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Socially-distanced gig pilot didn’t provide a commercially viable model

By | Published on Thursday 30 July 2020

Clapham Grand socially distanced Frank Turner show

The manager of the Clapham Grand has said that a pilot post-COVID gig staged at the London venue earlier this week was unsuccessful. Although the show complied with current social-distancing rules, it didn’t provide a workable solution for getting live music started again, because the restrictions resulted in the event being loss-making.

With plans to allow indoor concerts to resume in England from this weekend – but with social distancing rules still in force to limit the future spread of COVID-19 – the government has been testing the viability of such shows.

Frank Turner headlined the gig at the Grand on Tuesday night. Only 200 tickets were made available for the 1250 capacity venue, which was set out cabaret style to ensure distance was maintained between gig-goers. Drinks were only available via table service and staggered-entry and one-way systems were used to ensure that there was never any crowding as people moved around the building.

Venue Manager Ally Wolf said of the experiment: “[Greatly reduced capacity] paired with vastly increased operational costs to fit with COVID compliance, without a reduction in any of our fixed overheads, means that we are opening to a loss of revenue, which isn’t sustainable for the future”.

Expanding on that in an interview with the BBC, he said that the show was loss-making before any artist fees were even taken into account. “It can’t be the future for live music, it can’t be the future for venues”, he added. And Tuesday’s show wasn’t commercially viable despite the Grand having more flexibility and space than many other venues.

Despite indoor shows technically being allowed again in England from Saturday, challenges like those outlined by Wolf means it could be some time yet before gigs really get going again.

And even if some venues can make it work, there is also the question of whether or not fans would enjoy and therefore pay for a socially distanced show. That’s something that possibly depends on the artist and genre, and to what extent an act can rework their performance for a more laid-back cabaret style experience.

Experiments as to what is possible from a safety, commercial and creative perspective continue in various countries, of course. Though, even if some of those experiments are successful, with second spikes of COVID seemingly now likely in multiple places, plenty of uncertainty remains about the next few months – and very possibly the next year – in live music.