Will Gompertz talks to Mark Davyd about Arts Council England’s recent decision to not fund Grassroots Music Venues.

Also available on BBC iPlayer

Will Gompertz (BBC5 Live):
That of course is ‘Shape Of You’ by the multi-million selling and multi-billion streamed artist Ed Sheeran, who before he was one of the biggest artists in the world, started off playing in small venues in the UK. But as we’ve been discussing already on this programme those venues are now seriously under threat. Of the 326 venues Ed played back in 2008 when he was trying to make it, 115 are now closed, and Eliza, you’ve got some more shocking stats.

Eliza (BBC5 Live):
I have. So of the 22 venues Radiohead played during their breakthrough tour back in the early 90s only 3 of them are still open.

Will:
Three?

Eliza:
I know. And in fact 35% of all small UK music venues closed between 2007 and 2015. And some of the most recognisable names no longer trading include; The Arches in Glasgow, The Cockpit in Leeds, The Harlow Square and The Princess Charlotte in Leicester. So bad news really.

Will:
That’s terrible news. Shocking news I’d say. So why are so many of these small venues closing down? To discuss that with us and to explain it to us, we’ve got Mark David who’s CEO of the Music Venue Trust. A charity which is campaigning to save small music venues in the UK… Morning Mark.

Mark Davyd (MVT):
Good morning Will, nice to be speaking to Mick Hucknall’s love child.

Will:
I know. I know, she looks fabulous as well honestly. Take all the good bits of Mick and that’s Eliza basically yeah. So what’s going on, Mark this sounds like serious business.

Mark:
Well it’s very serious Will, yes. I mean it really is kind of a cultural crisis that’s been afflicting these venues for a number of years. And there are a lot of different reasons but really what we have to do now is get something into support these venues, get something in place to really secure what remains and really start rebuilding this with young people coming in running new venues and taking over you know, the kind of creaking infrastructure we’ve got.

Will:
But Mark we’ve had loads of texts and they’re still coming in from people who’ve seen fantastic gigs at small venues, so there’s no end of people wanting to go and see gigs. What’s the issue, is it bureaucracy? Are they more expensive to run now, is it difficult around the legals? What’s the problem?

Mark:
Well it’s kind of 22 different contributing causes that we identify Will, but without running you through a very boring list, they form into several areas: One is about the bureaucracy as you described it, there’s quite a lot of problems with licensing, there’s problems with attitude more than anything else.

Will:
What do you mean by attitude?

Mark:
Well, local authorities are still kind of governing the things around these music venues in a kind of way that suggests they don’t want your daughter to marry a Rolling Stone. There hasn’t been a change in attitudes really in the last 50 years and we regularly see licensing, planning and development decisions which don’t really reflect the way – as you’re hearing from your listeners – that people genuinely feel passionately about these venues.

Will:
What about the changes in policy around property? And the relaxation of the rule around some properties which now can be developed which wouldn’t possibly have been developed in the past.

Mark:
Yes, absolutely, there was a particular law called ‘permitted development’ which came on in 2010, and that really was a huge cliff edge disaster frankly for music venues, because what makes a really good music venue space is a multi-use space in one building in the centre of a town, where upstairs you have offices between 9 and 5, and downstairs you have the music venue, which starts from 5. Once people were able to convert those offices to residences without going through any sort of planning process, you would be amazed at the number of people, who in our opinion, rather foolishly, decided to move in above a music venue and how the law is weighted to give them the right to close that music venue down because it makes a noise that it might have been making for 20 or 30 years.

Eliza:
So what sort of things could we do to change that do you think? What can turn it around?

Mark:
There needs to be a concerted effort between all three sectors of British society as it were that can do something about this. Number 1 is, as we’ve been discussing, is the government. We’ve had a lot of headway and a lot of support from government, and actually without making any political points it goes right across the political spectrum. I think politicians are really starting to understand this and are making changes. The second thing that needs to happen is that the music industry itself really needs to get on top of the costs of touring and the costs of running these venues, and we need a complete kind of, overhaul.

Will:
Sorry. What do you mean by that Mark? The cost.

Mark:
Yeah, if we take the music industry itself, it’s been taken apart and put back together in the last 10 years, by the advent of digital technology.

Will:
Yeah. But all we hear about is that the only way to make money is live.

Eliza:
At huge venues though.

Mark:
But mainly in huge venues in afraid. You know actually what you’re seeing is that the small venues, the equipment’s out of date, it’s expensive to run, the lighting’s out of date, that’s incredibly expensive to run and maintain. The ticket prices haven’t moved. I was looking at a thing for Reading Festival yesterday and it used to be £8 to get in for the Friday, in 1983. At that time it was £4 to get in to your local music gig. Now it’s about £70 and it’s about £6 to get into your local music gig. So that’s not good. The third part that needs to happen is that at this point I think everybody needs to recognise the really important role that these venues play in research and development, and in being cultural incubators frankly, and not just for music. But if you go to any of these venues, you’ll find it’s full of people doing alternative things: Fashion, design… And when you loose that space in a town you really rip the heart out of the cultural community. And for that reason we’ve been asking Arts Council England to get behind these venues and to put limited amount of funding in to really overhaul their infrastructure.

Will:
How much money do you need?

Mark:
A million pounds a year over the next 5 years, would transform 101 grassroots music venues in the UK.

Will:
And what do the Arts Council say.

Mark:
No.

Will:
Why, why do they say no?

Mark:
Well that’s a good question. We’ve been through a 3 year conversation with the Arts Council, and effectively they are trying to fit these grassroots music venues into an existing distribution of the cultural funding that’s available. Which we know is a limited pot. The problem is that the language, and the attitude, and the passion and everything else that goes around these music venues, just doesn’t sit well within the cultural funding fabric that they’ve got, so they just… for us, Music Venue Trust has just been turned for three grants in a row. Coming to a total of around about £1.3 million, that would have transformed 11 iconic grassroots music venues. It would have helped those venues with their planning, their development, their licensing, right across the country. But at the moment it doesn’t apparently fit into the cultural funding envelope.

Will:
Just on the Arts Council Mark, as a ream of paper with people’s tweets comes into the studio, people are really engaged and exercised by this particular story. The Arts Council say: they weren’t able to make anybody available for this discussion, but they point out the application process is highly competitive for funding. They receive many more applications than they are able to fund, and they have funded things like NTS live, Loudoun Library, Soundcity in Liverpool and Capsule in Birmingham. But I have to say I did a story a few years ago now, when I was looking at the Arts Council and how it uses it’s funding, and it did strike me that, you know, it had slightly snobby approach to Pop music, and this was at a time when digital had come in and it was very difficult to make money in Pop. And I asked the then Chief Executive, Alan Davey, who now in fact runs Radio 3, why on earth they didn’t put more money into Pop music; support young people; support young small venues… and to be honest he wasn’t really able to give me an answer. And I just think so much of their money is already allocated to other things like Opera and Theatre and all the rest of it, and I just don’t think that Pop music’s ever been considered to be an artform. I think there’s been a snobbishness about it.

Mark:
I think you’re absolutely right Will. But I think there is a lot of will within the organisation. And to be honest this has happened in every country that has faced this problem. It’s happened in the Netherlands, it happened in Sweden, in happened in Denmark. In all of these countries, a change to the way that we distribute cultural funding was attempted, it failed. The existing organisation couldn’t take it on board for all the reasons you’ve just said to do with stakeholdera. And basically what’s had to happen is the government has had to step in and has had to insist either the existing cultural distribution was changed, by bringing something specific in; or alternatively, what’s happened in many countries, in Germany, in Norway, they created a new funding stream that wasn’t governed by the existing cultural distribution.

Will:
Okay and very quickly, the music industry, is not un-wealthy. I mean we’ve got major players: Sony, Universal and all the rest of it. Can they not put some money into the pot.

Mark:
Well I think they certainly can and we won’t hesitate to ask them which you can probably hear in my voice. I think there is a big problem here between all three things and it is important that all three parts of what could be done to support these, takes some action. I just don’t accept that it’s in the UK right now that in the last distribution of funding the Arts Council, had £229 million went to Opera. None of it has gone into supporting the crisis that’s facing our grassroots music venues. I just don’t belive that that’s acceptable.

Will:
Mark David, we’re gonna have to end it there. CEO of Music Venue Trust. Thank you so much for coming on to the programme and making this serious issue, plain to us all.

2017-10-04T23:40:23+00:00 July 25th, 2017|

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