Socially-Distanced Trial Gig Proves Unable to Save Historic Venues

By Holly Brockwell on at

A government-backed trial of socially-distanced live music wasn't financially viable, says the manager of the venue where it was held.

The beautiful and historic Clapham Grand in London is facing permanent closure after 120 years, thanks to Miss 'Rona. The venue is still having to pay £50,000 a month in rent, while unable to put on any of its usual events.

The trial gig went ahead on Tuesday 28th July, but reportedly didn't even cover the operating costs for the venue, never mind fees for the live acts: Frank Turner, Beans On Toast and Ciara Haydar. Said acts performed voluntarily, but obviously that's not going to work for most gigs.

Only 200 people could attend the show with social distancing measures in place, whereas usually the Grand can hold up to 1,250. Obviously, this had a huge impact on ticket revenues and refreshments sold on the night.

While the government had hoped the gig might provide a way back for beleaguered venues, Clapham Grand manager Ally Wolf said that was "not a financial model that the industry can remotely rely upon to get to be sustainable." "It can't be the future for live music, it can't be the future for venues," he told the BBC.

Meanwhile, although Frank Turner called the event "historic stuff" that "affected me emotionally much more than I’d been expecting," he said the plan was essentially to prove that venues are going to need a lot more help if they're to survive 2020:

"In a weird way, we wanted to show that this specific set-up doesn’t work. The Grand was at less than 20% of capacity (around 200 people), but Ally had to double the number of staff working, to meet all the guidelines. There was no talent spend (I didn’t get paid), and no advertising spend (the show sold out pretty much straight away), and yet it still lost money. And the Grand is a versatile space, as an old music hall, in a way that many independent venues are not. We needed to show that this isn’t a complete solution or a workable model, that either restrictions need to change or more funding is required; essentially that fight is far from over."

The audience at the show clearly had a great time judging by comments on Twitter, but the venue – opened in 1900 – is still only halfway to its crowdfunding target for the next few months. Hopefully it won't be yet another victim of the disaster that is 2020. [BBC]

Main image: Clapham Grand