Boris Johnson’s government is starting to look actively hostile towards Britain’s world-leading music scene

Alex Rice
·3-min read
<p>Alex Rice, lead singer of Sports Team, performing live during happier times for the music industry</p> (Jamie MacMillan)

Alex Rice, lead singer of Sports Team, performing live during happier times for the music industry

(Jamie MacMillan)

Last week we watched the rise and subsequent demise of the European Super League. It was over before it had even begun. Good news. But the story was spun as some sort of grassroots revolt, bringing together fans, politicians, and even the multi-millionaire owners of the football clubs which had not signed up.

For some, though, the outrage didn’t quite ring true. The universal condemnation from unaffiliated clubs and politicians seemed to me like just another instance of the rich crying foul after realising that the super-rich could trump their passions as well.

Nevertheless, it was a relief to hear Boris Johnson speak so passionately about defending the “great glories of this country’s cultural heritage”, even threatening to “drop a legislative bomb to stop [the European Super League]”.

But the prime minister’s defence of Britain’s culture should be seen as nothing more than a PR exercise until he takes action to defend that other crown jewel of British culture: the music festival.

Nothing captures the British summer more perfectly than the image of a festival-goer, poncho on, traipsing through mud with a can of warm Carling, to see their favourite act in a field with thousands of people who have migrated to the same temporary tent-city from every corner of the country.

The majority of festivals are genuinely independent, profit-free offerings, and are close to the heart of the “fans that have loved them all their lives” – people that Johnson now claims to care about, at least when it comes to football.

After this year of isolation, heartbreak and sacrifice, the public needs live music more than ever. But government rhetoric in defence of festivals has been pathetic compared to the fuss about football. “We are continuing to engage with the events industry and running a series of pilots to ensure events can restart as soon as possible,” a Treasury spokesperson said, blandly, when a group of cross-party MPs called for emergency help for music festivals.

Before they can go ahead, festivals need urgent access to government-backed insurance against coronavirus-related cancellations, in order to begin the extensive infrastructure work required to put on these events.

Government-backed insurance is the “big missing piece of the jigsaw”, said Greg Parmley, chief executive of the industry’s trade body, LIVE. “There is no commercial insurance available for coronavirus. Other governments are stepping up and helping; we feel like we are banging our head against a wall. We are seeing a steady stream of cancellations and it will get bigger until the summer.”

Germany has already made public funds available to protect festivals, and is working on a further €2.5bn (£2.3bn) fund for making venues Covid-secure and to cover event cancellation costs. So where is the UK’s “legislative bomb” to save music festivals?

Add to this the tumbleweed blowing across any action on the new touring conditions brought about by Brexit – which leave the participation of international acts in doubt, and groups potentially facing thousands of pounds worth of visa and instrument carnet fees – and this government starts to look not just indifferent to Britain’s world-leading music scene but actively hostile.

For many of Britain’s most loved festivals, it is already too late. Prior to cancellation, organisers of the Glastonbury Festival cited lack of insurance as “the biggest barrier” to going ahead.

The next few weeks are seen as a last-chance saloon for other festivals to receive the support they need. We got the right result for football last week. I hope we’ll be able to say the same for music before fans are consigned to another summer stuck at home, watching replays of their favourite artists on TV.

Alex Rice is the lead singer of Sports Team, the critically acclaimed British band who released their Mercury Prize-nominated debut album, ‘Deep Down Happy’, last year. Their new single “Happy (God’s Own Country)” is out now

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