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Live performances allowed again in England, though social distancing rules will make staging them tricky

By | Published on Friday 14 August 2020

Empty seats

The UK government has announced that indoor live performances will be allowed again in England from tomorrow because, well, who knows? Maybe Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson was playing with his Magic Eight Ball, accidentally mumbled something about whether Britain should be gigging again, and then it came to him in a flash: “It is decidedly so”.

“With everyone’s hard work we’ve continued to keep the virus under control, so we can now allow more leisure, sport and cultural activities to reopen safely”, said Culture Minister Oliver Dowden on Twitter last night. “Indoor performances with socially distanced audiences will be permitted from this weekend”.

Of course the original plan was to relax England’s COVID-19 shutdown rules so that indoor live performances could resume on 1 Aug. But then, at the very last minute, it was announced that concerns about a second wave of COVID infections meant that couldn’t, in fact, happen. Though it was said at the time that that decision would be reviewed in the middle of the month.

To what extent last night’s confirmation that indoor live shows can now resume will help the music and wider entertainment industry is debatable. The key part of Dowden’s tweet is that only indoor performances with “socially distanced audiences” can go ahead.

It’s generally agreed that the social distancing rules that remain in place make it tricky for promoters to stage commercially viable events.

Once capacities are reduced to comply with the rules, it’s hard for promoters and venues to break even, and that’s before you even consider the extra costs those rules also create, with things like extra cleaning and more stewarding being required.

Some people have found ways to make it work outdoors. For example, Sam Fender this week kicked off a series of shows at a specially constructed outdoor arena in Newcastle’s Gosforth Park, where each group of gig-goers get their own separate fenced-in platform, carefully socially distanced from the next.

But others have found it hard to make even outdoor socially distanced shows work, and indoors the challenges increase.

On top of that there are the localised lockdowns in areas where COVID infections are particularly high. Live performances will still obviously be banned in all the places where such localised lockdowns are currently in force.

And for promoters, the risk that a localised lockdown could be instigated at anytime forcing yet more costly cancellations is another reason for being nervous about staging any gigs in the months ahead.

Back when the 1 Aug return of live shows was called off, the Music Venue Trust stated: “Since May 2020, [we have] 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”.

“Music Venue Trust has consistently asserted that no grassroots music venue will be able to stage live music events before 1 Oct at the earliest”, it added.

The latest COVID update from the UK government last night also confirmed that bowling alleys, casinos and soft play centres in England will be able to re-open tomorrow, while pilots will continue regarding sporting events with spectators and business conferences.

Clubbing venues are not included in the latest relaxation of lockdown rules, and will have to remain closed. And for those people planning on filling the gap caused by all the country’s nightclubs being shut with a lovely unlicensed rave, well, the penalty for doing such a thing is going up to £10,000.