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A look at the Scottish music scene’s coronavirus response, with Honeyblood’s Stina Tweeddale, Sneaky Pete’s owner Nick Stewart and SMIA’s Robert Kilpatrick
A feeling a lot like Doomsday fell about town last weekend. Up until then it had felt like business as usual, but while Boris Johnson told the public that schools would stay open and sporting events could go ahead, Nicola Sturgeon seemed to confirm on Thursday afternoon what Scottish promoters had feared for weeks – that large gatherings of more than 500 people would be banned in Scotland, starting Monday.
Events that were scheduled that weekend could still go ahead, and at Wee Dub Festival the room was full. That’s not to say there weren’t lingering signs of the coronavirus pandemic – events colleagues opted for the more hygienic elbow bump over hugs, and MC Natty Campbell shared on the mic how nervewracking passing through Edinburgh Airport had been. “It’s scary out there,” he said, “but tonight is about the music.”
“The show must go on” seems to be the operating mantra amongst promoters, though with each passing day that is becoming an ever more daunting task. In Edinburgh, the lack of large venues initially felt like a benefit. Smaller clubs, like the 100-capacity Sneaky Pete’s, could technically still keep their doors open, while nights like Church Edinburgh said that they would cap numbers for their night in the Liquid Rooms (now cancelled) to stay under the 500 limit.
But come Monday, it materialised that Sturgeon’s message was not an outright ban, just strongly-worded advice. In his first daily briefing to the public, Johnson avoided ordering a ban, in favour of discouraging people from communing in clubs, pubs and restaurants, and said that emergency services would no longer be in attendance at large gatherings. It is left to the musicians, promoters, and venues, then, to decide whether to press forward with their events.
Whether these individuals ethically feel that they can keep bringing people together is one thing. On Saturday, EH-FM resident DJ Andrea Montalto announced that a night he was supposed to play in The Jago in Dalston was cancelled. “Due to the lack of measures taken by the British government it’s very important to take responsibility and act in any way to protect the weakest,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “What is happening at the moment in Italy is a warning that we can’t avoid looking at.”
‘Closing venues for a few weeks could be a disaster’
But many who have staked their careers on live music have little other choice. A lot of these events are built by an army of freelancers, who must all now rely on the generosity of their clients to pay for work that might not go ahead. This line of work is already famously hand-to-mouth, and with a rapidly emptying calendar many have found themselves cut off.
As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, expect some of the festivals and events you’ve been looking forward to to be cancelled or postponed. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday announced a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people, beginning next week. Not only will this help slow the spread of the virus, but also free up emergency services – such as police and ambulance crews – to be deployed elsewhere as public services become stretched.
This means, of course, that gigs at venues like the SSE Hydro, the O2 Academy, the Usher Hall and other large rooms around Scotland could be affected come Monday (16 March). If you’ve tickets for upcoming events at any venue that might fit this bill, contact the venue’s box office or check their website for updates.
This rolling page, meanwhile, will keep you up to date with other events and gigs that will be cancelled or moved in response to the pandemic.
Counterflows Festival cancelled
The Glasgow grassroots music festival is off – organisers say they’re hoping to reschedule much of the 2020 line-up for next year. In a statement, they say: “Putting international artists through the stress of cancelled flights and being potentially quarantined is just too much of a risk to take given the current situation. On top of this, it feels increasingly irresponsible to be holding social events of our scale given the risk of the virus spreading.”
The festival has also put together a list of albums by affected artists available for purchase on BandCamp – that list can be found here.
The festival’s creative producer said limiting the number of artists who fly in to perform was ‘the responsible thing to do’
A Scottish festival celebrating international folk, roots and traditional music has said it may have to limit the number of overseas artists it invites to perform in response to the climate crisis.
Celtic Connections’ creative producer, Donald Shaw, described the issue as “the biggest challenge” facing the festival. “We cannot bury our head in the sand. It’s not really enough to fly 300 artists from all around the world and justify it on the grounds that art is important. Festivals like this one are going to have to think very seriously about whether we can do that any more.”
Speaking at the opening of Celtic Connections 2020, Shaw said he anticipated that the festival would have to “make a statement” about reducing international travel. “The number of international artists will be reduced unless someone comes up with a solution which appeases the climate emergency.”
He said the move was necessary because it is “the right thing to do. It is the responsible thing to do. We all have to take responsibility for what is happening at the moment.”
Shaw said that artists performing at the 2020 edition of the festival had been asked to avoid air travel in order to attend, but the limits of that suggestion are evident in its heavily international bill: artists from Canada, Mali, Portugal, Lebanon, America, France, Guinea, Spain, Finland, India, Senegal, Burma and Cameroon will perform across 300 events in Glasgow this week, with the Malian stars Fatoumata Diawara and supergroup les Amazones d’Afrique among the most anticipated acts.
Closer to home, Shaw said the festival organisers had been assessing the environmental impact of the CalMac ferry, compared to flights. “We’ve already discussed what the difference is between using a CalMac ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool and flights between Stornoway and Glasgow. If it is very clear that as flights cause by far the worst damage to the environment, then we have to reduce them.”
One potential solution, he suggested, was to plant “acres of trees” for every artist that flies in for the festival and to encourage alternative ways to travel from Europe.