NIVA calls for urgent govt assistance for US indies
The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), an alliance of US grassroots venues formed earlier this month, has written to members of the US Congress to ask for immediate assistance to a sector it says is facing an existential crisis as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter – addressed to House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, House of Representatives minority leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer – asks for urgent “legislative and regulatory” aid for the association’s more than 800 members, including adjustments to the existing paycheck protection program [sic] loan scheme, as well as tax credits for refunded tickets, mortgage/rent payment holidays and the deferral of existing debt.
NIVA, which joins existing small-venue associations such as Music Venues Alliance in the UK, Petzi in Switzerland and KeepOn Live in Italy, is also asking for concrete guidelines on mass gatherings in advance of reopening, and support with complying with any new health guidelines.
“Our passionate and fiercely independent operators are not ones to ask for hand-outs,” explains NIVA board president Dayna Frank, who owns the 1,550-capacity First Avenue in Minneapolis.
“For the first time in history there is legitimate fear for our collective existence”
“But because of our unprecedented, tenuous position, for the first time in history there is legitimate fear for our collective existence.”
Established on 17 April, NIVA’s stated mission is to fight for venues’ survival amid the ongoing nationwide shutdown.
“Independent venues and promoters have a unique set of circumstances that require specialised assistance, so we’ve banded together and secured a powerhouse lobbying firm,” says Gary Witt, CEO of Pabst Theater Group and founding member of NIVA. “Akin Gump has been tapped to represent us, and that telegraphs to Capitol Hill that our needs are serious. Most of us have gone from our best year ever to a dead stop in revenues, but our expenses and overhead are still real, and many will not make it without help.
“Our employees, the artists, and the fans need us to act. But we are also an important income generator for those around us, bringing revenue to area restaurants, bars, hotels, and retail shops.”
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New TM video explores Glaswegian music scene
The latest edition of Ticketmaster’s Homecoming video series aired last week, showcasing the “close-knit and diverse” Glaswegian music scene.
The documentary series connects artists with their hometowns and explores the places that shaped them. Previous episodes have included Bristol born songwriter Fenne Lily and Cardiff rock juggernauts Bullet For My Valentine.
The latest Homecoming focuses on three Glaswegian acts: noise-pop rising stars the Ninth Wave, indie rock four-piece Lucia and new-wave quintet Walt Disco, as they discuss the music scene in their hometown and highlight the importance of grassroots music venues.
The newest addition in Ticketmaster series comes off the back of the Music Venue Trust’s recent announcement that the number of grassroots music venues in London has increased for the first time in nearly a decade and shows the importance of local music culture in cities such as the burgeoning Glasgow scene.
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Omeara’s Ben Lovett announces new London venue
Mumford and Sons member Ben Lovett has announced plans for his second live music venue, Lafayette, launching in London early next year.
Lovett opened grassroots venue Omeara (320-cap.) in late 2016. His new venture, located in Kings Cross, will be set within the new Good Ways development.
The new venue will be booked by Communion, the team that organise all live shows and club nights at Omeara.
“A few years ago I embarked on a journey into the unknown with family and friends and launched Omeara at Flat Iron Square,” comments Lovett. “We weren’t entirely clear how to achieve what we ultimately wanted, but we definitely knew what it needed to be and why we were doing it.
“I have had some of my favourite and most memorable experiences in Omeara since it opened back in late 2016, and I truly believe that the experience it has provided both fans and artists is something so important to London’s venue landscape.
“I’m forever committed to pushing forward a new era of music venues that truly elevate people’s expectations of what that experience should be”
“It is with great pride that I can now share our plans to open Lafayette @ Goods Way which will be in the heart of King’s Cross, adjacent to Central St. Martins and Coal Drops Yard. I’m forever committed to pushing forward a new era of music venues that truly elevate people’s expectations of what that experience should be, and I believe London ought to continually strive to be at the forefront of the entertainment industry on a global stage, as the best city in the world.
It’s still early days in the venue’s construction but, this time, not only do we know exactly what it will be and why we’re doing it, but we’re now extremely confident that we know how to deliver it too!”
Lovett aims to provide a wide array of programming for the new venues, from “regular, eclectic club nights” to “bespoke one-off events”.
Further details, including Lafayette’s capacity and information on upcoming shows, will be shared over the coming weeks.
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MVT launches advisory books for grassroots venues
At an event at City Hall in London last night (15 July), Music Venue Trust (MVT) launched two new books which offer practical advice to the grassroots venues sector.
The illustrated, open-source books, commissioned by MVT and produced by writer David Pollock and photographer Jannica Honey, aim to draw on the association’s work over the past five years to offer assistance to those wishing to open a new venue (How to Open a Grassroots Music Venue) and those already running one (How to Run a Grassroots Music Venue).
According to Mark Davyd, CEO of the UK charity – founded in 2014 to protect, secure and improve grassroots music venues – each book contains 15 chapters of information covering topics including licensing, company structure, what facilities need to be provided, and ideas for diversifying what venues offer, as well as interviews with venue managers and case studies.
A guidance section at the back of the books is complemented by cross-referencing with online resources on the MVT website (musicvenuetrust.com/resources), which will be updated regularly.
“We want these books to inspire people to join us and open their own venues”
As well as a limited print run, both books are available as downloadable PDFs from both MVT’s and the Mayor of London’s websites.
“When I was 17, I put on my first gig, and over the next ten years I met lots of other like-minded people who wanted to do the same,” explains Davyd. “Eventually, after five years of trying, we got together and opened our own venue. Nobody ever gave us advice, and we must have made every mistake possible. Most people I know in the grassroots music sector have a similar story, which is why we wanted to publish these guides.
“We want these books to inspire people to join us and open their own venues, and the message is simple: you can build a stage the band doesn’t fall through, you can get a licence that doesn’t prevent you from opening on a Wednesday, and you can avoid having to rebuild the venue from scratch, only this time with enough doors.”
Andrew Parsons, managing director of Ticketmaster UK, says: “Developing the next generation of talent is hugely important to us; grassroots music venues are an essential part of an artist’s career and a vital cog in the music industry machine. We have worked with MVT since 2015 and know the struggles that these venues face. These guides are another important step to keep music playing in grassroots venues across the UK.”
Enter Shikari’s Rou Reynolds, an MVT patron (pictured speaking at the launch), adds: “Grassroots music venues are vital spaces for musicians, music fans and communities in general. It’s been a tough time for venues up and down the country over the past few years and there’s been no government support.
“It’s great that MVT has launched these new books, sharing the knowledge and experience of those who run the venues that are surviving and shining a spotlight on the touring circuit.
“I think it could help encourage the opening of new venues and support networks.”
Music Venue Trust says it’s looking into the possibility of further development of these guides. Anyone interested in being involved should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oxford’s the Cellar launches Cellar Forever crowdfunder
The Cellar, the last family run grassroots music venue in Oxford, UK, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £80,000, in a “last-ditch” bid to stay open.
The formerly 150-capacity venue, which opened in 1998, is renowned as an incubator of emerging talent, with Foals, Young Knives, Stornoway and Glass Animals all having cut their teeth at the Cellar. It has also hosted shows by artists including Mumford & Sons, Friendly Fires, Noah and the Whale, Youth Movies, Deerhoof, Fuck Buttons, Jeffrey Lewis, Afrika Bambaataa and Dawn Penn, as well as numerous club nights and comedy shows by Reginald D. Hunter, Richard Herring and more.
The Cellar escaped closure in late 2017 after 14,000 people signed a petition to stop redevelopment plans by the venue’s landlord. However, stringent new fire regulations, which cut capacity from 150 to 60 people, once again threatens its future.
The venue’s plight was raised earlier this week at a meeting of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, with British rapper ShoaDow telling MPs of the importance of the venue when building his career.
To once again increase capacity, and attract promoters and artists who have had to go elsewhere for larger shows, the Cellar needs to raise £80,000 to build a new fire exit. The emergency crowdfunding campaign, dubbed Cellar Forever, is asking local businesses, artists and supporters of independent music to make a donation in order to secure its long-term future.
Venue manager Tim Hopkins explains: “It was people power that saved the Cellar in 2017, and that showed me how much the community care about this place and how important it is to keep it alive.
“We hope that with the right support we can ride through this difficult moment”
“We’ve always been so proud of the opportunities we can provide to local and national musicians to hone their craft, as well as seeing budding promoters and technical crew come up through the ranks and providing a warm, friendly space for people to come together and let off some steam.
“Running a small venue these days is definitely challenging to make it work, and, sadly, with the extent of the renovations we’ve been asked to make, we simply don’t have the money to pay for them. Which is why we’re calling on people power again with this crowdfunding campaign.
“As well as our own passion to keep going, we owe it to all our amazing supporters to give this one last try. The best thing is, if we are a successful then it’ll make big improvements to what we already offer, widening the audience area, giving customers much better visibility and increasing our capacity to 200. We’re truly excited to get stuck in.
“We hope that with the right support we can ride through this difficult moment, and rebuild the Cellar for future generations to enjoy.”
To make a domination to the Cellar Forever campaign, which has so far raised nearly £20,000 of the £80,000 goal, visit crowdfunder.co.uk/cellar-forever.
Music Venue Trust last month urged the music business to unite behind its new pipeline investment fund – which would, by providing a reliable source of funding for venues in need, make the need for crowdfunding campaigns like the Cellar’s a thing of the past.
Trust in the power of youth
Last month, after the cinema release of Muse’s Drones World Tour, I departed my 18-year position with the band by announcing my retirement from a life on the road in order to set up a new charity adventure: NEKO Trust.
Having been lucky enough to work with some of the best live bands on the planet, I’m struck by the absence of breakthrough acts with guitars, drums and attitude – I’m kept awake at night worrying who will headline Reading Festival in the future. So, this is a call to arms moment.
The UK has given the world some of the best music in modern times, and we need to continue. Where would Coldplay be but for the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town? Or Ed Sheeran if not for the Bedford in Balham? At this year’s TPI Awards, I proposed that the industry come together to tackle this problem. And so, ladies and gentlemen, please meet NEKO Trust: a simple idea with massive ambition!
We want to build five grassroots venues around the country – London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds and Edinburgh – that will be run by young people studying a variety of subjects related to the live events industry. We also plan to add to the mix ex-military and ex-offenders who are in need of a new life.
Young bands need young crew, so let’s unite the young, brilliant minds of the next generation of our industry
The trust will see that the next Bastille or the 1975 are able to meet young crew in these new venues powered by youth, and be able to begin new working relationships. Young bands need young crew, so let’s unite the young, brilliant minds of the next generation of our industry.
Then comes HULLAbALOO, a music and arts festival totally created and run by students for students. A discovery festival with a difference. And this is where you come in…
NEKO Trust is seeking industry mentors to provide guidance in advance of the festival, at the House of Vans in London on 27–28 April 2019. The festival will be a microcosm of our beloved industry, involving students studying art, marketing, first aid, security, transport logistics, stage management, backline tech, sound, lighting, projection mapping… the list goes on!
All equipment needs to be industry sponsored, proving that we care about the future crew. To learn more about NEKO Trust, please visit NEKOtrust.org.
ACE salaries up 13% as another UK venue goes under
Pay and pension packages for the seven most senior executives at Arts Council England (ACE) totalled nearly £1m last year, its latest annual report reveals, as the organisation faces fresh questions over the lack of funding available for grassroots music venues.
ACE’s chief executive, Darren Henley, and deputy chief executives, Simon Mellor and Laura Dyer, along with executive director/CFO Elizabeth Bushell, COO Richard Russell, executive director, public policy and communication, Mags Patten, and executive director, enterprise and innovation, Francis Runacres, were paid £983,000 in the year ending 31 March 2018, according to ACE’s 2017/18 annual report and accounts.
That represents a 13% increase, or £111,000, on 2016/17, according to Arts Professional. Average pay for staff other than executive directors rose by 4.1%, from £36,300 to £37,800.
News of the ACE salary increases, which were signed off by the Arts Council’s remuneration committee, comes amid the closure of yet another small venue, the 200-capacity Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar in Brighton.
A favourite of Great Escape delegates, Sticky Mike’s is a “Brighton institution” and “one of the most vibrant, community-based grassroots spaces in the whole country”, says venues association Music Venue Trust (MVT), which broke the news this morning.
“You don’t need us to tell you that venues like Sticky Mike’s can be saved for a lot less than £983,000”
“It’s also a perfect summary of where many venue operators/owners find themselves,” reads the MVT statement. “Rent, rates, costs too high, profit margins non-existent, a new development coming at them which inevitably means noise challenges, a decaying infrastructure it’s too expensive to maintain, licensing conditions which cut into business… it’s a mess, and not of their own making.
“Frankly, the team at Sticky Mike’s should get a medal for keeping it going this long. Every venue team you know is fighting these battles. We should erect statues to the lot of them.”
Sticky Mike’s will close on 31 December 2018.
IQ revealed in August that of the £1.6bn of public money that makes up ACE’s national portfolio funding for 2018–2022, just 0.06% is allocated to popular music venues.
The only two venues with contemporary music as their main programming being funded by ACE in 2018–22 are Band on the Wall (340-cap.) in Manchester and Café Oto (200-cap.) in London, both of which also received National Portfolio funding in 2015–18. Half the entire 2018–22 contemporary music budget – £14m, or £9,622 per day – was awarded to one venue: Sage Gateshead, a mixed contemporary/classical music venue and centre for music education in the north-east of England, operated by the charity North Music Trust.
“Frankly, the team at Sticky Mike’s should get a medal for keeping it going this long”
According to MVT, Sticky Mike’s could have been saved for the price of just two days’ worth of the grant given to the Royal Opera House annually.
Or, to put it another way, a lot less than the pay rise ACE awarded its own execs, MVT’s Mark Davyd tells IQ. “The pay and pension packages for the seven most senior executives at Arts Council England increased by 13% last year, by £111,000 to a total of £983,000. You don’t need us to tell you that venues like Sticky Mike’s can be saved for a lot less than £983,000. They can be saved for less than £111,000,” comments Davyd.
“This has nothing to do with whether money is available to stop the loss of culturally important, vital, community spaces like Sticky Mike’s – and everything to do with priorities, a willingness to act and a sense of urgency.”
Responding, an ACE spokesperson says: “We restructured our leadership team, meaning some staff were promoted in 2016 and received pay rises in line with their new responsibilities. Their annual pay increase was 1%. Overall, this new structure saved the Arts Council £18,000 per year. Projects helping with people’s health and wellbeing, and rehabilitation from prison, have become an increasingly important priority for us, as has our work around digital, so we’ve invested in senior leadership for these programmes so they help more people.
“We recognise that the senior leadership team is well paid, but they are fairly rewarded in line with their level of responsibility, and in keeping with other senior public-sector salaries. Over the next four years we’ll invest at least over £100m in music – more than ever before.”
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.
Dave Brayley joins the Empire Coventry
Veteran British promoter Dave Brayley, most recently booker of celebrated Bristol venue the Bierkeller, has joined Coventry’s 900-capacity the Empire as promoter and booker.
Brayley, of DCB Promotions, cut his teeth promoting bands in pubs and club across south-west England before taking over as booker/promoter at the 450-cap. Fleece & Firkin in Bristol. After 14 years, he moved on to the Bierkeller (700-cap.), which closed earlier this year.
At the Empire Coventry, Brayley – who has worked with the Strokes, Biffy Clyro, Radiohead, the Verve, Coldplay, Damon Albarn, Flaming Lips and Editors – says he hopes to put the city firmly on the map for touring artists.
“I’m am very excited to be joining the Empire,” he comments. “It’s a great venue with so much potential. I want to fill the diary with as many great artists of all genres as I can – that’s a true mark of a real music venue. Being able to put on a thrash metal gig on a Tuesday then a soul band on a Wednesday shows the versatility of the venue; quality and variety is everything.
“I want to fill the diary with as many great artists of all genres as I can”
“We also want to ensure a fair ticket price, good bar options, friendly staff and great sound and lights, as well as fantastic facilities for the artists performing at the Empire.”
In addition to introducing the venue to agents and national promoters, Brayley has already overseen a number of improvements to the venue, including a new backstage area, dressing rooms, production office and shower facilities. There are also plans for a dedicated merchandise shop, and improvements to in-house marketing locally and nationally.
“After an initial approach we met Dave, and after our first meeting it was clear to me that he was the man for the job,” says Empire director Carla Starkey. “We have recently taken over the venue and needed a fresh outlook and someone with experience that knows this very challenging and competitive business inside out, I am glad to say we offered the job to Dave and he gladly accepted.”
The venue, co-owned by Tom Clarke of the Enemy, has this year hosted shows by the Cribs, Sundara Karma, the Enemy, Sleaford Mods, the Wombats and the Dualers.
Why championing independent venues is a cause worth fighting for
Skiddle is one of the UK’s most innovative and high flying primary ticketing platforms, specialising in music events across festivals, clubs and live music and gigs. Ever since we began in 2001 we’ve been about celebrating and championing every type of event and promoter, whether a six figure-attended festival or a pub-rock showcase, promoting the catch-all power as music as one of our key principles. It’s this belief which has been the bedrock of our decision to sponsor Independent Venue Week (IVW).
Our values pretty much dominate the decisions behind what organisations we become involved with. The modern financial climate we live in means we endeavour to find partners that ally closely with what we as a company spend our time striving to do. Two of those beliefs, which IVW showcases in abundance, is support for the grassroots music industry and fairness for music fans.
The most obvious trait of IVW which chimes with what we do is the promotion of the inclusiveness of music. The week aims to get as many people as possible in differing venues, predominantly to help support the grassroots level music across the country and the venues that are the lifeblood. It’s about getting people out and enjoying the visceral experience of live music, irrespective of whether you are a passionate regular gigger or someone who never usually goes to see singers and bands.
We’ve obviously motivated from a business perspective to get more people going to gigs, but everyone who works for the company shares a passion for this most invigorating of practices – and we want the world to revel in the magic power of music.
IVW is jam-packed with highlights across the week. There’s some gloriously eye catching shows, from Frank Turner in Liverpool’s intimate sweat pit EBGBs up to former Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes showcasing a tantalising preview of his forthcoming solo material at the Cookie in Leicester. And exciting new bands like Skinny Girl Diet and King Creature will be vying for your attention of favourite new band, with tastemakers such as Steve Lamacq also getting behind it.
What better time to show your support for the venues that are the lifeblood of our music scene across the country?
Fairness for all music fans is something that remains a hot topic of the minute, particularly with the proliferation of the debates centered around touting. Extortionate prices create a number of problems, but one of the most damning is the financial drain outside of the business. Your average fan only has a certain amount of money they can budget for, so paying inflated prices tickets means that there’s much less cash to go towards other things, be that paying for music, seeing other bands, merchandise and so on. That’s much needed cash which could be invested in venues, artists and record labels at a grassroots level.
This was one of the motivations behind Re:Sell, an initiative we set up at Skiddle in 2016 to provide a fair solution for secondary ticketing that suits promoters and gig-goers. It’s been a roaring success, particularly with the addition of the waiting list feature – something that saw over a thousand people get tickets for sold-out new year’s eve shows at a fair price from customers whose plans had changed. And there’s no money heading anywhere other than to the people who bought the tickets originally and the music industry itself – something that allows us to get behind IVW.
Luckily the government seems to be on the side of music fans at the minute, with a raft of legislation slowly going against touting and also the Spellar bill now coming into place. That means existing venues won’t be penalised for noise complaints from future property developments, something which has been at the heart of so many venue closures in recent years. With the fightback against those forces that attack our culture now fully in swing, what better time to show your support for the venues that are the lifeblood of our music scene across the country?
So as the week draws in, I implore you to get as involved as possible. Discover a new band, fall in love with a venue you’ve not entered since your youth or just enjoy the thrill of live music again. It’s something we should do more of – and encourage more people to get into – and that’s exactly what Independent Venue Week is all about.
For more information about Independent Venue Week gigs in your area, visit skiddle.com/independentvenueweek.
Jimmy Coultas is head of content at Skiddle.