Glastonbury’s Cancellation Signals A Year Of Anxiety For Live Music

The sector desperately needs more government support...

“This will be another enforced fallow year for us…”

With those words – in one short but respectful message – Michael and Emily Eavis must have known they were breaking the hearts of 100,000 people. The decision to cancel Glastonbury in 2021 isn’t one the family have taken lightly – it’s the central facet of live music during the British summer, after all. And in many ways, it’s more than just a festival, it’s a living community, with friendships, marriages, and families all connected back to the gates of Worthy Farm.

Right now, though, it’s difficult to see how any other decision could have been made. Glastonbury’s site is a huge array of attractions, and the production that goes in to producing such an event kicks off many weeks before its rivals even begin to unpack.

Decisions needed to be made, leading to this morning’s firm but sorrowful statement. In the end, weeks of speculation came to a head, with those final words coming as a short, sharp shock to onlookers: "With great regret, we must announce that this year's Glastonbury Festival will not take place…"

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Glastonbury’s Cancellation Signals A Year Of Anxiety For Live Music

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This is nothing less than the starting pistol for another year of anxiety for everyone connected to the live music sector in this country. With venues shuttering throughout 2020 due to the pandemic, and festivals unable to take place, the sector has seen its income slashed to nothing, with countless organisations left unable to function.

Many entered 2021 with the hope – however faint – that this year might be different, that increased use of test and trace alongside a successful vaccine roll out could ease the pressure a little bit, and allow some safe, and albeit smaller capacity, events to go ahead. With Glastonbury cancelled six months ahead of its scheduled opening, it feels as though confidence throughout the industry is at a low.

In a statement, Night Time Industries Association CEO Michael Kill called on the government to do more, and work quickly to save jobs and help protect a highly vulnerable sector. "Devastating announcement today from Glastonbury Festival,” he writes, “such an important date within the festival calendar for many, and 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".

2021 opened with a report by UK Music called Let The Music Play: Save Our Summer 2021 which detailed a number of ways in which authorities could aid the recovery of the live music industry. The government responded, vowing to do more, re-affirming their support but once more leaving the details completely opaque.

"We know these are challenging times for the live events sector and are working flat out to support it,” reads a statement. "Our £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund has already seen more than £1bn offered to arts, heritage and performance organisations to support them through the impact of the pandemic, protecting tens of thousands of creative jobs across the UK, including festivals such as Deer Shed Festival, End of the Road and Nozstock."

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Glastonbury’s Cancellation Signals A Year Of Anxiety For Live Music

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Yet today – January 21st – the biggest, most historic festival in the country was forced to call time on their 2021 plans. Julian Knight MP, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, railed against the government, calling news of Glastonbury’s cancellation "devastating".

"We have repeatedly called for ministers to act to protect our world-renowned festivals like this one with a government-backed insurance scheme. Our plea fell on deaf ears and now the chickens have come home to roost," he said.

"The jewel in the crown will be absent but surely the government cannot ignore the message any longer – it must act now to save this vibrant and vital festivals sector."

It’s not enough for the government to simply repeat platitudes, and make empty protestations of its continued support for an economic sector that has quite clearly been left to wither on the vine. Almost 12 months ago – right at the start of the first lockdown – Clash wrote that Boris Johnson’s coronavirus fumble was crushing live music in the UK, and we whole-heartedly stand by those words.

Live music isn’t just those onstage – it’s the sound engineers, the tour managers, the lighting professionals, the people stamping your wrist on the door. It’s an entire community – an entire culture, even – that is being ripped apart, through the devastating impact of coronavirus and through our government’s repeated failure to offer the support that many other countries already take for granted.

Glastonbury’s cancellation is chilling news for the live music sector, an area that has already suffered so badly. It will reduce consumer confidence, making it increasingly difficult for other events to remain viable, and it sends a signal to other events that this remains a perilously treacherous landscape through which to navigate. The UK government must act now to aid a globe-leading sector of the British economy, before careers are ruined, expertise is lost, and our fallow summers become a live music desert.

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