Artists pull out of festival in protest against arms-selling sponsors BAE Systems

The defence and security company has been criticised in the past for profiting from arms sales to the Middle East

Two artists have pulled out of the Great Exhibition Of The North festival in protest against one of the sponsors.

The 11-week event in Newcastle and Gateshead is being supported by BAE Systems, a defence, security and aerospace company who have been criticised for selling arms to the Middle East. They were taken to court last year over trade with Saudi Arabia, but the sales were deemed legal. 

Nadine Shah and former Chumbawumba member Boff Whalley’s Commoners’ Choir have both removed themselves from the line-up. “I will no longer be playing the @getnorth2018 festival now that I have discovered BAE Systems are a sponsor,” wrote Shah. “I am disgusted to hear of their involvement and refuse to be in any way associated with them. I encourage all artists involved to follow suit.”


Commoners’ Choir added: “The discovery that BAE Systems are premier partners in the venture renders our participation impossible.”

Other artists booked to play the festival have stated they are considering their options. The Unthanks said they would “rather artists not be the ones to step down and away, or at least not yet.”

“We may well follow suit, but are currently in consultation with all parties. Our preference is to take part in negotiations that we hope result in a successful exhibition that doesn’t hold or rely on these associations.”


Maximo Park‘s Paul Smith is set to perform with Rachel Unthank at the event. He tweeted a response to The Unthanks’ statement, saying the show he was part of “will not be funded by BAE Systems” and they were “currently in consultation as to how we can proceed.”

Lauren Laverne had previously announced her Great Northern Soundtrack series at the festival, which Shah’s appearance was meant to be a part of. The radio DJ’s curated shows are scheduled to take place at Sage Gateshead, who have said they are “not in receipt of funds from BAE Systems”.

Laverne has now posted a statement to her social media pages, which reads: “I was made aware of the sponsorship of @getnorth2018 by BAE systems on Wednesday night. While Sage Gateshead’s programme is not funded by BAE, their involvement in the broader festival has raised questions for many of the artists on the lineup we have been developing, and for me.

“I am working with the team at Sage in the hope of finding a solution that will allow our shows to go ahead. Please bear with us while we go through this process. Thank you.”

The defence company have issued a statement, the BBC reports, saying they were supporting the festival “as part of its commitment to address the UK skills shortage by encouraging more young people to consider science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers”.

The Great Exhibition’s chairman Sir Gary Verity said the organisers’ focus was to “make the very most of this opportunity to change perceptions of the north of England and drive future growth and success.” “Each of our sponsors makes an important contribution to helping us achieve our aim,” he added.

The Great Exhibition Of The North is due to take place between June 22 and September 9.