INDEPENDENT Venue Week is back for 2018, and it's bigger than ever as the campaign celebrates its fifth birthday with more venues and more ambassadors.
After starting out with just 17 venues in 2014 for the first IVW, now there are 160 venues signed-up ready to stage shows between Monday January 29 and Sunday February 4 2018 as part of the week-long showcase of the UK’s independent venues .
Five ambassadors – rather than the usual one – have also been signed up to champion the cause.
The first two to be announced are South Tyneside singer-songwriter Nadine Shah, who released her third full-length record, Holiday Destination, to critical acclaim earlier in 2017, and Portishead multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer Adrian Utley – with the remaining three ambassadors set to be announced soon.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a fancy sit down gig in some elaborate venue but I’ll take a sweat fest in some small dive any day of the week. Being so close to a stage and properly submerging yourself in a show is hard to top,” says Shah of why she's signed-up for IVW 18.
“As a musician it gives me a proper thrill to have the audience so close, they don't miss a trick so I have to pull my finger out and really up my game.”
Despite playing some of the world’s biggest venues and festivals with Portishead, Utley adds that independent venues remain close to his heart.
“I love smaller venues,” says Utley.
“They are where I started and vital for learning how to do it all really.
“Sweaty and usually a good sound, it can be really nerve-wracking being so close to other humans but also it feels like a shared experience. Some music only suits small spaces… it’s so cool to see music that isn’t amplified at all and you can sit close and hear.”
With Independent Venue Week 2018 set to be the campaign’s biggest celebration yet, a real mix of venues have signed on to host shows during the week, ranging from halls in big cities, to those in small towns and village that provide the heartbeat for their local scenes.
“It’s a great concept and it needs to be supported because we are losing venues left, right and centre,” says Ian Shaw, head promoter at The Live Rooms in Chester, one of the many venues taking part.
“The main problem we have in Chester is finding acts to play. It’s hard to convince agents that their bands should play Chester because we’re competing with Liverpool, Manchester and Warrington.
“Also we haven’t had that many big breaking bands recently apart from Peaness – so one of the few bands anyone connects to Chester is Mansun... and it’s been a long time since they were around!”
The issues facing independent venues are nationwide: Since 2007, more than half of London’s 430 live music venues have closed. Business rates and rents are rising, while new residential developments in inner cities are seeing the venues hit with noise abatement orders. It is feared that, without funding, many more could go the same way.
“Rates and taxes all get higher and what we'd really like is more subsidies form the Government who seem happy to hand out money for other art projects and things like opera,” says Ian, who makes the point that the Royal Opera House will receive £96m in Arts Council funding between 2018 and 2022.
“It’s a constant struggle. Every venue in the UK will have complaints that their drink prices are too high but we’re not Wetherspoons. We don’t order a million barrels a year meaning we can’t cut deals with the brewery and often acts want 80% of the profits on a show so we have to use the bar to subsidise any losses that we make on the shows.
“It needs bands, management and agents to agree with punters that if you want live music, you’re going to have to pay to get in and drink beer in our venue rather than get tanked up in Wetherspoons beforehand.”
Despite the stress and numerous issues facing running a small venue, Ian is still keen to stress the enjoyment that comes from being involved in live music.
“If I got into this to make money and retire to a big mansion, maybe I’d be disappointed. But I thoroughly enjoy what I do and everyone involved with the Live Rooms enjoys what they do,” he says.
“It is frustrating because there are so many untalented people out there who set up a YouTube channel and then put their head in a microwave and fill it with cement. But because they’ve filmed it all they get loads of money. Meanwhile actual musicians and creative people really struggle to get that connection with the kids.”
What is clear is that venues like the Live Rooms give artists their first experience of playing live in front of an audience and for fans, somewhere to get up close to artists that one day, may well be playing stadiums and festival main stages.”
“Without our live venues there will be nowhere for the next generation to play,” adds Ian.
“So please go and see live music if you can. There is tons of it taking place all over Chester, the North West and North Wales. Don’t sit at home. Go out, enjoy a gig, have a few drinks and enjoy yourself.”
l For more information on Independent Venues Week go to www.independentvenueweek.com