Summer festivals and concerts may mostly be about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but they also inject millions of pounds into the economy, employ thousands of people and make the UK a hot destination despite the weather, a report reveals.
Around 7.7 million people spent £1.4bn in Britain last year on everything from fairy wings and face paints to pints of beer and bacon butties, according to the first report into “music tourism” by UK Music, the body which represents the music industry.
Feargal Sharkey, the former lead singer of the Undertones and now chief executive of UK Music, said the report should be an eye-opener for the government. “We are talking about £1.4bn that had never been measured and no one knew was there – the scale of it is colossal,” he said.
“What other industry apart from music has the power to transform an utterly mundane pedestrian crossing in north London to an international tourist spot?” he asked, referring to the zebra crossing immortalised by the cover of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, which was last year given Grade II-listed status. Music must become a central part of government plans to invest in tourism and grow the UK economy, Sharkey added.
The report found that although foreigners made up just 5% of music tourists in the UK, they were responsible for 18% of the spending. It recommends more is done to attract further foreign music tourists to the UK. “If music isn’t put at the heart of this then everybody is really missing a trick,” said Sharkey. “Because this extraordinary little thing called music, which we are so good at, is bringing people to this country.”
However, after 10 years of growth, the live music industry stuttered last year. Chris Carey, economist at PRS for Music, the rights collecting body, revealed a drop of 6.7% in UK live music revenues. The sector’s revenues rose by 9.4% in 2009 and 13% in 2008.
But music, and the UK’s musical legacy, had the power to bring people to the most unlikely corners of the UK, said Sharkey, fresh back from reliving the glory days by performing a surprise rendition of Never, Never with Erasure at the Short Circuit festival on Saturday.
The UK Music report found that unlovely but iconic venues, such as the Salford Lads Club in Manchester, which was used for the sleeve of The Smiths’ album The Queen is Dead were attracting fans. “For music fans, going to the Salford Lads Club might be just as important as a visit to Buckingham Palace and Stonehenge. We are seen as a destination for music lovers and we should be proud of that.”
Music events have the ability to put relatively unknown areas on the map, adds the report, a fact borne out by Carlisle’s reaction to hosting this weekend a rather damp Radio 1’s Big Weekend – with performances from Lady Gaga, Ellie Goulding and Tinie Tempah. “It’s amazing, it has made people realise where Carlisle is and has brought all sorts of business to the area,” said Sheila Fisher of the city’s tourist board. One canny farmer had opened a field up to 1,000 campers, and was providing them with a steady flow of burgers, she added.
The report, Destination Music, is released tomorrow, and estimates that music tourism boosts the UK economy by £864m and provides the equivalent of 19,700 full -time jobs. They include people such as David Nye, of the Sausage Company, who sells around 41 miles worth of sausages at music festivals around Britain each year and employs 20 students who host sausage-eating competitions to keep waiting customers happy.
“I don’t think music gets the credit it deserves for what it brings to the economy, Britain has really pioneered the festival concept and it’s a wonderful thing,” Nye said.