How Scotland’s music scene is surviving COVID-19

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.

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Please support The Unthanks’ crowdfunder

Our first thought, when we realised that all [ THE UNTHANKS] shows would need to be postponed, was to support venues. So we asked venues to keep any money they could hold on to, through the generosity of ticket buyers willing to wave their refunds to support the arts. We waved any cut of that, because we believe it’s vital that venues have cash now, to stay alive, so there will still be places to play when this is all over! We’ve also committed to rescheduling shows when its safe to do so, and have promised anyone who donated their ticket cost to the venue, that they can have a free album from our merch stall at the rescheduled show. This isn’t virtue signalling. It’s just another way to motivate people to donate to venues now, by offering to reward them later.

Part of that plan to prioritise the plight of venues, was to look after ourselves by raiding our archives and setting up this sale of rarities! We hope this sale offers you the chance to help us in return for something special.

With every purchase, we’ll also send you a signed photo and two Magpie “One’s For Sorrow / Two’s For Joy postcards.

If you can afford a little extra to donate, as well as buy something, we will send 30% of your donation to the domestic abuse charity, Refuge. Please only do so if you can afford to.

As well as needing to feed and cloth the seven children we have between five band members (plus we are planning to support our sound engineer who lost work with us through cancellations), we have another financial predicament. We are looking forward to spending this period of cancellations and isolation, making the follow up to Mount The Air – a BBC Folk Album of the Year. If all our funds are wiped out by basic survival over the next 6 months however, we will not have the money to finance, manufacture and market our next record, all of which, for an independent artist, must be paid for upfront. Plus, until we can afford to do that, there will no new album to tour, so our live earnings will be compromised too, until there is a new album to tour!

Check out what The Unthanks have for sale HERE