As venues and arts organisations celebrated their government grants designed to keep them afloat until next spring, touring crews were among those counting the cost of the pandemic.
One Direction’s Niall Horan should have been in Warsaw and Berlin this week on his Nice To Meet Ya Tour, but the Covid-19 crisis saw his gigs cancelled and his road crew without income on which they were depending.
It is a story that has been repeated throughout the entertainment industry and Horan told the Guardian that touring crews and roadies had been forgotten by the government while urging the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to say something about their plight.
He said: “When you think of Britain and the British Isles, you think fashion and music and the arts and it’s just a completely forgotten-about industry in a time of need. Hard-working people from all over this country have been completely left behind.
“These guys are from all over the country with families and mortgages and don’t qualify for furlough … So they’re being literally left behind by bad governance.”
He added that Sunak needed to “stand up in the House of Commons and say something” about the plight of touring crews because it was such a crucial industry in the UK.
Horan is hosting a one-off live streamed show at the Royal Albert Hall on 7 November with all proceeds from the concert being split between his crew and the newly launched We Need Crew hardship fund for live-music touring crews.
Touring crews are made up of people with a long list of skills and trades from lighting and sound technicians and tour managers to merchandise sellers and coach drivers. They are part of the wider UK live events workers economy, which comprises an estimated 1 million workers and, according to the British Visits and Events Partnership, is worth about £29bn.
But during the pandemic many have had to look elsewhere for money to support themselves. Most are self-employed and work with artists on a short-term basis for a particular tour or production. So if an artist is not performing, they do not earn money.
Many have turned to schemes like the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS), used savings, applied for universal credit, or left the industry and sought employment elsewhere.
The Royal Albert Hall’s chief executive, Craig Hassall, has been one of the most vocal cultural voices in the pandemic, urging the government to step in and provide financial support for arts organisations that usually sit outside of their funding structures.
One of the issues for road crews is that they do not have recognisable advocates, which is why Horan – as a member of one of the world’s biggest boy bands – said he felt he had a duty to speak out. “They’re just regular people who don’t don’t have a voice; so we have to be their voice,” said Horan. “And if there was ever a time that our crews needed to be supported, it’s absolutely now.”
Horan is among a growing number of voices advocating for touring crews. The #LetTheMusicPlay campaign launched in August, with industry figures demanding that the government protects the future of live crews.
Other artists have offered direct support. New Order are selling T-shirts to raise funds for their road crew, while Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD) are staging a gig in aid of their crew on 24 October that will be streamed and have a small, socially distanced audience.
Horan said crews were like families and the pandemic had hit his team hard. Many had had to turn to other work, with crew members taking jobs on building sites and in supermarkets to pay bills and cover mortgages or rent. “For an industry that makes billions for the UK to be that left behind is just absolutely beyond me. I can’t figure it out,” he said.
With no specific government support for touring crews on the horizon, gigs like the ones Horan and OMD are putting on are providing a lifeline for roadies who he said would be difficult to replace if they left the industry. “As much as we can’t [tour] without the fans, we definitely can’t do it without the crews,” he said. “I certainly can’t put a stage up.”
OMD and New Order have echoed those sentiments, sayingif the touring crews were to leave the industry and retrain there would be no gigs when restrictions lifted.
Famous former roadies include Noel Gallagher, who used to work for the Inspiral Carpets before he joined Oasis, while Lemmy Kilmister was part of Jimi Hendrix’s touring crew prior to his career in Motorhead and Hawkwind.
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We are working flat out to support our world-class performing arts and live events sector through challenging times. We have already announced hundreds of millions of pounds of support from our £1.57bn culture recovery fund, which will stabilise venues across the country and help them plan for the future to protect jobs and ensure work continues to flow to freelancers. Thousands more awards will be distributed in the coming days and weeks.”