Nile Rodgers' guitar and a £10,000 prog rock box set: auctions fight for UK music

Two auctions this week will sell off items from Liam Gallagher, Nick Cave and more, to benefit venues and roadies whose livelihoods have been destroyed by Covid-19

If you’re the wealthy offspring or partner of a prog rock fan, the ultimate Christmas present idea has appeared: a £10,000 box set by the scene’s current king, Steven Wilson, limited to a single copy.

Proceeds from the one-off item will go to Music Venue Trust, the charity lobbying for the UK’s grassroots venues under threat amid the coronavirus pandemic. It is the second high-profile musical fundraiser launching on Friday to help struggling stage crews and venues hit by the coronavirus crisis, the other being the #ILoveLive prize draw: Nick Cave, Liam Gallagher, Florence Welch and Eric Clapton are among stars who have donated eye-catching memorabilia to Stagehand, the charity dedicated to providing hardship funding for live events industry workers.

“When I heard about the 10th suicide attempt among road crew I thought, I’ve got to do something,” said music manager/promoter David Stopps, who is helping spearhead the Stagehand draw.

The spoils include a bass guitar and effects pedal used by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; signed guitars from Gallagher, Clapton and Mark Knopfler; and handwritten lyrics from Welch, Robbie Williams and Ellie Goulding. Craig David supplied a mixing desk and Chemical Brothers a signed synth.

Other contributing stars include Sam Smith, Jess Glynn and FKA Twigs, with more constantly being added. Chic’s Nile Rodgers has chipped in a specially-commissioned Fender replica of his famous “hitmaker” Stratocaster guitar, played on numerous Chic tracks and more recently Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. “A Chic show would not be possible without our incredible crew who have been deeply affected by the pandemic, as have all the crews,” he says. “They’ve had such a tough time this year with no work at all.” Tickets for the draw cost £5, with the aim of raising £1m before Christmas.

Also benefiting the Stagehand initiative will be Prints for Music, a sale of more than 100 intimate photographs of stars including Grace Jones, Neil Young and Fela Kuti.

Grace Jones in New York in 1981. Prints like this are being sold to benefit the Stagehand fund for music production teams.
Grace Jones in New York in 1981. Prints including this are being sold to benefit the Stagehand fund for music production teams. Photograph: Adrian Boot/urbanimage.tv

Although the government launched furlough and help schemes, road crews – the mostly freelance sound engineers, lighting technicians and such – have fallen through the cracks. A Stagehand survey revealed that 35% are surviving on savings or debt and 20% have been left with no government support, including universal credit.

One of Stopps’ clients, Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey, donated the guitar he played at Live Aid after Stopps was moved by tales such as that of a “former stage manager who woke up in tears after realising she had £10 in her bank account”. Stagehand included her in an initial round of £500 payments: “It wasn’t much but it showed that someone cared.” It’s hoped that the draw will enable further such assistance.

Liam Gallagher’s Gibson Les Paul guitar, going up for auction.
Liam Gallagher’s Gibson Les Paul guitar, going up for auction. Photograph: handout

The story for venues is rosier, but not much. Two hundred and ninety grassroots spaces have shared £41m from the government’s Culture Recovery fund, but more than 600 have missed out.

“We have a traffic-light system, with 30 in red facing serious dangers, including iconic venues such as the Lexington in London and the Lantern in Halifax,” explains Mark Davyd, Music Venue Trust CEO. “Another 300 are on the amber list and others have simply disappeared from our radar – we think because they’re no longer music venues.”

Such plights prompted Wilson to help with his one-only box set, which he compares to a “single, unique piece of art, like a painting”. The £10,000 bundle contains such goodies as artwork, a song unavailable anywhere else, test pressings, a sound check, his Grammy nomination certificate and handwritten lyrics going back 25 years.

“I played pubs and grassroots venues for the first 10 years of my career,” he said. “They’re hotbeds of innovation and it’s a tragedy that so many are struggling. You can’t help wonder what that will mean for music.”

While Davyd has been “amazed” by the extent to which artists and audiences (by buying merch and not asking for gig refunds) have rallied round all year, all agree that that government could – and should – do much more.

Comments made by Rishi Sunak hinting that musicians might need to retrain “tells you a lot about their attitude to the arts,” said Wilson, whose own guitar tech (“one of the top guys in the business”) now works in Sainsbury’s. “There’s this perception that working in the music industry is not a proper job. Money has gone into the big iconic venues but the grass roots are in jeopardy.”

“Right away they should get rid of the ridiculous condition in tier 2 that you can’t serve alcohol at a live performance unless people are eating a ‘substantial meal’,” argued Davyd. “That’s just idiotic. Now we know more about the virus, there needs to be sensible investment into ventilation.

“We need to not just mop up after this disaster, but prepare for the next,” he said. “Music is a £5.8bn industry. We should not be in a position where artists, workers and venues are bankrupt.”

• Steven Wilson’s Ultra Deluxe edition of The Future Bites goes on sale at 9am. The Stagehand draw is live until 6pm on 17 December. Prints for Music runs until 21 December.

• In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Contributor

Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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