UK music venues call for government help and fan support while suffering “significant” financial losses amid coronavirus fear

"Regarding a gig environment as being more dangerous than any other is fundamentally incorrect"

Music venues across the UK have reported significant financial losses amid concern of the coronavirus outbreak – with industry bodies claiming that government assistance may be required should it continue or worsen.

Speaking to the NME, the Music Venue Trust said that it had surveyed their many grassroots venue members across the UK and found that 40.1% of them had noticed identifiable downturn in gross income over the past week, while 37.7% had noticed an increased number of fans buying tickets but not coming to gigs, and that 19.1% of venues have had shows cancelled. There’s also been an alarming decrease in the number of advance tickets being sold.

“Even I was surprised by these numbers,” the Trust’s CEO Mark Davyd told NME. “The sector itself is run on a shoe-string. A change in gross income of 3-5% would be dramatic. We have over 40% of venues reporting losses of 10-50%. The ability of the sector to suffer this for any length of time is completely negligible really.”

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Independent Venues Week
Edwyn Collins performing as part of Independent Venue Week 2016 at the Hebden Bridge Trades Club

Texas music showcase South By South West was cancelled last week due to COVID-19 fears – leaving many new bands and rising artists out of pocket. It has since emerged that the festival wasn’t covered by insurance, and that SXSW has been forced to lay off employees due to losses.

Last week, a senior government medical adviser said that there was no need yet to ban music events in the UK, while reports have now emerged that promoters are working to postpone Coachella in the US due to coronavirus spreading. This all comes as Italy has been put on a state of emergency quarantine to prevent the outbreak.

Davyd said that grassroots venues here in the UK only really had until “next week” under the current circumstances until they started to face serious financial difficulty. He asked for the UK government to step in and assist businesses, as other European bodies have while the outbreak worsens across the continent.

“The big question really is, ‘What is the UK government going to do?’” Davyd told NME. “Just dealing with this downturn will require government intervention. In Italy, they’re announcing that they’re going to suspend mortgages and business rate payments. They would need to match that here.”

He continued: “We’re seeing activity right across Europe in order to mitigate the impact on not just music venues but right across the business sector. We’ve seen packages announced for airline companies for example, and in the event of a ban on activity we would expect to see the appropriate government taxes and rates suspended.”

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Davyd also urged music fans to “follow the government’s advice” on daily life and dealing with coronavirus, “rather than to completely isolate themselves and start acting in a radically different way.”

“The thing that you have to deal with is what’s happening in the media, how people perceive that, and how that impacts on our lives,” he continued. “SXSW being cancelled is a major headline and I totally get that, but if 25% less people are turning up to your show at a 300-capacity venue then you don’t have a show. You’re going to be losing money hand over fist at every show.

“It is worth noting that there’s nothing special about a music venue – I’m hearing a lot about people who don’t want to go to the show, but they’re in an equally dangerous environment on a bus, in the cinema or down the shops. If you’re considering isolating yourself, then that’s your choice to do so. We would ask members of the public to really consider what that means. Just isolating yourself by not going to the show you want to go to is not an effective measure whatsoever. Regarding a gig environment as being more dangerous than any other is fundamentally incorrect. There is no more danger of being in a gig than there is at being at school.”

He added: “Realistically, the advice that we currently have from the government and the chief deputy medical officer is that there is no specific risk from music concerts. At the present time, they’re not planning to limit those – although that could change.”

From here the Music Venue Trust said that they would be carrying out more surveys, as well as immediately enabling their Emergency Response Team to take a look at every insurance policy and existing contract to look at financial mitigation available and potential liabilities.

It is understood that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working to enact the guidelines of Public Health England and has been in regular conversation with leading figures from the music and entertainment industry with regards the public safety and the coronavirus situation.

NME has contacted government officials from the Treasury for a response on how they might assist grassroots businesses and arts spaces amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

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