Social restrictions end, but with COVID-19 cases on the rise, are we just dancing through the dark?

What are you doing on “Freedom Day”? Online retailer Skiddle says it has sold in excess of 24,000 tickets to events happening today with sales up by a quarter over the last two weeks when the government confirmed most COVID-19 restrictions would end.

The libertarian part of me thinks enough is enough and it’s time to get on with it

Some nightclubs in England took the opportunity to party like it’s 1999 on the stroke of midnight, with many more raves happening today and tonight. Liverpool’s Camp & Furnace is filling up its maximum capacity with the Lost Day Party: Return of the Rave, “an evening worthy of marking the return of our long-absent liberty.”

2020 03 12 Liverpool Camp And Furnace Crowd
Camp and Furnace in Liverpool is back with its legendary club nights

Return of the rave

In Manchester, Levelz Lockdown Liftoff is celebrating with a massive post-lockdown party at The Mint Lounge, while in Leeds, The Old Red Bus Station is hosting The Old Red Reunion, an unrestricted party where you can dance and sweat for twelve hours from 4pm - 4am and “embrace complete strangers and your nearest and dearest inside a club for the first time in what feels like forever.”

But the latest seven-day coronavirus figures from the UK government show a 43.3% increase in people testing positive, with 283 deaths (up 39.4% on the previous week) and 4313 patients admitted to hospital (up 39.4%). 

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t magically end at midnight. 

Most legal restrictions have now ended - including social distancing and a cap of numbers at events - but the UK government has issued a caveat for England, saying that “Cases, hospitalisations and, sadly, deaths, will rise further as society and the economy reopen. 

“Vigilance must be maintained and people will be asked to make informed decisions and act carefully and proportionately, to manage the risks to themselves and others.”

Leeds Beer Gardens Brudenell Social Club Leeds
Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is asking its punters to "Be Kind"

Making history

People are still recommended to wear masks on public transport and pubs and restaurants are urged to follow a long list of rules even though they won’t be fined either. Clinically vulnerable people (approx 3.7 million of them) are being told they might want to avoid unvaccinated people and crowded spaces. 

Will Monday 19 July 2021 be a celebration to tell the grandkids about or a milestone that makes history for all of the wrong reasons? Either way, it’s happening. 

The last 483 days have been particularly gruelling for the events industry and the news that grassroots music venues can now reopen at full capacity has been welcomed by music fans, artists, crew, venues and local communities who have been deprived of live music and work for so long.

Taking precautions

“With most of the restrictions lifted, we hope that people will come and enjoy live music as comfortably as before the pandemic, with safety in the knowledge that the venue is taking every precaution in cleaning, air ventilation, and offering face masks and hand sanitiser throughout the building,” says Charlotte Sutcliffe, venue manager at Jimmy’s Liverpool.

“Having about five days free in the calendar over the next six months, we’re buzzing to launch ourselves headfirst into what will be a spectacular re-emergence of the live music industry. We can’t wait to see and hear the talent that passes through our venue over the next year, and experience the outpouring of musical energy that has been built up from March 2020.”

20191006 Jimmys R0002545
Jimmy's Liverpool has a packed calendar of events in the coming months

Music's back on Bold Street, Liverpool

The return of live music has also been welcomed by Natalie Haywood, owner of LEAF Group, with venues in Liverpool and Manchester.

“We have always been about grassroots music at LEAF on Bold Street and not being able to host shows during the pandemic has been a big blow for us,” says Natalie. 

“As passionate as we are about food and drink, the ground floor and bigger upstairs space have had countless bands, artists and performances over the years. So, 19 July is a really important moment for us, being able to have people back to listen to great music from local talent and further afield. Just hearing music again on Bold Street will be amazing.”

Liverpool Sound City Music Festival Baltic Triangle Grassroots New Music
Liverpool Soundcity festival has been postponed three times

Respectful of space

Chris Mundie, owner of The Salty Dog in Northwich, says there is a definite excitement about the return of gigs, but a lot of apprehension too. 

“Our local authority is ‘encouraging’ us to enforce restrictions that now have no legislation to back them up,” says Chris. 

“It would put the staff in an impossible position and is simply something I’m not prepared to do. We will keep the sanitiser and check-ins and the staff will remain masked on shift. We will be grateful if people are respectful of space and have knocked the capacity down a little bit initially to help, but that’s about as much as we can practically do.

Anger Flares Live Music Chris Mundie Owner Of The Salty Dog In Northwich Freedom Day
Anger Flares at the Salty Dog, Northwich, in pre-lockdown times

Duck and cover

“I do keep hearing people talking about opening ‘safely’ though and I’m not entirely sure what that means - this is probably my biggest gripe with the whole thing," says Chris.  

"We are talking about a virus that has infected every country on the planet and done so in a matter of months. Inconsistent rules make no sense to me whatsoever, this is probably an unpopular opinion, but I think it’s a case of either it’s all ok or it’s not. 

“These half measures and arbitrary rules make me think of the 1950's duck and cover messages they gave to American kids during the Cold War, so I really don’t think there is an option to open safely. The alternative of course is to stay totally locked down indefinitely until the virus is eradicated and that could take years or even decades.

“The libertarian part of me thinks enough is enough and it’s time to just get on with things, but the humanitarian part of me provides a constant nagging doubt.”

The Salty Dog Northwich Live Music Venue
The Salty Dog, Northwich


Marios Sozos is assistant tech manager for Manchester Academies. He’s concerned that small venues are going to struggle with the COVID-19 protocols still in place. 

“I don’t think a lot of people have seen the small print, but all venues need to have adequate ventilation and air flow that moves the whole body of air outside the room in regular intervals. Some bigger places have that in place anyway, but others don’t,” says Marios.

“Also, it seems like it’s more of a massive free-for-all for people to go outside and enjoy themselves even though a lot of younger people are testing positive right now. We are definitely not over this and I believe the government should have waited another month or so.”

18 05 20 Manchester Academy
Manchester Academy reopens for its first gig on Friday 23 July

'Be Kind'

Brudenell Social Club in Leeds released a statement ahead of their full reopening this week with an emphasis on two words - “Be Kind.”

“First and foremost, be respectful to one another and considerate of others' wishes, especially around masks, distancing and other factors,” the club wrote on social media.

“We fully understand that everyone will have differing views. It's been a difficult period for all, and this new transition will pose different challenges, including a ‘getting used to being in more crowded spaces and around others again’ period. 

“The reality is - like most music, event and hospitality spaces - we need the ability to open at full capacity at times in order to make it work. Artists, promoters and sound engineers need these shows to happen. Nonetheless, we'll be doing everything that we can to ensure it's both fun and safe.

“On the whole, we want our message to convey that there is a need for a level of personal responsibility, compassion and kindness for each other that essentially helps us all.”

Appetite for gigs

Liverpool-based music promoter Revo Ziganda is relieved that the restrictions have been lifted, but says that there’s still a lot of work to do to make sure events are a success.

“It's been 18 months since my last gig and it's felt like about 5 years. I feel live music has been demonised to a degree whilst other events have been allowed to take place so it's a relief that we can crack on and start doing what we love again. 

“Now restrictions have been lifted, we aren't worried that we'll have to reschedule to next year and we can actually go ahead. The uncertainty has been one of the hardest things to deal with and when the original 'Freedom Day' didn't happen it was a big worry. 

“We'll be working hard on the promotional activity as even though people have missed gigging there's work to break down the stigma attached to it. People can wear masks if that's their choice and they feel safer, but just generally being responsible, thoughtful and considerate of the people around you. The days of wild abandon will take time to return.

“There's an appetite for sure. A lot of the shows during October/November time are selling really strongly and we have things on sale in 2022 that are doing well - but only time will tell.”

Festevol Evol Festival Liverpool Birkenhead Liverpool Invisible Wind Factory August Live Music Band On Stage
FestEvol will now happen at Liverpool's Invisible Wind Factory in August

Night & Day

Jay Taylor, a stalwart of Manchester’s music scene as a musician, promoter and venue manager (currently Night & Day Cafe on Oldham Street) said, “I'm happy that after the worst 15 months imaginable, the decision has been taken to permit grassroots music venues in England to open at full capacity. 

“Throughout this time I've been working alongside Music Venue Trust and local government to make certain that venues were supported and encouraged, and importantly that we'd be able to emerge into a musical Manchester that we remotely recognise. 

“That said, some venues have come perilously close to permanent closure and many aren't out of the woods just yet. This next phase will be a crucial period of rebuilding where venues tackle accrued debt, where they repair relationships and reconnect with their audiences. 

“Myself and MVT have been working tirelessly alongside our member venue operators to identify ways in which we can Reopen Every Venue Safely, and literally every venue I've spoken to in the north-west is taking this responsibility seriously.

Night And Day Cafe In Manchester In 2021
Manchester's Night and Day Cafe

Testing time

“What's important now is for all gig-goers to help their local venue to provide safe events by considering personal responsibility and thinking about what they can do to ensure that alongside keeping themselves safe, they are also doing everything possible to support the safety of the people around them," says Jay.

“People need to work with venues to make these events happen in the safest way possible. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that we are a community that cares about one another. 

“One more thing. To anyone who donated to a venue crowdfunder, went to a distanced event, bought a drink or food in a venue, petitioned an MP or councillors, didn't cash in a show ticket or just messaged a venue to let them know that you cared about them - thank you, thank, you, thank you. You were part of the solution and made a huge difference.”

A new campaign by Music Venue Trust (MVT) has launched today, encouraging live music fans to take a voluntary lateral flow test ahead of attending gigs. The message behind #takeatest is clear: artists are taking a test to protect you. Staff are taking a test to protect you. Be part of the live music community: #takeatest before you attend an event.