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The MU Reacts to Government Guidance for Restaurants, Pubs and Bars Reopening

The MU's Live Performance Department look at the latest Government guidance for restaurants, pubs and bars - and the bitter blow it delivers for live music. 

Published: 29 June 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 06 July 2021 | 5:06 PM
Jazz bar with a stage with black piano and cello
We will continue to engage with the government, Public Health England and their equivalents in other UK nations, to ensure that any return to work for members is safe and timely.  Photo: Shutterstock

On the 23 June the UK Government released its guidance for restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services. Prior to its release, and given the lobbying we’d undertaken, the MU was hopeful it would allow at least some form of live music performance to begin again.

To see that the final incarnation of this guidance effectively put a ban on live music was a bitter body blow.

Venues should not permit live performances

The published guidance states: 

"At this time, venues should not permit live performances, including drama, comedy and music, to take place in front of a live audience. This is important to mitigate the risks of aerosol transmission - from either the performer(s) or their audience. There will be further guidance setting out how performing arts activity can be managed safely in other settings, for instance rehearsing or broadcast without an audience. 

All venues should ensure that steps are taken to avoid people needing to unduly raise their voices to each other. This includes, but is not limited to, refraining from playing music or broadcasts that may encourage shouting, including if played at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult. This is because of the potential for increased risk of transmission, particularly from aerosol transmission. We will develop further guidance, based on scientific evidence, to enable these activities as soon as possible. You should take similar steps to prevent other close contact activities, such as communal dancing."

While the MU welcomes the very meaningful engagement from government in developing various strands of guidance on safe reopening of music businesses, we are disappointed that pubs and bars cannot put on live music in some form.  Why can a pianist not play, or a guitarist, or even a small acoustic group in the corner of a pub or in a beer garden? If people can head to the high street to shop, or go back to the hairdressers, why can’t they sit in pub garden and listen to live music?

To have some live music creates ambiance. Small groups can easily perform one metre apart. The use of screens in front of vocal microphones can address the concerns around the aerosol effect of live singing, and instrumentalists such as a solo piano player or folk fiddle player, amplified to a reasonable level, would not be significantly contributing to the aerosol effect at all.

We will continue to engage with the government, Public Health England and their equivalents in other UK nations, to ensure that any return to work for our members is both safe and timely.

For the moment, we cannot advise our members to perform in pubs, bars or restaurants and our Public Liability Insurance will not cover this work while it is in direct contravention of government guidance.  However, we are lobbying hard and as soon as this changes, we will let our members know.

Live performance in open spaces

The MU understands that busking is permitted and this will be the quickest and safest way for our members to get back to live performance in the short term. Keep Streets Live have produced some excellent guidance.

MU members' public liability insurance covers busking.

Guidance needs to support musicians and the communities they serve

Live entertainment is a many faceted thing. To simply say it shouldn’t happen – in the light of all the things that can now happen (get on a plane or a train) - makes no sense.

The guidance contradicts itself. On one hand it says live music should not happen, and then on the other it talks about the steps that ‘will usually be needed’. None of the steps suggested are beyond the realms of common sense and logical application. 

Without live music we live in a diminished society. We diminish our health, our wellbeing, our sense of community our heritage, our economy, and our creativity. 

Keep music live. Keep musicians gigging.

The MU's Live Performance Department includes National Organiser for Live Performance Dave Webster, Live & Writers Official Kelly Wood and Hannah Senior, Officer. Stay up to date with the latest news and advice from the team - make sure you're signed up to our regular no fear, no fuss advice updates

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