What's in store for touring musicians post-Brexit? What else will be impacted by restricted freedom of movement? The outlook isn't good.Read more
Chris caught up with local venue managers to share what music promoters look for when being approached by new acts.Read more
What to look out for and how to ensure that the people you love don't suffer in silence.Read more
Where did it all fall apart? In defence of the beleaguered compact discRead more
We're on the hunt for candidates to fill a creative role in account management - is that you?Read more
Maker Heights provides affordable art studios and music spaces for the benefit of the communityRead more
So you've recorded your debut album? Nice work! What's next? Well, all of this basically...Read more
DMS music writer Darren Johns delves into how Record Store Day has evolved since it began 10 years ago.Read more
It's not too late! Top tips for bands applying for those last few 2018 festival slots...Read more
We caught up with the ISM to talk about the decline of our music scene and how to fix itRead more
Brighton folk quintet bag 250 colour records and £1000 of Awesome merch in recent competitionRead more
We sent Sam and Tom across to the FastForward flagship music conference in AmsterdamRead more
In a Band? Dream of Starting A Label? You Could Win 250 Colour Records In Custom Sleeves and £1000 of Awesome Merchandise...Read more
DMS Action a 5 Year Financial Support Plan and Begin Accumulating Further Donations of TechnologyRead more
DMS Continue to Support Association of Independent Music at Their Annual ConferenceRead more
Today Could Mark a Significant Turning Point in The Future Of The British Music IndustryRead more
DMS Link Up With AIM Once Again To Support Our Vibrant Independent Music SectorRead more
We all love them now, but where did the vinyl record originate?Read more
Simon Dobson Conducted The Accompanying Parallax OrchestraRead more
The Pedal Powered Adventurer Cycled The Length or Norway, By BoatRead more
Mike Mathieson of Mad Dog McRea Has Always Supported Emerging TalentRead more
DMS & AIM To Host The Great Escape Festival Opening Drinks ReceptionRead more
DMS Team Up With Southwest Racing Driver To Battle For The Porsche Carrera CupRead more
DMS Collaborate With Major Artists On An African Sustainable Education MissionRead more
Positivity & Exploration - Dave Cornthwaite vs The Mississippi RiverRead more
From Designer to Adventurer - Why We Love Dave Cornthwaites' StyleRead more
DMS Join Forces With Legendary Southwest Sailor Pete Goss MBERead more
Conrad Humphreys Launches the ‘Blue Climate And Oceans Project'Read more
26th April 2018
The Passing Clouds family celebrating a temporary victory in their fight against closure in 2016. Image credit: borisaustin.com
Article by Darren Johns for DMS
When the doors of Passing Clouds were forced shut for the last time in 2016, the London underground mourned the loss of such a unique music venue like a member of the family. As anyone with affinity to a grassroots venue will tell you, it’s more than bricks and mortar. It’s often the centre of the music lover’s social universe. A place where friendship, ideas and culture can flourish unfettered by the sturm und drang of city life and where music communities/scenes/networks are fostered, nurtured and cemented.
Over recent years, UK venues have been falling like flies as a myriad of socio-economic pressures have taken their toll. A staggering 35% of them have closed over the past decade, despite music tourism contributing £4 billion to the economy, and over 30 million people attending live shows in 2016 (source). The first ever national live music census, a weighty 140-page tome of raw information and statistics, was released this year and, while providing vital evidence that can be utilised to drive change, it paints a sombre picture of the current state of affairs. Without live music venues, the infrastructure would surely collapse.
So why are these venues being systematically picked off? The main culprit is, unsurprisingly, property development. Many venue owners are either being bought out or squeezed out by urban developers. A growth in demand for property in city centres has led to soaring rents, with some landlords deciding to sell up rather than struggle to stay afloat. Not to mention the mounting business rates and insurance costs that can cripple cash-flow and inhibit investment in vital equipment. The financial pressures on grassroots venue owners in particular can leave them with difficult choices to make and often leaves them vulnerable to the whims of a stacked planning system.
But it’s not just an inner-city problem. The Random Arms and Energy Room was part of a bespoke cluster of Napoleonic-era buildings nestled atop Maker Heights, Cornwall that served as a bar, venue and popular festival site. The community organisation have recently lost their battle against a particularly belligerent team of developers who went to great lengths (deploying a pack of masked bailiffs for a dawn raid) to stake their claim and intimidate protesters into submission.
Peaceful protesters rallied earlier this year in an attempt to prevent the closure of their last grassroots venue. Photo: Dom Moore
When the city council are the developers, the venues are simply airbrushed out with not so much as an apology. In Plymouth, the White Rabbit was the proverbial jewel in the crown, hosting hundreds of touring bands from around the globe, and establishing itself as a solid 400-capacity contender on the national circuit. But Plymouth City Council’s ongoing redesign of the town centre sounded the death knell in 2015, not only for the venue, but also for lauded independent record shop, Last Shop Standing, and well-loved club, Tramps (later Maggie’s) who were all housed in the Bretonside bus station site. In their place will be a £53 million mega-complex featuring a 12-screen cinema, 15 restaurants, a 'sky bar' with views of the city and a 420-space car park. Music, it appears, is firmly off the agenda.
There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. In January, John Spellar MP proposed a Bill that would provide greater protections for venues under threat from nearby development. After a successful campaign which garnered support from the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, the Bill was picked up by the Government before reaching its second reading, who pledged to adopt the principles into planning law. So what does that mean? The Agent of Change principle states that the person or business responsible for the change is responsible for managing the impact of the change, and now the government have stepped in, this will be on a statutory basis. Simply put, if a developer builds near to an existing music venue, the onus is on the developer, not the venue, to soundproof their property and deal with the fallout of any noise complaints from residents within their buildings.
With cross-party support, and backing from music industry associations, artists and grassroots campaigners, the addition of this vital provision to planning policy could be signed off by the summer. The biggest concern now is that the final draft doesn’t end up as a watered down irrelevancy that completely misses the point. The latest draft (page 51) is currently under public consultation, so the more people get in touch or complete the survey in favour of the Agent of Change amendment, the more chance the people have of finally providing some sensible protections for the music venues that are still standing strong.
Hopeful supporters outside of Parliament on the day that the Spellar Bill was first presented to the house. Photo: UK Music
Of course, this will not have any bearing on other aforementioned issues facing music venues, soaring business rate and ground rents are responsible for plenty of closures in recent years too, especially in major cities. What this legislation can do though is embolden communities who are fighting to save their local pubs and venues from closure, and through campaigning and/or collective ownership initiatives, provide them with little ammunition that may turn the tide in the favour. It’s a small step, but a small step in the right direction.
Whatever happens, whatever our successes and failures, we need to be ready and able to adapt. Music has thrived in other imaginative spaces for many decades – libraries, cafés, village halls, community centres, colleges, school gyms, bookshops, churches, parks, streets, homes, garages – often out of geographical necessity. If this is what it takes while established venues are in limbo, so be it. Culture is defined by people not property, by commonality not careerism, by purpose not politics. So, while we need to defend our beloved venues by any means necessary we also need to challenge nostalgia and sentimentality, and start seeking new avenues for creativity that side-step conventional mores.