Covid and music: A year without gigs for independent venues

image copyrightGetty Images

Before the pandemic, they'd host some of the most memorable nights of the year.

But it's now been 10 months without gigs for independent venues because of coronavirus, which has devastated the industry.

"The last year has been really tough. We haven't opened at all during this whole period since March," Dom Fraser - director of The Boileroom in Guildford tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

She's been running the venue for 15 years.

This week is Independent Venue Week, and her venue had a full, socially distanced line-up booked in - but that got cancelled at the last minute.

According to the Music Venues Trust - over 400 Grassroots music venues in the UK are at imminent risk of being closed permanently.

"There have been days where I've not been able to get out of bed, I've just burst into tears. I've put my heart and soul into fighting for The Boileroom and sometimes it feels like a neglected child," she says.

"It's like another part of our family, even though it's bricks and mortar.

"Every venue in the country is pretty much the same."

image copyrightDom Fraser
image captionDom Fraser, of Guildford's Boileroom, has learnt TV production skills

Adapting the business

Dom says they would have closed "without a shadow of a doubt" if they hadn't had money from the Arts Council cultural relief fund.

She used that money to cover the bills so she could focus on how they could "still be relevant".

Through online courses and the help of friend who work in TV, she bought equipment and taught herself how to direct multi-camera live-streams from the venue.

"We're all still in the venues, still fighting for our survival and we will be here when all of this is over."

image copyrightTom Barnes
image captionSpace (right) says it's "important to shout about the worth of indie venues this year"

Someone who knows all about a live-streamed gig is Space from the band Never Not Nothing.

They played at The Boileroom on Monday night as part of Independent Venue Week.

"You make your record and then the rest of your year is going out and playing it to people and interacting with them," Space, real name Paul, says.

This year sees 110 venues taking part in Independent Venue Week - less than half the number who participated in 2020.

Gigs offer 'sense of safety'

For Arlo Parks, "there's nothing quite like" playing a live gig.

"You're alongside all these strangers and you leave whatever you're worrying about behind."

image captionArlo was named on the BBC Sound of 2020 list

Arlo is an ambassador for Independent Venue Week and says friends have told her "gigs they go to offer a sense of safety and the venues are a hub for the surrounding community".

What will the future look like?

AJ Sutherland is a tour and production manager, working with the likes of Mura Masa, Enter Shikari, Slow Thai and Paloma Faith.

He feels going forward, it's going to be "very difficult" for independents or grassroots in the industry.

"I think it's now starting to set in that there are going to be lasting changes, things are going to be different."

He says the bigger venues owned by large companies will be the ones to survive.

"The ones who don't survive are the ones who get by on a day-to-day earnings."

He also believes big-name stadium artists will survive much easier than upcoming artists.

image copyrightAJ Sutherland
image captionUnless independent venues can survive, diversity in music is at stake, according to AJ

AJ sees a similar problem arising for crew members who aren't as experienced in the industry as he is.

"Colleagues who've only been doing this for only a year or two, they're not as well established, they don't have those networks."

He's concerned the future will see independents and grassroots being "squeezed".

The impact of that, he says, will be a "less diverse" musical landscape, with big acts maintaining their power and new music not being heard.

Supporting the industry

Arlo Parks says it's vital these venues are "able to stay afloat".

"It's difficult to think of practical solutions, other than financial ones - that's the key thing here."

Caroline Dineage, Minister of State for Digital and Culture says the government wants "to do everything" to get live music venues up and running again.

"We know how absolutely fundamental they are."

She points to the £1.5bn fund to help the cultural sector survive which organisations can bid for.

"It's been the most hideous year for our whole culture and arts sector, and particularly live music."

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"Coronavirus, has just pulled the rug out from everybody. And we didn't get the deal we really wanted and fought very hard for from the Brexit agreement."

Artists like Space and Arlo Parks who are urging fans to keep on doing their bit to support venues and artists.

"If you don't know the local independent venue already, go seek it out. They'll undoubtedly be streaming some amazing artists that you may not have heard of before," Space says.

"Shows aren't happening, so the money isn't coming in. When shows do open, please buy tickets and show your faces," Arlo adds.

If you're an artist and want to get your music heard during lockdown, BBC Introducing have hosted a series of conversations to mark Independent Venue Week between musicians and venue owners. You can watch them here.

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