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Silent Stages: The Crisis of UK Grassroots Music Venues

Published / Fri 12 Jan 2024

Silent Stages: The Crisis of UK Grassroots Music Venues

Photo: Silent Stages: The Crisis of UK Grassroots Music Venues  /  Credit: zamrznutitonovi

The UK’s vibrant live music scene, a vital lifeline for independent artists is facing an unprecedented crisis.

In what the Music Venue Trust (MVT) has declared the worst year on record, 2023 saw the closure of 125 grassroots music venues.

This staggering figure represents not just a loss of cultural spaces but also significant economic repercussions: 4,000 jobs cut, 14,500 events left without a venue, and a loss of 193,230 gigs for musicians.

These closures, occurring at a distressing rate of one per week, are largely attributed to the financial pressures imposed by private landlords. Rents across the UK are on the rise, squeezing the already tight profit margins of venue owners.

Jay Taylor from the MVT highlights this troubling trend, noting that approximately 93% of grassroots music venues are under private landlords, who often prioritize rent collection over the venues’ cultural mission. Consequently, the future of these establishments and their ability to champion emerging artists is increasingly precarious.

Venues Continue To Struggle

Tom Maddicott, former manager of the now-closed Moles in Bath, emphasizes the critical role these venues play in the music industry. He points out that many renowned bands like The Cure, The Smiths, and Radiohead honed their craft in such spaces. Maddicott laments the lack of funding for what he describes as the “research and development arm of the music industry,” underscoring the need for investment in nurturing new talent.

The MVT has taken proactive steps to mitigate this crisis, adopting a strategy akin to the “National Trust” for music venues. Their approach involves purchasing venues from private landlords, thereby acting as a more “benevolent” landlord to the venue’s managers or owners. This initiative has already borne fruit with the acquisition of The Snug in Atherton, providing a model of hope and sustainability.

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The situation is dire, as Matt Fawbert, the general manager of The Ferret in Preston, points out. Venues like The Ferret, which once hosted a young Ed Sheeran, now teeter on the brink of closure. The survival of these spaces is critical not only for current musicians but for the future of music itself. As Ben Titley, lead singer of Ben and The Believers, aptly puts it, the absence of grassroots venues would mean the absence of the “next big thing” in music.

In summary, the UK’s grassroots music venues, once bustling hubs for emerging talent, are now in a fight for survival. The MVT’s efforts, alongside the broader music community, are pivotal in preserving these cultural keystones. Without intervention, the music industry risks losing not just venues but the very cradle of artistic innovation and cultural richness.

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