We’re well into the new normal stage of the battle against coronavirus now. Life is ours to have and enjoy, with compromises preventing us going back into a nationwide lockdown again. We can have back the things we were missing or at least a watered-down version of them. And most excitingly for us, socially distanced gigs.
One of the most missed aspects of lockdown for many of us, including me, was live music. Even those I knew who were paralysed out of fear of Covid-19 ached to go to gigs once it was safe to do so. We sighed with a mixture of annoyance and grief when gigs we had tickets for were postponed, many as far back as next year.
But now, they will soon be back on the table. The music industry can slowly, cautiously come out of hibernation to try and adapt to the socially distanced life.
Miles Kane played an acoustic set in Camden Market for fifty socially distanced fans on 24th July, while an indoor variant was piloted the following week at the Clapham Grand. Frank Turner performed to a venue at a sixth of its normal capacity, with the whole audience seated and unable to get up or sing along.
Industry experts are concerned that socially distanced gigs may be short-lived. They may not be financially viable at such a reduced capacity – the gig Frank Turner played failed to break even.
It may be that musicians are faced with live streamed gigs for the rest of the year, but let’s hypothetically consider what could be possible if a way was found for them to still go ahead. Would people want to go to an event where Covid compromises their experience? Would they feel safe?
In fact, I would. Some would wait for social distance to end, which is understandable. However, if an artist I like decides to make it happen, I would be there.
Lockdown has been different degrees of miserable for everyone. Only a couple of months ago life would feel cold and empty. At times, it felt like everything was hopeless and interminably bleak.
To feel that way felt fortunate, not being a key worker fearing bringing the virus home and sending family away. I wasn’t furloughed or made redundant. I didn’t know anyone who ended up in intensive care. I haven’t had any family bereavements.
Eventually, being miserable becomes boring. We have opportunities to find some form of joy again if we feel ready enough to reach out for them. That’s exactly what I want to do.
A gig offers a chance at recapturing normality, even if it’s not exactly the sort of normal we remember. It is something, I want to take what I can get. I want to throw myself into the new normal and squeeze every drop of pre-lockdown joy I can out of it. If I can’t sing along or dance to my favourite songs, I will take it. It’s keeping people safe. It’s better that I have an experience at half-mast than none at all.
There might even be nice aspects to a socially distanced gig. I can hear for myself just how good someone can sound live without straining to hear them as I did at the last gig I went to in normal times.
With fewer people, there is greater intimacy. That can be a beautiful thing, especially if you’re watching someone who could play bigger rooms than lockdown is allowing, like Frank Turner. It would feel rare. You could walk away as one of very few people who have the ability to say “That gig? I was there.”
I don’t need these gigs as much as the artists do, however. Perhaps these gigs aren’t a chance for them to recoup the money lost from lockdown, but at the very least, it’s an experience of playing in front of an audience again. I’ve been lucky enough to interview numerous bands over lockdown, mainly for radio but also for print (and funnily enough, I spoke to Frank Turner in April – he was lovely, and very chatty). It has allowed me to see myself the real hunger musicians have to get out there again.
For many new bands too, they haven’t even had the chance to play their debut shows. If they have a chance to get back on stage, they will relish it. They deserve it, for the pandemic and the government’s half-hearted consideration they have endured.
Nobody knows what the future holds for live music. For the meantime, all we can do is wish and hope and want for the music to play again. But when it does, many of us will run towards it with open arms. The day that happens will be a beautiful one.