When the music came back

Picture by Paul Campbell.

THE return of live music to Inverness venue The Ironworks this month was an emotional experience, said owner Caroline Campbell.

Like venues across Scotland, The Ironworks had been unable to host live music since the UK-wide lockdown in March, although the business has continued to run virtual events during the pandemic. Now, operating under level one of coronavirus restrictions – where small indoor events are permitted – it was finally able to reopen its doors to the public.

“It’s a very different building, this, with people and with sound,” Caroline told SLTN.

“It was quite emotional to be honest. But also a huge relief when it was over and everything had gone really well.”

Picture by Paul Campbell.

As with any venue operating under the Scottish Government’s levels system, hosting the concert – on Saturday November 21 – wasn’t straightforward. Strict coronavirus measures had to be introduced by the team and then approved by local authorities before the concert from Highland band Torridon could take place.

The venue’s capacity, usually 1000, was reduced to just 100 people with two-metre social distancing between groups. The floorspace was split into 20 different ‘zones’, each with its own table (formed from used kegs and Perspex tabletops and sponsored by local wholesaler Williamson Foodservice).

Customers could book a zone for either one, two, four or six people (from a maximum of two different households) and entered the building through one of three different entrances in order to reduce queuing.

“We’ve created three entrances and exits through our fire doors that go straight into the hall,” said Caroline.

“We’re staggering it so that there’s not a hundred people arriving at one door and in one queue.

“So door one takes zone one to six. Door two takes seven to 12 and door three takes the rest, which are situated upstairs on our balcony area.”

Picture by Paul Campbell.

A new app designed for the venue allowed customers to order drinks from their tables, which were then prepared by a three-strong team behind the bar.

“It was the first time using this software and it was just amazing,” said Caroline.

“13 out of the 20 tables pre-ordered drinks. So that also took some pressure off when they arrived because we didn’t have 20 zones ordering drinks at the same time.

“We also had the band’s merch on the app. It was the first time I’ve ever had an order for two gin and tonics and a snood. The snoods were very popular.”

The zones were split into three, with three front of house staff members responsible for serving the tables in their zone. Five security staff were also on duty to ensure no one ventured outside of their zone except to visit the toilets, although Caroline said there were no issues with customers breaking the rules.

“Everybody was great,” she said.

With the first live event behind them, the team are now gearing up for further gigs in the coming weeks, although Caroline has decided not to hold events at Christmas and new year, when customers might be less inclined to stick to the social distancing rules.

And while she was glad to be welcoming local bands and customers back into the venue, Caroline said the experience is still nowhere close to normal.

“I can’t stress enough: social distancing and music just doesn’t work,” she said.

“It’s a step in the right direction but until there is no social distancing the live event industry won’t return.”