This week’s guest post on the vital importance of live venues for upcoming artists is written by new music advocate, Listening Post regular and Friend Of Freshnet Rob Ball
If you are reading this then it is highly likely that you are either a musician, work in the industry or like me a new music fan. One thing we all have in common is a love of music, especially live music and have probably been to at least 5 gigs this year over and above festivals. Grass roots live music is under threat from a shortage of great venues and action and support is needed now to help ensure we don’t lose more. Many of us will be able to remember the time we saw that famous act play in a small venue before becoming major stars. Our friends and family will have heard us talk about it many a time! It is these small venues that are most under threat.
These small venues are the very life blood of the music industry especially now when the main revenue for many artists comes from playing live not from records. Typically an act will have started playing on the local circuit before supporting an up and coming touring band locally. The next move is to support a headline band on a tour before heading out on their own first headline tour. This rite of passage is vital for them to learn their craft. Many musicians are very talented, we get to hear 25 plus great acts a week here on The Listening Post, but they need to learn to perform, to engage an audience and very few can do that from the start. It is for many a learnt art, learnt and fine-tuned from gigging on the “Toilet” circuit. Without this it is unlikely that they will become major acts.
I watched Eliza and the Bear last week perform a great 50 minute set in front of 600 fans at 02 Islington. The songs, performance and engagement were excellent. 20 months ago I watched them 400m away at The Old Queens Head in a room above the pub. There were about 25 non-friends or family. The talent was clear to see but the set was a rushed 20 minutes and there was little performance or connection with the audience. In the last 20 months they have played festivals and the “Toilet” circuit week in week out. In a few months’ time they are likely to be on many a “Rising Stars of 2015” list and rightly so. Without the experience of playing so many small venues they wouldn’t have made it to where they are now. These venues are nearly always run by people with a passion for music and commercially it is really really hard. Long hours, low income, hassle and financial worries. We salute their passion.
The commercial pressure notwithstanding, they are coming more and more under threat of closure from neighbours complaining about noise levels. Especially those who move above/close to an existing venue and then complain to the local council. It is highly likely that the venue will for years have worked closely with their neighbours to come to an amicable agreement on what is and what isn’t acceptable. Then someone comes in and complains. The councils are duty bound to investigate and the problems start. It isn’t restricted to music venues. The person who moves next to a church that has rung the bells for centuries on a Sunday and complains can have the same effect. Personally I live near a military training area it’s been there for 70 years and following recent building development there are numerous complaints about helicopter noise, which the local majority have learnt to accept.
To me it defies logic that you can move somewhere and then complain about something that has been going on at the same level for a number of years and then get it closed down. Yet that is what is happening up and down the country. When it happens there is additional cost to fight it and that alone for a music venue can be a tipping point into closure. It is all legal and allowable due to badly drawn up regulations and councils often have no choice but upholding the complaint. They then hand out enforcement orders which the venues can’t comply with without losing the ability to play live music at a volume that is acceptable to gig goers or musicians alike. The worst case is closure and yet another venue lost.
There is an answer though: change the ludicrous legislation.
This is where you come in. We need to pressure the government to make changes to the legislation and the Music Venue Trust is spearheading a campaign to get things changed. The Music Venue Trust is a charity that was created in January 2014 to protect the UK live music network, with the ultimate aim of funding regional venues. Their current campaign aims to get the government to adopt the “Agent of Change” principle.
The Trust say “The Agent of Change Principle is not complicated or controversial, it’s simple common sense: The person or business responsible for the change is responsible for managing the impact of the change. This means that an apartment block to be built near an established live music venue would have to pay for soundproofing, while a live music venue opening in a residential area would be responsible for the costs. A resident who moves next door to a music venue would, in law, be assessed as having made that decision understanding that there’s going to be some music noise, and a music venue that buys a new PA would be expected to carry out tests to make sure its noise emissions don’t increase.”
It’s a principle that has been adopted in Australia and Bristol City Council applied it when the planning conditions next to The Fleece contained a requirement for the developer to ensure sufficient soundproofing. The Trust has set up a petition with support from the likes of Frank Turner to try and force action of one form or another. If you like your new music and want to help safeguard the industry we are so proud of – and our musician’s livelihoods – then head over to the petition and add your name to the 27,000 who have already done so. If just under 8,000 more sign, then the government has to formally consider it and also respond. That’s the rules.
Once you have done that then please look at what is on locally this month and commit to going to that one extra gig. Every gig goer helps sustain our great history of producing wonderful live musicians year after year.
Rob is a passionate lover and supporter of new music, for whom records and live performances have been a perennial part of his life since the age of 12. He’s always keen to check out other people’s new music discoveries and can be reached on Twitter as @oldierob