Normality is resuming but the music industry must be given attention - Anthony Clavane

Things, finally, appear to be getting back to normal. Wimbledon has returned, football crowds are cheering on Gareth Southgate’s heroes at Euro 2020 and around 19,000 fans or so will be allowed in to watch the cricket international between England and Pakistan next month.

Elton John live in concert at Leigh Sports Village. Picture: Neil Cross.
Elton John live in concert at Leigh Sports Village. Picture: Neil Cross.

Ah, bliss.

Meanwhile, there are serious concerns about the future of the music industry.

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As you will have gathered from previous columns, I am into sport in a big way. But I am also into music in a big way, and I can’t help thinking that elite sporting events – especially

the “it’s coming home” ones where the Government feels obliged to bask in the afterglow of national success – are being prioritised ahead of the live music scene.

It’s bad enough that Prime Minister Boris Johnson kept schtum about the recent research his ministers commissioned into allowing gigs, musicals, plays and festivals to come back into our lives this summer until legal action was launched by Andrew Lloyd Webber and others in the entertainment industry.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s long-awaited report revealed there had been just 28 cases of Covid recorded during nine pilot events involving 58,000 attendees.

But a lack of any official guidance on safe reopenings to accompany the report’s findings has contributed to a host of music festivals around the country being cancelled.

Andy Smith, director and co-founder of Kendal Calling festival, said: “It is this lack of guidance which this week caused the cancellation of Kendal Calling, Truck and a host of other festivals and events large and small. People are angry. When will events get the clarity we need on how to begin to plan to reopen?”

As if that wasn’t bad enough, a true entertainment legend this week entered the fray.

Step forward Elton John, the latest iconic figure to express outrage at the shabby treatment of the music industry.

As he points out, even when the concert business gets back into full, post-Covid-19 swing, performers’ jobs will still be at risk thanks to the touring restrictions brought about by Brexit.

Once this country left the European Union, our musicians were no longer guaranteed visa-free travel to the EU. The subsequent increase in the costs and red tape of touring, as well as hitting musicians, has dealt a huge blow to myriad performers, artists and creative professionals.

Incredibly, instead of listening to one of the world’s most durable stars, Brexit minister David Frost made light of his concerns, quipping that Elton John had hits before the UK joined the European Union in 1973.

It might make headlines, and give the impression that the issue can be boiled down to a personality clash with a snowflake celebrity megastar, but such a dismissive response once again reveals how out of touch the Government is with the arts and entertainment sector.

It was a ridiculous comment for Frost to make.

For one thing, you could argue that his career actually took off in the year we joined the common market – 1973, after all, saw the release of the sublime, and hugely influential, album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – and that his seven number one UK hits all took place while we were in the European Union.

More importantly, instead of becoming embroiled in a war of words with one of our greatest ever musical exports, the Government should try engaging with the concerns

of the thousands of bands, artists, musicians and DJs whose livelihoods are under threat.

British performers working abroad generate a huge income – but research by the Incorporated Society of Musicians has revealed that 94 per cent of them have been negatively affected by the failure to negotiate visa-free travel and Europe-wide work permits for crew and acts.

Perhaps the last word should go to another pop megastar, the mighty Bruce Dickinson, who joined Elton John in highlighting the negative impact of Brexit on musicians.

“Don’t get me started on the Government’s attitude to the entertainment industry,” he told Kay Burley on Sky News. “We are probably one of the UK’s major exports. I mean … come on.

And yet we’re sitting here, we can’t do anything.”

Actually, perhaps the last word shouldn’t go to the Iron Maiden frontman. As he, himself, admitted: “It’s very well known that I voted for Brexit.”