Yorkshire live music venues calling for more support to stop industry collapsing

Yorkshire venues have backed a campaign to save gig spaces amid fears the UK's live music scene will collapse without government support.

The lockdown has left 140,000 performers, agents, promoters and technicians without a steady income since the end of March, according to the BBC Shared Data Unit.

About 82 per cent of the UK's live venues are now at risk of closing before the end of the month, it reports.

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Yorkshire venues backing a call for more support include The Leadmill in Sheffield, Oporto in Leeds, Nightrain and The Underground in Bradford, Woolpack Live in Doncaster and Cutlers Arms in Rotherham, all of which have set up Crowdfunder pages.

Event manager Nick Simcock at Leeds venue Oporto. Picture: Tony Johnson.Event manager Nick Simcock at Leeds venue Oporto. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Event manager Nick Simcock at Leeds venue Oporto. Picture: Tony Johnson. | jpimedia

Despite growing public support for the industry nationally, there are calls for it to receive targeted government support.

While major artists continue to make money through record sales and streaming during the lockdown, an estimated 100,000 musicians rely on extensive tours of smaller venues and festivals to provide their income.

Yet a recent survey by the Music Venue Trust (MVT) has found 554 of its 670 member venues are under threat of "imminent closure" as a result of Covid-19.

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The Leadmill, Sheffield. Picture: Simon Hulme.The Leadmill, Sheffield. Picture: Simon Hulme.
The Leadmill, Sheffield. Picture: Simon Hulme. | jpimedia

Swathes of concert bookers, promoter and agents - most of whom rely on commission from paid gigs - have seen their usual means of income dry up.

One agent told the BBC that many are struggling for government support as many will not take a large wage as part of their limited companies, relying instead on occasional dividends.

Bodies such as UK Music are among those now calling on the government to deliver a support package to the industry - in line with other countries.

Among them, Germany is in the process of rolling out a 54bn Euro stimulus to its creative economy.

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"In a typical year, live music contributes £1bn to the UK economy and supports many jobs," said the chief executive of UK Music, Tom Kiehl.

"What we are seeing now with the changes and social distancing likely to continue this year - at least £900 million could be wiped off the sector.

"It's impossible to understate the catastrophic effect this is having."

In its Crowdfunder page, The Leadmill said: "The Leadmill is in a slightly more fortunate position however if these forced closures continue into the rest of the year we could also be looking at some pretty high debts and inevitable staff redundancies."

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"We want to try and avoid this as much as possible. Any money raised through this fundraiser will be split 50/50 between The Leadmill and the Music Venue Trust's nationwide pot to help save the UK's venues from closure."

Oporto said: "Our venue faces closure because of the enforced shutdown and ongoing costs of upkeep of the bar, venue and Knave's Kitchen.

"Your donations will be used to cover costs which can't / won't be covered by government schemes, which is sadly still a lot, and going up daily the longer lockdown continues."

Cutlers Arms said it faces continues bills but has "promised all of our staff 100 per cent pay for as long as we can".

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Some six million people attended small and medium sized gigs last year across the UK.

But venue operators fear they will struggle to attract those audiences again when lockdown lifts.

The Tees Music Alliance runs The Georgian Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees, which has hosted The Arctic Monkeys and The Wonder Stuff in recent years.

But it has had to launch a crowdfunding project to see it through the current period. Its operators hope to raise £25,000 or reduce their work promoting grassroots music in the North East.

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The venue is one of many around the country, including the Bedford Esquires, to launch an appeal on Crowdfunder.

Chief executive Paul Burns said venues cannot make any firm financial plans until the government issues advice on how they can operate post lockdown.

He said: "The question is what will the gigs look like when we do reopen the doors?

"Where we would have had an up-and-coming indie band on tour, the place would have been full of fans jumping up and down.

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"Do we put everyone on tables? Do we only allow people that live together to sit together? Do we blank out seats to keep people two metres apart?"

Venues are already offering live streamed gigs that people can watch from home.

But the challenge, Mr Burns says, will be to offer them at a quality people will pay a ticket price for.

Many will need investment to buy the equipment needed for broadcast.

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Aside from government support, there are moves to raise money for venues nationally.

The MVT has gathered £1.2 m towards its Save Our Venues campaign in little over a fortnight. Some 11,000 people and organisations have donated.

Without help, the UK's breeding ground for talent is at risk of collapsing, according to the trust's chief executive Mark Davyd.

"This network supports around 100,000 musicians," he said. "If you remove 82 per cent of capacity, you have to remove 82 per cent of places musicians have to perform.

"It would leave us with no sustainable tour circuit.

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"It's a very important part of 'brand Britain'. The next 20 years relies on us getting this right."

A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: "We are committed to supporting the UK's world-class music industry in these challenging times through substantial financial measures such as the Coronavirus Job Retention and Self-Employed Income Support Schemes, as well as business rates relief for music venues and the Bounce Back loan scheme.

"We are working closely with the industry to plan for the future as part of our recovery strategy."