Musicians without festivals: surviving another year of uncertainty

The insecurity over Covid regulations has made many festivals to be on hold. Pic: Krists Luhaers

“I feel like my memory of the South London jazz scene in full swing is already fading, because I just haven’t been able to experience live music and that collective experience of moving your body in a room with loads of people in it,” said Cecilia Morgan, a 22-years-old performer, producer, singer and poet from Lewisham. 

Indeed for over a year, workers like Morgan from the entertainment, leisure and service industries have been facing uncertainty. Artists were stripped of stages and venues, and in an effort to keep afloat many have adapted to online platforms. 

And as summer approaches, it’s becoming ever more apparent that festivals are in real trouble. The insecurity over Covid regulations and the possibility of being forced to cancel last minute has made many festivals to be on hold, and musicians are scared that 2021 might be a repetition of last year. 

Morgan, who grew up in South London, believes the local music scene has something “magical”. She said: “London’s huge, but if you are a musician or an artist there is definitely a scene and a sense of community. Outside of the context of the pandemic, if you go to that one jazz bar or that one café on a Thursday evening, you know who you’re going to see.”

When asked what she thought about the current state of uncertainty for festivals this summer, Morgan said she didn’t believe the arts are at the forefront of the government’s financial priorities.

She said: “I think it’s shocking and heartbreaking that the government is offering so little support for live music and festivals in the form of insurance. That should be a priority and a given.”

In the face of adversity, Morgan believes one festival has come up with a brilliant idea to overcome its struggle. 

The independent festival from East Sussex, Brainchild has decided to adopt a ‘Crowd Cover’ schemein an attempt to fight the government’s refusal to back Covid-19 cancellation insurance. 

Under the scheme, ticket-holders are asked to commit 50% of their ticket money as a non-refundable ‘Crowd Cover’ pledge, which means only half of their ticket will be refunded in the case of Covid-related cancellation. 

The non-refunded money will be used to cover all non-reclaimable sums, essential deposits and pre-event work by the organisers.

However, when asked if she thought Brainchild’s ‘Crowd Cover’ scheme could be the answer to the survival of festivals in the UK, Morgan said: “Honestly, no. I think it’s a brilliant idea for Brainchild specifically, but I think it’s quite reliant on it being quiet and a relatively low-ticket cost anyway. 

“With slightly larger festivals, I don’t think that it would be as viable.” 

“I feel like my memory of the South London jazz scene in full swing is already fading”. Pic: Cecilia Morgan.

A more cynical take would be that people don’t necessarily value music financially. 

Ashley Grace, a 22-years-old artist, producer and session musician who lives in Honor Oak said: “Some people might be reluctant to give their money to festivals to support them, for the same reason that people don’t buy albums anymore – they subscribe to Spotify.”

According to Grace, there are many perks to having a streaming service, but people willingly use it knowing that the artists don’t get paid very much from streams. She said: “If you wanted to support the artists, you’d be buying their albums on Bandcamp.”

Last year, Grace played less than five socially distanced shows from her own personal project, bb sway, and saw the tours and festivals she was meant to play as a session musician cancelled.

The artist said she felt lucky to have the support of her family during the pandemic. “I’ve started to teach guitar and bass online, which has been a good way of getting a little bit of extra income,” she said.

“Hopefully, I’ll be playing at a festival this summer. I have to keep reminding myself to say ‘hopefully’ because otherwise I’m going to assume it’s going to happen.”

Richard Greenan, a 35 years-old label manager, DJ and radio worker from Lewisham believes that the lack of support to the arts sector is having its toll on the public’s mental health. 

He said: “When you take away the stuff that doesn’t seem important – like sports, music, and all the extra things that you have in your life -, life is just really awful.”

He added: “Music in London is really important, it’s one of the reasons why people live here and it’s one of the best things about being in the city. 

When you take away all arts and culture, music and galleries, museums, the theatre and sport, London becomes an unappealing place to live, since it doesn’t have other redeeming features. It doesn’t have much natural beauty and it’s crowded and sort of stressful and polluted.”

However, Greenan believes the music industry will bounce back quickly, and stronger. He said: “People have left, and the venues are empty, which means there’s more opportunity for people to start new things. It might be quite an exciting time!

“It’s almost like a forest fire – it’ll create space for the new stuff.”

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