The Music Venue Trust – a charity founded in 2014 to preserve, secure and improve the UK’s network of small to medium scale (mostly independently run) music venues – hosted Venues Day in London at the end of last year. Over 120 venues from across the UK attended, to put their heads together to see how they could improve their lot. They’ve produced a report called Understanding Small Music Venues. You can read it here. If you haven’t got time and you don’t mind my focussing on that which specifically interests me, read on:

The Executive Summary mentions the “tired pejorative of the ‘toilet circuit’”, then goes on headline one of its chapters “Saving and Safeguarding The Toilet Circuit”. We need to stop saying “Toilet Venue”, “Toilet Tour”, “Toilet Circuit”. We shouldn’t even acknowledge that we ever did. We’re the only country (other than maybe the US) on the face of God’s Earth with this bizarre notion that playing in a shithole is some rite of passage for new bands. It’s not. It should never have been. It’s a disgrace. If your venue IS a shithole and you’re in some way proud of it, I hope you go bankrupt tomorrow, to be replaced by an AEG-funded apartment block with a McDonalds and a Starbucks inside. I don’t want to safeguard or save the “Toilet Circuit”. I want to either clean it up or destroy it.

Here are some interesting nuggets I pulled out of the report:

– Of 109 venues questioned by those who put the report together, 44% provide rehearsal space in addition to performance space. That’s pretty cool

Almost half of the venues don’t have their own back-line. Smart people. It’s hard enough to run a small venue without having to worry about replacing all the gear that band trashed/stole last night. Electricians don’t expect you to have wire-strippers and voltage indicators waiting for them when they come to your house

34% have no disabled access. That sucks, but plenty of them could do more to help. They could start with saying what they can do for disabled customers on their websites

– The vast majority hold a PRS licence (95%) though I wonder how many just said they did, in case PRS found out. The general impression was one of “strained relationships” with PRS. In fact, the only people who get less of a kicking than the PRS in this report are local authorities. The PRS have a PR problem. They need to address it. They also might want to stop being complicit in bleeding small venues dry

– A bunch of venues complained about getting the blame for any noise going on in their area, and property developers (via local authorities desperate for money) forcing closures

– No-one has a good word to say about the Live Music Act 2012. What a surprise. Oh wait… those who authored the report did have a good word to say about it: “Notwithstanding the mixed reception of the Live Music Act 2012, and regardless of the impact of the Act itself, its existence is surely testament to the fact that focused activism can effect actual, tangible change in policy” … which is a bit like saying “we’re sorry some of you got shot in the leg, but at least we know the gun works.” However, they then go on to say “yet voices in this report and elsewhere suggest that (the Act) has in some cases dissipated audiences (and thus trade), given rise to amateurism and ultimately lowered the aggregate quality of live music provision.” Still no sign of  UK Music or the Musicians’ Union (who wholeheartedly supported and celebrated the Act) acknowledging this

– One venue is like that changing room in Mr Benn (aye, I’m showing my age now): “We often have people who go to the loo, come back through the wrong door and find themselves in a music venue…”

– Around half of the venues run 14+ shows, all-ages events during the daytime or family-oriented events. That’s great. It’s tough trying to make money on those shows though, what with the kids not being able to drink (which doesn’t stop them smuggling their own in and risking your license)

– Only 14% of venues surveyed are owned by a drinks company or brewery, and just 22% of venues survey are contractually tied to a brewery. That’s way less than I would have thought. That’s good news

– 73% of venues programme ska at some point. 73%!

– The report authors spelled “utilise” as “utilize”. Unless they’re American, they should issue a public apology

– Many respondents agree the service they offer sucks compares to mainland European venues. That’s good. It’s a start

– Finally an acknowledgement that “Sustainable models for channeling investment from the upper echelons of the music industry into the grassroots circuit should be devised and implemented without delay.” or, in other words, all those who’ve made enormous amounts of money from the tireless work undertaken by small venues to nurture those bands who’ll go on to sell out The Hydro and The O2, need to put their hands in their pockets and start paying some of it back

– The respondent who has a problem with Pret a Manger obviously hasn’t tried their falafel wrap


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