Music venues in England are able to stay open after the new 10pm curfew imposed by the government as part of the latest coronavirus restrictions, provided that the performance has already started.
As part of new rules that could last up to six months, yesterday (September 22) it was announced that pubs and restaurants in the UK would have to be closed by 10pm in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19. While it was confirmed that theatres and cinemas would be exempt from these restrictions, there was some confusion as to how this might impact music venues.
A government Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport spokesperson has since confirmed to NME that “dedicated music venues may conclude after the 10pm curfew as long as a performance starts before 10pm, however outlets, including bars, must be closed by this point.”
Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd responded to the government’s news, telling NME this evening: “We are pleased to confirm that the majority of grassroots music venues are included in the performance spaces that are able to permit artists to conclude their performances post the 10pm curfew announced yesterday.
“Please respect all the measures introduced by your local grassroots music venue to ensure that your gigging experience is taking place in a COVID Secure Venue….. and enjoy the show!”
However, some venues warn that early closures could have a huge negative impact on them financially – especially those with non-performance based events planned.
While two thirds of the UK’s grassroots music venues are unable to go ahead with socially-distanced gigs, and hundreds still fighting for funding in a bid to survive COVID closures, some venues have recently reopened with events to suit the new limitations – including the iconic Leadmill in Sheffield.
“We re-opened on Monday for the first time in six months, which was amazing,” Leadmill assistant general manager Rebecca Walker told NME. “Everyone was very well-behaved and understanding. It was brilliant to see their faces again.
“We were operating with stripped-back gigs and a late bar with a few events – such as having a clubnight with a DJ that our customers know and love, but with a bar setting and table service and late-night events on until 3am. We’ve heavily invested in an app and have other COVID security measures put in place.”
With shows from a number of Sheffield’s best local bands, I am Kloot’s John Bramwell and a comedy set from Russell Kane, the Leadmill was rebuilding a promising calendar. However, Walker was less than enthused about the new curfew – arguing that it had wiped out “about 90 percent” of their revenue stream.
“This curfew measure comes in halfway through Freshers’ Week,” she said. “Last Freshers’ Week, we had about 2,000 customers per night on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This year, we have reduced that to 280 customers per night. We needed two events to happen to make them possible, and the government have basically cut them in half by taking away our late night, late-night event.”
She continued: “In terms of live music and comedy events, although it is great, there aren’t many of them. We’re trying to get some acts to do stripped-back events, but many of them don’t want to do that sort of thing and some are finding it difficult to get together and rehearse at the moment, and the limits on capacity limits the amount of income we can take. That directly impacts the money we can pay the band which they then pay to their management, their agent, their crew, their engineer.
“It’s just not financially viable for musicians to tour at the moment we can only put on a handful of gigs. The bulk of our income stream was from these late bar events. They have an income to our regular DJs and self-employed contractors that have fallen through the net of the government’s financial assistance so far. That’s been once again stripped away.”
Walker said that the venue would be trialling events earlier in the day and evening, but didn’t have much faith in their longevity.
“We’re still hanging on to the hope that we’ll receive COVID cultural recovery money through the Arts Council, and we should be hearing back towards the end of the month. That isn’t a given. The places that tend to get that Arts Council funding tend to already be in the circle. We are not funded by any bodies. We’re an independent limited company who depend entirely on our own revenue. We hope they see that we’re a company worth investing in and saving. Right now we’re working with the Music Venue Trust for a way to find financial assistance.
“We’re already moving our Spring 2021 shows into Winter 2021. Even if we can open up at the end of these six months, we’re still not going to have the amount of live events that Sheffield is used to until this time next year.”
In July, the UK government announced a £2.25million fund to help grassroots venues through the coronavirus pandemic. The first 135 recipients were announced in August when the fund was also increased to £3.36million.
Tomorrow, the government are set to announce new plans for financial aid for people out of work due to COVID, after figures from the music industry added more volume to the #LetTheMusicPlay campaign to demand that the government share arts funding to protect the future live crew, musicians and the individuals working behind the scenes.
In other coronavirus news, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has pledged a £450,000 emergency fund to help London grassroots music venues “devastated” by the impact of the pandemic.