David Pollock reflects on what we can all do to help music venues in these trying times

T he other day I shared on Facebook details of a streaming show from London’s nexus of marginal and underground music, Café OTO it was by Scotland’s own neo-folk auteur Alasdair Roberts which described what was happening as an ‘empty gig’. There’s a new phrase for the times, I thought; a neologism which sums up what happens when coronavirus- enforced self-isolation means the timeless communal act of playing and enjoying music together is temporarily gone.

Not being there isn’t the same, it’s true. Not feeling the thump of a bassline shiver up from the floor and through your legs; not making accidental eye contact with someone onstage and trying to imagine how they’re experiencing what’s happening; not going for a pint (or any other drink you might prefer) afterwards, and coming together to talk about the show or music or life itself. But then, when we’ve done that before, we’ve never imagined for a moment that what we were doing was a luxury.

‘Social distancing’ is another phrase which no one will be unclear about the meaning of in future, although it feels useless in fitting in with what we’re actually meant to be doing to keep others safe. ‘Physical distancing’ is more appropriate, staying away from crowded spaces and a sneeze’s length away from one another when we’re out on the streets, because especially in 2020, with social media a prevalent force in all our lives keeping all of society at a distance just isn’t possible, or necessary. Even apart, people are coming together. For everyone who runs a much-loved local and grassroots music venue right now it’s important that they do, because every one of them has had their business ended overnight, even as the demand and community they’ve built is still out there, sitting on their sofas at home and wondering what to do. It’s not unfair to say these are desperate times for all venues in general, but especially the smallest, most homespun grassroots places, who have all been making impassioned pleas for crowdfunding in the last few days.

None of these local businesses are asking for money because they have institutional shareholders who demand to see a return at the end of the year; all are doing it because they want to still pay their staff enough to live on, and because they want to keep up their rent and rates long enough to get a chance to reopen. Make no mistake: if any close, they’ll be coming back as fast-food chains or flats. It’s in all of our hands to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Glasgow’s Hug & Pint was quick off the mark, not just with an inevitable fundraiser campaign, but with a brilliant spin on the other side of the Great Western Road venue’s business as a contender for the best vegan restaurant in the city. The Hug at Home is a food delivery service which will bring the tastes from their kitchen to your home. Amid all the appeals for crowdfunding from venues, others have begun to kickstart new initiatives which don’t just allow the businesses and staff to try and get through these hard times, but which help bring the music to audiences who are social distancing. In Glasgow, Broadcast has started crowdfunding its own podcast series, in order to keep sound engineers and bands in work, while The Rum Shack has started livestreaming regular DJ sets from the venue, and may home-deliver food if possible.

The Glad Café is looking into a number of options, as well as hoping to keep some of their Glad Foundation music lessons going via livestream and YouTube tutorials, and it’s also set up a fundraiser. Among other fundraiser details we’ve found are those for The Flying Duck, Stereo, Mono and The 78, and in Edinburgh for Sneaky Pete’s, Henry’s Cellar Bar, and The Liquid Room.

Outside of venues themselves, there are plenty of other homegrown armchair initiatives aimed at keeping people connected through music and musicians in the kind of funds that they need in order to live. In and around Scotland, this has included the #SofathonSingalong, which involves artists playing at home Luke La Volpe and Stephanie Cheape have already performed and streaming with this hashtag through Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, while urging their fans to donate to the excellent Music Venue Trust with the aim of helping affected venues: a 24-hour livestream is planned for Sat 4 Apr. Meanwhile, Stina Tweeddale of Honeyblood is presenting a live fundraising session every evening for the foreseeable future at 7pm from her Iceblink Luck studio in Glasgow, with money raised being split between the artist and Help Musicians Scotland. Emme Woods and Martha Ffion have already played. Times will be tough for everyone, but each of the venues mentioned above, plus many others, need your help to keep going; and if you have your own favourite, don’t wait to be asked. Get on their social media and find out what they need. Think about any special times or memories you may have had in these places of excitement and togetherness, and dig only as deep as you can for any which you particularly cherish and want to see live on. The rooms might be empty for the moment, but the music never is.

1 Apr–31 May 2020 THE LIST 21