A rundown of the week’s cultural moments, books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency
By Matt d’Ancona Above image: Blondie (Getty) Friday 30 October, 2020
‘Something touched me deep inside/ The day the music died’: once again, Don McLean’s immortal lyric in ‘American Pie’ has acquired a fresh and unwelcome resonance.
As the government’s furlough scheme draws to a close, the UK live music industry is facing the loss of 170,000 jobs by Christmas. Already, redundancies in the sector are running at four times the average rate in the British economy.
Earlier this month, selected music venues and festivals received a desperately needed cash injection, as beneficiaries of the first £257m tranche of the £1.57b Cultural Recovery Fund – a lifeline to successful applicants ranging from Liverpool’s Cavern Club to the excellent Love Supreme Festival.
But – welcome as it is – this money is only a band-aid on the gunshot wound inflicted by COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, live music in the UK was generating £1.5b a year, while the British music industry as a whole yielded £5.5b. To give you a sense of the extent to which this country punches above its weight, the UK accounts for 1% of the world’s population, but 9% of its music revenues.
The appetite for live music is as strong as it ever was. Witness the excitement generated last week when classic punk-rock band The Damned announced its 45th anniversary tour for summer 2021 (with the original line-up, no less).
Meanwhile, the latest news from Glastonbury is that the festival will indeed go ahead in June with its postponed 50th anniversary celebration.
Yet, as the second wave of the virus continues its ugly work, the future of live music in the UK hangs in the balance. Festival organisers were not eligible for many of the measures taken to help the hospitality sector (notably the business rates holiday).
There has been no equivalent scheme for venues to Eat Out to Help Out – no imaginative initiative, for instance, to help venues stage socially distanced gigs. And this really matters: a promoter needs 70 to 80% sales to break even on a pop concert, but they can expect only 30 to 40% with social-distancing measures in place.
What, as cashflow collapses, happens to the 210,000 full-time freelance and self-employed workers – session musicians, technicians, stage crew – who are the backbone of the industry?
Promoters, bands and venues are investigating the practicalities of mandatory test certificates for their punters (which would have to be recent and verifiable), temperature checks (easy to administer but scarcely decisive as a means of diagnosis), and, increasingly, the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine in the first half of 2021.
Again, the questions proliferate: how do you verify vaccinations as concert-goers file into venues? How quickly will the vaccine become universally available? (Answer: not very.) And will the first round of jabs immunise recipients completely or simply protect them from the worst symptoms of the virus?
These and other questions about the future of live music in the UK will be the subject of Tortoise’s first Creative Sensemaker Live on Friday 6 November at 1pm. Please sign up – and do bring a guest.
Our invited experts include Nitin Sawhney, the Ivor Novello award-winning musician and producer, whose forthcoming album Immigrants is one of the most eagerly awaited of recent years; Emma Banks, Co-Head of Creative Arts Agency’s London office where she represents acts including Katy Perry, Muse, Arcade Fire, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Florence + the Machine; and Stuart Murphy, Chief Executive Officer of English National Opera, and former Director of Entertainment Channels at Sky (where he launched and ran Sky Atlantic).
Do join us.
The Trump Show (iPlayer)
Goodbye to all that, or four more years? On Tuesday, the US electorate will decide whether to sack Donald Trump, or extend his contract as leader of the free world for a second term. This brilliant three-part BBC documentary gets to the heart of his presidency by approaching it as a demented by-product of the entertainment industry (albeit with nuclear weapons), driven by Trump’s narcissism and reduction of politics to a quest for ratings. And if that whets your appetite, try…
Totally Under Control (Curzon cinemas, VOD)
Alex Gibney’s account of the Trump administration’s wretched mishandling of the pandemic is one of the documentaries of the year: gripping not only in its depiction of the president’s immunity to reality and contempt for science, but in the invaluable first-hand testimony it records of the desperate attempts by public health officials and medical experts to prevent system collapse – and their horrified disbelief when they realised the full monstrosity of Trump’s ego. Unmissable.
The Mandalorian (Disney+, 30 October)
Jon Favreau’s Star Wars spin-off – essentially a space western, with a bit of mystical Force mythology thrown in for good measure – returns for its second season. Where will the bounty hunter take ‘Baby Yoda’, or ‘the Child’ as he is officially known? And what role will the Jedi play? Watch out for Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano (apprentice of Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader) and Temuera Morrison as Boba Fett, the armour-suited character first seen 40 years ago in The Empire Strikes Back.
Saint Maud (cinemas, pre-order iTunes)
Rose Glass’ directorial debut is an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller that draws remarkable performances from Morfydd Clark as a devout hospice nurse and Jennifer Ehle as the terminally ill patient in her care. The chilling line ‘Never waste your pain’ gives you a sense of why this terrific film is perfect for Halloween – but not for the faint-hearted.
Royal Tea by Joe Bonamassa
Epic rock blues from the Utica-born singer-songwriter and guitarist. Operatic in scale, the album feels like a blast of confidence and stadium-filling musical power from another time – and is all the more uplifting for its refusal to bow to the bleak spirit of the age.
Elements Vol. 1 by TOBi
Oluwatobi Feyisara Ajibolade, aka TOBi, follows up his 2019 debut album, STILL, with a mixtape of infectious eclecticism that embraces soul, Afrobeat and grime, and showcases a talent destined for great things.
Monument by Keaton Henson
Memorialising the slow death of Henson’s father, who passed away two days before the album was completed, Monument is a devastating listen from a reclusive artist (Henson rarely performs live due to chronic anxiety). The album’s apotheosis is the song ‘Prayer’, where Henson’s refrain of ‘I’m losing you’ yields to an orchestral section reminiscent of Max Richter, overlain with snippets of childhood home audio: a cathartic and exposed farewell.
How Not To Be Wrong: The Art Of Changing Your Mind by James O’Brien
The most striking feature of the LBC presenter’s follow-up to his bestselling How To Be Right is its confessional tone. O’Brien, who is best known for his Socratic style of inquisition, chasing an idea until he nails it down, explores the virtues of admitting you are wrong, and is impressively fearless in exploring his own mistakes, conversions and efforts to be open-minded. As he puts it, ‘Experiences are worth a million times more than opinions.’
The Book Of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
Dawn Edelstein survives a plane crash and finds herself reflecting upon the wisdom of the choices she has made in life – and the possibilities of a different future. The author of Small Great Things (2016) in fine form.
Promise Me, Dad: A Year Of Hope, Hardship, And Purpose by Joe Biden
If you want to understand the man who may be president-elect this time next week, there is no better guide than this moving account of the year in which his eldest child, Beau, the former Attorney General of Delaware, died of brain cancer, aged 46. Compelling in itself as an exploration of parental bereavement, this memoir is more revealing than any number of campaign autobiographies.
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
From his indie break-out role in Dazed And Confused (1993) via his descent into romcom hell to the ‘McConaissance’ of Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and True Detective (2014), the Oscar-winning actor has oscillated happily between matinee-idol charisma and outright eccentricity. True to form, his book is part self-help guide (he loves lists and bumper stickers), part memoir, and part litany of unclassifiable assertions. I couldn’t put it down.
That’s all for now.
Stay safe – and help save UK music.
Editor and Partner