Once again, COVID threatens to silence live music. What can be done to help?
With new restrictions already in place across Wales and a tangible threat of the same looming over England, many are distraught at the thought of once again surrendering the glimpses of pre-pandemic normality they briefly had. Those in the hospitality sector are facing a tough start to the new year as the restrictions dash their ability to open at full capacity and the miserable uncertainty brought by new variant Omicron threatens their income.
The restrictions laid out by the Welsh Government sees a closing of night clubs, the re-introduction of the 2-metre social-distancing guidelines, and a restriction of the amount of people allowed to participate in organised outdoor and indoor events; with indoor events having a cap of 30 people, and outdoor events having a cap of 50. A Welsh Government initiative has set aside £120 million for those in industries such as retail, nightclubs, and hospitality in order to help soften the blow these restrictions have on such businesses. These aforementioned restrictions fall in place in Wales as the daily cases in the UK reach a previously unseen 7-day average of 91,888, the highest 7-day average since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
One of the sectors that will be affected most is undoubtedly the live music industry. Having only just got into a stride after the easing of restrictions in July, performers again face the chance of witnessing their livelihood come to a standstill as a result of the pandemic. I caught up with Lucas Woodland, lead singer of the Cardiff-based rock band Holding Absence, to talk about the new restrictions, COVID-19, and how he’s had to adapt to life on the road during a pandemic.
JA: As restrictions lifted in the summer of 2021, how did it feel to be back on stage in front of live audiences?
LW: It was a real mixture of emotions! For the most part we were blindsided by the positives of getting back on that stage, but there was always a slight fear and worry about people’s safety too, and also the fear and worry that we’d not be as good at music after 18 months off!
JA: What changes were made to your tour routines as a result of restrictions and COVID in general? What were some of the more surprising changes to tour life?
LW: The biggest change was the physical aspect, or lack thereof. We’ve always been a band that was accessible to our fans – whether we were holding hands during shows or meeting people afterwards. Cutting that out has been a huge change in a negative way. Other big changes are more about convenience, really: taking lateral flow tests daily, and not being permitted to sleep on stranger’s floors, et cetera. They’re big, but necessary changes.
JA: You’ve had to prematurely finish the tour with Creeper, Static Dress, and Wargasm due to COVID, and the tour with Funeral for a Friend alongside Static Dress has been rescheduled for a second time. How does this effect morale within the band?
LW: Eh. Of course, it’s been crushing, but we’re living off scraps right now anyway. I remember when live music didn’t seem like it was ever coming back, so I’ll take what I can get to be honest. We’re a young, ambitious band, though, so I really do empathise for older artists who’ve been doing it longer. This kind of thing would be enough to end lots of people’s careers, I’m sure.
JA: Does the uncertainty surrounding touring at the moment make you worry about the future of live music?
LW: Not really. Music is an ancient and intrinsically human medium – it predates and will outlive most other forms of media that we consume right now. I definitely can see our modern perception of ‘live music’ having to adapt for a while, but it’ll never disappear completely.
JA: Finally, what do you think governments need to be doing to support artists and venues at this time?
LW: It’s such a loaded topic! Musicians are so massively starved for the most part anyway – when you think about the state of streaming payouts and so on… I can only trust that we’ll endure like we normally do for now. My main worry has been for the venues themselves. I know some grants have been made available, but the number of venues that have shut these past two years is frankly heartbreaking. Watching venues that are the lifeblood of your local scene having to beg for donation money because they physically can’t open? It’s heart-breaking. So, investing in venues is the answer to that one!
Lucas’s sentiment is heavily echoed by others across the music industry. What the industry has suffered is nothing short of a historic setback with the employment level falling from an all-time high of 197,000 in 2019 to 128,000 in 2020. In the same time, music’s value to the UK economy was almost cut in half, from almost £6bn to just over three.
These numbers alone are enough to show the severe impact that the pandemic had on the industry last year. It is clear that the music industry can simply not afford another setback. It is imperative that the governments of the UK work in unison to help provide financial safety nets for venues throughout the UK, both small and large, to ensure that they are compensated for the shortcomings that are brought about with the new variant and the restrictions that ensue.