I was part way through writing another post on music television (which I’ll publish soon) when my tiny brain was filled with lots of thoughts and ideas about gig venues and whether this can have an impact on your enjoyment of the music. As I started writing this piece I was also made to consider the actual venues themselves and what they can mean to the people visiting them or to the local community. I actually ended up changing my stance while writing which I guess is not such a bad thing really.
The main reason this subject has been in my mind is due to the fact it’s Independent Venue Week and this always reminds me of the time I went to a gig in an awful venue. I’m not going to name it or where it was, but let’s just say it was possibly one of the worst places I’ve ever been to to watch music. It was a pub with a room at the back which they had decided could be used for music. Clearly it had previously been a back yard or similar as the walls were the exterior walls of the building which caused the whole room to be absolutely freezing cold. I nearly kept my gloves on for the whole night. True story.
Unfortunately at the time this kind of made the gig a bit of a downer for me and while I was moaning on about it to a mate it made me consider how much the venue can actually affect your enjoyment of the thing you have gone to see. Be it music, comedy or theatre, can the place the event is happening wreck your night or even sway whether you actually go in the first place? Well, apparently the answer can be yes.
I asked some nice folks what they thought about this and here’s what my colleague Jo Cook had to say:
“I generally don’t go to mass arena music gigs now. Too impersonal, not close enough, they are usually in London so it takes all day to get there and then the trains don’t run in the evenings etc. Best gigs are usually small, intimate venues, same for comedy, learning etc, lots of space, but small enough for individual conversation. There are bands/comedians etc I would like to see, but I don’t bother because of the venue!”.
This seemed to be a common theme when I was talking to people and I totally agree with it. They said they had deliberately missed going to see a band due to the venue that they were playing in. I’ve done it myself in the past to be honest. When I lived in London I was lucky as most of the bands I saw played at reasonably sized locations such as the Hammersmith Apollo or Shepherds Bush Empire. But I guess this was also due to the fact that the artists were somewhat well known so they needed to be in the larger, better venues due to capacity. But then, what about the smaller, upcoming artists?
Independent Venue Week is a 7 day celebration of the small music venues around the UK. Places like The Fleece in Bristol and Surya in London will host both up and coming artists as well as some bigger names in music. The UK ‘Toilet Circuit’ as it’s known is running the risk of these venues shutting down due to escalating rent and noise pollution orders along with redevelopment which could mean closure may well be around the corner. These venues have nurtured some big stars over the years and by considering closing them down we run the risk of preventing up and coming acts getting off the ground as these are the kind of places they will look to perform at.
Bigger venues can be a pain in the arse too though. I have been to a fair few arenas over the years and you either end up sitting miles away from the stage and having to watch it on a screen (if there is one) or you’re in the nosebleed section, looking down at a dodgy angle and not really seeing much at all. When I went to see David Gray at Earls Court years ago, but I have no recollection of actually ‘seeing’ him as I was so far away from the stage I could’ve been watching anyone. And of course, a bigger venue means bigger speakers which means blown eardrums. Not good. Sometimes though, you have no choice but to go to the arena due to who the artist is. Bigger bands mean that more tickets will be required for the fans and there is no choice but to schedule the gig at an arena.
In Nottingham we have a variety of venues of different sizes which can suit most musical crowds. We have a rather large arena for the bigger acts, the famous Rock City (Frank Turner’s favourite UK venue) which is of a big enough size to get lots of popular artists playing there and the smaller more intimate Rescue Rooms or Bodega. There are loads of others too which is great for those of us living here as it means there is generally always something going on somewhere. We have had closures here too though and most mornings on my way to work I pass Bar Seven (or Junktion 7 as it was also known) which was a great music venue, but has been shut for a number of years now. There was talk that it would be turned into student accommodation, but so far it still remains derelict.
Something else I have been following with interest is the Save Soho campaign which was set up following the closure of world famous Madam Jojo’s. The aim of group is to protect and nurture the music and performing arts venues of Soho which are rapidly disappearing. The coalition (which is formed of performers, residents and politicians) understand that redevelopment has to take place, but they want there to be an assurance that the character of Soho is still kept. Take a look at the website here.
The fight for Soho seems to be another in a long list of closures along with the renovation of Denmark Street or Tin Pan Alley as it’s affectionately known and the closure of the 12 Bar Club and Enterprise Studios. Since the 90’s Denmark Street was a parade of guitar shops, but it had great personality and remained untouched with no chain stores or coffee shops. Once upon a time it was the centre of the UK music industry with major music publishing and management companies being based there as well as recording studios which were used by artists such as the Kinks and Elton John. Redevelopment is inevitable, but it’s still disappointing to see so much history disappear. Despite a petition to save the 12 Bar Club, it was ignored and the development moves on. The club has relocated elsewhere, but the heart has now been taken away from this small corner of London. This is something that seems to be happening more and more nowadays.
When I started to write this post it was mainly to talk about crappy venues and how they can ruin a gig or night out, but as I’ve been researching and thinking about it I have discovered this. The venue is important to the show. Of course it is. It can make or break your experience and if you end up somewhere that has a bad PA system or sticky floors you will probably come away feeling like the night has been awful. But here’s the thing though. Sometimes those crappy venues are the starting point for a new artist who can’t get to play anywhere else and without them, where can they go? An unsigned band is not going to be able to play the O2 arena now are they. Nope, it’s the back room of the pub with the freezing floor for them along with the hope that one day they’ll be playing somewhere a bit better to a bigger audience.
The fight to save these venues is an important one as without them the music scene will falter. We need to preserve the history of these great places and allow a whole new audience to enjoy and appreciate the reasons why they are there. I want to be able to tell people that I saw ‘blah’ perform in front of a small crowd in a tiny venue before anyone else knew who he was. And I can’t do that if there are no tiny venues for him to perform in now can I? It may well be a ballache to go to the dodgy pub, but just think. It could actually turn out to be one of the best experiences you’ll ever have so surely it’s worth it in the end. Right? I am pleased to say I have since returned to the pub with the cold walls and had a great time watching an artist I love. I just have to remember to make sure I take my gloves with me…