Grassroots music venues in the UK are still without government plans for COVID pilot events, despite the fact other much larger scale tester shows are going ahead this weekend.
This weekend will see a “historic” pilot gig with no social distancing featuring Blossoms, The Lathums and Zuzu all set to perform to 5,000 fans at Liverpool’s Sefton Park as part of the government’s Events Research Programme – as well as the city also hosting a two-day nightclub pilot featuring the likes of Fatboy Slim and The Blessed Madonna. Meanwhile in London, next month’s BRIT Awards have also been earmarked to feature an audience for a COVID test event.
However, the Music Venue Trust have said that while they welcome these pilot shows, “it isn’t at all clear how anything learned from these events will directly help us to open the Hull Adelphi, 100 Club London, Tunbridge Wells Forum, Bristol Exchange or any of the other 950 grassroots music venues across the country that want to Revive Live music and get audiences back in front of musicians in our communities.”
Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd told NME that they are currently waiting on information and guidance from the government, but based on what they’ve already tracked themselves, “everything seems to be heading in the right direction” for reopening after June 21 – but some kind of testing events will still be needed to ensure that any potential rules can be adhered to.
“It’s good news that we’ve got these pilots, but we have been writing to the government for weeks now to point out that the specifics of what we do at grassroots music venues are not actually being tested,” he said.
“What we’re puzzled about is that with the way that the vaccine is being rolled out and the way that the R rate has come down so dramatically, is that considered to be enough so that we don’t need any more test events, or have they just forgotten to do it? That’s what we’ve been asking.”
Despite the data suggesting that “we are moving into a time where the chances of catching the virus is low enough that small gatherings of people are considered to be very low risk”, Davyd said that pilot events were especially important for smaller grassroots venues so that they could have the time and knowledge to prepare for any complications.
“There may be something from the pilot events that they’ll ask us to do, but we don’t really know what that will be yet,” said Davyd. “For example, if they say that everyone needs to show us a COVID status certificate to prove the results of a test, immunity or a vaccination – which is one idea they’ve punted around – then we need to know that works. We can’t just tell 900 venues to open on June 21 to prove that it’s practical, deliverable and economically viable.”
He continued: “On some of the things we’ve seen suggested everyone needs to have a rapid test done privately and separately, the room must be ventilated to change the air 10 times an hour and then they must take a test four days later. That’s not going to be economically viable for grassroots music venues. The ventilation alone will cost tens of millions of pounds to install in over 900 venues.
“We need action now, and we’ve told the government that repeatedly. At the moment, they haven’t asked us to do anything so we need to assume that they are comfortable with what they’ll suggest be done in grassroots music venues is either very light touch or is significantly light touch enough that they’re convinced that everyone can do it.”
Davyd said that the MVT were soon to release their findings after surveying venues to find out which were planning to open and when, as well as their recent audience survey into what fans want from the return of live music.
The results look promising, with Davyd “expecting that nearly 100 per cent of the circuit is expecting to be open at full capacity by the end of July” but “subject to government pilots and coming back with reasonable and deliverable expectation”
“I don’t see why it shouldn’t be possible,” he said. “Talking to my team at Tunbridge Wells Forum, we’re pretty confident that we can put on a gig now that would be remarkably safe.”
He added: “We also had 27,000 people submit answers to our audience survey, which gives us a very clear picture of what it is people want. In advance of that, I can tell you already that overwhelmingly people feel that they’re ready to come back. We’re seeing that more than 70 per cent of people are ready to go to a gig as soon as we’re open.
“There are some interesting approaches to things like COVID certification, ventilation and all of that, but there are a large majority of people who are firmly of the belief that they’re ready to come back and see some gigs.”
Responding to NME, a government spokesperson said: “The Events Research Programme is examining the risks associated with the return of fans to venues of all sizes to provide evidence and data that can then be applied widely.
“Public safety is our top priority and the pilots are guided by scientific experts and the latest public health data to reduce the risk of transmission.
They added: “Whilst the first few events have been conducted successfully, we need to gather further data to build up the evidence base for the safe return of crowds at the events still to come. We will submit findings and publish a review to inform decisions on further reopening at Step 4 of the roadmap once all of the pilots have been completed and the data has been analysed.”
Much uncertainty currently surrounds the return of live music and what it might involve should gigs be allowed from the set COVID recovery roadmap date of June 21, with 18 of the UK’s grassroots venues still at critical risk of closing forever and countless others in need of normality for shows at full capacity this summer.
With health passports set to be trialled to “reopen live music safely”, the Music Venue Trust have been calling on the government to bring about test events for grassroots music venues sooner rather than later so that all obstacles can be overcome in time for the summer.
Speaking to NME at the end of last year, Davyd put the saviour of UK music venues down to “people power”.
“When we look at where donations are coming from and when they spike, it is very closely linked to the coverage we receive from the NME,” said Davyd. “What that means is that NME readers are taking action and making a huge difference to keep these venues alive. We want to make it incredibly clear to the NME and its readers that the Music Venue Trust are merely standing in front of the work done by the public, by artists and by good samaritans.”
- READ MORE Festival boss on “historic” Liverpool pilot gig: “Punters will be able to behave like COVID never happened”
He continued: “This is the result of people power. When Music Venue Trust and NME were first talking about this crisis in March, we were looking at the very real closure of 500 venues. It’s quite an astonishing achievement and it belongs as much to the writers and readers of the NME as anyone.”
Visit here for information on how to help or donate the #SaveOurVenues campaign.