live events

Cautious welcome from industry as stage is set for live music return

The UK government’s pledge to reopen ‘concert halls’ from May 17, albeit with social distancing, as part of the third stage of national unlocking, prior to more widespread event freedom from June 21, has been given a cautious welcome by live events and touring leaders.

Yesterday’s announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that live music and concert halls could open by May 17, with all social distancing measures lifting on June 21. It was also noted that these are earliest possible dates and that they are subject to change should COVID-19 infection rates rise.

“It’s good news on the face of it, but I believe that this will be with restrictions, so it depends on whether these venues will be able to make economic sense doing so,” Bryan Grant, director of touring giant Britannia Row Productions, told Audio Media International.

“The government has just announced that all restrictions on events will be lifted from June 21, but can this be relied upon?”

When it comes to the possibility of lateral flow testing for live music and events, Grant added: “Several studies seem to suggest that infection rates are relatively low in these events but rapid testing and vaccination passports would help reassure ticket buyers. Several studies seem to suggest that larger venues in particular are relatively safe in terms of transmission. Can small venues afford to upgrade their ventilation systems? I think that many may not be able to and perhaps that’s an area where government could help.

“It’s immensely frustrating and indicates to me that the entertainment industry in this country has developed into one of the UKs primary domestic and export industries despite, not because of, successive Governments’ attitude to us. We are way more valuable to the exchequer than the fishing industry, for example.

“We’re still regarded as being somewhat frivolous and unnecessary when, as this lockdown has shown, we’re not only vital to this country’s economy but the social and mental well-being of its people. It’s time the establishment woke up and realised that, after several generations of development, we are also ‘establishment’.”

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Wob Roberts, chair, Tour Production Group, told us: “I think it’s a positive step, though ‘concert halls’ spans a very large difference in capacity, from Dingwall’s to the O2. There is not going to be an unlock plan for all till the need for social distancing is removed.

“If the roadmap is followed as per plan, then it should be possible for festivals to happen later this year. The key will be finding an insurer to take on the risk of a government u-turn, which is why Rishi and his mates should be the ones to underwrite these policies.

“I think the government has a blind spot when it comes to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). Even when the DCMS is understanding and on your side, the government appears to do nothing. The fact that so many arts and culture freelancers fell through the cracks of the government’s assistance plans is criminal.”

While the announcement provides at least some clarity on when live music and events may return, there are still question marks over how such events will be able to operate and what protective measures will be implemented to ensure live events businesses can survive the next four months.

Keith Watson, pro audio veteran and #WeMakeEvents, steering group member, told Audio Media International: “This is more of a roadmap out of lockdown than a roadmap to getting the industry back, which is very positive, but there are a number of things that we think the government should be focusing on in their upcoming budget.

“First is to provide grants, not loans, to businesses in the industry,” he continued. “We did a survey that found 34 per cent of companies don’t think they’ll last until June. The second is that we need protection for freelancers – over 70 per cent of people working in the industry are freelancers or self-employed, many of which weren’t eligible for financial support. Lastly, so that promoters and festival owners can take the jump and put on new events, we need government-funded insurance, as the risk of putting on an event is so high that nobody wants to take that risk.”

Mike Lowe, chair at live events crew charity Stagehand, was also cautious about the live music road map, highlighting the uncertainties that still remain for many businesses and individuals across the sector.

“The Government’s Road Map to Recovery is most welcome – it gives every citizen in the UK hope and hopefully purpose in playing their part in achieving  it,” he told Audio Media International. “At the extent to which road map has been rolled out so far, from May 17 to June 21,  live venues of all sizes will be able to run at very limited capacities. It will be hard for promoters to make financial sense of many potential shows and to do so, everyone involved will probably have to work for less in the early months. Recovery will therefore be slow.

“Although Boris Johnson reiterated that the road map will be irreversible, when challenged he stated that he could not guarantee there would be no reversals to the plan. This of course is the reality. It is a target. While we all hope that the plan stays on track, its timing is therefore far from certain.

“Mr Johnson did intimate that support will continue. Should this be the case, we know that too many freelance crew fall through the gaps in receiving sufficient government support. At Stagehand we are prepared and committed to continue to raise funds and award grants from our COVID -19 Crew Recovery Fund for many months to come.”


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