How communities are saving the UK’s live music venues from closure

Sir Paul McCartney showed a preview of his set to 850 people at a small venue in Somerset the night before he headlined Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage.

Why? Because he wanted support for a grassroots venue that had pioneered a model for ownership in the UK that is saving some our most beloved music venues from closing.

The UK has lost a quarter of its independent music venues in the last 20 years. These venues include iconic spots like The Cockpit Leeds and The Roadhouse Manchester, which played a crucial role in the rise of bands like Muse and Biffy Clyro.

Over the past few decades, local gig spots have suffered from noise complaints, gentrification and increasing property prices. Then came the pandemic. During Covid-19, music venues acquired more than £90m of new debt.

The Cheese and GrainMcCartney’s set was performed in Frome by McCartney. It was saved by locals, who made it a member-owned social venture twenty years ago. It’s only now that the idea has begun to gather momentum.

Mark Davyd was the founder of The Music Venue Trust in 2014 to preserve the UK’s local music scene, believes something radical is happening. “Since we launched, the number of not-for-profit music venues has ballooned from 3 per cent to 26 per cent today,” he says.

To capitalize on the surge in interest, he launched a campaign. #OwnOurVenues – aiming to raise £2.5m to buy the freehold of nine spaces and put them into the hands of music fans. This will be in addition to the free legal advice that the charity provides for over 900 UK venues regarding the most common reasons they are closing down: licensing, noise complaints, and tenant issues.

“The central issue is that the people running these venues do not own the spaces,” says Davyd. “And the people who do own those spaces aren’t interested in the music that’s going on in there.” In short: landlords want a quiet tenant with a lot of money. They often find noisy tenants who don’t make any money in music venues.

The Ferret in Preston is one of the targets for a takeover. The Hairy Dog, in Derby, is another.

There are many gig spots, including The Trades ClubHebden Bridge Le PubThe model has been proven to work in Newport.

Independent, grassroots music venues are vital to a vibrant music culture.

“We became a community benefit society in 2017 and it enabled us to raise funds to move premises,” says Sam Dabb, venue manager at Le Pub. “The impact has been solely positive. We have an army, with diverse skills, of shareholders who are all willing to help wherever they can. The future is bright.”

Frank Turner, a punk-folk singer-songwriter, is a Patron of the Music Venue Trust with acts like Elbow. He believes that local gig spots offer more than just a nice time out.

“Small, independent grassroots music venues are the lifeblood of a thriving music culture,” Turner told Positive News. “You could describe them as the music industry’s R&D department.

“They also provide a gathering space for musicians, music fans, and the whole social ecosystem that goes with this corner of culture,” he adds. “Running such a place is never going to be a get-rich scheme. It’s always a labour of love.”

Main image: Le Pub 

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