Oliver Weindling of the Vortex attended a day organized by the Music Venue Trust, which is “a charity created in January 2014 to protect, secure & develop the Grassroots Live Music Venues in the UK.” Oliver writes:
Music Venues Day took place for the second year at the Ministry of Sound. It is an event for smaller music venues, looking at their current state and various ways of cutting costs and improving revenues. The sector has clearly been galvanised by the enthusiasm and focus of the Music Venues Trust since it was started in January 2014 and there was much to be learnt.
Small venues are, as we know in the jazz world, a centre for a wide variety of communities, from fans through to locals through to musicians. As was pointed out, the ‘toilet circuit’ has acted as the first stage for many up and coming bands. The first start of most musicians was given in small venues. Many have iconic histories and a passion for survival. But, as radio DJ Steve Lamacq pointed out, most of the venues for Oasis’s first big tour in 1994 are now closed.
With rising rents, rates, developers breathing down venues’ necks and licensing regulation, grassroots venues are under pressure and passion/stubbornness may not be enough. A new report (link below) from a Mayor’s task force in London, involving Jeff Horton, owner of the 100 Club, highlighted that the number of small venues has declined by 35 % in London alone since 2008. It’s a very well thought through report and hopefully some local authorities, not just in the capital, will be able to translate recommendations, such as zero rates, and agency of change, which makes residential developers responsible for any sound proofing of venues, into actions.
Certainly though the venues aren’t taking these dangers lying down: for example, there was a relatively positive discussion including Culture Minister Ed Vaizey and his new shadow, Michael Dugher. There were also some practical discussions on branding, fundraising, new ways of raising finance and how to entice fans to hear the music.
There were relatively few jazz venues there. Perhaps because, outside London, most jazz promoters are actually based in specific locations. Let’s hope that the momentum achieved at the meeting can be translated into a reversal of the downward trend. Difficult to achieve but not impossible, as most of us involved are long-term optimists. A new trade association, the Music Venues Alliance, is now being set up.