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Probe into Sacha Lord firm’s £400k Covid grant

Arts Council England and Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) are probing a £400,000 Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) grant awarded to a business controlled by Parklife and The Warehouse Project co-founder Sacha Lord.

The £1.57 billion CRF was launched by the British government in 2020 to help the UK’s arts and culture sector weather the impact of Covid.

Lord, who is also Greater Manchester’s night time economy adviser and chair of the Night Time Industries Association, threatened to sue online local news publication The Mill for defamation after it alleged Lord had made “a series of highly misleading claims about the nature” of Primary Event Solutions (PES), in his ultimately successful funding application.

The Mill‘s report centres on PES, which changed its name from Primary Security to Primary Events in October 2020 – three months before the application was submitted – claiming to provide a wide range of event services rather than just security. Lord served as a director of the firm, which was wound up in September 2023, owing £67,637. He said diversification of its activities had been on the cards “from at least July 2020”.

“During the Covid lockdowns, I knew of many businesses pivoting to new sectors to survive,” he said. “This was something I actively encouraged other businesses to do and I wanted Primary Security Limited to do the same.”

Lord said The Mill‘s allegations “are all false”, with lawyers acting for the 52-year-old demanding the website take down the story and issue an apology. However, he has since withdrawn his threat, saying he has opted “not to pursue legal action for the time being”.

“Following The Mill’s first article on 16 May 2024, in which very serious and damaging defamatory allegations were made, I instructed lawyers to commence legal proceedings,” Lord said in a statement. “However, I have decided not to pursue legal action for the time being, but will review this position on an ongoing basis. I believe legal proceedings would be a major distraction from my work and family life and I also do not wish to stifle The Mill’s freedom of expression even though — in this instance — I reject their allegations in the strongest terms.”

“In light of new information that has been directly brought to our attention this week, we will be conducting additional checks on the application”

PES applied for more than £480,000 via the CRF and was awarded a total of £401,928.

The Manchester Evening News reports Arts Council England previously received a complaint about the grant in December 2022, but concluded there had been no misuse of public funds. The Arts Council says it will now make “additional checks” on the January 2021 submission.

“In light of new information that has been directly brought to our attention this week, we will be conducting additional checks on the application from Primary Event Solutions,” says the government-financed development agency.

A GCMA spokesperson adds: “We welcome the Arts Council England’s decision to undertake additional checks and will co-operate with this work. We have also begun our own fact-finding exercise based on new information.”

In response, Lord said he would “fully cooperate” with the process and was confident that “the outcomes will confirm that Primary Events Solutions Limited has not misled the Arts Council or the public, nor has it misused any public money”.

Lord is night-time economy adviser to Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who told BBC Radio Manchester the claims would “be looked at properly”, but called for “some balance and recognition” of Lord’s impact on Greater Manchester’s nightlife. He added there was a “sense of a bit of a campaign that’s being launched” against Lord, who had done an “outstanding job” for the region.

 


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Take That rack up AO Arena Manchester milestone

Take That have become the first band ever to play 50 shows at Manchester’s AO Arena.

The band, who first played the venue in 1995 during their Nobody Else Tour, reached the milestone during their five-night run at the venue from 7-12 May as part of their current This Life On Tour.

This Life On Tour has sold more than 700,000 tickets across 41 dates in 15 UK cities, making it the biggest-selling tour ticket sales for a UK artist this year. Plus the band broke their own record last month for the most number of shows performed at The O2 in London, with their tally now totalling 39.

“We’re delighted that we’ve been able to celebrate Take That’s 50th Show at the AO Arena, right here in the heart of the action,” says AO Arena general manager Jen Mitchell. “Not only do we enjoy having the band here, we love hosting their fans and making every moment memorable.”

“I’d like to thank AO Arena for stepping up and at the 11th hour to endure the mammoth task of working with ticket outlets to transfer tens of thousands of tickets”

Thousands of fans were surprised with Golden Tickets over the course of the residency, upgrading their experience into the arena’s new Mezz bar. The ASM Global-operated AO Arena has seen a £70m investment over the past two years, transforming the venue and upgrading its capacity to 23,000. The redevelopment has reimagined existing spaces and new offerings including The Mezz bar and restaurant and a new lower concourse.

AO Arena stepped in to host the five concerts, along with a show by A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, following a delay in the opening of rival Manchester site Co-op Live, which was originally due to host the dates.

“I’d like to thank AO Arena for stepping up and at the 11th hour to endure the mammoth task of working with ticket outlets to transfer tens of thousands of tickets,” adds Sacha Lord, night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester.

Upcoming concerts at AO Arena include Nickelback, Girls Aloud, Troye Sivan, Tool, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Becky Hill, The Corrs, Alice Cooper, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Childish Gambino.

 


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The Great Escape unveils first speakers for 2024

The Great Escape (TGE) conference has announced its themes and first guest speakers for its revamped 2024 edition.

The UK music industry event returns to Brighton from Wednesday 15 May to Saturday 18 May, with the Council of Music Makers (CMM), The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), BBC Introducing and Youth Music each set to curate a day of the programme.

Confirmed speakers include Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches), Parklife and The Warehouse Project co-founder Sacha Lord, who is also night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester and chair of the Night Time Industries Association, and the They Think It’s All Sober podcast.

In the second room, The Great Escape’s partners will host panels including TikTok x Ticketmaster, The Spanish Wave, Audio Network, BPI, Pollstar, and Music Declares Emergency.

TGE has also announced the return of the Steve Strange Award for its third year. Introduced in honour of the late live agent and X-Ray Touring co-founder, the award recognises a music act that is breaking through creative boundaries. The recipient, who will receive a cash prize of £5,000, will be revealed on Monday 20 May.

“The scope of what’s going to be covered is more in depth and bigger and better than ever”

“We’re incredibly excited for how this brand new evolution of The Great Escape conference is shaping up,” says Rory Bett, CEO of organiser MAMA Festivals. “By bringing in some of the industry’s biggest and best networks and experts to develop the event, the scope of what’s going to be covered is more in depth and bigger and better than ever. This is the UK’s number one event for networking and getting ahead in the music industry like you’ve never seen it before.”

On 16 May, the CMM, the umbrella organisation representing the Ivors Academy, Featured Artists Coalition, Music Managers Forum, MPG and the Musicians’ Union, will cover key areas for people working in the business of music creation

The following day, the NTIA will provide a deep dive into the night time economy and current the state of play for venues and live entertainment. Then, on 18 May, BBC Introducing and Youth Music will focus on professional development for the next generation of emerging artists and entrepreneurs.

Saturday will also feature partner panels hosted by AudioActive, an organisation creating social change through music, and educational event platform THEFUTUREIS.

New for 2024, TGE has launched a brand-new Saturday-only conference ticket for £35, with a Saturday conference & festival combo ticket priced £75.

 


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Minsters urged to expand drug testing at festivals

A parliamentary committee has urged the UK government to expand on-site drug testing at festivals.

In a newly published report, the Home Affairs Committee criticises drug laws as “outdated and in need of reform” and calls for a new legislative and funding framework that enables “practical, risk-reducing interventions such as establishing a pilot drug consumption facility and drug testing at festivals”.

The committee points out that countries such as the United States, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Canada, Austria and Australia have established drug checking services for festival-goers.

“Drug-checking services can help reduce the harms caused by high strength or dangerous combinations of drugs, and provide advice on harm reduction to users,” it says. “The government should expand the availability of these services at music festivals and within the night-time economy, with a dedicated licensing scheme in place ahead of the 2024 festival season.”

UK promoters previously accused the Home Office of putting gig-goers “at risk” following an apparent U-turn on drug testing at festivals earlier this summer.

Manchester’s 80,000-cap Parklife festival was unable to test confiscated pills at the June event after drug testing nonprofit The Loop was informed it needed to apply for a special licence rather than relying on its agreement with the police. The licence costs upwards of £3,000 and can take three months to process.

Parklife had worked with police and The Loop to test confiscated drugs on site for the previous eight years. Attendees were previously able to submit drugs for testing to establish their content before consumption, with a “push notification” alert subsequently sent to them if the tests show the drugs are a serious threat to health.

“There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this”

The festival’s founder, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord, argued that without the provision of drug checking, the risk of drug-related harms or overdose at festivals could increase.

However, a Home Office spokesperson moved to distance the government from the committee’s recommendations.

“There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this,’ says the spokesperson. “Our 10-year drugs strategy set out ambitious plans, backed with a record £3bn funding over three years, to tackle the supply of illicit drugs through relentless policing action and building a world-class system of treatment and recovery to turn people’s lives around and prevent crime.”

In 2016, Secret Garden Party became the first British camping festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. A drug harm-reduction campaign piloted by the Irish HSE (Health and Safety Executive) at last summer’s Electric Picnic was also rolled out across a number of other festivals in Ireland this summer.

In the wake of the latest report, Night Time Industries Association CEO Michael Kill is calling for urgent modernisation of the UK government’s drug policy.

“The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has served its purpose, but the landscape has evolved dramatically since its enactment,” says Kill. “Our European neighbours have taken proactive measures to address drug-related challenges, prioritising harm reduction and public safety. It is high time for the UK to catch up and adopt a more pragmatic and modern approach.”

 


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UK promoters hit out at drug testing ‘U-turn’

UK promoters have accused the Home Office of putting gig-goers “at risk” following an apparent U-turn on drug testing at festivals.

The Guardian reports that Manchester’s 80,000-cap Parklife festival was unable to test confiscated pills last weekend after drug testing nonprofit The Loop was informed it needed to apply for a special licence rather than relying on its agreement with the police.

Parklife co-founder and night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord decries the late intervention by the government department.

“Drug testing onsite has been an essential part of the work we do with the support of Greater Manchester police to keep festivalgoers safe. This move is a disappointing, senseless U-turn of government policy that puts people at risk,” he says.

“This huge misstep from the Home Office could set a potentially dangerous precedent for the summer’s festival season. We call for an immediate reversal of this decision so that organisers can continue to prioritise the safety of festivalgoers.”

“If festival organisers fear their safeguarding measures will be pulled at the 11th hour, then how can we guarantee the wellbeing of our guests?”

The Heaton Park event had worked with police and The Loop to test confiscated drugs on site for the previous eight years. Attendees were previously able to submit drugs for testing to establish their content before consumption, with a “push notification” alert subsequently sent to them if the tests show the drugs are a serious threat to health.

Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn describes the latest turn of events is “extremely worrying” for both the industry and fans.

“If festival organisers fear their safeguarding measures will be pulled at the 11th hour, then how can we guarantee the wellbeing of our guests?” he tells the Guardian.

In response, a spokesperson for the Home Office says: “Anyone interested in undertaking lawful activities involving the possession, supply or production of controlled drugs, including those who wish to provide drug testing services, need to apply for a Home Office licence.

“Festival organisers in consultation with local partners are responsible for decisions relating to drug testing at festivals. We will continue an open dialogue with prospective licensees throughout the festival season.”

According to festival organisers, a Home Office licence can cost in excess of £3,000

In 2016, Secret Garden Party became the first British camping festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. Jon Drape, whose Ground Control Productions company works with Kendal Calling, told IQ at the time drug testing is a “no-brainer”, adding around a quarter of those who tested their drugs opted to bin them after discovering their content.

According to festival organisers, a Home Office licence can take more than three months to be granted, and can cost in excess of £3,000 (€3,500).

It was recently announced, meanwhile, that drug harm-reduction campaign piloted by the Irish HSE (Health and Safety Executive) at last summer’s Electric Picnic is being rolled out across a number of other festivals in Ireland.

The Safer Nightlife programme will include “back of house” drug checking through the use of surrender bins, media awareness and a social media campaign. Teams of HSE trained volunteers will available to talk about the scheme, drug trends and harm-reduction practices with attendees, while also supporting people in cases of drug emergencies.

 


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Sacha Lord appointed chair of NTIA board

Parklife and The Warehouse Project co-founder Sacha Lord has been appointed chair of the UK’s Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) board of directors.

Lord, who is night time economy advisor for Greater Manchester, has worked with the NTIA and stakeholders across the UK over the last two years.

The trade association has been at the heart of the fight to gain representation and support for businesses throughout the pandemic.

“The Night Time Industries Association is a critical player in the sector, and has been a key voice in representing operators, not just in London but nationally across the UK,” says Lord.

“I am honoured to be joining as chair at this pivotal time in the sector’s recovery. There is still so much work to be done to help operators through these difficult times, and I wholly support the NTIA in their efforts to create better working practices for those in the industry, achieve greater funding for businesses nationwide, and develop vital initiatives to ensure everyone working within, or using the night time economy, gets home safely.”

“We are looking forward to harnessing his passion and drive in establishing a stronger voice for the sector”

NTIA CEO Michael Kill adds: “I have been lucky enough to have worked very closely with Sacha over the last three years, and alongside welcoming him as the chair of the board of directors at the Night Time Industries Association, would like to personally thank him on behalf of the industry for his exceptional work and support during the crisis.

“As a leading figurehead within our industry, we are looking forward to harnessing his passion and drive in establishing a stronger voice for the sector, adding another dimension to the public and political agenda to drive home positive change, and support an extremely ambitious strategy for the sector in the future. The unanimous appointment by the board is testament to the tireless work that he has put into representing this industry.”

 


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Millions expected to attend illegal parties on NYE

More than 5,000 unlawful parties are expected to take place in the UK over the new year weekend, the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has warned.

The association, which represents more than 100 nightclubs, bars and music venues, says there is a risk of “millions of people converging across the UK” from 31 December–3 January, sparking fears of a fresh coronavirus outbreak in January.

The situation, it says, is exacerbated by the ongoing closure of most night-time businesses, which “would normally manage huge crowds of people through the new year’s celebrations”.

Illegal raves have been on the increase across Europe since the summer as frustration builds over coronavirus restrictions preventing legal gatherings.

“There is a growing concern that new year’s eve is going to culminate in social unrest”

“There is a growing concern that new year’s eve is going to culminate in social unrest and will see a substantial number of illegal parties and mass gatherings following the closure of businesses at 11pm, with a real risk of overwhelming the police and emergency services,” comments Michael Kill, CEO of the NTIA.

“We are estimating that the UK will be witness to over 5,000 illegal parties across new year’s eve weekend. The government needs to consider ways in which to manage this grave situation – people will want to celebrate the end of 2020 in their own way, so ignoring the issue will not resolve what will be a significant car crash in every sense of the term.”

Parklife promoter and Manchester night czar Sacha Lord adds: “The closure of hospitality venues in tier three, combined with the 11pm curfew elsewhere, only serves to encourage house parties and outdoor gatherings, and it’s inevitable we will see an increase of these on new year’s eve.

“I urge all those considering hosting or attending a gathering to think about those around them who may be vulnerable to Covid-19, and to put their health and safety first.”

 


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Let us dance, says UK electronic music sector

Some of the most prominent artists from the UK’s dance music sector have joined forces with festivals, nightclubs and industry figures to issue an urgent plea for support from the government.

The #LetUsDance campaign urges the government to recognise dance music clubs and events as an important part of the nation’s art and culture in parity with the wider live music sector, to ensure equal access to support.

The campaign also encourages fans, artists and industry professionals to post a photo from a recent club night or dance festival, along with the #LetUsDance hashtag, with a note supporting its place within arts and culture. Supporters can also send a letter to their local MP to emphasise the importance of the sector.

The call for support comes following the live music industry’s #LetTheMusicPlay campaign, which preceded the announcement of a £1.57 billion support package for Britain’s arts and culture sector.

However, the government narrative to-date on the allocation of this support has been unclear, and appears not to include nightclubs, dance music events and festivals.

The Night Time Industries Association states it is “keen to gain assurances from government that dance music venues and nightclubs will be eligible to apply for the funding”, fearing it may “be reserved purely for venues like the Royal Albert Hall and the West End”.

“We call on the government to recognise this sector as a significant part of the nation’s art and culture, and ensure fair and equal access to the support offered to the wider live music sector”

The campaign is supported by artists including Fatboy Slim, Massive Attack, Thom Yorke, Simone Butler of Primal Scream, Caribou, Four Tet, Norman Jay OBE, Daniel Avery, Charlotte de Witte, Pete Tong and Andy C.

“Nightclubs and festivals are the beating heart of the UK dance scene; providing collective joy to millions of fans each year, providing employment and incomes for an interdependent network of hundreds of thousands of people, while contributing hundreds of millions to the economy,” says Greg Marshall, general manager of the Association for Electronic Music (Afem).

“We call on the government to recognise this sector as a significant part of the nation’s art and culture, and ensure fair and equal access to the support offered to the wider live music sector.”

Sacha Lord, founder of the Warehouse Project club nights and nightlife advisor for Greater Manchester says he is “astounded and confused” that the government’s arts rescue package does not include the UK dance music industry.

“There has always been an elitist snobbery towards electronic and dance music, however, I would argue that this sector reaches more people in terms of culture, as some of our theatres do,” says Lord.

“I call out the government, not only to recognise this part of the industry, but also put in place guidance and support to protect our venues, festivals, artists, freelancers, and supply chain. That is why today, I’m fully backing the #LetUsDance Campaign.”

There are over 1,600 nightclubs across the UK, which play a significant role in supporting the wider night-time economy that generates £66bn in revenue per year (6% of the UK’s total).

 


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Boost for Manchester nightlife as new venue opens

A brand-new, socially distanced outdoor events space is preparing to open in Manchester city centre this weekend, as news comes that two of the city’s music venues – Gorilla and Deaf Institute – have been saved from closure.

Escape to Freight Island, the brainchild of veteran Manchester DJs Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford (The Unabombers), together with Gareth Cooper of Festival No.6/Broadwick Live, Jon Drape of Engine No.4 and venue operator Dan Morris, is a large, socially distanced food and entertainment complex launching at Broadwick’s 10,000-capacity Depot Mayfield site this weekend.

The space can hold up to 600 people while complying with social distancing rules, with plans to bring the capacity up to 2,500 once measures relax. Platform 15 is the first part of the complex to open, with the full launch to follow.

DJ Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy will perform at Platform 15 on its opening night on Friday (24 July), with Mr Scruff, Mikey D.O.N. and Jamie Groovement playing the following evening. Norman Jay MBE and Mass will close out Escape to Freight Island’s inaugural weekend on Sunday.

Other acts scheduled to play at Platform 15 include Gilles Peterson, Erol Alkan and Greg Wilson, with events organised in conjunction with Manchester Pride, Festival No.6 and We Out Here Festival, and venue Band on the Wall, among others.

The space is all seated, with all food and drink ordered via an app and QR system. Fans must book in advance, with groups of up to 12 permitted. A staggered arrival system, managed queuing and toilet areas and extra hygiene precautions all form part of the complex’s social and safe manifesto.

“Platform 15 will give a flavour of what is to come when we launch the full Escape to Freight Island experience, so let’s all meet at Platform 15 to begin our escape to freedom,” comments Cowdrey.

“Let’s all meet at Platform 15 to begin our escape to freedom”

The opening of the new venue comes as many around the UK, and the world, struggle under the financial pressures of Covid-19.

Manchester venues Gorilla (600-cap.) and Deaf Institute (260-cap.) last week announced they were closing their doors permanently due to the pandemic. However, it emerged yesterday (22 June) that the venues have now been acquired by venue group Tokyo Industries (TI).

TI founder Aaron Mellor says the group has been working together with promoter SSD Concerts – which is launching the UK’s first socially distanced arena next month – and the Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess, to come up with ways “to help save both venues and their existing operating style in a post-Covid world.”

“So, looks like the story is out Deaf Institute and Gorilla have been saved and will be kept as live music venues as we know and love them,” writes Burgess in a Twitter post.

“I’ve been talking with the new owners over the weekend and we’ll be doing all we can to help with the next chapter.”

Manchester night-time economy advisor and Parklife founder Sacha Lord thanked mayor Andy Burnham for “helping to raise the profile” of the two venues’ plight.

“Great news…all done within four working days. Jobs saved and two of the city centres best live music venues kept alive,” tweeted Lord.

Bookings for Escape to Freight Island can be made here.

 


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Manchester winds down United We Stream to ‘rebuild’

Manchester’s United We Stream online concert platform will be wound down from 7 June in order for the city focus its efforts on rebuilding its night-time economy, co-creator Sacha Lord has announced.

United We Stream UK launched on 3 April, taking inspiration from the original initiative in Berlin. In the weeks since, it has raised more than £380,000 for those unable to work during the Covid-19 pandemic, reaching 14 million people who tuned in to see live performances by the likes of Melanie C, Paul Oakenfold, Roger Sanchez, as well as DJ events such as two 12-hour ‘Hacienda House Parties’, which reached a combined 3.5m people.

The Warehouse Project/Parklife Festival’s Lord, who is also Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, says the weekly shows will now give way to one-off events featuring emerging Manchester talent. Funding will also be redirected towards the city’s night-time businesses.

“When United We Stream was launched, we weren’t sure anyone would watch it, let alone donate,” he says. Yet the public has helped raise over £382,000 in just under two months, and for that I, and all the businesses who will benefit from these funds, are eternally grateful.

“To see our community come together to support these businesses is humbling”

“The night-time economy is one of the biggest sectors for employment in Greater Manchester and has been hit hardest by the pandemic. To see our community come together to support these businesses is humbling and demonstrates the unmatched community spirit of our city-region.”

In addition to voluntary donations, United We Stream initiative received corporate financial support from Live Nation, OVG, Parlophone Records, Twitter and more.

“The platform will now echo this spirit of togetherness and go on to provide a free space for disadvantaged musicians and artists across Greater Manchester,” continues Lord.

“I’m sure that by providing a platform for unsigned talent that we will go on to discover more of the household names that our region is so famous for.”

 


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