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Beef Of The Week #434: Neil Young v Barclaycard

By | Published on Friday 14 December 2018

Neil Young

I don’t think I’ve ever written anything about Neil Young that hasn’t been an absolute joy to unravel. The man seems incapable of just doing a thing and letting it play out as expected.

Most artists get booked to play a gig and then wait around until said gig is due to happen, possibly posting a few plugs to their socials in the meantime. Neil Young gets booked to play a gig, takes issue with how the gig was announced, forces the sponsor to pull out, and ensures that a whole day of a festival is removed but not cancelled. In this particular case, anyway.

It all started so simply. Late last month it was announced that Neil Young and Bob Dylan would together co-headline a day of next year’s Barclaycard British Summer Time festival which takes place in London’s Hyde Park.

BST is one of those events that actually sits somewhere between a festival and a series of standalone live shows. Run over a couple of weeks in July, each day is a separate event, but they are all united under one brand. It’s been running since 2013 – always sponsored by Barclaycard – since AEG took control of live music in Hyde Park from rival Live Nation.

So that’s all fine. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Now we need to talk about this website called the Neil Young Archives. Part of Young’s long running campaign to achieve better quality digital music, it’s a website where fans can pay to access his archive of studio and live recordings, concert films and more, all provided at a level of sound quality the man himself is happy with. Subscribers are also promised pre-sale access to all of his live shows.

However, tickets for the Hyde Park concert were put on sale without this happening, causing a load of NYA subscribers to write emails of complaint, many of which were published on the letters page of the site’s virtual newspaper, The Times Contrarian. Others also pointed out that the show was sponsored by Barclaycard, the credit card subsidiary of Barclays Bank. The bank’s record of funding the fossil fuel industry, some pointed out, did not seem to sit with Young’s stance as an environmentalist.

So that, I think, is all the background information covered. Enter Neil Young. “You who were taken by surprise waking up to the Bob Dylan/Neil Young Hyde Park concert announcement posted on every outlet except NYA, might wonder why it was not on NYA”, Young wrote in a since deleted update to the site’s subscribers. “And you should. We’re sorry. Like you, I had no idea the announcement was coming that day”.

He continued: “I was still finessing the art for the poster and trying to make sure that all the details of the show were agreeable to me. Then, suddenly, someone jumped the gun. The tickets were put on sale and the announcement was made, all without my knowledge”.

I’m still not clear what poster Young was working on, given that BST has its own distinct branding, with promotional materials for all the shows staged under that banner using the same template. Presumably it was a poster without any mention of the big bad sponsor on it. But what is clear is that, along the way, the pre-sale ticket option required for subscribers to Young’s own website had been forgotten by the powers that be.

With Young’s post kind of implying that AEG was at fault here, his manager Elliot Roberts subsequently popped up to take some of the blame for the mix up. In another post on NYA, Roberts wrote: “To say we fell short of our obligations on the announcement and pre-sales for the Hyde Park show is an understatement and we disappointed a lot of people. We lost focus and the entire team at Lookout Management apologises for promises not kept to our subscribers”.

So that’s the premature announcement and pre-sale fuck up duly apologised for. But what about that fossil fuel supporting sponsor? Back in his original post, Young said that he had not been aware that the show had sponsorship until fans started pointing it out. “I learned that the show had a sponsor, Barclays Bank, a fossil fuel funding entity”, he said. “That doesn’t work for me. I believe in science. I worry about the climate crisis and am deeply concerned about its massive global ramifications and my beautiful grandchildren’s future”.

“At the moment, we are trying to rectify the situation and will soon update you on the status of the Hyde Park show”, he assured fans. “We have been talking about requiring a different sponsor as one option”.

Now, if you didn’t read that statement and sarcastically think, “yeah, sure, you’ll force out the sponsor”, then I think your level of cynicism is dangerously low. After all, this show constituted one day in a quasi-festival that operates under one brand – taking place in a suitably branded pop-up venue – of which Barclaycard has been the very-in-your-face headline sponsor for five years. How could all that be changed for a single show to satisfy one aggrieved artist?

Although, if you didn’t respond that way, it turns out that your dangerously low cynicism levels were appropriate this time. Because the next day, a new post appeared on NYA saying: “NYA is happy to announce that the Hyde Park show will proceed without Barclays as a sponsor. We are overjoyed, so happy to be playing the show without the fossil fuel backer”.

Even at that point, this all seemed quite unlikely. AEG’s reps hadn’t responded to our various queries about what was happening on their side. Meanwhile, the British Summer Time website was still very much advertising and selling tickets for a Neil Young and Bob Dylan headlined event, which – like the full concert series – was very much sponsored by Barclaycard.

And even if they did take Barclaycard off the Young/Dylan show, it would still be listed on a website with plenty of plugs for the credit card giant.

Then on Wednesday evening, the show suddenly disappeared from that BST website. Wiped away like it had never been there at all. One of those trendy 404 pages sitting where the show had previously been plugged. “Has the whole thing been cancelled”, we briefly wondered.

No, it had not, we quickly learned. Because Team AEG finally responded to our queries. And to be fair, presumably they’d not responded sooner because they were also frantically trying to work out what the hell was going on. However, a solution had been found. The Neil Young/Bob Dylan show would go ahead. Barclaycard would not be the sponsor. And to make that possible to achieve, the gig wouldn’t be part of the British Summer Time festival at all.

“Neil Young has made the decision to move away from the Barclaycard presents British Summer Time concert series”, came the statement. “Neil Young and Bob Dylan will play a stand-alone concert in Hyde Park on the same date, 12 Jul. All tickets will remain valid. The Barclaycard presents British Summer Time concert series remains unaffected and will continue as normal with more headliners to be announced in early 2019”.

So, for one day, right in the middle of Hyde Park’s Barclaycard British Summer Time festival, there will be a show that’s not part of that event at all. You have to feel sorry for whoever it is that will have to go around the BST compound on that day covering up all the Barclaycard logos, and then the next day go around again uncovering them all for the 13 Jul proceedings (unless Florence Welch or The National suddenly reveal and anti-Barclays stance).

Of course, this could all have been avoided if just one person involved with the event had pointed out that – due to his frequently and publicly stated political and social views – Young would almost certainly have concerns about playing at an event sponsored by a big bank.

What were they even thinking? What possible indication could they have had that he’d be alright with this? I mean, other than the fact that he previously headlined the Barclaycard British Summer Time festival in 2014. But apart from that, what made them think a BST booking would work in 2019?

Still, at a time when many would argue that there’s too much corporate sponsorship in live music, and particularly at festivals, it’s quite nice to see a big brand being cast aside in favour of keeping an artist sweet. I wonder how many extra tickets they had to give to Barclays execs to smooth it all over? Or maybe they were able to compensate the sponsor with a few bags of coal.