UK musicians plead for state support outside Parliament

Coronavirus has wiped out income of thousands of performers

The prevailing mood among musicians protesting in Parliament Square in London on Tuesday could best be described by their choice of performance piece.

The musicians, battling poor times because of the pandemic, performed a short section of Mars, Bringer of War  from Gustav Holst's The Planets before standing in silence for two minutes.

The 20 per cent of the piece they performed represented the support they say they have received through government grants.

"It's been a dreadful time because I had about 40 concerts cancelled that should have taken place between March and now, and of course it was very difficult to find any other work, particularly during lockdown," said violinist Tasmin Little.

Ms Little has not had any other way to make money. She does not teach, and like many self-employed workers, has found herself outside the criteria required for the Self-employment Income Support Scheme.

She said that "33 per cent of freelancers have had nothing at all from the government".

This may be set to change, however, with the emergency jobs support scheme unveiled by Finance Minister Rishi Sunak last month.

The £238 million ($306.3m) entry targeted support scheme was launched on Monday and will help jobseekers who have been out of work for at least three months and are claiming a range of different benefits.

Musicians' Union representative Keith Ames will take some convincing and was unequivocal about the extent of the problem.

"Eighty-five per cent of our members freelance and they rely on a steady stream of a variety of work," Mr Ames said.

"That might be wedding functions, it could be theatres, it could be recording, could be teaching, can be playing all sorts of music at different times, and if the phone doesn't ring and they don't get the email, they have no work.

He expressed concern that many would go a entire year without work, with the usually busy Christmas period looking in real jeopardy if the rule of six endures and further restrictions are imposed.

The rule means no more than six people can gather indoors or outdoors.

"We're not demanding profit but we are asking for survival," Mr Ames said.