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“It shows that it's not a safe place, for me”: Doncaster’s Askern Festival criticised for putting Tom Meighan on the main stage

What is it like for indie musicians in Sheffield when someone who admitted to domestic violence is given a top slot at a local festival?

A crowd with raised arms watch a stage with orange lighting.

In recent years, some music festivals have been accused of not doing enough to make women welcome and keep attendees and musicians safe.

Tijs van Leur

Four years ago, musician Tom Meighan pleaded guilty to domestic abuse charges after hitting, shoving, pushing and threatening his partner. Yet despite leaving Kasabian as a result of the assault, the singer’s career doesn’t seem to have taken much of a hit.

From supporting Noel Gallagher to being eligible to be nominated for a BRIT award this year, as well as headlining the Be Reyt Festival in Sheffield last year, Meighan’s fans seem happy to disregard the abuse conviction if they enjoy listening to him sing.

This year, he’s performing at the O2 in Manchester, the Live by the Sea festival in Moray and the Hardwick Festival in Stockton-on-Tees. He’s also performing on the main stage at the Askern Music Festival in Doncaster.

Niamh, who’s part of queer emo Sheffield band Slash Fiction, tells me her reaction to Meighan’s booking at Askern is that she’s “not surprised, but disappointed”, especially because “[Askern] booked him last year, and there was some backlash to that”.

Another Sheffield musician, Kieron*, is in a band that’s beginning to take off in the DIY music scene. They gig, they’ve gone on tour, and they’ve signed with an independent label. They don’t fit easily into one genre, so Kieron says that getting really established is unlikely. However, they’re quietly building up a fan base and are enjoying themselves.

Kieron, like Niamh, is not happy that Meighan is performing at Askern.

He has been booked as not quite a headliner, but just below top billing two years running, which I think is pretty shameful


Misogyny in the music industry

This comes at a time when the government’s Women and Equalities Committee released a report on misogyny in the music industry, which highlighted that “Women working in the music industry face limitations in opportunity, a lack of support, gender discrimination and sexual harassment and assault as well as the persistent issue of unequal pay in a sector dominated by self-employment and gendered power imbalances”.

The report goes on to say that “Victims who report behaviour struggle to be believed. Even when they are believed, more often than not, it is their career not the perpetrators’ that ends.”

Meighan does not stand accused of any of those things. However, the report reflects a music industry facing a crisis in how women are treated – an industry that should be trying to prove that it is safe and welcoming to women.

Niamh and Kieron’s objections to Meighan’s presence at so many high-profile events are not sour grapes, because neither musician is under any illusion that their band would be getting those slots.

“I would be wrong to look at the slots that Tom Meighan has been booked for and think, if that wasn't him, then it could have been me. Because it couldn't have been, that's fine”, Kieron told me.

“But it could have been anyone else. It could have been literally anyone other than him. It doesn't, to me, feel like there's any shortage of men who were in indie bands in the 2000s, who are doing solo tours. I feel like there's a good number of them.

“And there's plenty of artists who are excellent and bring in crowds who aren't men who were in indie bands in the 2000s, doing solo tours.”

The Equalities Committee reported that women experienced particularly high levels of sexual harassment and assault at live music venues and events. One of their recommendations is that “Public funding and licensing of music venues should be made conditional on those premises taking steps to tackle gender bias, sexual harassment and abuse”.

In a climate of such misogyny, festivals putting a convicted abuser on the main stage – however reformed he is described to be – will not encourage abused women in the industry to come forward.

A right to make a living?

It’s not that campaigners believe that Meighan and others should not be allowed to ever earn a living again.

“Do I think he should be locked up in a jail cell for life? No, he should be allowed to keep living his life – people can improve and change”, Kieron insists.

“But we don't need to be booking him for these festivals. That's not a god-given right. We can say actually, no, we're going to book someone without these sort of convictions, who doesn't send a message that we think this sort of thing is okay.”

Two guitar players singing into microphones on a stage in concert.

Slash Fiction

Chloe Michelle

Niamh agrees: “Playing music is a privilege. And having a public platform is a privilege. And he absolutely, in a legal sense, has a right to earn a living.

“But you can go get a normal job like the rest of us.

“The message you're giving out is that his ability to earn money or make a career is more important than the message you are sending to victims of domestic abuse. I think it's a cop out. You just want to listen to his music.”

The dangers of speaking out

Speaking out against Meighan’s inclusion does not come without risk. Niamh is happy to be named because, as she tells me, “I think for us, the idea that anyone would blacklist us or not book us for a show because of speaking out about something like this would indicate that wouldn't be someone we want to work with anyway.

“And obviously, that's easy to say in the abstract. But there is a part of you that's scared that you'll be known as troublemakers or awkward.”

Kieron feels similarly, because while he would be happy to be known as somebody opposed to domestic abuse, what tends to happen is that word gets out among bookers and promoters that somebody is a liability, with no further context. It is because of this fear of repercussions that he is anonymous in this report.

It’s undeniably difficult for small bands who want to make their mark in the region but don’t want to perform at events that platform problematic musicians. While Kieron and Niamh are clear that, if they were offered a slot alongside Meighan, they wouldn’t accept it; they acknowledge that this is often not a straight-forward decision to make.

Niamh argues, however, that that choice should be clearer cut for the big names performing at Askern, which this year include Billy Ocean and Reverend and the Makers.

“I think they're all making a choice to continue to play and to not speak out about it. Especially someone like Reverend and the Makers, who have a long history of rightfully speaking out about a lot of issues and are politically pretty bang on.

“For them to be playing and to not speak out about it, it's quite disappointing for me.

“If you've got that voice, the risk for someone of that level to speak out is much smaller and you are making an active choice not to do that, which is disappointing.”

Accountability in the music industry

Ultimately, both Kieron and Niamh want more accountability in the music industry.

“You're constantly put in these positions where we don't really have a good framework for people to take accountability in these situations”, Niamh tells me. “And it leaves everyone else to pick up that slack. And it puts everyone in these difficult nuanced positions we really wish we weren’t put in.”

Asked what message it sends out when music festivals like Askern platform convicted domestic abusers, Niamh says, “It shows a message to men who abuse that if you are successful enough, you'll continue to be successful. That your success, your marketability, and your ability to make someone money will be more important than the fact you've abused someone.

“And it sends that message to victims as well that they care more about selling tickets than they do about the fact you have been abused. It shows that it's not a safe place, for me.”

Now Then approached Askern Music Festival, Tom Meighan, Billy Ocean and Reverend and the Makers for comment but they did not respond.

*Kieron chose to use a pseudonym for this article

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