Last week was Independent Venue Week, when the music industry, artists and fans come together to celebrate and champion everything that is positive about UK music. In terms of the world’s stage it probably isn’t too outlandish to say that we’re the headliner you hang around for, despite the fact you’re realistically never going to make it into work on time tomorrow.
But there’s a problem. It’s a well-documented reality that UK music and our unique culture and heritage are under constant threat. In towns and cities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland music venues are fighting a passionate battle with councils and developers over land – a battle that, sadly, grassroots venues very seldom win, despite public outcry and enthusiastic support.
In the past year, the north of England has seen some of its most vibrant and important venues close. Manchester has said goodbye to Sound Control, Liverpool has waved farewell to the Magnet and Mint Club in Leeds hosted its last party little over a month ago, quoting “extensive redevelopment” as the final nail in the coffin after two decades of live music and infamous parties.
Of course, it’s not all bad. Skiddle – a champion of independence, up-and-coming artists and grassroots events – has seen the number of gigs and the number of venues using our site increase year on year. We have also seen new spaces defiantly open despite harsher restrictions, tighter budgets and a wave of competition.
Sunbird Records in Darwen is one such venue. In this small and unassuming town, Sunbird opened its doors and immediately caused quite a stir in the neighbourhood. Originally a decommissioned bank, the start-up was launched by local lads looking to give a platform to alternative music and culture in an area sorely lacking in affordable and accessible live entertainment. As well as a gig venue, Sunbird is home to a recording studio, pizza restaurant and bar. Attracting artists from a range of genres, this community hub is proof that live music and local development can co-exist in harmony. With backing from local MPs and music fans buying tickets in droves, it seems that Sunbird has a bright future, bolstering the local economy and giving artists and music lovers a space to share and enjoy.
So, what’s next? It’s clear that without these independent venues and the promoters who work tirelessly to organise live music events that cater to a range of tastes, the UK music scene as we know it will never be the same. Arctic Monkeys, Ed Sheeran and Adele didn’t start their careers playing stadium gigs and selling out a run at the O2 Arena. Instead, they plied their trade, gigging for a couple of pints or petrol money in local spaces like the Ferret in Preston, Waterloo Music Bar in Blackpool and the Old Courts in Wigan. Independent venues – buzzing with personality and reeking of creativity – are where artists hone their craft, music fans champion the stars of tomorrow and small-time promoters learn from the best. It’s this we need to protect if we don’t want every town and city to look, feel and act like a walking chain restaurant.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. If we look at Liverpool as an example – a musical city, constantly in flux – we have seen a wave of new music venues pop up, despite mass development and gentrification of the city centre. People will always have a thirst for new music, exposing talent and dancing like no one is watching, and no amount of office blocks, noise complaints and red tape will ever stop that.
Victoria Bamber is head of communications at Skiddle (skiddle.com).