If this goes up, I’m leaving town

If this goes up, I’m leaving town


norman lebrecht

October 01, 2013

The composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has hinted on occasion that he might leave the country if a Labour government raised the tax rate for the super-rich. Well, I feel the same way.

Yesterday, the lyricist Don Black proposed that a statue should be erected in London West End to the most successful maker of stage musicals in modern times.

If it ever goes up, I shall shun the West End.

His lordship may be a genius at selling a show, but he has trashed down the genre to a series of musical clichés and pop tunes. What was once a halfway house between grand opera and lowbrow music-hall has become, in Lloyd Webber’s proficient hands, a brand for safe entertainment and stage technology that barely engages the brain.

If his bust goes up in my town, I’m outa here.


Photo: Don Black, Lloyd Webber, Richard Eyre, at launch of his next show, ‘Stephen Ward’. (c) The Stage


  • Thomas Roth says:

    Well said. This man has destroyed a whole genre.

    • Alison says:

      As I’ve never heard of a man destroying a genre before, in any field of endeavour, I can only assume that it didn’t amount to much in the first place.

  • Tommy says:

    How many of his musicals have you actually seen, Norman?

  • Tommy says:

    Perhaps someone could let us know exactly what the West End would be like now without ALW (as composer and businessman and theatre-owner). I mean realistically, not infected by a personal view of his music. Would it be thriving?

  • unambarry says:

    Andrew has done an enormous lot of good for the West End and for musicals, and it’s just typical of Brits to cut people down to size when they reach the top of their game. Why such sour grapes all the time in this country? So much we have to learn from the Americans and their positive outlook. Not my genre of music as such, but if you don’t like his music, you don’t have to go!

  • tenorman1971 says:

    ALW has been dreadful for the UK musical. There are so many good new writers of music theatre in the USA, because the modern scene there has been set by the likes of Stephen Sondheim. ALW, IMHO – of course, has always ignored the rhythm and poetry of his own provided lyrics, relying on heavily four-square patterns. Any tunes that are memorable have generally been stolen from elsewhere! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yz1IDmmcetQ

    • DrewX says:

      Yes, by bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the theater and pumping vast amounts of money into London’s economy, he certainly has been dreadful. We need more great artists in the theater to write intelligent musicals that are huge financial failures.

  • Jon Jacob says:

    There is nothing quite so pungent as snobbery. It also has a tendency to linger too.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Oh, come on. What brilliant musical writers has Lloyd Webber held back? Not every work of his has been wonderful but he’s provided shedloads of stable work for thousands over the years and brought an awful lot of joy to millions all over the world. With a constant turnover in the West End (and on Broadway) there’s always been room in the genre for good work, so if good new pieces are not appearing it’s because they’re not being written, not because ALW is having them suppressed.

    If you want to see a brand taking over an entire city, you’d be better off looking at Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas.

  • You need to look at the upside of such a monument, Norman: it will give the canine companions of West Enders a deluxe spot at which they can relieve their bladders and exchange their “p-mail”

  • Will Duffay says:

    Daft scaremongering from the Right. Miliband is hardly going to return to 1970s levels of taxation for the super rich. It’s just idiotic Daily Mail junk. As for ALW – who cares?

  • ed says:

    It’s true that many people have been employed in ALW musicals, whatever one may think of the quality of the work, but it’s too bad that those who have been able to make so much money- and in some way or other benefited from the State- can’t accept being taxed fairly. It’s the City of London however that should really be paying into the fisc. Just a one percent tax on the sale of stock or bonds on the exchange would do wonders to finance an overhaul of Britain’s infrastructure and a renaissance of its art institutions.

    • Anon says:

      Ed – I think you’ll find that the EU’s own study of a financial transactions tax concluded that it would barely raise a cent for the governments imposing it. And a whole percent is very dangerous – that’s more than the margins on many financial transactions. Not only that, but be under no illusions – the charge would only be passed back, eventually, to the consumer, which hardly helps. And as for believing that the politicos would spend any results sensibly, ha!

      • ed says:

        Anon- With all due respect, I think the EU is moving slowly but surely forward to impose an FTT that will be harmonized between all European countries because it thinks IT IS a good idea. See for example: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/taxation/other_taxes/financial_sector/

        I would also urge you to read Joseph Stiglitz’s thoughts about a ‘Tobin’ financial transactions tax. See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/6262242/Joseph-Stiglitz-calls-for-Tobin-tax-on-all-financial-trading-transactions.html

        Joe is the fella who as Chief Economist of the World Bank did battle with the IMF and helped design alternative policies during the Asian Financial crisis in the late 1990’s that, for the countries that implemented them avoided collapse of their economies and/or a faster recovery than those countries who were forced to adopt the IMF program, precisely what Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy should be doing today, but cannot because of the IMF’s economic headlock, the EU’s political strait jacket (and NATO’s gun at their head and body politic). Unfortunately, when Stiglitz was Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under Clinton, he was marginalized by Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, his pitbull Larry Summers, and the Goldman Sachs cabalistas, and we found out where that led the U.S. and the rest of the world- KABOOM and economic collapse.

        The bottom line is that the financial services industry must pay its fair share of taxes to contribute to the well being of the community in which it does business. There is no reason why some poor sucker who runs a small business and can’t get cheap credit- while the banks or hedge funds too big to fail are on corporate welfare cherry picking their clients- must risk going to jail if he uses his sales tax collections to keep his employees working instead of remitting his taxes to the revenue authorities, while the financial services industry pays no sales tax at all. As for the hedge funds passing back the tax to its customer base, ‘it ain’t necessarily so’, or it it is, then who, pray tell would be that customer base, the 1%? And if it is should we care?

        The next big multinational scams will be the US-EU Trade Agreement and the TTP treaty, unless a few more Snowdens pop up and fast. Fasten your seat belts, the ride will be bumpy indeed.

        • Anon says:

          No, the customer base is all of us. Every business and individual is tied up with financial giants, your pension, your savings, your mortgage, your supermarket, your high street. If the costs of providing bank finance go up, the costs of managing your pension go up, the costs of trading go up, who will be hardest hit? Those with the least income.

          • ed says:

            What you are saying is correct for an unregulated market that is not free, but instead where overwhelming power to influence the market resides in the hands of the financial giants. In fact, it is a good argument for governments to provide some form of countervailing power to protect their citizens.

  • Peter says:

    If ALW is going to whine about high taxes on the super-rich, why doesn’t he just come to the U.S. where he will be coddled by idiot far-right legislators shutting down the damn government?

  • I did not know that musical entertainment was supposed to “engage the brain”…but then I am from across the Pond…

    • Peter says:

      I agree. In the U.S., being entertained and being intellectually engaged are expected to be mutually exclusive. God forbid enjoyment should involve anything other than the id–it’s bad for capitalism.

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        When I read comments like this I ask myself why I should ever again set foot in a concert hall or contribute a penny to an arts institution.

        • Peter says:

          Hmmm…the last thing I would ever want to do would be to discourage someone from supporting the arts. I hope you were able to give a good answer to the question you asked of yourself. 🙂

  • IainRMuir says:

    I’m a Brit and I agree entirely.

    If ALW is so awful, it must also reflect on those who’ve collaborated with him over the years.

  • Imogen Feldt says:

    “If this goes up, I’m leaving town”

    Go then – and take your bile with you.

  • Geoff says:

    Nobody should have to lose around half of their income to tax, however much they earn, and whoever they are.

    • francois grillot says:

      Yes, tax the rich, and the more the better!!! please!

    • John Hames says:

      Not even the hyper-rich? It’s taxing the poor — presumably as a punishment for their failure to accumulate wealth — that doesn’t make sense. (And anyway, it’s not half their income, it’s half their income over a certain — high — level.) For what it’s worth, I too think ALW has been a disaster for standards of entertainment. I accept that not everyone wants to see L’Incoronazione di Poppea every night, but there are limits. It’s not right to call Norman’s view snobbery — it seems that anyone with high standards is an elitist and a snob these days. What some commenters don’t seem to realise is that ALW is not reviled because he’s made a lot of money, it’s because people are offended by the way he’s done it, i.e. going shamelessly and relentlessly down-market. And of course it reflects on those who’ve collaborated with him. In my youth it used to be called “selling out”.

    • Northern Sun says:

      Dear Geoff, in Sweden people happily pay up to 57% tax on their top income, and the national debt per capita is amongst the lowest in the world! People can and will pay these taxes if they get something in return (a good national health system, child care, education (including music education), good public transport etc…). You don’t “lose” your income to tax, you invest it in the society that made you what you are. Had ALW chosen to build his career in Trinidad, he wouldn’t have benefited from the audiences London has offered him (and made him wealthy). It’s only fair to expect him to pay the tax his country deems necessary in a democratical process.

      • Geoff says:

        I don’t accept the principle that the more you earn, the higher the rate of tax you should pay. ALW will already be paying a huge amount of tax anyway, simply because of his earnings. He won’t be getting a better class of public service, he’ll be getting the same as everybody else, so why should be pay so much more? The idea of the state taking more than half your income in tax (which is what *could* happen in this case) is obscene, in my opinion.

        • Bob Burns says:

          Geez….have you ever heard of Adam Smith, the father of capitalism? Progressive taxation is nothing new under the sun.

          • Geoff says:

            I know it’s nothing new, I just don’t accept it’s the right thing to do. I’m also against taxing people on the value of their homes, incidentally.

      • Anon says:

        NS – and in the UK it’s over 57%, with income tax and “national insurance” (which is just another name for tax on your income) at the top rate. Don’t forget that the wealthy then spend much of what remains, most of which attracts 20% in VAT, so that’s approaching a 70% overall tax rate on their income even now.

        And we should remember, the top 10% of earners pay 90% of the income tax in the country (or something like that). We need those high earners, because if they leave or if they aren’t incentivised to earn money, to found companies, to capitalise on their invention, it’s the rest of us who will have to start paying for all the services we enjoy which they largely pay for for us.

  • Robt. Switzer says:

    If only ALW had collaborated with truly talented lyricists! He may be a talented tunesmith, butI can’t recall myself every having been moved by an ALW song the way I’ve been by Sondheim on countless occasions.

    • ed says:

      As for the spectacle, just think what could have been done if his characters had retained a good plastic surgeon or orthodontist, no?

  • Gary Carpenter says:

    ALW trained at the RCM at taxpayers’ expense. Most of those he has employed and have thus contributed to his wealth likewise. He has been rewarded and recognised by the state with a knighthood and a peerage. He is a petulant ingrate and should be ashamed of himself. It is interesting to compare his attitude with the substantially richer J K Rowling.


    • Anon says:

      I think it fair to suggest that any training costs have been well and truly paid back through taxation from ALW by now. The state does not give recognition in the hope of future tax income – or certainly shouldn’t, that’s basically selling honours – so these are irrelevant.

      And might it not be the case that if JKR is “substantially richer” she feels she can afford to hand over far more either as a percentage or in cash terms to the state than ALW, which seems a perfectly fair and understandable position for both of them?

  • Janey says:

    What did Lord Lloyd Webber do but write and produce productions? Did he tell others they could not work? Did he shut down theaters?

    The idea that he has harmed the genre of musical theater is preposterous. Show me the brilliant British musical theater composers doing any more or any better than he is. Show me the productions that would fill the West End. Show me the tourists these other composers would bring to Britain, the theaters they would maintain. Most importantly, show me any other composer writing in any way for even pseudo-classical voices.

    The Brits should be proud to have him.

  • MWnyc says:

    Norman, if you were to leave London, where would you go?

    • I didn’t say London, just the West End (which we call ‘town’). But it’s a good question, Matthew. Probably Paris. It’s a part of my DNA that I’ve never fully cultivated.

  • Lauren says:

    As an American, I am envious of the Brits that the argument is over whether or not ALW and Sondheim are ruining musical theatre. On Broadway (and touring the rest of the country) are the likes of Green Day’s American Idiot, endless Disney-based multi-million dollar productions that make the Ice Capades seem like Haute Culture, and the insertion of auto-tuned pop stars into starring roles in “revivals” of the classics of musical theatre.

    The have seen a couple of ALW productions in the U.S. and enjoy them for what they are and would argue that they can provide a bridge between Low and High Art. However, I do agree that there is a taste level that should be maintained in every genre and he does ride the edge of bad taste at times.

    As for taxation: The 1% have taken over just about everything, everywhere yet often pay the least amount of tax. In the U.S., the agents of these social parasites (we call them congressmen) have shut down the government. The result will be the financial ruination of another 800,000 people (approximately), excluding the millions put out of work and into poverty in the aftermath of the post-2008 global market crash.

    The bottom line is: Tax the Rich and save the High Arts via tax money. Furthermore, returning Arts Education to the schools will build a pool of future supporters of The Arts. Most American young people have NEVER heard a symphony from beginning to end, and worse, lack the tools to appreciate it if they did.

    • Bob Burns says:

      Bravo, Lauren. Exactly!

    • Peter says:

      Lauren–well said! As an American, I would also like to remind the Brits that megarich self-absorbed show-business people bolting from their country to our shores in protest of “punitive” British tax rates is nothing new. In the 1970s, Rod Stewart did his “Atlantic crossing” with much fanfare, and as a result we Americans and the rest of the world were subjected to the likes of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Eric Burdon and Elton John and Phil Collins and the what’s-his-name who sang “imagine there’s (sic) no countries” also crossed the Atlantic for the same reason and their quality of music plunged. So while I have no sympathy for affluent tax-whiners, I ask that the Brits not push their second- and third-rate artists over here because their products will become even more banal but better marketed and the whole world will suffer.

      • MWnyc says:

        I’m afraid that the radio stations would have subjected us to “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” even if he hadn’t come over here to live.

        And I still hear it every so often on the music feed they play at the supermarket.

        • Peter says:

          No doubt! I never thought I would say this, but after two decades of “soft rock” background music, I actually think we were all better off with the glossy instrumental muzak they piped into stores and elevators in the 1960s,70s and 80s. Sure would be better than having to hear the bad pop music of our youth for the rest of our lives.

          • MWnyc says:

            Oh, some of that bad pop music of our youth is entertaining.

            Look up the YouTube video of the group Wild Cherry’s song “Play That Funky Music, White Boy” (which I was inspired to watch after hearing the song in a supermarket). It’s a hoot.

            Whole Foods Market actually plays some of the cool pop music of the past. One time I literally jumped up and down for joy when they played the B-52’s singing “Rock Lobster”.

            (“It’s a BIKINI WHAAAAAAaaaaaale !!!”)

          • Peter says:

            Ha, ha! 😀 With a little luck we might even hear “You Light Up My Life!”

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Sorry to pop your balloon, but in 2009 the top 1% of earners in the US paid about 40% of income taxes and the top 20% pay 94% (http://www.cbo.gov/publication/43373, table 13). For all federal taxes the figures are 22% and 68% respectively.

      • Lauren says:

        However, according to Forbes magazine, the top 1% own 43% of total wealth. The top 20% in the U.S. own 89% of the countries wealth (Prof. Domhoff UC Santa Cruz). This leaves 11% wealth to be divided by the 80%. One in five Americans are now on government food assistance and a full one fifth of the population have no health insurance. According to the website think by numbers: About $59 billion is spent on traditional social welfare programs. $92 billion is spent on corporate subsidies. So, the government spent 50% more on corporate welfare than on social welfare.

        Consider my bubble intact!

  • Garry Prior says:

    I greatly enjoyed “Joseph” (which had no pretensions) and loved “Cats” which did. I was deeply moved by “Midnight” when I first heard it, although over-familiarity has eroded its stark beauty. I was underwhelmed by “Starlight Express” but understood the producer’s comment that if a patron is paying top dollar for a night-out, you must give them something they cannot see done better on TV or screen. I never saw “Evita” or “Phantom” or indeed any other ALW work, but I heard much of the music, which occasionally shone with melodic brilliance. I have a lingering affection for his “Requiem”, three of the movements of which I think are very good. I think “Pie Jesu” can stand with Faure, whose Requiem I love deeply and Poulenc, from whose style ALW seems to draw most deeply. Some of Evita can match Sondheim’s more sardonic songs eg “Another suitcase in another town”. Regardless of merit, statues of the living are a hostage to fate and the House of Commons policy (with exceptions) of no statues until 50 years after their death is a good one. In 50 years, we will know whether ALW’s music lingers on like Mozart or Salieri, as depicted in the first scene of “Amadeus”. Pigeons and dogs make no distinction.

  • It’s ‘Another suitcase in another hall’. Evita and Phantom are excellent pieces and Starlight is great entertainment. The man delivers, time after time.

  • EU uses super tax to fund solid gold equestrian statue of Andre Rieu, which is in turn leveraged and used to collateralise Eurobonds, which are in turn sold by being bundled into the cost of an Andre Rieu ticket/DVD. Crisis solved.

  • DrewX says:

    How tiresome. “This man’s music is not to my taste, therefore he is undeserving of serious praise.” God forbid a writer of gobsmackingly popular music be recognized in this way, since his music doesn’t meet the standards of you and your associates.

  • Warren Cohen says:

    OK, for a little amusement: a bit of ALW bashing by a justifiably jealous colleague. When Malcolm Williamson was overlooked in favour of ALW to write music for the 40th anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth (a job, as Master of the Queen’s Music, he should have been given) he said ‘the difference between good music and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is the difference between Michaelangelo and a cement mixer” Always loved that quote.

    • Lauren says:


      You are right to imply that Williamson was robbed. Webber received that honour based solely on his bank account and “pleb-appeal.” Even when I was seriously involved in the rock music scene as a semi-professional musician, I never considered comparing even my favourite bands (Bealtes, Bowie, Bjork, Libertines) with the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and the rest of the classical canon. Perspective is everything!

  • JamesP says:

    Dear Norman, Malcolm Williamson has been quoted above; Williamson also distastefully said Lloyd Webber’s music music is everywhere “but then so is AIDS”. Some time later Williamson delivered a score of his to the Savoy hotel and afterwards crossed the road to The Adelphi Theatre to see ALW’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’. Going public on ALW a second time he said: “Andrew has opened up the flesh of the mind…this music is immortal….it is technically musically marvellous…it also has spiritual and philosophical depth to it”.

  • I find the ignorant snobbery of the classical world towards musicals abhorent. Let’s not forget that classically-trained musicians benefit from a taxpayer-funded education and, if subsequently employed in a professional orchestra or opera house, will continue to live off the public purse until they die. Since completing his studies, ALW has never received a penny of public money for the creation of his musicals yet has generated millions worldwide in the form of salaries, taxation and tourism revenue as well as tempting thousands into theatres who would not otherwise care to darken their doors. If you want pariahs, take a look at the swathes of charlatan opera directors obscenely remunerated with taxpayers’ money for letting their personal neuroses run free on stage.

    Classically trained at the RCM and RNCM, I conducted Lloyd Webber’s works all over the world for eleven years, crossing the floor to state-subsidised opera twelve years ago. Having experienced both disciplines at the highest level I cannot bear to sit back and listen to this ill-informed guff about his supposed detrimental influence on the genre of the West End Musical which, without even taking his pieces into account, has been considerably more innovative over the last fifty years than the opera world has.