Scottish pubs get green light to bring back live music - as long as there is no singing or dancing

The Scottish Government has given the green light for live music to return in pubs - as long as there is no singing or dancing.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 6:28 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th May 2021, 10:17 am

New guidelines will allow all hospitality businesses to bring in singers and musicians to perform "background music."

The move is expected to pave the way for hotels, restaurants and cafes to put on live entertainment for people enjoying food and drink for the first time in 14 months.

Operators have been given a crucial exemption from the controversial 2m rule for other forms of live entertainment as long as it is not the main focal point or promoted as an “event.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

They are also being urged to ensure that any live entertainment does not encourage singalongs, dancing or even leaving a seat to make a “request.”

The new guidelines also make it clear that karaoke nights, discos and silent discos are still outlawed in all hospitality businesses in Scotland.

They have been drawn up after the government agreed to drop a controversial ban on all background music in cafes, bars and restaurants, which was brought in last year to avoid the risk of Covid spreading between customers when they raised their voices.

Although live music can can resume in pubs and other hospitality businesses from this week, owners and operators are being ordered to ensure strict noise controls and other mitigation measures are in place beforehand.

These include using a Perspex screen to separate singers from customers, keeping the volume of any music down to reduce the likelihood of risk of customers raising their voices or shouting over the music, and limiting the number of performers to a maximum of just two at a time.

Staff are advised to ensure there is no competition from TVs, to “resist” requests to increase the volume of the music, consider the creation of “quiet zones for hearing-impaired customers and put up signs discouraging the raising of voices, shouting, singing and dancing.

Operators are being asked to use volunteers to carry out sound tests for live background music by seating them at the closest table and ask them to have a conversation in a “normal speaking voice”. The volume of the live music should not be so loud that the volunteers have to raise their voices or shout, or move closer to each other to speak.

The guidelines state: “In line with the reopening of music venues, concert halls and theatres in Level 2, it will be possible for hospitality premises to have limited live background music in addition to the current arrangements that permit recorded or broadcast background sound in hospitality.

South Queensferry-based Graeme E Pearson will be one of the first musicians to perform at a pub in Edinburgh following the easing of restrictions on live entertainment. Picture: Michael Gillen

"There are however some important parameters for premises to observe in order for this to be managed safely within current rules for hospitality and 1m physical distancing.

"Other live events and focused entertainment will take place in line with their own relevant guidance, which is subject to 2m physical distancing.

“Live music in a hospitality premises must be for the purpose of ambience background effect only and not focused entertainment, such as live bands/gigs etc.

“Live background music in hospitality must not be planned or marketed as an ‘event’. Events may not take place in general hospitality areas at this time, indoors or outdoors, that are currently operating for the serving of food and drink.

The Piper's Rest in Edinburgh's Old Town has brought back live music this week after the easing of restrictions.

“The playing of live music must not happen in a way that encourages customers to sing along or leave their seats and engage with the musician/s i.e. to make requests or dance.”

The new guidelines were published after the Scottish Government allowed live events to resume this week in every part of the country, apart from Glasgow and Moray, where tighter restrictions remain in place due to recent surges in cases.

They add: "It is recommended at this time that live music in hospitality is limited to a non-vocal arrangement and minimal artists/players i.e. solo or two persons maximum, physically distanced.

"Typical instruments may include piano/keyboard, classical or electro-acoustic guitar, or other traditional/folk string or wind instrument.

"Where there is any vocal aspect to the arrangement additional mitigations are required, such as a Perspex screen between musician and customers.”

The Piper’s Rest in Edinburgh's Old Town is among the first pubs to capitalise on the new guidelines by bringing back live musicians this week.

Frazer Henderson is general manager of The Piper's Rest in Edinburgh's Old Town, which has brought back live music this week.

General manager Frazer Henderson said: “We knew that the Scottish Government guidelines had changed to allow background music in level 3 and indications were that live music could return when we moved into level 2, as long as the volume levels were consistent with background music and other mitigations were in place.

"We brought our musicians back from the start of the week in line with advice but had to cancel until the guidelines were finally published on Tuesday evening, which make it clear that it’s definitely allowed in hospitality settings as long as you take certain measures, such as no dancing or singing along.

“It's great news for musicians who have had an incredibly difficult year, but is also great news for our customers who have been desperate for a bit of live entertainment after months watching things online.

"When we announced we were able to bring musicians back, bookings came flooding in. It’ll be great to see the smiling faces again.”

South Queensferry-based musician Graeme E Pearson, who will be playing at the Hunter Square pub this week, has worked in an Amazon factory, launched a grass-cutting business and driving a mobile Covid testing unit for the Scottish Ambulance Service.

He said: “There is a little bit of nervousness about going back, but I think that once I start playing again things will click and I’ll get back into doing what I do best.

"I’m very proud to be from Edinburgh and to be Scottish. I do feel I’m helping promote Scottish culture in a small way. Hopefully I’ll soon get back into the swing of things.”

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