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Let's Dance

'People are dying to dance': Entertainment industry gears up as restrictions on live music ease

Those working in the sector have said the full return to work will not happen instantly.

AS RESTRICTIONS ON events and live performances ease from today, musicians and entertainers are already seeing an uptick in demand, but those working in the industry have warned they will need support as they try to relaunch after a year-and-a-half shutdown.

Last Tuesday Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed details of the next phase of reopening society, announcing that from today organised indoor events and mass gatherings will be permitted with up to 60% capacity for people who are vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid in the last six months.

Outdoor events can proceed with up to 75% capacity for vaccinated or recovered attendees and outdoor events with audiences that have mixed immunity status can go ahead with up to 50% capacity.

Audiences will still have to be fully seated at live events, including music, drama and sporting events.

While the 100-person guest limit on attendance at wedding receptions will be unchanged, restrictions on live music and dancing at these events have now been lifted.

The Taoiseach also gave the industry a date for its full reopening; from 22 October all remaining restrictions on events, live music and for the hospitality sector will lift, including the return of club nights. 

The announcement has given a pandemic-weary sector a boost, Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI) spokesperson, Matt McGranaghan told TheJournal.

He said the industry was pleasantly surprised at the early date for indoor events and live music.

“It’s a major step, we were expecting maybe it would be the 13th or 20th of September so the fact that it was the 6th is great. For musicians who normally play in pubs – and that is a career, I always have to repeat that this is their career and their profession – they are now getting bookings and phonecalls. It may be a slow start, but it’s a start.”

McGranaghan said the return of live music to weddings was also welcome news as “a lot of employment depends on it”.

The fact that you can now have 60% capacity at theatres is also a huge step forward. I have to stress that the industry is not fully reopened until we’re at 100%, but to look at the positives I think the 60% will help ease audiences back in and get them confident with going back into a theatre or venue, rather than going straight in at 100% capacity, into a crowd. So they’ll experience that over the six or seven weeks and then once we get past 22 October that will boost the industry from then.

For pubs, there was disappointment at the government’s decision not to lift the 11.30pm curfew and to limit dancefloors to weddings, as patrons at bars still have to remain seated at their tables.

Colin Perkins, Head of Booking and Marketing for Pygmalian bar, club and restaurant in Dublin said the changes kicking in today will make “no difference for our business”.

The venue has, however, been planning the return of weekly events in the club as well as larger events in the adjoining Powerscourt Townhouse with “strong line ups of upcoming Irish talent alongside international DJ’s and producers”.

He said solutions will be introduced for extra ventilation to create a safer environment for customers.

Following the government announcement the venue shared details of a ‘special Halloween reopening party’ on 24 October, two days after the majority of restrictions lift and club nights will again be permitted. 

Perkins said the industry will need further supports as restrictions are eased and called for an end to the requirement for special exemption orders, which cost businesses €400 per night and permit the sale and consumption of alcohol on a premises beyond normal trading hours.

He said the introduction of a nightclub license would also allow more flexible opening hours and “will give a sector that has been decimated some chance of survival”.

For artists and performers, there has already been increased interest since the announcement, Garvan Rigby, director of Star DJs told The Journal.

“Things have certainly picked up. Most weddings as this stage are still for 2022 onwards and they’ve had things planned well in advance, but there have been lots of last minute enquiries for this month and next month from people who weren’t planning to have entertainment at their wedding because they couldn’t, and who now want it,” he said.

People are eager to get back out there again, people are dying to dance and I think people value more than ever having a DJ because they’ve seen what it’s like without one, not being able to dance, not being able to have proper entertainment.
I certainly see an uplift in what people in our sector could potentially earn, but it’ll take a long time to get there – I’d say we’re still looking at next year or maybe Christmas before we see it properly picking up.”

He said some venues are still trying to navigate the new rules and guidelines and his own business is tied into multiple sectors all operating on different guidance.

“We’re across three different industries – live events, weddings and bars and clubs and, for example, in a hotel you have a bar, you also have a function room that could have a wedding in and in the next room there’s a 30th birthday party and there may be differences in how they’re all managed, so we’re waiting to get a bit more clarity on that.”

Rigby said it will be vital in the coming months for the government to provide supports to the sector as businesses like his are “building back up from scratch”.

“People have moved on, staff have moved on, venues have changed, some will never reopen, DJs have moved on and retrained. As a society we’ve lost talented people in the creative sector, there’s no doubt about it. Where venues have changed ownership or management it’s like starting at square one, you have potential leads, but it’s still like launching a new business.”

Social welfare supports

MEAI spokesperson Matt McGranaghan said the government should acknowledge that workers in this sector will not instantly return to full employment and social welfare supports should reflect that.

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment rates are to be cut from tomorrow by €50 and those receiving the lower rate will be moved onto jobseekers’ allowance from the end of this month.

“The PUP is to be cut this week and what’s more worrying than that is the transition from PUP to jobseeker’s [allowance],” he said. “If that happens people will be classified as unemployed and that prevents them from engaging in self-employed work, that just doesn’t work for this sector.”

He said this will prevent workers in the industry, many of whom are self employed, from participating in the reopening as they may only be offered sporadic work until demand picks up. Until now self-employed people in receipt of the PUP have been able to earn up to €960 over eight weeks and still keep their social welfare payment.

“We’ve moved past the busy summer period now, autumn is usually a quiet period for the industry, then you’ll have Christmas but in January and February it’s quiet again so I think the government has to recognise that,” he said.

We need an individual support that finds the balance between employment opportunities and support – as employment goes up, support goes down. I think from my dealings with the Department of Social Protection and with culture as well they are working on trying to find a solution. 

The association has also launched a campaign, encouraging venues not to take advantage or performers and to pay them a fair price for their work, despite capacity limits. 

“We want this to be a positive campaign,” McGranaghan said. “We’re hoping to see musicians and artists and workers and fans of music as well as the venues getting behind it and support people as they get back to work.”

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