Many artists decided to pull out of Hit The North Festival last weekend, boycotting the festival due to allegations that have been directed at the former founder of SSD Concerts, who were the promoters for the festival.
Steve Davis, the managing director of the north-east based promotion company, resigned back in April after former staff members accused him of underpaying workers and making them feel “uncomfortable” whilst doing their job. Initially, the promoters denied the allegations, calling them “false and malicious”, and adding that they don’t “tolerate bullying, harassment or discrimination in any form”. Artists such as Sam Fender, Idles, and Kelly Lee Owens have subsequently cut ties with the company since the accusations.
The promoters then stated that they would be conducting an inside investigation into the claims, writing in a statement to NME: “The wellbeing of our team is of the utmost importance and any allegations of this nature must be investigated thoroughly.” SSD said that they would be “taking steps to ensure that all shows will go ahead”, and promoted Hit The North 2021, which took place in Newcastle on 23 October.
Before the event, on October 22, the company made a statement about recent “serious sexual allegations”. They wrote that “no evidence of racism, misogyny or sexual misconduct was found against the managing director”, when they conducted an independent HR investigation. SSD did admit that the company “could and should have done better” regarding business practices. Musicians who boycotted the festival over the weekend include Sports Team, Oscar Lang, NOISY, and Vistas due to the event being linked to SSD. A GoFundMe has been set up by event manager Cole Gilroy to mitigate money lost because of backing out.
“Today is ‘Hit The North’ Festival which should be a celebration of our venue infrastructure and talent in the North East,” reads a statement on the GoFundMe page, “However organisers, SSD Concerts have failed to sufficiently address ongoing claims of abuse which has led to many artists rightly pulling out of the festival. We are putting on a free show at Head of Steam 23/10/21 for a number of artists let down by the organiser and need help with costs that these artists will lose out on. We also hope to raise enough to help working crew etc who will also be losing out after what has been a terrible time for this industry over the last 2 years. Any help is appreciated, the North East is better than this and we can rebuild our scene.”
After the HR investigation into SSD was conducted, Steve Davis stated: “This has been a very sobering process to go through. I haven’t always got things right and if this has affected anyone, I am sorry. I thank all staff past and present for their honesty and feedback which will help the business move forward.” Investigators said in their report: “Overall, the level of familiarity between employees and Steve Davis as managing director has blurred the boundaries of professional relationships within the workplace which has been exacerbated by the industry within which they work.
“Some ACAS courses were booked for attendance by Steve Davis and other employees with management responsibilities. This would go some way to help provide some understanding with regards to the issues related to harassment, equality, diversity, and inclusivity.” They added: “The reflections of Steve Davis are reassuring. He has a level of awareness from this process and these events and will not engage in any contact or conversation that could lend itself to misinterpretation again in the future, reinforced by the fact there is now executive director awareness and oversight.”