As we readied ourselves for our first live gig in months, our preparations were pretty much in line with what you might expect for a gig taking place outdoors during any British summer time. Camping chairs: check. Blanket: check. Umbrella: check.
But this isn't any British summer time, and the items making up the remainder of our checklist quickly reflected that. Face mask: check. Hand sanitiser: check. Special app: check. Track and trace info: check.
This completed checklist neatly represents what live music – an industry upended overnight when coronavirus and its ensuing lockdown hit – is going to have to contend with if it is to thrive again in a post-Covid era: a mixture of old and new normals blurring into a familiar but untested reality.
With preparations made, we were off to our first live concert since February. Martin Turner, ex founder member of Wishbone Ash, was playing at Trading Boundaries – a Georgian coaching inn on the Lewes to London road that has for many years offered a fine dining and listening experience in their cafe during evenings.
The rise of the pandemic put a stop to that in March. But as venues fought to find ways to adapt in order to stay afloat, Trading Boundaries had a brainwave: it was time to take their live shows outside, where they have the space to accommodate the same amount of audience numbers as they once did inside, with the social distancing needed to make the experience a safe one.
Purchasing a ticket for the gig was again a blend of old and new normals. Tickets were available online – standard – but this time we were prompted to provide our details for track and trace in order to be able to complete the purchase.
When we arrived at the venue we were allocated a ‘pod’ on the back lawn in which to seat ourselves. The ‘pod’ was actually bamboo sticks placed on the grass in a rectangle big enough to accommodate the number of people in our booking. Each rectangle was situated two metres from each other so viewing groups were set safely apart while watching the gig.
Before leaving home we were asked to download and sign up to the BUTLR app, the idea of which is to stop people coming into contact while queuing at the bar. Once we were safely within our pod, we were able to order drinks and food from the bar which were delivered to us where we were sitting.
So far, so Covid.
We were told before the event that this would be a 'new listening experience', but what made the gig different from other Covid-safe events taking place recently wasn't actually to do with the pandemic. The twist at Trading Boundaries is that everyone is given personal headphones supplied by the Silent Disco Company to listen to the band. Why? Well, as the venue has had to take their live music events outside, they now have neighbours to contend with. Again, it's about adapting, and a silent disco approach means live events are possible while keeping noise levels low enough to not rile the neighbours.
Martin Turner took to the stage and played a two-hour 'best of' Wishbone Ash set to a rapt, headphone-clad audience that became a nodding sea of blue lights as darkness fell and the headset channel lights could be seen clearer.
Once we got used to the strangeness of the Covid restrictions and the concept of sitting through a gig wearing headphones, it turned out to be a great evening. The sound mix was excellent, picking up all the instruments and vocals in perfect balance no matter where you were seated – and being able to hear the band without the babble of audience is easily a bonus at any concert.
Overall, it quickly became just another enjoyable live experience. Is it the future? Maybe not forever, but if this is what it takes for now, we're game.