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The Lexington, Islington
Photograph: Craig Deane

How have Plan B and Omicron impacted London’s music venues?

More than 37,000 ticket holders didn’t turn up to shows in London last week

Chiara Wilkinson
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Chiara Wilkinson
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Cancelled plans, rescheduled shows, tuning into a government announcement like it’s the next episode of ‘Drag Race’… it feels like we’ve been here too many times before. With every other Londoner seemingly testing positive and new rules put in place by Number 10, how have Plan B and Omicron impacted London’s live music sector? 

Boris Johnson announced Plan B last Wednesday (December 8), advising people to work from home where possible and to get a vaccine booster now. Covid passports showing proof of two jabs or a negative lateral flow test were made a requirement to get into nightclubs and larger indoor venues, and face masks became mandatory in most public indoor venues.

In the same week as the Plan B announcement, a massive 73.8 percent of London’s grassroots music venues saw an increase in no-shows from advance ticket buyers (according to a survey by the Music Venue Trust). That’s equivalent to an estimated 37,751 tickets and amounts to an estimated gross income lost of £444,809. Not good news for the sector, especially when any chat about financial support is currently at ground zero.

'Ninety percent of all of our gigs, club nights and bookings have been cancelled’

Many music and nightlife venues rely on the festive period to get them through summer. Stacey Thomas, owner of The Lexington in Angel, said that it’s had ‘complete cancellations’ since the Plan B announcement and is considering shutting on Monday. ‘Ninety percent of all of our gigs, club nights and bookings have been cancelled,’ Thomas said. ‘Last week, we lost about 70 percent of Sunday lunch bookings. People won’t risk going anywhere before Christmas, understandably. But we still have to pay full rent and full business rates.’ 

For Stuart Ellerker, operations manager at venue 229 on Great Portland Street, there’s a feeling of déjà vu. ‘This is like March 2020 all over again,’ he said. ‘We need to get funding and help out venues now rather than in three months’ time. We know that there’s funding ring-fenced as part of the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund that was made available last year. Why not get it out to the venues that need it?’ 

‘This is like March 2020 all over again. We need to get funding and help out venues now rather than in three months’ time'

It’s not just venues feeling the sting: the knock-on effect will impact musicians, people on zero-hours contracts, freelancers and everyone in between. Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of the Music Venue Trust, said: ‘Rapid declines in attendance at this time of year represent an exponential threat to the whole sector, and losses of this magnitude cannot be sustained without throwing hundreds of music venues into crisis mode and at risk of permanent closure. A “no show” isn’t just lost ticket income, it’s lost bar take and excess staff costs.’ 

While we might not have the power to dish out cash where it’s needed, what can we do to help? If a gig is cancelled, keep your ticket for the rescheduled date rather than request a refund. If you are going to an event, test, test and test again. Get boosted. See if there’s merch you can buy or a crowdfunder you can contribute to. Buy music from local musicians. Buy tickets for gigs next year. Buy takeaway pints. Support your favourite venues on social media by liking and sharing their posts. Let’s stand with our music venues so we can return to the mosh pit sooner rather than later. 

Keep up to date with the Music Venue Trust, here

Here are the best music venues in London.

What the government’s Omicron announcement means for London.

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