The UK government appears “intent on destroying the live music industry”, according to Brit Award-winning singer-songwriter Tom Odell, who has railed against the prime minister’s handling of the Covid crisis and its effect on musicians and the events business.
The Another Love singer told The Big Issue he feared for the long-term future of artists and venues who’ve been hit by a combination of Covid restrictions and new Brexit regulations while the government funds “fucking yachts” and spends hundreds of thousands of pounds painting a private jet with the Union Jack for Boris Johnson.
“I look at our government, and I just feel so angry about the lack of care,” he said.
“I understand a lot of this is Covid. There are elements of this that are unavoidable. But I fear that [live music] is getting such lack of attention from those in power that there’s going to be nothing to return to, which is terrifying.”
Live music in the UK has been almost completely shut down since coronavirus restrictions came into force in March 2020.
Though Odell admitted that many of these restrictions were necessary, he blasted Johnson for choosing vanity projects like the £200m new royal yacht and the government’s ‘Brexit jet’ – which cost the UK taxpayer £900,000 to repaint in red, white and blue – over better support for artists.
“Fuck all these fucking yachts, and his plane design… while they’re throwing all of the artists under the bus,” said Odell, ahead of the release of his new album Monsters.
In preparation for the return of cultural gatherings, there have recently been a number of test events, including the Brit Awards, a scaled-back version of Download festival and the World Snooker Championship.
But Odell said the process for organising one of these occasions was opaque and only available to a select few.
“They put test events on that they can show on the BBC. And it’s just a veneer. Wimbledon, all the football, things that make it look like they’re making an effort,” he added.
“Unless you know someone, unless you’re Boris Johnson’s mate, you can’t get a test event. Who do you call about a test event? I can’t put a test event on. There’s thousands of people like me, mid-level artists that are propping up this industry. And we’re being forgotten.”
The prime minster has announced he is confident the majority of Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted in England from July 19, which would mean an end to capacity limits on gigs, and the reopening of nightclubs. However, a final decision will not be made until July 12.
This has been too late for much of the summer’s live music – more than half of 2021’s festivals have already been cancelled, including Glastonbury and BST Hyde Park.
Lockdown uncertainty continues to plague the industry, with large events organisers unable to plan ahead for fear that they will have to cancel at the last minute.
Tom Odell joined UK live music industry umbrella group LIVE (Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment), in calling on the UK to follow other European countries such as Denmark, Germany, Norway, The Netherlands, Austria and Belgium in setting up a government backed insurance scheme that would allow promoters to claim back costs for any event that had to be cancelled due to further government lockdowns.
“Those countries are helping get live performance back, and they are actively supporting it,” he said. “And in this country, the only thing that government has really said is to retrain. I find that unforgivable.”
Coronavirus is not the only threat facing UK artists.
In the past year, new Brexit-related regulations have also come into force that make life more difficult for travelling musicians. Following the UK’s exit from the EU, musicians and their crews will now be treated as third country nationals when they enter the EEA.
They will therefore be forced to obtain work permits and other customs documents, adding cost and complication to what was previously an easy process. The UK’s arts sector warns that for many it will make touring uneconomical.
Odell said he is scared a new generation of artists will never have the opportunity to build their career in the way he did.
“Young artists, who are starting out, are not going to have the opportunities that I had. I’ve been around the world, like fucking 15 times playing live shows, from the age of 21, 22. It’s given me my career,” he added.
“This is how we make the money that pays for the records to be made. It also gives you the audience around the world. It’s the only way to truly have a proper career in this line of work. And it’s been removed from us.”
The threat to one of the UK’s major exports hardly sits well with the stated goal of Brexit to bolster the UK’s place on the world stage, Odell added.
“Boris goes on and on about making the UK competitive on the world stage. How can you be blind to the fact that the arts, the culture of the UK, is what makes this country?” he asked.
“It’s what brings people in – brings people to London, takes people to the Cavern Club in Liverpool. It’s such a huge, almost indescribable asset for this country.”