Sheeran.

Though Ngodze’s mother has received compensation from his employer, production company Gearhouse SA, and the Department of Employment and Labour (R39,000 [US$2,900] and R35,000 [$2,600], respectively), Thembekile Ngonze says she has yet to see justice for her “beloved son”.

“I cannot understand why it is taking so long to have someone prosecuted”

“I cannot understand why it is taking so long to have someone prosecuted for the death of my son”, says the 56-year-old.

According to the Weekly SA Mirror, progress in resolving the case has been delayed by successive lockdowns in South Africa. However, a Department of Employment and Labour investigation found that Gearhouse SA had failed to comply with the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

In addition to the death of Ngodze, the Mandela 100 event, held to celebrate the 100th birthday of the late Nelson Mandela, was also marred by reports of widespread lootings and assaults, blamed by the venue, FNB Stadium, on the lack of police presence.

The concert raised billions of dollars for education, HIV prevention and anti-poverty initiatives in Africa.

 


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100 issues young: New IQ Magazine out now

The landmark 100th issue of IQ Magazine, which includes reflections from staff past and present on IQ’s first 17 years, is now available to read for subscribers.

In addition to this rare moment of self-reflection, the 100th (June 2021) edition of IQ has in-depth features on post-pandemic recruitment and restaffing, the ‘New Europeans’ who have been forced by Brexit to relocate from the UK to the continent, and the new independent booking outfits shaking up the agency world.

Columns, meanwhile, look at accessibility, contracts and the devastating cancellation of Australia’s Bluesfest – which was cancelled at the 11th hour following a single positive Covid-19 test – while regular content such as news analysis and new agency signings will keep you abreast of all the latest developments in the international live music industry.

As usual, the majority of magazine content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks. However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:

 

IQ subscribers can log in and read the full magazine now.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Rock-it Cargo allies with Saudi Arabia’s Sela

Rock-it Cargo has gained a foothold in the emerging Saudi Arabian market by partnering with Sela Sport Company, of the kingdom’s leading event management outfits.

The global partnership sees LA-headquartered Rock-it become Sela’s freight-forwarding and logistics provider for all countries outside of Saudi Arabia, while Jeddah-based Sela will act as the logistics provider to Rock-it Cargo within Saudi Arabia.

Sela, which has worked with partners including Live Nation Middle East, WWE, PRG and Formula 1 race circuit designer Tilke, offers services including event management, venue operations, ticketing, sponsorship, broadcasting, marketing and athlete representation.

Under the partnership “Rock-it now has a partner that is unrivalled in its live event experience across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Sela now has a global partner with an extended network across five continents,” says Paul Martins, president and CEO of Rock-it.

“Rock-it now has a partner that is unrivalled in its live event experience across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”

“Both companies are already well-established market leaders in delivering time-sensitive logistics solutions for live sporting and entertainment events, industrial projects and much more. This new global partnership provides us with a strong opportunity to further grow our business and broaden our service offering for customers.”

Rock-it will act as Sela’s single provider to handle the global logistics of freight movement to Saudi Arabia for the company’s shows and events.

“Sela is going to raise the bar once more in the event management sector in Saudi with our partnership with Rock-it,” comments Loai Kamakhi, general manager of business solutions for Sela.

Rock-it Cargo in January announced its merger with UK-based Sound Moves, with both companies set to rebrand as Rock-it Global later this year.

 


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We Are Ops, female-led operations firm, launches

We Are Ops, a new female-led event operations, safety and people management business, has launched in the UK.

Created by senior female staff at London-based We Are the Fair, an event production company which has worked on festivals including Field Day, Gala, Kisstory, Camp Wildfire and El Dorado, We Are Ops aims to boost gender diversity in what can still often feel like a “macho industry”, according to We Are Ops director and We Are the Fair head of production Yasmin Galletti.

“Since I started out in the industry 12 years ago, we’ve seen the workforce on site and behind the scenes become more balanced, but it still feels women are working in the shadows, not being given the platform or recognition that they deserve for their work,” Galletti explains.

“I feel proud and blessed to be part of a company that celebrates the female attitude towards event operations”

The We Are Ops team have 150 years of combined experience, with other members including health and safety advisors Sarah Tew and Francesca Boden and operations manager Jan Rankou.

The company offers services including licensing, traffic and security planning, safety management, sustainability consulting, risk assessments, crowd and capacity planning and accessibility and inclusion.

“I feel proud and blessed to be part of a company that celebrates the female attitude towards event operations,” continues Galletti, “especially in the area of health and safety, which is still a very male-led faction of the industry.”

 


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Optimism grows after successful Brit Awards 2021

After nearly 14 months, non-socially distanced indoor live music returned to the UK last night (11 May) as the likes of Dua Lipa, Coldplay, Elton John, Pink and Rag’n’Bone Man took to the O2 Arena stage for the 2021 Brit Awards.

As previously reported, some 4,000 people – 2,500 of them key workers who had been gifted free tickets – attended the ceremony, with an estimated 1,000 more working as staff, production and crew. As a medically monitored pilot event, held as part of the UK’s Events Research Programme (ERP), Brits attendees were free to mingle and take off their masks once inside the O2 (as they had at previous ERP shows in Liverpool), where scientists were examining risk factors including crowd behaviour, ventilation, surface contact and the effect of having performers in the room.

All guests took a lateral-flow Covid-19 test in the 36 hours leading up to the event, as well as a PCR test on the day. Attendees are also required to take another PCR test five days after the event, with both tests being sent to a laboratory to assess for any coronavirus transmission during the show.

Gennaro Castaldo, director of communications for Brits organiser BPI, tells IQ there was a “huge amount of interest” in the event, “not just from the UK, but from the global community”, reflecting its significance as the first major indoor concert of the Covid-19 era. “We’ve had a record amount of TV requests this year, from Japan, America, Canada, Europe… Obviously everyone’s intrigued as to how we as a country are coming out of lockdown, and how these Event Research Programme pilots are working. So there wasn’t just the UK audience, but there was a wider global interest, too, I think.”

“Heralding the return of live music, it was a special moment for everyone working in the industry”

Both Castaldo and BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor are full of praise for the O2 team, as well as stage designers Es Devlin and Yinka Ilori, whose technicoloured set, built by Diagon, provided a spectacular backdrop to both the prize-giving ceremony and the night’s live performances.

“Our hope is that the Brits 2021 with Mastercard showed the music industry at its best,” says Taylor. “It united global superstars with the breakthrough talent that is the future of British music, reflecting on a year when music has shown its power to help us navigate difficult times. The creativity of the performances lit up staging by Yinka Ilori and Es Devlin which, with its explosion of colour, was like a wake-up from the monochrome reality many of us have lived for the last 12 months.”

“It was great to be back working with the Brits and to once again collaborate with the brilliant Es Devlin,” says Diagon’s Liam Ownsworth. “It was a huge privilege to bring Es Delvin’s vision to life for the biggest night in UK music. Heralding the return of live music events, it was a special moment for everyone working within the creative industry, who have been especially hit hard by the pandemic.”

Dua Lipa collects award

Castaldo also commends the government for managing the end of the third lockdown in a “very step-by-step, gradual way” with the ERP initiative. “Our fervent wish is that [the results from the events] will come out positive, and we’ll be able to speed up the process of opening up our venues and festivals and nightclubs,” he continues, noting that – although insurance remains a sticking point – many venues still have availability for shows this summer. “With a bit of luck, there could be a real surge of interest if the government were to come out sooner, rather than later, and say, ‘We’re satisfied that with these precautions in place, you can reopen safely’.”

“What was happening on stage felt particularly significant,” adds Taylor, highlighting wins for female artists such as Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift, Little Mix, Haim, Arlo Parks and Billie Eilish. “‘Women artists won in eightof the 11 award categories, illustrating how the music industry has transformed to better reflect all the talent in our society. There was an inclusive feel to the show, including the additional Brits trophies that winning artists could give to their own heroes, and the fact that the majority of the audience were key workers who have done so much to help the country get through the last year. I would like to thank the music labels who contributed to cover the costs of making that happen.

“Talking to guests, it seemed they were truly excited to be out enjoying live music once again, and it was particularly special to be part of the first live audience for music at the O2 Arena in a year. Finally, the Brits being part of the ERP meant that we were gathering scientific data which should help ease the path to government reopening live music as quickly as possible, which is so important to fans and to our artists.”

“It’s probably the most significant Brit Awards in our four-decade history”

All Brit Awards 2021 performances, which also included the Weeknd, Griff, Headie One and Olivia Rodrigo, are available to watch back on the Brits YouTube channel.

“As much as it was painful process at times” for the Brits team, who pulled together the show in under six weeks, seeing the result made it more than worth it, concludes Castaldo, who says having multiple performances with a live audience sends an important message that the ERP can act as a “stepping stone towards the return of live music at scale”. “And that’s the key word: scale,” he adds, “because obviously you can have events and have a few people distanced here and there, but that’s no good to any promoter. You’ve got to be able to put bums on seats and know that you can fill the room to capacity, so that’s why these pilots are so hugely important.

“It’s also the most diverse awards we’ve ever had, with eight of the 11 categories won by women, which is a historic moment, too. So I think for those reasons, it’s probably the most significant Brit Awards that we’ve had in our four-decade history.”

A full list of 2021 award winners is available from the Brits website.

 


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Recovery Sessions: Industry leaders join IQ webinar

Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn, Artist Group International president Marsha Vlasic, ASM Global Europe EVP John Sharkey and CAA senior agent Maria May are among the confirmed speakers for Thursday’s must-see Recovery Sessions event.

The four industry titans join forces for ‘Industry Heads: Leading the way back’, one of three hour-long discussions forming part of the half-day webinar, which is free to access for all IQ subscribers.

Other newly announced speakers include ID&T COO Rosanne Janmaat, Primavera Sound director Pablo Soler, infectious disease expert Dr Josep Maria Llibre and Festival Republic production manager Luke Cowdell, who will share the lessons learned from pilot events in the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, and Dr Paul Twomey (Biosecurity Systems), Danielle Kennedy-Clark (The O2) and Ruth Khayat (Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality), who consider the ethical, financial and logistical implications of health passports as a means to restarting live entertainment.

Topics and timings announced for first Recovery Sessions

The Recovery Sessions kicks off at 14.00 BST (15.00 CEST) this Thursday, 13 May, here on the IQ site. Subscribers will need to log in and navigate to the dedicated Recovery Sessions page, which will be live from tomorrow.

The Recovery Sessions are kindly supported by ASM Global and POS solution provider goodtill.

To subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month, click here.

 


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