By Laura Turnbull | Photography: Ed Pipkin
A couple of weeks before lockdown I went to see Big Thief at Hammersmith Apollo. The crowd, like any Big Thief fanbase worth their beards and beanies, were friendlier than your nan’s pals and ready to sway along to any fits of guitar fuzz. The whole tightly-packed hall glowed. Back then, before life was measured in two metres and remembering the mask had become a daily memo, the guy spilling beer down my neck was a bit of a dampener. What I’d give now to have the remnants of a flat pint going soggy on my back.
In March COVID-19 called time on getting close and getting noisy and six months later the situation hasn’t really changed. PAs still aren’t crackling and the basements are bare. Venues remain shut and the sticky floors are sad and spotless. What gigs have got the go-ahead have turned the beloved sweaty gatherings of olden days into ultra-safe seated affairs. The socially-distanced square really doesn’t have the same appeal as the pit. Amid a swathe of restrictions on social gatherings aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, scores of event staff have been left without work. Musicians, technicians, caterers and bar staff, and all those other behind-the-scenes heroes of the gigging circuit have been left looking toward uncertain horizons. With Boris waffling on about which of us are ‘viable’ and which of us can fall by the wayside, and Mixmag reporting the ruin of nightclubs as predicted by government minister Gillian Keegan, it’s difficult to feel hopeful about the future of the events industry.
In an open letter to the prime minister this week, Music Venue Trust called on the UK government to provide more support for small independent venues across the country in the ongoing crisis. “Grassroots music venues are vital to the health of our world beating music industry, to the communities they serve, and to the future development of British talent,” the organisation argued. “The government has a duty to temporarily protect the venues it is temporarily restricting.” Local venues are the feedback-thundering heart of the UK’s DIY music scene and are crucial in encouraging creativity and a sense of community. Our creative spaces make us feel like we belong and are so blatantly worth saving, despite what Bojo thinks.
Wednesday 30th September marked a global day of action for the We Make Events campaign, an initiative to draw public attention to the struggling events sector. At the stormy, southerly tip of the country Cornwall is a creative Narnia and host to so many special venues and unique spaces, and Wednesday evening saw them lit in red by local companies as part of the campaign. Joining the glow was Porthtowan’s Eco Park. Magical retreat and annual host to Tropical Pressure Festival, the team behind the venue voiced their support for the worldwide show of lights. “If we don’t shout, the cultural landscape is going to change forever, and in the blink of an eye.”
Gig memories are the kind of gold that have got us through a summer of no shows, but the creative sector now needs specific government support to make sure our reminiscing isn’t forever and that the real moments can return. “It’s difficult to isolate in times such as these, as the instinct is to gather together”, Big Thief‘s bewitchingly brilliant founder Adrienne Lenker says, “but maybe on the other side of this we’ll all have even more to share with each other.” With the right kind of help for our creative spaces and communities, Lenker’s words will turn true.