My band got big thanks to the UK’s small venues. We can’t let them die out

Many of the venues that nurtured us have now closed. We’re donating £1 per ticket of our upcoming arena tour to preserve the rest – and it should become standard practice

What we’re doing is super simple. One pound from every ticket to our forthcoming arena tour is going to the Music Venue Trust (MVT) to distribute to grassroots venues who are otherwise completely unsupported and are really struggling.

In the UK we’re currently losing one small venue every week, which is shocking. Meanwhile, at least eight new arenas are in various stages of development or construction. So while there’s all this investment at the top of the music industry the rest is being left to wither and die. But where will the next generation of arena headliners come from if they’re not able to come up through smaller venues?

As patrons of MVT, we’ve been very aware of what’s been happening to venues, with Covid, gentrification and then rocketing energy prices and other costs. Obviously the pandemic made it very difficult for the whole music industry but [smaller] venues were already struggling and it’s accelerating. Printworks in London closed this week – we did our one of our recent music videos there. Whenever we do smaller shows in towns that aren’t on the regular touring circuit we come face to face with the sad realisation that a lot of the venues we came up in have been lost – they’re now blocks of flats or whatever. Two of the first places we ever played, the Marquee in Hertford and the Square in Harlow – which also once hosted Blur, Oasis and Coldplay – are both gone. We’ve lost so many others – including the Roadhouse in Manchester, the Jailhouse in Coventry, the Cockpit in Leeds, Fibbers in York and Studio 24 in Edinburgh. Even Sheffield Leadmill - an amazing place - is currently under threat. We just can’t keep losing all these venues.

We played our very first gig in the Pioneer youth club and skate park in St Albans, a longstanding venue that has managed to stave off threats of closure and demolition. A lot of our current team actually worked there with various youth organisations trying to keep the place alive. Those early local shows at the Pioneer or the Horn [also in St Albans] were so important in terms of having an opportunity on our doorstep, somewhere to invite our friends and get some experience of being on a stage. Once you’ve experienced every possible thing that can go wrong, you develop the confidence and experience that helps you progress. You’re playing with different bands, making friendships and discovering new styles of music. It all goes into the melting pot that becomes a band’s sound. I can’t emphasise enough how pivotal this is.

In those days we’d be going back to places that gave us opportunities and the fanbase would keep building. Now, so much happens online, but you still can’t beat the experience of someone getting excited and their eyes glowing as they tell their friends about a show they’ve just seen. As a band, we’ve been on the playing side and the promoting side and I’ve certainly experienced these venues as a punter, discovering some of my favourite bands and artists. The band SikTh were local to us and became very influential on all sort of sub-genres within metal. Dan Weller from the band even produced a couple of our albums, which all started with the connections we made in small venues.

I just don’t understand why small venues don’t receive the sort of support there is – and rightly so – for opera and ballet, or for small venues in Europe. When we suggested doing something to help, some people said it would be too complex or that arenas and other bands wouldn’t come on board. So we’ve decided to do something ourselves and show everyone that it’s possible. No extra cost is pushed on to the fans – we kept the ticket price for the arena tour under £40 and even with the donation it’s still under £40. It can be done.

Hopefully this will encourage other artists to do something, but help really needs to come from the big venues and ideally government. Supporting smaller venues needs to become standard practice. Imagine if in 10 years’ time all these sparkly new arenas are lying empty because we didn’t support our venues and have no new artists coming through.

• As told to Dave Simpson. Enter Shikari’s arena tour starts at First Direct Arena, Leeds, on 9 February 2024. Tickets go on sale at 10am on 5 May. The band’s current album A Kiss for the Whole World is out now

Rou Reynolds, Enter Shikari

The GuardianTramp

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