LONDON — A perfect storm of COVID-19 and Brexit has led to the cancellation of more than a quarter of U.K. live shows booked for the first three months of this year, according to research conducted by industry body LIVE.
Organizers have pulled more than 1,000 shows scheduled to take place in the United Kingdom between January and the end of March, representing around 26% of first-quarter bookings, says LIVE.
Its findings were based on a snap survey of 21 booking agents, ranging from sole traders to many of the largest agencies, conducted between Jan. 15-20. They reported that 44% of international tours booked to perform in the U.K. in the first three months of 2022 have been cancelled to date.
Artists that have delayed or pulled out of U.K. tours scheduled for the first quarter of 2022 include The Fugees, Every Time I Die, Henry Rollins, The Streets and Frank Turner, while Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro announced last week that it was postponing its 2022 European headline trek for a third time due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns. Scheduled to begin in February, the shows will now take place between August and October.
Agents attributed the cancelations mainly to a lack of public confidence and fears that authorities would introduce new coronavirus restrictions. They worry that the emergence of new COVID-19 variants could compound the disruptions. And the ongoing impact of Brexit has brought its own set of obstacles for U.K. acts touring Europe (and for European playing the U.K.), including new cabotage rules that prevent haulers from servicing European tours outside of their home country, say live execs.
The losses incurred are having a devastating impact on the sector, which is still reeling from almost two years of closure because of the pandemic, says LIVE CEO Greg Parmley. “It will take a long time for us to recover from the worst period in [the] history of the industry and the government need to fully understand the challenges we face,” he says.
Last week, the British live business received a rare piece of good news when the U.K. government announced it will lift its ‘Plan B’ restrictions for nightclubs and music venues in England starting on Jan. 27, including the axing of COVID-19 vaccine passports. The restrictions were introduced in December to tackle a sharp rise in cases of the coronavirus omicron variant but could now be eased due to falling infection rates, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday (Jan. 19).
Plan B measures scheduled to end on Jan. 27 include the requirement for people aged over 18 to show they have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter English music venues and nightclubs (or proof of a negative test taken in the past 48 hours), although venue operators can still choose to require vaccine passports if they wish to.
All other coronavirus restrictions, including social distancing regulations and capacity limits for live music venues, have already been removed in England and are due to end in Scotland and Wales in the coming days.
The Irish government is also set to scrap almost all coronavirus restrictions introduced over the Christmas period, including an 8 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants and the end of capacity limits for indoor and outdoor entertainment and sport venues.
Record numbers of COVID-19 infections elsewhere in Europe, however, mean that many major touring markets remain off limits to foreign acts, including the Netherlands, where concert halls and cultural venues have been closed since December. Capacity limits also remain in place for music venues in France, although French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Jan. 20 that restrictions will be loosened from the beginning of February for vaccine pass carriers.
“Whilst the U.K. is reopening, many artists need international markets to fully reopen before touring can be financially viable,” says Parmley. He is calling for financial support measures from the British government to aid the live industry, including extending the reduced rate of VAT (sales tax, currently set at 12.5%) on concert tickets and resolving Brexit-related roadblocks around transportation.