Fund Our Fun Summer 2021 image
Collage: Josh Crumpler, Photography: Ollie Kirk

What Summer 2021 Will Actually Look Like, According to the Music Industry

Boris Johnson has outlined a “roadmap” out of lockdown, but what can we expect to happen from the 21st of June?

Fund Our Fun is a series celebrating the UK’s music and nightlife industries, and a rallying call to protect them. Read more here, and check out our interactive map of at-risk venues here, to find ways to help your local spaces.

Dry January is a distant memory, it’s no longer pitch black at 4PM, and despite the snow occasionally falling from the sky, there are the stirrings of a shift towards spring and all the hope it brings. Longer days usually bring the excitement of summer plans, but after nearly a year of chaotic government policy and social media doom mongering, it’s not hugely surprising to see the first half of fezzie season, at the very least, postponed until 2022


Unsurprisingly, because of a combination of factors – including the fact our Tory government seems to wish that most nightlife would disappear forever and be replaced by empty luxury flats – the UK’s live music industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Businesses like nightclubs are in particular trouble, with many now at a critical point due to a combination of being closed for a year and eluding much of the provided support schemes, leading to situations such as the takeover of Deltic Group – an £80 million nightlife company that was bought out by Scandinavian company RECOM for £10 million in December.

Hoping to see what could be done to save what is arguably one of the only good things about this country, parliamentary committee UK Music released a comprehensive report in January of 2021, outlining a strategy to protect and support the UK live industry so that it’s ready to restart as soon as the pandemic allows. The key asks outlined are: an indicative date for full capacity restart; a government-backed reinsurance scheme; an extension to the 5 percent VAT rate reduction on tickets; targeted financial support; a rollover of the paid 2020 Local Authority license fees; and an extension to business rates relief.

This all sounds great. What’s less clear is how far along we are with making any of these requests a reality, and effectively saving both our summer and much of the UK’s live music industry.


What Your June 21st Plans Say About You

On the 22nd of February, Boris Johnson outlined a “road map” out of lockdown, which organisers had hoped would provide a better understanding of what the playing field will look like this summer for live music. The three key prospective dates for the music industry are the 12th of April for the start of pilot events; the 17th of May for indoor and outdoor events with capacity limits and social distancing; and a tentative 21st of June date for large gigs and concerts with no social distancing (i.e. a return to some kind of normal).

Needless to say, none of this is set in stone, and re-opening will be guided by “data, not dates”, but aerosol systems such as the one being piloted at London’s 100 Club, and studies that have so far confirmed the theory that well-ventilated spaces have super low transmission rates, are a source of speculative hope. 

“The health secretary is on record saying that he thinks we're going to have a great British summer, but a British summer without live music is not a great British summer”, says Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of UK Music, the group that helped put together the report alongside the DCMS Committee, and is now working behind the scenes to pressure the government into meeting its asks. He’s hopeful about a “welcome shift” in government policy in regards to a broad restart date and re-opening plan that will give the industry enough time to plan events. 


“I think the cancellation of Glastonbury has really focused the minds of the government, because they've realised these aren't empty threats. We're trying to be able to hold events safely, but if people aren't given that reassurance we're going to start seeing a whole load of cancellations,” he continues. “We're not trying to say we need to be allowed to open before it's safe, we just want to get a clear indication of what conditions the government thinks our industry and live music events are going to safely be able to operate under, so we can plan to get to that point. There's so much uncertainty and no real confidence in the sector. We want a date to be able to plan to, but we also need that insurance scheme in case things do go awry”.

It’s a sentiment that is echoed by Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, when I ask him what the reopening of the live music industry would look like. “It's dependent on what happens in terms of the downturns in transmission, mortality and hospitalisation,” he says. “If we can't get to a point where we can open in good time, given the financial constraints or support, then there is going to have to be a bridging mechanism that's going to look at rapid testing, pathogen reduction systems in ventilation, a very strong sanitisation process and a stringent operational control system. As long as they can administer those four, then it's quite reasonable that the live sector or the club sector could possibly open.”


In his Budget announcement on the 3rd of March, Rishi Sunak committed to a number of the asks outlined in the report, including an extension of the reduced 5 percent VAT rate on tickets until September, and targeted financial support via the extension of the Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS). Notably missing, however, was an offer of the kind of financial support that would be necessary for an already struggling industry to invest in expensive equipment and systems, and more crucially, a government-backed reinsurance scheme. 

Understandably, festival organisers seem the most concerned about any prospective summer events, due to the larger scale of these events and the months of preparation that goes into them. Many seem to be considering moving their parties to the back end of the season for a better chance of going ahead. Amber Lort-Phillips, founder of Big Retreat Wales, is apprehensive. “We've chosen to postpone our festival again until 2022. We're a small festival, and the financial implications of putting something on and then postponing again... we just didn't want to do that to our team,” she tells me. “We’ve put together some small [30 person capacity] feel good weekends in the summer from July. I'm optimistic for festivals in August and September if everyone is vaccinated.” 


A government-backed reinsurance scheme is crucial for bigger events, many of which are unable to get traditional forms of insurance at the moment, and are therefore unable to begin organising. “You can plan all you like, but if you can't get the insurance, you can't put the events on,” Lort-Phillips adds. According to a survey carried out by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), nine out of ten organisers (92.5 percent of respondents) said they could not stage events without insurance, and described the need for government-backed insurance measures as “vital not optional”. Unsurprisingly, traditional insurance companies are unwilling to provide policy covering COVID-19 related cancellations due to the high risk. 

Much of the optimism from industry insiders seems to be pinned on the vaccine rollout, which so far is looking like a rare example of the UK getting something right in its consistently catastrophic coronavirus response. At the current rate of vaccination, it’s estimated that all vulnerable groups – which account for 99.2 percent of COVID-related deaths – will have been vaccinated by as early as mid-April, at which point the mortality and illness rates will presumably collapse. The unspoken assumption here is that the rest of us (i.e. the majority of young people who will not yet have received the vaccine, and who do not vote Conservative) will be able to make our own minds up about whether or not we want to go to a party and risk contracting the virus.

For summer, 2021, the saving grace for nightlife might lie in smaller-scale events. “The truth is it's a lot easier to imagine 150 people getting together to watch a gig in a small venue than it is to imagine 150,000 people getting together to go to a festival,” says Mark Davyd, founder and CEO of Music Venue Trust. “By the time we get into May and June, if vaccination and aerosol systems are happening, I don't think that's any more dangerous than going to Tesco.”

There is hope yet that the 21st of June could see us once again hastily stuffing meal-deals down our throats on the way to a gig. But without the government-backed reinsurance scheme, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that this summer will feature you and your mates lying sunburnt in a crowded field, listening to 100 Gecs with glitter across your face.