The Culture sector has been hit with the iron fist of Covid-19 the hardest. The death toll of the virus has reached the equivalent capacity of London’s O2 arena – a horrid thought. This has no doubt been difficult for music venues up and down the country, who now face a very uncertain, possibly fatal future. Just last week, Norwich’s beloved charity: OPEN Youth Trust, responsible for the former banking hall turned multi-purpose venue, had been placed into liquidation and ordered to shut its doors for good. The charity had its lottery fund expiring in April and couldn’t find the funds needed to stay afloat. But, with the Covid crisis postponing all events, the funds these events would have raised have led to this tragic fate. OPEN’s fate has been a sting in the tail for all of those who work to keep valuable and enriching places open, as well as those with treasured memories. My personal memories have also left a bitter taste in my mouth. The nights at Soul Train, to Jose Gonzalez’ headline slot at the inaugural Wild Paths festival. However tragic OPEN’s fate is, it is just one fish in the ocean; a grave reminder of the consequences of Covid-19’s remorseless grip on the economy.
The harsh reality that venues have come to grips with, is knowing that when restrictions are gradually modified then lifted, they will probably be the last sector to be lifted. These independent venues of course hold large capacities, and while the UK’s lockdown response has meant venue’s can furlough staff (of which not all will be covered), the initial delayed response hasn’t helped ease the pressure. This now leaves venues in a precarious position, a question that puts their existence on the line.
But in times of great uncertainty, the music community has to remain united.The Music Venue Trust (MVT) has warned that a possible 550 independent music venues could be a casualty of Covid crisis and have launched the initiative, #saveourvenues. Grassroots venues face an exodus as a cultural hive of cities and towns across the U.K and the trust’s and this new scheme, backed by the artist, Frank Turner, hopes to raise the money needed to ensure the survival of independent venues. From the venues on the list, including legendary venues from Sheffield’s Leadmill, to the Stoller Hall in Manchester, to the Brickmakers in Norwich, the initiative encourages artists who would have had tour dates at these venues to stream these gigs at home. The crowdfund launched by the MVT is a follow-up to the Venue Crisis movement they launched in the wake of the Government’s announcement of the closure of all capacity music venues. The CEO of the MVT, Mark Davyd told Louder: “Without the support of music fans and artists literally hundreds of the UK’s grassroots music venues could go out of business, never to return, in the coming months”. Frank Turner adds to this comment: “The UK live music industry is staring into the abyss right now” furthermore adding: “I decided to do a series of livestream shows to raise money for specific independent venues that I know and love”. The MVT have also posted a link to the page on their website attached to Google Maps, that shows the venues listed affected, and how to donate to them.
Unlike the staging of summer music festivals, including Glastonbury, who have postponed till summer 2021, venue’s are unable to “wait till next year” to stage live music again. And so, it has become more vital than ever to unite in support of these venues. This pandemic has inflicted venues with short-term pain. But it could prove that these economic scars don’t heal. It is up to the wider music community and the government to prevent such damage and save our venues.