For a plant to blossom and grow in to something bigger and brighter, it needs to start off as a seed. If this seed is healthy, it will grow steadily. The same goes for music venues and the acts that grace their stages. The Beatles didn’t get to Shea Stadium without playing The Cavern Club many times before. Paul McCartney proclaimed, “Throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to play venues of all different shapes and sizes, from tiny clubs to massive stadiums all over the world. Without the grassroots clubs, pubs and music venues, my career could have been very different.” He continues to say, “If we don’t support live music at this level then the future of music in general is in danger.” This is a sentiment shared by most in the music industry and the millions of music fans in the UK. Grassroots venues are essential to the growth and discovery of new acts. It is where artists can develop and work on their craft.
There is no doubt that smaller independent venues have struggled over the past few years. Ridiculously large business rates have been the source to many of these struggles. There is a light at the end of venue’s tunnel though as the government have announced a 50% reduction in business rates for small and medium sized Grassroots venues. Details reveal that £1.7 million will be released back in to Grassroots Live music sector. This is a much needed boost for such venues, especially as 35% of Grassroots Music venues have closed in the last decade alone.
Knowing the importance of these sweaty small spaces, artists such as Jack Steadman, leader singer of experimental indie band Bombay Bicycle Club stated, “I know there’s lots of smaller venues struggling but we all need to try our hardest to keep them open.” His band started off in Camden’s sticky Barfly playing “chaotic, fun gigs” as he puts it. Bands rely so much on live music for making an income these days and most can’t rely on royalties to pay for their lifestyles, though not many musicians have the access to excess that artist’s before have seen. These venues provide a lifeline for bands and various artists. This is why the news that 230 of these important spaces getting the same business rates as non-domestic properties is so important. According to Independent Venues Trust, it is believed that these new rates will save each venue an average of £7,500 a year – a substantial amount for small businesses. One venue has been given a special status. Perhaps one of the most important Grassroots venues, The 100 Club, London will benefit from 100% business rates relief.Having seen the likes of The Rolling Stones and Oasis grace their stages over the years, it had been facing closure due to financial troubles but will now benefit from NNDR Localism Relief, saving the venue over £76,000 a year.
This news reaches us in Independent Venue Week. It celebrates gig spaces throughout the country where some of the world’s most famous names have performed. These venues inspire new generations to step in to the music industry and the sight of their doors closing actually closed the possibility of so many new musicians finding their voices.
Artists may start by playing to ten or less of their mates at these gigs (I know, I’ve played to less) but this is where they hone their crafts, play the rubbish gigs, build confidence and progress to maybe even playing sold out arenas within a few years. This long overdue relief on business rates hasn’t come easily. Music Venue Trust tweeted, “This really happened. 5 years of campaigning, dozens of meetings, hundreds of hours of work. Thank you to everyone that helped.” The hard work is only just beginning according to Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd, but it is a step in the right direction. The Trust has been working hard with the Government for 5 years and their tireless work has also seen progress in other sectors such as the Arts Council releasing £1.5 million of subsidy back in to the sector in May 2019. As Mark Davyd states, “Billions of pounds in revenue are being generated in the music industry from the music that is tested, developed, finds its audiences and emerges from these vital spaces.” Without funds to help these smaller gig spaces, the music industry would be losing out on a lot more.
Rob Toogood, owner of Cardiff rock club, Fuel says, “business rates are a major challenge to our financial survival. It’s fantastic that the government and local authorities are starting to recognise the importance of venues like ours to the cultural infrastructure of our communities.” For so long many of us, including myself, have witnessed these venues closing, such as another of Cardiff’s beloved live music supporters, Gwdihw. The closure of such venues is met with such sadness and anger that, maybe finally, the government are starting to take notice and realise the importance of these spaces to not only music but the communities that support and are supported by the Grassroots venues.