Kilimanjaro Live CEO, and Concert Promoters Association (CPA) vice chairman, Stuart Galbraith tells Christopher Barrett that the Government guidance for indoor and outdoor concerts is unworkable at scale and that the industry urgently needs an opening timeline and Government-underwritten risk insurance in order to prevent hundreds of thousands of job losses.
One of the founders of the 105,000-capacity Download festival, Galbraith currently oversees outdoor events including the 16,000-capacity Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival in Inverness and Kew Gardens concert series Kew The Music, along with a busy concert touring calendar. Like everyone in the live business, Galbraith is experiencing a summer like no other.
“I am not aware of a single indoor concert or outdoor music event, at scale, that is planned to take place in the near future in the UK because it is not possible from a financial or practical point of view under the current guidance,” says Galbraith.
Following the success of the cross-industry #LetTheMusicPlay campaign, Galbraith says the CPA now has a direct line to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and the organisation has made it abundantly clear that the recently announced guidance is not applicable and workable for the vast majority of concerts or festivals.
He says, “It is simply not possible, in almost any venue, to have people socially distanced around toilets, bars, foyers and queues. Our calculations show that in order to have social distancing you would have to reduce the capacity to around 30% and that is not viable financially.
“Many events can happen with social distancing, such as firework displays, fetes, agricultural shows and exhibitions but when it comes to festivals and concerts it is all about the audience being in close proximity.”
With that in mind, Galbraith says the campaign to get live shows operating again is far from over: “The live music business needs a government-underwritten risk insurance scheme. Otherwise, you are going to see far fewer events take place going forward because they are just too risky without insurance cover for coronavirus.”
The DCMS has reached stage four of its five-stage plan to return the events industry to normality, meaning performances are allowed indoors and outdoors with a limited and distanced audience. At stage five performances will be allowed indoors and outdoors, with a “fuller audience”.
It has become evident that if you talk together, with one voice, on behalf of the whole sector then you are heard more clearly by government.
Says Galbraith, “The timing of the return is not so crucial now because the whole of the festival industry has written off this summer, but the hope is that next summer the festival season will take place in its entirety. That is down to circumstances beyond our control, if there is a significant rise in Covid-19 cases and no vaccine and therefore no way of allowing mass gatherings, then the 2021 festival season will be in serious jeopardy. The hope is that we will be up and running with indoor events by quarter one next year and with festivals by quarter two.”
The promoter says he is pleased with the results of the #LetTheMusicPlay campaign, not least the concert and festival VAT cut to 5% and the impact it had on funding: “According to feedback from the DCMS, that campaign was key in getting the package settled at £1.57 billion, which is significantly up on the £200 million we are told was being considered the previous week.”
Emphasising that the live music industry was worth £4.5bn to the British economy in 2019 and that it supports 210,000 jobs, the July 2 campaign saw industry organisations work together in an unprecedented way. Among the many to take part were the Featured Artists Coalition, Music Managers Forum, UK Music, National Arenas Association, Association of Independent Festivals and the National Outdoor Events Association.
“It is industries like ours that will help the country get back on its feet again because to the HMRC we are a cash cow, as every single thing is vatable, and we contribute nearly £5bn a year to Exchequer.”
Says Galbraith, “During the first couple of months of the lockdown we, as an industry, suffered terribly through a lack of profile and coordinated PR, government lobbying and liaison. At the DCMS there was a lot of confusion about who to deal with because there wasn’t one voice representing the live industry. It has become evident that if you talk together, with one voice, on behalf of the whole sector then you are heard more clearly by government.
“The next phase is to reiterate that it is not just about superstars it is about all the people who help get the superstars on stage: the hundreds of thousands of people, from truck drivers to box office staff, stage crews to infrastructure suppliers. Those jobs need safeguarding, if they are not safeguarded then that contribution to the exchequer will be significantly slashed in future years.
“It is industries like ours that will help the country get back on its feet again because to the HMRC we are a cash cow, as every single thing is vatable, and we contribute nearly £5bn a year to the Exchequer.”