Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reversed a decision to relax further lockdown restrictions in the UK from tomorrow.
Earlier this month, the PM signalled the return of some “socially distanced” live music events this August. Under the proposed plans, from August 1, socially distanced audiences were going to be able to return for indoor performances in theatres, music halls and other venues.
However, that decision has now been reversed after the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof Chris Whitty, said the country is now “at the outer edge” of how far it can safely re-open.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Johnson said he was pausing the re-opening of leisure businesses for at least another two weeks.
Johnson said it was time to “squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep that virus under control.”
He added: “I have…continually warned that this crisis could come back and we would not hesitate to take swift and decisive action as required.”
Whitty added: “So what that means, potentially, is if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things,” he said. “And these will be difficult trade-offs, some of which will be decisions of government and some of which are for all of us, as citizens, to do.
“But we have to be realistic about this. The idea we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong.”
Johnson also said rules relating to face coverings would be extended from August 8, meaning people would have to wear them in indoor venues such as museums, galleries and cinemas and that police would be enforcing the mask-wearing to a greater degree than previously.
The Music Venue Trust (MVT), which represents hundreds of grassroots music venues (GMVs), has issued a statement in response. MVT have consistently advocated for a recognition from the UK government that Grassroots Music Venues cannot reopen with the current restrictions in place and have called on it to acknowledge that this cannot realistically take place before October 1st at the earliest.
They are urging that the UK government’s main focus should be on providing a package of support that is distributed quickly and efficiently to protect the grassroots live music sector.
MVT said: “Music Venue Trust and the network of grassroots music venues across the UK are saddened but not surprised to hear that live music events planned from Saturday 1st August in response to government advice must now be cancelled.
“Since May 2020, Music Venue Trust has repeatedly informed the government that live music events in grassroots music venues would be extraordinarily difficult to stage, not economically viable, and at risk of being cancelled at short notice during the current pandemic.
“A number of venues across the country have attempted to stage such events based on advice from the government, incurring substantial costs to make their venues safe. That expenditure now adds to the growing mountain of debts accrued by those venues working within the government guidelines.”
Speaking about Johnson’s new pledge to postpone opening for two weeks, the MVT said they would urge the PM to look instead to a realistic October opening.
They added: “Music Venue Trust would like to restate and emphasise the position of the sector, which is that a clear and decisive position on the part of government to provide support for grassroots music venues in the form of efficiently distributed crisis funding until such time as they can re-open safely and viably would provide the much needed clarity that venues, artists, audiences and the wider public need.”
Earlier this month, the government stepped in with a cash injection to help the arts, culture and heritage industries “weather the impact of coronavirus” – providing music venues, independent cinemas, museums, galleries, theatres and heritage sites with emergency grants and loans.
It followed extensive campaigning from more than 1,500 artists and industry figures who came together to call on the government to stop “catastrophic damage” to live music as part of the #LetTheMusicPlay campaign.
However, the organisers of the socially distanced trial gig that took place in London earlier this week (July 28) have acknowledged that the event “did not succeed” in creating a viable blueprint for the return of live music.
The show took place on Tuesday at the 1250-capacity Clapham Grand, with Frank Turner performing to just 200 socially distanced attendees — less than 20% of their normal capacity. The pilot event was supported by the UK government as a trial run for enforcing safety measures at gigs during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Clapham Grand venue manager Ally Wolf told BBC News that the style of show that was trialled last night was not a financially viable model for other venues to follow going forward. Noting that the show didn’t make enough money to cover the venue’s operating costs let alone Turner’s performance fee, Wolf said: “It can’t be the future for live music, it can’t be the future for venues.”