fbpx

PROFILE

MY SUBSCRIPTION

LOGOUT

x

The latest industry news to your inbox.

    

I'd like to hear about marketing opportunities

    

I accept IQ Magazine's Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

The Garage: grassroots venue launches campaign to safeguard future

In the last ten years, 35% of London’s grassroots music venues have shut down amid soaring rents and pressure from property development. Among those facing closure is the Garage, the Islington venue that sits on land earmarked for the redevelopment of Highbury & Islington tube station.

The threat first appeared back in February, Matthew Cook, appointed programmer for the venue last November, explains. An “ambiguous” letter was sent from Islington Council, suggesting the venue could be demolished to make way for redevelopment, though no timeline was given.

“It was basically a letter from the council saying, ‘We can do whatever we want, whenever we want,'” Cook says.

In the near half-year since the letter was sent, there has been no communication between the Garage, Islington Council or Transport for London (TfL). When locals got wind of the news, a campaign was started on behalf of the venue. Supporters created a petition with the intention of getting the venue recognised as an ‘asset of value’ to the local community, a status that would strengthen its case for remaining open.

“Having to jump through these hoops seems slightly ridiculous considering we have been an iconic Islington venue for the last 25 years,” Cook tells IQ. “But we are boosted by the amount of people who are behind us.”

It’s the “ghosts of past performers” that makes a venue what it is.

The community response prompted a vow from TfL and Islington Council, reported by the Islington Gazette, that the venue would be “protected or re-provided”. But, calling on the example of the Marquee Club, whose relocation away from Soho proved unsuccessful, Cook explains it’s the “ghosts of past performers” that makes a venue what it is.

The grassroots club, bought by DHP Family in 2016, has been a staple of Islington nightlife since it opened in 1993. World-renowned bands have played the 600-capacity venue, including Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, Blur and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Tracing the footsteps of such bands is an important experience for emerging talent, says Cook. “People use the Garage as a way to get their career from A to Z.”

“We are encouraged to hear the positive news that they [Tfl and Islington Council] are considering the Garage now, but we would like some direct communication,” he adds. “We need these promises fleshed out and an assurance that the love we are putting into this place is worthwhile.”

Beyond the immediate threat from developers, Cook is keen to point out that grassroots venues like the Garage are just as threatened by the rising cost of operating as they are by redevelopment. “There’s various ways to skin a cat, and there’s various ways to get rid of businesses,” he says.

“Our business rates have gone up 70% since 2016. You don’t need bulldozers to demolish a venue”

“Our business rates have gone up 70% since 2016. You don’t need bulldozers to demolish a venue.

With constant pressure, the psychological effect on venue staff can be severe, Cook adds. “We [DHP Family] took on the Garage knowing the current hostile climate for grassroots venues. We knew it was a challenge, but we rebuilt and refurbished it completely.

“But with this threat constantly looming, it is hard to maintain the level on enthusiasm needed to operate a small venue. We don’t know if things will happen in a few months or a few years, or at all.”

In recent weeks, staff have upped the campaign to safeguard its future. The campaign seeks to keep local residents informed of the Garage’s fight against closure, and encourage registered voters to continue to sign the petition that will give the venue its ‘asset of value’ status. “We’ve helped to set up a Friends of the Garage Facebook group for the local residents to express their support of this iconic venue.

“We would urge anyone wanting to show their support to join the group where we will be posting regular updates.”

November will see the venue celebrate its 25th anniversary. To mark the milestone birthday, a series of shows have been planned in partnership with the charity WarChild UK.

Those wishing to keep up to date with developments in the campaign can visit the Friends of the Garage Facebook page.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

DHP hires programmer for London venues

DHP Family has appointed Matthew Cook venue programmer for its venues in London: Oslo (350-cap.) in Hackney, the Garage (600-cap.) and Thousand Island (100-cap.) in Islington and Borderline (300-cap.) in Soho.

Cook, who has previously worked with The Great Escape festival, Brighton Dome/Festival, Warwick Arts Centre, promoter Soundcrash and London venues Barbican, Southbank Centre, Roundhouse, Hackney Empire and House of Vans, will lead music programming at the four venues, as well as building on relationships with sponsors and non-music events.

“I’m very excited to join the team at DHP and programming four of London’s best live music venues, he comments. “I first came into contact with the DHP team a few years ago when we presented Bonnie Prince Billie at Hackney Empire. They were a pleasure to work with and it was a phenomenal show.

“I am especially grateful for the opportunity to contribute to London’s live music scene at such a crucial time”

“I’m looking forward to steering the programme of such iconic and diverse venues as Oslo, the Garage, Thousand Island and Borderline, and am especially grateful for the opportunity to contribute to London’s live music scene at such a crucial time. Music is London’s lifeblood and these venues play a key role in sustaining a healthy live music scene in the capital.”

Oslo, Nottingham-based DHP’s first London venue, opened in 2014, with the company acquiring the Garage and Borderline, both of which have since been significantly refurbished, from Live Nation last May. Thousand Island, meanwhile, was announced in December as a new space adjacent to the main room of the redesigned Garage.

Borderline reopened in March, with DHP owner George Akins hailing the “phenomenal feedback” from artists and agents to its new layout.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

DHP Family unveils The Garage plans

DHP Family has released the first details of its redesign of The Garage, one of two London venues it acquired from Live Nation earlier this year.

The Highbury venue will from February house a new performance space, dubbed Thousand Island, in addition to its 600-capacity main room, which will also be refurbished and fitted with a new sound system.

The new live room will be joined by The General Store, an all-day café and bar serving craft beer and cocktails.  The bar will, says the Nottingham-based promotion and venue group, “hark back to the filling station stores of small-town America” with reclaimed petrol pumps, large beer fridges and a “range of cocktails served from items you’d find in the store, such as cornflake packets and Campbell’s soup tins, alongside a changing selection of American and British craft beer”.

“We look forward to reinventing the space for a new generation”

The concept is the brainchild of DHP’s design partner, Zopsigog, which also delivered Hackney’s Nordic-inspired Oslo (375-cap.).

DHP Family managing director George Akins says: “The Garage has been on my radar for about 10 years now, when I first looked to buy it. For one reason or another we have just missed out on taking over this iconic venue and breathing new life into it. Its location, layout and history are perfect for what we are looking for in a venue and we look forward to reinventing the space for a new generation.”

DHP bought The Garage and Soho’s The Borderline in May. Operations director Anton Lockwood told IQ at the time the company planned to make the famed venues “places where people actually want to go rather than just, ‘Oh, that’s where the band’s playing, that’s where you have to go to see them.'”

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

London resurgent: The capital’s venues fight back

At least four new music venues will open in London in 2016, IQ has learnt, as the capital begins to stem the decline that has long characterised its grassroots music scene.

Following the news last week that Nottingham-based DHP Family had acquired ex-MAMA venues The Borderline (cap. 300) in Soho and The Garage (cap. 600) in Highbury, and with some of the Capital’s most established grassroots sites being renovated and relaunched, the tide appears to be turning for London’s live music circuit.

Steve Ball’s Columbo Group, which bought Camden venue The Jazz Café (cap. 420) in January, will also be relaunching its May acquisition, The Barfly (cap. 200), as The Camden Assembly over the coming months.

And speaking to IQ, Mark Davyd, founder and CEO of the Music Venue Trust (MVT), says he knows of four brand-new venues opening their doors in the year, with another three “likely” to follow suit before the end of the year. He also revealed that MVT is in discussions with “two or three” other new developments about the possibility of including music venues in their plans.

The past 18 months have undoubtedly seen what Davyd calls a “substantial change” in attitudes towards London’s music venues. Somewhere between the launch of MVT in late 2014 – when it was estimated some 40% of London venues had closed in the 10 years since 2004 – to incoming mayor Sadiq Khan promising last month the arts would be “a core priority for my administration, right up there with housing, the environment and security”, local authorities finally appear to have got the memo: that if the UK wants to retain its world-leading music industry, up-and-coming acts have to have somewhere to play.

“If the message coming from City Hall is, ‘We’re not prepared to see music venues closing’, you’d be surprised the impact it has”

“I think people now accept that every single venue that closes in London is damaging to the whole raft of all of them,” says Davyd. “Each one has come under much more scrutiny.”

“The report [London’s Grassroots Music Venues Rescue Plan] that was launched at Venues Day last year, written by Mark Davyd, Paul Broadhurst [of the Greater London Authority], myself and a few other people really helped,” says Shain Shapiro, head of the secretariat of the London Night Time Commission, which was launched by then-mayor Boris Johnson in May. “That really got the message in people’s heads.”

Perhaps MVT’s biggest coup was the passing by the British government of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2016 on 6 April, which provides a legal framework to protect existing music venues by encouraging local authorities to make it the responsibility of developers, not venues, to put in place noise-control measures on any new residential development. At the time, Jo Dipple, CEO of industry group UK Music, said the law gives small British venues “additional powers to help them survive and prosper.

Shapiro says it’s now “a lot easier to make our arguments now than it was three or four months ago. We don’t have to convince people as much. Now we’re just having substantive conversations about literal, specific things that need to change. That’s a win!”

Davyd adds that while “I don’t think you could point at any one thing anyone’s done over the past few years and say, ‘that’s caused it'”, he, like Shapiro, points to support from London’s governing Greater London Authority (GLA) as being key to the capital’s musical renaissance. “If the message coming from City Hall is, ‘We’re not prepared to see music venues closing’, you’d be surprised the impact that has on the number of venues that can actually be closed,” he says.

“One of the issues we face with opening new venues is that agents and promoters aren’t interested in exploring new parts of London”

Recent victories for venue owners include a successful court battle by 1,410-capacity Camden venue Koko to prevent a neighbouring pub being turned into flats (and Camden Council’s subsequent backtracking over its original approval for the development, calling it an “isolated error”); the rescue of Earls Court venue The Troubadour (cap. 132) from bankruptcy, which it blamed on a noise-abatement notice forcing it to close its garden after 21.00, leading to a loss in revenue; and the withdrawal of a planning application to develop 1,000-capacity Peckham venue, club and café space the Bussey Building.

It’s not as if housing developers don’t have anywhere to build: London has “some of the biggest development sites in the world,” says Shapiro, as it expands relentlessly outwards into surrounding counties (RIP Middlesex). For live music types, though, Shapiro says the industry collectively needs to “realise that London is changing – that you can play in both inner and outer London and it not impact your economic model. One of the issues we face with opening new venues is that agents and promoters aren’t interested in exploring new parts of London…”

Amid all the success stories there are, of course, still venues under threat, but Davyd explains that “of 88 [small venues programming original material] we know of five that have some sort of problem – which is a low number, to be honest. If we’d have done that two years ago the figure would be more like 20.”

For the first time in a long time, Davyd concludes, “I think people in the sector are feeling a lot more positive about their ability to sustain London’s music scene and be valued in what they’re doing.

“When the mayor’s report came out last year, Jeff [Horton] at the 100 Club said: ‘This is the most positive thing anybody in government has said about the 100 Club in 20 years!'”

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.