The Half Moon is under threat. No, not THIS half moon, (photo by Rob Goldsmith),but the landmark music venue in Putney. I went to sit in with Dick Laurie’s band, and to find out more.
The Half Moon has been presenting live music since 1963. People who have played there on their way up in the world include the Rolling Stones, Stevie Winwood, U2, Kate Bush and Ralph McTell. It is a seven-nights-a-week venue with a capacity of 200.
Youngs want to turf the existing tenant out on 31st Jan 2010. They seem to have other plans for the site which do not involve live music. The existing staff have been given their notice. People are talking about gastropubs, but most people I met there yesterday are assuming that it will have been knocked down for residential accommodation within about 18 months.
These small venues are far more important than that.
“The real shop floor for musical talent is pubs and clubs, that is where the original work is. But they are being closed down on a daily basis. It is impossible to put an act on in a pub. It has become too expensive through excessive regulations. The music industry has been hugely important to England, bringing in millions. If anyone thinks the X Factor is going to do that, they are wrong.”
Sting, intervewed by Geordie Greig, Evening Standard, 11.11.09
Young’s used to be a family-owned brewing company with more of a sense of the wider role and responsibilities. These days they describe themselves as just a “retail company.” And its board’s priorities these days are clear, being serviced by only two committees, one for audit and one for remuneration.
There are some wider issues here-I guess that social responsibility is might be a bit too soft and girl-y for this board of directors. Young’s need a wake-up call.
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This Evening Standard story gets most of the facts. I will return to this subject – feeling under the weather today – but here’s the Facebook Group
I'm alarmed at the rate at which small to medium sized venues are closing too. I think excessive regulation is partly to blame, along with often unrealistic licence fees imposed by the PRS. I'm a jazzer and would quickly leave the country if Ronnie Scotts became my only option for live jazz in London. I have nothing against RS but I prefer the smaller more intimate venues (you know who you are)where the music can be more on the free side and the prices kept low'ish.
It's hard to be a small venue, especially for music like jazz where there is less and less opportunity to be viewed as “commercial”. Small venues in the pop world thrived up to a few years ago because there was always the prospect for a pop band to get a record deal (so that they would be willing to play cheaplly to get heard) and for audiences to hear about the music. Now less so than ever. Food and drink are crucial. The Spitz is now a restaurant and the original Vortex is now Nando's. The Octave is now gone, the stage presumably replaced by a few more tables for diners or for a cocktail bar.
Meanwhile, small venues which try to remain independent need extra sources of funding. Unfortunately little chance of that from the Arts Council, which has little to give away (unless you are regularly funded).
A conundrum, but thank God that the jazz scene (like its musicians and the music) is stubborn and looks to the long term)
Its tough being a small venue – although its best for punters, its often hard for the venue to make money but that's normally made up for by selling booze at the bar. Wouldn't it be nice if Sting and all the other big names that have gone on to make a success of it revisited these smaller venues for exclusive gigs? Would give them some much needed PR and support all round… so c'mon Sting, money where yer mouth is!
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