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Four UK music venues go out of business, with fears that this is the tip of the iceberg

By | Published on Friday 17 July 2020

Live Music

After months of warnings that grassroots music venues needed urgent support to keep them in business through the COVID-19 shutdown, four went under yesterday – the Deaf Institute and Gorilla in Manchester, and The Welly and The Polar Bear in Hull.

The hospitality company that runs the two Manchester music venues, Mission Mars, announced that it had made the decision to shut them down.

“The Deaf Institute and Gorilla have been at the forefront of the music scene in Manchester for many years and it is with great sadness that we announce that [they] will not be re-opening”, Mission Mars CEO Roy Ellis told the Manchester Evening News. “This difficult decision has been made against the backdrop of COVID-19 and the enforced closure of all of our sites and with continued restrictions upon opening of live music venues”.

“We appreciate that these music destinations are well-loved and have provided an early stage for many acts in the North West and are therefore well known in the world of music”, he added. “We would encourage any industry and music entrepreneurs who might be interested in this as an opportunity to please get in touch. We are extremely grateful to our hardworking teams and guests and followers for their loyal support over years”.

Meanwhile, the Hull closures come as a result of two of the six businesses owned by venue operator VMS Live – VMS Live (2011) Ltd and VMS Live (Venues) Ltd – going into administration, as a result of lacking “financial buffers capable of resisting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”. As well as the venues, the Hull Box Office ticketing business is also set to close.

VMS Live CEO Bert Van Horck said in a statement: “I am deeply saddened that we had to make this decision, following the completion of the yearly accounts, the announcements of the government and the bank reconciliation, which lead us to be at immediate risk of trading while insolvent”.

While it is hoped that all four venues could as yet be saved by other people or companies stepping in to take them over, doing so would be very risky just now. Meanwhile, it is very likely that these four will not be the last music venues to face closure in this way.

The Music Venue Trust warned in June that hundreds of venues would likely close without immediate government support. Of course, earlier this month the government did announce a £1.57 billion support package for the creative and cultural sectors and – in no small part because of prolific campaigning by the likes of the MVT – it was confirmed music venues would be among the beneficiaries of that package.

However, there remain plenty of questions over who exactly will get that money and how quickly. And, even where venues are saved, whether other people and companies in the supply chain on which the venues rely will also get the support they need to stay in business.

Even if the government manages to distribute much-needed funds to struggling venues and related music businesses in time, there is still little clarity on how long venues will have to remain closed.

Open-air events may have been given the go ahead again in England, though social distancing issues and the risk of future localised lockdowns impact on the viability of such shows. Meanwhile, we will see how a number of pilots of indoor shows go. Either way, the longer shutdown runs for, the more likely it is that a second round of financial support would be necessary.

In a statement yesterday, the Music Venue Trust said: “We have been warning for months that the situation faced by grassroots music venues was unsustainable and would result in the closure of spaces that people love and artists need unless there was concerted strategic action. That action must now be accelerated to prevent hundreds of other venues from being lost right across the country”.

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