Life

Lynette Fay: If those who want to can eat out in an overbooked restaurant, why can't music fans go to a responsibly run gig?

With restaurants allowed to open, seemingly regardless of social distancing, how can it be fair that people in the arts sector – which hasn't received support to the degree that the hospitality industry has – can't try to make a living too?

Lynette Fay – I am quite sure that not all restaurants have been operating like this, but it did make me wonder why small groups of people can’t attend a gig. Picture by Press Eye/Darren Kidd
Lynette Fay

TODAY is the last day of ‘Eat out to help out’. We decided to go for lunch a couple of weeks ago. It was exciting to take two adults, two teenagers and the baby out for something to eat after months of eating at home.

However, although excited, I was nervous too. I am acutely aware that Covid-19 is still out there, it is still invisible and, as we are learning in daily updates, it is still spreading.

We had just finished our lunch, were contemplating a dessert, when I saw one of the staff usher another family to a booth right beside us. We were just about 1m apart. A few minutes later, yet another family were ushered to the third booth in a very small space. We decided to leave. When we questioned the situation with the staff, we were told that they were ‘overbooked’ on that particular afternoon. Overbooked and seating customers that could have pre-Covid, during a pandemic?

I am quite sure that not all restaurants have been operating like this, but it did make me wonder why small groups of people can’t attend a gig. Why can restaurants serve however many people at once (in this case, as many as they can possibly fit into the space) in order to make money, but 20, 30 people can’t go to a socially distanced, responsibly run gig or performance?

The London government has come to the aid of the hospitality sector, in a spectacular way – which is much needed. While we will see what else happens after ‘Eat out to help out’ concludes today, what I wonder is, where is the help for the arts?

As for the guidance and the regulation of crowds indoors, none of it makes sense. While #golfgate, happened in a different jurisdiction, I can only imagine the number of musicians who would give anything to perform to a room of 81 people.

We all enjoy music, and the arts enrich our lives. But the sector is on its knees. It needs an urgent survival strategy.

The music business has changed a lot in recent years, and is now a gig economy. Consumers don’t buy music. Increasingly, they stream it. Streaming companies don’t pay well – at least, not enough to survive on, unless you’re a multi-million-selling artist. Most professional musicians earn their money from gigs, concerts and sessions. At the moment, this income is non-existent.

To be clear, the bigger names and multi-million-selling artists can afford the time off, and some who usually spend a lot of time on the road, are enjoying the opportunity to spend time at home. This is not the case for the vast majority of musicians.

This week, I spoke to a few musicians who are currently applying for jobs. Others are generating income from branded merchandise, or gigging online. I’m delighted to see that many are now operating a ticketing system for online gigs.

In the absence of a long-term governmental plan for the arts, what can the music and arts lovers among us do? Seek out the music you love and if you can afford to, buy it directly from the musicians, buy their merchandise and pay to watch an online gig or two.

* * *

IS IT November 4 yet? If you think that 2020 has dragged so far, it’s going to get a lot longer over the next two months. One of the most toxic political battles in history will take place in the United States on November 3. Between now and then, there will be no escaping the build-up.

Last week we witnessed the Republican Convention online. Donald Trump Jnr’s girlfriend Kim Guilfoyle, who is Irish American, delivered an unforgettable speech – to an empty room. Was she completely OTT or was she passionate, passionate? Regardless, a huge portion of drama was served.

The biggest promise of quality drama came with the news that the original cast of The West Wing are coming together in the next few weeks, to film a one-off episode to promote voting in the 2020 election.

The episode will be a theatrical performance, and filmed in Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles in early October. This proud owner of the DVD box set of all seven series can’t wait for this instalment of Election 2020. Just what will Jed, Leo, Josh, Toby, Sam and my favourite, CJ make of it all? I can hazard a guess…

Kim Guilfoyle delivered an unforgettable speech to an empty room. Picture by Susan Walsh/AP

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