Is Live Music Back?


The more alert of you will have noticed we recently snuck up a new event. An event that features some live music. Those of you with long memories will realise that this is auspicious as it will be our first live music since mid-March. However, do not get too excited in thinking this marks the long-awaited return of our live music programme, because it does not. This is just us scratching the itch, seeing how it works under current situations and checking to see what the demand is like.

I will attempt to explain. There is nothing more we would like than to launch back into a full line up. I had the year booked up right through to our summer break in August when Covid-19 shut things down in March. I also had a smattering of post August events scheduled too; the year was about 75% booked from about February. Of course, all the gigs from late March to the Shuffle (our normal break point) in July have had to be cancelled under government orders, and rightly so. I got brave in June and started filling in September onwards, because surely things will be better by then. Well, no, not so far. But, as of last weekend, indoor musical events were allowed again, albeit under the current distancing regulations. Hurrah you say! The music is back you say! But it is not.

Some venues are manfully attempting to get going again, and I applaud them. But these are venues that have no real choice. Places like Level III exist only for live music. They only open for gigs. Without them, they cease to have any relevance. That is not the case with us of course, we are first and foremost a bar. We can open without gigs, these are just a nice little side-line (an important one for us personally, but less so from a business perspective). So, we have not been claiming support for music venues to ensure the maximum possible could go to the places that really need it (like Level III here in Swindon, or The Exchange or Louisiana in Bristol or Moles in Bath etc), places that don’t have trade without gigs. I have written in the past about the Music Venue Trust (check that out here: who have been doing incredible work raising the issue and working with government to solve it; and they are getting there. They have been instrumental in securing the recent funding packages, they have helped save venues like the Deaf Institute and Gorilla in Manchester from closing and so much more. Go and check them out and see what you can do to help.

But back to little old us. As I said, we have been observers in all this, we have the bar and some shop trade keeping us going, so have always felt others were more deserving (even when some musicians hosted an online gig with us as the official bar, so we received donations from the audience in lieu of them buying a pint, we gave all that money to the musicians playing). Which brings me to the point of this blog. We will not be leaping back in to doing gigs until some of the restrictions are lifted. Quite simply, this is because it is not financially viable for us to do it. Why, may you ask, how on earth can attracting extra people to the bar not be worth it? Well, in normal times you would be right in assuming this, it is worth it, very much worth it. However, with the reduced capacity, which reduces even more with the stage being set up, we simply cannot take enough money to pay the musicians.

Yes, you read that right; “pay the musicians”. Because that is what we do. For every show we have put on, we pay them a fee. It is their job. They are working. So, they should be fairly paid for this. We have a real issue with venues and events that do not offer payment to musicians, whether it is from the bar take or by charging for tickets. If you cannot afford the music, do not have it. It is not fair you are profiting from other people’s efforts. Therefore, it is for this reason that we are not going to be rushing in to putting gigs on. We would probably lose money if we did – unless the current gig capacity of about 30 people all decided to spend about £40 each over the bar, which is not all that realistic (go on – prove me wrong; come to the Jim Blair gig that is part of our Summer Blow-Out and hammer your debit card – I dare you, nay, I double dare you to! Make me look like a fool), then we do not cover everything we need to, and right now every penny counts. It is not even like we are making enough through the week to cover gig related losses, as I have mentioned in other blogs, as our capacity has gone down, we have had to increase staff costs.

So, I am left monitoring the booked gigs, gradually cancelling them as this all drags on. Will we be hosting live music again this year? I hope so, there is some brilliant stuff booked in towards Christmas, but I cannot see it. Live music will be back at some point. It is in our DNA. It just might not be for a little while. Which sucks.

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