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Glastonbury cancellation sparks new calls for government live industry support

By | Published on Friday 22 January 2021

Glastonbury Festival

Hey, everyone, the moment you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. Well, the moment you’ve been nervously anticipating and grimly discussing with everyone you’ve spoken to over the last couple of months. Yes, that’s right, Glastonbury has cancelled its 2021 edition.

This is the second year in a row that the festival has been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, of course. In a statement, Michael and Emily Eavis said yesterday: “With great regret, we must announce that this year’s Glastonbury Festival will not take place, and that this will be another enforced fallow year for us”.

“In spite of our efforts to move Heaven and Earth, it has become clear that we simply will not be able to make the festival happen this year”, they added. “We are so sorry to let you all down”.

As happened when the 2020 festival was cancelled last March, all tickets and the £50 deposits already paid for them will be rolled over to 2022. “We are very appreciative of the faith and trust placed in us by those of you with deposits, and we are very confident we can deliver something really special for us all in 2022”, the Eavises concluded.

Anyone who does not wish to attend the festival in 2022 will be able to claim a refund. If they do so before 31 Dec 2021, they will not incur any admin fees.

Back in June last year – when the 2020 edition of the festival should have been taking place – Michael Eavis said that he was not confident about the event’s future if forced to cancel for a second year in a row. “We have to run [in 2021], otherwise we would seriously go bankrupt”, he said. “It has to happen for us, we have to carry on. Otherwise it will be curtains. I don’t think we could wait another year”.

By August he was somewhat more optimistic, however. He admitted that it might be “wishful thinking” that the COVID-19 situation would be under enough control to allow a major event such as Glastonbury by summer 2021. But fears that the enterprise might collapse if a second cancellation occurred had seemingly passed, with Eavis saying: “I am confident that [the festival] will survive, it will come back – probably stronger actually”.

Despite Eavis’s doubts, many were confident at that point that summer 2021 would see some sort of triumphant return for human interaction. However, that has seemed less likely as time has gone on. Even with COVID vaccinations being administered, it is becoming ever more clear that life will not be returning to anything close to ‘normal’ very quickly.

While many still hoped that festivals would be able to take place in some form this year, many in the industry and the public have talked about seeing the status of Glastonbury 2021 as the key indicator of what this summer holds.

It’s true that smaller festivals can likely wait longer before making a final decision, although issues around getting cancellation insurance might make even that tricky. Either way, with the UK’s big festival now off the cards, it is probable that others will begin to follow with cancellation announcements.

Commenting on the Glastonbury news, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association Michael Kill said: “Devastating announcement today from Glastonbury Festival, [it’s] such an important date within the festival calendar for many, and [the cancellation] will be devastating for festival-goers, and businesses looking at the summer season and the opportunity to trade in 2021”.

“The government must recognise the impact of the negligible levels of support given to the festival and events sector, and work through a solution that will safeguard the sector, and allow the 2021 festival and events season to take place across the UK”, he added.

Whether a solution that will allow events to take place this summer can be found remains to be seen. Government-backed insurance would help of course, and the industry continues to campaign for that. Though fears that the shutdown of live music – and certainly larger scale events – could continue into the summer will prompt industry reps to seek other kinds of additional government support too.

In October last year, the UK government’s Department Of Culture, Media & Sport’s Arts Council England administered Culture Recovery Fund handed out grants to live music companies aimed at allowing them to remain in business while still being closed until April this year. Yesterday, it was announced that any of that grant money not spent by the end of April could now be used up to the end of July. Previously, the terms of the grants meant that unspent money would have to be handed back.

In a statement, Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Dayvd said: “This offer from DCMS and ACE to permit Culture Recovery Fund One applicants to carry projects and financing into the next quarter is a real common sense approach to making the best use of public funding. We want to thank our colleagues at DCMS and ACE for working so hard to get this very important opportunity over the line”.

CEO of live music trade body LIVE, Greg Parmley, added: “We’re delighted that the government has agreed to extend the deadline for spending Round One CRF funding. LIVE, along with our members such as MVT, has worked hard to make the case for extending the deadline to government and we are grateful to the DCMS for listening to the music industry and ensuring this vital lifeline remains fit for purpose”.

Still, that is not new money, and in order to receive the grants, businesses had to calculate their overheads until the end of April. So, even if some do have remaining funds at the end of the original term, others will not. In which case, the question must be asked, what will happen to the live music sector if venues and other businesses cannot begin operating in the spring or summer?

With that in mind, yesterday chief exec of cross-sector trade group UK Music, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, said that it was “absolutely critical” that the government begin looking at new options for financial support in the live music space.

“[Glastonbury’s] cancellation is devastating for all of us on both on a personal and professional level”, said Njoku-Goodwin. “It will have a serious impact on thousands of jobs right across the country and many jobs in the supply chains for Glastonbury. There is now a huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over the whole summer festival and live music season with the entire industry left in limbo and thousands more jobs in jeopardy”.

“It is absolutely critical that the government look at more financial support for the music industry and those who work in it as a matter of urgency”, he continues. “Without more government help, there is a real risk that some of our world-leading music scene will disappear forever”.

“The music industry is desperate to get back on its feet when we can operate safely. When the time comes for the post-pandemic recovery, we can play our role in our country’s economic and cultural revival. But until that point, we need more financial support to keep us going”.

“If that support is not forthcoming”, he concluded, “we will risk losing some of our finest emerging talent with the fear that COVID could rip a giant and permanent hole in the UK’s music scene and our cultural fabric”.

Not everyone is pessimistic, however. Following the announcement of Glastonbury’s cancellation, organisers of the Isle Of Wight Festival – which is due to take place from 17-20 Jun, the week before Glastonbury weekend – tweeted that they are currently planning to go ahead with the event.

“Rest assured we’re continuing to work behind the scenes to get ready for the Isle Of Wight Festival this summer and hope to have more news for you soon”, they said.

Some artists have begun announcing new tours in the autumn too, although others in the live industry are not convinced that full capacity live shows will be taking place this year at all.

Either way, if the extension of the CRF term is an acknowledgement that shows will not be taking place before August at the earliest, calls for new financial support for the sector will start arriving more frequently yet again in the coming weeks and months.

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