Piece by Suzanne Bull MBE
With festival season marking the mid-point to 2019 (is it that time of year already?!) I’m delighted to report that Attitude is Everything is enjoying a particularly exciting period of expansion – with our own 20th anniversary on the horizon in 2020.
Of particular note was the launch of NEXT STAGE at the end of last year, which is widening our charity’s campaigning beyond deaf and disabled audiences and shining new light on the career barriers faced by deaf and disabled artists.
Funded by Arts Council England and led by our wonderful new artist development manager, Rich Legate (who also plays with the band Childcare), the initiative kicked off in earnest at The Great Escape, where we curated a well-attended panel featuring Blaine Harrison (Mystery Jets, and Attitude is Everything patron), DJ Laura Jones, Ruth Patterson (Holy Moly & The Crackers) and Roxanne de Bastion (Featured Artists Coalition), and unveiled new research drawn from responses of 96 artists with impairments or long-term health conditions.
Covered by media including BBC Radio 6 Music and The Guardian (and PSNEurope of course!), the findings highlighted significant problems across all facets of the music business, including recording studios and rehearsal spaces, where a significant number of respondents reported access challenges. Even more troubling were the responses around live music, with evidence of artists compromising their health and wellbeing in order to perform, withholding details of their condition or impairment due to concerns that it would endanger professional relationships, and even cancelling their shows.
Such findings will, I expect, only represent the tip of the iceberg – but it’s important they feed into ongoing conversations around inclusivity and diversity in the music business. Deaf and disabled artists have played such an elemental part in popular music’s past, and for the sake of its present and future it is crucial that they continue to do so.
As Ruth Patterson commented at the NEXT STAGE launch: “I look forward to a time where seeing someone like me on stage isn’t ‘inspirational’ or ‘admirable’ but just the same as seeing a disabled person in any other form of work, and that is what our future generation of artists need to see and aspire to.” To that end, the hard work starts now.
As well as establishing a new steering group with representatives from UK Music, Arts Council England, Jerwood Arts and Help Musicians UK, Attitude is Everything has been busy building and expanding our artist network, as well as forging new partnerships, for instance, with Pirate Studios, to demonstrate best practice in recording studios and rehearsal spaces.
There is a vast road ahead, but this is a long-term initiative, and I anticipate long-term gains in the months and years to come. And who knows, we might just support the next Robert Wyatt, Ian Dury, Rick Allen or Stevie Wonder.
Of course, Attitude is Everything’s core mission – to work with the music industry to improve deaf and disabled people’s access to live music – also continues. This year, we have already seen 11 more festivals either join or improve their standing on our Charter of Best Practice – including BST Hyde Park, Bluedot and Pride Cymru (all now Gold Standard), Standon Calling, Truck and Victorious (Silver) and The Downs, Love Saves The Day, Rewind, Tramlines and Y Not (Bronze).
In March, we celebrated some of the best access- based achievements at our Outstanding Attitude Awards – with winners ranging from BST Hyde Park to Band on the Wall, and from innovative music tech company SoundSense to portable toilet provider GigLoo.
As ever, we aim to highlight that, whatever the size of an event or whatever the budget, there is always potential to promote inclusivity. As evidence of this, our Grassroots Venue Charter continues to attract new signatories – some of the most recent being Brudenell Social Club and Komedia Brighton (both now Silver) and Tunbridge Wells Forum, Brighton Open Air Theatre, Norwich Arts Centre, Trinity Bristol, The Sugarmill, Wedgewood Rooms, Exchange Bristol and West End Centre (all Bronze).
Meanwhile, our Ticketing Without Barriers Coalition goes from strength to strength, and now includes
more than 40 ticket services, trade bodies, promoters and venues, all committed to improving the ticket purchasing process and establishing new standards for accessibility. Following a panel discussion at ILMC, with representatives from AEG Presents, DHP Family and RockHal, I anticipate we will have more announcements from this hugely important initiative.
On paper, this appears like a hugely ambitious and all-encompassing programme. In practice, it most certainly is!
However, I still maintain that improved accessibility will not only benefit millions of disabled fans, it is also in the direct interest of promoters, venues and event organisers. They have a commercial imperative – as well as a moral and legal duty – to get this right. In what is an extremely tough market for live music, this is a fantastic opportunity to connect with a vast and relatively uncatered-for audience.
I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that the work of Attitude is Everything will guarantee a bright future for the live music sector. However, through continued collaboration, we can certainly play our part.