‘I won’t go whether I sell them or not,” says Richard Moore, who had bought tickets to see Ryan Adams at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 3 April. “I can’t imagine it’s going to be anything other than a disaster or a total circus. The atmosphere is going to be tainted, he is obviously not in a good place, he has a history of reacting badly if the heckles aren’t to his liking, and I imagine while some of the audience will stay away, others will turn up to make their feelings heard. It could be the shortest show in history with one of the most toxic atmospheres.”
Adams’ forthcoming UK tour – which begins at the Albert Hall for the first of two nights on 2 April, then takes in shows in Newcastle, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Sheffield, before concluding in Cambridge on 11 April – is shaping up to be some bizarre combination of damp squib and lightning rod.
On 13 February, the New York Times published a detailed report featuring accounts from a series of women who alleged Adams had manipulated them, promising help with their careers and then making sexual and emotional demands. It also reported his sexualised text exchanges with a teenage girl, with Adams at one point telling her: “If people knew they would say I was like R Kelley [sic] lol.” (Adams has apologised to “anyone I have ever hurt”, but described the report as “upsettingly inaccurate”.) Since then, he has become the focal point of demands that the music industry address sexual harassment and manipulation by powerful male artists and executives. The result is that many fans who had bought tickets for his tour intend to stay away.
One female fan, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Guardian she had paid £164.10, including booking fees, for the “Ryan’s Pinball Lair Experience” at Adams’ show at the O2 Apollo in Manchester on 7 April. “I felt physically sick reading the article. I don’t want to support such a person. He could have used his ‘apology’ tweet to really apologise and atone for his actions. He did not.”
Plenty of tickets remain available for Adams’ tour, both through venues, and secondary ticketing sites. But for fans trying to get rid of their tickets, there’s a problem: no one wants them. Elliot – who asked that his surname not be used – has tried selling to friends and through a secondary site. “People have just said the same as me: they have no interest in seeing him. Silence on Facebook and no response on Twickets.”
Many fans feel they should receive refunds. Others believe the shows should be cancelled. The problem with this is Adams’ own stance. Despite his next album being pulled from release, his own guitarist calling him a “monster”, and the loss of three sponsors, Adams has made no move to cancel his tour. According to Simon Long, a founding partner of the music and entertainment law firm Collins Long, there is no way out for the UK promoters, ticketing agencies and venues: they are bound by the terms of whatever contracts they signed with Adams and his management. “Until such time as we have contracts – and this is a lesson for the music industry – that say things like ‘Thou shalt behave like a saint, and if you don’t we have the right to cancel the tour’, there’s no way out for the promoters.”
The promoter, in this instance SJM, did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment. Nor did any intermediaries, ticket vendors or venues. The only comment came from the Royal Albert Hall: “The venue is being hired by a third party promoter, SJM, for the Ryan Adams concerts. The promoter has advised us that the concerts are still scheduled to go ahead. We are continuing to monitor this situation very closely.” The RAH’s spokesperson appended a short note: “Just to flag though, the phrase ‘definitely going ahead’ would be a misquote.”
In fact, Long says, morality clauses have started appearing in music industry contracts, but usually only in relationship to sponsorship, where the artist is being treated as a brand ambassador. “They are clauses such as: ‘The artist must conduct themselves in a first-class manner.’ What does that mean? I would say it means you don’t find yourself accused of improper conduct.” In the case of the Adams tour, though, he says the fans are the only ones likely to take action “It’s very difficult for the promoter, who has said ‘I will pay you X to play your songs for 90 minutes. It’s up to the fans whether they want to come or not. That’s the real sanction.”
As one promoter, speaking anonymously, puts it: “If the promoter cancelled, it’s a grey area, and a new area, but its 99% likely that the promoter would then be liable for all costs. I do wonder if morality clauses will indeed start to be factored in now.”
That’s no help to the fans still wondering what to do about their Ryan Adams tickets. Some have been angered by the lack of communication from venues, promoters and ticket vendors. The standard response from Ticketmaster to inquiries about refunds has been: “Ticketmaster only offers exchanges or refunds for tickets where the event is cancelled – this is set by the venue and event organisers as it is on their behalf that we sell tickets. I’m sorry we’re unable to help further with this.”
“I don’t think anyone has kept us informed, and that’s the promoter’s fault,” says one fan, who wished to remain anonymous. “I actually feel sorry for the venues who are probably equally in the dark and concerned about losing income.”
“The lack of clarity hasn’t been helpful,” says one fan who is still planning to see Adams in Dublin, and has tickets for one of the Albert Hall shows. “It was touted by Adams as a big tour, with big names in the band and surprises and so on, so when the record is dropped, and his guitarist leaves, then I think some clarification about what is happening or what to expect would be good. However, I suspect it’s brinkmanship by the venues, promoters and management as many people stand to lose a large amount of money by cancelling.”
At the heart of it all is Adams’s intransigence. Apart from his statement contesting the accuracy of the New York Times piece, he has remained silent. This, more than anything, is what has angered the fans the Guardian spoke to.
“I just can’t see it going well,” says ticket-holder Susan Paterson, who will be staying away. “Apart from any reflection on whether it’s the right thing to do morally, it’s surely opening himself up to protests and disruptions. How can he sing songs like Harder Now That It’s Over or Nobody Girl after all that’s come out? How can he cover Taylor Swift?”
“The artist should have pulled the shows immediately, SJM should have pulled them, the Royal Albert Hall should have cancelled the hire of the venue by SJM,” says Michael Hall, who plans to sell his Albert Hall tickets and donate the money to Solace Women’s Aid. “They should have been falling over one another to do the right thing – instead they’ve done nothing. Their silence, as in so many of these cases, speaks volumes.
“I just don’t see how the tour is tenable,” says Callum Hussey, who had also bought Albert Hall tickets. “It’s easy to imagine half-full venues, protests outside, choruses of boos, projectile pints. Does Adams seriously expect anything different? If he really thinks the tour can go ahead without a hitch, I expect the Dublin crowd might convince him otherwise on opening night.”