Music

Grassroots music venues need your help to survive now more than ever. Here's why

With small venues are facing increasingly tough times, the Big Issue's campaign is fighting back

The Nefarious Picaroons play at Fiery Bird in Woking

The Nefarious Picaroons play at Fiery Bird in Woking’s local band showcase, Lovely Music Night. Image: Courtesy Phoenix Cultural Centre

For many months now, Big Issue has been running the Venue Watch campaign, alerting our readers to the dire straits in which many grassroots music venues across the UK find themselves. Here at Venue Watch we’re proud of the part we’ve played in saving The Phoenix Cultural Centre in Woking; and of putting pressure on local authorities to intervene and save The Luna and The Off the Cuff music bars in London. 

In recent issues we have profiled a range of small and much-loved venues, such as the Tivoli in the rural town of Buckley, set in the Welsh hills; we got behind the campaign to save anti-capitalist bar the Matchstick Piehouse; and we mourned the loss of an icon, Moles in Bath, which was forced to close its doors after 45 years of launching some of Britain’s biggest names.

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We’ve also been busy during our Venue Watch campaign persuading people to support their local venues by attending a gig. We’d love to hear from you about your favourite small venues in your area. If your local venue needs our help, we’ll be with them every step of the way.

We’ve linked up with The Music Venues Trust to bring you the most up to date and accurate information. And it’s a bleak picture. In summary, we’ve lost more than 35% of our grassroots music venues in the last five years. Yes, 35%! According to The Music Venues Trust Annual report, profit margins are around 0.2% for roughly half of our small grassroots venues – pushing them into trading in the red. For many, it has already become unsustainable. 

If you’re wondering how we’ve reached this terrible state of affairs, look to the crippling financial losses incurred by small businesses and the self-employed in 2020 during the Covid pandemic – the repercussions of which are still being felt today, and making rents unaffordable. 

Add to that the vast hikes in energy prices, soaring cost of food and drink, cash-strapped councils raising business rates and service costs, high interest rates from overly cautious banks and ever-increasing premiums from insurance companies.

Now throw in the 12% VAT rate on concert tickets (the highest in Europe) and a cost of living crisis that has taken away the means for most of us to even afford a night out. But let’s not forget one of the most pernicious elements of the last few years: the large property development companies and private equity groups trashing our heritage to build swathes of ‘luxury’ apartments and office developments to sell to wealthy overseas investors.

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Each year the UK’s music colleges turn out thousands of brilliantly talented young people in all areas of music, from players and producers to stage designers and technical production crew. Their natural first home for honing their skills is in small grassroots music spaces, usually in their home towns. If such places no longer exist, where are the opportunities to start their careers going to come from? 

The Big Issue has a long history of promoting and highlighting smaller as well as larger artists. Music is something we’ve featured and championed on our front covers since the beginning. Every main artist we see in arenas and giant festivals today will have started out learning their craft in the now highly fragile and disappearing ecosystem of small, locally run, community led, non-corporate, passionate and committed grassroots music venues. Think of the amazing nights you’ve had seeing a brilliant local band or artist. For just a few quid. Often catching them before they became famous. 

So, join the fight with us. To quote the brilliant Mark Davyd the head guy at The Music Venues Trust: “Once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.” Let’s stop that happening and fast. Let’s do that. Join the fightback. The Big Issue’s Venue Watch is fighting for all our local venues. Don’t stop the music. 

Sign up to be part of The Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign and get regular updates.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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