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UK live calls for exemption from new restrictions

The UK live music industry is calling for an exemption from a ban on selling alcohol without food under the tougher tier system announced today. The new rules will replace the national lockdown that expires on 2 December.

British prime minister Boris Johnson today announced that while the UK’s current lockdown will be lifted at the beginning of December, a stricter version of the three-tier system that operated in England before the lockdown began will be introduced.

Under tier 2 restrictions, which will most likely affect the majority of the UK, concert halls are permitted to open with up to 1,000 people or 50% occupancy, whichever is smaller, in addition to the existing regulation around maintaining social distancing.

Also in tier 2, and in news that will impact on all live music venues, though grassroots venues in particular, only venues that operate as a restaurant, serving substantial meals, will be permitted to serve alcohol (last orders will now be at 10 pm, with one hour to finish drinks).

Under tier 3 all hospitality will close except for delivery and takeaway, including indoor entertainment venues. The PM will announce which areas will fall into which tier later this week.

“The consumption of food and the consumption of culture could, and should, be treated equally”

“It is to be welcomed that the government’s intention is that live music can resume where it can be safely delivered,” says Mark Dayvd, CEO at Music Venue Trust.

“The government can deliver on this ambition by correctly identifying the purchase of a ticket as having equivalent intention by the consumer to the purchase of a meal. The consumption of food and the consumption of culture as the main purpose of an individual’s behaviour could, and should, be treated equally.

“Failure to reach equivalency between food and culture on this issue results in a distorted market where an individual can choose to attend a restaurant, consuming as much alcohol as they wish, prior to a gig, but upon arrival at the event cannot consume any alcohol at all.

“We believe consistency within the restrictions is the most likely route by which the public will understand and comply with them. We therefore strongly encourage the government to think again on the specifics of tier 2 restrictions in relation to ticketed cultural events.”

“By removing alcohol sales, any notion of [venues] being able to operate profitably now evaporates”

Phil Bowdery, chair of the Concert Promoters Association, says: “The prime minister’s announcement today is a huge blow for the live music industry. It’s enormously disappointing that venues which have worked hard to operate safely under the existing guidelines, are now subject to additional, arbitrary restrictions on audience numbers.

“And by removing alcohol sales on top, any notion of being able to operate profitably now evaporates. We need an urgent exemption from this new rule for ticketed events, including grassroots venues.”

Greg Parmley, chief executive of LIVE, the trade body for the live music industry says: “It is hugely disappointing that the new tier system could lead to the closure of hundreds of small music venues up and down the country.

“More than 90% of small music venues cannot serve substantial meals and therefore would be classed as being the same as a ‘wet pub’ and closed under tier 2 of the new system, despite people primarily being there to enjoy the music. We call on the government to make an exemption from those restrictions for ticketed artistic and cultural events in music venues in order to save them from closure at this crucial time.”

“The new tier system could lead to the closure of hundreds of small music venues”

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association (NITA), says: “The industry has been left angry and frustrated by the new restrictions set out by the prime minister today. This shows a complete lack of consideration and understanding of our sector.

“This will have a catastrophic impact on thousands of businesses and jobs across the sector by the end of the year. For many business owners this is beyond ignorance. This is tantamount to systematically culling our industry with intent.

“The government has simply got this wrong. It is an appalling misjudgement. Our sector has worked incredibly hard alongside government departments, to ensure that our businesses are ‘Covid Safe’, only to be hit again with unworkable restrictions that have no evidence base.

“We are being condemned to an excruciating financial hardship, until the government can rally around a workable vaccine solution. The support from furlough is welcome. However, sadly many of these businesses will not survive to retain their staff and will suffer from a continuation of current extreme problems around cash fluidity, commercial rent debt and exit strategy.

“We can’t help but feel that our industry is being sacrificed for other sectors to open during the festive period.”


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SA’s recovery: “There’s still a lot of blood on the floor”

To say South Africa (SA) has had a tough time during the pandemic would be something of an understatement. The nation endured one of the earliest and strictest national lockdowns in the world, which saw a curfew enforced and the sale of alcohol and tobacco restricted.

Now though, things are looking up for SA. On the 20 September, the overnight curfew was reduced to 12–4 am and entertainment venues permitted to accommodate 50% capacity with limitations of 250 people indoors and 500 people outdoors – just in time for summer and, under normal circumstances, the live market’s busiest season.

As the market starts its recovery, IQ catches up with Theresho Selesho, CEO at Matchbox Live and the promoter behind some of SA’s most popular events and festivals including OppiKoppi (cap. 10,000), to discuss recovering, adapting and planning post-lockdown.

IQ: Lockdown must’ve been an incredibly tough time for businesses, how has Matchbox Live managed to survive?

TS: With the type of restrictions that we’ve had, it didn’t make any sense to do much. We couldn’t sell alcohol or tobacco up until the beginning of September, which is a crucial part of how most festivals generate income on sites and how they secure sponsorship.

It was more economical to just stay closed and just try to keep your business upright by cutting as many costs as possible. That was one way to survive this. There’s still a lot of blood on the floor. Some companies have closed down, some production companies have had to let a lot of people go.

What kind of support has the sector received from the government?

Only recently has our sector started organising itself to have real engagements with the arts and culture department. This required a lot of engagement amongst various players within the industry, which included venues, promoters, technical companies and the likes. There is a little bit of movement that is starting to happen but in terms of support and grants, that has started to slowly materialise. The administration behind this has been one of the biggest challenges for a sector that is not formally organised, as it should be.

Freelancers and musicians could apply for support but not the promoters who create those opportunities because there’s a very specific kind of support that is needed to make these things happen and keep the wheels turning. So that has also made this time very challenging. Promoters couldn’t rely on the government, they had to be gung-ho, have deep and frequent engagements with each other in order to better organise ourselves to make things happen, coming out of this thing.

“Promoters couldn’t rely on the government, they had to be gung-ho”

How have you adapted your events in line with the restrictions?

With the current restrictions it makes sense to do smaller, curated, daytime events. So with one of the venues that I co-own, in collaboration with another entertainment company, Homecoming Africa we came up with the concept for Fontein Brunches, where attendees can book tables of four or more, eat brunch, and listen to DJs and artists. We launched at the beginning of September, with events on both Saturdays and Sundays between 10 am and 6 pm. It’s a great day out.

Have you managed to make the events financially viable?

We have done all the Fontein Brunches on risk, without a sponsor, which is unheard of in our market. You rarely do an event without a brand partner here, it’s just not viable. But we believed in the concept enough to cost it so it made sense and now it’s starting to build traction and bear fruit. We’ve managed to sell out 80% of them.

“We’ve always had to be pretty self-sustainable so operating in these kinds of conditions is not really new”

Has the market got busier now restrictions have been eased?

Lots of daytime events and club shows have popped up now so we want to take ourselves out of the clutter of the people doing the same stuff in the city. We’re looking at other options. We just announced an event at Sun City Resort, which is like a mini city with multiple hotels and entertainment, for the end of November. People can book hotel packages and there’ll be pool parties, after-parties and live performances in different areas.

Is that business model of creating a ‘temporary venue’ and booking it up the way to go right now?

Definitely. We were looking at doing drive-in shows with the same model as Newcastle’s Virgin Money Unity Arena, where we set up a venue in a rugby or soccer field for two to four weeks in Johannesburg and then in Cape Town and get different promoters to do different shows. So I could bring an Alchemy [a festival series featuring international artists] experience, someone else can bring an electronic festival, and someone else could book a classic concert etc. That way everyone covers the same base costs and the suppliers know how to cost for that. It’s just a bit more viable for everybody, as well.

“It’s going to be a big rebuild. We’re going to have to all force ourselves to rebuild from whichever level that we started at”

Are you confident in the market’s ability to bounce back?

Being so removed in South Africa, we’ve always had to be pretty self-sustainable so operating in these kinds of conditions is not really new – aside from the obvious catastrophic health and economic factors. You can never just do a festival in South Africa and that’s all you do. We have very nimble and lean teams that we operate with, and everyone works on different things throughout the year.

Another bonus is our production costs which are a lot more manageable than Europe where you need a higher capacity for events to make financial sense. It’s 5-10 times cheaper to do the same production here than it is in the UK or in Europe as well. There are a lot more suppliers in the market now which speaks to the maturity and growth of the market. And we can negotiate a lot harder to make the event a lot more viable, as well.

“The confidence to bounce back also comes from the fans”

It’s still early days in SA’s recovery, are promoters cautious about booking for next year?

Yes, we have to be very calculated. Currently, we’re only planning per quarter. Many promoters haven’t committed to their typical dates for festivals next year. We need to look at the dynamics like how much money is in the market for people to go out to go to a big festival and big productions.

It’s going to be a big rebuild. I think we’re going to have to all force ourselves to rebuild from whichever level that we started at, so if it means we need to start with 500-capacity shows upwards, that’s what we’re going to do. Most of the big festivals happened this year; we also decided to take the OppiKoppi Festival online this year.

Are promoters confident about fans’ willingness to return to live events?

Yes, I would like to believe that there is a lot of confidence in the market. The confidence to bounce back also comes from the fans. People really, really want to go out and reconnect with other humans in good, safe spaces so that’s motivating. Regardless of sponsors, artists want to perform and the fans want to go out. It would have been a very different dynamic if people were very hesitant to go out because of financial constraints and health and safety issues.


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UK music sector reacts to newly permitted events

Socially distanced live indoor performances will be able to resume in England from Saturday, as the government eases lockdown measures.

The relaxed measures signal Stage 4 of the government’s five-stage roadmap for the return of live performance, which was announced on 17 July and delayed from 1 August until tomorrow.

Though the date for reopening will bring some relief to the UK’s music sector, a number of industry bodies have expressed scepticism about the economic viability of live music returning.

“Unfortunately, it remains the case that the vast majority of grassroots music venue members of the Music Venues Alliance are not financially able, or even have an appropriate layout in the physical premises, to deliver these newly permitted events,” says Mark Davyd from the UK’s Music Venue Trust.

“Those that can make social distancing work will be unlikely to be able to stage government compliant events with this much notice but will be relieved to finally be able to open their doors in the coming weeks.

“However, despite the challenges the announcement presents, we broadly welcome this progress towards the return of live music. If gigs are going to return in stages, which is the government plan, then we have reached Stage 4 of that plan and can begin to imagine that Stage 5, real gigs at venues, might be achievable in the foreseeable future,” concludes Davyd.

“It remains extraordinarily difficult to resume events and gigs in an economically viable way”

Michael Kill, CEO of Night Time Industries Association says: “While we welcome the government’s announcement of the further easing of lockdown measures, this is still a long way off being back to normal for many businesses in the night time economy and events sector.”

“While some bars and restaurants have been able to open with a limited capacity, many are only just breaking even and we expect live music venues and performance spaces to have similar issues with viability, only able to accommodate for limited numbers under the current government social distancing measures.

“We still have many questions with regard to the operational conditions for opening these businesses, but would urge the government to consider a more robust communication strategy with a realistic timeframe to allow businesses the opportunity to prepare for opening,” says Kill.

Acting CEO of campaigning and lobbying group UK Music, Tom Kiehl, says: “Further easing of lockdown for live performance is a symbolic moment, yet it remains extraordinarily difficult to resume events and gigs in an economically viable way.”

“The government must ensure support measures for all aspects of the sector – including venues, festivals, musicians, performers and crew – are in place while many individuals and businesses in the sector still cannot get back to work.”

“We still have many questions with regard to the operational conditions for opening these businesses”

The UK’s live music sector has organised a number of campaigns, including #LetTheMusicPlay and #WeMakeEvents, which called for government support in various areas of the industry.

Though the initiatives were successful in prompting the government to unveil a £1.57bn package of grants and loans for music and arts organisations, the industry needs more government support to sustain the live industry’s broader ecosystem.

Industry bodies are calling for a multi-year extension of the cultural VAT rate reduction beyond January in line with DCMS’s recent recommendations and a government-backed reinsurance scheme to allow shows to go ahead.

Also as part of this weekend’s easing of lockdown, the government is enforcing tougher measures including a clampdown on illegal gatherings of more than 30 people, which could see those responsible hit with spot fines of up to £10,000.

The government’s previous restrictions on concerts were met with a rise in Britons attending illegal, non-socially distanced “quarantine raves” in woodland near cities including ManchesterLeedsLiverpoolOxford and Lichfield, Staffordshire.


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