From touring to Tesco: How live music crews are coping during the pandemic

From touring to Tesco: How live music crews are coping during the pandemic

When the pandemic set in at the beginning of last year, the live music industry was one of the first to feel the effects. Stadiums and arenas that had once been filled with thousands of screaming fans fell silent. Small music venues were forced to ask regulars for donations just to keep from shutting down permanently, while thousands of workers across the UK found themselves sitting at home, as the industry they loved was brought to its knees.

“It’s not so much a job as a lifestyle,” says Karen Ringland, co-founder of the We Need Crew initiative, which was launched to support out-of-work crew members struggling to cope with life without live music. “When you have to spend so much time at home, it really plays on your mental health.”

With Alice Martin, Ringland has been volunteering her own time to help raise £250,000 since October, which is turned into grants for the most financially vulnerable touring, theatre and events crew. Between them, Ringland and Martin have worked with bands including 5 Seconds of Summer, Spice Girls, Westlife and Sigur Ros, overseeing shows at arenas and other venues around the world. Yet all of that came to a crashing halt in March last year.

This will probably throw the live sector into even more uncertainty. Smaller-scale and independent festivals will be unable to go ahead without the assurance of financial protection should they be forced to cancel due to Covid. This means members of the live music sector are facing another summer with no work.

Andy Washington, 57, was forced to cash in his pension after being put out of work by the pandemic. He’d previously been employed by “a very popular London venue”, when he wasn’t touring with US Americana and folk acts, including the late Justin Townes Earle, The Handsome Family, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and Mary Gauthier.

Dick Meredith, 57, is the tour manager for Bastille – one of the UK’s most successful pop bands of the past decade – but since March has been working as a shelf-stacker and delivery driver for Tesco in Lincolnshire. He’d been working on a show in Cardiff for The Script when he caught Covid-19 himself and was ill for two weeks. Predicting it would be some time before his industry was back to normal, he then applied for a job at Tesco and spent six months stacking shelves overnight in his local store.

Meredith lost his job as a shelf-stacker in September last year due to redundancies, but then got a job as a delivery driver (alongside the stage manager for children’s entertainer Mr Tumble) which he found fulfilling as he felt he was helping vulnerable people: “I see these old ladies who haven’t spoken to anyone all week,” he says.

Knowing he and his partner had to move fast to adapt to “the new normal”, Stephen decided to launch their own pizzeria, their other passion outside music. “I started making calls to shops that unfortunately didn’t survive the pandemic and weren’t reopening,” he says. “ Our first choice was an old roll shop situated very close to Dumbarton Rock and has an amazing view of the castle.”

“The response since opening has been overwhelming,” he says. “We’ve been completely sold out of pizza every night and we’re a firmly established part of the local food scene. We are constantly learning and adapting as we go, and we’re so proud of our pizza and what we have created in the community.”