Eurovision 2023: what will be the long-term impact for Liverpool and its music scene?
Artists and music industry figures have spoken to NME about what the long-term impact of Eurovision may or may not be on Liverpool and it’s local music scene.
Last year it was announced that Liverpool had beaten competition from Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield to be named as host city for the 67th Eurovision Song Contest, being held in the UK in honour of last year’s winners Ukraine. The grand final takes place tonight (Saturday May 13), after a week of events and celebrations around the city – including star-studded concerts at Liverpool’s Eurovision Village and Frankie Goes To Hollywood reuniting for their first performance together in 36 years.
The city has also received widespread for the sense of community support show for Ukraine throughout recent weeks, as well as open events celebrating music and culture.
In October 2022, it was reported that Eurovision could bring in a potential £30million of revenue to the city – marking the next wave of international cultural tourism that has occurred in the city last 15 years. In 2008, Liverpool became a European Capital of Culture, which generated an estimated £754million by 2010. In 2015, it was also named as a UNESCO World City of Music which saw increased talent development opportunities for locals and the creation of the Liverpool City Region Music Board.
Along with the projected revenue, Eurovision will arrive at a critical time for Liverpool, said creative consultant Yaw Owusu, who is currently working on some of the peripheral Eurovision activities.
“The city is going to change dramatically on the back of Eurovision and in terms of leadership,” he told NME. “When you get these opportunities, you’ve got to make sure that you grasp them fully. Tourism is great, but what does it look like for jobs? If we see people moving to London or moving countries to have a career in music, we have failed. We are a music city and that should never be the case. And when things like Eurovision happen, we should be able to see the full benefit realistically from that.”
However, Owusu argued that so far, “to say that Eurovision will help the music scene is probably false.”
“There are opportunities, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the thousands of [local] artists feel like they have a stake – or the promoters, curators and programmers,” he said. “The headlines would seem that it’s been a co-operative activity where everybody has a stake in it, and that’s probably far from the truth.”
Owusu went on to say that Eurovision has a wider responsibility to the music community in Liverpool.
“You’ve got to reflect the people that build this on a day to day and sustain it and will be sustaining it in five or 10 years as well,” he continued. “If those people, those organisations don’t get the fair contribution from this back – not just monetary, but also the shine and the profile – how does that help them? It feels like you’ve got this top layer of activity going on, but it’s actually not for the music community.”
Owusu suggested that more long-term opportunities could be created through supporting locals as well as attracting bigger investors.
“Support entrepreneurs while also trying to attract large organisations to invest in the city. They’re linking with organisations on the ground and amplifying these opportunities and then people getting into jobs. They can potentially become employers, then the artists get managed better which means hopefully they can generate more income.”
Some local musicians are also unsure as to whether Eurovision would make any difference given the city’s wider history of tourism. Tremz is a trap artist from Toxteth; he spoke of his uncertainties about Eurovision compared to the existing industry outside of music.
“We’ve got one of the best football teams in the world. You’ve got the docks, museums, The Beatles monuments and museums,” he explained. “Liverpool has the craziest amounts of tourism. If something was going to come from tourism, then it already would have come from that side.”
Tremz also argued that areas like Toxteth and his own scene at large wouldn’t benefit from the event. “Eurovision is not going to do any good for my area,” he said. “Liverpool is harder to get to where you need to be because you’re not in this big city like London. We are doing our thing, but unless there’s any music moguls, then there’s no impact.”
Questions were also raised about whether venues would benefit. George Griffin is the owner of Meraki, a small independent club for underground dance music which narrowly avoided being redeveloped in January. He said that “gaps are being missed” in terms of supporting music venues from the wider industry and government.
“We’ll see £1,800 out of that £30million,” he said. “That grant has come from a company outside of the city, the Music Venue Trust.”
The Music Venue Trust have, however, been highly involved in Eurovision-relation events and initiatives in Liverpool and beyond. Not only did they team up with The National Lottery to put on the ‘United By Music’ Tour (which featured over 20 gigs at 20 music venues across the city as well as a free show at the Eurovision Village with The Lightning Seeds), they later announced over 150 ‘Eurovision Legacy’ gigs across the UK this summer – featuring he likes of Blossoms, Metronomy, and Cat Burns and takes The National Lottery contribution to grassroots venues through the United By Music Tour to £1.5million.
Meraki was one of the 20 music venues hosting the 20 special gigs across the city recently, but Griffin argued that “Eurovision will have no long-term impact on us as a venue.”
“If you’re going to put that 30 million quid in the city, probably about two thirds of it is going to go straight back out the city,” he said. “Eurovision will put Liverpool back into the limelight, but being in the limelight doesn’t pay overheads as a venue.”
Others have said Eurovision could help amend some of the cultural stigmas of Liverpool. Jamie Webster is a folk artist who started his career in Liverpool’s pub circuit, eventually becoming one of the city’s most popular artists.
“Away from music, there have been some negative stories over the years with regards to crime,” he told NME. “Eurovision is going to be a great opportunity for the people of Liverpool to show the world how welcoming we are.”
Webster also believed that Eurovision was part of a wider pattern of Liverpool being supported by Europe where the UK government has failed. “The Capital of Culture and the European Union have done so much for Liverpool ,where the actual people who should be looking after the city haven’t,” he claimed. “That money revamped the waterfront and a lot of rundown places that weren’t supported by the UK government.”
In November 2022, Webster headlined at the M&S Bank Arena – where Eurovision will be hosted – and crowd congestion caused an incident at the gig. In March 2023, the findings of an investigation into the safety of the M&S Bank Arena was made public, citing the incident as an isolated event. Webster used Eurovision as a reason for the investigation: “One of my points was that we’ve got Eurovision coming within the next year. No one was hurt, but that was one positive to take from it.”
Joanne Anderson was the Mayor of Liverpool until last week, and helped oversee and facilitate Eurovision coming to the city. She clarified how Liverpool would be economically impacted in the coming years – telling NME the £30million figure from the aforementioned Freedom Of Information request was “not really how it works”.
“It’s not like cash in the bank, let’s pay someone else,” she said. “It’s our ability to have drawn down resources. We invested £2million from our cultural budget. As a result of that, we’ve drawn down about £20million. We’ve got money from the business community, about £6million from the National Heritage Lottery, and up to £10million from the national government – that’s been pulled down to the level of programming and events. Other [host] cities do one programme, and we’ve done eight.”
She continued: “From a tourist point of view, Lisbon had 37 per cent of visitors retained because of Eurovision, Turin were predicted 57 per cent. Tourism in our region alone is worth £4.5billion with 40,000 jobs alone. If we only get 3.5 per cent of people returning – which is extremely conservative – that’s another £250million into our economy.”
Anderson said that this money would prove essential in a time of harsh budget cuts and a cost of living crisis.
“The last budget round for the local authorities across the country is pretty miserable,” she said. “We’ve lost half a billion pounds of funding over the last decade. There are two things we’re really good at in Liverpool: we’re really fantastic when it comes to social justice, sticking up for people and for each other, and we know how to throw a hell of a party. That was the reason I said yes to Eurovision. We can do these things well, on behalf of the country, on behalf of Ukraine. Everyone’s on board as well.”
The former Mayor also said the council has tried to as inclusive as possible. “The music scene, the hospitality scene, community and arts organisations, everyone’s part of it and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen in six months when it normally takes 12 – on behalf of Ukraine, as well.”
Along with bigger artists playing at grassroots venues, Anderson cited the “music industry supply chain obviously would benefit enormously from the activity and the production figures.”
She also stressed that the long-term effects were “knock-on” and that “you can’t pinpoint it to an individual”. With Anderson leaving office on May 7, meaning she won’t be in power to oversee the long-term effects, she argued that Kevin McManus (head of the UNESCO City of Music and ex-NME journalist) and Owusu would be working to ensure that “the music sector continues to benefit from the legacy.”
Back in 2021, Rishi Sunak drew criticism for his plans to fund and build another Beatles attraction in Liverpool, branded “pointless nonsense that no-one needs or wants” from those who’d rather see the money spent on local grassroots venues and neighbouring music scene. Paul McCartney even responded, saying that he was “quite happy that they’re recognising that it’s a tourist attraction, but I think they could also spend the money on something else”.