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Coronavirus: Numerous UK venues close in single day

A number of UK venues declared they were closing for good today, as the insolvency of two companies making up UK event and venue management specialist VMS Live leads to the shuttering of Hull venues the Welly and the Polar Bear, and Mission Mars-operated Gorilla and Deaf Institute in Manchester also announce permanent closures.

Hull Live reports that VMS CEO Bert van Horck and non-executive director Kate Forster yesterday (15 July) transferred their authority as directors for the VMS Live companies VMS Live (2011) Ltd and VMS Live (Venues) Ltd, with the expected loss of 20 full-time jobs..

As a result of the insolvencies of the two companies, Hull venues the Welly (600-cap.) and the Polar Bear (200-cap.), which VMS took on in 2018, as well as ticketing outlet Hull Box Office, are closing down.

The remaining four VMS Live companies, which operate/book venues including Eventim Olympia Liverpool (1,960-cap.), Asylum in Hull (1,100-cap.) and the William Aston Hall in Wrexham (1,200-cap.), will continue to operate as before.

“I am deeply saddened that we had to make this decision, following the completion of the yearly accounts, the announcements of the government and the bank reconciliation, which lead us to be at immediate risk of trading whilst insolvent,” comments van Horck, who has served as CEO of the company since 2019.

“I am deeply saddened that we had to make this decision”

“I would like to thank all of our staff on behalf of Kate and I for the magnificent efforts made to try and save these two companies, both between September and March during normal trading and beyond into the Covid-19 enforced closure.”

The news comes as two other well-loved UK venues, Mission Mars-operated Gorilla (600-cap.) and Deaf Institute (260-cap.) in Manchester, close under the pressure of Covid-19.

“The Deaf Institute and Gorilla have been at the forefront of the music scene in Manchester for many years and it is with great sadness that we announce that we will not be reopening,” says Mission Mars CEO Roy Ellis.

“This difficult decision has been made against the backdrop of Covid-19 and the enforced closure of all of our sites and with continued restrictions upon opening of live music venues.

“We appreciate that these music destinations are well loved and have provided an early stage for many acts in the North West and are therefore well known in the world of music.

“We would encourage any industry and music entrepreneurs who might be interested in this as an opportunity to please get in touch.”

 


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German politicians tackle venue closures

Members of Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, are calling for clubs and live music venues to be classified as cultural institutions, in a bid to avoid more grassroots venue closures.

The Die Linke (The Left) party and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens), who hold 69 and 67 seats in the federal parliament respectively, have submitted reports to the Bundestag urging more protection for the country’s smaller venues.

“Clubs shape the culture and quality of life in cities,” reads the opening of the Left’s report, submitted in October. “They are spaces of cultural diversity and deserve special protection.”

The main demand from both groups is for clubs and live music venues to be recognised as ‘cultural institutions’, rather than ‘places of entertainment’ in the national building code. Such a classification would legally equate venues to concert halls, opera houses, theatres and cinemas, instead of to brothels, sex cinemas and betting shops, as is the case currently.

“In the building code, cultural institutions enjoy more opportunities to integrate into inner cities than entertainment venues,” explain the Left.

“In the building code, cultural institutions enjoy more opportunities to integrate into inner cities than entertainment venues”

The Greens offer the example of famous Berlin club Berghain (1,600-cap.) which won a court battle in 2016 to pay the 7% tax rate levied on cultural venues, rather than the 19% paid by places of entertainment.

The judgement swung in Berghain’s favour, “due to the artistic, concert-like and special creative nature of its programme”, states the Greens’ proposal, submitted earlier this month.

Each party stresses that club- and live music- culture is undervalued and undersupported by the government, with the Green party indicating that, although the club scene generates around €216 million per year in Berlin alone, the sector has “so far received little public funding”.

According to German promoters’ association BDKV, a large number of music venues have been forced to close in the past two years, as noise complaints from local residents drive non-renewals of rental agreements. Venues to have shut their doors include Rosis in Berlin, Dusseldorf’s Damenundherren, Scandale in Cottbus, Essen’s Essener Studio, Kleiner Donner in Hamburg and Munich’s MMA.

“More than ever before, we need these spaces, which act as musical venues for artists and at the same time as social meeting places”

To tackle closures, the parliamentary groups suggest the introduction of the ‘agent of change’ principle, like that in place in the UK and Australia which makes housing developers building new homes near venues responsible for addressing noise issues.

“We sincerely hope that, in retrospect, these two proposals will be the beginning of a bipartisan initiative at the federal level that will work for the benefit of existing and future music venues in Germany,” comments Axel Ballreich, chairman of LiveKomm (LiveMusikKommission).

“More than ever before, we need these spaces, which act as musical venues for artists and at the same time as social meeting places.”

Speaking to IQ in 2017, a LiveKomm spokesperson explained that lack of government support, threat of noise complaints and high taxation were paving the way for a “venue crisis”.

 


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Koko closes while “structural issue” is fixed

Famed London venue Koko has closed temporarily for structural remedial work.

The grade II-listed Camden venue, which has a capacity of 1,410, closed on Friday 21 September and is expected to reopen in mid-October.

Koko spokesperson Larry Seymour says: “Our consultant surveyors recently made us aware of a structural issue within the building. The protection and well-being of our customers and staff is of paramount importance and we have therefore decided to close the venue while work is carried out.”

All promoters, agents and managers who had artists or events booked into the venue during the closure period have been notified.

“The nature of the work means that there is no alternative to a full closure”

“We place the utmost value on our relationships with our clients,” continues Seymour, “but we were unable to work around the diary. The nature of the work means that there is no alternative to a full closure.

“We offer sincere and heartfelt apologies to all our clients and customers who have been affected by the closure. Our contractors are working diligently and at all speed to ensure that we are able to welcome back a full programme of events as soon as possible.”

Upcoming shows at the venue included Peter Hook and the Light, Palaye Royale, Jilted John, Okkervil River and the Coral.

Koko has been owned fully by its founder, Oliver Bengough, since December 2016, following the purchase of a 50% stake formerly held by music video streaming platform LiveXLive.

 


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Strongroom studios under threat from office development

Bosses at London’s Strongroom have launched a campaign to save the iconic recording studio complex, which is under threat from plans to build a new five- or six-storey office block next door.

Co-founders and owners Richard Boote and Paul Woolf say Strongroom could be put of business if planning permission is granted for the offices, with build noise and vibrations making recording sessions impossible during the projected 18-month construction period. The obstruction of natural light once the block is finished would also “drastically affect” the amenity space of Strongroom’s Bar & Kitchen business, they add.

Boote says the proposal is symptomatic of a wider problem in the east London neighbourhood, where smaller, often creative-industry, businesses are increasingly being forced out by property developers.

“The area of Shoreditch has become almost unrecognisable; when I started Strongroom in 1984, there was plenty of space and costs were low,” he comments. “As a result, a fantastic and influential community grew here. We have always attracted a wide range of artists over the years: names such as Orbital, the Chemical Brothers and the Pet Shop Boys, to name a few, all had their own studios within Strongroom, and more recently we’ve worked with artists such as Tom Odell, who mixed Real Love here, Slaves with Are You Satisfied? and Radiohead with Kid A.

“We have been a part of the industry and a part of the area for over 30 years and have watched it change over time. Now we are fighting to protect our livelihood. as there is a genuine danger that even more artists will be priced out of this area, which would be a heart-breaking end to what Shoreditch once was.”

“We want to do everything we can to fight to stay here”

The co-owners called for London’s creative industries to rally around the under-threat studios, and a 38 Degrees petition is set to be delivered to Hackney Council, Hackney MP Diane Abbott, mayor of London Sadiq Khan and more.

“We want Strongroom to continue to thrive as a hub for creative industries – like it was in the days where people’s needs were more important than pound signs – instead of the land of corporate greed it seems to be becoming, which is [we recently made the decision] for the Kitchen to be not-for-profit, despite the aggressive rising costs we are facing. Now there’s the very real possibility that these plans, as well as 34 years of history, could all be lost.

“We want to do everything we can to fight to stay here and keep the area more affordable for Britain’s rich vein of creative talent.”

“The government has already acknowledged the need for agent-of-change principles to be applied whenever a new development threatens the existence of an important cultural asset,” adds Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust. “Strongroom plainly fulfils that criteria, both as a recording studio and a live music centre. We hope Hackney will take appropriate action during the planning process so that Strongroom enjoys the full protections intended by the National Planning Policy Framework.”

 


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“A sad day”: Melbourne Festival Hall faces demolition

Historic Melbourne venue Festival Hall is to be demolished to make way for a A$65m apartment complex, after being forced out by “younger, bigger, stronger” rivals, its owner has said.

The 5,400-capacity music and sporting venue, which dates from 1913, is an “old boxer” unable to compete with newer  venues such as the 7,500-seat Margaret Court Arena and the 10,500-cap. Hisense Arena, owner Chris Wren – a descendant of famed Australian businessman and underworld figure John Wren, who took over the venue in 1915 – tells the Sydney Morning Herald.

Acts who have played the Festival Hall include the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Sex Pistols, Frank Sinatra, INXS and, more recently, Queens of the Stone Age, Liam Gallagher and Gang of Youths.

It was largely destroyed by fire in 1955 but was rebuilt in time for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

The proposed new development would comprise 179 flats across two towers, along with retail and commercial space.

“It is a sad day, but we’ve made the decision”

“It’s a sad occasion for us in many respects,” says Wren, “but it’s a decision we’ve had to contemplate now for some time. As responsible directors we’re going to have to close the shop. So a bit like an old boxer hanging up his gloves, we’re going to be doing that in the near future.

“It is a sad day, but we’ve made the decision.”

Patrick Donovan, CEO of industry association Music Victoria, urges developer Rothelowman, along with local authorities, to “retain and protect this iconic music venue.”

“Festival Hall is such an iconic and important venue to Melbourne and Victoria,” he says. “It is versatile, and provides a unique offering of world-class local and international live music and other entertainment. […]

“Music Victoria will continue to support live music venues, and work with local and state government and the music community to protect the health and longevity of Victoria’s live music scene.”

 


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Fears for Thekla future as Bristol greenlights new development

One of Britain’s most unique music venues, DHP Family’s Thekla in Bristol, is facing an uncertain future following Bristol City Council’s decision to approve a new housing development adjacent to the 400-cap. venue.

DHP fears Thekla – a former cargo ship moored in Bristol’s Mud Dock – could be forced to close due to potential noise complaints from the new flats at Redcliffe Wharf if the developer fails to put in sufficient soundproofing to protect its residents.

At the planning meeting on Wednesday night, developer Complex Development Projects gave assurances it would carry out a a new and more comprehensive noise assessment prior to the development’s completion. DHP says, however, that despite it calling for the planning decision to be deferred until this had taken place, councillors gave Complex the green light.

“We appeal to the developer to keep to their promise to work with us on a new noise survey and improved sound insulation scheme to protect Thekla and the future residents from noise problems,” comments DHP Family’s head of compliance, Julie Tippins. “We expect the council to follow up on the assurances they gave to councillors to only give the go-ahead once they were satisfied the Thekla would be protected from future noise complaints from residents of the development.

“This is not the end of the fight to protect Thekla … we have to ensure all parties keep to the commitments they have given”

“This is certainly not the end of the fight to protect the Thekla, as we have to ensure that all parties keep to the commitments they have given. We urge our supporters to contact their local councillors and MPs to ensure the council does all it can to protect the future of the Thekla.”

Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust, adds: “Sensible and adequately planned residential developments near to grassroots music venues like the Thekla mean that residents and music lovers can happily co-exist. That outcome starts at the planning application stage when a good developer recognises the cultural value of the existing music venue and takes steps to protect it.

“Recognising the existence of an iconic music venue like Thekla starts with a thorough environmental impact study that specifically understands the noise in the area. Properly understanding noise and activity results in great design for any refurbishment or new building, ensuring noise is managed and controlled.”

DHP is calling on supporters to back its #savethekla campaign to make sure the commitment to carry out a more comprehensive noise survey is honoured.

 


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Rob da Bank, Foals join campaign to save the Cellar

Local bands Foals, Ride and Glass Animals, along with DJ and Bestival founder Rob da Bank, are among those to have signed a new petition opposing the impending closure of the Cellar, one of Oxford’s best-loved independent music venues.

The 150-capacity basement club – established 40 years ago by local promoter Adrian Hopkins and now managed by his son, Tim – is to be turned into a retail space, landlord St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities announced earlier this week.

In addition to Foals, Glass Animals et al., the Cellar has hosted early-career shows by Mumford & Sons, The xx, Young Knives, Stornoway, Diplo and Friendly Fires, and is recognised as a “pivotal venue in the development of Oxford’s musical history”, according to the petition, which is already close to its 10,000-signature target.

Tim Hopkins comments: “It is devastating news, not just for the Cellar team, but for the Oxford music scene as a whole. The loss of an important cultural asset such as the Cellar is a matter of concern for everyone – not just the music fans and musicians of Oxford. It should be of concern to anyone who cares about jobs, the night-time economy, local creativity and the social community of the city. We appreciate the pressures that may be felt by St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities, but the aims of the charity are not furthered by losing such a vital local space.

“It’s quite clear that the people of Oxford want the Cellar to stay”

“We would welcome the opportunity to work with St Michael’s and All Saints’ to look at an alternative way to increase their income, if this is their aim, but we have yet to be consulted on this. Working together could led to economic benefits for the charity, and we urge the trustees to pause and consider the wider benefits that a cultural space such as the Cellar brings to the local community.”

Mark Davyd of Music Venue Trust says allowing the conversion of the venue to a shop would be contrary to Oxford City Council’s culture strategy. “We urge St Michaels and All Saints to withdraw their application and work with the Cellar to develop a proposal that protects this important venue,” he comments. “Oxford City Council have a very clear cultural strategy, and converting a fantastic cultural asset like the Cellar into a retail space quite obviously flies in the face of that, as well as the needs of local people.

“It’s quite clear that the people of Oxford want the Cellar to stay, and we hope the charity will recognise this and reconsider their plans.”

IQ revealed earlier this month that publicly funded arts body Arts Council England has allocated just 0.06% of its total funding to popular music venues in its 2018–22 grants.

 


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Fairfield Halls operator enters administration

The operator of Fairfield Halls has gone bust just days after the south London music and arts venue closed for a two-year period of refurbishment.

Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd went into administration on Monday after emailing staff to tell them it was unable to pay their redundancy settlements, reports the Croydon Guardian, and appointing Herron Fisher appointed to oversee the bankruptcy proceedings.

The Fairfield, which includes a 1,800-seat concert hall, 750-seat theatre and 500-capacity standing concert area, closed on 15 July. Its operator had favoured a phased redevelopment – allowing part of the venue to remain open throughout – but accepted an offer from Croydon Council of around £500,000 to close for two years.

Before its closure, the Fairfield received an annual council grant of £740,000.

Croydon councillor Tim Godfrey tells the Guardian it has already also paid the company a quarter of a million pounds to fund redundancy pay-outs and other expenses related to the closure. Asked why the £750,000 was insufficient to cover redundancy payments, he says: “That’s a question for Fairfield.”

 


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Rising rents force MAO Livehouse out of business

Beijing venue the MAO Livehouse (no connection to this chap) is to close later this month.

Qian ‘Jide’ Zhiyuan, the Beijing Livehouse’s booker, tells The Beijinger that its last gig be on 24 April and feature three local acts: The Voice of China star Li Wenqi, indie rock group Escape Plan and post-punk band Residence A.

Li Chi, the founder of the MAO group, which also operates music venues in Shanghai, Kunming and Chongqing, revealed in December that the 800-capacity venue was threatened by rising rents in Beijing.

Another Beijing bar, nightclub and venue, The Den, was forced to close in December by its landlord, the People’s Armed Police gendarmery, which objected to the property being used for commercial purposes.

International artists who have played the MAO Livehouse include Frank Turner, PiL, Massive Attack, The Lumineers, Friendly Fires, Battles, !!! and Nouvelle Vague.