Music venues are hubs for entrepreneurship. Cities should support them

London's Denmark Street: a whole music quarter, on its way out. Image: Getty.

In 2014, according to CAMRA, pubs were closing at a rate of 31 per week. This is actually down, from over 50 per week in previous years – but nonetheless it reveals that our leisure habits are changing to a lifestyle that requires less local pubs to cater to our needs.

It isn’t just pubs, though. Over the last 12 months, over 30 music venues have closed down for a variety of reasons – from increased rents, to noise complaints, to redevelopment. In some cases, they went because they were in pubs that closed, such as The Grosvenor in Stockwell, which has been repurposed by Golfate, an Isle of Man property developer. We have seen the loss of the Freebutt and The Blind Tiger in Brighton, the 200 Club in Newport, the Kazimier in Liverpool, and Madame Jo Jo’s, The Buffalo Bar and every venue on Denmark Street in London.

Each closed for different reasons – but with less music venues than pubs, the problems felt by those who use them has been more acute. In response, the Greater London Authority has created the Mayor of Greater London’s Live Music Task Force to work with councils to incorporate venues into the debate around planning, land values, regeneration and the city’s cultural make-up; other councils have created funding structures around venues, such as The Waterfront in Norwich.  

Every article I have read that calls on us to support small venues makes a similar argument: if small venues disappear, developing artists have no outlet to practice their craft and increase their audience – or customer – base.

But I want to make a different case. My argument is that venues should be provided with the same support through our local authorities and governance structure as innovation hubs or cluster development structures. Because this is what a venue is: it is a hub for entrepreneurship, cross discipline innovation and business development. It is a place when Britain’s IP is developing, its businesses are trading and new products are being introduced, song by song.

If one breaks a successful, modern venue down into its component parts, the music is one spoke in a larger wheel: they don’t just create businesses in the creative sector, but also in technology and IP. Take Under The Bridge in Fulham, a venue housed inside Stamford Bridge Football Stadium, that houses an in-house LED screen, state-of-the-art speakers and live streaming capabilities. All the artists that use the space have access to that technology, spurning cross-disciplinary innovation and new ideas, not only for the product manufacturers, but also for the musical copyright holders, the bands.

Or take another example, my local pub in Forest Gate, The Wanstead Tap. By day it hosts day care services, yoga classes and birthdays; in the evening it puts on folk concerts, film screenings and dinner parties. Here is a venue that is cross-pollinating a number of creative sectors, offering incubation support to childcare, hospitality, film and, as always, music.

We do not look at venues as innovation hubs. One reason is that the term has yet to be properly defined (so says Oxford University); when used, it’s usually focused on the manufacturing of a product, be it an app or a new piece of technology.

But venues are not manufacturing sites – they are testing areas. New songs are trialled, that could become the most important three minutes of IP in an entire sector. The technology to support that ecosystem – from the lights and sound to the equipment hire, make-up of the stage, fridges, ticketing systems and so on – is all being tested, too. Each of these variables houses its own innovative sector – and each are combined in a venue.

And yet, in Britain, venues are closing.

In France and Germany, the state offers them capital for restoration and management capacities. I don’t believe that public funding is the answer here, but we must take more time to understand why we develop spaces – because this argument is not being aired each time a venue closes its doors.

We rely on innovation, the testing of new ideas and risk-taking in our business community. Yet we are closing the places that best service this for not only the music sector, but also a number of other, too. Let’s change this debate.

Shain Shapiro is the managing director of Sound Diplomacy, the world's leading music market development agency.

The first Music Cities Convention will be held in Brighton on 13 May



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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