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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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International test events underline concert safety

As businesses and individuals in the UK come to terms with the government’s decision to delay the sector’s reopening by a further four weeks, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that concerts, festivals and other live events held under controlled conditions do not contribute to an increase in transmission of Covid-19.

Data gathered from test events across various European countries is building a picture that if every member of the audience is tested prior to a show, and only those who return a negative test are admitted, the chances of them being infected with Covid-19 during the show are extremely slim.

Crucially, despite the pilot shows listed below using different audience configurations, all of them tested participants before and after the event, and all were hailed as successful both by organisers and by the scientists who monitored the health aspects.

Examining the published evidence of different test events around Europe makes for fascinating reading, albeit with very similar results…

Belgium
Zero positive cases of Covid-19 were detected seven days after test events in Spa and Namur, neither among the participants nor the control group, the company in charge of testing at the shows, DNAlytics, announced in May.

Those events were the first of six pilot experiments organised in the cultural sector by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. “In the case of Spa, they establish quantitatively that the organisation of an indoor concert can be envisaged with safety, according to an audience size of 50% of the hall’s capacity and by applying the barrier gestures that have become familiar to us,” says Thibault Helleputte, CEO of DNAlytics.

“In the case of Namur [an outdoor event], the results show that, provided some basic health rules are followed, attendance at a show is not associated with a measurable increase in coronavirus contamination.”

“Concert halls and theatres are not places of infection”

Germany
A scientific study in Germany of the movement of airborne particles in an indoor environment showed a negligible risk of infection in properly ventilated concert venues.

The test, using a robot, at Dortmund’s 1,500-seat Konzerthaus, was carried out over three days in November by the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute of Goslar and particle measurement company Parte Q, with the backing of Germany’s Federal Environment Agency. It followed August’s Restart-19 study (using human participants) by the University Hospital of Halle, which concluded that, with adequate ventilation, live events posed a “low to very low” risk of person-to-person transmission.

“Concert halls and theatres are not places of infection,” says Dr Raphael von Hoensbroech, director of Konzerthaus Dortmund. “The past few months have shown that politics needs a scientifically sound basis for decision-making. With our study, we want to ensure that concert halls and theatres may again admit sufficient audiences when they reopen.”

The Konzerthaus Dortmund study followed the first pilot show, the similarly successful Restart-19 in Leipzig, in August 2020, which provided the template for subsequent events internationally.

In Barcelona, the indoor concert setting did not increase the coronavirus risk

Spain
Festivals per la Cultura Segura, the organiser of a Barcelona pilot concert in March, also reported that the event had no impact on Covid-19 transmission among attendees, despite the lack of social distancing observed at the show, which had 5,000 attendees.

Having analysed the data, doctors from the show’s medical partners concluded that the indoor concert setting did not increase the coronavirus risk – with concertgoers exhibiting a lower incidence of Covid-19 than the general population in Barcelona at the time.

While the use of a medical-grade FFP2 mask was mandatory, there was no social distancing among fans, who were separated into three areas, once the show got underway.

Of the 4,592 concert attendees who gave consent for the doctors to analyse Covid-19 tests taken after the event, six tested positive for Covid-19 within 14 days of the Barcelona show (and additional analysis suggests that four of the cases originated outside the concert). Those six represented a cumulative incidence of 130.7 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 inhabitants, far lower than the 259.5 cases/100,000 people in the city’s population at the time.

Three months’ worth of pilots in the Netherlands proved the risk of infection, when following certain hygiene and testing protocols, is about the same as being at home

Netherlands
Perhaps most compelling are the findings from three months’ worth of pilot events in the Netherlands which proved that the risk of Covid-19 infection, when following certain hygiene and testing protocols, is about the same as being at home.

Organiser Fieldlab Evenementen included a series of events in its programme, including the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam which was attended by 3,500 fans, but also business conferences, festivals, arena shows, an awards ceremony and outdoor sports events in a range of formats and capacities.

According to Fieldlab’s data, 100%-capacity events are possible under the Netherlands’ lower two risk levels (caution and concern), with a reduction in capacity necessary for levels three and four (serious and severe, respectively).

Fieldlab’s Dimitri Bonthuis says, “Provided you take the right measures, the risk of getting infected at a Fieldlab event is the same as at home.”

Just 15 positive cases of Covid-19 – equivalent to 0.026% of attendees – were recorded among 58,000 people at UK pilots

United Kingdom
British culture secretary Oliver Dowden described recent UK pilot shows as “a real success”, noting that just 15 positive cases of Covid-19 – equivalent to 0.026% of attendees – were recorded among 58,000 people during recent pilot events.

On the back of those figures, Dowden said he was “very hopeful” the full reopening of venues, theatres and clubs without social distancing would take place on the target date of 21 June, though this didn’t come to pass.

While the ERP has yet to be released, Dowden has confirmed there were no positive cases from the Brit Awards, which took place with an audience of 4,000 at the O2 in London last month.

There were two positive Covid-19 tests from the ERP’s Sefton Park Pilot, in Liverpool, which involved 5,000 fans, while nine cases were detected among the 6,000 clubbers who attended two dance events, also in Liverpool.

Zero cases were reported from a football match at Wembley, but four infections were detected at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, which hosted 17 days of the World Snooker Championship.

No social distancing was in place at any of the ERP events, which used lateral-flow tests to check attendees for the coronavirus prior to entry.

 


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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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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Audience Access Alliance outlines checklist for reopening

Accessibility charity Attitude is Everything has published a ten-point ‘live music checklist’ to help ensure deaf, disabled and neurodivergent fans are made welcome when full-capacity events are allowed to resume in the UK.

Created by the UK’s cross-sector Audience Access Alliance, the initiative is designed to apply to any kind of venue or event and has been widely endorsed throughout the music industry.

With full-scale events in the UK anticipated to resume in coming weeks, Attitude is Everything has urged the country’s music and event industries to adopt its checklist as part of their reopening plans – making sure that the needs of deaf, disabled and neurodivergent (mentally ill or developmentally disabled) fans are considered as included in the reopening strategies for gigs and festivals.

The Audience Access Alliance, launched last year, is a coalition of 13 disability and accessibility organisations and networks that have united to remove barriers for cross-sector audiences across the UK, and is being replicated across the cultural, entertainment and sports sectors.

Designed to apply to any venue or event – from football matches and outdoor festivals to heritage sites, music venues, tourist attractions and theatres – the checklist enshrines the key understandings and policies required for reopening to be fully accessible for deaf and disabled people, many of whom are desperate to start attending shows again.

“The ten-point Accessible Reopening Checklist is designed to help any venue or event get ready to welcome back Deaf and disabled people,” says Attitude is Everything founder Suzanne Bull. “It’s free and easy to use, so there’s no reason for promoters, venue managers and event organisers not to embrace and implement this checklist.

“Deaf and disabled people are looking forward to returning to an inclusive world of sports, arts and culture”

“Deaf and disabled people are artists, employees, volunteers and fans, and they’re looking forward to returning to an inclusive world of sports, arts and culture.”

The full Accessible Reopening Checklist runs as follows:

Any venue or event reopening to the public should be able to say “yes” to these things:

1. We agree that every person has the right to assess their own level of risk.
2. People can find facts on our website about accessibility and Covid-19 safety to make informed decisions.
3. If we have tickets on sale, deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people can arrange the access they need.
4. No one is advised against visiting our event or venue.
5. No one will be challenged about their ‘risk status’ at our entrance due to a perceived ‘vulnerability’.
6. Attendees are not expected to bring a doctor’s note if unable to wear a mask.
7. Our Covid-19 safety measures are accessible for everyone.
8. Our street furniture does not obstruct accessible parking or access routes for attendees or pedestrians.
9. Our staff have been trained in disability awareness and understand our access provision and COVID-safety measures.
10. We are committed to listening to Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people and engaging with any new audiences gained online during lockdown.

Jane Beese, head of music for Manchester International Festival and chair of the LIVE Equality, Diversity & Inclusion group, comments: “When live music returns, it’s imperative that all audiences are able to head back into venues as quickly and safely as possible. This checklist is a great reminder of the needs of deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people.”

“Attitude is Everything continues to provide guidance and awareness raising about access issues that are practical but also acknowledge that not everyone might have this in place,” says Beverley Whitrick, strategic director for Music Venue Trust. “The Accessible Reopening Checklist helps identify areas that might need further work so we will be sharing this within our grassroots music venue community.”

The checklist follows recently published guidance from Attitude is Everything on venue reopening and accessible employment.

Read Suzanne Bull’s recent piece for IQ, which urges the UK industry not to shut out disabled people when it reopens, here:

Live music’s recovery must be inclusive


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We risk losing a generation of talent to Brexit chaos

Reproduced with permission, below is the full statement that Sir Elton John asked Craig Stanley to read in today’s DCMS Committee session.

Last month Rocket Entertainment CEO David Furnish, Marshall Arts’ Craig Stanley, Lord Strasburger and I met with Lord Frost to spell out the damage the trade agreement he negotiated with Europe is doing to the UK’s music industry and to try to find practical solutions and ways forward.

Put bluntly, we are currently in grave danger of losing a generation of talent due to the gaping holes in the government’s trade deal. New and emerging artists will be unable to tour Europe freely – an essential part of their education and development – due to the prohibitive costs of visas, carnets and permits.

However despite this looming catastrophe, the government seems unable or unwilling to fix this gaping hole in their trade deal and defaults to blaming the EU rather than finding ways out of this mess. The situation is already critical and touring musicians, crews and support staff are already losing their livelihood.

I want to be clear that the issues of visa-free and permit-free touring aren’t about the impact on me and artists who tour arenas and stadiums. We are lucky enough to have the support staff, finance and infrastructure to cut through the red tape that Lord Frost’s no-deal has created. This gravest of situations is about the damage to the next generation of musicians and emerging artists, whose careers will stall before they’ve even started due to this infuriating blame game.

If I had faced the financial and logistical obstacles facing young musicians now when I started out, I doubt I’d be where I am today

If I had faced the financial and logistical obstacles facing young musicians now when I started out, I’d never have had the opportunity to build the foundations of my career, and I very much doubt I’d be where I am today.

During our meeting Lord Frost said trying to solve this issue is a long process. Unfortunately our industry doesn’t have time. It is dying now. The government have broken the promise they outlined in 2020 to protect musicians and other creative industries from the impact of Brexit on tours to Europe. They now need to find solutions in both the short and long term to ensure the UK music industry continues to thrive.

Due to the halt that Covid-19 has imposed on touring, we have a window of opportunity.

I call on the government to sort this mess out, or we risk losing future generations of world-beating talent. This is about whether one of the UK’s most successful industries, worth £111bn a year, is allowed to prosper and contribute hugely to both our cultural and economic wealth – or crash and burn.

 


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UK govt savaged in parliament over Brexit ‘no deal’ for music

Industry professionals and members of parliament tore into the British government this afternoon (10 June) over failings in the Brexit deal that will lead to barriers to touring when live music restarts.

As detailed in the latest IQ Magazine, many UK firms have been forced to relocate to the continent to get around post-Brexit restrictions on the movement of goods, with experts warning that starting European tours in the UK is no longer possible under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) – while UK artists are concerned about the lack of provision for visa-free travel under the TCA, and that promised bilateral deals with individual EU nations have failed to appear.

Much of the blame for the lack of progress was directed towards Brexit negotiator-turned-government minister David Frost, who no-showed today’s event, a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee oral evidence session featuring contributions from Marshall Arts’ Craig Stanley, the head of the LIVE Touring group, and Noel McClean from performing arts union Bectu.

Stanley opened with a statement he had been asked to read by Elton John, which is reproduced in full here. In it, Sir Elton says the music industry is facing a “looming catastrophe” which the government “seems unable or unwilling to fix”. “The situation is already critical and touring musicians, crews and support staff are already losing their livelihood,” he adds.

“The government either doesn’t get it, or just doesn’t care”

McClean said Lord Frost’s no-show had to be viewed “in the round, with everything else that has been promised and has not happened over the course of the months since the TCA was agreed. Various ministers have promised that they’re working very hard, the prime minister has said that he’s working flat out to fix this issue… We’ve had these repeated promises that they are working on it and we will see the results very, very soon. [So Frost’s non-appearance] just adds to the reasonable feeling our members have that the government either doesn’t get it, or just doesn’t care.”

Committee chair Julian Knight observed that while the TCA avoided a no-deal UK exit from the EU, the industries represented in the session had effectively “enjoyed a no-deal Brexit – there’s been a deal, but the service sector, and the movement of people, has been left out of that deal.”

Stanley described how the issues presented by the TCA go far beyond the artist, affecting a supply chain of thousands of people. “So often the question is framed as ‘how will this affect musicians?’” he said, “but I’m equally concerned about all the behind-the-scenes stuff. For every musician on stage, there are ten, 20, 50, even 100 people who have got him or her there.”

On the artist side, “There is a whole brain drain of emerging talent going away from the industry which will not have the ability to grow and nurture,” he added. “People said that the Beatles had to go to Hamburg to become a band, and that’s still true today.”

“There’s no getting around it. No trucks means no tours”

Stanley said that despite the government’s insistence, there is “no evidence” it is actively pursuing bilateral agreements outside the TCA. “Two of my colleagues actually attended the Spanish consulate this morning to talk about the issues particularly with Spain. The gentleman they saw there acknowledged there had been some conversation, but not in any detail,” he explained. “So we’re very sad that after five months there’s been no progress made on a bilateral basis to do with work arrangements or cabotage.”

Asked by Alex Davies-Jones MP if there are any solutions to either of the issues that are entirely the UK government’s gift to give, Stanley said concert hauliers could be given an ‘easement’ on their current limit of three stops in Europe of the kind currently enjoyed by car transporters, who are able to deliver cars to multiple dealerships.“We believe that it’s entirely the secretary of state [Frost’s] gift to do that,” he explained. “And we cannot understand why he has not.”

“The solution to the problem is to go back and get a cultural exemption for the movement of trucks, otherwise touring will stop,” Stanley added. “I wouldn’t want Lord Frost to be remembered as the person who killed international touring for live music, but that is what he is facing at the moment. There’s no getting around it. No trucks means no tours.”

The full evidence session can be watched back on demand at Parliamentlive.tv.

 


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21 June: Delay would lead to 5,000 UK cancellations

Research published today (10 June) shows that even a four-week delay to the deadline for lifting the final restrictions on live events in the UK would cost the live music sector over £500 million and leave the summer festival season at risk of total collapse.

More than 5,000 shows by artists including Olly Murs, Tom Odell, Rag’n’Bone Man, Beverley Knight, McFly, Alexandra Burke and Rudimental would either need to cancel or postpone if the 21 June deadline was pushed back, incurring immediate costs across the live music supply chain and further damaging an industry already hanging in the balance, according to industry body LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment).

The rumoured move, as IQ reported earlier this week, comes despite the fact that, by the government’s own evidence, large-scale events can happen safely with the right precautions in place.

Through LIVE, a federation of 13 associations representing more than 3,000 live music companies, the live sector is calling for government to publish the data from the first round of Events Research Programme (ERP) pilots, so “they are able to follow their own science” and allow live businesses to reopen with Covid-safe precautions. The ERP findings which have been released by government to the media show that with screening, improved ventilation and other mitigating factors, mass events are reportedly as safe as a trip to the supermarket.

“We implore the government to follow their own scientific data that proves live events are safe with the right mitigations”

Lucy Noble, chair of the National Arenas Association, says: “The pilot shows at the Brits and Liverpool were touted as the key to getting back to full-capacity live performance, which is why it’s extremely frustrating that the government refuses to publish the full report and allow the sector to open up through the carefully planned precautions which are currently waiting in the wings.

“We implore the government to follow their own scientific data that proves live events are safe with the right mitigations. Now is the time for them to protect the live events sector for generations to come.”

Any delay to the 21 June reopening date would have significant and immediate repercussions for grassroots music venues, with 248 venues facing an immediate threat of eviction if the government does not fully compensate their financial losses from delayed reopening, says Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust.

“In the event of any delay to reopening, government action to restore confidence to the sector will need to be swift, decisive and comprehensive,” says Davyd. “Any decision to delay places the sector in the most perilous and uncertain situation since April 2020. All that has been done by government, the public, artist and communities to save our venues risks being undone.”

“We cannot keep waiting indefinitely without knowing when step four will take place”

The UK’s much-anticipated summer festival season would also see significant casualties, with 65% of all Association of Independent Festivals members saying they will be forced to cancel if faced with a five-week delay – and 21% already gone.

Jim King, CEO of European festivals for AEG Presents, comments: “A delay into July without a clear road map to get back to step four [full lockdown lifting] puts an impossible strain on all festivals, including AEG’s All Points East festival, along with our suppliers across the industry.

“We cannot keep waiting indefinitely without knowing when step four will take place, and this uncertainty will undoubtedly result, by default, in more cancellations. We are desperate for the UK festival season to begin again, but an undated reopening makes long term planning and investment unfeasible.”

 


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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.”

 


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UK industry anxiously awaits government announcement

The UK’s live entertainment community is holding its breath for the government’s long-awaited 14 June Covid briefing, after speculation started to emerge over a proposed delay in allowing venues and festivals to reopen without restrictions.

With 21 June stated as the day when the government wants all restrictions in England to end, the spread of the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19 (also known as the Delta variant) in certain cities and communities is reportedly prompting scientists and government advisors to push for a delay from anywhere between two to four weeks.

The threat of such a postponement is being met with frustration and anger in parts of the live events industry, with luminaries such as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber threatening legal action, while other businesses great and small worry if their return-to-work policies for staff have been activated too prematurely.

For others, any delay could prove far more damaging.

“It could be the final nail in the coffin for many grass roots venues,” exclaims Music Venue Trust (MVT) CEO Mark Davyd. “If they are prevented from reopening their doors, building landlords may cancel their lease and we will end up losing these venues for good.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Phil Bowdery, chairman of the Concert Promoters Association. “It’s critical that the government proceeds with its plans to end restrictions on 21 June. By its own admission through the Events Research Programme (ERP), large-scale events are inherently safe so long as the right precautions – in the form of testing – are in place.”

Speaking to the Daily Mail newspaper, composer Lloyd Webber, who owns seven West End theatres, is questioning the legality of the government retaining social distancing rules beyond 21 June, especially when the ERP’s test shows have proved that there is no greater risk of infection at concerts and other live events.

“If the schools, pubs and restaurants are allowed to remain open, but live music venues are prevented from reopening, it makes no sense whatsoever”

“If the government’s own science has told them that buildings are safe, I’m advised that at that point things could get quite difficult,” says Lloyd Webber. “This is the very last thing that anybody wants to do, but there would [be] a legal case at that point because it’s their science – not ours.”

MVT founder Davyd is equally bemused. “Government has laid down the criteria over whether live music and other performances could return to normal. We’ve met that criteria and now it seems like they are still thinking about keeping live music venues closed when there’s absolutely zero evidence to show that they change the transmission of the virus.

“If the schools, pubs and restaurants are allowed to remain open, but live music venues are prevented from reopening, it makes no sense whatsoever,” adds Davyd. “Keeping the Cheese & Grain [850-cap.] venue closed in Frome – where there is no Covid infection – is not going to help the infection rate up in Blackburn.”

The Night Time Industries Association has also said it will “challenge” the government if there is a delay to 21 June. “The decision to delay will leave us no other option but to challenge the Government aggressively, standing alongside many other industries who have been locked down or restricted from opening,” says CEO Michael Kill.

Rumours over a U-turn on the 21 June roadmap deadline began circulating last week when the Independent Sage group of scientists warned that the rise of the Delta variant in the UK could soar if England’s lockdown ends as planned.

“As things stand, it is very difficult to justify progressing with the last stage of the roadmap, scheduled for 21 June, a point that should be made now, to modify current false hopes,” said Independent Sage.

“Public Health England figures released on June 3 suggest that the Delta variant has spread widely across the UK and is continuing to spread, that it has higher infectivity than the previous circulating variant, and that it is more likely to cause disease and hospitalisation.”

“There would be a legal case at that point because it’s their science, not ours”

Government advisors will also be analysing data that shows the Delta variant is rare in people who have been vaccinated, while hospitalisations throughout the UK are currently flat, rather than rising as the infection spreads.

However, adding more uncertainty over the deadline, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “It’s too early to say what the decision will be about step four of the road map, which is scheduled to be no earlier than June 21.

“Of course, I look at those data every day, we publish them every day, the case numbers matter but what really matters is how that translates into the number of people going to hospital, the number of people sadly dying. The vaccine breaks that link, the question is how much the link has yet been broken because the majority of people who ended up in hospital are not fully vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, those living in the Greater Manchester and Lancashire areas – where Covid is spreading fast – were today placed under new travel rules to combat spiralling Delta variant cases.

Residents are being advised to minimise travel in and out of the areas, while the army is being brought into the region to replicate the widespread vaccination drive that it helped to roll out in the neighbouring city of Bolton, under similar circumstances, in May.

IQ understands that the UK government is planning to make its final decision on the 21 June reopening as late as Sunday 13 June, or even the day of the announcement, Monday 14 June, meaning that the data gathered over the remainder of this week will be crucial.

In recent days the indication is that the average number of daily cases is now slowly rising in the UK. Figures for yesterday (8 June) reveal 6,048 new confirmed cases, but just 13 deaths of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 28 days.

“Government now needs to kickstart the ‘new normal’ economy rather than continuing to dither”

Nevertheless, a number of towns, cities and communities are experiencing sharp rises in case numbers due to the Delta variant, which is known to spread quicker than other variants, leading the Sage scientists and other experts to predict that the country may be on the verge of a third wave of infections.

But should the government bow to pressure, the timing of such a disappointing announcement will be scrutinised, given that on Sunday (13 June), 22,000 football fans will be in Wembley Stadium for England versus Croatia in the European Championships.

At press time, it was announced that the game would be the first sporting event at which so-called vaccine ‘passports’ will be used in the UK, with attendees required to show proof of full vaccination, with both doses having been received at least 14 days before the match. Those not fully vaccinated must show proof of a negative lateral flow test taken within the previous 48 hours.

The timing of the game is not lost upon Davyd. “We’ve basically asked the government that whatever position they take it should be a logical one,” he says. “Not allowing venues and festivals to reopen is not going to change the transmission rate.

“As far as I see it, they have two options: they can reopen everything; or they can announce that some things they have already allowed are increasing the infection rate and they should be closed down. But keeping other businesses from reopening – when they have not played any role in the infection rate rising – just doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Equally as frustrated, CPA chief Bowdery underlines the plight of hundreds of thousands of people and business that rely on live events for their income. “Government now needs to kickstart the ‘new normal’ economy rather than continuing to dither, helping to secure the future of the live music sector, which currently hangs in the balance,” adds Bowdery.

 


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Israeli live industry now operating without restrictions

Israel’s successful Covid-19 vaccination programme is allowing event organisers in the country to operate as they did back in 2019, after the country’s government abolished any restrictions for mass gatherings.

The country’s emergence from pandemic restrictions has been rapid, thanks to its hugely effective vaccination regime, which has already resulted in the majority of the Israeli population being double jabbed.

That situation has allowed local promoter Shuki Weiss to press ahead with its national tour of local superstars Fortisakharof, who currently find themselves in the midst of an 11-date tour which will culminate in a headline show at the sold-out, 12,000-capacity inDnegev Festival in late September.

“It’s been a bit of a wild rollercoaster ride, but the thirst for live events is now massive,” says Shuki Weiss managing director Oren Arnon. “Last year we had two periods of shows with restrictions in June and September, but it was disappointing as they were shut down again quite quickly.”

One ability that has been key to the restart is being agile, Arnon tells IQ, as the changing guidelines allow production crews to implement different configurations.

“The original Fortisakharof tour was set for two shows at Ra’anana in May 2020 and both shows sold out with about 16,000 tickets,” he recalls. “They were postponed to September 2020 and then May ’21. In May there were still restrictions here, meaning we could only play to about 3,000-4,000 cap. So we broke down those two shows into a five-night residency at Ra’anana and then essentially sold a bunch more tickets – we’re ending up with about 23,000 in total.

“It’s been a bit of a wild rollercoaster ride, but the thirst for live events is now massive,”

‘But meanwhile, before we played the first show, they lifted the restrictions and in theory we could play 8,000-cap, but we had already set up a design for the show for 4,000 people, which we were able to expand to about 5,000 people.

“And then we had a round of missiles.

“So those two nights back-to-back became five nights over about ten days with some of the other theatres intertwined between, because they were already booked for dates that were after the first run.”

Arnon states that the sad fact of like in Israel is that people are used to military conflict. “But as soon as it’s over, everyone is also just used to getting back to normal and in this case I think that was magnified,” he says. “In Israeli culture, being outside with lots of people is incredibly normal for us and it’s a big part of why concerts have been such a huge draw, disproportionate to the nine million people that live in this country.”

Keen to share his experience of emerging from the pandemic, Arnon reports, “The first month here was such chaos with everything just suddenly opening up. The thirst was incredible and anything that was happening immediately was just getting eaten up.

“Concessions and security teams are having a hard time finding casual staff, but that’s mostly because Israel gave everybody unemployment money up until the end of June. But with the technical crews and especially the more experienced ones, everyone pretty much is back in the game.

International shows will depend on other territories also reaching a status similar to Israel

“But everyone is rusty – the venue is rusty, the audience is rusty – the whole thing has been a weird experience even down to relatively simple things like shows in venues, which we have been doing forever.

“But our shows no longer have to involve social distancing, or masks, and as of last week, we are not even checking for the green passport which was issued to everyone vaccinated here.

“From 1 June, we don’t need any testing or proof of vaccination for any mass gathering in Israel,” he explains, adding that the speed of vaccination and the numbers of people who lined up for the injections helped infection rates drop massively.

“I think we reached 65 or 70% about a month ago and then the infection rate just disappeared, there haven’t been people dying of it, the hospital beds have opened up, meaning now you can go anywhere whether you are vaccinated or not and the only place where there are restrictions are at the borders, where you still need PCR tests and there’s still monitoring of who comes into the country.”

As for the rest of the year, Arnon reveals that discussions with international acts are already happening, but shows will depend on other territories also reaching a status similar to Israel. “A lot of the acts we are speaking to are very hesitant, so we’re going to have to see who else is able to play along because going from the US to Israel for a one-off concert isn’t going to make sense to anyone, but there are some bands who are playing in the UK later this year who are looking at plans to come here, too. So we’re optimistic and keeping busy with what we’ve got in the meantime.”

 


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