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Music industry responds as government postpones date for resuming indoor shows

By | Published on Monday 3 August 2020

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The Music Venue Trust said on Friday that is was “saddened but not surprised” by the announcement from the UK government that plans to allow indoor live performances to resume in England this weekend just gone had been abandoned. The organisation representing grassroots venues said that the priority for ministers now should be ensuring that promised financial support for the UK’s music venue network be distributed as quickly as possible.

Allowing indoor live shows to resume again in England on 1 Aug was one of various announcements made by the UK government last month as the country’s COVID-19 lockdown was relaxed. However, social distancing rules would still have been in place, with many venues and promoters saying that those rules would make any indoor gigs unviable commercially speaking, and most likely unattractive to the average music fan. To that end, many venues and promoters were holding off getting started again anyway.

However, any shows that were set to go ahead in early August will now have to be called off after a second surge of COVID-19 cases led to localised lockdowns being instigated last week in multiple towns and cities in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester. Concerns that a resurgence in cases of COVID-19 could occur elsewhere meant some of the previously announced moves to relax lockdown needed to be reconsidered. The government said it would now re-review its position regarding indoor performances on 15 Aug.

Responding to that announcement, the MVT said: “[We are] saddened but not surprised to hear that live music events planned from Saturday 1 Aug in response to government advice must now be cancelled. Since May 2020, Music Venue Trust has repeatedly informed the government that live music events in grassroots music venues would be extraordinarily difficult to stage, not economically viable, and at risk of being cancelled at short notice during the current pandemic”.

“A number of venues across the country have attempted to stage such events based on advice from the government”, it went on, “incurring substantial costs to make their venues safe. That expenditure now adds to the growing mountain of debts accrued by those venues working within the government guidelines. Music Venue Trust has consistently asserted that no grassroots music venue will be able to stage live music events before 1 Oct at the earliest, yet the Prime Minister has stated that the new re-opening date might be as earlier as 15 Aug”.

It added: “Music Venue Trust would like to re-state and emphasise the position of the sector, which is that a clear and decisive position on the part of government to provide support for grassroots music venues in the form of efficiently distributed crisis funding until such time as they can re-open safely and viably would provide the much needed clarity that venues, artists, audiences and the wider public need”.

Reps for both the Musicians’ Union and the Incorporated Society Of Musicians stressed this weekend that the news the return of live music would be even further delayed only strengthened the need for the government to extend its current freelancer support scheme. That is currently set to expire long before most freelance music-makers can expect to be making money from their music-making again.

Meanwhile, the current CEO of cross-sector trade group UK Music, Tom Kiehl, told reporters: “The postponement of the easing of lockdown restrictions is very disappointing news. We respect and understand the government’s decision. However, it is a bitter blow for the music industry which risks being left behind as other sectors get back on their feet”.

“Having a date for indoor performances with social distancing was an important symbolic step on the road to recovery”, he added. “The decision to push the date back by at least two weeks shows how vulnerable the music industry is in this pandemic and why financial support measures for musicians, creators and others must continue. The UK music industry contributed £5.2 billion a year to the UK economy and sustained 190,000 jobs before COVID struck. It is vital that the government continues to help the industry recover”.