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'Hammer blow': UK live music sector faces coronavirus disaster | Music

The UK live music industry is facing huge losses after tens of events have already been forced to cancel or postpone due to coronavirus. With the Who pulling an arena tour set to start next week, an industry built on getting thousands of people into the same room is beginning to struggle in the face of self-isolation.

Though the UK government is yet to introduce a nationwide ban on large-scale events, Boris Johnson has warned that events could be cancelled in the future to reduce the strain on emergency services. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon announced that all events with more than 500 people would be cancelled from Monday. Some event promoters aren’t even waiting until then – the US country music festival C2C, due to take place this weekend in Glasgow’s SSE Hydro arena as well as London’s O2 Arena, has been cancelled. Today, Radio One cancelled its annual Big Weekend festival, which was set to take place in Dundee from 22 to 24 May and feature Harry Styles, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris and more.

But even if music events do go ahead, many fans will choose to stay away over infection fears. Music Venue Trust reports a 27% downturn in attendance at UK venues already, and this looks set to considerably worsen this weekend. The Association of Independent Festivals, an umbrella organisation for events including Victorious, Field Day and Boardmasters, has said ticket sales for its members are down 44% compared with this point last year, with 92% of its members saying the outbreak is impacting their sales.

The Trades Club, a celebrated independent music venue in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, remains open but promoter Malv Campbell told the Guardian that “the financial and social challenges and threats we face have been increased greatly, and we want to make sure that we are doing the right thing while also helping to support musicians, promoters, other venues and our members and guests as best we can.”

Tom Kiehl, acting chief executive of industry lobbying group UK Music said coronavirus would be a “hammer blow to the British music industry and threaten the livelihoods of many people”, and urged further financial support from the government.

Live Nation, one of the world’s largest live event promoters, saw its share price fall by nearly 14% on Friday morning after releasing a US statement in conjunction with fellow organisers AEG and several talent agencies to recommend that all large-scale events be called off for the remainder of March. None of Live Nation’s UK events have yet been cancelled, however, as the statement goes on to say: “We continue to support that small-scale events follow guidance set by their local government officials.”

This stance, of staying open until the government says otherwise, is being taken across the majority of the UK live music sector. London’s Southbank Centre is remaining open, saying they “have not been advised to take any special precautions” and that their “staff have been provided with the most up-to-date information and advice about coronavirus.”

Printworks in London, which is staying open this weekend

Printworks in London, which is staying open this weekend

Similarly, cavernous London club space Printworks is continuing with its events, starting tonight with the AVA conference. Parent company Broadwick Live said they are following direct advice from the government and Public Health England and are “communicating with all ticket holders to reinforce the NHS advice regarding personal hygiene, this includes not attending events should they have any flu-like symptoms.”

Smaller venues such as Birmingham’s Hare & Hounds will have “additional signage placed around the venue reminding patrons to wash their hands” and Headrow House in Leeds is “operating as normal and following advice from the government to keep staff and customers safe”.

Despite the dogged attempts to stay open, music fans are worried about the possibility of cancellations and missing once-in-a-lifetime gigs, as well as being left out of pocket. The Who singer Roger Daltrey assured fans that the concerts will “definitely happen and it may be the last time we do a tour of this type, so keep those tickets, as the shows will be fantastic,” but ticket holders are worried. Ben Pilling, 48, from Hull was ready to see the band live for the seventh time at Manchester Arena on Monday. Now, he says he’s “lost over £150 spent on trains and a hotel, and had already organised childcare”.

Grammy award-winning superstar Billie Eilish has already cancelled the remaining March dates of her US tour, and fans are uncertain if her July gigs in London, Birmingham and Manchester will go ahead. Bonnie Wells, 25, has tickets and says she would still attend shows if the virus continued to spread because “it could be just as easy to catch the virus at a grocery store”, but would be “super cautious: washing my hands a ton, and using lots of hand sanitiser” to protect family members she lives with.

Billie Eilish performing earlier this month in Miami.

Billie Eilish performing earlier this month in Miami. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

Although slightly mollified by last night’s lineup release and announcement, Glastonbury’s 135,000 ticket holders continue to debate whether the festival’s 50th anniversary will take place in June, just one week after Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, expects the peak of the outbreak in the UK. Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis said: “No one has a crystal ball to see exactly where we will all be 15 weeks from now, but we are keeping our fingers firmly crossed that it will be here at Worthy Farm for the greatest show on Earth!”

First-time Glastonbury punters are demanding that in the event of cancellation, organisers honour their tickets for next year’s festival. Trecia White from Derbyshire turns 52 this year and is planning on celebrating at Worthy Farm, the first year she’s managed to get tickets. Saying she’d be “gutted” if the festival wasn’t to take place, Trecia said: “The fairest option would definitely be to roll over tickets to next year after the mad panic involved in getting them to begin with.”

Summer shows may seem far away, but fans of bands such as My Chemical Romance are still worried. MCR’s enormous June shows at The National Bowl, Milton Keynes, face an uncertain future after the band cancelled their Australasian tour. Returning to the UK for the first time in nine years, MCR’s fans are some of music’s most loyal. Josie Blount, a 16-year-old lucky enough to have tickets for MCR and Glastonbury, would still go to both shows if her health permitted: 2020 would mark her fourth time at Worthy Farm, but the first seeing Gerard Way and his bandmates who were a “crucial part of growing up” for her.

The nostalgic pull of a band such as MCR, back after such a prolonged hiatus, makes the possibility of cancellation even more devastating for diehard fans. Kelly Anne Rist has loved the band for more than 15 years and says they meant everything to her as a young adult, “giving me a sense of belonging and songs I could angstily sing along to.” She says: “Obviously it goes without saying that health and safety is important. At this stage I personally wouldn’t worry about going to a gig but someone more at risk might do, and should be able to ask for a refund or resell at face value.”

Phoebe Davis, a 23-year-old student from south-east London, worries whether attending the festival in the event of continued infection would be to the detriment of family members with underlying health conditions once she returned home. Saying that “it would be really hard to contain a virus somewhere like Glastonbury”, she added: “Even if people attended they’d remain worried – it probably wouldn’t have the same atmosphere.”

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