21 September 2001

Spring date for charity concert

By Adrienne Francis

THE organiser of a postponed charity rock concert which aimed to raise £500,000 for crisis-hit British farmers now hopes to hold the event early next year.

Glastonbury festival organiser and Somerset dairy farmer Michael Eavis had spent weeks signing up bands to appear at his Farm Aid concert in Cardiff on Oct 27. But he was forced to cancel the event following the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York.

"The American news clouded the issue – there was a freeze on ticket sales for two days," he said. "It would have been disrespectful to begin a publicity campaign. Im not saying that farmers dont deserve help, but they are not in the same league as these atrocities."

Mr Eavis said the concert had been postponed rather than cancelled and hopes it will go ahead next spring. He told farmers weekly: "We sold around 1000 tickets in the first 10 days and needed to clear another 19,000 to break even. We were gaining support slowly but surely."

The event had already run into a problems. Major acts such as U2 and Robbie Williams had refused to play. But it was still due to be headlined by bands including Coldplay, Toploader, Ash, Reef, and Embrace. Australian entertainer Rolf Harris was also due to appear.

An animal welfare group had urged fans and bands to boycott the concert, saying farmers did not deserve extra money. Campaigners from Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (Viva) wrote to bands and planned a demonstration outside the stadium.

Viva campaigner Becky Smith said: "Farmers already received over £1bn in assistance before the Farm Aid concert was conceived. Why should they receive any more assistance when they are already heavily subsidised? This continued assistance is simply not viable – no other industry receives such assistance."

But F&M charities which stood to benefit from the concert rejected the criticism. ARC Addington Fund chairman Gordon Gatwood said: "I am not surprised at the response of Viva towards the Farm Aid concert. Make no mistake, I have respect for their point of view but disagree with their narrow view.

"Organisations such as Viva just want to see an end to modern farming and do not give any consideration for the loss suffered by others connected to the farming industries. F&M assistance is not just about farmers, it directly effects people relying on the associated farming industries too."

A similar but separate initiative in the US has raised about £10m for farmers over the last 16 years. Tickets for its concert next week sold out months ago. US Farm Aid is organised by musicians who can draw big crowds in a country where anti-farming pressure groups have yet to gain much support.

Mark Smith, spokesman for the US Farm Aid charity, said: "You need a deep passion to make something like this successful and build bridges. Without fire in the bellies of people like Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, we wouldnt be able to do that."

Chris Emerson of the Farmers World Network, which raises awareness of global agricultural issues, said the anti-farming lobby was stronger in the UK than in the US. "In England, we have the smallest proportion of the working population involved in agriculture. Farmers will have to do more to establish links with consumers." &#42