‘Roll on the summer of love’: UK music festivals on song after Covid closures

From Glastonbury to Radio 1’s Big Weekend there are heady expectations of a vintage season

For a while it felt so far away: listening to your favourite artist, pints flying overhead, queueing for portable toilets, losing your friends and finding new ones. But after two years of cancellations and delays, music lovers can once again look forward to an array of festivals and gigs this summer.

From Paul McCartney at Glastonbury and Tyler, the Creator at Parklife, to Adele and Elton John at BST Hyde Park and Liam Gallagher at the Etihad Stadium, there’s something in the music calendar for everyone.

“Summer 2022 marks the beginning of the next era of the musical summer season,” said Emily Eavis, co-organiser of Glastonbury festival, which is returning in June for the first time since 2019.

Alongside headliners McCartney, Kendrick Lamar and Billie Eilish, the festival has announced more than 80 names so far, including Olivia Rodrigo and Diana Ross.

Paul McCartney, Kendrick Lamar, Kacey Musgraves, Olivia Rodrigo and Megan Thee Stallion.
(Clockwise from centre) Glastonbury 2022 acts Paul McCartney, Kendrick Lamar, Kacey Musgraves, Olivia Rodrigo and Megan Thee Stallion. Composite: AP/Getty/PA

“All gigs are back, festivals will return with bells on and people will be streaming through many gates all summer long full of excitement,” Eavis said. “It’s a huge relief that these life-affirming gatherings are back, and it feels like we have actually turned a corner in this long, difficult pandemic trajectory. We can’t wait to welcome people back to Worthy Farm.”

Not only has music helped shape Britain’s identity, but the UK music industry contributed £5.8bn to the economy pre-pandemic, according to UK Music, the umbrella organisation representing the commercial music industry from artists and record labels to the live music sector. The industry now has the potential to play a key role in the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.

“Live music is emerging from a Covid-enforced hibernation that saw around a third of jobs right across the music industry wiped out and many stages empty for almost two years,” said the UK Music chief executive, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin.

“The absence of live music left a big hole in many people’s lives and helped us realise the power of music when it comes to lifting people’s spirits and having fun.

“It’s been an awful two years for the whole industry – but there is now a cautious optimism that we’ve turned a corner and everyone is determined to deliver the best summer of festivals and gigs ever.”

Other hugely popular acts billed this year include Ed Sheeran and AJ Tracey at Radio 1’s Big Weekend, a stadium tour by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Rolling Stones at BST Hyde Park, Muse at Isle of Wight and Iron Maiden at Download.

Ed Sheeran performing at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend in 2018.
Ed Sheeran performing at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend in 2018. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

“It very much feels like the return is very real and its significance for us as promoters, but also for artists and attendees, is huge,” said Melvin Benn, the managing director of Festival Republic, which is behind some of the UK’s biggest festivals including Latitude, Wilderness, Reading and Leeds and Wireless.

Though a significant number of festivals – including Creamfields, Parklife, Tramlines and Reading and Leeds – returned last year, there is a heady feeling of ceremony about this summer, as all restrictions seem to be firmly in the past. Alongside the huge, staple events, countless grassroots festivals and concerts are popping up nationwide.

Ben Cross, the founder of Cloud X, an entertainment company that operates a record label and runs live events, including the Cloud X festival which launched last year, said: “This summer in Britain is going to be absolutely amazing.

“The pandemic highlighted the importance of not only recognising but investing in and celebrating underrepresented communities. Being able to continue this mission feels liberating. Roll on the summer of love.”

According to data from the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), more than 50% of UK festivals with capacity of 5,000 and over cancelled or postponed in 2021, after the season was wiped out by Covid in 2020.

Paul Reed, the chief executive of AIF, said: “We are certain, at this stage, that summer 2022 will see a full return to the fields but we still need support to aid this recovery.

“That’s why we have repeatedly called on government to maintain the current reduced 12.5% rate on tickets beyond the end of March. It remains a very challenging time for festival organisers, with pressures along the supply chain, loss of skilled workforce, Brexit complications around movement of artists and crew, and a 20-30% increase in infrastructure costs across the board.”

UK Music has also urged the chancellor to ditch the “hugely damaging” VAT hike on concert and live event tickets that is due to kick in on 1 April – a move that promoters and music industry chiefs are concerned could force a rise in ticket prices.

“The demand for tickets this year is significant, so all of my shows are in a really strong position,” Benn said. “But unless the government extend the VAT break we will definitely not make up what we lost in 2020 and to a lesser extent 2021.”


Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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