Artist News Gigs & Festivals Live Business

Two musicians pull out of Great Exhibition over arms firm sponsorship

By | Published on Monday 5 March 2018

Nadine Shah

Two acts have pulled out of the Great Exhibition Of The North, a two month festival taking place in Newcastle and Gateshead this summer, because of its sponsorship by arms company BAE Systems. The Great Exhibition calls itself a “celebration of the North of England’s pioneering spirit”, and boasts a programme including culture, technology and design.

Singer-songwriter Nadine Shah and ex-Chumbawamba member Boff Whalley, who was due to perform with his Commoners’ Choir project, have pulled out of the festival after it was confirmed defence firm BAE was on board as a sponsor.

Shah stated on Twitter last week: “I will no longer be playing the [Great Exhibition Of The North] festival now that I have discovered BAE Systems are a sponsor. I am disgusted to hear of their involvement and refuse to be in any way associated with them. I encourage all artists involved to follow suit”.

Meanwhile the Commoners’ Choir tweeted: “Commoners Choir will no longer be performing [Great Exhibition Of The North] in June. The discovery that BAE Systems are premier partners in the venture renders our participation impossible”.

Other artists have said they are considering their options now that the BAE sponsorship has been confirmed.

The defence company is a big employer in the north of England and it says its support of the Great Exhibition Of The North was “part of its commitment to address the UK skills shortage by encouraging more young people to consider science, technology, engineering and maths careers”.

That statement would suggest that BAE is distancing itself from the cultural elements of the Great Exhibition programme. Meanwhile Sage Gateshead, the venue where most of the festival’s concerts are due to be held, insisted it was “not in receipt of funds from BAE Systems”.

Sponsorship from any arms firm can prove controversial of course, though – partly because of its size – BAE is often in the spotlight, most recently in relation to its supply of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in the war in Yemen. War Child UK, a charity with close links to the music industry, last year accused defence companies, including BAE Systems, of “profiteering from the deaths of innocent children” in Yemen.

Defending its sponsorship deal with BAE, The Great Exhibition’s Chairman Gary Verity said: “Our collective focus, working with all of our funders, supporters and contributors, is to make the very most of this opportunity to change perceptions of the north of England and drive future growth and success. Each of our sponsors makes an important contribution to helping us achieve this aim”.