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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Van Morrison to legally challenge NI’s live music ban
Acclaimed singer-songwriter Van Morrison is to legally challenge the Northern Irish (NI) government over its ‘blanket ban’ on live music in licensed venues, which was introduced in September under coronavirus restrictions.
In a summary of the 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)”.
NI is currently partway through a six-week lockdown in which hospitality and entertainment venues must remain shuttered but the Northern Irish singer-songwriter is eager to challenge the rules for when they reopen.
— Van Morrison (@vanmorrison) January 21, 2021
Solicitor Joe Rice said Morrison, who has released several protest songs against Covid-19 rules in recent months, will ask the high court in Belfast to review the policy.
Morrison is taking the action “on behalf of the thousands of musicians, artists, venues and those involved in the live music industry”, Rice says.
“We’re not aware of any credible scientific or medical evidence to justify this particular blanket ban”
“We will be seeking leave for judicial review to challenge the blanket ban on live music in licensed premises in Northern Ireland. We’re not aware of any credible scientific or medical evidence to justify this particular blanket ban … and we’re going to challenge this in the high court.”
Rice says he expects the case to be heard at the high court within “weeks”.
All we are asking @BorisJohnson and this current government is to reconsider its actions. The live industry is worth 3 billion pound to this economy. It works both ways. If we stop touring in Europe the same will happen here.
— Ronan Keating (@ronanofficial) January 16, 2021
Van Morrison isn’t the only Irish artist who has called out government recently – Dublin-born artist Ronan Keating last week invited British prime minister Boris Johnson to meet him in a park to discuss “how [the UK] government is effecting UK musicians and the arts”.
“Ok @BorisJohnson, I think it’s time we had a chat. I can’t come to yours nor can you come to mine. But can we meet in a park socially distant and discuss how this government is effecting UK musicians and the arts,” Keating wrote in a tweet.
The tweet followed reports alleging that the British government had rejected an offer to allow UK musicians to tour Europe without needing a visa post-Brexit.
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European markets adopt stringent Covid measures
Across Europe, governments are introducing tough new restrictions in an attempt to battle a second wave of coronavirus.
France has declared a public health emergency after confirming 22,951 cases of Covid-19 yesterday (14 October).
President Emmanuel Macron has reacted by imposing a night-time curfew in the capital Paris and its suburbs, as well as Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Saint-Etienne, Rouen, Toulouse, Grenoble and Montpellier, affecting 20 million people out of a total population of some 67 million.
The 9 pm–6 am curfew will come into effect from Saturday and last for at least four weeks, with a view to extending to six.
“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus,” said president Macron during a television address yesterday.
“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus”
Elsewhere, Germany has announced a “hotspot strategy” to tackle its cases, which are today at the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic, with 6,638 recorded cases.
If an area records more than 35 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days, masks will become mandatory in all places where people have close contact for an extended period. The number of people allowed to gather will also be limited to 25 in public and 15 in private spaces.
Once a threshold of 50 new infections per 100,000 is exceeded, even tougher restrictions will apply. These include limiting private gatherings to 10 people or two households, and the closure of restaurants after 11 pm.
“I am convinced that what we do now will be decisive for how we come through this pandemic,” said chancellor Angela Merkel.
Earlier today, Spain‘s north-eastern region of Catalonia forced bars and restaurants to close for 15 days. Once again, venues will have to operate at 50% in accordance with the new measures adopted by the Generalitat, after less than a month of operating at 70% in many Catalan municipalities.
All cultural activities must end – and venues must close – before 11 pm. Spectators must always be seated and in a pre-assigned seat.
“I am convinced that what we do now will be decisive for how we come through this pandemic”
Northern Ireland has imposed a four-week circuit breaker lockdown, forcing the closure of non-essential retail outlets, gyms, pools, leisure centres, as well as the hospitality sector – excluding takeaways and deliveries.
Infection rates “must be turned down now or we will be in a very difficult place very soon indeed,” first minister Arlene Foster told lawmakers in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Yesterday, a partial lockdown came into force in the Netherlands, limiting music venues and theatres to a maximum of 30 visitors, in conjunction with the pre-existing metre-and-a-half rule and the rule that no more than four people may attend a performance or concert together.
The new restrictions also include a widespread ban on outdoor events and a ban on alcohol consumption in public areas between 8 pm and 7 am. Discotheques and night clubs must now remain closed until a coronavirus vaccine is on the market.
The measures came into effect yesterday (14 October) and will remain in place for at least two weeks, after which the cabinet will assess the infection rate and decide on next steps.
Czech Republic, which has the highest rate of infection in Europe over the past two weeks at 581.3 cases per 100,000 people, has imposed a three-week partial lockdown, shutting schools, bars and clubs until 3 November.
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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.
MCD to work with CMA on merger queries
A Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation has found that the proposed takeover of Irish promoter MCD Productions by LN-Gaiety Holdings (LNG) raises competition concerns in Northern Ireland.
LNG – a joint venture between Live Nation UK and Gaiety Investments – announced its plans to acquire MCD Productions in August. Denis Desmond, Live Nation’s chairman in the UK and Ireland owns both Gaiety Investments and MCD Productions, although the latter has remained independent.
According to the CMA, there are “only a few rival music promoters in the region”, and the majority of these sell tickets to events via Live Nation-owned ticketing platform Ticketmaster.
“If it [Live Nation] were to acquire MCD,” reads a CMA statement, “it may be able to stop rival promoters selling tickets through that platform post-merger.”
The CMA believes such an outcome could reduce the promotion services available to artists, drive up ticket prices and limit the live music events on offer.
“If Live Nation were to acquire MCD, it may be able to stop rival promoters selling tickets through that platform post-merger”
The regulator states that other aspects of the companies’ businesses, such as music festivals and access to venues, does not raise competition concerns.
If LN-Gaiety and MCD fail to address CMA’s concerns, the watchdog will undertake a secondary investigative phase.
Desmond comments that “we will work with the CMA to allay any concerns they have.”
The UK watchdog began investigations into the LNG-MCD merger in May, following in the footsteps of its Irish counterpart the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).
The CCPC cleared the acquisition earlier this week, after a ten-month investigation.
Show Patrol: Inside Snow Patrol’s live comeback
Back in October 2012, when Snow Patrol were nearing the end of their hugely successful year-long Fallen Empires tour, their manager Peter Mensch flew out to see them play in Santiago, Chile, and offered some choice advice to the Northern Irish rock band.
“I said to them, ‘Gee, let’s not wait three years to make another record,’” he recalls.
Snow Patrol evidently took the advice to heart, as they didn’t take three years to make a follow-up to Fallen Empires. They took seven. “That was not part of the plan,” deadpans Mensch. “They are the band that’s taken longer off than any band I’ve ever managed, so I’m learning on the job. There isn’t a playbook: Seven-year Absences for Dummies.”
The reason for the group’s prolonged withdrawal, singer-songwriter Gary Lightbody explained last year, was down to his personal struggles with writer’s block, depression and alcoholism. Thankfully, the singer gradually overcame his demons, which helped provide the creative fuel for Wildness, Snow Patrol’s seventh studio album, which was released last May, debuting at No. 2 in the United Kingdom, topping the charts in Ireland, and becoming a top-ten hit throughout Europe.
Having not played live in almost five years, 2018 also saw the long overdue return of Snow Patrol to the touring market, beginning with a small run of 900- to 2,000-capacity shows in England, Ireland and America. They were followed by some European festival dates and a three-month stretch supporting Ed Sheeran on a sell-out run of US stadiums. In December, the band kicked off its own European arena tour, which included sell-out shows at Belfast’s SSE Arena, Arena Birmingham, Dublin’s 3Arena, Glasgow’s The SSE Hydro, London’s The O2 and Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome, as well as dates at Hamburg’s Barclaycard Arena and Berlin’s Velodrom.
“I didn’t know if we’d be able to be as big as we were in 2012. Or if we’d be smaller. Or how much smaller”
“I didn’t know what to expect,” admits Mensch about the Wildness Tour, which continues throughout 2019 and includes 21 dates in North America; headline shows in Dubai, Mexico, Colombia, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina; as well as European festival dates and a 33,000-capacity homecoming concert at Ward Park, in the band’s hometown of Bangor, Northern Ireland.
“I didn’t know if we’d be able to be as big as we were in 2012. Or if we’d be smaller. Or how much smaller,” continues Mensch. “When your last dates are six years apart in some cases, you don’t know [if the fan base is still there]. As your audience gets older they get tougher to motivate… [Snow Patrol] could have just disappeared altogether.”
“When a band is away for seven years there’s always a little bit of a grey area as to what they are going to come back to, especially with such a changed landscape in the industry,” says X-ray Touring’s Steve Strange, who has been Snow Patrol’s agent since their second album, 2001’s When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up, when the band was playing 80- to 200-capacity rooms. Breakthrough album Final Straw, released two years later, and its 4 million-selling follow-up Eyes Open, featuring the huge global hit Chasing Cars, made Snow Patrol one of the UK’s biggest touring rock bands. They’re popularity may have dipped slightly in the years since then, but they’re still a major touring force around the world, as the success of their latest tour proves.
“They don’t have a fickle audience. It’s a very loyal one and my prediction has proved correct,” notes Strange, who says he was “never concerned” about the band’s ability to still move tickets, despite their lengthy time out of the spotlight. “They’re a band that has got a great legacy of hits and that has come back with a very strong record. I’m very happy with where we are. We’re in very good shape for a band that has let a seven-year gap happen between cycles.”
“When a band is away for seven years there’s always a little bit of a grey area as to what they are going to come back to”
X-why-z’s Christian Vadillo-Bilda, who promoted five shows in Germany, notes, “It was hard to predict in the beginning which level of venue we should go for, as the band has been away for such a long time. So we decided to go for a mixture of 5,000-capacity venues to arenas in some markets, and it worked well. We sold out the ‘smaller’ venues and did up to 7,000 tickets on the bigger shows.”
Before Snow Patrol could return to the road, however, a comprehensive review of the band’s live set-up was required, explains long-standing tour manager Neil Mather. “The technology had changed so much in the six years they had been away from touring. We went to the lock-up and there was equipment there that was at least twice the size of what it now is. The backline pretty much required a complete rebuild from top to bottom along with a re-evaluation of the whole set-up.”
Rehearsals subsequently took place in London at Music Bank and SW19 at the start of 2018, ahead of the band’s keenly anticipated live return at London’s Islington Assembly Hall on 11 April 2018, swiftly followed by dates at New York’s Irving Plaza and Hollywood’s Fonda Theater. From there, the band travelled to Ireland for a brief run of intimate club and theatre shows before jetting back to America, where they spent three months performing to over a million people as the main support on Ed Sheeran’s gigantic stadium tour. The invite to open for Sheeran came direct from the singer, who supported the band on their 2012 Fallen Empires Tour and has written a number of songs with Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid.
For Snow Patrol, “the Sheeran tour was a fantastic opportunity to reposition the band in the States,” says Strange, who credits it with boosting ticket sales for the group’s headline run of US shows in April and May, many of which have since sold out. As well as reacquainting American audiences with Snow Patrol, the Sheeran trek also gave members and crew the chance to work on plans for their own headline tour.
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Among the latest nuggets from the Brexit coalface is that Guinness crosses the Irish border twice before it’s ready to drink: from Dublin to Belfast for canning, and then back to Dublin for distribution. A hard border will apparently cost beverage company Diageo an extra €100 a lorry-load.
The price of the black stuff arguably does directly affect the live music business, if we’re talking about the craic and how that happens. But the story also seems to find a parallel with Irish music: how it involves both the north and the south and a useful connection to England.
“It’s bred into us from when you are a kid”
Taken individually, Ireland’s two musical legacies are mighty, or at the very least mighty successful: Van Morrison, Ash, The Undertones, The Divine Comedy and Snow Patrol from Northern Ireland, for starters; U2, Thin Lizzy, My Bloody Valentine, Sinead O’Connor, The Boomtown Rats, Rory Gallagher, The Corrs, The Cranberries, The Script, Boyzone and Westlife from the Republic. Taken together, they’re more formidable still, and all of the above are successes across the UK and all of Ireland, and most internationally.
“It’s bred into us from when you are a kid,” says Mark Downing at Dublin’s AMA Music Agency. “It’s the first thing you think: how can I break internationally? You are always trying to break into other territories. And for credibility, if you are an Irish band, you always want recognition from London – it’s really important.”
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Live entertainment revenue tops €1.7bn in Ireland
Live entertainment in Ireland generated at least €1.7 billion in extra revenue from March 2015–2016, according to a new study backed by a cross-section of the island’s music industry.
Let’s Celebrate 2017, published today by music PR firm Wide Awake Communications, reveals that for every €1 spent on a ticket in that 12-month period, live events – defined as live music, arts, theatrical, comedy and family events, attractions and exhibitions – generated €6.06 in additional revenue.
Its findings are based on research by London-based BOP Consulting, which analysed ticket sales data from Ticketmaster Ireland and the results of a survey of more than 5,700 event attendees.
The report, which Wide Awake founder Justin Green says was commissioned because of his “belief that the entertainment industry is frequently overlooked and not always respected as the viable and tangible professional industry that it is”, is backed by collection society IMRO, tourist board Fáilte Ireland and several venues, including Dublin’s Aviva Stadium and Croke Park, and contains contributions from former U2 manager (and ILMC 29 Breakfast Meeting interviewee) Paul McGuinness, promoters Caroline Downey, Peter Aiken and Denis Desmond and artists including Louis Walsh, Robbie Williams and Michael Bublé.
For every €1 spent on a ticket in 2015–16, live entertainment generated €6.06 in additional revenue
It includes figures from the entire island of Ireland (both Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the larger, independent Republic of Ireland). Additional revenue – defined as spending on top of the cost of tickets – for the Republic alone was €1.3bn.
A total of 3.42m people attended live entertainment events in the period surveyed, of which the largest proportion – 2.27m – was for concerts and music festivals.
For music specifically, the additional revenue was €900m in the Republic and €326m in Ulster, for a total of €1.27bn.
The live entertainment sector additionally supported 11,331 jobs (of which 8,546 were in the live music industry), while some 400,000 people came from overseas to attend a live event on the island.
“Music is part of our cultural DNA. But it is also of huge economic importance, in a way that has too seldom been recognised at official level”
BOP Consulting’s Richard Naylor and Jonathan Todd say Let’s Celebrate 2017 has “demonstrated that live entertainment is of great economic and cultural importance to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland”.
“Music is in [Ireland’s] blood. It is part of our cultural DNA. But it is also of huge economic importance, in a way that has too seldom been recognised at official level,” adds Hot Press editor Niall Stokes, in his foreword to the report. “After all, music, theatre, comedy and festivals are among the key attractions for visitors to this country.
I trust, therefore, that this important study will clarify, in a way that brooks no further argument, that the music and entertainment industry truly is a vital part of what makes this country unique and attractive as a place to live and to visit – and that it, and the Irish artists who are so important to its health and well-being, should be encouraged and supported and celebrated at every opportunity, for the joy and the inspiration that they deliver so widely and so well, to so many.”