UK live music bosses demand ‘cultural quarantine’ passes to ensure international acts can perform

“We find it very hard to understand why there’s an exemption in place for sporting events and not us"

Bosses from the UK’s live music scene are calling on the government to allow for “cultural quarantine” passes, so that international bands and artists can perform at gigs and festivals this summer without the need to self-isolate upon arrival.

Today (July 12) saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirm that England’s “freedom day” will come next week, allowing the lifting of all COVID restrictions. As part of the move, businesses and large events organisers will be encouraged to use so-called “COVID passports” – proof of double-vaccination, negative test or recovery from coronavirus – in “high-risk” settings in order to limit the spread of infections in venues, although it will not be mandatory.

While live music bosses have been pre-empting government guidance on how events can safely return from July 19 onwards – while also continuing to call for insurance – now they’re also asking that the arts receive “the same exemption that professional elite sport obtained” for the Euros and such; enabling athletes to travel from Europe and the US without a period of quarantine provided that they show a negative COVID test.

Paul Reed, Chief Executive of the Association Of Independent Festivals, told NME about the need quarantine exemptions for international artists coming into the country.

A lot of UK festivals have reverted to domestic line-ups, but I have multiple festival members where 30 to 40 per cent of their festival line-up is coming in from outside the UK – many of them headliners from the US and other parts of Europe,” he said. “At the moment, the expectation is for around 15 to 20 members of their touring party to quarantine for 10 days before the show. That’s just not viable.

“The music industry finds it very hard to understand why there’s an exemption in place for sporting events and not us. The cultural exemption was previously in place and it worked very well. It was considered to be fast, efficient and free.”

The crowd for Blossoms at the Liverpool Sefton Park COVID pilot gig. Credit: Ben Bentley for NME
The crowd for Blossoms at the Liverpool Sefton Park COVID pilot gig. CREDIT: Ben Bentley for NME

Greg Parmley is CEO of LIVE – a federation of leading live music industry associations representing 3,150 businesses, over 4,000 artists and 2,000 backstage workers – and echoed the potential logistical nightmares that live events face without exemptions for those travelling for UK live music events.

“If they’re on a plane and someone tests positive then the whole plane has to quarantine, which will impact on the entire event,” Parmley told NME. “We’re talking to the government about that and asking what can be done there. At the moment, they have it for sport and some businesses but music doesn’t have it. There are still a few things that we need to iron out.”

Dr Michael Head, a Senior Research Fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton, told NME that international travel for travelling music fans should be kept to a minimum out of caution, but that it had been proven safe for small working groups such as sports to travel like musicians are wishing to.

“We’ve seen it with international sport – we’ve seen football teams going around Europe and some international tennis tournaments,” he said. “They’ve been relatively without incident. These things can be done. However, international travel en masse from holidaymakers who’ll be mixing freely with people from other countries is when it gets trickier. You can’t control the consequences of that so easily.”

The crowd at Blossoms’ Sefton Park Liverpool pilot gig. Credit: Ben Bentley

He continued: “In terms of travelling musicians and bands, I think we will see that but countries may well put in quarantines and restrictions without much notice. It might well be that people go abroad to a concert, either as an artist or a fan, but in the interim before they return home there may have been a new set of rules put in place that involves quarantining.

“The rules when leaving might not be the same as when you come back.”

Responding to the NME about the music industry’s demands for a quarantine pass for artists and crew, a government DCMS spokesperson said that they were “managing risks at the border to protect public health, and continues to review travel quarantine exemptions regularly.”

Queens Of The Stone Age, Madison Beer, Post Malone and Doja Cat are among the US acts set to play Reading & Leeds 2021. Credit: Mauricio Santana/Rich Fury/Paras Griffin/Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images)
Queens Of The Stone Age, Madison Beer, Post Malone and Doja Cat are among the US acts set to play Reading & Leeds 2021. Credit: Mauricio Santana/Rich Fury/Paras Griffin/Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images)

Two of the most anticipated UK summer festivals packed with overseas acts are Reading & Leeds and ALT+LDN – both run by Festival Republic. Set to take place on August Bank Holiday Weekend, Reading & Leeds festival will this year feature two main stages, six headlines and a line-up that includes international names such as Queens Of The Stone AgePost MaloneMadison BeerDoja CatDaBabyGirl In RedFever 333 and Sigrid, while ALT+LDN will welcome the likes of Playboi Carti, Lil Yachty, Machine Gun Kelly and The Kid Laroi to the capital.

When asked by NME back in April about the chances of them being able to perform, Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn replied: “I can’t comment on other festivals, but the international acts that are playing Reading & Leeds are telling me that if it’s safe to come then they’re coming. By safe, we mean safe for the punters. That’s all I know. They’re being very explicit at this point in time. I’m very much looking forward to them fulfilling that.

“The reality is that we’re going to have a great line-up and a great festival come what may.”

More news of government guidance on how to reopen gigs, festivals and nightclubs with COVID safety is expected in the coming week.

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