It’s pretty well-known that The Beatles played a lot of gigs at The Cavern Club in Liverpool – almost 300, in fact. But it’s less well-known that the majority of those performances took place in the afternoon. As a jazz club experimenting with this strange new Young People Music, the Cavern originally limited their rock’n’roll shows to afternoons only. The Proper Music – jazz – was reserved for the evenings.
Back in the 60s, it was fairly common for bands like The Beatles to play these so-called matinee shows. However, over time, they have slowly but surely disappeared from the music industry, instead finding refuge in West End theatres and family-friendly pantos.
That is until recently when there has been a small but noticeable increase in matinee gigs across the UK. So what’s behind it, and will it continue?
Diversity and diversity: The artists playing matinee shows this year
A matinee show may conjure up images of OAPs in the theatre with a free hot drink and a slice of cake, but there’s a real diversity to the artists choosing to play matinees in 2023. Some you might expect: S Club 7, JLS and – ahem – Diversity, for instance. Afternoon shows from these artists make sense, given the younger crowd you might expect to find there.
Others are more surprising. Royal Blood added matinee performances to every date of their album release shows this year. Rising indie stars The Last Dinner Party played an afternoon gig in Blackpool Library on their first-ever UK tour. And when Rick Astley sets out on tour this year, doors will open at the eye-squinting time of 6pm.
And these early start times aren’t limited to gigs. Last year, Annie Mac announced her ‘Before Midnight’ tour; a series of club nights which would end… before midnight. “You shouldn’t have to wait till 1, 2am to see your favourite DJ go on the decks,” she said at the time. “You should be able to access DJs at an earlier time. And you should be able to get a good night’s sleep at the end of it.”
What’s the appeal of a gig in the afternoon?
A good night’s sleep is an obvious draw, but there must be more factors at play here. When British singer-songwriter Iraina Mancini set out on her debut solo UK tour earlier this year, she ‘loved the idea’ of performing a pair of matinee shows as part of it.
“The audience was very present, and it was a joy to actually be able to see people’s faces in the sunlight that shone through the windows,” Mancini reflects. “There was a sense of calm in the room that I don’t think would be there at a late-night gig. There was also more of a broad range of ages at my matinee shows, as there is no age restriction. It was really heartwarming to meet the young kids who listen to my music.”
One of Mancini’s gigs was organised by Get it Loud in Libraries, a community interest company who have been putting on afternoon shows in libraries since 2009. Stewart Parsons is the company’s Creative Director and believes it’s the accessibility of these shows which makes them so appealing to people.
“By their very nature, matinee shows strip barriers to access,” he explains. “Young girls and women tell us the library gig environment feels less threatening than nighttime shows when people have consumed alcohol. They also feel more confident attending alone, and can access public transport afterwards.”
Parson’s comments certainly seem to back up a fairly bleak national picture. A staggering 40% of women say they have suffered sexual harassment at a live music event, with a study from Durham University pointing to the anonymity of large crowds and high levels of drunkenness as key reasons behind that figure. These issues are less likely to come up during intimate daytime shows, leading to a better experience for both artist and audience.
“The crowd are there because they genuinely love live music,” Parsons says. “This means the artist isn’t fighting audiences that are talking through live performances, playing with their phones, drowning out the artist and fellow gig-goers. Some bad gig-going habits that have crept in post-COVID just don’t seem to spread the same malaise in matinee shows.”
“I felt that people would be more engaged in the daytime without alcohol and dark smokey corners – and I was right,” adds Mancini.
If the pandemic changed how some people behave at gigs, it convinced others to stay away completely. Crowds at live venues have yet to recover to pre-COVID levels – and nor have the country’s anxiety levels. The ‘sense of calm’ that Mancini noticed at her matinee gigs has made them the perfect gateway back into live music for a lot of people.
“Post-lockdown, our shows with Katy J Pearson, Lounge Society and Porridge Radio served as a socially distanced, safe and inclusive pathway back into live events for many gig-goers,” adds Parsons, “who felt a daytime show in broad daylight was a great way to enjoy quality live music after weeks of staying in.”
The light of the matinee
From heightened anxiety levels to bad gig behaviour, there is a heady cocktail of things keeping people away from live venues at the moment. It suggests that we might need to start rethinking our approach to live music. One that moves away from the dark, rowdy, booze-soaked image we currently associate it with, and more towards a more inclusive, welcoming environment for all. Free coffee and cake might be pushing it a little, mind.
“Matinees offer so much, especially to children and young people experiencing that first gig feeling,” says Parsons. “The future can only be bright for matinee shows.”
Want to write about music? Pitch us your ideas.
Are you passionate about music and have a story or hot take to share? whynow wants to hear from you. Send your music-focused pitch to email@example.com. Let’s make some noise together.