ONE of Scotland’s most popular concert venues is preparing for a future of gigs in “bubbles” and streaming shows around the world as the live music industry continues to face an uncertain future because of coronavirus.

But its long-standing general manager remains convinced it will still have a bright future beyond the pandemic.

The Barrowland Ballroom, a fixture in the east end of Glasgow since 1934, had been on course for its busiest-ever year before Covid-19 struck. By February, 93 gigs had been confirmed to take place at the Barrowlands this year, a time when typically it would expect to have around 35 lined up, and it was anticipated that even more would follow amid strong interest from promoters.

The pandemic put paid to that. Frank Turner was the last artist to tread the ballroom’s famous boards before lockdown on March 11, and like the rest of the live music industry the Barrowlands continues to wait for the nod that will allow it to welcome gig-goers in again.

However, with cases of coronavirus surging, and plans to move into phase four of Scotland’s exit from lockdown on hold, it is looking increasingly unlikely that will happen this year.

Tom Joyes, who has been general manager of the Barrowlands for 35 years, said: “We are ready to push the button at any time, it’s just when we are allowed to do it. We do not have a clue. No one has a clue when live music will return.”

The enforced lockdown has been tough on the close-knit Barrowlands team, many of whom have worked at the venue for decades. Mr Joyes has a pool of 35 to 40 staff, and although there are no gigs at present many are continuing to work. It means costs are continuing to rack up despite no income from activity such as bar sales coming in.

The venue, part of the same family business as The Barras Market, has to be kept secure, and administration staff continue to be busy rescheduling shows and taking calls from agents about future dates. All of the gigs that have been affected by the coronavirus this year have been rescheduled.

Mr Joyes said: “We are quite a family. We are different from big conglomerates and groups. I have part-time staff that have been with me for 25 years. It is their life. They love the music and they are devastated without it.”

He added: “In the Barrowlands, no one chucks their job, they just die. It’s a music thing for the Ballroom staff.” While there is no immediate prospect of music lovers attending concerts en masse again, Mr Joyes has been busy planning alternative ways to host gigs. One option under consideration is to sell tickets to small groups or “pens” of people, who would attend shows in bubbles amid a greatly reduced capacity, if government gives permission.

Mr Joyes admits he does not relish the prospect, not least because it may mean hosting gigs with just 300 fans instead of 1,900-capacity crowds. But he understands that socially distant gigs may be necessary in order for the venue to get up and running again. He said: “People won’t like it. I hate it but I know that… alcohol and social distancing don’t mix.”

He added: “I speak to all of the guys (venue owners). Everyone is bursting to get back. They do not want to open up and lose money; they want to lose less money, because they are losing money hand over fist, and the government can’t bail us out every month.

“We need a vaccine for us to get back to normal.”

The Barrowlands is also exploring a move into streaming gigs, having put in a “super broadband” line last year. Scottish rock stars Biffy Clyro recently streamed a live set from the venue to mark the launch of their latest album, A Celebration of Endings. A show by Mark McDonald was also streamed as part of an Innis & Gunn promotion. Mr Joyes said the venue will hold test events before making a formal move into the streaming market. He added: “I hate the phrase that we are all in this together… but we are all in this together. We should be trying stuff out when the government and the scientists think it is safe to do so.

“As the best venue in Scotland, we should be sharing our information with other venues, and we should be sharing it with scientists and the people that matter. It is not a big secret. We should be helping each other. That is how I feel about it. I am passionate about it.”

Asked if he was determined to ensure the Barrowlands can still have a bright future, Mr Joyes said: “Absolutely – 100 per cent. Even more so.”

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