THEY are the lifeblood of Scotland’s thriving music scene – the bustling hubs where chart-topping bands first thrashed out the hits that would come to define them.

But now the future of small independent music venues is under threat amid fears Scotland is falling behind other parts of the UK in providing tailored support.

Nick Stewart, Scottish co-ordinator for the Music Venues Alliance, has pointed to steps already taken in Wales and London to help venues through the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said venues that cannot realistically operate under social distancing rules should receive funding to allow them to continue to hibernate until they can reopen.

Mr Stewart said the Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund, which music venues have been pointed towards in Scotland, is “massively oversubscribed”. 

He said he had rallied the 62 Scottish venues he is coordinating to try and apply for it, adding: “I think I’ve probably got a good number who have applied. 

“I’m just getting the first responses back about who has been successful in their application. 

“I’ve had three responses so far. One got it, and two of them – which are venues that I would have thought would have been shoo-ins because they’re Scottish music venues of note, who definitely programme new, innovative and exciting music, and who deserve support – have both been knocked back.”

Mr Stewart said: “If the grassroots sector goes, I don’t know where the next generation of musicians is supposed to come from.”

In written evidence to MSPs, he pointed to a £2.3m Culture at Risk Business Support Fund in London, £450,000 of which will be given to the Music Venue Trust (MVT) to support up to147 of the city’s grassroots music venues.

Meanwhile, a Grassroots Music Relief Fund in Wales provides funding of up to £25,000 per applicant. 

Mr Stewart wrote: “[The] Scottish Government must act now to save grassroots music venues. It is behind other UK nations in doing so.”

He told The Herald: “It doesn’t have to be exactly the English and Welsh models. 

“I think actually the Scottish Government has got a chance to do much better.”

Earlier this week, Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop suggested more tailored support could be made available in the coming weeks and months.

Mr Stewart runs Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh, a venue with a capacity of 100. If social distancing rules insist on a distance of two metres between attendees, this would be reduced to just 16 – including staff and performers. 

He said: “Clearly that’s not manageable commercially. So if the venues are told they’re fine to open and then they try to trade, but they can only take a very limited amount of trade, they will all end up closing because they tried to open. 

“So what needs to be in place is really clear guidance about what venues can and can’t do, and support to help get them through that time.”

He said music venues are trying to put in place a process called REVS, or “reopen every venue safely”. 

This would see venues following practical public health advice.

He added: “The venues which cannot open – we think there should be funding for those to make sure they can continue to be in hibernation until such time as they can open safely.”

He said it would be really hard for smaller venues such as Sneaky Pete’s to work within social distancing restrictions. 

Mr Stewart said a host of big-name bands built their success in small venues, from Biffy Clyro to KT Tunstall.

“All of the significant Scottish bands you can think of have all really done their time in grassroots music venues,” he said. 

He added: “I love talking about Edinburgh, but I don’t mind saying Glasgow is just one of the most amazing music scenes in the world.

“It’s because of their grassroots music venues, the smaller places, that you can go up and down Sauchiehall Street or parts of the West End, venue to venue with amazing, up-coming bands playing all the time.

“Scotland can’t lose that. Glasgow is a Unesco City of Music. It really matters with how Scotland is perceived internationally, what they actually do at the grassroots and how that feeds up.”

Mr Stewart said there is a lot of goodwill from Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government. 

He added: “But they will have to organise that if they want to keep grassroots music venues afloat in Scotland.”

He continued: “At this exact moment, we need them to prove that they care, because otherwise the venues won’t be around.”

Giving evidence at a Holyrood committee last week, Ms Hyslop suggested further help could be forthcoming in future weeks and months. 

She said: “I think we’re in the stage now where we have to look at the particular needs of individual businesses and indeed the cultural sector.

“A broad-brush stroke has taken us to this position, but I’m very conscious we need to be a bit more responsive to individual needs when we can.”

She said the Scottish Government is not going to be able to “do everything for everybody, but we are going to see try and see what we can do for this area”. 

She said people want to enjoy music, while the sector is also about growing talent.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government absolutely recognise the importance of music venues to communities and the music sector in Scotland and we appreciate this will be a deeply worrying time for them.

“We want to do all we can to support venues through the current crisis, and together with partners we have established a range of funds which are available to music venues in Scotland, including the Creative, Tourism and Hospitality Enterprises Hardship Fund, which today we increased to £30 million to help meet demand.  

“We have also increased the Pivotal Enterprises Resilience Fund from £45 million to 120 million with the aim of reaching as many organisations as possible. This is on top of a £185 million package to support the self-employed and SMEs. We continue to listen to feedback from those working in creative industries and assess the existing support.”