Nick Hobbs on why livestreamed gigs are unlikely to reduce demand for the real thing and why more must be done to encourage young acts to hone their craft
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The Mumford & Sons star tells IQ his three grassroots venues in London are already "pretty much booked up" for 2022
By James Hanley on 24 Nov 2021
Ben Lovett says more than 250 shows are booked for each of his London venues in 2022 as the live business gears up to roar back from the Covid-19 crisis.
The Mumford & Sons musician has opened three grassroots sites in the UK – Omeara (320-cap), Lafayette (600-cap) and The Social (250-cap) – under his Venue Group umbrella since 2016.
And in the second and final part of his interview with IQ (see part one here), Lovett, who is about to make his first move into the US market with the opening of two new venues in Huntsville, Alabama, says the signs indicate the industry is “coming back strong” from the travails of the past two years.
“Our venues in London are already pretty much booked up for next year and that’s a great sign,” he says. “In terms of what other people are doing, I’m actually hearing stories about more venues being planned and opened than I’ve heard about in the last 10 years, so I do think there’s a general swing of the pendulum back to investing into the infrastructure of this industry again, rather than five years ago when every story was about another venue closing down.
“Equally, I’ve read stories about a new Cardiff arena coming; a new Manchester arena coming; Koko’s back with a crazy budget attached to it… So, on balance, you have to believe we’re building more venues than we’re losing, which is a great result.”
Lovett’s Lafayette project, which is set within the new Good Ways development in King’s Cross, opened with a special show by Dave in March 2020, only to be forced to close just 10 days after opening due to the pandemic.
We’re not going to hit a point with this pandemic where a light switch suddenly turns back on and everything’s fine again
“I wouldn’t have changed that Dave show for anything, because it was just amazing to be able to watch him perform in there the day after the BRITs,” reflects Lovett. “But I think for the team, it’s been a little bit strange, because we haven’t had that grand opening moment again. It’s been like a reopening, which isn’t quite the same.
“The general campus of King’s Cross is taking a minute to come back online – there are a lot of big companies there that haven’t had people come back to work fully yet, I think offices are 25 to 50% full, so it’s creeping back.”
The Communion co-founder continues: “I’m now of the mindset that we’re not going to hit a point with this pandemic where a light switch suddenly turns back on and everything’s fine again. It’s just going to muddle its way back to that point, which I think will reflect in the spaces that people are occupying as well.
“It’s not like, suddenly, everyone wakes up one day and says, ‘Right, I’m going to a gig again.’ I’ve been to some great gigs in the last couple of months, but I know other people who are like, ‘I’m just not quite there yet, mentally, I spent so many months being afraid to touch a door handle, that the idea of standing in a sweaty box with a bunch of strangers is a big call.’ They’re like, ‘I know I’ll get there,’ but it’s a little bit of a gradual re-entry.”
Omeara celebrated its fifth birthday last week with a night headlined by Gang of Youths. Lovett’s first venue, it has staged intimate gigs by artists including Kylie Minogue, Skepta, Beck and Biffy Clyro, along with a three-night stand by Sam Fender in November 2018.
“It obviously holds a very special place in my heart,” says Lovett. “Without that venue and the positive reaction towards it, and the conversations I’ve had with artists in the dressing room over the years – with Beck and Maggie Rogers, and certain artists I have vivid memories of talking to after their shows – I don’t think I would have been inspired to do the rest of it. It’s really that first child syndrome, and five years is both young and old.
“I really want to figure out how Omeara becomes a place like the Cavern or 100 Club, that people talk about decades later as being the place where such and such a band launched. We got Sam Fender’s first show in London. I think he’ll be around for a long time as an artist and it’d be pretty cool if, in 30 years’ time, Omeara is still standing and people are going into that room saying, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that Sam Fender once played here. Look how small it is, and now he’s doing stadiums.’
“Five years is an important mark on our way there, but there’s a lot more work to be done. I want us to continue to establish [Omeara] as a cornerstone of grassroots culture in London.”
This is a service industry to support people’s dreams and there’s something very beautiful about it
Lovett, whose London Venue Group received a £2.35m grant via the UK government’s Culture Recovery Fund to maintain the buildings during their Covid-imposed closure and explore streaming options in the future, was full of praise for the resilience displayed by the domestic venue sector.
“There’s a lot of creative adaptability in the DNA of the people that choose to get into this industry,” he says. “It’s a tough, resilient bunch that come up with ways in which they can make ends meet, even if it’s to tie over for as long a period as it’s been. But it’s always a little bit cyclical, we’re used to it, there are seasons of ebbs and flows.
“There was a fair amount of support given at the right times. Not comprehensive, but it definitely helped. I wouldn’t say that we’re fully back in terms of all the people that were there before, being there now, but the music industry in the UK is functional and it will build back stronger.
“In and amongst the pressure of it all, there’s been important conversations and collaboration; people opening up and breaking down some of those barriers that build up sometimes between theoretical competitors, and more of a sense of togetherness. And that’s more like the kind of culture and the personality of the whole industry in my mind. This is not like the stockmarket, this is a service industry to support people’s dreams and there’s something very beautiful about it. I think sometimes it just takes something shocking happening to remind people of that.”
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