Touring

UK Festival Season Thrown Into Doubt As Government Extends Lockdown

Olly Murs
Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Olly Murs performs on stage during McDonald's I'm Lovin' It Live at The Printworks on Oct. 31, 2020 in London.

Over 5,000 shows will be canceled as a result of four-week lockdown extension, execs warn.

LONDON — Just a few months ago, the United Kingdom looked primed as the European market best placed to restart live music this summer. On Monday, those hopes were dealt a serious blow when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that COVID-19 lockdown restrictions will be extended by four weeks, following a rapid rise in cases of the virus' Delta variant.

The U.K. had been due to move to Stage 4 of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown on June 21 -- dubbed “freedom day” by the British press -- when music venues and nightclubs would be able to reopen without capacity limits and all social distancing measures would legally end.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said the lifting of restrictions will be delayed until July 19 to allow more Brits to be vaccinated and help curb the fast-growing rise in infections. The prime minister said the decision would be monitored on a daily basis and, if after two weeks, the risk has diminished, “then we reserve the possibility of proceeding to step four and a full opening sooner.”

According to the latest data, just under 30 million people in the U.K. have had both vaccine doses, equivalent to 57% of the adult population, and 41 million people have had one dose, or 79% of adults.

On Monday, the U.K. recorded 7,742 new cases of COVID-19 and the seven-day case average rose 45% compared with the week before. The Delta variant, which was first identified in India, now accounts for 90% of new infections in the U.K.

A four-week extension to lockdown restrictions will have a "devastating” impact on the sector, leading to the cancellation of more than 5,000 planned music events and costing “hundreds of millions of pounds” in lost income, says U.K. umbrella industry association LIVE.

That will lead to the U.K. live industry “being left behind and irreversibly damaged” compared to the U.S. and European markets like the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium, where large full-capacity shows are set to return this summer, says LIVE CEO Greg Parmley.

Already this year, more than a quarter of U.K. festivals with capacities of 5,000 or more have been canceled, including Glastonbury, BST Hyde Park and Download. Of the remaining events still going ahead this summer, the majority have pushed back their dates to August and September, although a small number are scheduled to run ahead of July 19, the revised earliest possible date when restrictions will be lifted.

They include Black Deer Festival in Kent, taking place June 25-27 -- headlined by Van Morrison, Jake Bugg and Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls -- and Noisily Festival in Leicestershire 8-12 July (organizers of Noisily have already said dates will be rescheduled if government advice changes).

According to the Association of Independent Festivals, the delay in the easing of lockdown restrictions will result in 86% of U.K. festivals not being able to take place in 2021.

Standalone live shows scheduled to take place in the U.K. over the next five weeks include indoor and outdoor concerts by Olly Murs, Tom Odell, Rag'n'Bone Man, Beverley Knight, McFly, Alexandra Burke and Rudimental. Promoters are yet to say if those shows will be rearranged or will take place in front of reduced capacity crowds.

“This delay is catastrophic for the live music industry,” says UK Music chief executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin. He warned of a “very real risk now of permanent damage to our sector in terms of a loss of talent and expertise.”

To help prop up the U.K. live industry, Njoku-Goodwin is calling for immediate economic support and a government-backed insurance scheme to help event organizers plan for the risk of COVID-19-related cancellations, similar to what exists in the Netherlands, Austria and Germany.

Unaffected by the four-week delay in easing restrictions is a sold-out 10,000-capacity, three-day "Download Pilot" festival run by Festival Republic/Live Nation -- headlined by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Bullet For My Valentine and Enter Shikari -- taking place June 18-20 as part of the government's Events Research Program, a series of pilot concerts looking at how small and large-scale events can safely resume.

The first phase of the program saw two club nights take place in Liverpool and a one-day music festival, headlined by Blossoms, in front of 5,000 fans. Those events led to only a handful of positive coronavirus infections among ticket holders, according to public health officials. That news, however, will come as little comfort to venue and nightclub owners who are still unable to reopen their doors 15 months after the start of the pandemic.

According to the Night Time Industries Association, one in four U.K. businesses will not survive longer than one month without further government support and 50% will survive no longer than two months. Michael Kill, the association’s CEO, says the delay to end restrictions would increase pressure on club and venue owners already overburdened with debt and “drive confidence in the sector to a new low.”

Echoing those concerns is British theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has threatened legal action against the government over the lockdown extension and vowed to open previews of his latest West End musical, Cinderella, on June 25 – regardless of official rules.