Look back in anger: The forgotten industry

Coronavirus has thrown into doubt whether the live music industry will survive. Credit: Lucy Roberts

How the independent music scene has been overlooked by the government over the past year, sparking questions about whether it will be able to survive its recent trauma.

Back in February, the government set out it’s roadmap out of lockdown and despite its insistence that it was going to be driven by data and not dates, that didn’t exactly happen.

Boris Johnson announced exactly when pubs would be opening both outside and in, when people would be able to see their loved ones again and ultimately get their life back.

However, not everyone got a date.

Live music is one of the many industries which has been hard done to as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This isn’t to say that the likes of hospitality and other entertainment sectors haven’t suffered – but they’ve got their green light, they’re on their second sell out album tour.

While the live music industry is stalling, stuck in the studio trying to figure out how not to be a one hit wonder.

But this hasn’t struck a chord with the government.

In October 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak released a PR campaign which encouraged people in the arts to retrain.

Public outrage was targeted at a specific advert which called for a ballerina named Fatima to retrain in cyber, highlighting the government’s tone-deaf approach to the arts sector.

Live music venues will remain closed until more restrictions are lifted. Credit: Lucy Roberts

It got attention, but satirical tweets and the centre of jokes on every comedy panel show that week probably wasn’t the sort of attention Sunak was going for.

While it got the nation talking, it outraged musicians.

Musicians like Tommy Govan, from the band The Govans, who had his life shaken up by lockdown and doesn’t think the government did enough to help the music industry.

“I think we’ve just been left at the back end of it,” Govan exclaimed.

“Especially when Rishi came out with the arts (saying) I think you need to retrain.

“I’m like retrain, I’m 43 now and I’ve spent about 30 years learning and I’m still learning.”

For the Bolton-born guitarist, the Covid-19 pandemic came about at exactly the wrong time.

Govan had a full diary, he was getting booked up every weekend, but once Boris Johnson announced that the country was going into lockdown, the 43-year-old’s phone was inundated with calls from venues telling him that his gigs were going to be cancelled.

Guitarist and singer Tommy Govan had all his gigs cancelled because of lockdown meaning he had to adapt to online shows. Credit: Lucy Roberts

“We thought it’d last two weeks, give it two weeks and pubs will open back up again,” Govan explained.

“But then it went from two weeks to two months, then it was oh my God we’re knackered.

“If the venues don’t open, we’re not working.”

However, that wasn’t strictly true for the Boltonian.

Determined not to let the restrictions get him down, Govan started his first virtual show just five days after the UK went into lockdown, pulling in 5,600 people on Facebook where it was streamed.

Once virtual shows and Zoom quizzes went from a novel and fun thing to do, to being repetitive and boring, with us desperately thinking of an excuse to get out of Uncle Alan’s pub quiz circa 2007, The Govans lead singer and guitarist had another idea.

This time it was courtesy of a well-known, thrifty variety goods retailer.

Govan was ready to go gigging again after months of being at home but given that he couldn’t go to a venue, the venue would have to come to him.

“I was in B&M Bargains and I saw this gazebo and it was like £100 but they were doing it at half price,” Govan excitedly exclaimed.

“So, I bought it, a big gazebo and I put it in my garden, set it up and it was actually bigger than I thought it was.

“But it was good for £50.”

Tommy’s Street Parties was set up last summer, a concept which consisted of cul-de-sacs or streets hiring him to do an outdoor, socially distanced gig under his newly purchased gazebo.

It was so popular that Govan is already getting rapidly booked up to do more street parties this summer.

This was yet another example of Govan’s steadfast desire to adapt to his circumstances and display absolute resilience.

But the 43-year-old fears that this could signal a massive change in the live music industry with the way we once knew it never returning.

“Pubs are very limited to how many people they can have, and they can’t max it out, they’re struggling,” Govan explained.

“Why would they want to pay a singer and guitarist when they know it’s going to be busy anyway because people have missed it?

“They want to go to the pub, so they’ll be booking left, right and centre.”

Music venues in Manchester and beyond will be given the green light to reopen soon if Covid-19 rates don’t shoot up. Credit: Lucy Roberts

But by stark contrast, independent music venues haven’t even been able to open yet.

Andy Martin, the landlord of the Star and Garter, a music venue in Manchester, was initially plunged into debt because of lockdown and he still hasn’t been able to open his doors to the public let alone allow a band to perform there.

Even though Martin was given a grant from the Cultural Recovery Fund, it didn’t cover everything.

“I knew we would reopen as long as the rent was paid,” the 49-year-old stated.

“I sorted out the utilities and with everything else I just did debt management.

“My credit rating is probably at rock bottom, but I might have a job at the end of it.”

But Martin was one of the lucky ones, he said: “If you got a grant, brilliant, you were laughing.

“But there’s a lot of people who slipped through the net who didn’t get it.”

It is hard to see how the live music industry will survive the pandemic.

With venues unable to open, bands and solo artists have nowhere to perform and make money.

And those that are open don’t need live music to get people in.

But it will survive.

Not because of government help, but because of the resilient nature of the individuals who are involved in the music industry and their willingness to adapt.

Musicians like Tommy Govan, landlords like Andy Martin and fans like the ones who are reading this.