Small Venues and Live Music: Will it Ever be Valued Again?

A recent BBC report indicated how Boris Johnson has set up a task force to work out how smaller venues can be protected in London. Having commissioned the Music Venue Trust to write a report, I am looking forward to the findings – and will be interested to see if they reflect work I have been involved with in the past. Although the BBC article does discuss the reason why small venues are so important, it does not mention any previous work that has dealt with issues such as this. Firstly, the Welsh Music Foundation were doing some great work in this area before their funding was withdrawn. In fact I produced a report for them several years ago which considered many of the Welsh related issues – although I suspect they will resonate to some extent with the situation in London today. Off the back of the report, the Institute of Welsh Affairs, describing grass roots music as ‘a neglected Welsh cultural sector‘ ran a one day event which considered some of the many issues local venues face – but here we are four years later – still dealing with similar concerns. The ‘Johnson Report’ should also examine the archive at the Live Music Exchange. I actually presented some of my research at one of their excellent academic/industry conferences up in Leeds A few years ago – copied below.

Not long after this, the Higher Education Academy commissioned me to write a report looking at the ways that higher education can feed into this problem in terms of  jobs training – although thinking about it retrospectively – much of the narrative tends to focus on training students for larger venues – as opposed to grassroots. I suppose as a nation we need to ask ourselves why we are prepared to pay such large sums of money to see established acts  – but a reluctant to pay a fiver to see an up and coming band in a local venue. Although there are some fantastic venues who put profit margins on the line in order to nurture live music – only a couple of months ago I was asked if I would play some jazz guitar in a local venue – ‘for the experience’. I am in my 50s now, and although I am not necessarily needing to play music live for money anymore – I am certainly not doing it for the experience. As I stated in a previous post – how would the venue have responded if I had asked them to knock up a pizza for the experience! I know what the response would be. I may be romanticising my teenage years – but I seem to remember a time when local grassroots music was valued – where both audiences and venue owners were prepared to pay for local music. My question is – how long will it be before as a culture we get back to this. Indeed – will we ever?

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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