Pay the band, you tightwads!

We’re now less than 100 days from the beginning of the rapture 2012 London Olympics, which of course means that it’s time for our island nation, and LOCOG in particular, to start abandoning any pretence of sanity. This way, we get to give ourselves a gentle warm-up for the opening ceremony, during which we are presumably collectively expected to lose it completely. The official merchandising stand  – which has now appeared nationwide in branches of John Lewis, who usually have more sense – offers ample visual evidence that the 2012 Olympics already got a divorce from any concept of taste or restraint:

Clearly, this divorce was not amicable. That’s Wenlock, the mascot for the summer games, rendered as two different kinds of cuddly toy, both of which look like an unsightly cross between a Dalek, a Cyclops, and some kind of personal stimulation device. It’s lovely to see us choose such dignified imagery as the vehicle via which we sell ourselves to the rest of the world.

It’s not entirely surprising that at this stage, under the surface, some aspects of the event’s organisation are beginning to smell a little. Take, for example, the engagement of musicians for the various park events during the games. There’s a growing suspicion that LOCOG have adopted a policy of not paying professional musicians who are hired to perform during the games. Apparently, the honour of being asked to participate should be payment enough, for musicians at least. Presumably LOCOG are under the boneheaded impression that professional musicians don’t have mortgages, rent, car payments, gas and electricity bills and all the rest of it. The Musicians’ Union is now investigating.

Now, OK, I’m not a professional musician, and nor do I play one on television. But this still strikes me as being a peculiarly obnoxious decision for LOCOG to have taken, particularly in the context of the huge amounts of money that are being lavished on staging the games. Presumably the technicians will be paid – the cameramen, the stagehands, the cleaners and groundsmen and ticket staff and all the rest would not, naturally, be expected to work without pay – and yet the musicians, who are also skilled professionals with bills to pay, are expected to sing for no supper. Sorry, that’s indefensible, particularly given that Heritage Lottery Fund money has already been diverted to the games.

Here’s the thing: despite the hideous logo, the outrageous cost, the problems processing ticket sales and all the rest of it, I want the games to succeed, even though I’m not remotely a sports fan and won’t be attending any of the events myself (or, probably, even watching on television apart from the opening and closing ceremonies). It’s a huge event, and people all over the world will be watching. But it’s because the whole world will be watching that we need to pay attention to how the way the proceedings have been organised will be perceived elsewhere in the world. Leaving aside the fact that professional musicians are as much entitled to be paid for their services as anybody else, adopting a policy of not paying professional musicians to perform at the Olympics just makes us look cheap, particularly given that the amount of money involved is a drop in the ocean in terms of the games’ overall budget. It’s a choice that certainly does not make me proud to be British, or English, or in any way associated via citizenship or geography with the 2012 games; the adoption of this shameful policy does Lord Coe and the rest of LOCOG’s board no credit at all. It’s the nastiest kind of penny-pinching, and it diminishes and demeans the whole event. We’re known, as a nation, to be proud of our artists, their tremendous heritage, and the enormous contribution they make to our society. By refusing to pay professional musicians at Olympic events, LOCOG is simply broadcasting to the world that art, in 2012, is not something that has any value at all to this country’s establishment, and that’s not a message we should be giving the rest of the world as we prepare to host the biggest international event this country has seen in at least half a century.

So, LOCOG – just pay the damn band, OK?


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