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The importance of small UK music venues, the risk they face and why we should care

Date posted: April 24, 2019

Small venues across the UK play an important role in the music industry, but every few months we are hit with an announcement that yet another is closing for good. This article, written by our guest editor Maddy Fisher, discusses why they may be closing, what can be done to prevent this and draws opinions from some of the promotors of Newcastle’s best small venues.

Small-venue-closures

One by one, sticky floor by sticky floor, small venues are closing. So far this year, Oxford’s The Cellar, which played host to the likes of Foals and Supergrass, and Plymouth’s The Hub have had to close their doors.

London’s The Social made a narrow escape earlier this month after raising enough money to keep their doors open, but not everywhere is so lucky.

In the last five years, we’ve lost Leeds’ The Cockpit, Brighton’s The Blind Tiger Club, London’s Passing Clouds and Manchester’s Roadhouse.

Small venues play a significant role in the music industry; they’re a platform to help upcoming musicians advance further in their careers.

Surf Café’s Rich said “Artists I have worked with were relative unknowns when they came and played for me at the Surf Café, but the likes of Tom Walker, Isaac Gracie, Slow Club, Sam Fender and The Amazons have all gone on to have notable careers in the music industry.

Naturally having run a small independent music venue as a passion project, it’s really distressing to hear about so many venues closing. It’s a real shame”, he continued.

With more and more closing, musicians are given less opportunity to play their music across the country and make advances in their career.

Furthermore, fans become frustrated with the lack of live shows available to them and their support and sharing is another crucial aspect for artists to gain popularity.

It isn’t just about the artists however. These venues provide vast amounts of jobs, from bar staff to music technicians.

Closing down these venues puts people out of jobs at a time when unemployment and poverty levels are already so high.

But why are venues closing down? There isn’t one sole reason, it’s a combination of property developers with no regard for the cultural value of these venues, lack of support from the government and local councils and soaring rent prices.

An example of this was The Wanstead Tap in London, who were hit with an over 50% rise in their rent, with only a few months notice at the beginning of the year.

It’s expensive to keep a venue running, there’s rent, insurance, staff wages, bar stock and so on. A venue needs to be putting on multiple gigs a week to keep afloat and when a rent prices are raised, this puts strain on a venue.

Newcastle’s The Cobalt and Ernest promoter Kate Hodgkinson said “The financial, physical and mental pressures are pretty extreme! The continual risk and not knowing if anybody is going to come to a certain event – it’s pretty constant. When you hear about other small venues in the same boat you wonder why you do it”

Talking about why she keeps going, she says “The music starts and you know the answer!”

What can be done to help our beloved venues? To begin with, community involvement has a huge impact on keeping venues afloat.

Whether it’s attending events, donating and fundraising (e.g. what The Social did this year to stay open), community involvement has incredible benefits as it contributes to a venue’s revenue, ensuring it can stay afloat and continue to provide jobs and opportunities for up and coming artists.

An example of this as described by Rich Southern was with Newcastle’s Little Buildings, who worked alongside the community to ensure they didn’t have to shut down.

“The tenants highlighted the landlord’s greed and mobilised a community effort which eventually led them securing a new premise. Power to the people.”

It’s not just down to the community however, councils and national government also need to step up when it comes to maintaining small venues’ presence in the UK.

Kate Hodgkinson stated “Arts funders need to really understand the challenges and see the venues as an important part of the eco system of music creation and showcasing.

Local council and national government need to fully understand the impact of development on venues and also the vital need to run club nights to ensure sustainability” she continued.

Want to know what you can do? The answer is simple: get yourself to events at your local small venues. You may ask why should you attend small venues; what makes them so great?

Well, Kate summed it up pretty nicely.

“The benefits of small venues [include] the intimacy and integrity they offer over larger venues and the impact that has on the audiences’ experience of music.

It might be less economical but the parties and experiences are often better in smaller places”.
I think that’s enough to convince anyone. Small venues play a crucial role in the music industry, so let’s not stop fighting for them. #SaveSmallVenues

Maddy Fisher – Tipping Point – Generator