After the fear of 2020 and the hesitancy of 2021, this was supposed to be the summer live events roared back to life.

McCartney rocked Glastonbury, Latitude is around the corner, and we can once again sing and dance and drink together without fear of a deadly disease.

But two upcoming Norfolk festivals have recently been cancelled, and other venue operators talk of slow ticket sales and rising prices.

Are these the clanging chimes of doom for a music industry still reeling from the effects of the Covid, or a stutter-step on the way back to a full recovery? Joel Adams takes a look.

“It’s a scrum”

The Vaccines, Hot Chip, james, and Natalie Imbruglia were due to rock the Raynham Estate on the first weekend in August, at the new Wide Skies & Butterflies festival, but instead silence will ring out across the property’s 800 acres.

The festival’s organisers have told customers “2022 is proving an incredibly challenging year for live music and events,” blaming rising costs and underwhelming ticket sales for the cancellation.

Later in August, Thetford was due to welcome the Kaiser Chiefs and the Happy Mondays at the At Ease festival, which is not now going ahead.

Its website says: “The exponential rise of utility and production costs coupled with a significant slump in the festival market across the board has proved to be too difficult.”

Eastern Daily Press: The line up for Wide Skies and Butterflies before it was cancelledThe line up for Wide Skies and Butterflies before it was cancelled (Image: submitted)

One major cost increase has come from the sound recordists and production engineers required to put on a festival, most of whom are self-employed and struggled to receive furlough payments through the pandemic. So this year their prices have shot up.

Stephen Guest, who ran PR for At Ease, also blames overcrowding in the market, which is affecting independents while the major festivals do just fine. Both Wild Skies and At Ease were new festivals, anticipating their first event this year.

He explained: “Across the board, festivals and outdoor events have been suffering, and that’s the knock-on from everything closing down for two years. It’s been tough on everybody.

“Then once events open up again there’s been a swamp of the market - too many people trying to make money.

“People are deciding which events to go to, but obviously ticket prices are such that they can’t go to every band they want to see, and everybody’s back out on the road trying to earn a living.

“That’s a good thing but it’s not ideal - we would have had them ideally in 2020 and in 2021 and then it wouldn’t be such a scrum this year.”

He said he was still scheduling shows he had announced in 2019, some of which won’t happen until 2023 due to venue availability.

Eastern Daily Press: Student Grace Ellis was invited on stage with The Killers at Carrow Road.Student Grace Ellis was invited on stage with The Killers at Carrow Road. (Image: Rob Loud)

Reepham Festival’s Mark Bridges said it wasn’t just the customers who are proving hard to pin down, business sponsors and vendors too.

“I think there’s a nervousness in the industry about festivals going ahead - it’s been very hard to retain some of the field-side vendors.

“Coffee is very competitive at the moment, lots of companies do it, but they’re very fickle - so we’ve had six vendors come and go and haven’t nailed one down.

“Same goes for face painters - we’re a family event - and right now they are going to jump at a more guaranteed family party than they would a booking for a festival.”

But, he insisted: “We’re full steam ahead. We’ve been a bit late coming to the party with our marketing, but it is really going to kick off now. The only thing that’s going to stop us is him upstairs, with inclement weather.”

Ticket sales down, and late

It’s not just festivals which are struggling. Norfolk’s countless live music venues, many of which had to close for months at a time over the last two years, are still fighting to get back on their feet.

Norwich Arts Centre general manager Bradley Glasspoole explained: “Business for us is good generally, but ticket sales are not where they were before the pandemic.”

He estimates sales are between 20 and 40 per cent down, with a clear distinction opening up between the best acts and the also-rans.

“There’ll be artists who used to sell 200 - 250 seats and are selling 130, but when we put James Bay on sale in January it sold out in three minutes. Wet Leg sold out in minutes too.

Eastern Daily Press: Wet Leg perform at Norwich Arts Centre on Sunday, April 24.Wet Leg perform at Norwich Arts Centre on Sunday, April 24. (Image: Casey Cooper-Fiske)

“But there’s no consistency at the moment, which we were used to before the pandemic. We knew if we booked a certain artist or band we’d sell a certain amount of tickets, and now that’s not the case.

“And a lot of the time people are now buying very late so that can be very nervous and worrying.

“I’d say at least 25pc of ticket sales are done in the last three days at the moment - so you’re hopeful but if people get a hot day or there’s a free event at the park they might not come.”

Most venues have a break-even point at around 50 or 60pc capacity, so late sales can leave organisers not knowing if they will take a loss on an event they booked to boost their business.

Rick Lennox of Epic in Norwich says he is not selling as many tickets in the first week they go on sale as he would have before the pandemic, and puts slow sales down to the cost of living increases.

“People are weighing up how many times they can go out a month, with the energy bills and everything,” he said.

“We had 600 tickets sold for The Beat last week, but around 100 no-shows. That seems to be the new normal for us.”

Most of the ticket price goes to promoters and acts, so venues are dependent on fans buying drinks at the bar. Fewer fans turning up means fewer drinks - and smaller profits.

Eastern Daily Press: Rick Lennox, the live music manager of Epic Studios. PHOTO: Nick ButcherRick Lennox, the live music manager of Epic Studios. PHOTO: Nick Butcher (Image: �archant2017)

But despite estimating his ticket sales are also down 20pc, he remains buoyant.

“I don’t think it’s as bad as some people might think that it is. The good shows, the well-known acts, are selling really well just as they always have done. If you’re hot, people will still go.”

What effects will this have?

The outlook is tough. Festival tickets are expensive, gigs are a luxury, and bills have to be paid first.

With the average annual UK energy bill leaping from £800 a year ago to an estimated £3000 next year, fans have less money to spend on music.

They will also find their money may not go as far at the gigs they do attend. Multiple sources told us they have had to increase drinks prices in order to cover some of their lost revenue.

Mr Lennox said: “There are some people who used to go out twice a week who are now going to go out once a week. So if we had two acts booked, one of those acts will not do as well.

“You might also see acts downsizing to smaller venues in order to fill them

“That’s why drinks have gone up in every venue, because if you’ve got fewer people coming in you’ve still got to get that income, you’ve got to pay for bands, security, everything.

“People will have to get used to drinks being more than they were, and maybe ticket prices too. We’re getting more and more at £20 or £25 when before they were £15 or £20.”

Some bargains can still be found though - and even free tickets.

The Music Venues Trust, which provided furlough and support cash to venues through the pandemic, has teamed up with the National Lottery to help venues host a nationwide series of gigs called the Revive Live Tour.

In Norwich these include Ditz at Voodoo Daddy’s this Monday, Jamie Webster at Epic on August 18, and Tide Lines at the Norwich Arts Centre on September 12.

But venues might host acts three or more nights each week, so a single gig is not going to rescue a sinking ship.

Arts Centre boss Mr Glasspoole predicts “a lot of pubs and smaller venues are going to stop doing music, or become something else".

He called on the government to do more, as it has for the airlines, to support a sector so badly affected by the pandemic.

“People come for miles for these gigs," he said. "They stay in the city, they eat at a restaurant, this is about the economy of the whole city.

“If you lose venues and theatres you aren’t necessarily going to get them back, and cultural identity in Norwich is really important.

"There’s so much well-being to be found in having a night out not a night in.”