London's music goes underground to beat Covid-19 lockdown blues

LONDON (AFP, XINHUA) – London’s hard-hit live entertainment sector is hoping to prove it can resurrect itself from the coronavirus shutdown – and a series of gigs from a maze of tunnels could show the way to do it.

“Lockdown Town”, which opens on Oct 2, will see socially distanced performances of American music from the 1920s to 1950s in a network of vaulted venues near Waterloo station.

Audiences will have their temperatures checked during staggered arrival times, move from one venue to the next wearing masks, and not stay in one area for more than 15 minutes.

The number of spectators has been capped at a maximum of 360 each evening – well below the 500-700 capacity in normal times.

“We have created a really flexible model,” Lockdown Town director Kerri McLean told AFP, adding that ingenuity was key to getting the event on track.

“We are just a tiny little piece in a huge puzzle but it does feel that we are giving an opportunity and a boost to these many talented people who haven’t had a gig for seven months.”

Organisers expect to employ more than 300 musicians playing ragtime to rock ‘n’ roll, with the event described as London’s first Covid-safe “immersive experience”.

Carpenters, sound engineers and musicians were busy this week preparing the 30,000 square feet (2,800m) of space that once served as parking lots before the opening night.

The activity is a stark contrast with the scene at most theatres and nightspots in central London, which were shut in late March as part of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

The government has allowed venues to partially reopen but many nightspots, particularly older theatres, remain closed because of strict social distancing rules.

One study published in June estimated that theatres and concert venues face a £3-billion (S$5 billion) shortfall in revenues this year.

“It’s been horrendous for the creative industry,” said Ms McLean of the shutdown. “It has affected every single industry but for the live industry, the bounce back is really, really tough.”

The government this week tightened restrictions on socialising because of a surge in coronavirus cases, and imposed local lockdowns across swathes of the country.

Under current rules, groups of more than six people from different households are not allowed to mix to curb the close-contact spread of the virus.

The number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus in Britain rose by 4,422, the highest daily increase since May 8, official statistics showed on Saturday. The total number of coronavirus cases hit 390,358 while the total number of coronavirus-related deaths rose by 27 to 41,759, according to the official figures.

Fears of another wider shutdown persist but organisers One Night Records remain optimistic and say they have shifted “lots of tickets”, which are priced at £52.

Some dates are already sold out.

Production manager Joanna Penso said London, which is normally packed with tourists and revellers, had been transformed into a “ghost town” by the pandemic.

But the gigs could be just the tonic the city needs.

“The public really want to see something at the moment… I’ve been craving to go dancing and listen to live music,” she said. “It’s something that we have all been missing.”

During the shows, a costumed character with a cane will ensure health and safety regulations are strictly enforced.

Ms Penso predicted that would be the biggest challenge “but also that audiences are feeling safe enough to actually enjoy themselves”.

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