The UK’s grassroots music scene is calling for further financial support from the government, as new data shows audiences are wary of returning to live gigs.
A survey by the Music Venues Trust (MVT) of 28,640 members of the public found that while 89% of respondents said they were eager to return to gigs, they have mixed feelings about actually attending. Only 36% of people felt confident that it would currently be safe to attend a concert.
Just over 50% of respondents said they would visit venues fewer times or not at all in July, though they are more confident about attending later in the year – when considering an October gig, that figure drops to 16%.
The findings, announced first in the Guardian, come as MVT – whic represents 819 independent UK venues – has called for £50m to support them beyond the end of June, as the government prepares plans to allow them to reopen with social distancing.
MVT chief’s executive, Mark Dayvd, told the Guardian: “The government needs to read their own guidelines and realise the live music experience cannot be put forward in any form that makes sense for audiences, venues and artists, and they need to act to protect it at this point.”
Dayvd is working with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on their Events and Entertainment Working Group, but argues that guidance for venues is “not being run in an intelligent way at the moment”, and that they need to be shuttered for three more months before public confidence returns and live music is safe to put on.
“We’re in this game of: what can possibly be got open so it no longer needs financial support? But you can’t do live music when you’ve got this level of social distancing,” he said. “Singing, dancing, standing close to somebody and being in an enclosed space are classed as high-risk activities – and I’ve just described the live music experience. I understand how under these guidelines you can open a Tesco, but we don’t have anyone singing, dancing or being close to each other in a Tesco.”
The gig-goers who do feel ready to return will struggle to find venues to accommodate them. MVT surveyed its member venues and found, with 2-metre social distancing, only 13% of them could open – and of those, 96% said it would be financially ruinous to do so because of the radically reduced number of attendees.
“We’re risking losing a £5.2bn a year industry that will no longer be producing British talent,” Dayvd said. “Or we can do the sensible thing and accept that the scientific advice is that we shouldn’t be open and we can act accordingly: put in a financial package to keep venues closed and protected.” MVT has itself raised £2m in donations via the #saveourvenues campaign.
Earlier this week, culture secretary Oliver Dowden responded to worries in the performing arts sector, saying: “We will be convening experts in a targeted way, bringing together our leading performers from theatre, choirs and orchestras with medical experts and advisers. The idea is that they will work together, in detail, to develop that roadmap, which is so badly needed, towards performing safely.”
The classical music sector also targeted Dowden with an open letter this week, signed by representatives from the Musicians’ Union, BPI, PRS for Music and others, arguing: “Opening at 30% capacity under social distancing will not work without huge subsidy.”
Some enterprising promoters are staging drive-in cultural events while traditional venues remain closed. Live Nation, one of the world’s biggest concert promoters, announced a concert series on Friday to be staged across 12 drive-in venues across the UK. Around 300 cars can attend each gig, planned from July to September with confirmed artists including the Streets, Ash and Gary Numan.