Newsletter #102 September: Can the Toilet Circuit Clean Up Its Act?

14 Nov 2013

The Live Music Act recently enjoyed its one-year anniversary, undoing onerous restrictions placed on small venues by the Licensing Act 2003, and ensuring that the UK’s grassroots music scene stays vibrant and, hopefully, gets healthier.

While this means that venues and artists alike have been given more freedom to put on live music, there’s still no guarantee of food or shelter for Mancunians playing in Milton Keynes. In the UK, the way artists are treated on the ‘toilet circuit’ could stand to be improved.

A band or artist on tour, if not being greedy, need four things to survive; a box on wheels, money to run said box, sustenance and somewhere, anywhere, to rest their heads.

Artists will no doubt provide their own transport (and should be remunerated for it) but when you’re far away from home, accommodation and payment are largely in the hands of a promoter. In mainland Europe, food and accommodation are often plentiful and homely, and a guarantee is exactly that.

In the UK however, something as simple as a place to stay can be overlooked, guarantees can be flaky and your dinner? That crisp butty and watery lager shandy is enough for you to survive on, so stop moaning…

This isn’t necessarily down to nefarious, miserly promoters as this blog from The Unsigned Guide explains. It’s just the way things happen over here, with stories of artists sleeping in, on or under their vans not unheard of, even commonplace. Generally, if you ask loudly enough several times someone will offer floor space, but it’s by no means a foolproof plan, and it simply shouldn’t have to come to that…

How have countries like Germany and Austria got it so right? Perhaps they are proud to be hosting musicians that have travelled to their country to play music and they see it as an honour to look after them?

Have we no pride in our own musicians or are we British too cynical for our own good? Is there a stronger element of having to ‘earn your stripes’ over here? It’s been that way since the dawn of time, why should it change now? Should there be a minimum amount guaranteed for a touring band, with a place to stay?

As appears to be the case in different areas such as grant funding for artists or piracy, attitudes differ dramatically from country to country: maybe the problems faced by artists in the lower levels of the UK circuit are just a cultural thing – c’est la vie.

Money is always a big concern for promoters and artists as everyone tries to keep their head above water, but a mutual respect should be key in building relationships nationwide. Surely it’s time to treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves?

The following quotes by UK, Canadian, Icelandic, Australian, US and Norwegian artists, tour and artist managers on small-level UK gigging and touring experiences collated by Andy Inglis couldn’t be clearer or any more damning:

“[the] UK is more of a grind [than mainland Europe]– a salesman touring the motorways, stopping off to sing a few songs…”

“Generally speaking, touring in the UK means all the tins of Red Stripe you need to kill the pain…”

“One thing is for sure, if you tour in the UK it’s for the love of making music and playing for people, not the lifestyle.  In Europe you could kind of get used to being treated so well.  It’s nice”

“European promoters pay more attention to basic human needs – like food…”

“…English guarantees feel so deeply, personally insulting

[in comparison to European promoters and shows…]”

Let’s not let the successful passing of the Live Music Act fool us into complacency that the UK live music scene is fixed.

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