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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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.”
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.
A year after Una buy, Sky Tickets defunct
Less than a year after announcing its first music-industry partnerships, Sky Tickets – the fledgling entertainment/sports ticketing division of broadcast giant Sky UK Ltd – is no longer doing business, multiple sources have told IQ.
Sky Tickets was, along with Amazon UK’s Amazon Tickets and Alibaba’s Tao Piao Piao/Damai.cn, one of several new ticketing ventures launched by major multinationals in recent years, and appeared to be laying the groundwork for expansion in the live music space with last year’s acquisition of UK start-up Una Tickets.
Concurrent with the buy-out of Una, Sky announced the platform would be the exclusive ticketing partner of Omeara, the new London venue managed by Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett – a deleted 19 October tweet from the now defunct Sky Tickets Twitter account read: “Tonight, London’s newest music venue launches. Check out what’s going on at #OMEARA for yourself: https://tickets.sky.com/events” – while then-Sky Tickets director Mark Guymer also confirmed to IQ the the company would provide a “full end-to-end service” for Curious Arts Festival in the New Forest.
Sky also began sending delegates to industry events to drum up business for the new platform; Sky Tickets’ Alex Kennedy, for instance, spoke at the ‘future of live music’ panel at FastForward 2016.
Sky appeared to be laying the groundwork for live music expansion with the acquisition of Una Tickets
However, IQ understands the deal with Omeara fell apart not long after it was announced (one person close to Sky suggests it was a case of the company simply “not managing to get their ticketing plan together”), with tickets currently sold through a variety of agents, and Curious Arts has since moved over to Eventbrite. The web address tickets.sky.com now redirects to the Sky homepage.
Guymer, the man tasked with leading Sky Tickets, has also moved on, joining Really Useful Group, where he is overseeing the launch of its new ticketing platform as managing director. He reports to Rebecca Kane-Burton, the former O2 GM who joined the theatre company last September.
While’s Sky’s future plans for Una/Sky Tickets remain unclear, Sky UK stills holds a significant stake in Una Tickets Ltd, and Sky execs Karl Holmes, Colin Jones and Christopher Taylor remain Una directors. Guymer also notes Sky recently began rolling out its Sky VIP loyalty programme, which includes the chance to win VIP tickets to sporting events and film screenings, in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
Sky UK did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Tixserve launches as Autonomy Music turns 10
Tixserve, a mobile white-label ticketing platform which aims to provide ticket sellers with improved data capture while eliminating fraud and unauthorised resale, launched officially last night at Autonomy Music’s 10th birthday showcase.
The party, at recently opened South Bank venue Omeara, saw Tixserve act as the label services group’s ticketing partner, and follows earlier trials at other London venues.
Speaking to IQ before the event, Tixserve managing director Patrick Kirby – who founded the company with chief revenue officer Simon Goodale, a former colleague at Payzone – said he was inspired to develop the technology after being stung by a fake Rolling Stones ticket bought from a secondary site.
Unlike platforms such as Dice (which Kirby calls a “great app” and says “could be a partner in future”), Tixserve doesn’t sell tickets itself, instead offering “ticket agents, venues, promoters, D2C [direct-to-consumer] players and other ticket sellers a white-label toolkit that will help beat secondary ticketing bots and fraudsters whilst enhancing customer experience” – making it, in the words of the launch blurb, “the world’s first end-to-end ticketing fulfilment platform”.
Eliminating ticket touting is, however, only part of the solution – and only if those using Tixserve actually want to, Kirby explains. “We’re the Switzerland of digital ticketing!” he says, alluding to the company’s reluctance to wade into the heated secondary ticketing debate. “We’ve made a solution that lets people address those problems if they want to.”
“We look forward to working with those in the music business who want to tackle some of the biggest problems facing the live industry”
Just as important, says Kirby, is the data capture aspect. Part of it is a patented API, he explains, that pops ups up during the check-out process and, “without jeopardising the sale of the ticket, lets people add names of other people who may be attending. It also monitors [ticket-buying] behaviour over time – it’s a bit like having a loyalty scheme, but a lot more sophisticated.”
For those worried about the take-up of paperless ticketing owing to the fact that phones do things like run out of battery or get lost, Kirby says Tixserve also has that covered. “We’ve developed the ultimate fallback: Providing you’re not so stoned out of your mind you can’t remember your phone number,” he jokes, “just quote it to the guy on the door – you don’t even have to go the box office – and he can search it in the app.” For those who are forgetful (stoned or otherwise), their name or ID will work, too.
“Tixserve is a better way of doing paperless ticketing,” Kirby says in a launch statement. “Unlike current offerings in this space, our solution doesn’t involve costly and slow blanket photo ID and credit card checks at the event venue. This means the system is simple and inexpensive for venues, and customers are able to get through the gates quickly – all without sacrificing cast-iron security measures that will stop bots, duplicators and fraudsters in their tracks.
“We look forward to working with those in the music business who want to tackle some of the biggest problems facing the live industry while at the same time improving the experience of music fans.”
London hiring: Khan seeks his night czar
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has made good on his promise to create a ‘night czar’ role to oversee London’s night-time economy and grassroots music venues and clubs.
City Hall this afternoon posted the official job description, which offers the successful applicant £35,000 per annum for 2.5 days a week, and is initially fixed-term for a year. Desirable qualities include a “proven leadership ability, public profile and convening power” and “thorough understanding of the night-time economy and the ability to work in a political environment”.
Khan vowed to make the cultural sector one of his “top priorities” following his election in May, and has recently been vocal in his support for Ben Lovett’s new venue, Omeara, and under-threat nightclub Fabric.
London’s small-venue scene, long in steep decline – an estimated 40% of grassroots music venues closed between 2004 and 2014 – is slowly recovering, reported IQ in June, with at least four new venues scheduled to open this year.
Mumfords’ Ben Lovett to open new London venue
Ben Lovett, one quarter of Mumford & Sons and a co-founder of promoter, label and music publisher Communion, has announced plans for a new grassroots music venue in London.
Omeara will be part of a South Bank development called the Low Line and is expected to open in September.
Music Venue Trust founder Mark Davyd has confirmed to IQ that Omeara is one of the four brand-new venues he revealed recently would be opening in the British capital this year.
“I’ve been playing and putting on shows in London for my entire adult life,” says Lovett. “Without the grassroots music venues in this city, the band and I simply wouldn’t have achieved what we have, so I have a lot to be grateful for.
“Over the last few years, London has lost so many of its brilliant music establishments, and I want to do what I can to try and reverse that decline.
“Over the last few years London has lost so many of its brilliant music establishments, and I want to do what I can to try and reverse that decline”
“It’s early days right now, and we’ve got plenty of hard work to do before we even open the doors to Omeara, but I’m extremely excited for its future and what it can do for London.”
Communion will book the new venue, while ticketing will be via industry newcomer Sky Tickets.
Sadiq Khan, the new mayor of London, adds: “Growing London’s cultural sector is one of my core priorities, and this includes supporting grassroots music venues. These venues, which are the lifeblood of our music scene, are often under threat, so I’m delighted to see Ben Lovett opening an exciting new destination for live music fans.
“This type of initiative is exactly what the capital needs, especially at this time when I want to show that #Londonisopen to creative entrepreneurs like Ben, who are underlining London’s reputation as one of the best 24-hour cities in the world.”