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Ben Lovett: Live biz ‘will come back stronger’

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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Communion launches livestream series Communion Presents

Communion Music, the UK-based promoter and record label, has announced Communion Presents, a new series of livestreamed performances and conversations with artists filmed at London venue Lafayette.

Communion Presents, hosted on livestreaming service LIVENow, will take the form of a weekly-30 minute show featuring two live performances and interviews hosted by Communion promoter Mazin Tappuni. The first episode goes live on Sunday 29 November and features performances by Olivia Dean and Louis Dunford.

Further confirmed guests include Apre, Chartreuse and Zola Courtney. The first series runs up to 27 December.

Each show will be broadcast for free on LIVENow, which is also home to upcoming live streams by Dua Lipa (Studio 2054) and Gorillaz (Song Machine Live) shows.

“We hope this series with our friends at LIVENow helps bring their live shows to your screens”

“Providing a stage for new music has always been at the heart of what we do at Communion,” comments Tappuni. “During this disaster of a year, we wanted to find a way to continue supporting exciting new artists and creating a livestreaming series seemed the right way to do it. There have been some fantastically memorable streamed shows over the past few months; Dermot Kennedy’s set at the Natural History Museum and Nick Cave’s masterclass at Alexandra Palace were among my favourites.

“Lafayette is London’s best new venue, and while you can’t come and see that for yourself yet, we hope these online shows offer up the next best opportunity to see what makes it so special.”

Lafayette, part of Ben Lovett’s Venue Group, opened in March in King’s Cross, London, with a show by Brit Award winner Dave winning artist, but less than a fortnight later was forced to close because of coronavirus. Lovett, a member of Mumford & Sons and co-founder of Communion, spoke about the impending launch of Lafeyette and his passion for grassroots venues at Futures Forum at ILMC 32.

Continues Tappuni: “2020 has undoubtedly been a difficult year for so many new artists, who haven’t had any opportunities to play in front of their new fans, and we hope this series with our friends at LIVENow helps bring their live shows to your screens.”

 


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Academy Music Group, Ronnie Scott’s receive CRF grants

Academy Music Group (AMG), Ronnie Scott’s and London Venue Group (LVG) are among the eight arts and cultural organisations in the UK to receive grants between £1 million and £3m from the second Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) tranche.

Venue operator AMG, whose shareholders include Live Nation, will receive just under £3m (£2,981,431) to “help meet the core operating costs” of its 20 live music venues across the country, including O2 Academy venues in London, Leeds and Liverpool.

While world-renowned jazz club Ronnie Scott’s has received a grant of £1,272,631 to “explore streamed performance opportunities for emerging and established British musicians”. The club says it’s delighted that “the fundamental importance of Ronnie Scott’s” has been recognised.

And venue operator LVG, owned by Mumford & Sons member Ben Lovett, has been awarded £2,358,902 to maintain its venues Omeara (cap. 320), Lafayette (600) and recent addition The Social (250) during closure and “enable them to explore streaming options in the future”.

“We are overjoyed that we are able to ensure that all our members of staff can now look ahead to Christmas without the looming threat of redundancy, and to protect the extended Venue Group family; a team of bright, passionate, capable, industry professionals who we’ve been trying to support however possible since being forced to close our venues back in March,” Lovett wrote on Instagram.

“These grants will help the places that have shaped our skylines for hundreds of years and that continue to define culture”

“These grants will help the places that have shaped our skylines for hundreds of years and that continue to define culture in our towns and cities,” says culture secretary Oliver Dowden at the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which has been working alongside Arts Council England to disperse the fund.

“From St Paul’s and Ronnie Scott’s to The Lowry and Durham Cathedral, we’re protecting heritage and culture in every corner of the country to save jobs and ensure it can bounce back strongly.”

Elsewhere, in Scotland, 203 organisations and venues have received a share of £11.75m through the first tranche of the Scottish government’s Culture Organisations and Venues Recovery Fund, delivered by Creative Scotland.

“The Scottish government is determined to do everything within our powers to see the sector through this crisis,” says culture secretary Fiona Hyslop.

“This emergency funding will provide vital support to a wide range of cultural organisations and venues across Scotland currently facing extreme challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has been designed specifically to help organisations cope with the immediate issues they are facing and to help save jobs.

“I am pleased to see such a wide range of organisations supported, from comedy clubs and theatres to galleries and production companies.”

See results from the first round of the UK’s CRF here.

 


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London’s The Social joins Ben Lovett’s Venue Group

London venue The Social will reopen in 2021 after partnering with Venue Group, the Ben Lovett-led operator of Omeara and Lafayette.

The two-storey, 250-capacity venue, located on Little Portland Street in London’s West End, will operate under the Venue Group umbrella as part of a partnership that provides The Social with “stability and security” and assurance for its customers, according to the company.

The Social opened in 1999 and has hosted acts including the Chemical Brothers, Four Tet, Michael Kiwanuka, Florence and the Machine, Adele, Beck and Aphex Twin. It raised more than £145,000 in a crowdfunding campaign last year to stop its enforced sale.

“Ever since The Social announced that it was at risk of closure in 2019, I have been actively engaged in trying to figure out a way to prevent that from happening. We have been working together on a solution that retains the entire independence and ownership for the founders while teaming up together to ensure the long-term viability of the venue,” says Venue Group CEO and Mumford & Sons member Lovett, who spoke about his passion for grassroots venues at ILMC’s Futures Forum eearlier this year.

“Alongside Omeara and Lafayette, I hope that we are developing a path for artists of all shapes and sizes to develop and grow with their fans”

“I believe that The Social is one of the most important destinations in London, especially as a music venue, and alongside Omeara and Lafayette I hope that we are developing a path for artists of all shapes and sizes to develop and grow with their fans in one of the world’s most significant music cities.”

Robin Turner of The Social adds: “After the 2019 Crowdfunder, we knew we were realistically only halfway towards saving The Social. Though we were able to stay open for our 20th anniversary, we’d lost our long-time operating partners and needed to find new ones to help us move forward.

“When we met Ben, Greg [Lovett] and the Venue Group, we immediately knew they were kindred spirits: people who recognised the transformative power of a good night out, and were dedicated to offering audiences and bands the best gig experience possible.

“We’re extremely excited about The Social taking its next steps forward with them. Here’s to the next 20 years.”

 


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UK govt abolishes business rates for small venues

Businesses with a rateable value of below £51,000 will not pay any business rates – the tax levied on non-domestic property in the UK – for the next year, in what comes as a boost to the country’s grassroots music sector.

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the rates abolishment today (11 March) as part of the government’s budget for 2020, which focuses on how to ease the economic impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. The rates relief will run from April 2020 for twelve months.

Full business rates relief previously only applied to firms with a rateable value – the value used to determine payable business rates, based on size, location and other factors – of below £12,000.

“In our manifesto last year, the government promised to increase their business rates retail discount by 50%, but we can go further,” says the chancellor. “We are taking the exceptional step of abolishing business rates altogether.”

The tax cut, says Sunak, is worth over £1 billion and is set to save each business up to £25,000.

A review into the long-term future of business rates will be concluded by the autumn.

“We are taking the exceptional step of abolishing business rates altogether”

In 2017, a 4% hike in business rates saw the overheads paid by many small businesses across the UK skyrocket. Grassroots venues in particular have suffered, having remained exempt from the tax relief granted to other small retailers for years.

Venue operators across the UK celebrated a 50% cut in rates in January, calling it “a profound and positive step” for the sector.

That same month, iconic London music venue the 100 Club became the first venue in the country to receive full business rates relief, under a new scheme put forward by Westminster City Council.

The venue, which has played host to the Rolling Stones, Oasis and the Sex Pistols, has been on the brink of closure at least three times in the past decade, with a third of UK venues closing in the same time period.

Speaking at Futures Forum on Friday, Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett, who operates London venues Omeara and Lafayette, lamented the loss of many UK grassroots venues and stressed the importance of having venues of all sizes for artists to perform in.

Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust (MVT) comments: “Music Venue Trust very warmly welcomes additional measures announced by HM Government in the budget to tackle the developing crisis provoked by Covid-19. We are particularly pleased that alongside the additional cut to business rates, the challenges Covid-19 presents to the smallest grassroots music venues, many of whom are too small to be in the existing business rates system, will be addressed via the small business grant fund, providing grants of up to £3000 to manage the emerging negative impacts.

 “The coronavirus outbreak presents a new challenge for the live music industry and this welcome step will be a lifeline for some at this critical time”

“It remains the case that too many grassroots music venues in the UK have rateable valuations which are simply too high to benefit from either of these measures,” continues Davyd, “and those venues will need additional measures bringing forward to enable them to withstand this crisis.

“We also welcome the commitment to a review of business rates to be carried out this year, with the hope that this review will finally result in the creation of an accurate and relevant classification for grassroots music venues that will see an end to them being unfairly penalised in this outdated system.”

Acting UK Music CEO Tom Kiehl adds that the chancellor should “be hugely congratulated” for scrapping business rates.

“Music venues are the lifeblood of our industry,” continues Kiehl. “However, many are fighting for survival and need all the help they can get to remain open.

 “The coronavirus outbreak presents a new challenge for the live music industry and this welcome step will be a lifeline for some businesses at this critical time.

 “We ask the Government to constantly review financial support available to music businesses and employees in response to coronavirus and consider making further changes.”

 


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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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