London has lost a quarter of its live music venues in just eight years. It needs to rethink its policies

Denmark Street, the historic heart of London's music industry. Image: Getty.

Last week, two bodies that represent major record labels, Music Canada and the IFPI, teamed up to publish a landmark study, The Mastering of a Music City. The report’s goal was to qualify and quantify the term “music city”: what it means, how to create one and if it’s worthwhile.

After surveying 22 cities, the study concluded that music, when incorporated into municipal policy, improves public spaces, licensing and noise issues and most importantly, quality of life. To achieve that, it said, a city needs to consider seven specific factors. Here’s the list:

  • Music- and musician-friendly policies;
  • Having a music office or music officer;
  • Establishing a music advisory board, within council chambers;
  • Engagement of the broader music community – that is, listeners, consumers, those who use music as a conduit to sell other things (restaurants, fashion outlets, hotels);
  • Access to space and places;
  • Audience development;
  • Music tourism.

The report also listed a number of cities that were successfully doing this, including Toronto, Melbourne, Austin, and Nashville.

It also listed London. Representatives of the Greater London Authority (GLA) told the researchers that they were attempting to make the British capital a richer city through musical capacity, engagement and outreach.

In many cases, this is true. London has a live music task force (a sort-of advisory council), a music officer and a wide music tourism offering, ranging from the Proms to Hyde Park’s concerts. Just last week, according to trade body UK Music, the UK’s music tourism takings hit £3.8bn per year; a good amount of this is spent in London.

However, if London is a music city, then we must ask how that makes it a better, more liveable city for all of us. The opportunities to experience music in licensed venues have shrunk. Over 350 venues existed in 2007; now, according to the Music Venue Trust, under 260 remain. New licensing provisions, such as the one Hackney Council recently sent out for consultation, are making the case for restricting the night time economy.

There are examples of groups using music to make London better, too. The Cathedral Group, a large property developer, is placing music at the heart of its pitch to buyers in selling The Old Vinyl Factory development, the former site of EMI in Hayes. There, music will feature in everything; place names, leisure activities and branding. 


But these solutions remain piecemeal and patchwork. For London to become more of a music city, we must accept that this is a strategy to promote and enhance London as a whole. We need a strategy that’s city wide, rather than borough-led.

More music encourages more usage of 24-hour transport – along with the West End, the adult entertainment community, and late night eateries. A multi-borough music strategy would be better placed to examine these impacts.

Borough-led enforcement creates inconsistencies, too: things that are ordinance violations in one part of London but not in another. Take busking. It would cost us less money for us to accept one busking policy across the capital, rather than supporting buskers in one council while arresting them in another.

Promoting London as a music city would also help us to tackle the raft of venue closures, the latest of which – The Purple Turtle in Mornington Crescent – was announced only last week. It would help us to understand why our venues are where they are and what that means for audience development, both inside and outside the gig-going community.

Few people would classify Croydon as a “musical borough” – yet it houses The Brit School, many festivals and an engaging music education strategy. In my own neighbourhood, Forest Gate, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Burdon played on Boxing Day in 1967, in the Forest Gate Hotel. It’s now closed. We need more such spaces to allow future stars to incubate; and we need to recognise London as a music city to make this possible.

If we analyse, mull over and approach the seven recommendations in the report, London will be a better city for it. And we don’t have to be musicians or music industry professionals to call for such change. If we value music in our lifts, our shopping malls, our tube stations and restaurants, not to mention our venues and streets, we should all say, unequivocally, that London is a music city. Right now, we’re not all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Not all cities should be music cities. But all cities should cater to, encourage and support music as an economic driver, from tourism to cultural offering and job creation and business development. London, however, is not just any other city. It is a world leader – it’s time that, musically, it acted like it.

Shain Shapiro is the managing director of Sound Diplomacy,a leading music market development agency, and the founder of the Music Cities Convention.

 
 
 
 

Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.


At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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