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Music and theatre sue UK govt for pilot show data

Live music industry body LIVE and a range of theatre businesses, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, Cameron Mackintosh, Michael Harrison and Sonia Friedman, have commenced legal proceedings against the UK government to force it to hand over the report from its series of test events, the Events Research Programme (ERP).

The ERP is the government’s research into Covid-19 mitigations in sport, entertainment and business conferences settings. The music industry and theatre businesses have repeatedly called on the government to outline the scientific basis for its decision to maintain restrictions on events. Despite portions of the ERP economic impact assessment being leaked to the media this week, the government refused calls from many MPs in a debate on Tuesday 22 June to release the report in full.

Several UK festivals, including Kendal Calling, Truck and Let’s Rock, have cited the non-release of the ERP data as a reason for cancelling their 2021 events. “Without this safety guidance, there are numerous aspects of the festival we cannot plan, and which could lay us wide open to last minute unforeseen regulations or requirements which could scupper an already built festival,” reads a statement from Kendal Calling, which cancelled earlier this week.

Stuart Galbraith, CEO of Kilimanjaro Live (which recently acquired Let’s Rock) and co-founder of LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment), the representative body for the live music industry, says: “The live music industry has been very willing to work with government for the last year to show that our industry can operate safely. But it is intolerable that after running pilot shows for the government’s Events Research Programme, at our own cost, we have been blocked from seeing the results, leaving the whole sector in limbo with the real chance that the entire summer could collapse for the second year running.

“Even now, the live music sector has no idea what the rest of the summer brings, and we are left with a complete inability to plan ahead due to the government’s continued unwillingness to provide some form of insurance to enable events to move forward.”

“The govt’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead”

In the legal action, lodged today, the parties assert that the government has “flagrantly breached the ‘duty of candour’ which requires it to be transparent when faced with a legal challenge and that none of the reasons given for withholding the Events Research Programme material they seek withstand scrutiny”. They have asked the court to consider their application at an urgent hearing as soon as possible.

“The government’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead,” comments theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber. “The situation is beyond urgent.”

As well as declining to publish the ERP results, the bodies argue that the British government is yet to provide any form of insurance scheme for the sector or to make it clear what kind of ongoing mitigations may be required in the future – effectively making it impossible to plan for any live entertainment business. According to recent research from LIVE the potential four-week delay to reopening will lead to around 5,000 live music gigs being cancelled, as well as numerous theatre productions across the country, costing hundreds of millions of pounds in lost income.

Peter Gabriel, speaking for WOMAD Festival, says: “Without immediate government intervention, the festival industry is on the brink of collapse. That doesn’t mean cash, it means providing the certainty to enable us to deliver festivals, guidance on safety, and an understanding of how their timing affects us in the real world.

“We struggle to understand why these trials took place if the government can’t now tell us the results and how that will affect all of us”

“At the end of this week, WOMAD will be faced with one very difficult and heart-wrenching decision. Millions of pounds of investment and the livelihood of around five thousand people are at stake. Several pilot events have been successfully run over recent months. But, like other festival teams, we need to be told what that research means for WOMAD. We struggle to understand why these trials took place if the government can’t now tell us the results and how that will affect all of us.”

While today’s suit focuses on forcing the government to release the findings of its pilot programme, the suit is also critical of the lack of guidance for the forthcoming step four – the final stage of reopening, provisionally scheduled for 19 July. Lack of clear guidance was a contributing factor to Kendal Calling cancelling earlier this week despite it taking place after the step 4 date.

Craig Hassall, CEO of the Royal Albert Hall, says: “The chronic uncertainty and endless indecisiveness from government, and pilot events with no published results, have damaged audience confidence and further harmed a sector that has already been decimated by the pandemic. For as long as venues like the Royal Albert Hall, and hundreds more across the country, are prevented from effectively operating with no justification, we cannot play our part in supporting the critical ecosystem of freelancers, small businesses and suppliers who rely on us and who are so desperately in need of work.”

Live entertainment and theatre generate £11.25 billion in gross value added each year, and the sectors support just under one million jobs between them.

LIVE’s members are the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), Association for Electronic Music (AFEM), Association of Festival Organisers (AFO), Association of Independent Promoters (AIP), British Association of Concert Halls (BACH), Concert Promoters Association (CPA), Featured Artist Coalition (FAC), The Entertainment Agents’ Association (TEAA), Music Venue Trust (MVT), Music Managers Forum (MMF), National Arenas Association (NAA), Production Services Association (PSA) and Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR).

 


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Neil Warnock talks 150 years of Royal Albert Hall, 2021

Neil Warnock MBE, global head of touring for United Talent Agency, has said he’s cautiously optimistic about the potential for the impending Covid-19 vaccine to get the industry moving again after a “disastrous” 2020.

Speaking after today’s virtual Royal Albert Hall 150th anniversary press conference, Warnock – who is chairman of the London venue’s 150th anniversary committee – described the impact the pandemic has had on both artists and fans.

“This year has been an absolute disaster for the whole world and affected every strata of everybody’s lives,” he said. “The music element – of not being at a show and fans not being able to interact with performers – has, especially, been so harmful to everyone’s health. Music is such a key component in so many people’s lives.

“I’ve talked to artists who have been going up the wall, some of whom normally play 150 shows a year. It’s been such a loss for them, and so hard on everyone.”

Warnock said while some musicians have been able to take advantage of live music’s year off, it depends on the artist and their attitude towards touring. “Some of them have looked at it and said, ‘I should be working on music, I should be writing a book,’ or whatever it is they’re working on, and used [2020] extremely well, artistically,” he continued. “Whereas other artists have said, ‘No – just want to get out there and perform.’”

The Royal Albert Hall today unveiled the programme for its 150th anniversary celebrations, which kick off on 29 March 2021 – exactly 150 years to the day of its opening – and extend into 2022.

The arena’s chief executive, Craig Hassall, announced the plans, which include concerts, festivals, dance shows and more, at a virtual press conference streamed live from the 5,200-capacity venue this morning (3 December).

“Being involved in the 150th anniversary is such a fantastic honour”

“Despite the devastating impact of the pandemic, which has closed our treasured building to the public for the first time since the Second World War, we are determined to host a full celebration of our 150th anniversary,” he told journalists.

“Since its opening, this extraordinary venue has borne witness to, and played a central part in, seismic cultural and social change. The interests, manners and social mores of the people may have changed, but this beautiful building and what it represents remains the same a century and a half later: a meeting place, a reflection of contemporary Britain, and a home for exhilarating live performance and events of international significance.

“I want to thank the whole creative industry, our dedicated staff and all of the artists involved for their support in announcing this programme today.”

The hall was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, and named in memory of her late husband, Prince Albert. Closed since March, it will reopen to fans for a programme of carol concerts over the Christmas period, with capacity limited to 1,000.

Among the highlights of the venue’s 150th anniversary programme are headline shows by the likes of Patti Smith, Jon Hopkins, Gregory Porter, Tinie (Tempah), Brian Wilson, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel and Alfie Boe, while alt-folk act This is the Kit will perform in an ongoing concert series, Albert Sessions, and run a workshop for local teenagers.

Elsewhere, singer-songwriter KT Tunstall will lead a new mentorship programme for young female artists, and Nile Rodgers will compose a “pop anthem” for the anniversary, using a full orchestra and singers from across the community.

Non-pop/rock programming includes a special concert on 29 March 2021, which will see the debut of a specially commissioned multimedia piece, A Circle of Sound, composed by David Arnold; a new piece for the hall’s famous Henry Willis organ by Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino (Up, Rogue One); and a new staging of Matthew Bourne’s dance production, The Car Man.

“We are determined to host a full celebration of our 150th”

According to Warnock, there will be further live music events announced in the run-up the anniversary when there is more clarity on the regulations around Covid-19.

During the press conference, Warnock relayed a memorable anecdote about the Who’s Roger Daltrey being pelted with coins by angry teddy boys in 1969, and spoke of his love for the Royal Albert Hall, whose “magic” he says is unmatched by another venue anywhere in the world, and said he “can’t wait” to be in a position to be announcing more acts.

“Being involved in the 150th anniversary is such a fantastic honour, as I’ve been involved with the hall for 50 years,” he told IQ afterwards. “We’re going to have acts from right the way across the spectrum, from every part of the world and for every age range. It’s definitely going to tick every box.”

Lucy Noble, the Albert Hall’s artistic and commercial director, confirmed that while some plans have been postponed or deferred as a result of the pandemic, there are some “very exciting events to be announced in due course.”

With a vaccine against Covid-19 now approved in the UK, and the hope that other countries will soon follow suit, Warnock added that he’s cautiously optimistic about the resumption of touring next year, with something approaching a return to normal by the summer.

“We’ve got this pinpoint of light in the [form of the] vaccine, so hopefully that can be shared with as many people as soon as possible,” he commented, “which will then give us the health ‘passport’ we need so that artists can properly react with audiences, and fans can react with those artists, again. That’s all we can hope for.”

For the 150th anniversary programme as it stands so far, visit the Royal Albert Hall website.

 


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