Scottish music industry chiefs say there is 'no chance' of gigs returning under reopening rules

Music industry leaders say there is “no chance” of gigs returning under official Scottish Government guidance as it emerged that crowd capacities face being cut to a sixth of their normal level.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 6:32 pm
Updated Friday, 14th May 2021, 3:43 pm

Demands for a rethink on reopening restrictions are intensifying amid claims that venues will be forced to remain closed after Monday’s official “reopening” date for live entertainment in Scotland.

Promoters have warned that growing numbers of Scottish fans are buying tickets for shows and events south of the border, where venues will be open at half their normal capacity from Monday.

They say there is a huge difference between the “abundance of confidence in the music industry in England, where social distancing is due to be lifted completely by the end of June, and in Scotland, where concert organisers have no idea of when the equivalent date might be north of the border.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

All Scottish venues have been ordered to ensure two metre social distancing is in place for all shows planned over the next few months, despite the hospitality industry being given permission last summer to reopen with one metre distancing to ensure business could trade viably.

Ewan McNaught, director of the Voodoo Rooms, in Edinburgh, said a capacity of 16 per cent appeared to be the “ceiling” for live gigs under the two metre rule.

He said: “Clearly no live music or performing arts events will be viable given these conditions, so many Scottish venues (perhaps most) are electing to stay closed just as English venues open up.

“The current restrictions in Scotland effectively discriminate against live music, as venues can operate with significantly larger capacities with one metre social distancing as bars and restaurants, but have to slash those capacities if they programme live music with two metre social distancing.

Sneaky Pete's is one of Edinbugh's leading music venues. Picture: Unique Events

"This is a nonsensical distinction and one that presumably can’t be maintained for very long, as legal challenges will most assuredly follow.

“I’d like to think that social distancing in the arts and music sectors will be relaxed in Scotland to come into line with England after the current review, given the overwhelming success and efficacy of the vaccination campaign, but given the Scottish Government’s stubbornness on this issue, and it’s desire to position itself as much more ‘safety first’ than England, I’ll believe it when I see it.

“Pressure is being exerted on the Scottish Government from all sides of the arts, events and hospitality sectors at the moment, so I hope to see some movement soon.

“But any concessions won will be gained through constant pressure brought to bear on an administration whose natural inclination is to move very slowly indeed when it comes to relaxing restrictions.

The Voodoo Rooms, in Edinburgh's east end. Picture: Unique Events

"The Scottish arts, live music and events sectors are being left completely in the dark by the Scottish government, unable to plan for the future, left in limbo while our English counterparts are confidently gearing up for a return to (near) normality.”

Nick Stewart, manager of Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh and Scottish coordinator of the Music Venues Alliance, said: “Capacities need to be individually calculated by each venue and the exact layout of venues will alter how much usable capacity they have.

“It also matters how many attendees are in a household bubble and that makes the requirement for set maximum capacity incredibly hard for venues to calculate. One sixth of capacity is a fair rule of thumb.

“There is absolutely no chance that any grassroots music venue can run shows that economically viable at two metre distancing, and very few venues think they can run shows at one metre without losing money either.

DF Concerts chief executive Geoff Ellis has warned the Scottish music industry is being left behind England due to the harsher restrictions north of the border. Picture: John Devlin

“We know the Scottish Government is looking at distancing requirements as a matter of high priority at the moment, we know they want to be able to get musicians and crew back to work, and we’re keen for them to work as closely as possible with grassroots music venues so risks can be accurately assessed and we can reopen every venue safely.”

Geoff Ellis, chief executive of DF Concerts, said a maximum audience of just 17 would be allowed inside its venue King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut under the current guidelines.

He said: “It’s all completely unworkable, as is the case for most venues for all live entertainment not just music.

“Even at the Hydro as you would still have the same costs on the low capacities at one metre or two metres as you would have on full capacity, as the audience would be spread across the entire building. You’d have the same stewarding numbers, the same production numbers and the same number of stage crew and so on.

“The big issue is that there is now an abundance of confidence in England, but not in Scotland.

“While the Scottish Government obviously wants to proceed much more cautiously than UK Government, Scottish events, artists, suppliers and fans are suffering meantime, as they cannot plan properly for Scottish gigs and festivals as nobody knows when the target opening date without physical distancing for Scotland is, unlike in England.

“All of us in the Scottish music industry are concerned that Scottish music fans have been buying tickets for English events in large numbers and planning to attend them from late June onwards.

“We all know that Scot Gov is sceptical about England actually re-opening on 21 June but the way everything has been progressing with the vaccine roll-out, everything does seem to be pointing towards the removal of restrictions in England so surely, based on the same data, Scotland will need to follow a couple of weeks or so after England.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

Neil McIntosh

Editor