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By Chris Cooke | Published on Monday 20 July 2020
UK Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson had a good rummage around in the Random COVID Announcement Tombola on Friday and pulled out a post-it note that read “let’s start gigs again on 1 Aug!” So gigs can start again in England on 1 Aug!
Not in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland though. With Johnson still pursuing his “fuck it, let’s just announce something” approach to the COVID pandemic, the devolved executives of the UK are still using England as a petri-dish for post-lockdown experimentation. And why not?
Friday’s announcement “marks a major step in getting the arts and cultural sectors fully back up and running”, said the UK’s Department Of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. Though, of course, as always, the devil is in the detail. Because while indoor music and theatre will be allowed in England again from next month, that will be subject to various social distancing rules.
The government had already announced various pilots to test the viability of COVID-safe indoor shows, all of which are meant to inform those rules. Those pilots are ongoing, though Friday’s statement included some upfront requirements.
Mainly the requirements that were already announced when outdoor events were given the go ahead earlier this month. But with more cleaning. Lots more cleaning. Deep cleaning at that. Get your bleach out, people!
Although a live sector on the brink is keen to get shows up and running again as soon as possible, plenty of questions remain. Firstly, what kinds of shows and venues can actually afford to operate when capacity is sufficiently reduced to allow the required social distancing.
Second, even where promoters can make a reduced capacity show work, will they go ahead when there is still a risk of cancellation due to future localised lockdown measures? As Live Nation admitted last week when it cancelled its series of outdoor drive-in shows, the risk of future lockdown is almost as problematic as the reality of current lockdown, certainly for larger scale shows with plenty of upfront costs.
Third, given most shows will require a good six weeks to organise and market, will venues and promoters still be in business by September to run them? Only if the government starts dishing out some of that £1.57 billion it has promised to support the COVID-hit creative industries.
Still, none of this is to say that last week’s announcement – however random it may or may not have been – isn’t to be welcomed.
It’s an “important step”, as UK Music’s acting CEO Tom Kiehl noted. But, as he also added, “there is still a long road ahead for musicians, performers and the sector as a whole. The government needs to continue to work with the industry so we can get back to live events and let the music play”.
Meanwhile, the Music Venue Trust said in a statement: “The government has been in talks with various organisations, including Music Venue Trust, within the live music sector with regards to pilot events being held”.
“However, we have not received confirmation that any of these events have been authorised to take place in grassroots music venues as yet, so would question whether 1 Aug is a realistic date for those pilot events to have taken place and to have informed the final guidance for venues”.
“It should be noted that we have already provided evidence to the government that staging live events with any level of social distancing measures would not be financially viable for the majority of grassroots music venues”, it went on.
“If such socially distanced events are to be part of the progress towards normality within the sector from 1 Aug, significant subsidies will be required if this measure is to have any noticeable impact upon the number of shows actually taking place”.
“We would also note that events at grassroots music venue level typically take between six weeks and six months to arrange”, it added, “and that a notice period of two weeks is another enormous challenge to the objective of bringing back live music safely”.