Although Monday 19th July marked Freedom Day in England, for many it’s just a transfer of responsibilities. Most of the rules are not now enforced or mandated by Government, just switched to companies or individuals to create their own interpretations. Alighting at this website you’re likely to be most interested in how this can impact upon events, gigs and venues, unfortunately there is no absolute clarity.

For music venues in particular there are likely to be any number of stakeholders, all hoping to impose their own restrictions – from promoters, agents and artists to sponsors, licensing bodies and authorities. What this can mean, if we’re not careful, is that gigs within the same venue might be subject to different levels of control and restriction. Until September of course, when the Govt wants to impose a no-entry unless double-jabbed plan.

The immediate response is to celebrate reopening, albeit cautiously. No venue, event, promoter, or artist wants to find themself back in an extended lockdown, ever again. Whatever metaphorical or administrative mountain we must climb to be back in work and providing entertainment, we’re obviously going to do it.

Initially it looked like reopening during the rapid spread of the Delta variant would see most caught in a pincer movement with staff and performers side-lined, locked down by default. The steady decline of infection though has helped to calm fears and for every cautious punter there are many more who are eager to be on the dancefloor and in the moshpit again.

Our next hurdle is inevitably going to become the Covid Passport or Vaccine Pass. I’m baffled that this has become a political football when its imposition was such an inevitability that even the barely educated (i.e. me) were writing about it over 10 months ago  and again at the end of 2020.

Event safety in 2021

Clambering out of Covid has been a series of delays and missed opportunities, many of which are a mystery to those of us who know and acknowledge that it’s an airborne virus. Consequently, a high crowd density in an enclosed space with poor air circulation provides a greater level of risk. The Govt’s latest response to this is that those attending ‘nightclubs’ will need vaccine passes, a motion then bafflingly rumoured to be extended to football stadiums – although conveniently long after Euro 2020 departed our shores. All venue owners must anticipate that this is coming their way and plan accordingly, whilst also managing their own levels of risk.

Fortunately for many there are a wealth of resources provided by the likes of the Music Venue Trust  whose work has been exemplary throughout this process. Even without their campaigning and lobbying, their guide to reopening safely is worth the membership fee on its own. It remains something of a mystery though as to why (almost 2 years into this) there’s no definitive or legal advice on ventilation or financial support to do our own work.

As ever we cannot rely on others to help, we must ensure that we’re united against contracts that try to enforce fees when shows are postponed due to Covid, and official bodies that change their minds and regulations every few hours. We also have to kick back against all venues and events being categorised as being the same – they are not. A jazz or classical show in a large airy auditorium is entirely different from a punk gig in a 300 cap club with a low ceiling. The prevarications hint at rules that were relaxed not because of a desire to do so, more that they couldn’t hold us back any longer and didn’t want to offer further fiscal support. The ongoing reluctance to support or endorse any insurance package speaks clearly to the latter point.

Shows and touring are going to be distinctly home-grown for a while, there are few tours that can sustain having cast and crew in quarantine and no signs that exemptions will be offered. With differing laws across countries, the international mega-star tour will be unworkable until 2022 at the earliest. And when 2022 dawns its anticipated that we’ll have the opposite problem, too many shows and saturation for the market and fans.  

We also rely on the fans to protect each other which is inherently risky. If you have been locked down for months and have tickets to see one of your favourite acts, are you going to act responsibly even if you feel a bit ill in the days before the show? People are selfish and testing/tracking is currently the only way to ensure the safety of other gig attendees, venue staff and the artists themselves. Artists are going to want protection – witness Fontaines DC having to withdraw from Latitude because they’d registered a positive result, possibly contracted whilst playing a smaller show. Very few are going to take that risk in future.

No-one said it would be easy, it never has been. Maintaining an awareness of the different scenarios and their likely impact on your market has never been more important. Think local, act global and let’s try and put the fun in freedom. As they used to say on Hill Street Blues, ‘Let’s be careful out there’.

 

Footnotes –

Government guidance on working safely during coronavirus for events and attractions

Jul 29: Although Music Week believes that Government relaxation of rules for vaccinated travellers is good news for the industry, it remains the fact that it would have to be extended Europe wide (at least) for agents/managers to believe that global touring is viable again. The story includes QOTSA pulling out of Reading/Leeds which proves that point.