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Coronavirus: what does it mean for the Leeds music community?

Maddi Fearn

Credit to Oporto Bar Leeds

It seems every day we're hearing of a different global festival we must kiss goodbye to for the year because of the Coronavirus, with the news coming this week that Glastonbury has taken the tough decision to make 2020 an enforced fallow year. Amidst the nationwide disappointment felt by music fans as they see their big summer plans quashed in a flurry of tweets and news headlines, it's easy for supporters to forget about what the reparations of cancelling local gigs, events and festivals mean for Leeds-based musicians, promoters and venues.

On the 10th of March the Music Venue Trust announced survey feedback from grassroots venues across the UK which found that 40.1% had noticed an identifiable downturn in gross income from the 3rd to the 10th of March. And this was before Boris' announcement on Monday:

“What we are doing is giving very strong advice that public venues such as theatres should no longer be visited. The proprietors of those venues are taking the logical steps that you would imagine, you are seeing the change happen already. As for enforcement, we have the powers if necessary but I don’t believe it will be necessary to use those powers.”

Naturally, this means that by making the measures voluntary he has put many venues across Leeds in the impossible position of choosing between getting hounded for being irresponsible for staying open and continuing with events, or facing not being able to pay staff by shutting them down. For musicians, DJs and promoters who rely on live work as their sole source of income, the impact that the closure of venues or low turnout to events will have is all too apparent. For musicians who subsidise their income with teaching, the fact that 'close the schools' seems to have trended at least three times a day on Twitter means they won't be surprised to see that the government has just announced the closure of schools across the UK, possibly until the summer.

The problem with the advice given by Johnson is that through not enacting legislation which would enforce a shutdown of pubs, restaurants and venues, he leaves the financial repercussions of low turnout and closures to venue staff. And it's no easier for everyone else who works in the music industry, with the inevitability of venue closures and cancelled tours leaving roadies, sound engineers, tour managers, event photographers and everyone in-between with little to no mandate to claim insurance. Another issue is whether a venue's insurance, if enacted legislation does eventually shut them down, covers something such as a pandemic in the first place. Hopefully the government announcing £330 billion worth of loans will be a step in the right direction (it seems maybe there is a magic money tree after all) with cash grants of £10,000 to £700,000 being outlined for smaller businesses. However, as the Night Time Industries Association has highlighted, there's still no direct mention of employees or those who are self-employed, as many in the creative industries are, meaning the threat of financial disruption has far from been quelled.

Live at Leeds 2019, an event which this year is sure to join the list of cancelled events. Photo credit to Abbie Jennings.

When I moved to Leeds in 2018, I was blown away by how supportive, inclusive and absolutely thriving the Leeds music scene was, and it's heart-breaking to see so many of the talented artists I've grown to know or follow being forced to cancel events in the wake of the pandemic, compounded with then having to worry about financial security. So in light of this, here's a positive guide to what you can do to help keep the amazing venues and artists of Leeds afloat, whilst looking after yourself, during these rubbish times.

Buy Merch

Chin deep in a digital world, it's super easy to fill a gig-less void just by streaming local musicians on platforms such as Spotify and Apple music. However, seeing as one stream is worth roughly £0.0043 per play, you'd have to listen to a track 5,000 times (so for a three minute track this would be 250 hours straight, or 10.4 days) to help earn the band a whopping £23. This is roughly £3-8 more than your average merch. And it doesn't stop at bands - lots of venues have their own merch as another way of bringing in income, so if you have a spare fiver or tenner to hand, ordering or cautiously popping in to buy a band or venue's tees or tote bags will make a huge difference.

Buy Tickets In Advance

Amazingly, lots of artists are already picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and beginning to reschedule tours and shows where possible to around October / November time. A great way to support Leeds venues and artists is to grab your tickets to any gigs as soon as they get re-advertised or to buy tickets for events that have been planned so far in advance they're not as at risk of cancellation. Although at the moment the duration of how long this pandemic will last seems uncertain, when venues, bands and residencies do eventually manage to get back on their feet, let's all make sure we get out and swamp them with support!

Sign a petition

As expected, there's a lot of petitions flying about at the moment, and most of them are worth signing. One thats been getting a lot of attention is 'Cancel the Festival of Britain - Save Britain's Grassroots Culture' which is asking the government to cancel a £120 million one off festival and relocate the money to a Cultural Infrastructure Hardship Fund. You can sign it here.

Keep up to date with venues and artists.

As you'd expect, the response from music venues and artists across Leeds during the pandemic has been absolutely incredible. Despite some venues being forced to close and creatives being put out of work, they are still continuing to fundraise or try and source income in some truly brilliant ways. Here are a few of them ...

Sheaf St

After closing on the 17th of March, Sheaf St are now hosting a "double whammy on fundraising" over on their Facebook page, where they are looking to raise funds not only to help them keep staff afloat, but also others severely affected by the outbreak of the virus. The funds will be split equally, with 50% going towards keeping a customer-less Sheaf St in business and the other 50% to foodbanks and a freelancers support fund for creatives.

Hyde Park Book Club

On Saturday Hyde Park Book Club sent out a message offering to post out books for free to anyone self-isolating from the collection they've amassed over the years. Following this, in an effort to keep staff paid HPBC have decided to start delivering beers, food, flowers and books! So if you're in need of a pint, you can support your local breweries (from which almost all the HPBC beers are sourced) and support book club at the same time.

Photo credit to North of London

Tom Hammond

Musician and music teacher Tom Hammond has come up with a brilliant idea called 'the online holiday club' where he plans to share a video with a creative game or challenge for households to take part in every morning. It operates totally on a pay as you feel basis (pay him if you can!) and you can find it by searching The Online Holiday Club on Facebook.

MAP Charity

MAP relies on funding from events such as Cosmic Slop to pay their bills and ensure that their education programme which helps young people into music continues to run. You can donate to help keep the charity alive in the absence of their fundraisers through a link in their Instagram bio and on their website.

For a full list of independent venues still open or fundraising in Leeds, you can check this website.


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