Music Venue Trust’s fourth Venues Day event took place in south London today, where a group of industry experts – comprising MPs, venue managers and promoters – got together to discuss some of the biggest challenges facing independent venues in the UK right now.
New legislation to protect music venues from closure was unveiled by UK Music chief Michael Dugher, and DJ Steve Lamacq brought the room to a standstill with an impassioned speech about a venue in his hometown that shut in December last year.
The event also hosted panel discussions on a number of issues, including security in venues, publicising shows and where to find the next generation of gig-goers. And brand new for 2017, the Sandbox area provided a space for regional venues to talk to booking agents about getting acts into their venues.
Here are five things we learned from Venues Day 2017 at the Ministry of Sound.
1. Steve Lamacq is very passionate about nurturing grassroots venues in the UK
BBC 6 Music DJ Steve Lamacq delivered a heartfelt speech to kick off the day, talking about the importance of local venues to support unsigned bands. The music journalist became teary as he talked about his old 'stomping ground', The Square in Harlow, which shut down in December 2016. Despite a new premises being promised by the local council, the site remains closed and there are few alternative options in the area.
"The Square itself still stands there, slowly beginning to crumble, eight months on," he said. "A shell of our youth, our dreams and a warning of the future."
He then asked if any members of the audience knew the planning inspectorate at the council, saying: "Could you please tell them how upset and absolutely furious I am, not just because we've lost that great venue, but because there's still someone out there who doesn't understand."
2. UK Music is backing an Agent of Change bill to protect venues threatened with closure
UK Music chief Michael Dugher unveiled a plan to protect grassroots venues from closure, forcing property developers to consider the impact their schemes could have on nearby music venues.
John Spellar MP, who will spearhead the campaign in Parliament, welcomed the bill being included in Sadiq Khan's next London Plan, as while Agent of Change is currently included in planning laws in the UK, it is not compulsory.
Agent of Change essentially means those responsible for a change in planning are responsible for managing the impact of the change.
For example, in 2009, the Ministry of Sound was approached by a property developer who said he was going to build luxury apartments 20 metres away from the club's entrance. Ministry of Sound CEO Lohan Presencer was told by the developer if the new residents complained about the noise, he would shut the club down. After months of legal battles, the club won unique protection from any complaints to result in action (i.e closure). If the people moving into those flats were aware that there could be some noise disruption when they bought they flat, they wouldn't have any rights to threaten the club after having moved in. But, as Presencer explained to the room, Ministry of Sound were able to win this protection due to high-profile backing and necessary funding. Lots of small venues won't have that, making the Agent of Change an important piece of legislation for Parliament to get behind.
3. The UK’s first ever live music census will be published in February 2018
“The more data we have the better,” explained researcher Emma Watson, who is currently working on the first UK Live Music Census with fellow researcher Adam Behr. The duo explained the work they are doing to capture data and information about live music in the UK – the fastest growing sector in the music industry. After a pilot survey in Edinburgh, the researchers are responding to an “appetite for data from policy-makers, local authorities, campaign and membership groups”. This need for hard cold facts formed the basis of the panel ‘Facts Matter: Changing Opinions’, where venue owners and policy makers discussed the need for statistics to enforce change, rather than venue owners simply relaying anecdotal evidence. The UK Live Music Census will assess the economic, cultural and social value of live music, and the challenges facing the sector. It is due to be published in February 2018.
4. The conversation about security at venues needs to be more open
There is no doubt that events from the past few years have completely changed the way we view security at venues. Tragic attacks at the Bataclan in Paris and Manchester Arena were discussed as part of the ‘Safety Matters: Who’s Looking After These People?’ panel, along with ways in which to remain vigilant.
Among topics of sexual harassment at gigs and incorporating safe spaces at venues, the role of the security guard was also discussed. Musician Frank Turner, who has worked with SafeGigs4Women, spoke about the recent news of rock band Neck Deep pulling out of their Nottingham show due to heavy-handed security.
“You have a particular view from the stage, you can’t see everything that’s happening in the audience but you can see what’s happening at the barrier with security,” Turner commented. “If you see something that’s unacceptable, let the venues know that that kind of thing does happen. It’s about everyone in the room, and ensuring that music, and the spaces where we do music, are places where we can promote the values that we care about.”
Live events and live music is the current target, and we have to recognise that," he added. "We have to raise that level of security, be vigilant and put more things in place so that we are more difficult to infiltrate
Dan Lloyd, owner and manager at the The Railway Inn in Winchester, said: “We’re living in a whole new reality when it comes to security, it doesn’t matter if you’re Wembley Stadium or a 150-cap tiny venue, everyone has to do as much as they can do. The good news is people are coming to gigs expecting to get searched, so it’s more of a collaborative thing between venues and the crowds.
“Live events and live music is the current target, and we have to recognise that,” he added. “We have to raise that level of security, be vigilant and put more things in place so that we are more difficult to infiltrate.”
5. Music Venue Trust needs your help
Music Venue Trust was set up in 2014 to support grassroots venues across the UK. Strategic director Beverley Whitrick explained that it has now grown to a place where “we are beyond our ability to support all our members”. She stressed the need for an important discussion to be had about how the charity can be supported financially to ensure it can continue to develop.