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Event Research Programme publishes final reports

The UK government has published its final reports from the Events Research Programme (ERP).

The ERP ran for four months and encompassed 31 pilots, including music events such as Sefton Park Pilot music festival in Liverpool, the BRIT Awards, Latitude, Tramlines and Download, as well as the Euro 2020 football tournament and Silverstone Grand Prix. Events were grouped according to type: indoor seated, mainly outdoor seated, mainly outdoor semi-seated and mainly outdoor unseated.

The report noted that improvements to air quality – either by improving ventilation or reducing crowding – can be made to mitigate the risk of airborne transmission.

“It was found that high crowding can be maintained without significant negative impact on air quality, in settings such as open-sided marquees or sheltered outdoor seating which have very high levels of natural ventilation,” it says. “Improvements can be made in indoor settings; opening windows, doors or adding fans strategically can increase air quality. However, reducing overcrowding was found to be more immediately impactful on air quality.”

It concluded that “outdoor unstructured ERP events, specifically festivals”, posed the highest increased transmission risk from events examined as part of the scheme, with a 1.7 fold increased risk of Covid-19 transmission among attendees. Potential reasons include “behaviour whilst at the event, overall event size and duration or mode of travel to and from the event”.

Commenting on the findings, Paul Reed, CEO of the UK’s Association of Independent Festivals, says: “Since emerging from restrictions earlier this year, festival organisers across the UK who were able to stage an event implemented a range of measures to mitigate the transmission of Covid-19, with over 70% implementing full certification according to our data. This went far beyond what was mandated by government at the time.

“Our members will continue to go above and beyond and we continue to liaise with government and wider industry on recommended best practices. The safety of audiences will, as ever, be of paramount concern as they plan for the 2022 season.”

We have gathered large amounts of data that can be used by the scientific community worldwide

Across all events, 87% of people with a positive Covid-19 test result during the study period were unvaccinated, 8% reported having a single dose and 5% reported two doses.

Professor Dame Theresa Marteau, chair of ERP science board, says: “We have gathered large amounts of data that can be used by the scientific community worldwide, event organisers and government for the best understanding to date of the risk of transmitting coronavirus at live events and how we can best keep this risk low.”

“The Events Research Programme broke new ground on the size and scale of scientific research undertaken at live events and has undoubtedly contributed to the early reopening of our crucial business, sporting and cultural events sectors,” adds Nigel Huddleston, minister for sport, tourism, heritage and civil society.

“The programme has provided an important template for event organisers the world over to continue to be able to plan their events safely and that’s great credit to the scientists behind this world-leading study.”

Elsewhere, results of the clinical trial organised by French live music association Prodiss and Paris hospital AP-HP under the banner ‘Ambition Live Again’, have been published in UK-based medical journal, The Lancet.

The findings from the 29 May test concert at the Accor Arena (20,300-cap.) in Paris with DJ Etienne de Crécy and the band Indochine showed that attending a concert was not associated with an increased risk of transmission when certain hygiene and testing protocols are followed.


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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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Tramlines to go ahead in July with 40,000 fans

Sheffield’s Tramlines festival has announced it will go ahead at its full capacity of 40,000 next month after joining the third phase of the UK’s pilot events initiative, the Events Research Programme (ERP).

Tramlines, majority owned by Superstruct Entertainment, is the latest festival to join the next round of ERP pilots, following news late last week that Festival Republic’s Latitude will also be held as a clinically controlled ERP event. Tramlines 2021 will take place in Hillsborough Park in Sheffield from 23 to 25 July, with headliners the Streets, Royal Blood and Richard Ashcroft.

Tramlines’ participation in the programme means the festival can go ahead independently of national reopening dates (provisionally scheduled for 19 July) with fans not expected to socially distance or wear masks. All attendees will be required to have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine or submitted a negative lateral-flow test in the previous 48 hours.

The good news for Tramlines comes as Womad, the festival of world music held annually in the Wiltshire countryside, cancels its 2021 edition (which was scheduled for 22–25 July) citing ongoing uncertainty around the reopening date and the continued lack of government-backed event cancellation insurance for large events.

“We have not been asking for financial support; all we have wanted is certainty in the form of insurance against cancellation (that we’d be happy to pay for),” reads a statement from the festival, which which was to have featured performances by Anoushka Shankar, Nitin Sawhney, Greentea Peng and more. Referring to the ‘test event’ status granted to some events, organisers add: “The industry should see equal access to support and a much less opaque way of deciding who gets help.”

Elsewhere, as Womad cancelled Standon Calling in Hertfordshire confirmed it would “go for it” with its 15th-anniversary event, held over the same dates.“The government’s impressive vaccination record, the Event Research Programme data published at the end of last week (which showed there were no substantial outbreaks at phase one of the test events) and yesterday’s comments made by the new secretary of state for health and social Care that 19 June will be the ‘end of the line’ for Covid restrictions have encouraged us to go for it,” explains founder Alex Trenchard.

“It is very important to us that clear guidance is made available quickly to the entire event community”

Commenting on Tramlines being awarded ERP status, the festival’s operations director, Timm Cleasby, says: “We are absolutely delighted to be able to confirm that Tramlines 2021 is going ahead, having accepted the government’s invitation to join the Events Research Programme. This means we have a proven framework to follow, which at previous events has shown that festivals can be enjoyed at no more risk than other activities. Once inside, there will be no need for social distancing and no one will have to wear a mask if they don’t want to.

“We would like to express our solidarity with those festivals which have not been able to go ahead this year and those which are still seeking clarity. It is very important to us that clear guidance is made available quickly to the entire event community so that as many festivals as possible can go ahead with confidence this summer. Huge ticket sales across the sector show how keen fans are to come to our events and we want to help reassure them that we can welcome them back safely.”

UK culture minister Caroline Dinenage adds: “I know how desperately people want to get back to festivals, which is why they’re a hugely important part of our Events Research Programme.

“As we continue to work towards live events reopening fully on 19 July, this year’s Tramlines festival will provide more vital scientific evidence and allow us to trial Covid certification, building on what we’ve learnt from our successful Sefton Park [Pilot] and Download [Pilot] events.”

All ticketholders for the sold-out festival will be contacted by Tramlines’ ticketing partner, Gigantic, by email on 1 July with further details. Anyone who does not want to take part in the Tramlines pilot may roll over their ticket to Tramlines 2022 at no extra cost.


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ERP data: “No substantial outbreaks” at pilot events

Just 28 cases of Covid-19 were detected among the 58,000 people who participated in the first nine pilot events held as part of the UK’s Events Research Programme (ERP).

Presenting their findings this afternoon (25 June), the group of scientists behind the ERP described the data as reassuring but warned the case numbers must be treated with “extreme caution” given that only 15% of attendees returned voluntary PCR tests before and after the events. “The cases recorded are likely an underestimate of the true number given […] post-event PCR return rates were lower than expected,” reads the report published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

All ticketholders for the first round of ERP shows, which included live music events such as the Sefton Park Pilot music festival and the Brit Awards, were required to present negative lateral-flow tests (LFTs), though it was left to the individual attendee whether to also complete the requested PCR tests, which are more accurate.

The report’s authors also preface the findings by describing the “low prevalence of Covid-19” at the time of the events compared to the time of writing, as well as the “limited scale, scope and design” of the pilots. However “mindful of the caveats”, there were “no substantial outbreaks identified by public health teams and their surveillance systems around any of the events”, they continue.

Eleven of the positive Covid-19 cases were identified as potentially infectious during the event, while a further 17 were deemed to have picked up the virus at or around the time of the pilot, the report says.

A statement from DCMS says the programme has demonstrated that with “mitigating factors, such as social distancing at pinch points, face coverings and staggered entry and exit times, events can be conducted more safely at increased capacities while maintaining a low risk of transmission.”

“With mitigating factors … events can be conducted more safely at increased capacities while maintaining a low risk of transmission”

“This programme has shown that through the public demonstrating their status we have been able to track the virus, creating a safer space for the public to get back to the events they love,” comments ERP chief advisor Nicholas Hytner said:

The release of the findings comes the day after industry body LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) filed a lawsuit against the government to force the release of the delayed ERP data.

In a statement, a LIVE spokesperson says: “We are pleased that the government has finally published some of the ERP research but it is incredibly disappointing that it took the live music and the theatre industry launching legal action yesterday to force them to do so.

“We will of course read the report with interest but we are pleased that there were no Covid outbreaks associated with any of the pilots detected, either by testing or by a general increase in community incidence. It is also pleasing to see that the air quality of the indoor events was, in almost all cases, the same or better than being in an office for a short working day.

“It is completely unfair that our industry finds itself stuck in seemingly-interminable rounds of research before we can open, when no such research is being done for other places such as restaurants, shops or public transport. With sensible mitigations, including simple Covid-certification, there is no reason why we should not be able to reopen on 19 July.”

“For festivals … we simply cannot get stuck in endless rounds of pilots”

“With 60,000 fans expected at Wembley for the Euros, thousands at Wimbledon and a capacity crowd of 140,000 at the Silverstone Grand Prix, it is only right that major live music events are also able to proceed safely,” echoes Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, CEO of UK Music. “Now we have evidence showing events can take place safely, the government must now give the green light for events to go ahead without social distancing from 19 July,” he adds.

UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden says the government will use the evidence from the first phase of ERP events, as well as recent and upcoming pilots such as Download Pilot and the forthcoming Latitude Festival, to inform its actions in the weeks ahead of 19 July, the delayed date for the lifting of restrictions (so-called ‘step four’ of the government’s roadmap), though “no decisions” have yet been taken on the “full reopening of mass events”.

“We welcome the government finally publishing the findings of the ERP phase one pilot events. Although wide-ranging, in many respects the report tells us what we already know: Most significantly, that there were no substantial outbreaks at these events, with 28 cases across nine events and 58,000 attendees. Additionally, outdoor spaces are generally lower risk than indoor, mitigation measures can reduce and manage risk, and audiences will comply with pre-event testing and other measures to attend an event,” says Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals.

“Following this positive outcome, what we need now is clear guidance from government on exactly what the expectations are for festivals around testing regimes and other protocols this summer. We are actively engaging with government on this. For festivals who are still planning, it is clearly not a conversation that can wait until 19 July. We welcome further festival pilot events as an opportunity for the ERP to scale up and develop the knowledge base around reopening safely, but we also simply cannot get stuck in endless rounds of pilots.

“The objective must be to reopen festivals safely with the right mitigations in place at step four.”


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Music and theatre sue UK govt for pilot show data

Live music industry body LIVE and a range of theatre businesses, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, Cameron Mackintosh, Michael Harrison and Sonia Friedman, have commenced legal proceedings against the UK government to force it to hand over the report from its series of test events, the Events Research Programme (ERP).

The ERP is the government’s research into Covid-19 mitigations in sport, entertainment and business conferences settings. The music industry and theatre businesses have repeatedly called on the government to outline the scientific basis for its decision to maintain restrictions on events. Despite portions of the ERP economic impact assessment being leaked to the media this week, the government refused calls from many MPs in a debate on Tuesday 22 June to release the report in full.

Several UK festivals, including Kendal Calling, Truck and Let’s Rock, have cited the non-release of the ERP data as a reason for cancelling their 2021 events. “Without this safety guidance, there are numerous aspects of the festival we cannot plan, and which could lay us wide open to last minute unforeseen regulations or requirements which could scupper an already built festival,” reads a statement from Kendal Calling, which cancelled earlier this week.

Stuart Galbraith, CEO of Kilimanjaro Live (which recently acquired Let’s Rock) and co-founder of LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment), the representative body for the live music industry, says: “The live music industry has been very willing to work with government for the last year to show that our industry can operate safely. But it is intolerable that after running pilot shows for the government’s Events Research Programme, at our own cost, we have been blocked from seeing the results, leaving the whole sector in limbo with the real chance that the entire summer could collapse for the second year running.

“Even now, the live music sector has no idea what the rest of the summer brings, and we are left with a complete inability to plan ahead due to the government’s continued unwillingness to provide some form of insurance to enable events to move forward.”

“The govt’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead”

In the legal action, lodged today, the parties assert that the government has “flagrantly breached the ‘duty of candour’ which requires it to be transparent when faced with a legal challenge and that none of the reasons given for withholding the Events Research Programme material they seek withstand scrutiny”. They have asked the court to consider their application at an urgent hearing as soon as possible.

“The government’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead,” comments theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber. “The situation is beyond urgent.”

As well as declining to publish the ERP results, the bodies argue that the British government is yet to provide any form of insurance scheme for the sector or to make it clear what kind of ongoing mitigations may be required in the future – effectively making it impossible to plan for any live entertainment business. According to recent research from LIVE the potential four-week delay to reopening will lead to around 5,000 live music gigs being cancelled, as well as numerous theatre productions across the country, costing hundreds of millions of pounds in lost income.

Peter Gabriel, speaking for WOMAD Festival, says: “Without immediate government intervention, the festival industry is on the brink of collapse. That doesn’t mean cash, it means providing the certainty to enable us to deliver festivals, guidance on safety, and an understanding of how their timing affects us in the real world.

“We struggle to understand why these trials took place if the government can’t now tell us the results and how that will affect all of us”

“At the end of this week, WOMAD will be faced with one very difficult and heart-wrenching decision. Millions of pounds of investment and the livelihood of around five thousand people are at stake. Several pilot events have been successfully run over recent months. But, like other festival teams, we need to be told what that research means for WOMAD. We struggle to understand why these trials took place if the government can’t now tell us the results and how that will affect all of us.”

While today’s suit focuses on forcing the government to release the findings of its pilot programme, the suit is also critical of the lack of guidance for the forthcoming step four – the final stage of reopening, provisionally scheduled for 19 July. Lack of clear guidance was a contributing factor to Kendal Calling cancelling earlier this week despite it taking place after the step 4 date.

Craig Hassall, CEO of the Royal Albert Hall, says: “The chronic uncertainty and endless indecisiveness from government, and pilot events with no published results, have damaged audience confidence and further harmed a sector that has already been decimated by the pandemic. For as long as venues like the Royal Albert Hall, and hundreds more across the country, are prevented from effectively operating with no justification, we cannot play our part in supporting the critical ecosystem of freelancers, small businesses and suppliers who rely on us and who are so desperately in need of work.”

Live entertainment and theatre generate £11.25 billion in gross value added each year, and the sectors support just under one million jobs between them.

LIVE’s members are the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), Association for Electronic Music (AFEM), Association of Festival Organisers (AFO), Association of Independent Promoters (AIP), British Association of Concert Halls (BACH), Concert Promoters Association (CPA), Featured Artist Coalition (FAC), The Entertainment Agents’ Association (TEAA), Music Venue Trust (MVT), Music Managers Forum (MMF), National Arenas Association (NAA), Production Services Association (PSA) and Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR).


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10,000 enjoy moshing without masks at Download Pilot

The organisers of Download Pilot – the UK’s first major camping festival of its kind since lockdown – are hailing it a resounding success and are confident that the test will encourage government to green-light other summer events.

The specially created three-day festival took place over the 18–20 June weekend as part of the second phase of the UK government’s scientific Events Research Programme (ERP). The Download Pilot involved 10,000 metal fans welcomed to the hallowed grounds of rock in Donington Park to enjoy a fully-fledged festival experience with no social distancing, no masks and moshing allowed.

All attendees were required to take both a PCR and lateral-flow test prior to the event, sharing details with the NHS contact-tracing system. Attendees had to show proof of a negative result to enter the festival gates and have committed to submitting a second PCR test five days post-event to help scientists monitor any Covid-19 infection activity.

Headlined by Enter Shikari, Bullet for My Valentine and Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, 40 acts in total from the UK’s world-leading rock scene waived their fees, united by the prospect of moving the live events industry forward and playing in front of an audience for the first time in over a year.

As the last of the fans left the venue today, promoter Festival Republic dismissed any notion that live events are not possible while the Covid-19 pandemic continues. “[This] is 100% evidence that this is not true,” stated managing director Melvyn Benn. “This is a very clear demonstration that you can do it.”

“This is a very clear demonstration that you can do it”

He continued, “It’s really fantastic. I am very heart-warmed by it all. The level of compliance around the testing and requirements we have is absolutely extraordinary. It is coupled with a level of normality that is equally extraordinary when you have been out of it for so long.”

Benn believes the data gathered through the festival will prove similar events can take place this summer. “In fairness, the [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] are on board with the message which is that these things can happen and they can happen safely,” he told reporters.

“What we want from Download is data that scientists can analyse that will effectively reinforce that position, and that data is being gathered and I am certain it will do just that.”

Indeed, another Festival Republic gathering, Latitude, has confirmed it will go ahead for its 22–25 July event, while it’s expected that the Reading and Leeds festivals in August will also proceed as planned.

Benn added that following talks with the DCMS in recent days, he felt “sufficiently encouraged” to push ahead with Latitude and he suggested the UK government is finalising plans to launch a limited coronavirus insurance scheme that will allow other festivals to push ahead with their 2021 editions.

“There is no guarantee, but I believe the government will come forward with a limited government-backed insurance scheme,” he commented. “It wouldn’t be everything that we want, by any means, but it would certainly be enough to encourage us to all get going again.”

“We urge the government to reappraise its approach and to listen to the recommendations of its own reports”

However, while that optimism will buoy the UK business, any government backing has come too late for Kendal Calling festival, which today criticised the government for delaying the publication of ERP report, as it outlined the decision to shelve its festival for the second year running.

“Without this safety guidance, there are numerous aspects of the festival we cannot plan, and which could lay us wide open to last minute unforeseen regulations or requirements which could scupper an already built festival,” reads a statement on the Kendal Calling website. “Capacity or density restrictions, track and trace protocol, testing regime, Covid certification – a host of unknown actions required, yet potentially requested too late to be implemented.

“Our understanding is that the DCMS are keen to publish the ERP findings and guidance, but that it now does not fit around [the British government’s] communications plan. This is insulting to our entire industry, who have been awaiting the results of a pilot event that took place almost two months ago to inform our approach to staging events safely this summer.

“This has been a frankly devastating 16 months for our industry. If calls for a government-backed insurance scheme had been heeded – as recommended by the DCMS, emulating successful schemes now up and running in other countries – we could have potentially continued to plan and invest in the coming weeks. We take this opportunity to urge the government to reappraise its approach and to listen to the recommendations of its own reports, as the continued lack of leadership hampers the recovery of our live event industry.”

Meanwhile, the iconic Notting Hill Carnival will also not go ahead in 2021, it has been confirmed, for similar pandemic concerns.


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“A real success”: 0.03% of fans infected at UK pilots

The British culture secretary has hailed as “a real success” recent UK pilot events after just 15 positive cases of Covid-19 – equivalent to 0.026% of attendees – were recorded among 58,000 people.

Speaking to the Evening Standard, Oliver Dowden says he is “very hopeful” the UK will meet its 21 June target for a full reopening of venues, theatres and clubs without social distancing, following encouraging results from recent Event Research Programme (ERP) test events, which included the Brit Awards, the Sefton Park Pilot music festival, The First Dance club shows and sports fixtures including the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium.

According to Dowden, there were no positive cases from the Brits, which took place with an audience of 4,000 at London’s O2 earlier this month, and two from Sefton Park Pilot, a one-day music festival in Liverpool.

Nine cases, meanwhile, were detected among the 6,000 clubbers who attended the two The First Dance events, held in Liverpool ahead of Sefton Park pilot, and no cases were reported from Wembley. The final four infections were detected at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, which hosted 17 days of the World Snooker Championship.

Oliver Dowden says he is “very hopeful” the UK will meet its 21 June target for a full reopening

No social distancing was in place at any of the ERP events, which used lateral-flow tests (LFTs) to check attendees for the coronavirus prior to entry.

A spokesperson for Dowden’s ministry, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, tells the Standard the figures are based on what has been seen “so far”, and that further data needs to be collected on other events. A full report will be presented to the prime minister at a later date.

The provisional findings from the ERP events come as Festival Republic, the organiser of Sefton Park Pilot, announces a second music festival, this time with camping, which will form part of the second phase of the programme.

As IQ reported earlier this month, the three-day event will be held in June and aims to build on the previous pilot by simulating the full, multi-day festival experience familiar to attendees of FR events including Reading Festival and Download.

“Following the huge success of our Sefton Park event, we are delighted to contribute to phase two of the government’s Events Research Programme with the creation of the first three-day camping festival, which will be the Download Pilot at Donington Park,” explains FR managing director Melvin Benn.

“This massive next step will help us understand and study the safe return of large-scale festivals with no social distancing or face masks over a full weekend. [It is] the return of the full festival experience we have all been waiting for, and a much needed return to work for musicians, backstage crew, caterers and many more that form part of the UK’s exemplary live music industry.”

“This massive next step will help us understand and study the safe return of large-scale festivals”

Download Pilot will have a capacity of 10,000 and take place from 18 to 20 June at the long-time home of Download, Donington Park in Leicestershire. Tickets are priced at £120 and go on sale on 1 June for Download 2022 ticket holders (the festival was cancelled for a second year in a row earlier this month), with general sale starting on 3 June. No day tickets will be available, with all attendees expected to camp on site.

As with Sefton Park Pilot, all festivalgoers will be required to produce proof of a negative LFT for entry, and also encouraged to take a more accurate PCR test before or after the event. Once in, no social distancing or mask wearing will be required: Download’s “loyal community of rock fans will be rewarded with the closest [thing] to a festival experience possible, with no social distancing, no masks, camping and the return of moshing”, according to Festival Republic.

The Download Pilot line-up will be announced this Friday (28 May).


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Optimism grows after successful Brit Awards 2021

After nearly 14 months, non-socially distanced indoor live music returned to the UK last night (11 May) as the likes of Dua Lipa, Coldplay, Elton John, Pink and Rag’n’Bone Man took to the O2 Arena stage for the 2021 Brit Awards.

As previously reported, some 4,000 people – 2,500 of them key workers who had been gifted free tickets – attended the ceremony, with an estimated 1,000 more working as staff, production and crew. As a medically monitored pilot event, held as part of the UK’s Events Research Programme (ERP), Brits attendees were free to mingle and take off their masks once inside the O2 (as they had at previous ERP shows in Liverpool), where scientists were examining risk factors including crowd behaviour, ventilation, surface contact and the effect of having performers in the room.

All guests took a lateral-flow Covid-19 test in the 36 hours leading up to the event, as well as a PCR test on the day. Attendees are also required to take another PCR test five days after the event, with both tests being sent to a laboratory to assess for any coronavirus transmission during the show.

Gennaro Castaldo, director of communications for Brits organiser BPI, tells IQ there was a “huge amount of interest” in the event, “not just from the UK, but from the global community”, reflecting its significance as the first major indoor concert of the Covid-19 era. “We’ve had a record amount of TV requests this year, from Japan, America, Canada, Europe… Obviously everyone’s intrigued as to how we as a country are coming out of lockdown, and how these Event Research Programme pilots are working. So there wasn’t just the UK audience, but there was a wider global interest, too, I think.”

“Heralding the return of live music, it was a special moment for everyone working in the industry”

Both Castaldo and BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor are full of praise for the O2 team, as well as stage designers Es Devlin and Yinka Ilori, whose technicoloured set, built by Diagon, provided a spectacular backdrop to both the prize-giving ceremony and the night’s live performances.

“Our hope is that the Brits 2021 with Mastercard showed the music industry at its best,” says Taylor. “It united global superstars with the breakthrough talent that is the future of British music, reflecting on a year when music has shown its power to help us navigate difficult times. The creativity of the performances lit up staging by Yinka Ilori and Es Devlin which, with its explosion of colour, was like a wake-up from the monochrome reality many of us have lived for the last 12 months.”

“It was great to be back working with the Brits and to once again collaborate with the brilliant Es Devlin,” says Diagon’s Liam Ownsworth. “It was a huge privilege to bring Es Delvin’s vision to life for the biggest night in UK music. Heralding the return of live music events, it was a special moment for everyone working within the creative industry, who have been especially hit hard by the pandemic.”

Dua Lipa collects award

Castaldo also commends the government for managing the end of the third lockdown in a “very step-by-step, gradual way” with the ERP initiative. “Our fervent wish is that [the results from the events] will come out positive, and we’ll be able to speed up the process of opening up our venues and festivals and nightclubs,” he continues, noting that – although insurance remains a sticking point – many venues still have availability for shows this summer. “With a bit of luck, there could be a real surge of interest if the government were to come out sooner, rather than later, and say, ‘We’re satisfied that with these precautions in place, you can reopen safely’.”

“What was happening on stage felt particularly significant,” adds Taylor, highlighting wins for female artists such as Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift, Little Mix, Haim, Arlo Parks and Billie Eilish. “‘Women artists won in eightof the 11 award categories, illustrating how the music industry has transformed to better reflect all the talent in our society. There was an inclusive feel to the show, including the additional Brits trophies that winning artists could give to their own heroes, and the fact that the majority of the audience were key workers who have done so much to help the country get through the last year. I would like to thank the music labels who contributed to cover the costs of making that happen.

“Talking to guests, it seemed they were truly excited to be out enjoying live music once again, and it was particularly special to be part of the first live audience for music at the O2 Arena in a year. Finally, the Brits being part of the ERP meant that we were gathering scientific data which should help ease the path to government reopening live music as quickly as possible, which is so important to fans and to our artists.”

“It’s probably the most significant Brit Awards in our four-decade history”

All Brit Awards 2021 performances, which also included the Weeknd, Griff, Headie One and Olivia Rodrigo, are available to watch back on the Brits YouTube channel.

“As much as it was painful process at times” for the Brits team, who pulled together the show in under six weeks, seeing the result made it more than worth it, concludes Castaldo, who says having multiple performances with a live audience sends an important message that the ERP can act as a “stepping stone towards the return of live music at scale”. “And that’s the key word: scale,” he adds, “because obviously you can have events and have a few people distanced here and there, but that’s no good to any promoter. You’ve got to be able to put bums on seats and know that you can fill the room to capacity, so that’s why these pilots are so hugely important.

“It’s also the most diverse awards we’ve ever had, with eight of the 11 categories won by women, which is a historic moment, too. So I think for those reasons, it’s probably the most significant Brit Awards that we’ve had in our four-decade history.”

A full list of 2021 award winners is available from the Brits website.


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UK festival pilot builds hope for reopening

A successful outcome from yesterday’s 5,000-person Sefton Park Pilot in Liverpool will provide a lifeline to the entire UK live music business by proving that festivals can go ahead safely with no social distancing this summer, organiser Melvin Benn has said.

Featuring music from Zuzu, the Lathums and Blossoms, the one-day music festival took place on 2 May as part of the British government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), following two 3,000-person club nights, dubbed The First Dance, held at Liverpool’s Bramley-Moore Dock on 30 April and 1 May. Like all ERP events, there was no requirement to socially distance or wear a face covering at the three pilots, though all ticketholders required a negative Covid-19 test to gain entry.

Festival Republic MD Benn described the model as a “prototype” to reopen the industry after more than a year without any significant live music events. “Will we always need it? I hope not,” he told IQ, “but we’ve learnt a lot and we’re ready to pass it onto the industry.”

For the Sefton Park event, attendees and guests underwent a supervised lateral-flow test (LFT) at a local tennis centre up to 32 hours before the event. Each test was registered directly with the National Health Service (NHS), and results communicated via text and email within 30 minutes, with a negative test result activating each ticket. An additional testing site was positioned directly outside Sefton Park.

Alongside the lateral flow test, attendees were also encouraged to carry out a government PCR test, mailed by post, with a second test completed up to five days after the show. To motivate fans to complete the post-show test, Festival Republic offered a range of festival ticket prizes as an incentive.

Testing for staff, guests and press was overseen by Caroline Giddings and Solo Agency, one of a number of live music businesses to offer its support to the event, which was pulled together in the space of three weeks. (That’s not quite a record, said Benn – the One Love Manchester show with Ariana Grande was organised in even less time – but it was “pretty quick!”.)

“It’s important for the industry … that events like this happen”

In addition to Festival Republic, “there are people working on it from SJM, from DF, from Cream, from Isle of Wight Festival – it’s a bit of an industry effort,” explained DF Concerts’ Geoff Ellis. “It’s important for the industry and for fans that events like this happen to help us get there.”

For Ellis, who described Sefton Park Pilot as a “monumental occasion”, it was “really surreal being here because it feels dreamlike,” he said. “You’re seeing people from the industry and you bump into them and you’re wondering, ‘Wow, is this really happening?’”

Speaking to IQ, Benn related the event in similar terms, saying organisers, fans and artists alike were conscious of participating in a “historic moment” paving the way towards an overdue return to something approaching normality.

Benn is as confident as he was in summer 2020 that rapid testing (now coupled with vaccinations) is the key to unlocking the return of live events. “It’s something I’ve been saying since June last year, and it’s taken a long time for government to listen, but I think they do believe in it now,” he explained. “They did have faith in this [Sefton Park Pilot], and certainly [from conversations with] the scientific teams from government and outside of government that I’ve been working with, the modelling of this seems to suggest to me that it can work.”

“What we are learning is that a festival isn’t going to need to look different to how it did look, or behave different to how it behaved,” pre-coronavirus, he continued. “Putting on a festival, as any festival promoter will tell you, is a series of hurdles, and we’ve all learnt how to jump every single hurdle that’s ever put in front of us. Covid one is another one. We’ll find ways of overcoming.”

The other hurdle at present, of course, is the non-availability of event cancellation insurance, though Benn expects more news on that front in the coming weeks.

“What we are learning is that a festival needn’t look different to how it did”

“The government provided insurance for this event, to give us the backing we needed, and in doing so they demonstrated there’s a need for insurance,” he explained. “There’s a team working very hard to find a way […] out of this, and hopefully by the beginning of June there’ll be something in place.”

As in Barcelona, where a recent pilot arena show demonstrated a lower incidence of Covid-19 than in the city as a whole, Sefton Park Pilot needn’t record zero cases to be considered a success, Benn continued. “It’s not necessarily about no infections,” he said. “The ideal outcome is that there is no greater spread of the virus in Liverpool than there already was. We want to prove you can have these events and it doesn’t present a greater risk to the area than already exists.”

While interim findings from the ERP events will be reported to the prime minister in a matter of weeks, Benn revealed that a second FR-organised outdoor pilot show is in the pipeline. While details are yet to be announced, it will likely be similar in format to Sefton Park Pilot, and “greenfield, for certain”, according to Benn.

Like Sefton Park Pilot, that second pilot event will again mobilise an army of festival staff and music fans in numbers not seen since the summer of 2019. But Benn, like everyone involved with the pilots, is hopeful those events won’t be a one-off.

“There have been a huge amount of people who made the effort to give up their time for this, and they all put an enormous amount of work into it,” he said. “So what we’re learning, we want to tell everybody – because this is for the whole industry.”


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Brit Awards 2021 confirms pilot event in May

The 2021 Brit Awards ceremony will go ahead with a live audience of 4,000 people as part of the UK government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), organisers have announced.

IQ reported last month that the Brits, the UK music industry’s main annual awards ceremony, was being considered as a pilot show alongside events such as the FA Cup final and the World Snooker Championship. The 2021 awards, which take place at the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena in London on Tuesday 11 March, will be the biggest indoor ERP show and feature live performances from Dua Lipa, Headie One, Arlo Parks and Griff, among others.

As with other ERP events, including the recently announced Sefton Park Pilot concert in Liverpool, audience members will not be socially distanced or required to wear face coverings once seated in the arena. All attendees must, however, have proof of a negative lateral-flow test result to enter the venue.

As part of the wider scientific research on the ERP’s events, attendees will also be asked to take a test after the event to gather further evidence on the safety of indoor settings, reduced social distancing and the removal of non-pharmaceutical interventions like face coverings. They will also be requirement to provide contact details for National Health Service’s contact-tracing system.

“The BRITs are always a big night in the music calendar, but this year’s awards will be particularly special. They will reunite live audiences with the best of British talent for the first time in a year, while providing a vital opportunity to see how we can get large crowds back safely as soon as possible,” says British culture secretary Oliver Dowden.

“This scientific trial is an important step on the path to recovery for the live entertainment industry”

“Music connected us when we were separated by this pandemic, and now it’s going to help bring us back together again.”

The majority of tickets for the event (2,500) will be donated to key workers from London via a ballot system in recognition of their work during the pandemic.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of Brits organiser the BPI, comments: “The Brit Awards team are excited to confirm our plans to host a live audience at our ceremony on 11 May. There could be no better way to celebrate music’s biggest night than with an audience present for the first live performances at the O2 in over a year. Most importantly, this is also a key moment in the return of live music, which we all want to see back at scale as quickly as possible.

“We will be working closely with the government, the O2 and all our partners to finalise details and ensure all safety measures and guidelines are adhered to. More exciting performance announcements will be made in the coming days.”

“We’re proud that the O2 has been selected to host the largest-indoor-capacity pilot event with the Brits” says the O2’s deputy GM, Danielle Kennedy-Clark. “This scientific trial is an important step on the path to recovery for the live entertainment industry, and our operational teams are making the final preparations to be able to welcome people into the O2 again for the first time in more than a year”.


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