When the new home in Manchester for Royal Opera House productions was announced this week, there was one aspect that not a single reporter or commentator mentioned. And I'm quite sure that the two guiding spirits behind the scheme, ROH chief executive Tony Hall and Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, never once mentioned it. It is the old saw of booking fees.
The Manchester venue, the Palace theatre, is owned by Live Nation. And Live Nation, like so many arts venues, charges booking fees. Is there any one thing in the whole of the arts that irritates audiences more? A few years ago, in my campaign for cheaper ticket prices, I also called for an end to booking fees, and I received many letters from readers agreeing how iniquitous they are. But, if anything, the situation is worse. The fees are certainly higher.
The letters page of this paper over the past week has printed complaints from readers booking for concerts at the O2. One reader wrote
how he paid the £45 advertised on the Metallica ticket, and was then charged £4.50 booking fee and a "transaction fee" of £4.80, adding up to a £13.80 surcharge. That's quite a percentage. Another reader went in person to the Brixton Academy for a Stranglers concert but was still charged a booking fee as the box-office manager said he "could not make it cheaper than booking in advance".
For the next big concert at the O2, the gig by Katie Melua (pictured), tickets are advertised at £32.50. Just try to get one for that price. In actual fact you will end up paying nearly 25 per cent of the advertised ticket price in additional fees. Go online and the main site takes you via livenation .co.uk directly to Ticketmaster, which has a "service charge" of £4.75 a ticket and a "delivery fee" of £2.25 per booking.
I hope I am not partly responsible for these idiotic phrases box offices used to operate a "handling fee", but after I repeatedly pointed out in this column that the handling tended simply to involve a box office person handling it as he put it in an envelope, that absurd word was used less, to be replaced by the equally laughable service charge or delivery fee. Many arts venues even charge these "delivery fees" with e-tickets that you print out yourself. And if you go in person to book? You escape a booking fee only if you pay in cash!
The whole shenanigan is, of course, no fault of Katie Melua or any other of the artists involved. But it would not harm if they spoke out occasionally on behalf of their fans. These additional fees are rarely just one booking fee, but a booking fee and another charge for another stupid name, and usually for each ticket bought. At best it's irritating, at worst it's immoral. Ticket buyers want some transparency here. And it is not just rock concerts that are at fault. Most theatres now do it, and many make the additional charges even if you turn up in person at the box office. I do wonder if that is even legal. Perhaps we need a test case in the courts to challenge booking fees, transaction fees, handling fees, delivery fees, and all the other fancy names for what are quite simply rip-off fees.
Better still, arts venues could avoid a court case and avoid insulting their customers simply by putting the full cost of the ticket on the ticket and ending all the various booking fees. It would be the biggest step forward for the arts in years.
Wall of sound and fury
The much-anticipated and much-publicised interview with the legendary record producer Phil Spector from the BBC’s Arena strand had its fascinating moments, as the footage from his recent trial for murder was inevitably riveting.
But the programme was dire, taken at a funereal pace, with every record that was mentioned being played in full, and sometimes twice over. There were moments when I wanted to take Spector’s famous wall of sound and bang my head against it.Also, Spector was continually asked about his views, based on the records he had produced. For example, the interviewer was intrigued that Spector could reconcile the refusal to believe in John Lennon’s song “God” with the faith in George Harrison’s song “My Sweet Lord”.
I hate to be the one to break this to the arts supremos on Arena, but record producers produce the music; they may even arrange it; they don’t write the lyrics, and don’t have to believe or disbelieve them. Sorry to spoil the thesis.
Lost on the way to the shortlist
There's an annual cultural sport which is played out on the release of the Booker Prize shortlist. It is to question how the judges can possibly have left off the list some of the most popular and well-received novels of the year.
I think it quite wrong that this sport should be confined to literature and the Booker Prize. The release this week of the shortlist for the British Independent Film Awards is surely deserving of some scrutiny and a bit of Booker-style dissing.
I'll start the ball rolling by asking why the film Adulthood has somehow been discarded between the longlist and the shortlist. The movie by one of Britain's most exciting actor-directors, Noel Clarke, gave a searing portrait of life, crime and violence on the streets of west London.
One critic said he was so affected that he wanted to move out of London after seeing it. I hope that Clarke doesn't do the same after seeing the shortlist.