Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that indoor live music performances can resume with social distancing in the UK from August 1.
Theatres, music halls and other venues closed since the Covid-19 shutdown in March will be allowed to reopen at reduced capacity and with limited ticket sales "to ensure social distancing can be maintained". Tickets will be sold online, with venues encouraged to use e-tickets to reduce contact and help with track and trace.
DCMS is working with the sector on pilots of performances with socially distanced audiences that will inform final guidance for venues in the run up to the restart date, including the London Symphony Orchestra at St Luke’s, London.
From August, indoor theatres, music venues and performance spaces will safely welcome audiences back across the country
Oliver Dowden, culture secretary
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: "The UK’s performing arts sector is renowned across the world and I am pleased that we are making real progress in getting its doors reopened to the public with social distancing. From August indoor theatres, music venues and performance spaces will safely welcome audiences back across the country.
"This is a welcome step in the path to a return to normal and, coupled with our £1.57 billion rescue package, will help secure the future of this important sector."
Music Venue Trust chief Mark Davyd gave the news a cautious welcome.
"The government has been in talks with various organisations, including Music Venue Trust, within the live music sector with regards to pilot events being held," he said. "However, we have not received confirmation that any of these events have been authorised to take place in grassroots music venues as yet so would question whether August 1 is a realistic date for those pilot events to have taken place and to have informed the final guidance for venues.
"It should be noted that we have already provided evidence to the government that staging live events with any level of social distancing measures would not be financially viable for the majority of grassroots music venues. If such socially distanced events are to be part of the progress towards normality within the sector from August 1, significant subsidies will be required if this measure is to have any noticeable impact upon the number of shows actually taking place.
"We would also note that events at grassroots music venue level typically take between six weeks and six months to arrange, and that a notice period of two weeks is another enormous challenge to the objective of bringing back live music safely."
UK Music acting CEO Tom Kiehl said: “It’s an important step to now have a date for reopening live performances with social distancing in indoor venues, but there is still a long road ahead for musicians, performers and the sector as a whole.
“The Government needs to continue to working with the industry as a whole so we can get back to live events and let the music play.”
Live Nation president and CEO Michael Rapino has previously stated the company "can make the math work" regarding reduced capacity, socially distanced events. However, numerous UK industry figures have queried the viability of such events on a wider scale.
National Arenas Association chair Lucy Noble told Music Week last month: "We would be working on 30% capacity and, certainly for the larger venues, most of the shows that come into us have probably got breakevens of more like 70 to 80%, so it's just not financially viable or practical to do it in that way to be honest."
Speaking in Music Week's June cover story on the future of the business, ATC Live agent Alex Bruford, who represents artists such as Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, said: “Some smaller venues can operate at reduced capacity and run a viable business, but for many of the larger rooms or events the margins are small and the economics don’t work on reduced capacities. For the artists too, the margins on many tours are so small that the potential gross on a socially distanced show just can’t cover the costs.”
UTA's Jules de Lattre, agent for Christine And The Queens and Brian Wilson, said: "The reality is that social distancing requirements will prevent most venues from operating at a level of business that justifies opening their doors."
Anton Lockwood of DHP Family, owner of venues such as Nottingham’s Rock City and The Garage in London, said: “Never say never, but I don’t think that is a sustainable model."
Royal Albert Hall CEO Craig Hassall told this week's issue of Music Week: “I would like government to have confidence to listen to the sector and find, with our help, a model whereby we can all open without social distancing inside our venues, but with enough checks and balances on entry to keep audiences, artists, crew and staff safe. If that can happen, that’s fantastic.”
Last week, the government gave the go-ahead for outdoor shows to resume with social distancing, and said today's announcement marks the move to stage 4 of its five-stage roadmap for the return of professional performing arts. Suffolk's Red Rooster Festival has confirmed a September date for this year’s edition.