Night Czar Amy Lamé: “I’m hugely concerned that grassroots music venues won’t get the support they need.”

The live music sector has been one of the worst affected by COVID-19. We ask Night Czar Amy Lamé what needs to happen next.

Less than a week after releasing his return-to-form new album ‘None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive‘, The Streets’ drive-in tour of the UK has been canned. Fans wanted it – the gigs sold out in a matter of days – but right now, even partying in and around your car is still seen as a corona risk.

It isn’t the only show to go. Concert bookers Live Nation had planned a summer series of automobile-based events, including tours from Kaiser Chiefs, Dizzee Rascal and various theatre troops, but with COVID spikes re-emerging in Liverpool, Leicester and other parts of the country, travelling from town to town no longer seems very wise.

So with innovation around live music seemingly failing, where does this leave fans, artists and the wider music industry?

On July 5, Rishi Sunak announced his 1.5 billion bailout programme for the arts much to the delight of the Music Venue Trust and small music venues around the country. It was – as we were repeatedly told – an unprecedented amount of money pledged to help preserve British culture.

But three weeks on, we are hearing stories of even more music venues shutting their doors for good. The latest advice from the Government, is that venues have the green light to open their doors from August 1, with correct socially-distanced measures in place. But for many, that simply won’t be viable.

We had a chat with London’s Night Czar and protector of the city’s nightlife, Amy Lamé, to try and cut through the confusion.

How will the Government’s bail-out scheme for the arts directly help grassroots music venues? And is an August 1 open date realistic?

I’m pleased that the Government has finally acknowledged the vital role that culture and creative industries play in the economy and our life in London. However, I’m hugely concerned that grassroots music venues will not be getting the full extent of the support they need. 

These venues have seen their incomes collapse since they closed their doors in March, and it simply won’t be viable for many to open their doors in August with reduced audience numbers.

We need the Government’s scheme to provide support to all sizes of organisation, not just headline venues, to help those that can’t operate at their previous capacity or that must remain closed, and ensure they take into account the vast supply chain that serve these venues. This means supporting the freelancers and small businesses that help make our music venues the best in the world.

How are you working with London venues to help them weather this difficult time?

We are working closely with the Music Venue Trust and venues right across the capital as we do all we can to support them at this challenging time.

I’m proud that in April the Mayor launched the Culture at Risk Business Support Fund to help the parts of the culture and creative industries most at risk – this included £450,000 to support up to 147 grassroots music venues and £225,000 to support up to 56 LGBTQ+ venues.

He also launched Pay It Forward London, which allows Londoners to help businesses by buying goods and services in advance. More than 40 music venues have signed up to this platform, helping them raise thousands of pounds.

We continue to provide a range of support and advice to venue operators though the London Growth Hub and our Culture at Risk office, and are regularly speaking with venues and councils about the measures being taken to open them up again.

But sadly, we know many venues are nowhere near being able to open their doors again, and we continue to lobby the Government to ensure they get the support they need.

Live Nation’s Drive-In tour has just been cancelled due to COVID spikes around the country. Have you seen anyone else in the live music space come up with innovative ways to weather this unprecedented period? 

I know so many in the industry are working incredibly hard to develop innovative ways to put on performances that can meet the requirements of social distancing.

Sleaford Mods are putting on a livestream gig from the 100 Club, Camden Unlocked are putting one eight open-air performances Stables Market Amphitheatre, and Alexandra Palace is streaming live concerts.  

I’ve been working closely with the industry and colleagues in other cities across the world to learn from their work. We know some countries started to ease their restrictions first and we have been watching with interest. 

Unfortunately, we know that for many venues innovative ideas will not be enough to help recover their lost income, and that’s why it’s so important that the Government steps forward to support them.

I have seen IRL gigs announced just this week for November and December – some in 600+ capacity venues. How realistic do you think it will be that these can happen?

It’s great that our city is beginning to open up again and that some venues will be able to start opening their doors from August 1. However, there is a long way to go before venues will be able to operate at full capacity again.

Those that are able to start opening from next month will have to follow the public health advice carefully and it’s important they have the support they need to implement all the guidance for maintaining social distancing, whether around queuing, safe seating areas, or wider health and hygiene protections.

What words of encouragement would you have for anyone working in the nightlife and live music sector at the moment who are worried about their jobs/venues/livelihood?

This has undoubtedly been the toughest challenge that we have faced in a generation, but our night time economy is such a key part of life in our capital. It’s why many of us live here, why so many visit each year and it contributes billions to our economy each year. 

There is no doubt that it will have a key role to play in helping London to recover from this crisis, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to support all aspects of the industry.

What would London lose as a city if a large amount of our music venues were to close?

Grassroots music venues have played a pivotal role in London’s nightlife for decades. They inspire audiences, give a platform to aspiring artists and boost the economy. They are central to our great nightlife and part of the reason that London is renowned across the world for our music industry.

We’ve worked incredibly hard over the last four years to support these venues in the face of development, rising rents and business rates, and it’s simply unthinkable to imagine our capital without them. 

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