‘Take action before it’s too late’ - Norfolk musician’s impassioned plea to save live music industry
- Credit: Alexandra Bone Photography
A Norfolk musician has written an open letter making an impassioned appeal for more help to save the live music industry.
Norwich singer-songwriter and multi instrumentalist Matt Watson said he feared action was needed now to save thousands of jobs that rely on live music and the wider arts.
With most live music venues dark and silent, and coronavirus restrictions getting tighter, it’s not clear when they will be reopening their doors. Gigs remain subject to safety measures and social distancing restrictions.
Mr Watson, who also works as a freelance tour manager, stage manager and sound technician, said the thousands of jobs were at risk in an industry that contributed £2.8 billion in taxation to the treasury last year.
In his letter aimed at the government and MPs, he states: “I don’t want to sound dramatic but this is the hard truth. If we do not take direct and immediate action we will lose some rarified skill sets and some incredible arts and live entertainment spaces forever.
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“There will be no turning back for so many. Please take action before it’s too late. What kind of society or government allows so many to lose their livelihoods like this?”
Earlier this summer hundreds of musicians, including Sir Tom Jones and Little Mix who had both been due to play big shows in Norwich, shared footage from their last live gig to demand government support for the music industry.
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Artists, venues, festivals and production companies used the hashtag #LetTheMusicPlay, with fans also posting in a show of support.
The campaign comes after 1,500 acts signed an open letter, addressed to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, warning of “mass insolvencies” across the UK’s industry due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Watson said restrictions on live performance not only affected musicians like himself, but also people in jobs ranging from technical staff to equipment hirers, caterers and haulage companies.
Transam Trucking, based on the Eye Business Park, near Diss, which provides trucks for tours by some of the biggest names in music, from Iron Maiden to Westlife, has been forced to furlough dozens of drivers.
Company director Natasha Highcroft said: “Almost overnight all our work went away. The summer is usually our busiest time of the year. We would have all of our trucks out, plus subcontractors, so for the summer to go is a massive loss.”
UK Music, which represents the industry, has welcomed chancellor Rishi Sunak’s emergency jobs scheme to replace the current furlough scheme which ends on October 31. But it highlighted the lack of direct support for the music industry.
UK Music Acting CEO Tom Kiehl said: “We welcome the extension of government support to safeguard jobs beyond the end of the existing furlough scheme.
“However, there appears to be little to give comfort to the many talented people in the music industry who are key to our entrepreneurial future.
“We need special arrangements and sector specific support for the music industry where 72pc of the workforce are self-employed until our industry can get back on its feet.”
OPEN LETTER BY MATT WATSON
You’ll probably know me as local Norwich singer-songwriter, The Magic Es guitarist and musician Matt Watson.
But I am also a freelance, self employed tour manager, stage manager and sound tech amongst the many others hats we all now have to wear to survive on any normal day in the arts industry.
I found myself today, speaking on behalf of that highly skilled community on BBC Radio Norfolk. In light of the fact today there has been many, including many well known members of the music world, such as Frank Turner and Elbow, making public the ‘#We Make Events’ campaign and action known today across social media and in the press.
In this conversation I openly called on our MPs to be doing far more to highlight our plight, due to Covid-19.
I call out the government and it’s frankly inept support from both sides of the political spectrum.
It seems Conservative and opposition alike, and of course PM Boris Johnson, are clearly ignoring this huge industry, that I’d like to point out, contributed £2.8 billion in taxation to the treasury last year alone.
Let’s look a little deeper at those numbers shall we? An industry that in 2019 contributed £10.8 billion, an industry whose productivity between 2006 and 2016 was greater than that of the UK economy as a whole?
It grew by £390 billion a year. One of our biggest exports globally!
An industry that employs one third of a million people. An industry that behind the scenes supports even more industry and workers from other sectors such as hospitality and so on.
The list is long. Trucking, caterers, riggers, lighting techs, sound techs, box office staff, ushers, promotional staff, venue management, caretakers, rehearsal spaces, recording studios, equipment providers, hire and repairs, van hire, drivers, runners, photographers, filmographers, editors, science communicators, educational shows for schools....the list goes on and on. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
These people allow culture, arts, museums and much more to exist. Yet it’s like we don’t exist.
Now some may argue “it’s only the arts”. Ok well, think for one moment about spending a day without art around you in some form or another during your daily life.
Radio, literature, design and artworks.
Who makes the sound work on the radio? Who films those shows on TV? Who writes the scripts, the poetry, the books, the plays?? And who subsequently has the skill set to create these beautiful and enriching things in our society?
Norwich itself as a city is incredibly rich in the arts from Norwich Arts Centre through to the Playhouse, The Brickmakers, Epic, The Waterfront. The many galleries and museums.
The wonderfully rich local hospitality industry that will rely in part on theatre and gig goers. Many of whom are local, independent businesses.
We have an incredible Norwich University of the Arts. We have a thriving unique and eclectic music scene. Independent venues and theatres. A deep, rich history of culture lines the lanes and alleys ways of our fine city as I know it does in so many others across the UK.
Real jewels in our crown and serious providers towards our local economies.
Now I say this with a heavy heart. And I don’t want to sound dramatic but this is the hard truth.
If we do not take direct and immediate action we will lose some rarified skill sets, some incredible arts and live entertainment spaces forever.
There will be no turning back for so, so many.
Do we want a world for our children bereft of culture or the ability to express themselves? Is this the future the government wants?
So I ask now. Please listen. Please take action before it’s too late. What kind of society is it without art?
What kind of society or government allows so many to lose their livelihoods like this?
Enough is enough.