A prominent businessman and owner of London’s iconic music venue, Electric Brixton, has warned the live events industry is on the brink of collapse.
Music venues, theatres and events companies have been out of operation since the nationwide lockdown was implemented in March this year, with no sign of restarting.
Though small, socially distanced events such as comedy gigs with reduced audiences and restricted access have started to make a comeback, most live events are still stuck in limbo and are appealing for a lifeline from the Government.
Iconic London venue Electric Brixton has hosted a number of artists and events including rock legend Liam Gallagher (pictured). It closed in March 2020 and its future remains uncertain
According to Plasa, the international membership body for those who supply technologies and services to the event and entertainment industries, one performance takes an average of 443 professionals to run it.
This includes planning, design, preparation, warehouse, venue staff and more. It estimates the sector delivers a staggering £100billion to the UK economy and employs around 600,000 people.
Dominic Madden, co-founder of music venue company Electric Group, which runs London’s iconic Electric Brixton, said without a tailored support package, the industry remains at risk.
He recently reopened Bristol venue SWX but has significantly reduced its capacity from almost 2,000 to 330.
Entry times are now staggered and require temperature testing and hand sanitiser stations have been implemented throughout the venue among other alterations.
But Electric Brixton, one of the most successful and high profile venues in the country, which makes a turnover of £6.5million a year and is reliant on a network of international touring, remains closed.
Electric Brixton is one of the most successful and high profile venues in the country
‘It’s difficult to open and operate a large music venue and turn a profit when you are either not allowed to open or have to repurpose and significantly reduce your licensing capacity.
‘When travel stopped and venues closed that all collapsed. We are programmed sometimes three years in advance for Electric Brixton, so had to cancel hundreds of shows.’
Dominic said the furlough scheme has helped to maintain his teams and Electric Group was one of the organisations fortune enough to receive a Culture Recovery Grant from the Arts Council last week.
But income from the business was completely suspended from March and Dominic was unable to get one of the government’s Bounce Back or Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme loans.
‘It’s not quite as simple as that. There hasn’t been a great deal of appetite to lend to music and events from the government,’ he added.
‘We are delighted to have received a Culture Recovery Grant to tide us over but more needs to be done for the industry as a whole.
Musician Ben Allison said the lack of Government support is worrying
‘Unless the government introduces a tailored package for each part of the industry – as it is a large ecosystem of self-employed people across different areas – there are going to be catastrophic results.’
‘Worrying’ lack of help
Meanwhile, 28-year-old Ben Allison is a music teacher, member of band One Eyed Disco and a wedding band, and has been a live performer for the past 10 years.
Covid-19 meant the immediate cancellation of this type of event and has seen members of his wedding band alone down tens of thousands of pounds from the sudden disruption.
He said: ‘We haven’t done a single wedding since March and even with the new rule of 15 guests per wedding, I highly doubt we’ll be doing any more till late next year.
‘The fact you can go to a small, cramped and full pub every day of the week but can’t have more than 15 guests at a wedding with tables two meters apart is mind-boggling to us.’
As for his original band One Eyed Disco, they’ve had exciting opportunities such as festival slots and recording sessions cancelled.
‘We do understand that these are unprecedented times and it’s impossible for a government to make everyone happy, but the lack of help is starting to get very worrying,’ he added.
Ben realises he is one of the lucky ones as his teaching job meant he could still work from home during lockdown via online music lessons and he was eligible for a Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant.
Plasa estimates one live performance to involve an average of 443 workers
However the grant can only cover him so far and it is hard to say what will happen when there is no inclination as to when the live events industry can get back up and running again.
He added: ‘This is going to hugely affect the industry in so many ways and is already doing so now.
‘Famous venues are facing permanent closure, theatre shows are being cancelled indefinitely, and musicians and other people in the arts will have to look at potentially leaving the industry to get other jobs.
‘I personally will have to find a new income avenue at some point soon to cover myself and my finances just to get by.’
Ben thinks the government should create a grant that covers those who are unable to work because doing so be illegal and go against social distancing policies.
Without this kind of support, he thinks before long, many venues will cease to exist and musicians no longer active.
‘I have worked as a musician since I first picked up a guitar 20 years ago. I don’t want to just be told to retrain. We helped people through lockdown with streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix and now it’s time for us to be helped.’
Plight of the supply chain
It’s not just musicians and the venues they play in that are suffering due to the suspension of live events.
There are thousands of other workers across different sectors that are equally in turmoil.
The #WeMakeEvents campaign highlights the plight of the supply chain within the events industry and comprises around 100 people and companies that work across live events, such as technicians, production companies, lighting controllers, environmental specialists and more.
Peter Heath is one of the founding members behind the #WeMakeEvents campaign
It found it takes an average of 443 workers to run just one event and involves staff – usually freelancers – from a range of sectors including design, transport, warehouses, catering, security, sales and much more.
Peter Heath, one of the founding members of the campaign, said: ‘The industry has been a well-kept secret for decades because, by its very nature, it operates behind the scenes.
‘We are trying to give it a face and bring it, and its contribution to the UK economy, both domestically and internationally, to the public’s and Government’s attention.’
‘We are an incredibly hard-working industry, we are passionate about what we do, and what we want more than anything is to work with the Government to find a safe way forward to enable us to put on the events that are so vital to the economy and the general well-being of the country.’