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Sheeran, Stones back urgent call to aid UK live music

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London (AFP)

Some 1,500 acts including Ed Sheeran, Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones urged the British government Thursday to save the country's live music industry from collapsing because of the coronavirus.

Coldplay, Eric Clapton, Sam Smith, Rod Stewart, Liam Gallagher, Iron Maiden, Dua Lipa, Skepta and Florence + the Machine were also signatories to an open letter warning that the ongoing shutdown threatened thousands of jobs.

They cited new research showing that live music added £4.5 billion ($5.6 billion, 5.0 billion euros) to the British economy and supported 210,000 jobs across the country last year.

"UK live music has been one of the UK's biggest social, cultural, and economic successes of the past decade," they wrote in the letter to culture minister Oliver Dowden.

But "with no end to social distancing in sight or financial support from government yet agreed, the future for concerts and festivals and the hundreds of thousands of people who work in them looks bleak".

Britain has suffered the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in Europe, with nearly 44,000 deaths after positive tests, rising to over 54,000 if suspected cases are included.

The government has been easing stay-at-home orders imposed in late March but while pubs, restaurants and museums will reopen this weekend, live music venues remain closed.

"Until these businesses can operate again, which is likely to be 2021 at the earliest, government support will be crucial to prevent mass insolvencies and the end of this world-leading industry," the letter says.

- 'Ain't that simple' -

The industry wants a clear timeline for reopening venues without social distancing requirements, and government support that includes extending the furlough scheme for workers who have been temporarily laid-off.

Oasis frontman Gallagher said: "Amazing gigs don't happen without an amazing team behind the stage, but they'll all be out of jobs unless we can get back out there doing what we love."

The coronavirus outbreak saw the cancellation of concerts and festivals across the country, including Glastonbury, which had been due to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis said venues, festivals, performers and crew were all facing "desperate financial challenges".

"If the government doesn't step up and support the British arts, we really could lose vital aspects of our culture forever," she said.

In response, Dowden said he understood the "deep anxiety" of people working in the industry, and the desire for fixed dates for reopening.

"I am pushing hard for these dates and to give you a clear roadmap back," he tweeted.

"These involve very difficult decisions about the future of social distancing, which we know has saved lives.

Michael Grade, the former BBC director-general who sits on the government's Cultural Renewal Taskforce, called for patience.

"This is a huge problem but I can reassure Sir Paul (McCartney) and everybody else who signed this letter that the government is on top of this," he told ITV television.

"Everybody wants an instant answer. It ain't that simple."

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