It has been two and a half months since I met with the Musicians Union and Lounge on the Farm and I have been putting off writing this. Why? Because I’ve been between what some call a rock and a hard place. For those of you that have been following this debacle you will know that some time ago I wrote a blog titled Scrounge on the Farm. This blog discussed how Kent’s bestest music festival, Lounge on the Farm, had been taking advantage of local bands since 2006. But you can’t be too truthful these days and that blog got me into a lot of trouble.
I can tick ‘threat of lawsuit’ off my bucket list. But I knew that they weren’t really going to sue me. After all, I was threatened with a slander lawsuit when technically it would have been classed as libel, had my claims been untrue.
Following my blog, local paper The Canterbury Times wrote an article about my blog. In response, more musicians came out of the woodwork, raising their own concerns and complaints, along with a small helping of abuse from three local artists and bands who were to play at the festival this year. (Just a tip: next time you decide to leave an abusive comment, perhaps you should hide your email address?) And I decided to ask my union of ten years - the Musicians Union - to help me out and to receive concerns about the festival on my behalf.
The Musicians Union (MU) promptly arranged a meeting with Lounge on the Farm (LoTF), myself and two MU representatives. You can read the ‘formal’ result of that meeting HERE.
I call it ‘formal’ because it is a statement that both the MU and LoTF agree with. I agree too, in part, but feel it does not really represent what happened at that meeting and this is where the rock and the hard place lies. The rock: being threatened with legal action if I don’t do what I am told. The hard place: upsetting the MU - an organisation I have great respect for - with my honesty.
Because of the rock and hard place, I haven’t written a thing since that meeting in June. But I have since weighed things up and we aren’t discussing a life and death situation here. This is relatively small pickings. So here goes.
Prior to our meeting, a young man came forward to represent LoTF. He worked for a company called ‘Outgoing’; a tour operator one of four companies LoTF hire to run their festival. Throughout our email correspondence he had made some bizarre and untrue claims:
• ‘Over 40 local musicians have written and complained to the Canterbury Times about your blog’. The Times confirmed one complaint had been received.
• ‘Ellie Goulding is going to make a public statement about this’.
• ‘A legal case is being prepared against you because of these ‘damaging accusations’’.
• ‘The Canterbury Times are also being sued’.
• ‘Two PR staff have lost their jobs because of your blog’.
• ‘Lounge on the Farm are heartbroken because of your blog’.
• ‘We have done nothing wrong and your claims are totally untrue’.
I suspected that LoTF were either unaware of this man acting on their behalf, or unaware of how he was behaving on their behalf. And when I expressed my concerns to the MU, suggesting they contact festival management instead, they still felt it appropriate to arrange a meeting with him. Coincidentally, LoTF’s upper management team are based in Canterbury, only few miles from where I live, and I would have gladly met with them, instead of trundling to London - a three hour commute with a bad hip - to meet a representative of a random organisation in the office of a random snowboarding company in Soho. Which brings me to my next point.
The meeting did out take place at the offices for Outgoing, but at the office of a snowboarding company in Soho. And no other representatives from LoTF were present at this meeting.
I wanted other musicians to come with me, to back me up, but the MU claimed they would do that. However, prior to our meeting the MU had asked me to stop forwarding statements and complaints from local musicians who felt mistreated by the festival. Suffice to say, I felt uneasy. And my unease was was confirmed when during the meeting, an MU rep told Outgoing that there weren’t that many complaints made against the festival.
He was an excellent PR man, the man from Outgoing. “I managed to convince upper management to not sue you”, he said as our meeting started. And he continued to talk. And talk. And talk. He deftly wove his way out of queries and complaints, saying everything the MU wanted to hear. And overall, he did a pretty good job, but not without the occasional slip up. Early on, he suggested that 5% of the festival’s bands were unpaid locals who were doing it ‘for the love of it’ or ‘for a free ticket’ , but as the meeting progressed this figure fluctuated between 5% and 50%. “CODA - another organisation LoTF use to run the festival - deal with the paid bands and us the free ones, 50/50”, he proudly stated, before realising his mistake. Perhaps it was a freudian slip? Perhaps he panicked and got confused? Who knows. Later on, he did agree to contact and make amends with Cut The Funk but I can confirm that in the 10 weeks since our meeting, no such contact has been made. When I asked why their ‘free’ bands were not at least offered travel expenses he replied: “we judge each band on their merits… some aren’t worth expenses”. Shocked, I replied with: “but by phoning and asking them to play at the festival, aren’t you acknowledging their value?” And it was here that we discussed the possibility of LoTF gig bookers offering expenses to bands, or making it known that bands could at least haggle for something. This would be a nice improvement to their current policy of booking locals for no fee at all; expenses at least mean that bands aren’t paying to play. But as I said before, the man from Outgoing didn’t firmly agree or disagree to anything much which is clever really; saying a lot, without really saying anything at all.
Throughout, the MU nodded and smiled. I wanted to shout: “we’re in a random office in Soho, miles from where this festival is based, with no real Lounge on the Farm staff present, thus rendering this a pointless meeting. Can’t you see that he’s just talking his way out of this?” But I didn’t.
“That was a very positive meeting”, they said as we left the office. “Yes, it went very smoothly”, I replied. As I said, I really respect the MU.
On reflection, I think they were exercising damage control on my behalf but I hoped they might tell LoTF to change their ways, issue them with some kind of warning or at least make their presence as a union known to the musicians who play at the festival. Many freelance musicians don’t even know there’s a Musicians Union.
The Musicians Union used to have such clout. But is this possible in 2012, when everybody sues everybody else and where musicians work in an industry with inadequate paperwork to back up paid - or unpaid - work? Everything goes under the board and perhaps the MU’s hands are tied.
I hope 2013 sees the rise of the conscientious festival gig-booker; one who doesn’t expect something for nothing and appreciates that Kent’s local music community value this festival and should not be taken advantage of. For the bands that play at LoTF, I hope you realise you have value too. You are worth more than a free ticket - you should get this anyway - and have every right to ask for payment, however small and to be looked after properly on site.
Assuming LoTF are aware of the man from Outgoing, they sent us a great PR man. But it doesn’t fix the fact that they stubbornly and publicly denied the concerns and complaints of many musicians.
I try not feel disappointed about our meeting but in truth, I felt let down. Yes, LoTF agreed to this formal statement but those words weren’t volunteered, they were placed in their mouths.