Whether you like live music or not, it’s important. Just in the same way that libraries, art galleries and theatres are important (regardless of whether you access them or not), they all bring art and culture to the town where you live.
For the last 3 years I’ve attended Venues Day. It’s a conference organised by the Music Venue Trust, which is an organisation of critical importance to the future of live music. It saves many venues from closure, campaigning on a national level directly to the powerful bastards who can actually make a difference.
On a personal level, when I go down to London for Venues Day I get to geek out. My people of interest are weird and wonderful. They run music venues, always stay current and always keep the focus on original live music – and they don’t compromise their morals in the process. People like Mal from Hebden Bridge Trades Club and Paul from the legendary Adelphi in Hull. (There’s a great interview with Paul, here). They really don’t give a shit whether you like them or not. They just care about their cause, and it pays off big time. Not financially of course – that would just be too much to ask for.
On a professional level Venues Day is inspiring. New ideas, new agents, bands, networks, partnerships, friends… Suddenly you realise all the awkward pesky little things that you struggle with as a venue are an issue for everyone else too. You don’t feel so out on a limb, and you don’t feel daft for trying to make something work when so many others are closing down.
So, yeah, it’s a pretty cool and humbling thing. And when all the talk is of coming together – of working together to combat the industry’s issues, of all the big idea stuff that could make a difference – you feel like you’re a part of something special. You feel like you’re one of many who all ‘get it’ and who are all working towards the same thing.
And then you come home…
We’re actually really fortunate up here in Scunthorpe and surrounding areas. We’ve got some hard-working promoters and an amazing array of venues. Town Hall Live packs them out in Kirton every single time, and always puts on a high quality show. The Ropery in Barton does a fine line in folk and blues. The Baths Hall is a genuine asset to the South bank of the Humber, incredibly resourced to the highest quality. And the Lincoln Imp… For years the only place keeping live music going, and a vital corner-stone in the cultural history of Scunthorpe.
And then us, doing what we do, for what it is worth.
There’s no need – nor any point – in petty squabbling, point scoring or rudeness between any of these. And, for the most part, there usually isn’t any.
We’re actually all engaged in the same struggle – to bring high quality, original (for the most part) live music to people. None of us does it for the pay-cheque, because there really isn’t one of any note. We do it because it’s important and we do it because we’re passionate about music. For our part, in the past Café INDIEpendent has reached out to other venues; we’ve offered shows and opportunities to work together; we’ve rejected, on principle, promoters who have tried to move shows here from another venue; and we’ve promoted others.
In the context of the broader picture – the national struggles of the grassroots live music scene – that’s important, and so we’ll keep doing it. People shouldn’t have loyalty to a single venue the way that they do to a Football Club (for example). “Favourite venue” is one of the few kinds of thing it’s okay to have more than one of. If somebody ever told me they wouldn’t go to see a show of a band they love playing at a different venue to ours, I’d tell them they’re crazy. The most important thing is to go see live music. It doesn’t matter where it is.
Competition can be healthy – and it can be friendly. It can help drive you forward, keep you on your toes, and help you make sure you work to ensure each show is the best it can be. Like The Beatles and the Stones. But… let’s not get above ourselves. We’re not The Beatles or the Stones of the venue world. None of us. We’re not even in the Top 3. Let’s not ever think we’re better than we are, or that we’ll still be here in five years if we insist on working in isolation. You can be competitive and still work together.
Music venues are important – especially these little grass-roots ones. We are the ones putting on unsigned acts, or the acts about to break big. Without these venues, opportunities for musicians to learn their trade, to progress through to the next level, just don’t exist. Without the small venue circuit you don’t get headliners at Glastonbury. The only important thing I can see about Celebrity ‘rich-lists’ is that they demonstrate music as the one area in which Britain really does still have global influence; a strong reputation and genuine talent and voice.
So we will continue to reach out, continue to offer ways of working together. We’ll keep banging the drum for live music for the benefit of everyone. And please know for us that means everywhere. A scene doesn’t happen easily from just one place. It’s actually about movement, choice and opportunity.
So gig goers, venues and promoters alike… trust us – it’s easier, it’s better, when you realise that you’re on the same team. Not every night, but sure as hell every day.