The State of The Nation
First the good news. Congratulations to our friends and partners at Independent Venue Week on another fantastic year shining a light on music venues. The support from BBC Radio 6 Music was amazing and it was great to hear so many personal stories from venues right across the UK featured on Steve Lamacq’s show. And the huge and important breakthrough, after three years of fighting, on Agent of Change is a real testament to what can be achieved with great partners like UK Music and Musicians’ Union. Progress is being made.
But all this is happening against a backdrop where Grassroots Music Venues are continuing to close. This week alone has seen announcements of closure from Bristol Bierkeller and Proud Camden, and wrecking balls arriving to tear down Sound Control. The Montague Arms and The Forge, Camden demonstrate a worrying new trend in London, the sudden closure, while right across the country venues are contacting us through our Emergency Response service with threats from developers, licensing, business rates, and just plain old economics.
King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut has no less than three separate developments being built around it, none of which recognise the iconic value of the venue, while it would be quicker to name the venues in Bristol not threatened by development than to run through every case. All six of our key Bristol members of the Music Venues Alliance have current or future development challenges.
The Rainbow Venues is closed – there’s a lot to talk about why, and what this means about Licensing, but it’s not the first and won’t be the last venue dealing with the outcome of a licensing process which is contributing to venue closures, as fabriclondon can testify.
Three venues have already closed because of ridiculous Business Rates hikes, with venues hit last year by an average 38% increase. The Fleece Bristol wins the record for highest increase, at over 400%, with The Lexington and The 100 Club not far behind.
Six venues are being threatened by lawyers acting on behalf of PRS for Music to enforce bills they cannot pay for money that never existed, with over 30 other of our smallest venues under financial pressure directly resulting from the PRS minimum fee charge.
The Greys needs Enterprise Inns Plc to see sense and let the community take over, Random Arms & Energy Room needs the landlord to see sense and let it continue, The Flapper needs Birmingham City Council to see sense and throw out the planning application, and don’t get us started on Woking Council who can’t seem to manage to let Fiery Bird get going at all.
This is all, believe it or not, an average day in our office. If the message is getting through that our grassroots music venues are important, and it appears it is, then why is all this still happening?
Stopping the closure of Grassroots Music Venues won’t be done by one single piece of legislation. It won’t be turned around just because we all finally accept that Grassroots Music Venues are economically, culturally and socially vital. It needs real, comprehensive action by key stakeholders that responds to the needs of venues. Many of those stakeholders are, frankly, sitting on their hands with a dismayed look on their faces.
There is a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport inquiry taking place into live music with a focus on Grassroots Music Venues. It needs to come back urgently with real positive steps.
There is a Creative Industries Sector Deal being carved out by Creative Industries Federation and others. It needs to recognise what’s happening to Grassroots Music Venues and actually do something.
There is a Tariff LP review by PRS for Music that has been going on for over 2 years. We’ve asked repeatedly that PRS sidestep this process and simply cancel minimum fee. We need a complete reset of the relationship between Grassroots Music Venues and PRS writers.
A Business Rates review specific to Grassroots Music venues is urgently needed. The government should not be in the business of contributing to venue closures because of a poor valuations process and Sajid Javid should call this in for review.
The average rate of subsidy for Grassroots Music Venues across Europe is 35% of turnover. While repeatedly acknowledging the crisis in Grassroots Music Venues, in the NPO distribution 2018-22, Arts Council England funding for the sector equated to:
i. 0.06% of the total distribution
ii. 0.3% of the distribution to Music
iii. 3.5% of the distribution to Contemporary Music
The Royal Opera House receives more from ACE every two weeks than all the Grassroots Music Venues in the country receive in a year. Sage Gateshead receives 14 times the amount the entire network of Grassroots Music Venues receive. Funding for Opera and Classical music is 317 times (31700%) the funding Grassroots Music Venues receive.
If we want to stop Grassroots Music Venues closing, we can do it. We can create a basket of measures that recognises their real value to people. We already know what those measures are and we know who can take them. Music Venue Trust has worked hard for three years to pull together all the information anybody needs to stop this happening.
We just need everybody to stop talking about it and take action.
Photo: Sound Control Manchester