“I had to sell my house” – live road crew speak out as all-star prize draw nears end

With just one day left to win prizes from Foo Fighters, Muse, Noel Gallagher, London Grammar, Spice Girls and more, live music workers tell NME about their recent struggles and fears for the future

As an all-star charity auction to help roadies and touring crew nears its end, workers from the world of live music have spoken to NME about their recent struggles and fears for the future.

The latest #ilovelive prize draw ends tomorrow (Wednesday March 17), giving you the chance to win signed instruments, tickets, experiences, memorabilia and more – donated by the likes of Foo Fighters, Muse, Spice Girls, Iron Maiden, Noel Gallagher, London Grammar and many more.

Following the previous draw which raised over £500,000, with donations from the likes of Radiohead and Nick Cave, the campaign organised by the charity Stagehand has currently raised over £1.5million – and hopes to make much more to help workers survive into an uncertain future.

“We always knew that our issues and the lack of work would last well into the summer,” Andy Lenthall from Stagehand told NME. “We didn’t want to be all doom and gloom about it, but we thought that if we could give out smaller grants for a longer period of time then it would help to hold people’s hands through the recovery back to normal – and it feels like we’re getting there.”

Despite the government laying out a roadmap with the hope for full capacity live music events to return from June 21, Lenthall said that there was still plenty that could go wrong and much to be done to keep a roof over the heads of many crew workers.

Calling on the government for action, Lenthall repeated that thousands of jobs and millions in income for the touring sector stood to be lost to Europe due to Brexit, many of the self-employed and freelancers are still without any help or support, and  that government- provided insurance for festivals was needed if the industry was to survive.

“There is still some distance we have to go. We know we won’t return before June 21, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be back to full activity,” he said. “Unless events like festivals can get insurance to cover any government cancellations, then a lot of them won’t be able to take the risk on the deposits they’ll have to pay to the bands, the suppliers, security, medical teams, and so on. That’s the number one priority.”

He continued: “Also, how many acts are you going to be able to get from overseas to play in the UK? There’s going to be no touring market. Those crew that work for international tours are going to be out of work because I can’t see that changing this year.

“The UK has a really, really strong vaccination programme and we’re doing really, really well – it’s hard to believe that the UK is doing well at something. The other thing we’ve got is venues, production and content. We’ve got the bands to create a robust and vibrant domestic live music market this year.

“We can make it as big as you like, and we’re really lucky that we have that potential, but everything needs to be done to ensure that it can exist from June 21.”

Sam Downes is a 25-year-old freelance sound engineer from Liverpool who has toured with the likes of New Order and The Vamps, but is now working as a handyman for student lettings company after “losing everything” when COVID shut touring down. As he was newly self-employed, he didn’t qualify for any government support.

“It’s just been terrible. I didn’t qualify for anything and managed to get about £300 of universal credit before I had to realistically find a new job,” he told NME. “I just felt ignored, really. From this to Brexit, everything is about the fishing industry. They don’t really seem to care and I just don’t understand it.”

Sharing his thoughts on the summer, Downes said: “It still feels like everything could fall through. It’s a switch in my anxiety to go from having all my work disappear to now having to find it again. That’s the next worry. I think artists will hold off for a while before booking crew.

“I can’t wait to get back to work if I can, I’m just desperate. I’m quietly confident that gigs and festivals can return around August, and hopefully definitely for Autumn.”

Thanking Stagehand and the #ilovelive campaign, Downes added: “This fund has been a lifesaver for me in just getting me through the last few months. I’ll be forever in debt to them.”

Rik Benbow has been a stage manager for bands for about 40 years, having worked at Kentish Town Forum as well as working for Top Of The Pops, the BRIT Awards and touring with the likes of Coldplay, Judas Priest, Aviici, Madness, George Michael, Saboton and Paloma Faith.

“I’ve found it very difficult to find work,” he told NME. “Like a lot of my colleagues, I’ve found some bits and pieces. A lot of them have been working in supermarkets and stacking shelves and I’ve tried but I’m a bit too old for that. A lot of my brothers and sisters of the road are working for Amazon and delivering groceries.

“I worry that a lot of crew who have moved into other jobs may not come back to the industry. A lot of them are worried that if they do return, things could just be shut down again. I worry whether there will be enough people to start the business back up again.”

Speaking of his “nightmare” year with worrying about income, Benbow added: “Personally, I had to sell my house because there was no help and the government told us that we weren’t viable. A lot of us were freelance and had no one to furlough us or keep paying our wages.

“The fishing industry brings in a small fraction of what the entertainment industry does, but for some reason we’re not viable. That was the hardest bit. Thank god for things like Stagehand and #ilovelive to raise money and get artists to give something back to the crew who have been making them look good for all these years.”

Visit here to enter the many #ilovelive prize draws, and see here for more information on the charity Stagehand.