How One Grassroots Music Venue is Keeping the Music Playing During Lockdown

Published 9 September 2020 Updated 30 June 2022

1,586 Views Surrey Feature

How One Grassroots Music Venue is Keeping the Music Playing During Lockdown

Live music brings people together to dance, sing, and enjoy a common interest. For many of us, it is a treat and a release from the stresses of everyday life.

However, it’s a sad and unfortunate truth that tightly squeezed crowds and singing at the top of your lungs are sure ways to spread Covid-19. Because of this, live music came to a complete standstill during lockdown. Not only did we miss out on the festival season, but we also lost our local gems, the Grassroots Music Venues (GMVs) such as The Boileroom in Guildford which bring the Ed Sheerans of tomorrow to our doorstep.

The Boileroom has hosted music and creative arts events since 2006, with a handful of Mercury Music nominated artists, BBC2 Folk Award Winners, BBC Sound Of Artists, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees making their way onto its stage. Artists of note include Ed Sheeran, Foals, First Aid Kit, Catfish & The Bottlemen, The 1975, Lucy Rose, You Me At Six, and Bastille.

Between ‘isolation inspiration interviews’ with artists, two livestreams with Guildford Jazz (these are still available to view), a successful fundraiser, and a special broadcast, The Boileroom has somehow had a lot to offer the local community while managing to keep itself afloat during this time.

Colleen Green performing
Image credit: Rob Blackham

Lydia Stockbridge, Venue Manager of The Boileroom, broke down the problems facing GMVs in the current climate.

“A lot of GMVs employ freelance workers (sound engineers, crew) who are not covered by the furlough retention scheme. A lot of GMVs have been unable to open as pubs or cafes, and don’t have the finances to invest in livestreaming equipment or reserves to weather the impact of a pandemic. A lot of venues are run as break-even companies, and receive no regular funding, so a sudden 100% loss of income has been quite a blow.”

It took until August for the government to announce its Culture Recovery Fund but not every venue will receive the essential funding. The Boileroom and many other GMVs have been forced to fundraise to save themselves. GMVs are hoping that organisations such as the Music Venues Trust, Independent Venues Week, and Arts Council England will provide other grants in case the Culture Recovery Fund, which these organisations campaigned so hard for, falls short.

The government recently announced that live music could recommence as long as social distancing is put in place, but many GMVs such as The Boileroom are too small for this to be financially viable.

“A live show is also a social event – where people come together to meet, talk, and listen to music,” explained Lydia. “The atmosphere isn’t the same if you’re running at 5% of your regular capacity. It’s also not great for the artist performing either.”

The Boileroom is hoping to reopen safely without social distancing by January 2021. Considering the venue closed its doors back in March, that’s a long time before live music returns to Guildford.

However, Lydia believes the sector will pull through.

“We are a sector of survivors. The DIY aesthetic is in every GMV operator’s DNA. We have survived as an industry for a long time on shoestring budgets, working all hours because we all love live music and are passionate about supporting artists.”

And that passion has paid off. The Boileroom raised over £35,000 to cover their costs through a Crowdfunder in April and May.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive, we are so grateful to each and every person that was able to donate to the Crowdfunder. We wouldn’t be here still without everyone’s generous donations,” said Lydia.

In order to offer something to music lovers, the Boileroom has been running ‘isolation inspiration interviews’ since April and will continue them in the months to come. In these short clips, bands or artists answer questions on what they’ve been up to during lockdown and perform a song or two.

The musicians talk about how lockdown gave them more time to make or produce their music; the Game of Thrones marathons, puzzles, and pizza which got them through; and the return to busking. The artists also suggest ways to support them during this time, which include buying merchandise, donating to a virtual tip jar, booking tickets in advance for when venues reopen, sharing their music online, and donating to GMVs.

Watch ISOLATION INSPIRATION ft. China Bears live on Facebook.

“A lot of musicians have been recording songs, releasing bedroom recordings and videos; and generally keeping their fans entertained online, keeping engaged with people until we can come together in our beloved venues,” said Lydia.

“We have been busy rescheduling events, booking for next year; a spot of redecorating; and maintaining the venue to make sure that when we are able to welcome everybody back safely, we can do so with a bang!”

Head to The Boileroom’s website or social media to check out their ‘isolation inspiration interviews’ and all the other great stuff the venue is doing while they’re closed.

All photos are of events at The Boileroom. Credit for the feature image to Jordan Logan. 

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