PSA: Revive Live

The live events sector must keep pushing in the hope of a swift, safe, and lasting return for everyone, writes PSA’s Andy Lenthall.

The only connection I had with October Drift’s Losing My Touch was that the accompanying video was filmed in Clevedon, near Scarlett’s Vintage Tea Rooms where I usually stop for coffee and cake when cycling out that way. That was it until a couple of Wednesdays ago when it was the first song I’d seen played live since March 2020, at a well organised, socially distanced show at 229 London. Grown people cried that night; it happens after a rough, old year.

I also saw the return of the Event Production Show, held at the Farnborough International Exhibition Centre – a brave and bullish move, perfectly executed by the team at Mash Media, which was well attended and featured some great, engaging content. These two events have instilled a little confidence into this jaded correspondent. 

Of course, the events that we’re all looking at for hope are the pilots that took place in Liverpool. A couple of months ago, we shared what we understood to be the purpose of those events, with testing at the heart of the prevention of infection. Little surprise really when initial results reveal that putting people without COVID-19 together doesn’t spread COVID-19. Two further key findings were the positive tests for a mere handful of individuals who wouldn’t have taken a test had they not attended; it could be argued that the event prevented infections as it encouraged testing. 

Follow-up testing (an average of 50% of attendees across all events took a follow up PCR test) revealed an ‘R’ rate below that of the region at the time of the event. In the light of the data provided, it seems that live events are as safe as, if not safer than going to a supermarket. Some would even say that gigs save lives. With these events designed to show ‘how’ we get back to live events rather than ‘if’, we wonder if you’re reading this while waiting for good news on 14 June or just after news has been delivered.

At the time of writing, pre-sale for the Download test camping event will be over and general sale opened. Why another test event? This time the focus will be on multi-day events, at which there will always be the chance that someone may present with COVID-19 symptoms. This event is to test and refine protocols for that eventuality, hopefully leading to standard practice to be shared amongst all festival organisers. All this positive news, assisted by a helpful team from DCMS and SAGE, is set against a backdrop of increasing infections in some areas that doesn’t yet seem to be leading to corresponding increases in hospitalisations and deaths. 

Between government, journalist and scientist messages, doubt has been cast over the possibility of full reopening, the likes of which we are starting to see in the US. It is still too early to see the vaccine rollout breaking the link between infections and hospitalisations. That said, Germany has a speedy vaccination programme that they claim has broken the third wave there. Claims that those hospitalised in UK hotspots were unvaccinated may be true, or a push to convince doubters to get a jab.

One thing we can say with certainty is that, as we haven’t reached step four in the reopening schedule, the rise in infections can’t be blamed on step four – the problem lies somewhere in the previous steps. Prior to the Events Research Programme (ERP) test events, it could have been argued that large gatherings may cause increased infections. Now we have data that shows that an organised gathering, especially outdoors, doesn’t increase spread when coupled with testing.

Perhaps we could be seeing step four being driven by the data with a partial reopening that allows outdoor events and some indoor events. Ventilation is another element tested in the ERP Liverpool test events; someone somewhere knows how much air has to move through a space to remove enough pathogens. This is data that remains unseen by all but those deep inside the UK government. Speaking of which, while writing at the beginning of June, our most recent meeting with officials described the mood at Number 10 as ‘bullish’ when it came to full reopening on 21 June.

Over 5,000 Shows at Risk of Collapse with 21 June Delay

We don’t just need permission to go ahead on 21 June, we need an audience too. LIVE (Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment) recently released the full results of its #ReviveLive survey of 25,000 live music fans. The survey reveals the obvious, that over 75% of fans are ready to go right now – ticket sales have suggested this already, 73% of those surveyed already have tickets, but deeper analysis reveals that 53% would come to gigs with no extra hygiene considerations. Masks and socially distanced, seated shows were the most likely to deter fans from attending, especially in younger age groups.

At the time of the #ReviveLive survey, 42% of ticket buyers will be attending a show by July, others are being more cautious and waiting until nearer the time. In addition, the overall appetite for live music events remains strong; half of all people surveyed will go back to their old consumption habits. While 3% of fans will go a lot less often than before the pandemic, a third of attendees say they will attend more (21%) and ‘much more’ (12%) frequently than they did before COVID-19.

LIVE will keep pushing hard with evidence to demonstrate the impacts of not opening on 21 June, especially in the light of such encouraging feedback from test events. No other sector has been tested to such extremes before being given permission to operate and we know for certain that any current issues can’t be blamed on organised gatherings. We keep pushing and we hope for a swift, safe, lasting return for everyone. Let’s hope that we haven’t lost our touch.

This article originally appeared in issue #262 of TPi, which you can read here.

Photo: Sam Neill