Well this IS odd: it is now nearly eight weeks since I’ve been to a gig. In the general landscape of awfulness and heartbreak, I realise that this fact is not only very small beer, it’s probably an insult to the bigger narrative.
But I was 17 the last time I went this long without going to a gig; without experiencing the communal and personal highs and lows of what live music gives you; without cradling a drink while undergoing some kind of emotional reaction – anywhere on a sliding scale between joy, exhilaration and inspiration to abject boredom or resentment.
I feel lost without live music. Which would be fine if I knew live music – in the form I understand – would definitely be coming back. But the longer the COVID-19 confusion continues, I’m increasingly worried that it won’t, despite the dogged efforts of those utter saints like the Music Venue Trust and Independent Venue Week who are fighting to keep hundreds of venues from going to the wall within the next few months (more of which – including their survival plans in a minute)
So much dismal news has already emerged since my last post that it’s hard to keep track.
TO RECAP: at the point of Lockdown, many of us were banking on being back to ‘normal’ by August. But as predicted, since then, the situation has become increasingly clearer and bleaker. Current rumours circulating around live music circles suggest that major promoters (mentioning no names, but rumoured to be Live Nation*) now consider autumn at the earliest to be a more optimistic target for restarting operations.
Meanwhile live agents seem split on when we can expect gigs to return. The majority still appear to be busy rescheduling tours for the autumn in the hope that the current restrictions on gatherings will have been lifted by then. Others – if my sources are correct – are already muttering about not getting back to proper business until January (which makes me feel sick, just typing this).
As a curveball, there’s also a prediction flying around that smaller venues might be able to open later this year, but restricted to half or a third of their capacity; which – for a variety of reasons – is not much good to anyone.
One of the real problems for the industry is that no-one really knows what the future holds at this point. With no definitive date to work to, everyone is relying on speculation (unless they maybe somehow have a secret hotline to what remains of the government’s DCMS department)
All, I suppose, we can deal with at this point is what’s immediately in front of us, which is:
1) Bands live careers on hold: and with that a whole slew of Tour Managers, sound engineers, guitar techs, merch sellers, lighting guys, tour bus drivers (and everyone else who makes a living on the road) all currently out of work. And…
2) Venues of all sizes, but especially grassroots venues in a dire situation with, as previously mentioned, many under the immediate or imminent threat of closure.
So much of what happens next still seems to be up in the air and likely to change at any moment (depending on what the government deem a suitable exit plan to be).
In the meantime, at least in the short term, the axe looms large over hundreds of UK venues. It’s been heartening hearing the odd story or two of friendly landlords who are giving a handful of venues a rent holiday through virus restrictions. And some crowd-funding sites have proved very successful (an appeal to help Bedford Esquires has just hit £30,000 according to the BBC News website).
But, for the most part, if at any point you’ve thought, ‘the venue thing, it’s probably not that bad’, IT REALLY IS THAT BAD. It’s worse than any of us probably thought – or could imagine (one insider told me that to keep 700 of the venues open – which form the backbone of our grassroots circuit – would cost over £10 million). If nothing is done the grassroots venue circuit in the UK will be decimated and the course of British pop music will alter forever.
What’s needed is a massive injection of cash from central government or arts bodies – who have consistently trumpeted the value of pop music to the economy and our national identity (not holding my breath on that one, but let’s see if we can appeal to their consciences). But as the bunfight for bailouts will be ugly and long, some direct action is needed in the shorter term.
The current situation is, as Mark Davyd from the Music Venue Trust told me on Monday “desperate”.
“We can’t save them all at once, but we can save them one at a time.”
Hence the #saveourvenues campaign which launched earlier this week. Part of their clarion call statement follows. But in a nutshell the SOV plan revolves around artists – especially major artists – staging a fundraising virtual gig for a specific venue that is close to their heart.
So the question now is, where are the saviours who used the old ‘toilet’ circuit as the first rung on the ladder to massive success? Where are they and are they ready to pay back that favour of being given a slot on a bill which led them to be signed? Or be seen by a journalist who gave them their life-changing write-up? Or get booked for that first tour which helped their breakthrough single make the Top 40?
Where are they? And are they prepared to offer a helping hand?
Because the future of the next generation of artists who want to be like them (or rebel against them), is now, at least partly, in their hands.
Music Venue Trust represents 670 independent UK music venues right across the UK and as a result of the current ‘lockdown’ and social distancing policies the prospects for many are grim. A lot of grassroots music venues were already operating on very thin margins and since these restrictions came in only 17% of them, equating to just 114, are currently secure for the next eight weeks. The other 556 are at imminent risk of being permanently closed down. The situation is dire, government support has been exhausted, and it now falls to artists, music fans, local communities and the wider industry to do something about it.
On Monday 27 April Music Venue Trust will be launching the #saveourvenues campaign.
The campaign matches artists, audiences, and fans, with venues facing closure in fundraising campaigns that aim to directly help individual venues meet their immediate and ever-increasing liabilities. Our approach to this campaign is that Music Venue Trust cannot hope to centrally raise the many millions of pounds required to avert a catastrophic number of closures that would fundamentally undermine the grassroots touring circuit. We can, however, work with our partners use our collective power to draw attention to all their individual campaigns, inspire artists, audiences and local communities to get behind them, and to fundraise so that each individual venue has the best possible chance of removing itself from our crisis list.
Artists have been approaching us organically for weeks asking what they can do to help. Artists understand better than anyone else in our industry the vital role that Grassroots Music Venues have played in their own and others’ development. We want to take this concern and give them a specific, effective model that will directly result in the venues they love being secured. We have already seen Frank Turner take this approach and personally intervene on behalf of 5 venues by playing a series of gigs, each one dedicated to a venue he holds in huge regard. We now need to recruit an army of Frank Turners and save more than 500 venues threatened with closure.”
To find out more and to support the campaign visit the website below
STOP PRESS: Mayor Of London launches cultural support fund, including £425K for the Music Venue Trust: https://www.london.gov.uk//press-releases/mayoral/new-fund-to-support-londons-at-risk-culture
NOTE * : Live Nation whose shares have plummeted since the pandemic began, on Monday sold 5.7 per cent of its shares for $500 million, presumably to insulate itself against financial pressures brought about by the virus. See full story here: https://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/live-nation-just-sold-5-7-of-its-company-to-a-saudi-arabian-fund-for-around-500m-it-may-soon-need-the-money/)