Help Musicians boss issues mental health warning ahead of live music’s return

·4 min read

The chief executive of the Help Musicians charity has described the return of live music as “massively important”, but warned of an increase in mental health issues among performers.

Monday will see limited audiences return to theatres, sports stadiums and music venues, many for the first time this year, as lockdown measures are eased.

James Ainscough, whose charity has supported the industry since live music was effectively halted in March 2020, welcomed the move, describing live performance as an important part of the “ecosystem”.

However, he predicted the unlocking would come with both financial and mental health challenges for musicians.

He told the PA news agency: “It’s huge. It is probably around 50% of total earnings and this is a £5 billion-plus industry, so this is a big thing.

“The music is an ecosystem and live, particularly in small venues, is where musicians first learn their trade. All the big stars started out somewhere small.

“And so to get all these different bits of the ecosystem running again returns it to being healthy. It is massively important.”

He said it was “challenging and hard work for everybody – but vital”.

Music royalties
Limited crowds can return to venues from Monday (Ben Birchall/PA)

“We can’t rebuild the music industry unless every single section of it returns to vitality,” he said.

Help Musicians saw a 40% increase in demand in 2020 and has since grown its mental health support service, including a 24-hour phone line staffed by councillors and a debt service.

Mr Ainscough said that after Monday “lots of barriers and challenges” would remain for musicians.

He said: “For a start, just financially musicians have obviously had a really tough time in the pandemic. And it costs money to go and gig.

“You have to travel to get there. If you are promoting your own show you have to pay for marketing in advance and hire the venue and so on.

“For a lot of musicians, getting back into this is going to be financially tough.

“There is an emotional and mental health impact as well. If you have not stood in front of an audience for over a year then that first moment when you do will be exciting but also terrifying.

“We are also expecting to see a lot of challenges around performance anxiety. And it is going to be challenging for musicians in the sense that you get the euphoria of the first gig but then your realise it is still going to be a long time before the industry is fully recovered, before that level of work that we had in 2019 has permanently returned.

“So there is the excitement of the first gig back then a long, slow road to recovery.

“It is going to be hard work, but it is work worth doing because we get live music back. We just have to throw ourselves into it.”

Dua Lipa performing
Dua Lipa performed at the Brit Awards 2021 last week (Ian West/PA)

The Brit Awards on May 11 marked the return of live music to London’s O2 Arena after more than a year, and the first large-scale indoor music event of the year.

The ceremony, which included performances by Dua Lipa, Headie One and Sir Elton John, featured an audience of 4,000 people and took place as part of the Government’s live events pilot scheme.

While some venues plan to reopen with socially-distanced audiences from Monday, many remain closed for the immediate future.

The Clapham Grand in London, which staged one of the Government’s pilot indoor concerts in 2020, will welcome back audiences on Tuesday with a performance by comedian Russell Howard followed by a show by singer-songwriter Billy Lockett on Thursday.

The Royal Albert Hall, meanwhile, will reopen from May 29 with a series of socially-distanced events before returning to a full house from July 6.

A family concert featuring the house band, titled Back With A Bang, will reopen the space, while James Blunt will play the first non-socially-distanced show.

Many artists have confirmed tour dates for late 2021, including Madness and Martha Wainwright, while acts including The Flaming Lips and Jack Savoretti have opted to tour in 2022.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Today we’re not just getting a step closer to normal, we’re getting back to the things we love. Cultural organisations can now reopen and venues across the country are preparing to welcome audiences back to performances.

“Of course I recognise the anxiety people feel as we assess the situation over the next fortnight in the run up to stage 4, but today is a huge moment for our hard-hit cultural landscape.

“We’ve supported the nation’s arts organisations, venues, cinemas and heritage sites during difficult months of necessary closure with our Culture Recovery Fund worth almost £2 billion.

“More support will also be on its way to our much-loved museums, music venues, theatres and historic houses as they reopen, but from today everyone can safely play a part in helping our cultural institutions to get going again.”