Save London's live music venues: city-wide campaign launched

Mayor of London’s task force makes six recommendations to save remaining venues and encourage new ones to open

A urgent city-wide campaign has been launched to save London’s live music venues, the number of which has declined by 35% in eight years.

Since 2007, 50 venues have shut their doors for good, leaving the capital with just 88. Historic venues such as the Marquee Club, the Astoria, the 12 Bar Club, Water Rats and Madame Jojo’s have disappeared from the map, falling victim to high costs, complaints from residents and pressures from developers. Many more are on the brink of closure.

“An increasing population means that residential development is taking place cheek-by-jowl with night-time activity,” a report by the mayor of London’s music venue taskforce says. “This pressure, coupled with rising property prices and increasing costs for grassroots music venues, is proving too much and venues are closing.”

The report makes six major recommendations which will be put into practice over the next few years to ensure that London’s remaining music venues will not continue to die a slow death.

They includes the creation of a “night mayor” to champion the night-time economy, and adopting the “agent of change” principle, which makes residential developers responsible for the costs of soundproofing if they build near an existing venue.

Thanks to the pressures of gentrification and increased demand for accommodation, many music venue landlords have chosen to sell their properties to developers. Venues such as the Flowerpot in Camden have been demolished and turned into flats, while escalating rents have forced others to close.

The task force’s report urges local authorities to offer urgent relief on business rates for grassroots venues, and to change highly restrictive and outdated planning and licensing laws.

Venues that have been there for decades but have new residential neighbours are vulnerable to noise complaints, and local authorities have been quick to withdraw licences at the first sign of grievance by residents.

The mayor’s office has vowed to work with councils to demonstrate how live music venues, far from bringing trouble and increased police costs, are actually economically and culturally beneficial.

The report has the backing of both musicians and venue owners, who said it was vital something was done before it was too late.

Jeff Horton, who runs the 100 Club in the West End, said the live music scene in London had been decimated over the past decade. His own running costs were extortionate, he said, because the venue, which has been running since 1942, sits among some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

The 100 Club pays £180,000 a year in rent and service charges, and about £50,000 in business rates. It is one of only six live music venues left in the West End and only avoided closure in 2011 thanks to a commercial partnership with Converse.

Horton said: “As someone who has run a live music venue for 35 years, I can tell you that this report is hugely important. This gives us a chance to change the live music landscape of London back to where it was a few years ago.

“There used to be over a 100 live music venues in the West End and now we’re down to four or five. I’ve seen my industry decimated and it really upsets me. If all the grassroots venue close, where are the big festival headliners going to come from?”

The musician Frank Turner said he had been alarmed by the number of venues that had shut recently. “I’ve seen a lot of the venues that gave me the chance to experiment and grow as an artist disappear,” he said.

“Without the spaces for new talent to discover itself and its audience, music in London will die a slow death, and the UK will lose a huge part of its culture.”

The task force report also envisages the establishment of a music development board, which will set a goal for the number of venues needed to sustain a healthy ecosystem of live music in London.

It also disputes the common misconception touted by councils that live music venues bring rowdy and drunken crowds onto the streets and put pressure on policing. At the Village Underground in Shoreditch, for example, the average spend on alcohol at a live event is £6.27 per person.

Mark Davyd, who chairs the Music Venue Trust, said the report’s findings made depressing reading, but that the recommendations and support of the mayor provided a much-needed lifeline for London’s long-suffering live music industry.

“We’ve lost over a third of our grassroots music venues and nobody noticed,” he said. “We have to face the fact that we’ve let these venues down. We’ve made it too expensive to run a music venue in London. These places are our talent creators, so let’s protect this thriving network of music venues in London that we so desperately need.”

The task force report also suggests the creation of “music zones” in places such as Soho and Camden, where planning and licensing would encourage people to run music nights.

Davyd said that if the report’s recommendations are implemented, new music venues would be opening in London over the next few years.

“What we’ve found is that when it came to licensing of music venues, local authorities are starting from the point of view of ‘well how much of a problem is this going to be’,” he said. “What we need to do is change that whole conversation.”


Hannah Ellis-Petersen

The GuardianTramp

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