Independent Venue Week returns early next year (26 January- 2 February) to celebrate Britain’s venues with a week of special gigs across the country. At least 85 venues will be taking part while nights are being curated by the likes of Domino Recordings, Noisey, Boiler Room, Communion, Huw Stevens, Fierce Panda and more. Additionally the event’s ambassidor Frank Turner will play two special headlining shows, including one at London’s 93 Feet East, the scene of his first ever solo gig. In a guest column for Q, he explains why he’s getting involved.
I’ve spent a large chunk of my life hanging out at and playing in small, independent music venues in the UK. As a kid, there was nothing more exciting to me (once I got around my parents’ disapproval) than heading out to the Joiners in Southampton, the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, or my local, the Railway Inn in Winchester. In those beer and sweat-stained back rooms I fell in love with and learned all about the music that has become my life.
This year I was honoured to be asked to head-up Independent Venue Week. I’ve never been directly involved in running a small venue myself, but plenty of my friends have, and it’s a world I know well, a world that I love, and a world that helped me on my way with my music career. Running a small music venue is never going to make anyone rich – I think it will always be a slightly precarious, hand-to-mouth business to run. It’s a labour of love, and for that reason alone I think it’s something that anyone who enjoys live music at any level should celebrate.
Another initiative I’m involved in is the Music Venue Trust. In recent years the stresses and threats that small venues have to put up with seem to have escalated. Whether it’s urban gentrification bringing residential property within earshot of long-established venues, changes in licensing laws, over-heavy policing, or simply the growing number of larger, corporate, TV-sponsored live shows, things have been tough.
The Music Venue Trust is set up to help with these issues and offer support. They will also be holding the Venues Day on 9 December at the Southbank Centre in London. It’s the first national event specifically designed to celebrate small and medium scale independent live music venues across the UK, bringing together professionals from the sector to network, share ideas and views and plan the way forward. Both Venues Day and Independent Venue Week have been supported by Arts Council England which demonstrates how important both of these initiatives are.
I also think it’s important to think about the different levels of venue that exist. Personally, I don’t play too many small venues these days – to meet demand, I’m often playing Academy venues or larger. But I know where I came from, and I know that the smaller places gave me the time and space to explore my music, to find and audience and to build on it. If we lose the small venues, there will still be large live shows, but access to playing them will be ever more concentrated in the hands of the major labels and the TV shows.
A friend of mine who has run a small independent venue for many years once described it to me as a “thankless task”. I think it’s important for all of us to take a moment – a week, say – to honour, thanks and support independent venues.
For more, including full details of shows, visit Independentvenueweek.com.