Concert halls across England have remained largely silent for the past nine months after the coronavirus pandemic forced them to close. As the unwanted anniversary of a year without live music approaches for some, musician Frank Turner once again picks up his guitar to help.
“If you had told me in March of last year,” says Frank Turner, “that this problem was going to last that long, I would have been very depressed.”
The folk-punk singer has performed over 2,500 concerts during his 15-year solo career and has sold venues across the world, including Wembley Arena.
But he’s also performed in dozens of small independent venues, and credits each one for getting him to where he is.
So when the amplifiers and microphones fell silent in 2020, he broadcast 14 free concerts live from his home to benefit these venues, raising nearly £ 200,000 in donations.
“In the end, the sites couldn’t open their doors,” Turner says.
“They haven’t been able to sell tickets, they haven’t been able to sell alcohol to punters, and as a result their business model is completely on the ice.”
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Now, as the third lockdown kicks in, it is restarting its weekly broadcasts in support of the Music Venue Trust’s # Savethe30 campaign to help UK sites identified “in imminent danger of permanent closure”.
“It’s the same predicament in pubs, but with an added layer of horror,” says Turner.
“It’s hard to overstate how difficult it is for these places.”
Turner isn’t alone in his efforts to support struggling businesses and last year the government unveiled the £ 1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund (CRF), but not all sites have been eligible.
‘It doesn’t work without the music’
Opened in November 2017, owner and session musician Ben Adey said he started The Lantern because “there was never anywhere to play in Halifax.”
The purpose-built site, with a capacity of 130 seats – which Turner would perform later – was unable to apply for a grant because it had not been negotiated for long enough.
Mr Adey said it was “successful, going well”, before Covid struck.
“Everything stopped, there was nothing coming in, but the rent and the overhead don’t stop,” he said.
An attempt to reopen as a bar when restrictions are allowed was not viable.
“It was built as a concert hall rather than a bar,” he said.
“Without the element of live music, it just doesn’t work.”
A crowdfunding campaign launched last year has so far raised more than £ 20,000, and Mr Adey said he hoped Thursday’s show would help ‘get to dry land’ and donate to people something to look forward to.
‘Twenty people better than nothing’
Elisabeth Carley-Leonard owns The Shed, in Leicester, which has been closed since March 20 due to additional restrictions in the city.
Turner’s livestream last April raised over £ 11,000 for the venue.
“We were hoping to raise maybe £ 5,000 or £ 6,000 and it just kept going up; Even after the live broadcast ended, the donations kept coming. I always get goosebumps thinking about it, ”she says.
The funds raised “have relieved the pressure considerably” and “made the world a better place for a fleeting moment,” she added.
However, with overheads of almost £ 6,000 a month, the money quickly wore off and the joy of not having to lay off staff in April became a ‘horrible’ reality in September, when the room had ‘ about £ 20 to the bank account ”.
But, the following month, he received a grant of £ 50,000 from CRF.
Ms Carley-Leonard now has her goal of reopening on April 1 “come hell or high tide” to mark the fourth anniversary of the reopening of the hangar under her leadership.
She hopes to welcome punters back to the site on Friday and Saturday evenings initially, but with a reduced capacity from 100 to 20.
She said she was trying to see the lockdown as a chance to “start from scratch,” adding, “Even if it’s only 20 people at a time, it’s better than anyone.”
“When can we have live music?
The 150-capacity windmill in Brixton is another site named on MVT’s “at risk” list and was also not eligible for CRF support.
But while The Lantern and The Shed chose to remain closed or were forced to remain closed, venue booker Tim Perry said he was keen to put on as many gigs as possible last year.
When restrictions in the capital permitted, the venue took advantage of London’s level two status and staged around 90 low-capacity concerts, sometimes two per day.
Mr Perry said: “We knew we were going to lose money, but we thought we would lose less money if we had concerts.
“It was an important thing to do.
“We were crowdfunding, asking people to support the place, so if we sat there with the doors closed it would have been a little hypocritical.”
He said the site had set a target of £ 56,000 to complete it until the end of March, although that figure did not include a third lockdown.
Like Turner, Perry said the venues issue is now a need for clarity from the government on when they can reopen.
“It’s not just when,” he said, “it’s when can we have live music, what will the capacity be, will there be a curfew?”
“ A guerrilla operation ”
Turner, who appeared on a socially distanced essay show last year to explore how venues could reopen, said the industry needed a definitive restart date and called for a regime of coronavirus insurance to protect against “false aurora”.
Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, said his team is working on a case-by-case basis to help the 900 venues it represents, with a particular focus on the 30 most at risk.
Responding to the potential impact of each new announcement was like running a “guerrilla operation,” he said, and they feared those most affected would be gone before Christmas.
But thanks to the Save Our Venues campaign launched last April and other projects, none of the 900 sites had closed and about half were “safe” until March 31, Davyd said.
And while there was a “dark air” around the return of large-scale concerts and festivals in 2021, the possibility of events in smaller venues felt “much more likely,” he said. declared.
He was hoping socially distant events could return in March or April while a full reopening, with restrictions in place, could be possible “by the middle of the year.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture, Media and Sports said more than £ 168million has been awarded to 650 CRF concert halls and applications are being accepted for the final round until Jan. 26.
Meanwhile, insurance talks between government officials and representatives of the music industry continue.
For Turner, helping the places he cares so much about with his live broadcast performances had helped him get through the first lockdown, giving him “structure and purpose.”
But they also taught him a painful lesson.
“Drinking a beer and watching live music is a magical, magical thing and I miss it terribly.”
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