With audiences exiled from both live sport and live music for the foreseeable future, why not attempt to pair the two and give fans more reasons to tune in?
With its return looking likely to be on 17th June, the cogs of the Premier League machine will begin turning once more – albeit in far from optimal conditions: no entrance via the turnstiles, the shutters of the concourse securely padlocked, and spectators will be forced to watch from the comfort of their living rooms.
Live music is beloved by the British public, but it is yet another sector of the entertainment industry that thrives on the energy of the shared experience and togetherness. Festivals – cancelled. UK tours – postponed. Open mic nights – not a chance. With concerts and festivals set to be sidelined until 2021 at their earliest, that leaves a large section of British artists unable to perform in front of fans for the best part of twelve months. The immediate future of both live music and professional sport looks bleak, empty and devoid of personality.
What quarantine brings is a chance to change the way we consume live music and put concerts in places they wouldn’t normally belong, giving them a chance to thrive. Whether it’s the drive-in option that’s shown signs of success in Scandinavia or live performances streamed in games like Fortnite and Minecraft – there are creative avenues to explore…
In a bold attempt to launch Monday Night Football to the masses in 1992, Sky Sports employed the talents of chart-toppers The Shamen to perform their hit single “Ebenezer Goode” from a kitchen-table-sized stage in the centre circle of Highbury at half time in an attempt to keep the crowd warm. It went down about as well as you’d expect – 41,000 pissed up Gooners hissed, jeered and jibbed at frontman Mr C for being a “Chelsea C**t”. The combination of disinterest amongst the supporters and an ill-fitting artist led to this gimmick being scrapped after just six weeks. But with more reasoned artist choices and the lack of a hostile crowd, a well-thought-out revamp has the potential to be far more successful.
In an effort to pair these two flailing industries together to secure the future survival of its participants, why not bring back half-time entertainment and promote contemporary artists while giving a sizable bump to the entertainment factor of Premier League games that will severely lack atmosphere? Although it’s hard to imagine anyone will notice the difference in decibel level at The Emirates pre and post lockdown. The thought of just a taste of decent weather, the vaguest sense of a good time and music escaping out into the open air is sure to place the smallest of bandages over the gaping wound that is no festival season for 2020.
When you think ‘half-time show’, it’s logical to immediately turn your attention to the karaoke-on-cocaine live performances seen during the Super Bowl every February where a platinum-selling megastar is thrust in front of 80,000 real sports fans and 5,000 paid stand-ins immediately in camera shot and given carte-blanche to perform a medley of hits. Ignore those thoughts. Think more TFI Friday. A diverse, scattershot of artists from multiple genres, artists both up and coming and established – a shop window of homegrown talent.
There is a huge need for agile innovation within both the music and sports industry, with 80% of British music venues under serious threat of closure and £1.1billion set to be wiped off the live sector this year alone. Affording artists the opportunity to broadcast their talents straight to the living rooms of fans new and old could be key in driving interest at a time when enjoying your favourite band shoulder to shoulder with mates and a warm can of cider is almost unthinkable.
Since the mid-noughties, the demise of the vast catalogue of live music showcases on British television began with big-hitters Top of the Pops popping its clogs in 2006, leaving very few windows of opportunity for artists to perform in front of television audiences. Aside from the fantastically eclectic Later With… Jools Holland, if you’re a band or artist wanting to present your latest single you’re limited to a three-minute slot at the end of Graham Norton or forced to make conversation and enchiladas with Tim Lovejoy on C4’s Sunday Brunch first. A simple solution is to free up five minutes of screen time to give audiences a hit of live music while coaches formulate their tactical plans for the second half – the fact that it’s only a facsimile of real live music is moot, the Premier League hosting games behind closed doors is merely a facsimile of real football.
Every year, a shiny new FIFA game is released with a cleverly and creatively curated score highlighting the best of contemporary pop, indie rock and RnB. Either consciously or subconsciously, every player of said games will have their favourite tracks. Blur’s Song 2, Dreaming from Smallpools, Oasis’ Lyla. Songs can become synonymous with the game – think World In Motion, Three Lions or Sunshine on Leith. Music and sport are intertwined on a level that works effortlessly if you pair them effectively – without trying to pinch too many ideas from the United States, the way the NBA curated the half-time show for its 2019 All-Star game to include J-Cole was inspired, while the WWE affiliate NXT hosts regular live performances from the likes of Pittsburgh metalcore outfit Code Orange to play its stars to the ring.
The BBC has a fantastic opportunity now they have been granted rights to four live games during the remainder of the season. There is enough talent within the doors of BBC broadcasting house to put together a stellar line-up for Radio 1’s Big Weekend each May and 1Xtra Live every October – inviting a host of contemporary artists to perform to the camera as an added bonus during these ghost-games is a fantastic opportunity to trial new ideas. Plans to host Live Lounge Month (September) within social distancing guidelines are apparently underway as we speak, so an opportunity to organise four one-off performances during four Premier League games on prime time free-to-air television is just another chance for the expert curators of both the Radio One and 1Xtra playlist to flex their creative muscle.
AJ Tracey performing Ladbroke Grove during the interval of Tottenham vs Manchester United? Foals take the stage minutes after Watford equalise in stoppage time at home to Southampton? Liam Gallagher given the opportunity to ring out the chords of Rock ‘n’ Roll Star and take a swipe at his brother on live television from the centre circle of The Etihad? Who isn’t tuning in?
If it works, maybe it takes off. If it doesn’t, blame it on the lockdown and never speak of it again.
With the severe lack of any opportunity for live music experiences in the near future, now is a better time than any to bring live music to the front room and make use of any avenue possible.