10 problems a touring band will have to overcome to gig in the virus timesIt’s great to see the live circuit trying to work out a way to make live music happen in the autumn.

Already there are many ideas flying around from the drive in gigs model to the venues with reduced social distancing built into them.

Of course we are willing this to happen, we need the venues and we need the bands and we need the music. It’s far easier to cheer this into happening when you have no intention of actually going yourself and are one of those armchair generals who like the idea of gigs but don’t go to them but what if you are actually on the frontline like the venues, their staff and the bands themselves. There are lots of logistic difficulties which we will have to attempt to overcome.

My band Membranes have a tour of the UK in September playing with The Chameleons and we are keen to make this happen.

Of course the virus situation keeps changing every day – who knows there may even be a vaccine by the autumn (unlikely), treatment will be better to hopefully make C19 more manageable, and better ‘living with the virus’ facilities will be with us (even in the UK – the sick man of Europe)…

Like most bands the live arena is the moment but there are a lot of hurdles to get over. We are happy to problem solve and try and get round this…so here are 10 immediate hurdles…

What we will need is a whole new contract/rider/a Covid manifesto for gigs so the band and the venue know exactly what they are doing and expect from each other. 


1.  Travel

Cramming up to ten people in a van to move around the country is not really ‘socially distant’. It’s a bit like being crammed on a tube train in London but for four hours plus there and back with windows jammed shut as the British weather will be being unkind as ever.

Will vans have to be crammed with hand cleanser? will we all have to wear masks and gloves? and then hope for the best? will it mean hiring two vans to travel and who will pay for that?

International travel will be much trickier – quarantine, escalating travel costs and partial lockdowns that will happen will make touring a huge lottery.

2. Backline

Do we bring our own backline? Will we have to make sure no-one else touches it from the van to the stage and back into the van again? Making sure that no-one touches it , either from carrying it or leaning on it as it seems the pesky Covid sticks itself to a myriad of surfaces with ease.

3. Backstage

Backstage is generally a rabbit warren of very narrow corridors and tiny dressing rooms – often the support band doesn’t get a dressing room and is sat in the corridor. Can this all be made to work with social distancing? Maybe only one band at once can use the backstage and then leave? What happens with food? hotels have now banned buffets so the crisps and old sandwich riders may need a bit of rethinking. Will riders now have masks, hand cleaner and gloves on them instead of loads of booze.

4. Audience

The initial models for gigs are talking about supper club type events where people have to sit at a table or are standing but spaced out across the venues – maybe in allowed zones. Obviously this will mean something like 100 people in a 300 capacity room – can the economics of this justify a band playing? we could play for break even just to make the culture happen and we totally sympathise with the situation that venues find themselves in but we can’t afford to lose money either – mainly because we don’t have any to loose!  Maybe venues will be allowed to be full by  then but no-one seems to be asking the virus for its permission to do this and we have to look out for the second wave (not of punk but of the virus…)

5. Atmosphere

In the scheme of things this is not the biggest problem. Just being there will be a thrill for the band and audience but will the audience be allowed to the front of the stage – will the barriers be pushed ten foot into the room so the spit coming out of the singer’s mouth won’t land on the audiences heads?  Will the audience and band be wearing masks and gloves? will look and feel strange but if needs be…

6. Stage

How do we perform in the Covid times? surely one of the great keys to live performance is being lost and immersed in the moment and not thinking, ‘oh shit I’m too close to that person!’ Will the band members have to be spaced apart on the stage? will the stage be big enough to allow this? will the headline band move their gear back to allow the other band space to do this?

7. Drink

Will the audience be drinking? what happens when people get too drunk and start having too good a time? will there be people banging into each other and, for gods sake! dancing? will it still be necessary to have 2 metres between us all?

8. Merch

A secondary consideration of course – the music is the main thing after all but without merch most touring bands would go bankrupt. Will it be possible to sell merch? will this be an added danger of human interaction – would people be able to use cash? will it all have to be on the card machine – again will everyone be wearing masks and gloves? will the merch itself be clean and germ free?

9. Cleanliness  

Tallinn Music Week are looking to do gigs in August and talking about emptying the venues out every couple of hours to clean them thoroughly and then let everyone back in again. Is that something that needs to be done? will there be people cleaning surfaces constantly, will the mics be clean? maybe we should bring our own mics and mic stands make sure no-one else touches them

10. Accomodation

Most smaller bands know the score – you have to slog back after the more locals shows but on a long tour this can be exhausting and leave your system open to more infection – will hotels be open, will they be affordable and more importantly will the be as clean and germ free as possible – how will we know?


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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Good article John and one that raises many thoughts I’d had about the return of gigs. You’re the first person I’ve read that has actually mentioned the musicians, rather than concentrating on the audience. Without musicians there’s no gig after all, so all your points are very valid.

  2. I can see a point where the smallest of small time live music will be doable in a socially distanced way (bands playing half volume to seated beer garden/car-park audiences, everything disinfected, PVC screen around lead singer as singing/shouting voices project huge clouds of microbes) but I can’t see anything bigger happening until after we’ve all had our jab in a year or so’s time. Most likely beer garden performances will get streamed as a step up from bedroom gigs.

  3. Having said that, there’s no reason why bigger name acts couldn’t also do a socially distanced pub gig or two for streaming but they would have to be totally secret surprise appearances before an unsuspecting (or quietly invited on condition of total secrecy) seated beer garden audience.

  4. The bands become your household obviously.

    Test everyone in advance, isolate everyone from outside and then as long as all negative, you don’t need to isolate from each other during the tour. Just make sure only designated driver in PPE does the petrol purchase/on road snacks retrieval at any motorway services etc.
    You can share bus/accommodation/backstage/on stage but never get close to punters. No merch desk unless plexiglass wall and any merch bought is bunged over it to punter, all payment via touchpad/contactless.

    All rider food would be pre-pack and sanitised pre-gig.

    That’s solved half the issues.

    Now, the audience will be behind a screen too, like in Blues Brothers, but of plexiglass, not mesh. So no muttering away from the mic, no one will hear you.

    Equipment will just be blasted with disinfectant as per:

    Audience will all wear masks and be given exernal hazmat style suits to wear then walk through a bleaching chamber to cleanse them before entering the venue and everyone will be obliged to stand in the centre of their 2mx2m box. To prevent anyone removing mask, no drinks or food at all will be served. No singing along allowed for obvious reasons.

    Seriously though, I have “solved” the non-audience bit of your quandary. Oh no local crew, of course. They might be icky. You bring everyone on the road with you, all pre-quarantined and tested negative of course.

    So maybe, sadly, no gigs for a while. :(


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