A new campaign to save over 550 of the UK’s grassroots music venues from permanent closure due to the coronavirus lockdown has proven a huge success, but continued support remains “essential” in order for the majority to survive.
This week saw the Music Venue Trust launch the Save Our Venues campaign, with a crowdfunding bid to prevent 556 independent UK venues from closure. A few have already been saved, but there is still a long way to go to prevent “damage that would undermine the UK music industry for 20-30 years”.
MVT CEO Mark Davyd told NME that all of the government’s interventions to help venues essentially expired on Monday (April 27), when the sector started to “lose half a million pounds per day”.
Following previous calls for £1 million in fundraising, the Save Our Venues website allows artists, music fans and communities to help individual venues. Over £100,000 was raised for individual venues within the first 48 hours of being online and also saw London Mayor Sadiq Khan pledge £450,000 to the Trust to help preserve venues in the capital.
While Davyd said the progress was heartening and promising, the campaign remains essential.
“The number of venues in danger is going down rapidly, and is now under 80% due to the money generated by crowdfunding,” said Davyd. “London’s venues are now in a much better position. The campaign remains completely essential because we have no idea when this will end or what action the government will take. We’re at a point where all government support is exhausted and we’re still trying to keep things going. Even the furlough programme doesn’t work for large numbers of our venues, let alone the self-employed scheme.
“Saying that, we’ll hopefully soon be able to share a much lower number of the venues currently at risk.”
A key part of the campaign is to invite artists to raise money for venues by playing shows online or through other initiatives.
“If it’s a venue that [Coldplay’s] Chris Martin remembers playing 20 years ago, and if he can save it by playing one online gig then I’d strongly encourage him to do it,” said Davyd. “The government isn’t going to because they’ve run out of money and ideas. We have to take responsibility for it ourselves.”
He continued: “Around 80% of the circuit is currently predicted to close if we don’t act now. If you’re in a town with only one venue, that’ll be gone. If these venues close, no one is going to replace them.”
“We have a phenomenal circuit in the UK, and as a result of that we’ve punched way above our weight on the world stage. Without the circuit, those artists won’t exist. That means 80% of artists will never get to play their first gig and 80% of careers that never get off the ground. It will fundamentally undermine the UK music industry for 20-30 years. Think about the Hull Adelphi not having any gigs for the last 30 years. Vast swathes of British talent just wouldn’t exist without that place to play, rehearse and perfect their craft.”
Davyd argued that people power was necessary, with further government intervention remaining unclear – especially with MVT’s unanswered calls for rent freezes. “A rent-free period while the venues are closed would solve about 60% of their problems,” said Davyd. “What they’ve done is say that they can’t be evicted while they’re closed, but they’ll just be evicted as soon as they open. That’s already happened to one venue we’re working with. Landlords would like to give out rent-free periods, but they don’t have the money to do it.”
Rebecca Walker is the furloughed assistant general manager and senior booker at The Leadmill in Sheffield – where the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, Muse, Pulp, The Killers, The Libertines and many more all played in the early years of their careers. As well their own venue, The Leadmill also run an extensive music, comedy, theatre and arts programme that stretches across Sheffield.
“This campaign is the lifeblood that will see us through this – not just The Leadmill but the other venues we put shows in and the self-employed crew, engineers and DJs that we contract in” she told NME. “It’s a very real possibility that a lot of Sheffield venues will close at the end of this pandemic and won’t re-open. That has a massive knock-on impact for Sheffield and the industry. Even Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys had to start on a 100-capacity stage somewhere. If we’re not going to get them in at that level now, where are our arena bands going to come from in 10 years?
“Sheffield is my life and it’s the most depressing thing in the world to see so many brilliantly talented people put out of work with their futures on the line.”
London’s The Lexington also joined the national bid, after last week launching its own campaign to raise £25,000 to save it from the financial uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Manager Stacey Thomas said that funds raised would cover wages, rent, costs and insurance – adding that many spaces across the UK were “at risk in terms of debt”.
“It’s costing us £25,000 a month to stay shut,” she said. “We’re doing this to save ourselves and to raise awareness of the plight of venues across the nation. If we hit our target, we’ll feed any overflow back to the Music Venue Trust. There are a lot of venues in trouble, and there will be a lot of closures.”
After launching their campaigns, The Lexington raised £25,000 in 24 hours and then £10,000 in the week since. “Myself and my team have been very emotional,” she added. “The love and support for the community that’s come out has been amazing, especially as everyone’s skint. All this money and all this love means the world.”
One of the success stories of the Save Our Venues campaign so far is the 400-capacity Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, who hit their £12,000 target in one day.
“This has filled the hole we had in our finances thanks to this wonderful virus,” general manager Geoff Priestley told NME. “There’s always a danger that a venue like us could be no more because we work on tight margins. There are a lot of us who walk the line.
“In a time when they could have donated to no end of worthy causes, people decided to part with their hard-earned cash and give it to us. Words cannot express what this has meant to us – but thank you to everyone who has helped. We’ve been taken aback by the response. We didn’t realise quite how much we meant to people. We are in a state of shock.”
Visit here to donate to the Save Our Venues campaign, where artists are also encouraged to sign up to play online fundraising gigs.
This comes after it was confirmed that social restrictions could be kept in place in the UK for the rest of the year. Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, told the public it was “wholly unrealistic” to expect life to return to normal soon.