FEATURE: Agent of Change: The Ongoing Desire to Preserve Britain’s Music Venues



Agent of Change


ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash

The Ongoing Desire to Preserve Britain’s Music Venues


IT seems like this is a constant thread of all I do…


but the ever-changing, always-rumbling debate around music venues and their survival attract press and discussion. It has come to the stage where facts have shouted loud: thirty-five-percent of all music venues closed in the past decade (in London). Some of them would have been very small; others would have sprung up – the evidence is still damning and troubling. Artists such as Isaac Gracie and Sir Paul McCartney have come out and spoken about the issue – and how important venues are to the British music scene. The implementation mooted would employ the ‘Agent of Change’ theory. That would mean developers would need to fit soundproofing to all new developments built near music venues. This will start in London but it is hoped it will become law throughout the nation. There are other reasons why so many venues closed in 2017 – aside from noise and complaints – but that is a good start. Many people buy houses knowing full well they are close to a venue. Extraordinary naivety means they move in and, when they hear music coming from the venue, a complaint is lodged (from everyone nearby) and that puts pressure on that spot. Many have closed because it is a lot easier closing the venue rather than getting rid of the flats/houses.


A lot of these ill-fated venues have been in the same spot for years/decades; they were operating fine for years and then, when new houses are erected, that leads to issues. One can say the idiocy of the developers did not take into account the fact a venue would produce noise and pollution – they went ahead anyway; driven by money and greed. Those who move in display a complete lack of compassion and compromise. In a lot of cases; the amount of noise thrown out is not that severe: delicate ears and snobbish residents feel any unwarranted sound is a violation. So, what we have seen is a hose of great venues shutting their doors due to new developments. I realise houses need to be built but, not only is a lot of green land being squashed and covered-up – some legendary, community-uniting venues have been sacrificed. Isaac Gracie was among those to come out recently and profess his love of the live music scene. He highlighted how important they are to the community; the fact they bring people together and can create a lot of tourism and business. People will come to see that band/artist - and having a great venue on your street adds a sense of cool, class and opportunity. It means you are never far from a good night out; there is a place to hang with like-minded people; discover great new artists and have a chance to unwind.


Take (the venues) away and you are causing social deprivation and blighting the landscape of a town/city – that empty venue has to be rebranded and repurposed; it looks ugly and means a lot of money has to be spent putting a new business in there. I am pleased new guidelines are coming in and let’s hope they are implemented as soon as possible. What we need to see happen is, if anyone is building within a certain radius of a music venue; check the sound levels and, if they are seen as too ‘high’; ensure soundproofing is put up. If you are then showing people around said developments; there is a due diligence to inform them that, even with soundproofing, there may be some slight sound-bleed. If every side is compliant and informed then you cannot have any cause for complaint. I feel those who buy houses near music venues know the risks but want to bully others. I do not believe they are unaware of the noise venues produce and did not see them when viewing the place. It is the selfish and myopic minds of those property buyers who have been responsible for so many needless closures. Many might argue that, if you have to build houses a certain amount will be constructed near music venues. That is true but, as we know, even the most raucous venue is not going to be causing that much noise – unless they have their doors open a lot and a load of people are coming in and out.


A lot of pubs have gigs and D.J. nights and you have problems arising – many complain about the noise and it can lead to dispute. It is harder soundproofing existing residences because of the cost the owner will incur. New-build properties need to be more conscious of the need to protect the venues we have. I am hopeful the scheme will conserve a lot of venues and create greater harmony between the owners (of venues) and new home buyers. Whether it is a high-rise block of flats or a rather posh set of houses: getting them soundproofed and insulated is paramount. We cannot see more venues close because of complaints and a lack of foresight. Isaac Gracie was right when he highlighted the community angle: people converging on a venue and able to bond with their fellow man. Sir Paul McCartney raised a more alarming and eye-opening concern: many venues are closing because of other reasons. Whilst that Agent of Change principle will address sound and noise-pollution; one has to ask whether more should be done to protect other structural concerns. Look at the financial struggles and social trends; the increased role of digital streaming – other reasons why so many venues are endangered. McCartney knows the importance of great venues more than most people alive. Imagine if Liverpool’s Cavern Club existed today – or was based in London. I would genuinely fear for its future and the fact it has survived all these decades should be applauded. Maybe it is the wider folk of Liverpool; the fact it has been responsible for launching The Beatles – as they played a lot of their earliest gigs there – but one cannot overlook that landmark.


IN THIS PHOTO: Sir Paul McCartney/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

That space is, of course, housing the new breed and part of the city’s fabric. I know the future of any venue is never certain - but one would hope such an iconic spot would be safe from bulldozers and complainants. McCartney’s concerns related to the shifting landscape and how the live music scene is dwindling and shrinking. There are a lot of us who want to see live music and have that appetite: if there are fewer venues around then where are they to go?! London still has its fair share but I have seen many close down. Some great pubs/smaller venues, who have helped forge the careers of great musicians, have had to close and, in the process, denied the new generation a chance to take to their stages. Sound insulation and pollution are important concerns but there are other factors that need to be addressed and tackled. The price of alcohol and the cost of an average night out/gig is increasing and is especially raw in the city. Throw in the rising train prices and commuting stresses – are people finding it easier staying in and listening to music online?! Music is getting busier by the month so the need to not only safeguard but grow the local scene is essential. No musician can survive on the Internet alone: they need gigs and a chance to hone their craft; get out to the people and earn money. T.V. and film have not gotten any better but, as there are fewer venues – meaning the average punter needs to cover more miles to reach the nearest one – they are opting to stay in and save some money. Inflation is always going to have an effect on any business but there are other factors…


It is great having platforms where any musician can put their music out to the people and get it heard instantly. I fear that openness and huge market means there is less focus put on physical, live music. Anyone can get a song for free and ‘discover’ an artist without leaving the house or parting with money. Established musicians like Sir Paul McCartney know digital outlets are important and essential but that needs to be accompanied by traditional live music. No artist, as I said, can survive online and forgo gigs. The only way they improve, grow and gauge reaction is to gig; bond with the people and get instant, physical response. I will talk about London in a feature later this week but I am worried there is a split between the capital and other areas. I understand London’s music scene is vibrant and exceptional – most of the big labels are here – but, with so many artists moving to the capital fearing they cannot get gigs and visibility where they are; it means there is a centralisation of venues. Cities fare better but nearby towns/villages are suffering because their artists are moving away and finding more life/money/people in London. That creates crowding and, going back to the issue of noise – the more people you put into a city, the bigger the epidemic becomes.


Existing tenants/properties are rallying against the increased noise and issues like Drugs and anti-social behaviour is compromising the security of many venues. I will not throw in figures regarding turnover, closures and arrests: we all know the problems that are affecting our venues and the structural rigidity of the live music scene. All of these factors need to be taken to heart and discussed. A lot of the ‘traditional’ corners – record shops, C.D.s and venues – are disappearing but, like the revival of vinyl; I know there is that extraordinary thirst for live music. The demand is still there but one cannot ignore the financial barriers; the way local venues are closing; why artists are moving to the cities – and the rise of new flats and the noise complaints that come when people move in and grow weary of the musical disruption. The concept/name suggests a Justice League for music: acolytes for parity and happiness that go around and make sure our music scene is secure and warm. That might over-romanticise the notion but I am pleased action is being taken. I feel one of the most insane and infuriating reasons why venues are closed is because of the people who move in near (a venue) and get a shock when they hear a bit of noise coming from it! Whilst you cannot cure stupidity: soundproofing new properties is a much-needed measure.


All musicians and fans want to see venues remain and succeed. Yesterday, it was announced the Agent of Change Bill will get a second hearing in Parliament on 19th (January). It is a step closer to a new law that will make a big difference in music. I am keen to see how far it can go and, when/if implemented, how effective it is. The movement is much-needed and shows a desperation to keep our venues safe. We cannot see them close needlessly and damage the future of music. There are some things the Internet/streaming cannot replace: the raw and real connection with an artist one gets when seeing them at a live venue. I realise there are complexities and unavoidable hurdles; things that will happen that will threaten a certain number of venues. Those all need to be addressed to see if there is a way to minimise danger and damage. Artists like Sir Paul McCartney have expressed their fears for the future. It a worrying time for music but I am glad to see progress being made; proof there is action being taken and a practical step to avoid some of our venues closing. Musicians old and new need venues to cut their teeth and test their material. If we keep the high-profile, established venues – and close down those smaller and less profitable – it means there will be fewer local artists (who move to the cities to get gigs) and that will have an effect on the communities there. We should not fear the future of music: embrace all the changes and have hope the live scene will grow and inspire. The only way we can adopt this attitude is to ensure there are no needless casualties. The Agent of Change Bill, and the musicians backing its implementation, is a huge step towards…


MAKING live music a safer, more stable landscape.