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Independent venues are the lifeblood of music

Ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the UK's Independent Venue Week, Radiohead's Philip Selway underlines the impact of a vital network

19 Jan 2023

Independent Venue Week (IVW), the UK’s annual seven-day celebration of independent music and arts venues and the people that own, run and work in them, returns for its 10-year anniversary between 30 January and 5 February.  Here, IVW ambassador and Radiohead drummer Philip Selway underlines the impact and importance of a vital network…

Live music has been central to many of the best experiences in my life, both as an audience member and as a performer. Becoming an ambassador for IVW 2023 has given me the chance to reflect on and celebrate how independent venues are still the lifeblood of music in the UK.

The challenges they’ve faced in the adverse economic and social conditions of these past years are well documented. Yet, this network of venues continues to survive against seemingly unlikely odds, rooting us in a wider musical and creative community which nourishes us all. I’d like to share with you what these venues mean to me and why I feel it is so important to support Independent Venue Week.

Let me start by telling you about one of the most memorable shows I’ve been to at an independent venue. It was late October 2019, and I was on a family night out with my wife and adult sons, going to see Little Simz play at Earth in Hackney, London. This show encapsulated so much of what for me is great about independent venues. She was incredible. I’d been obsessed with Little Simz’s album Grey Area and to be able to see her play up close deepened my connection to her music.

The atmosphere in the room felt celebratory with a sense that we were witnessing an artist at the top of her game and one who would surely be playing to much larger audiences soon. Earth felt like the perfect location to watch this. So much care had been put into developing this venue which has enriched both the local community in Hackney and also the broader artistic community in London.

“Over this past decade, IVW has done so much to galvanise this part of the live market at what can be a notoriously difficult time of year for these venues”

2023 marks the 10th anniversary of Independent Venue Week. Over this past decade, IVW has done so much to galvanise this part of the live market at what can be a notoriously difficult time of year for these venues. Since 2014, it has driven more than one million ticket sales and helped build new audiences through its seven-day celebration of independent music and arts venues, and the people who own, run and work in them.

It has recognised and celebrated the huge cultural value of venues throughout the UK, such as Oran Mor in Glasgow, The Trades in Hebden Bridge, Tŷ Tawe in Swansea and the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast. There are now over 300 venues involved in this nationwide event. Central to all of this is an emphasis on ‘localism’. These venues are all local businesses, supporting other independent businesses and their local communities.

My own involvement with IVW grew out of a conversation I had with Sybil Bell, the tireless and inspirational founder of the organisation. This talk led to me going out on a road trip during IVW 2019 to be part of a documentary film, On The Road. Sybil was putting this film together to capture the spirit of the people, places, artists and gig-goers who make up this community of independent venues. It gave me an opportunity to reconnect with venues and people that I came across in the early days of touring with Radiohead. This was an environment where we had really been able to learn and hone our craft as a band, lessons that have informed our musical career to this day.

“They are passion projects, led by a love of music and a desire to bring people together”

I was struck by the sheer hard work and resourcefulness of the people who own and run these venues. They are passion projects, led by a love of music and a desire to bring people together to have that shared experience of watching your favourite artist or discovering new music that will come to mean so much to you. They are also a brilliant training ground for future technicians and road crew. They literally are the backbone of the music industry in the UK.

In my role as an ambassador IVW23, I’m heading back out to play five shows over the week. I’m playing with a band that will include another former IVW ambassador, Adrian Utley of Portishead. I’m looking forward to revisiting favourite venues like The Trades in Hebden Bridge and The Cambridge Junction, and to also play in some that are new to me, such as The Georgian Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees, The Arts Centre in Norwich and The Boileroom in Guildford.

Seeing a band in a small venue just before they explode can be exciting. However, there is a great diversity of music and art at the centre of IVW. Not every artist was born to headline the O2, and for many these wonderful spaces are simply their natural environment. For me it is an experience that will never grow old.


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