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Music industry welcomes lockdown easing for live shows, but says much more needs to be done

By | Published on Monday 17 August 2020

Live music

The music industry has broadly welcomed the announcement by the UK government late last week that indoor live performances could restart in England this weekend just gone. However, there were warnings all round that this is far from the last stage in getting things back to normal, and that much more still needs to be done.

The original plan was for venues in England to re-open on 1 Aug, but that was scrapped at the last minute as COVID-19 infections in some areas began to increase. However, two weeks on, last week Culture Minister Oliver Dowden claimed on Twitter that the virus was back “under control” and therefore indoor events could now go ahead.

However, there are, of course, conditions to this. The main one being that social distancing must still be enforced within those venues that do re-open, drastically reducing their capacities.

A trial event employing those conditions at the Clapham Grand last month was deemed commercially unsuccessful, even before artist fees were taken into account. Meanwhile, many venues are simply unable to put the necessary measures in place in order to even attempt putting on events again.

In a response to last week’s announcement, the Music Venue Trust said: “Unfortunately, it remains the case that the vast majority of grassroots music venues are not financially able, or even have the physical premises layout, to deliver these newly permitted events”.

The organisation estimates that only 100 of the English venues it represents would be able to re-open their doors for live performances under the new guidelines. “However”, it said, “despite the challenges the announcement presents, we broadly welcome this progress towards the return of live music”.

Pressing the point that this is a stepping stone, rather than an endpoint, it went on: “If gigs are going to return in stages, which is the government plan, then we have reached stage four of that plan and can begin to imagine that stage five – real gigs at real venues – might be achievable in the foreseeable future”.

Meanwhile, acting UK Music chief Tom Kiehl stressed that it would be “extraordinarily difficult” for venues to put on socially distanced shows “in an economically viable way”, saying: “The government must ensure support measures for all aspects of the sector – including venues, festivals, musicians, performers and crew – are in place while many individuals and businesses in the sector still cannot get back to work”.

Echoing concerns about ongoing difficulties and an uncertain future, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, Michael Kill, said that while his organisation and its members welcomed the further easing of lockdown “this is still a long way off being back to normal for many businesses in the night-time economy and events sector”.

“We still have many questions with regard to the operational conditions for opening these businesses, but would urge the government to consider a more robust communication strategy with a realistic timeframe to allow businesses the opportunity to prepare for opening”, he said, noting in particular that little guidance had been provided for nightclubs which have not yet been given permission to re-open.

Stressing the importance of further government action, he said: “By the end of September 2020 we will see 70% of nightclubs and venues in the UK close for good, with thousands of jobs lost, without a clear roadmap for re-opening and further financial support during this extended period of lockdown”.