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