How live music venues are bouncing back from the pandemic

  • Watch a report by ITV Anglia's Matthew Hudson

Live music venues say they are ready to capitalise on a "pent-up desire" from gig-goers feeling a new surge of confidence as covid restrictions ease.

The hospitality and entertainment sector was among the hardest hit during the pandemic. Forced to close during successive lockdowns, even when they were able to open they faced a nervousness and reticence on the part of many customers.

Some audiences were not ready for the close proximity to others - the shared experience and tribal atmosphere that has always been such an important part of live music.

In Cambridge, staff at the 1600-capacity Corn Exchange, the Junction which holds around 850, and the more modest 200 capacity Portland Arms, all spent long periods wondering when, if ever, things would start to get back to normal.

Now, at last, there seems to be a growing confidence among gig-goers.

Steve Pelligrini who runs the Portland Arms managed to keep his business afloat with help from crowd funders and an Arts Council grant.

He told ITV News Anglia: "Now we're into February things are looking much better. I think there is a pent-up desire to come out and see live music again anyway."

The venue used part of its grant to install a virus-killing air machine. Doors are now also opened between acts to improve ventilation. 

Punters will need proof of vaccination or a negative test to get in until at least the end of February. That's also the case at the two bigger venues.

The Junction's popular culture manager Rob Tinkler said: "We operated for a couple of weeks with no restrictions but a lot of our audience were telling us 'I really don't feel safe coming to events unless I know there is a good chance that the people there are negative or vaccinated.'

"So we brought those measures in before it was mandatory to have them."

While filming at the Junction, Anglia met up with music journalist, author and broadcaster John Robb.

He is also bassist and vocalist with post-punk legends the Membranes, who first formed way back in 1977. They have been touring since venues re-opened.

He told ITV News: "Last year when it got back to normal there was a certain timidness going on, people checking whether there was air-con on and washing their hands a bit more.

"And when people were talking before they got too drunk they were leaning back a bit. But that's all gone now.

"I've been thinking this for the last few days: it feels completely normal."

Music venues across Cambridgeshire were especially badly affected by covid restrictions. Credit: ITV News Anglia

There are still issues facing many venues including putting on touring acts from abroad.

A spokesperson for Cambridge Corn Exchange said: "It’s typically either overseas acts or tours where a large proportion are taking place in countries with significant restrictions.

"Additionally some tours with big touring parties are being cautious, as one member of crew going down with covid can have quite a ripple effect."

The Corn Exchange is back to operating at full capacity. Some forthcoming shows have already sold out including Modfather Paul Weller who will be playing at the end of March.

Live music is an important part of life for many people and was hugely missed during Covid.

It's also something John Robb believes this country excels at.

He said: "It gives us a cultural cachet worldwide in a way that France doesn't have or Germany doesn't have at all.

"We have that and we should be proud of that and that's why this is important, why the grass roots venues are really important.

"That's why spaces like this are really important. And that's why the audience is important and the bands are important because it's one of the things in this country that we do really, really well."