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Doune The Rabbit Hole festival cancels after union calls for boycott over 2022 debts

By | Published on Thursday 22 June 2023

Organisers of the Scottish music festival Doune The Rabbit Hole have cancelled their 2023 edition after the union for production and technical workers in the UK entertainment industry – BECTU – called for a boycott in relation to the collapse of the company that promoted last year’s edition.

In a statement, organisers said that they “are beyond devastated to announce the cancellation of Doune The Rabbit Hole 2023 and the end of the festival for the foreseeable future as a result of the call for a boycott of the event by BECTU”.

The union said that the cancellation of the 2023 festival was “unfortunate”, but added that “over the last few years this festival has amassed well over £1 million pounds in unpaid bills to both bands and staff – £800,000 in 2022 alone”.

The company that ran Doune The Rabbit Hole 2022 entered liquidation late last year, blaming surging production costs and the impact of cancellations during the COVID pandemic for the collapse of the business. However, it was confirmed that the festival would return in 2023, run by the company that had produced the 2018 and 2019 editions, Festival Beverage And Property Services Ltd.

That company – headed up by Craig Murray, father of Jamie Murray, who ran the collapsed Doune The Rabbit Hole Festival Ltd – said that it would try to repay artists, crew and suppliers who were owed money from the 2022 edition “as soon as possible”. It subsequently said that it aimed to use profits from future editions of the festival to settle the outstanding debts.

As work got underway on the 2023 event, BECTU and others became increasingly vocal in their criticism of the festival and its promoter.

Then, earlier this month, the union called for an outright boycott, telling reporters: “We agreed a number of measures with them that we felt would allow us to support the music festival going forward. Sadly they fell down on those commitments, to the extent that we’re no longer in a position to support the festival”.

In the statement posted to the festival’s website yesterday, organisers say: “The team has tried everything in our power to recover from the challenges of 2022 and to produce the event our audience deserves, while making good on our promises to pay creditors from the 2022 event”.

“Sadly”, they add, “since the start of BECTU’s call for a boycott in June, based on a campaign of misinformation, the numbers are just not stacking up and we have no choice other than to cancel the event”.

Noting that many festivals are facing extra financial challenges at the moment – resulting in some other events also cancelling – the Doune the Rabbit Hole statement goes on: “Those events have not also had the challenges posed by sustained media and social media campaigns spurred on by BECTU, to try and prevent them from going ahead using conjecture, misinformation and rumour presented in bad faith”.

The festival’s website also goes into more detail about the impact BECTU’s campaign allegedly had on tickets sales, and then shares a legal letter that Festival Beverage And Property Services Ltd has now sent to the union.

Meanwhile, on his blog, Craig Murray urged ticket-buyers to approach their bank or credit card company to get their money back, adding “there is no money left for ticket refunds”, because many artists and suppliers were paid upfront for the 2023 edition.

He then wrote that, because of BECTU’s “campaign to close the festival, those owed from 2022 will now never be paid”.

In a statement issued to The Herald, a BECTU spokesperson said: “BECTU, The Musicians’ Union and Equity are of the view that it is unfortunate that the Doune The Rabbit Hole festival due to take place in Stirlingshire on the weekend of 21-23 Jul 2023 is now cancelled”.

“However”, they went on, “over the last few years this festival has amassed well over £1 million pounds in unpaid bills to both bands and staff – £800,000 in 2022 alone”.

“Many people, including the headline bands last year, were paid nothing other than their deposits, in some cases bands are owed tens of thousands of pounds with no hope of getting their final payments, and this years cancellation will impact yet more bands and staff”.

“As trade unions we have tried to have a constructive dialogue with the organisers of the festival, but the undertakings which were offered to us were not forthcoming”, they added. “The organisers said that they would share sales figures in order to reassure us that they would make enough profit this year to begin to repay the debts owed by the previous festival. They stated their intention to repay those debts over three years”.

“They have not provided any such information”, they concluded, “and that undertaking to repay those debts is now in jeopardy”.