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NI music venues to reopen with restrictions

Music venues and theatres in Northern Ireland (NI) are permitted to reopen as of 6 pm BST tonight, under the latest relaxations of Stormont’s Covid-19 rules.

Live music will be permitted for rehearsals and performances, with no restriction on background or ambient volume levels.

However, audience members must purchase tickets in advance, have allocated seating, and adhere to a one-metre social distancing rule.

Venues were expected to reopen on 26 July but minsters want more time to consider the health implications. Outdoor events were permitted to return on 5 July without capacity restrictions.

Belfast singer-songwriter Sir Van Morrison, who legally challenged the Northern Irish government over its ‘blanket ban’ on live music in licensed venues, described the announcement as “a kick in the teeth”.

Morrison last week cancelled a number of concerts at Belfast’s Ulster Hall (cap. 1,000), due to take place between 29 July and 1 August, blaming the “draconian” delays from Stormont. He now argues that cancelled concerts that were planned for this week could’ve gone ahead.

“We are delighted  that  we can  finally reopen  to  welcome artists and fans  back…nothing beats the experience of a live event”

Others in the Northern Ireland live music industry have welcomed Stormont’s latest rollback of restrictions. Julia Corkey, chief executive at Ulster Hall, says: “We are delighted that we can finally reopen to welcome artists and fans back to the iconic Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall. As we all know, nothing beats the experience of a live event.”

Limelight Belfast wrote on Facebook: “Great news for live music venues and theatres.”

In preparation for the next stage of reopening, two major concert series in Belfast have set out entry conditions, which the organisers say are based on the findings of the range of ERP (Event Research Programme) pilot events.

The Belsonic concerts at Ormeau Park and CHSQ at Custom House Square, will both require ticket holders to show proof of having had either, both doses of the vaccine, proof of a negative Covid test 48 hours before arrival or proof of natural Covid antibodies.

Belsonic will take place between 4-25 September with Liam Gallagher, Dermot Kennedy and Gerry Cinnamon. CHSQ will take place between 10-29 August with artists including Tom Jones, Kodaline, Nile Rogers & Chic.

The rules for entrance to the music events are similar to those employed by the organisers of the Latitude festival in England, held at full capacity at the weekend as a government test event.

The British live music industry fully reopened without restrictions from 19 July. On the same day, Scotland reduced restrictions to the lowest level and plans to remove all restrictions on 9 August.


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UK: No live music in NI, no music at all in Scotland

Scottish music venues struggling under the weight of restrictions on live events are being further penalised by a draconian ban on all background music, according to the owners of nightlife businesses.

The devolved Scottish government introduced the ban on 14 August, citing an increased risk of Covid-19 transmission when people raise their voices to be heard in venues, pubs and restaurants. However, the Night-Time Industries Association (NTIA) – which says it believes the ban to be unique in the world, with Scotland the only country to have completely outlawed background music – says the ban lacks scientific evidence and is placing extra pressure on already strained businesses.

Promoter Donald Macleod, of Holdfast Events, says: “The sound of silence is now killing much of Scotland’s hospitality sector and beleaguered night-time economy; don’t let that be our nation’s Covid legacy. In the words of Plato: ‘Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.’”

“The background music ban is the kiss of death to ambience within the hospitality sector,” agrees Andrew Fleming Brown, managing director of Glasgow venue SWG3 (4,000-cap.). “There has not been any scientific evidence presented to support the ban, and, in fact, the only evidence indicates it has the reverse effect.”

In response to the ban – which also extends to the sound of televisions in pubs – the NTIA has announced a campaign, #DontStopTheMusic, which calls on supporters to share their favourite song of all time along with the #DontStopTheMusic hashtag.

“Our already damaged sector is in serious danger of being permanently wiped out”

Michael Grieve, chairman of NTIA Scotland, comments: “The total ban on background music is having a severe effect on many hospitality businesses, leading to completely sterile environments which some have likened to visiting a library.

“It seems completely disproportionate relative to other settings – and while our industry is totally committed to the serious public health imperatives which the Scottish government is focused on, our already damaged sector is in serious danger of being permanently wiped out unless this ban is removed.”

Like in the rest of Great Britain, pubs, clubs and other indoor spaces are Scotland are currently subject to a 10pm curfew, with only concert venues and theatres exempt if a performance has already started.

Elsewhere in the UK, authorities in Northern Ireland have confirmed that new restrictions introduced on 23 September include a total ban on live music.

In a summary of the new legal requirements for venues where alcohol is served, the Northern Irish tourist board, in a section on ‘entertainment and noise’, reveals that live music is “not permitted”, along with recorded music “for the purposes of dancing (ie DJs)”.

Recorded background music is still allowed in the country, though businesses are required to ensure they keep background music and televised sport at a volume where patrons do not need to raise their voices to speak.

“We call for the government to engage with our sector before imposing seemingly arbitrary decisions on an already struggling industry”

Northern Ireland does, however, have a slightly later curfew for hospitality businesses than in Great Britain: 11pm, as opposed to ten.

Colin Neill from industry group Hospitality Ulster describes the announcement today of a curfew as “another blow to our industry”.

“The sector is going to lose hours, it’s losing staff and it has lost live music, and needs to be given a fighting chance,” he says.

Alan Simms, founder of legendary dance music brand Shine and director of Belfast venue Limelight, says he has seen “no medical, scientific or behavioural evidence in favour of such curfews”, and that ejecting patrons at 11pm will push them “out of safe premises with social distancing measures into the streets en masse, and drive substantially higher footfall to unregulated environments, as has been observed in England at the weekend.”

“Furthermore, we believe we can deliver, and have already delivered, live music events safely within government guidelines, and call for the [Northern Ireland] Executive to engage with our sector before imposing seemingly arbitrary decisions on an already struggling industry,” he adds.

Along with their colleagues in England, Wales and Scotland, Northern Irish crew and touring staff took to the streets in recent days as part of the #WeMakeEvents campaign.


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Diabetic woman awarded payout after Lucozade confiscated at concert

In August 2016, Kayla Hanna was queueing up at the Belfast Vital festival (formerly Tennent’s Vital) ready to see Red Hot Chili Peppers when a member of staff from security company Eventsec told her she wasn’t allowed to bring in her bottle of Lucozade.

As a type-1 diabetic, Hanna uses the energy drink to boost her blood sugar levels if they dip too low. After explaining this to security staff and showing them the tattoo on her wrist that also indicated her diabetic status, a security guard continued to refuse her entry with the drink, saying “anyone could have that [tattoo]”. Speaking about the encounter, Hanna says: “I also showed her my insulin pack and the meter used to check my levels.

“She consulted with another guard and they insisted that they had a strict policy and they would not allow me to bring the drink inside.”

After reluctantly giving up the drink, the following concert was filled with anxiety for the student. She says: “I was very anxious and upset throughout the concert. I was afraid something would happen to me and I would not have the Lucozade.”

After the incident, Hanna contacted the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, who brought her case before Belfast County Court, alleging a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act. The findings of the court stated that Eventsec had not made adequate adjustments to their security policy to allow Hanna to bring in the necessary drink.

A security guard continued to refuse her entry with the drink, saying “anyone could have that tattoo”

The news of Hanna’s compensation comes at a time when security policies at concerts and festivals are becoming tighter and tighter. Around the world, venue owners and operators are responding to heightened terror levels and threats. The concern for many, however, is that these measures will impact disabled people like Kayla Hanna negatively.

Mary Kitson, senior legal officer at the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, has highlighted the need for consideration of the Disability Discrimination Act in the face of increased measures. She says: “These are the kind of circumstances in which the reasonable adjustment provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act can be most beneficial.

“They are in the act to ensure that people with disabilities are not denied access to services by reason of general policies which can, in themselves, be otherwise justifiable and necessary.”

An Eventsec spokesperson says it was welcomed the judge’s decision, in which they acknowledged the company had “considered what reasonable adjustments needed to be put in place in order to meet the needs of those patrons with diabetes”. “The facts surrounding this case were an isolated incident,” they add.


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