Music

Steve Lamacq: 'This music venue changed my life... it's now a carpark'

Steve Lamacq credits seeing The Lurkers in the Harlow Square in 1978 with changing his life – but sadly the venue is no more. Our Venue Watch campaign aims to preserve those live spaces

Steve Lamacq. Image: BBC

So much of my life has been shaped by going to gigs in small venues. The people involved at a grassroots level don’t get the credit they deserve for doing the job they do, which is beneficial on so many different levels, not just to the musicians, but the fans.

I wouldn’t be the person I am had it not been for the fact that I was lucky enough to find a little venue in Harlow, where I went to college. I tipped up – a kid from the sticks, don’t really know anybody, don’t really know much about life. I walked into the Harlow Square to see a gig and I made so many new friends.

I found this whole community of like-minded people who were into music, but were into all these other things too. I learned so much in the bar of the Harlow Square about politics, and literature and different sorts of music and art and all sorts of stuff. It was an education, which was provided for me by this building, and the people in that building. I want other people to have that chance to have their life enriched not just by the power of the live gig, but also by finding themselves in a new friendly group of people.

Honestly, Venue Watch fills me with joy. I endorse this absolutely, 100%. It’s a brilliant thing, and I’m so pleased that it’s happening. You’ve hit the nail on the head when you’re saying – we’re going to tell their stories. They all hold so many moments of history. And these stories deserve to be told.  

As a music fan, you don’t always think about how much it costs to literally keep the lights on at a venue these days. Or how hard it can be to just balance the books. Showing what it really entails, just to be able to open the doors for you to get in at 7.30 and have a nice time, is incredible.  

Unfortunately, the Square is now an NCP carpark. It’s a depressingly familiar story. If you go back and look at the early Oasis, Radiohead and Blur tours, so many of those venues are gone. On the first headlining Oasis tour, they did 21 gigs, a couple were universities, which leaves about 19 venues, of which I think 11 have since shut. Obviously there’s always a bit of a churn with venues, but there are towns now that have been left completely without a centre for alternative cultural life.

And it’s not just about bands on the way up either. Though that’s an important part of what they do – they are part of the pipeline, providing the next generation of bands who will be playing at festivals and arenas. They are also smaller spaces for people who will always be on the margins of pop music, but it doesn’t mean their voice is any less important.

If you take away these little venues, and these community hubs, then you’re left with nothing. I always found when there was a venue, then bands started forming, and there was somewhere for people to meet aspirationally. When the venue shut down, then the bands didn’t form. It just wreaks havoc when a venue closes.

This is why they need protecting, but not just protecting – we need to celebrate these places and appreciate how important they are economically, as well as creatively. So many of the people who are running these venues are working all around the clock, seven days a week to keep the place open – for, in some cases, less than minimum wage. That can’t be right.

If you’ve never been to one of these little places – just try it, give it a go. It’s cheaper than an arena gig. It’s more intimate. You immediately feel more involved. You’re part of something really special. Even if you’re in a room with just 30 other people, you are sharing a moment of history, whether the band is any good or not. And you will see some bad bands and some good bands over time, but there will be a night that comes along that you will never ever forget.

And who knows? It might be as life changing as me going to see The Lurkers in the Harlow Square in September 1978, which led to me being here today.

Steve Lamacq is a patron of the Music Venue Trust and chair of LIVE, the voice of the UK’s contemporary live music sector. He was interviewed by Laura Kelly.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine out this week. Support your local vendor by buying today! If you cannot reach your local vendor, click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop. The Big Issue app is available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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