Greg Parmley about the pandemic and the relationship between artists and politics in the UK

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In terms of conferences dedicated to the subjects of the live music industry, there are two notable events in the UK. One is the International Live Music Conference (ILMC), the other is the International Festival Forum (IFF), both headed by Greg Parmley, the managing director of these events.

The letter “I” in fact seems to be the key character of the ‘live music’ imperium Parmley is looking after. Alongside these two annual conference formats, it is the trade publication IQ Magazine and daily bulletin IQ Index which complete the value chain Parmley oversees. As if that were not enough, Parmley additionally took on the post of CEO for the trade body ‘Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment’ (LIVE) in late 2020, an umbrella and lobby organisation representing 13 various live music associations in the UK. 

Around eight years ago Parmley took over ILMC from Martin Hopewell, the founder of the event, for whom he previously worked as the editor in chief of IQ Magazine, while at the same time also contributing to the conference agenda of ILMC.

Still too young to be called an industry veteran, he is nevertheless a highly experienced player within the international live music circuit. His expertise goes even further; according to Guinness World Records, he holds the world record in the category ‘Most music festivals visited in one month’, for visiting 26 European festivals in 30 days. After the recently held IFF, we asked Parmley about his observation regarding the state of festivals and the situation of UK agencies in the post-Brexit era.

Two suspended festival seasons in a row. How has this affected the International Festival Forum and how was the overall mood among delegates regarding this situation?
Greg Parmley: We welcomed 600 delegates from 30 countries, which is a small reduction on 2019 but to be expected. The mood was sensational – by far the biggest takeaway for me actually. Given that ILMC 18months ago was the last time a lot of people saw each other, the mood was positive and upbeat – it was life affirming to see so many people come back together again.

Apparently the live music sector is still badly affected by the pandemic. From a UK perspective and in particular in consideration of the relevance of UK concert agencies for the European concert market, what are your expectations on the short and longterm consequences of this for UK artists in Europe? Covid will have far less of an impact on this than Brexit, which is posing new barriers for U.K. artists touring in Europe. There’s a lot of lobbying and work happening behind the scenes currently to iron out the most obvious issues like cabotage and work permits. It’ll be bumpy in the short term, but it’s in everyone’s interest to make touring as smooth as possible in the future.

Due to all the restrictions caused by the pandemic, some of those festival promoters that were able to put on events during the open-air season 2021 booked more domestic than international acts. Does this development may have an impact on the artist portfolio of UK agencies?
No, I don’t think so. In 2022 we’ll see a resumption of international touring, and with it the continued demand for great artists from different markets. The pandemic has certainly given a boost to some domestic artists, so that’s also a positive.

Festival tourism before the pandemic drove the growths of certain festivals in East Europe as well as those focused on specific genres. Travel restrictions caused problems for the availability of international artists, but more important for those kinds of events is the lack of festival goers from abroad. How long do you expect the recovery process for festival tourism will last?
From Going out in London at the moment, it’s clear that Covid is over – people are socialising more than ever and the genie is not going back into the bottle. As a global society we have to live with extra mitigations like face masks on transport, and vaccines, but life is returning at full force. By summer 2022 it’s almost unimaginable that festival fans won’t be traveling overseas to events as they did up until 2019. 

Nobody can deny that there have been other types of industries and businesses that received better support and tailor-made funding schemes by governments than the live music industry. Any kind of lessons live music trade organisations have or should have gained out of this?
Yes, we learnt that by speaking with one voice you can accomplish much more. And speaking up. Before Covid the live industry had never had to engage with the government. Now everyone sees the value in that.

At least in the UK it was recently seen that artists are addressing political decision takers regarding topics that matter for them. There was the open letter by UK-artists sent to Boris Johnson regarding unfair payment schemes of streaming revenues, as well as interviews by the likes of Elton John complaining about the difficulties for UK talents to play concerts and tours in Europe due to Brexit. As lobbying efforts by music trade organisations apparently didn’t deliver satisfying results, can we expect that artist-driven initiatives will achieve more and better recognition by politicians?
It makes a big difference when big name artists speak up. Elton has been a fantastic champion for UK artists on Brexit. Artists vocalising what they think politically is no longer uncool or unwanted.

Ticket sales and visitor figures for all type of events are still much lower than before the pandemic. Would you agree that there needs to be a proper campaign to restore confidence by consumers and are live music companies and trade bodies are even ready for such a mission yet?
Definitely. It’s vital that we restore consumer confidence in going back to live events. Especially given that they’re safe and well run and with all the appropriate measures in place.

Interview: Manfred Tari

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