It’s Independent Venue Week, so what better way to celebrate than to talk about the comeback of independent venues?
Independent Venue Week is a celebration of music, art, culture, community and social enterprise. It’s basically a shout out to to those who devote their time and hard earned cash into keeping indie music venues afloat; be it the promoters, the managers, the owners or the bar staff, the bands that play there and the fans who support. We all know that they’ve been taking a bit of a beating of late: rising rent prices (particularly in London) and noise abatement notices have seen Britain’s independent venues dwindling over the recent years so it now means that keeping the last ones alive is of paramount importance if we are to carry on enjoying live music .
Venues all over England are taking part in Independent Venue Week supported by funding from Arts Council England which is testament to the importance of these cultural spaces. There are over 160 ‘official venues’ involved and they come in all shapes and sizes, from back-rooms in side-road boozers, to ‘arched ceilings towering above you at over forty feet’ (The Cinnamon Club – Altrincham) and each place has its own unique quirks and characteristics that you just don’t get in the commercial arenas and academies.
So, why are music venues struggling so much?
In the last few years, we’ve said goodbye to countless much loved music venues like Manchester Roundhouse, Glasgow’s The Arches, Brighton’s Blind Tiger, London’s Astoria, The Barfly in Cardiff and the Sheffield Boardwalk and that’s just a snippet of the ongoing nationwide venue cull. Despite half-arsed attempts from the likes of Boris to ‘protect’ local venues, an estimated 35-40% of london’s venues have closed their doors in the last five years and that’s in the capital alone. This comes down to lack of understanding and support for creative arts from local authorities and a prejudiced approach towards venues seen as ‘toilet bars’ with countercultural messages.
In an interview with the Independent, The Charlatans front man Tim Burgess suggests:
“Lots of venues seem to be under threat, so it’s really important for people to appreciate them while they are around. 2016 definitely showed us how important it is to make the most of being able to see artists while you can – the same goes for the venues that they play in’ Burgess goes on to suggest that bands sometimes stick to the more corporate places who can ‘block book a whole tour”
The paradox of it all is that without small venues, bands simply can’t flourish because every band has to start somewhere, right? Small venues provide a platform for young bands to find their feet – with all this rapidly disappearing, we will soon be witnessing the ultimate demise of live music altogether and succumb to the digital era of music, rendering the live scene obsolete…or will we?
Alternative ways to stay open…
Nevertheless, despite the doom and gloom, things are looking up slightly. As 2016 was drawing to a close, in a recent article ‘5 Positive Things Musicians can Take from 2016’, we included the introduction of a new legislation passed obliging property developers to acknowledge the existing noise impact that venues have in their neighbouring vicinity. The move will help stop developers serving noise abatement notices and shutting places down like a clown giving away sweeties. Instead, they’ll have a shed load of paperwork and a bunch of angry music fans to contend with; It’s certainly a positive move for grassroots music places.
Instead of admitting defeat, some venues are getting creative with their plans to keep their heads above the corporate tide and things are starting to look up in 2017 for the live music scene. The Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea (UK) is but another example; The much loved independent venue on Albert Road has recently re-structured its business in order to gain CIC status.
For those not in the know, this stands for Community Interest Company and is the title given to a company or business whose purpose is to use its profits to benefit the community around it. With twenty five years of music history behind its doors, the Wedgewood Rooms can certainly be considered an asset to the community. It has enriched the culture of its surroundings by playing host to countless bands and acts from all over the globe. Now, with its newly acquired status, The Wedgewood Rooms now functions as a registered non-profit ‘CIC’ which means profits made will circle their way back around to the wider community. In addition to music and comedy, The Wedge has opened its doors to theatre shows and local performance groups aimed at children and young people. This means they can now benefit from much needed arts venue funding as well.
In a recent article in The News, manager of the Wedgewood Rooms, Geoff Priestley, – commented on the business change at the venue:
“Social, economic, and political shifts have made grassroots venues a business venture not for the faint-hearted. However, we at The Wedge believe that the role of the music venue is more important than ever. At a time of such social division, venues are crucial in bringing communities together, regardless of people’s social background or political beliefs.”
Music venues can often get bad reps within society – particularly the ones that sway a bit more to the alternative side- due to noise complaints, late curfews and anti-social behaviour from the odd ‘bad-egg’ visitors after they leave. But what is often overlooked is the value to the community that they do bring. Arts Council England invstsed in £168.2 million in music organisations and musicians across all kinds of genres in 2015 and many organisations are supported by regular funding which is seen as an ‘investment in art and culture’ – this includes Independent live music venues and music festivals.
On top of this, Shoreditch music venue ‘Village Underground’ has proudly announced its here to stay after Hackney Council stated that is has no plans to redevelop the site. Village Underground has been around since 2006 and has been under constant threat of closure but this week Hackney local authority agreed to a lease guaranteeing its existence until 2027, acknowledging its positive impact on the creative community surrounding it.
All hope is not lost
So less than a month in to 2017 and we’re already celebrating progress for the future of live music. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, has mapped out a list of ways in which to make the most of arts, culture and creativity. One of which promises to: ‘Protect London’s live music venues, clubs and pubs by introducing an “Agent for Change” rule so new developments next to existing venues meet soundproofing costs’ and another vowing to ‘strengthen planning protections for small industrial and creative workspaces and for london’s iconic pubs.’ This all sounds like promising stuff for a struggling industry and we hope that nurturing london’s creative culture will cause a chain reaction in other struggling cities to eventually revitalise the live music scene and lift us out of this musical slump for good.
Feature by Bex Cole