Love London’s live music – save grassroots music

Everyone loves a good gig, am I right? And more so, if you really love gigs, you love the old, the small, the quirky, the cool music venues that have been home to the formation or at least part of the success of many a band you know and love now. Now imagine these venues were all to go away. Imagine your favourite indie band had no small venues around the corner to put them on stage. Imagine the only way for a band to get signed would be to keep sending demos and performing on the streets and, well, trying out for X Factor. Gruesome right? Now imagine the only gigs you could go to would be your standard arenas, no intimate gigs, no small bands to discover and love and bug all your friends all day long how awesome they are. And, bare with me, on top of this, imagine this all happening in the city of London, that has been the birthplace of legends, the home of many a more or less successful band. Sounds pretty awful if you ask me.

One of the reasons I fell in love with London when I moved here three years ago was the abundance of gigs to go to. The sheer variety of genres and cross overs and little nooks to discover the next band to fill up your iPod. Where I grew up, there wasn’t much of a music scene. Small town, a village even. The most musical thing about my childhood was my dad listening to Springsteen and Pink Floyd, his vinyl collection from the black markets of East Germany in the 70s and 80s, and me blasting my stereo for hours every day until it broke. Even the big bands would not come around much on their tours, it would always be at least a 3 hour drive to the next mega city. But to be fair, there wasn’t much to be inspired by for any band to write about. Moving to London for a Master’s degree in event marketing, I was bound to come across a few cute venues, but little did I know what was hidden behind the typical tourist places. Every single venue I’ve been to has had it’s own charm, no matter the size. But yet I find, it is the small venues, that care about grassroots music, that are happy to put on a band that no one knows to give them a chance. Let’s face it, we probably wouldn’t have our Frank Turners, Libertines, Ed Sheerans, Adeles and Royal Bloods if it wasn’t for them. And what a sad world it would be if all we had was X Factor popstars – this is not to dismiss these concepts, everyone has their own taste and in the end there is a reason the shows are so popular. Nonetheless, you can’t deny that a band who had to work for their success will generally appreciate it a little more. As Frank Turner would say “I want bands who had to work for their keep, drove a thousand miles and played a show with no sleep.” – Right on, Frank!

Now what’s the big deal you ask? Here’s what’s happening, in a nutshell. There are two sides to this. A) Anyone can complain to the council that the pub/venue next door/downstairs is too loud. When this happens enough times, the pub/venue needs to shut down as they can’t afford to put on any more gigs due to complaints constantly pouring in. B) Venues are being closed because new apartment buildings are going up instead. Neither sounds great. We don’t want London to lose its charm, we don’t need another soul-less metropolitan city. The world has enough New Yorks and L.A.’s. Since 2007, London has lost over a third of its grassroots music venues to greedy landowners. This means, while the pub or music owner may be all in for keeping the venue open and keeping grassroots music going, he/she is essentially just renting the space as well. If the landowner receives a nice little offer from a development firm who want to build apartments and maybe even offer a cut of the profits, who could say no? Money rules the world, unfortunately. What the council, landowners and developers forget is that night life is what makes an area hip. Why else would Shoreditch be the place to live at the moment? It surely is not the tube connection. Last but not least, let’s not forget the £3.8 billion …. YES, billion… of revenue that is fed into the UK’s economy every year by the creative industry. You say “Why do I care?” – you could slave away at work all day, trying to afford those brand new apartments that have gone up in the same place you used to have those crazy awesome nights out, the same places that housed all your shenanigans, the place that were your reasons to live, love, and dance. Or you could support your music venues, and help keep this network that gives this city its soul alive.

Just roughly 18 months ago, the Music Venue Trust was founded. A fantastic organisation whose sole goal it is to save the UK’s live music circuit, most importantly the ‘toilet circuit’ venues that aided in the development of British music to what we know and love today (venues include iconic places like Tunbridge Wells Forum, The 100 Club or Hull Adelphi). They are whole-heartedly supported by various musicians including Frank Turner, Neil Hannon, Enter Shikari and Savages.

Now recent developments seem to show a light at the end of the tunnel, at least for London. Mayor Boris Johnson voiced his support for the campaign and the Agent Of Change principle, which basically means that developers need to mitigate potential conflicts between new developments and live music venues. This has helped venues like Ministry of Sound stay open. Read London’s Grassroots Music Venues Rescue Plan, it’ll tell you everything you need to know and was put together by the Mayor’s Music Venue Taskforce (how cool does that sound, by the way?). The report, says Johnson, will shape the long term action plan to safeguard and revive London’s live music network.


Overall, what I’m trying to say is two things: 1) if you live next to a live music venue, don’t be a douche. You chose to live there. 2) support the Music Venue Trust however and whenever you can. They do great great things for this city and its amazing music scene. And if you work in a music venue that isn’t under threat, help your brothers and sisters. We’re all in this together. If we, the lovers of live music, the people working in live music, bands and politicians, don’t save these venues and stand up for what we love, London’s live music circuit will soon be a thing of music history. Let’s not let that happen.

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