Have The Government’s Grants Actually Helped Heavy Music In The UK?
While the lights of live music hang in suspended animation, the UK government announced the first awards from the £257 million Cultural Recovery Fund, ‘to save 1,385 theatres, arts venues, museums and cultural organisations across England’.
The headline is helpful for politicians wrestling with an otherwise shameful response to the coronavirus pandemic, and arts organisations are grateful for a stop-gap support measure.
But with the threat of new tiered lockdowns effectively banning live music of any kind, the funding has been criticised for disproportionately favouring London and established mainstream organisations. Despite the ominous outlook, Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust is optimistic about the first round, with a 90 per cent success rate for venues that applied.
“We’re almost fortunate that the closure of Crobar in London is the closure that stands out,” he says. “Because yes, lots of places have been really challenged by this, but so far, thanks to the whole sector pulling together, not very many have actually closed.”
The Trust is behind the #SaveOurVenues campaign, and aims to save every single grassroots music venue in the UK. Large grants have been welcomed by dance clubs such as the Ministry Of Sound (£975,468) and electronic music organisation Resident Advisor (£750,000), but across the board, smaller venues and promoters – more often responsible for booking a mixture of rock, metal, dance or avant-garde subgenres – will have to survive the winter with much less.
“There are places all over the country where we’re waiting to see what happens next,” says Mark. “Places like Fuel rock club in Cardiff, where a decision may be made some time in the next week.”
Of 1,386 grants, 394 went to music organisations, including London’s 100 Club, the Electric Ballroom and Electowerkz, which still hope to bring bands such as Bikini Kill, Oh Sees and Rocket From The Crypt to full rooms in 2021.
In Sheffield, the Leadmill has received support to continue business, as has the Green Door Store in Brighton, the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, and the Brudenell in Leeds. But for Mark there are still major hurdles surrounding the kind of gigs that venues can realistically put on.
“While we’ll see some socially-distanced gigs, most people will probably agree that it’s entirely a stop-gap measure,” he says. “We’re not looking for that. We’re looking for the point at which we can go crowdsurfing again.”
In many cases, grants merely supplement ongoing public appeals and the direct support from fans which have kept many venues afloat during a silent summer.
“It’s great that the government has come along now,” says Mark, “but the truth is that without fans, readers or the public taking a huge interest in this, we wouldn’t have been able to raise £3 million in six months to keep venues going.”
Simple Plan performing at Slam Dunk Festival – photo via Ben Ray
In Leeds, Ben Ray of the Key Club and Slam Dunk Festival echoes the uncertainty. Slam Dunk has received support, but their grant of £175,000 will just about cover staff costs in a year where cancelled festivals and closed premises have meant no income whatsoever.
“Staff that were on the furlough scheme, which has come to an end, this grant effectively only just goes towards paying staff wages,” he says. “Some people think, ‘Wow, you’ve got all this money to do what you want with.’ There’s a bit of an assumption about that, as if you can spend it all on a brand-new sound system. But we applied saying that we needed to cover staff wages, on the basis that we’ve got no income.”
Ben is currently confident that Slam Dunk will go ahead in 2021, with Don Broco, Sum 41 and NOFX amongst the confirmed bands. But he emphasises that socially-distanced gigs with reduced capacities won’t work in the long term, and points out the dangerous lack of support for live music’s engineers, managers, technicians and producers.
“People don’t realise bands have costs, road crew – it doesn’t stack up financially, and no rock band wants to play for a crowd that’s sat down and distant. We’ve tried to think about smaller or acoustic acts, but then we’d have to charge a high price. No artist wants to ask their fans to play inflated prices. It’s just round and round in circles.
“I have major concerns over the rest of the industry,” he says. “The freelance workers and all the people we should have employed at this year’s festival, who work so hard over the summer as their main income for the year. The government needs to do more to help the freelance workers.”
Ben Ray and the Slam Dunk team at the Kerrang! Awards – photo by Tom Pullen
This is an obvious point for Mark and the Music Venue Trust, too. “This fund is a major breakthrough for the physical spaces in which people work, and the teams within those spaces,” he says.
“But we are hugely worried, frankly, about the crews, the production teams, and people who rely on live music for their livings. We work as an ecosystem, and we know how important the tour managers are, the drum techs, the lighting and sound crew. That’s the next thing that’s got to be tackled.”
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