Adrian Chiles talks to Beverley Whitrick (MVT) & Jeff Horton (100 Club) about Arts Council England’s recent decision to not fund Grassroots Music Venues.

Also available on BBC iPlayer

Adrian Chiles (BBC5 Live):
Amy Winehouse, Ed Sheeran, The Beatles.. in fact just about every rock, pop, grime act wherever, started out playing on some small Music Venues across the country. Last year many of us went to see a gig at pubs, clubs, small concert halls. Now a charity which supports small music venues is warning that hundreds of them are at risk of closure after the charity missed out on funding from Arts Council England. If you run a small club in the country, maybe, I dunno, Sheffield, Leeds, wherever, and can just tell us about the financial challenges of just making the financial numbers add up in running a place like that, I’d love to speak to you – if you do call in it’s 0808 590 9693.

We’re talking about Small Music Venues and the dangers they’re in. I asked for your sort of favourite small music places to watch stuff and listen to stuff. The Picturedrome at Holmfirth says Graham Hind. Best small venue according to Sid is the Owl Sanctuary in Norwich. And The Greystones back room in Sheffield is one that Lynn suggests. Let’s speak to Beverley Whitrick who runs the Music Venue Trust. Now this is a charity which helps out places like this and you’re distressed that you haven’t had funding from Arts Council England. Is that about the size of it Beverley?

Beverley Whitrick (Music Venue Trust):
That’s the summary of the situation Adrian, although I have to say we’re three years old as an organisation and we have had some support over the last three years as we’ve developed our network and tried to explain to government funders etcetera, why our Grassroots Music Venues are so important. The thing that happened recently is, we were encouraged by Arts Council England to apply for three different grants for support to grow our organisation, and also to have some capital to invest into venues, and we’ve been turned down for all three. And what that means is that going forward after having spent three years of developing a strategic relationship, it feels like a real frustration that we’ve put lots of effort into explaining why our venues are so important and yet, that message hasn’t been heard by the decision makers about the funding.

Adrian:
I suppose, before we can judge them on whether the money has gone to the wrong place, we need to know who has got money instead of you. Now I know this often comes down to an argument between high art and low art. So you’d be dis-chuffed if you saw a load of money going to opera and classical here, when you know, the kind of acts that you support aren’t getting popular support.

Beverley:
I think it’s a really difficult argument particularly for someone like me, who’s worked actually in the arts for twenty-five years, so I really do get the thing about how difficult it is to make the decisions because there’s not enough money to go round. What we’re arguing at MVT is that the sorts of venues, the Grassroots Music Venues of the UK that we support are doing as important work developing new audiences as arts centres, as theatres, as concert halls, and they’re doing it across the whole of the UK. We have venues in quite small towns and cities, really reaching audiences there, and giving opportunities for artists that might come from a small town. They don’t all have to move to London in order to start out. And our network has an amazing reach; and that’s where the frustration lies, because of course I do get that classical music and opera are prestige arts and they have great audiences and what have you, and I’m not saying they don’t deserve funding. What I’m saying is, there’s a balance to be reached between what’s on offer, who can get to it, and also different tastes, you know. Not all of us are massive opera and classical music fans.

Adrian:
So where is it going wrong in sort of business terms? We’ll speak to somebody who runs a club like this shortly… The legendary 100 Club in London. But from what you’ve seen, to be a rational business the income has gotta exceed the expenditure, right. So which side of that isn’t working? Are these places paying too much out in rent or are they just not getting enough punters in to generate enough income?

Beverley:
It’s an absolute combination of lots of unintended consequences. What’s happened is that small venues are still run on the same model that they were in the 1970s, and the problem is that the finances no longer stack up, because of course rents have gone up, business rates have gone up, insurance has gone up, power costs more, the deals with breweries are less favourable than they used to be and lots of other premises have licenses. So people will quite normally go for a drink somewhere first, then come to the gig, then go on somewhere that’s got a late license, which lots of our venues don’t have. So the old argument that well I know it doesn’t make much money but at least you’ve got a bar is not longer paying for the running of these venues. Plus of course there’s so much competition for how people spend their spare time, and people love live music but of course festivals and bigger gigs are now so much more expensive that there is the concern that rather than going to you know, four local gigs a month, somebody’s saving up to go to one a month in a nearby city that costs so much more.

So it’s a massive combination of societal factors, a lot of economic factors… But also just the fact that these venues are kind of run on passion and they’re not really viable businesses, and that’s why we’ve been arguing that like the rest of the creative sector, they’re really worthy of support because they’re the research and development part of tomorrow’s music scene.

Adrian:
Okay. Let’s talk to Jeff Horton who runs the 100 Club. Now I suppose Jeff, I’m kind of a bit blasé about the 100 Club. I’ve been several times, I assume it always was there and always will be there. So how close to your margins are you?

Jeff Horton (100 Club, London):
Umm, we’re. yeah really close. I mean, because of where we’re situated, which is on some of the most expensive real estate, probably anywhere on the planet, and with crossrail opening across the road from us next year, rents where we are have just rocketed. The specific problem we have is that we were informed quite a long time ago that we’re actually the oldest live music venue anywhere on the planet. Certainly the oldest grassroots live music venue and it’s really really difficult for us to make a decision to move away to somewhere more affordable, because you’re leaving all that history and heritage behind and, in my case, I’m passionate about what I do because it’s a family business. It’s been in my family since 1958. My grandmother was a shareholder, my father he became a shareholder in 1964 after selling his record shop in Soho. And up the that point it had always been primarily a Jazz club, but he changed it, changed the name from The London Jazz Club to the 100 Club, because of it’s location at 100 Oxford Street.

Adrian:
Which means you can’t move really, can you?

Jeff:
Well, it’s gonna be very very difficult. I mean I’ve often said that running the 100 Club is like running a football club. You know, we have a huge range of people who are massive fans of the venue, which is actually quite unique I think. And they have certain beliefs on how it should be run, how it should look, and the fact that we have such an eclectic music policy has been one of those staple things. And so, there’s a kind of resonance amongst lots of different people from lots of different backgrounds. I mean the profile of people who have walked through that door and actually played on that stage or come to see a show there is absolutely huge. Even I find it remarkable, when I think about it.

Adrian:
So, with the rent, how punishing is it? Is that your main issue? If you got a deal from whoever owns the freehold there, if they said, look we’ll half it, would that make the difference.

Jeff:
Yeah, I mean rent is huge. It is absolutely huge… But also we’ve been hit, like all businesses with the business rates hike. In fact we’re going to the Rating Advisory Panel tomorrow, to try and do something about that because business rates have rocketed 40%. So it’s, yeah, the two main issues that we have are the fact that we’re on some very expensive real estate and the recent business rate hikes which have reached everybody. And you just feel whether you’re a grassroots music venue or whether you run a cafe: if you’re independent, of any kind, it’s just very, very, very difficult now to keep your head above water.

Adrian:
It is because I’ve got a friend who runs three shops just round that area right near you. And I know the problem isn’t independent shops, but you can’t manage the rent and then somebody will always come in and outbid you… one of the big multiples… it’ll end up a Paperchase or a Starbucks. Now you won’t have that problem cos it’s like a subterranean thing. But who would come in and take that from you? Would it be some fancy nightclub or something?

Jeff:
Well I mean, we have no idea. Obviously I own the license and I own the name the 100 Club. But we don’t obviously own the dwelling that we’re in within that building. And we nearly went under in 2010 with similar problems and I actually did quite a bit of research, and one of the really odd laws that there is that I’ve found out was that actually as a commercial leaseholder you cannot buy the lease unlike you can with a residential dwelling. So for me to actually… and my bank were actually really supportive at the time and said look we’ll just buy the lease, but actually I approached the landlords and they just said well you’ve gotta buy the whole building that’s how it works, that’s the law. So that’s another thing that really, really… And the other thing, there’s actually a law that states that commercial leases can only go up as well which is really odd because when you think of the economic and social climates that we’ve been through over the last 10 years. So we haven’t really recovered in my opinion from the crash in 2008, so there’s an economic consequence of that, which doesn’t make any sense either that rents can only go up. And also there’s the social one so for instance when we had the terror attackStuart:
7/7, 21/7 I mean anyone who ran a venue or ran anything in the West End will tell you that the place was dead for two, three years. So again that doesn’t reflect either economic changes or social changes and it just seems like a really, really strange thing. But that is actually a law.

Adrian:
Okay stay with us, Stuart Hatfield in Harrogate has called in. Stuart, you’ve given us an endless list of small places you like, you must be keeping them all going single handedly. I mean let me rattle them off: Deaf Institute in Manchester, Caroline Social Club in Shipley, Brewden Hall is it? – Social Club in Leeds and The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge. I mean do you go out, I mean how often do you get to these places?

Stuart:
Hi Adrian. Yeah, I mean, I’m 55 now, but I still go to a lot of gigs. When I was 15 punk rock happened and it sort of changed my life really. And I still, 40 years on try and get to at least one gig a week. In Harrogate there isn’t any real sort of small venues to play in, or to go and watch as a fan. So you know, I am lucky that I can get to places like the Brunell in Leeds, which is, it’s got a real sense of community. It’s a 100 year old social club. And at these smaller venues you can meet the band, you can get something signed by them, there’s always free parking nearby, it’s £10-£20 per ticket – whereas you know, if I was gonna watch somebody at Wembley Stadium it’d be £100 a ticket and I’d be watching it on a screen and then trying to watch through people’s phones.

Adrian:
As you go to these places, can I ask you, do you look around generally at these smaller venues and think blimey how do they make this pay? Is that what you think or do you see a thriving place where people have all paid their money to get in and they’re all paying at the bar and everyone’s having a great time. Do they feel like they’re rational businesses? Just to you as a punter.

Stuart:
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, most of the gigs that I go to are very well attended. Obviously as you get older and more sensible you can’t drink and drive, so if you do go to a gig you might only go to the bar once, but for locals if it’s in the city, then places like the Deaf Institute and the Caroline Social Club particularly are always thriving and it’s always a really good night. So I mean, I prefer the smaller venue because it’s intimate, you get a much better view of the concert you know, and there’s just more of a sense of community where the guy behind the bar might be the person who put it on. Such as, there’s a very small venue called the Old Laundrette in Durham, and it literally is a laundrette. I went to see Pete Williams the former Dexys guy play there a couple of months ago, and there’s forty people in a laundrette. But it was in the evening so obviously no one was doing their washing. But it just worked. You could buy a beer, you could get a coffee, you could hear every word he said and then meet him afterwards. And it was just a great experience.

Adrian:
Yes. I just wonder from your point of view Beverley, whether there’s enough education out there, for people on how to successfully run a club. And people do it from the love of it. I mean I’d love to do it but I’d be clueless cos I don’t really know what I’m doing, for that kind of thing. I mean is there enough training or advice before people go into that?

Beverley:
Well that’s a really good question, and that comes back to again how there’s a perception that these are businesses run by business people. Whereas if it was an arts centre or a theatre there would be an assumption that people would do apprenticeships or receive some training. I mean typically, the sorts of venues that we work with and those that Stuart was just talking about, they’re quite often musicians that start off thinking oh I’d like to get into promoting, and then they sort of work their way up and they might take on a venue. But I mean, could the business skills of the people running them be better? Yes of course they could, but until MVT was created three years ago, there was actually no mechanism for even looking at what was needed, or talking to the people that run the venues. They were all operating pretty much in isolation. And again, frustratingly, things like training, things like business support, things like further networking were exactly what we applied for funding from Arts Council England to improve.

Adrian:
And Jeff, how does it work with the bands? Who pays who there? Cos they need to promote their stuff. If you’ve got the next Ed Sheeran turning up and he’s presently penniless, but he’s gonna be a billionaire, are you paying him to play, or is he just playing in the hope of generating support? How does it work?

Jeff:
Yeah no, of course they get paid. So a deal will be done with the artists agent normally. It’s normally what they call a door split, which is a certain percentage of the door money after expense of being paid such as security, PA, any gear that needs hiring in etcetera. And the venue takes the bar. That’s how it kind of works at our level. And hopefully you sell things like merchandise and stuff like that. But yeah, no, the artists of course, they need to be paid. And with the record industry the way it is, it’s now also for artists the only form of income they’re getting. Cos a lot of them aren’t getting any money from recordings anymore.

Adrian:
So how would you feel about leaving the 100 Club – perish the thought, it’s a hypothetical question, it’s not gonna happen – but you know, running somewhere in Leeds, or I dunno, somewhere else where the rents aren’t gonna be massive. I expect they are in Leeds. But do you take my point, somewhere outside flippin’ Oxford Street.

Jeff:
Yeah, I mean first of all, it would be an enormous wrench. I think the first time I went to the 100 Club I was five. I’m fifty-six now, so over half a century ago. So there’s this very strong attachment, as I mentioned earlier on, there’s the heritage and the history, it just cannot be undervalued, that. I mean it’s just staggering, you know the people who’ve played there from every corner of the globe and sort of form of music, so it would be a huge wrench. But the pressures that we’re under at the moment mean that the idea that, I don’t think I would ever sort of try and recreate the 100 Club cos I don’t think that can possibly be done, you know, it’s always been at 100 Oxford Street, and if we can’t carry on there then the possibility is that I would probably try and start another project maybe in a community where we’re more appreciated. And there’s a lot of great hubs around the country. You’ve got Manchester, Bristol, Norwich, there’s a lot of places, it’s not just London. And in actual fact I think London itself, needs to sort of show that it still appreciates the live Music Venues that it has. As does the UK to be honest with you because this isn’t just a London-centric problem, it’s a problem all over the country. But in London in particular it’s getting really, really difficult trying to run a live music venue.

Adrian:
And what’s been your favourite all time gig there?

Jeff:
Oh I get asked that all the time, it’s impossible.

Adrian:
Oh go on, come up with one for me.

Jeff:
Oh alright. I’d probably say, Queens of the Stone Age in 2008.

Adrian:
Right. Excellent answer. Best of luck Jeff. Keep fighting the good fight. Jeff Horton, who runs the 100 Club in London. Beverly from the MVT, go on, pick me one gig in a small place that lifted you off your feet.

Beverley:
Oh, Divine Comedy in the Splash Club in 1996.

Adrian:
Excellent answer. I like you on your specifics. Best of luck with the MVT Beverly, and I hope you get some funding and help keep some of these places going. Thank for all your texts. The Leeds Brunell Social Club keeps coming up time and again, I must pay that place a visit. And the Berry Met is another one and Mark in Lancashire says I was also lucky enough to see Liam Frost at the Artisan. Also Matt Bamforth in Huddersfield says we just had a mini music festival this weekend in our garage. Ten live acts throughout the day on Saturday, brilliant day, sixty people enjoying a great mix of music from solo acoustic stuff to an amazing local garage rock band called Drop Top Panza. They call it Bamfest… we’re having another one, Bamfest 2018. – Well done with that Matt.

2017-10-04T23:41:00+00:00 July 18th, 2017|

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