sustainability and events

Sustainability and the saviour complex

Saving the planet, one event at a time

There’s a reason why event sustainability experts are evangelical about their work. We have to believe that we’re saving the planet to propel ourselves through a process that is often mind-numbingly dull.

It is noble to want to be greener, but many baulk at the details. Who knows how much diesel they used on last year’s event, average power in KWh or the tonnage of waste processed for re-cycling? If you need to prove that you’re improving, then baseline measurements are required. If you want to be certified by UK specialists, A Greener Festival, or abide by the standards of Julie’s Bicycle, it’s the tip of an iceberg of data that will be needed.

In the UK, promoters and organisers often stick to the visible impacts like banning single-use plastics, providing water for refills, and encouraging use of public transport whilst offsetting as much responsibility as possible onto suppliers. Any steps are admirable, of course, particularly considering that they were not much of a consideration until recently – and that there’s often a cost involved that only they will absorb.

It is often said that public transport is the hardest to manage as it involves interacting with numerous third parties who are not minded to interrupt their existing schedule, even when it can be enormously profitable for them to do so. Given that the transportation of large numbers of attendees is generally understood to be the biggest source of carbon emissions for events, this becomes an issue and one that is too vital to be ignored. Sadly, we often see – as in the case of this year’s FA Cup semi-final between two teams from the north-west played in London on a date when parts of the rail network were closed – that it is too frequently overlooked.

When it comes to sites, organisers tend to work outwards from the space and location to logistics and facilities. Very few festivals are located at the centre of convenient transport hubs, although arenas and outdoor shows have made strides to be closer to city centres of late. There are many competing factors for both the timing and location of shows, most of which revolve around viability and availability, everything else is a work-around.

As we’re based in Coventry, it is appropriate to take the upcoming weekend of May 28/29 as an example. On Saturday 28th the city welcomes over 50,000 gig-goers due to a re-scheduled Killers gig at CBS Arena (stadium) and Radio 1 Big Weekend in a major park. Local media has made much of people’s inability to get home (by train) from Big Weekend whilst not mentioning sustainability issues and the more serious problems facing those at the Killers gig which is a far greater distance from the train station.

sustainability and events
Killers event advice

It transpires that there’s little panic or outrage to be had here since trains from Coventry to most destinations are pretty good. The greater indignation could have been reserved for the paucity of travel information communicated by the host websites. For Killers you might note that car parking is the most vital issue  and find out very little else other than planning ahead is vital (who knew?). Big Weekend does a bit better with help from Visit Coventry but falls down on failing to link to national rail or the train services that serve Coventry, nor does it recommend public transport as the preferred option, which is absolutely essential.

Of course, both events may be doing a better job of communicating directly with ticket holders via email or social media. On the face of it though you’d struggle to know that your impacts as an attendee can be modified and managed better. It seems to be a peripheral issue when we all know much better. People are still not sustainably minded: witness the abandoned tents and other ecological impacts of festival goers generally. As event organisers we have a lot more to achieve and much of it will be in comms.

Bizarrely, there is one easy step that would make public transport more accessible to all those attending big events, unfortunately it is one that artists might consider would ‘compromise’ the show. If shows finished earlier and made a point of publicising event timings (subject to changes), the choices available to the public would be greatly improved. The simple solutions can often be the hardest to achieve, but we can all do much better.

sustainability and events
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What do you want from live?

I have been unashamedly emotional about the return of live music. I was weeping at my first gig post-lockdown, the marvellous Arlo Parks at the incredible hmv Empire Coventry, actual tears. I then got an overly passionate response to Nova Twins at Godiva Festival, it felt so good to be in the presence of raucous energy and creativity.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise. On average I’ve been at two gigs per month for the last 40 years and have earned a living (directly/indirectly) from live music for most of the last 30. Being without live music has been a wrench. At the same time, it provided an opportunity to reflect on what the live experience actually is. No amount of exclusive streamed performances or intimate shows came close to replacing it, they filled a gap but they weren’t the same.

I’m prepared to accept that this may be a generational thing. My offspring (in their 20s) can watch TV and Tik Tok simultaneously and think nothing of live tweeting stuff I think they would need to concentrate upon. Furthermore, I suspect that a streaming option should be on offer for most gigs and may be in the future, it’s potentially a solution to the carbon intensive industry of touring and opens up gigs for all – more of which in the next post.

For me though, live is live, it’s irreplaceable. There is nothing to compete with the visceral energy of a live show, the communal experience of being amongst your peers in that moment. Live is the anticipation, the expectation, the surprises and the glory of a gig, not to mention the afterglow when all you want to do is hear it again and reflect upon it with friends.

Nova Twins at Godiva FestivalUnless you have the best technology, all the kit, streaming is simply a version of music TV, and we know how poor that can be. This is not to say that I didn’t appreciate Radiohead releasing full concert videos on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq19-LqvG35A-30oyAiPiqA  during the pandemic, I even watched bits of Pink Floyd at Pompeii and revelled in Fontaines DC doing A Hero’s Death in Dublin. The main thing that these three had in common was high production values, which not all can afford – it favours the already famous. In real live situations, the smallest grungiest gig can give the most pleasure. Live confounds as often as it succeeds, the unpredictability is part of the package.

As live returned, so did the spectre of Abba’s animatronics – the Abbatars and their London-based ‘concert’ project. It is hard to criticise something that provides work to legions of my fellow event professionals and great musicians but I’m not sure it’s a great leap forward for music. You could argue that it’s a live experience rather than being a concert, but will it potentially take money out of the market, away from other shows? I think it might, for most of us there is only a finite amount.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that people are choosing between Abba and Amyl and the Sniffers but people already go to too few shows. The bulk of concert goers are attending one to two per year. It is bad enough that, thanks to streaming, the recordings of new artists already compete with all the greatest bands that ever recorded – to bring that to the live market feels selfish. Is it live or a digitised facsimile of the live experience with no glitches, string breaks or surprises and where all the solos are perfect? We need to fight for live like never before – it’s too precious to risk losing it all again.

Nova Twins at Godiva Festival


Freedom come, freedom go

Although Monday 19th July marked Freedom Day in England, for many it’s just a transfer of responsibilities. Most of the rules are not now enforced or mandated by Government, just switched to companies or individuals to create their own interpretations. Alighting at this website you’re likely to be most interested in how this can impact upon events, gigs and venues, unfortunately there is no absolute clarity.

For music venues in particular there are likely to be any number of stakeholders, all hoping to impose their own restrictions – from promoters, agents and artists to sponsors, licensing bodies and authorities. What this can mean, if we’re not careful, is that gigs within the same venue might be subject to different levels of control and restriction. Until September of course, when the Govt wants to impose a no-entry unless double-jabbed plan.

The immediate response is to celebrate reopening, albeit cautiously. No venue, event, promoter, or artist wants to find themself back in an extended lockdown, ever again. Whatever metaphorical or administrative mountain we must climb to be back in work and providing entertainment, we’re obviously going to do it.

Initially it looked like reopening during the rapid spread of the Delta variant would see most caught in a pincer movement with staff and performers side-lined, locked down by default. The steady decline of infection though has helped to calm fears and for every cautious punter there are many more who are eager to be on the dancefloor and in the moshpit again.

Our next hurdle is inevitably going to become the Covid Passport or Vaccine Pass. I’m baffled that this has become a political football when its imposition was such an inevitability that even the barely educated (i.e. me) were writing about it over 10 months ago  and again at the end of 2020.

Event safety in 2021

Clambering out of Covid has been a series of delays and missed opportunities, many of which are a mystery to those of us who know and acknowledge that it’s an airborne virus. Consequently, a high crowd density in an enclosed space with poor air circulation provides a greater level of risk. The Govt’s latest response to this is that those attending ‘nightclubs’ will need vaccine passes, a motion then bafflingly rumoured to be extended to football stadiums – although conveniently long after Euro 2020 departed our shores. All venue owners must anticipate that this is coming their way and plan accordingly, whilst also managing their own levels of risk.

Fortunately for many there are a wealth of resources provided by the likes of the Music Venue Trust  whose work has been exemplary throughout this process. Even without their campaigning and lobbying, their guide to reopening safely is worth the membership fee on its own. It remains something of a mystery though as to why (almost 2 years into this) there’s no definitive or legal advice on ventilation or financial support to do our own work.

As ever we cannot rely on others to help, we must ensure that we’re united against contracts that try to enforce fees when shows are postponed due to Covid, and official bodies that change their minds and regulations every few hours. We also have to kick back against all venues and events being categorised as being the same – they are not. A jazz or classical show in a large airy auditorium is entirely different from a punk gig in a 300 cap club with a low ceiling. The prevarications hint at rules that were relaxed not because of a desire to do so, more that they couldn’t hold us back any longer and didn’t want to offer further fiscal support. The ongoing reluctance to support or endorse any insurance package speaks clearly to the latter point.

Shows and touring are going to be distinctly home-grown for a while, there are few tours that can sustain having cast and crew in quarantine and no signs that exemptions will be offered. With differing laws across countries, the international mega-star tour will be unworkable until 2022 at the earliest. And when 2022 dawns its anticipated that we’ll have the opposite problem, too many shows and saturation for the market and fans.  

We also rely on the fans to protect each other which is inherently risky. If you have been locked down for months and have tickets to see one of your favourite acts, are you going to act responsibly even if you feel a bit ill in the days before the show? People are selfish and testing/tracking is currently the only way to ensure the safety of other gig attendees, venue staff and the artists themselves. Artists are going to want protection – witness Fontaines DC having to withdraw from Latitude because they’d registered a positive result, possibly contracted whilst playing a smaller show. Very few are going to take that risk in future.

No-one said it would be easy, it never has been. Maintaining an awareness of the different scenarios and their likely impact on your market has never been more important. Think local, act global and let’s try and put the fun in freedom. As they used to say on Hill Street Blues, 'Let's be careful out there'.

 

Footnotes -

Government guidance on working safely during coronavirus for events and attractions

Jul 29: Although Music Week believes that Government relaxation of rules for vaccinated travellers is good news for the industry, it remains the fact that it would have to be extended Europe wide (at least) for agents/managers to believe that global touring is viable again. The story includes QOTSA pulling out of Reading/Leeds which proves that point.


hmv Empire, Coventry, venue, live music,

Writing for PR

I don't do much PR these days but it's a pleasure to be part of the upcoming success story that is the hmv Empire, Coventry - taking live music to the centre of the city. I always like to write a press release and take pleasure in publications that use my words in their entirety. I recognise that this is often due to the dwindling numbers in newsrooms around the country but the story still has to be good enough and well told to get the results. This was our recent statement.

Empire and hmv join forces:

Empire Coventry strikes landmark deal with legendary entertainment brand hmv

Coventry music venue, The Empire, has today announced details of a partnership with leading entertainment brand, hmv. The venue, which is in the process of re-locating to the city centre, will be known as the hmv Empire in this historic three-year deal.

hmv Empire, Coventry will open on Hertford Street this year following a £500,000 re-development of a former retail site and cinema. Although Covid-19 has delayed the opening by a number of months, this exclusive partnership gives the music venue a significant boost, placing them at the forefront of the national touring scene.

hmv Empire, Coventry Head of Programming, Dave Brayley, welcomed the partnership: "We've had a long association with hmv back to our original site in Far Gosford Street where we co-hosted a number of exclusive performances including a fantastic show with Sam Fender.

"This extended commercial relationship is a great step for us, putting the venue and city firmly on the map with artist, agents and labels".

Patrizia Leighton, Marketing and Commercial Director, hmv, said:

"hmv has had a very close relationship with performing artists since we started selling recorded music in 1921. We wanted to show our support for live music, performers and all those working behind the scenes at a time when that support is more vital than ever.

“As Coventry celebrates being the City of Culture for 2021, and as we celebrate our 100th anniversary, hmv’s sponsorship of this incredible new venue will help cement live music’s place at the heart of Coventry’s cultural scene and introduce music fans to new bands and artists. Together with the hmv Empire team, we’re looking forward to offering amazing live experiences as the country comes out of lockdown.”

Empire founder, Phil Rooney, is delighted to have hmv on board: “When we first thought about commercial partners for the Empire, we were keen to avoid the usual lifestyle and utility companies, we always wanted a brand with a strong musical heritage and there’s none better than hmv.hmv Empire Coventry, live music, venue

“Growing up in Cov, the hmv in Hertford Street was the one place you were guaranteed to find me every weekend. To think now that we’re going to have a premier entertainment venue in the centre of the city, carrying the name of this iconic music retailer, it just blows my mind”.

The sponsorship, which runs until 2024, is hmv’s only venue naming deal in the UK and includes the potential for artist showcases and unique album launch events, bringing a host of names to Coventry. Shows already confirmed at the hmv Empire include Tom Grennan, Arlo Parks, Roy Ayers, Maximo Park, Jimmy Carr and a number of events curated by Specials frontman Terry Hall as part of the City of Culture.

Subject to further Coronavirus restrictions the hmv Empire, Coventry is due to open with a socially distanced performance from the comedian, Al Murray, on June 11th.

 

So far we have gained coverage from Music Week, Complete Music Update and a number of industry titles plus significant social media andall the main local news outlets including a breakfast interview with BBC Radio CWR. When we have the branding in place and the venue is closer to completion, we will look to execute a 'reveal' which will be staged for TV and online use.