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Opinion

The energy bills crisis is threatening live music venues. They need support now

Music venues will close and thousands of musicians will be out of work if the government’s support for businesses doesn’t go far enough, writes former deputy editor of the Big Issue Phil Ryan

From Covid to Brexit to the cost of living crisis. The last few years have seen a devastating effect on the UK live music scene and its venues.

Record numbers of musicians left the industry according to bodies like the Musicians Union, The Help Musicians Org and The Music Venues Trust. Now the energy crisis has another new – and again troubling – knock on effect for the future and viability of live music.

Emilia Shovelin at This is Money writes: “Hospitality and leisure businesses are becoming increasingly worried about the energy price crisis, with as many a quarter of bosses thinking of shutting up shop in the next 12 months, a new survey shows.”

So now, chillingly, the energy bills crisis means places usually offering live music will either temporarily close or vanish. This week the government is set to announce the details of its support for businesses – and it needs to hit the mark.

As far back as 2020 and in the face of the easing Covid regulations, the Concert Promoters Association reported the grassroots music venue sector had already seen revenues tumble by 75 per cent with many venues predicted to close or disappear forever, a prediction that tragically became a fact.

Now medium to small venues are reporting that energy costs are easily outstripping their monthly ticket income and it looks like many are considering closing until energy prices return to pre-crisis levels.

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This terrible but forced decision is their only hope of staying solvent and gives them the slim chance that they can eventually re-open. Flick through the papers and forums today and you will see even larger pub and restaurant chains facing temporary closure too.

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Regardless of the politics and ideological arguments regarding the energy crisis, it looks like a tsunami of temporary venue closures – or worse, permanent venue closures – will happen.

It has been heartening over the past year and a half to see the immediate return of the UK public’s desire to return to see live music. With pitiful payments from most online platforms and Brexit destroying European work, the majority of UK musicians have seen their incomes become totally reliant on live performance.

However, unless some assistance to help small and medium-sized venues is forthcoming, they will have no choice but to put thousands of already struggling musicians out of work.

Of course it may sound crass to complain about not having live music when many people will have to choose between heating or eating. The fact is, however, that cultural life and entertainment is one of the most pleasurable things people can do.

Take away that and what kind of society are we left with? To steal a quote from my own book: “Life without music is just silence”. Let’s hope we can fill the world with music again. The alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

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