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Independent Venue Week 2021

This Independent Venue Week (25-31 January 2021), Kevin McManus, Head of Liverpool UNESCO City of Music, shines a light on independent music venues in the city region, whose resilience has been further tested during the pandemic.

This week is Independent Venue Week, celebrating and championing the venues that are the lifeblood of the UK music scene. This national initiative highlights local venues that perform the vital dual role of giving artists somewhere to play early in on their careers while also ensuring that music fans have somewhere they can get to experience the thrill of live music at its very best. It is also a tribute to the hard work of those noble souls who keep these venues open through hard graft, clever management, shrewd bookings and unfeasible amounts of enthusiasm and genuine passion for live music.

It is hard enough for venues to survive in ‘normal’ times but the pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to the whole of the live music industry. Recent data has shown that employment in the live music sector has fallen by 15% and without any certainty on when venues can re-open and when audiences can come back the future remains uncertain.  Just look at the practical issues facing a small venue. If you are a club with say a capacity of 250 and you can only open with social distancing, then there are a number of issues to overcome. Your capacity may be reduced to say 70 people, which means less ticket income, less bar take, high staff costs to ensure everyone is safe and probably a smaller fee for the artists to reflect the smaller numbers. On top of that both audience and artists will be in a strange situation in a half empty, room which is bound to impact on the sense of occasion and atmosphere that usually accompanies the best gigs.

Underlying all this is the horrible uncertainty surrounding the future. Many venues have booked and rebooked artists numerous times already and trying to guess when it is safe to book a show in that might actually have a chance of happening is nigh impossible.

The last 12 months hasn’t just been a huge blow to the venue owners, their staff, and the artists who would normally play there. But it has also meant no work for the huge layer of people who make live music happen. Tour managers, promoters, lighting and sound engineers, production services, venue security, tour bus operators and everyone else in the supply chain have effectively had all their work stopped and have no idea when they will work again. Campaigns like #WeMakeEvents have been attempting to draw attention to the plight of the highly skilled people who make up these supply chains and who unfortunately slip through the net of much of the available support.

I, together with colleagues from the LCR Music Board, have been talking regularly throughout the lockdowns to a lot of venue owners/operators. Despite the numerous issues they face they have shown incredible resilience in such difficult times. Organisations like the Music Venues Trust and the Night Time Industry Association have provided great support throughout and a number of local venues have received grant support through the likes of the Arts Council and our own Music Fund. Sadly over the last six months we have already seen the closure of some mainstays of the live music scene – Zanzibar (a club which for me personally holds loads of great memories), the wonderful Sound, and Constellations. Undoubtedly others will now also be feeling the enormous pressure mentally and financially as a result of having to deal with, lockdown after lockdown.

Normally I would at this stage be urging you to get out there and support your local live music venue this week and throughout the following months but clearly that isn’t possible this year. But there are other ways you can show support through various crowd funders that are out there, paying for a ticket for a streamed gig (look at the Liverpool and Manchester gigs under The North Will Rise Again banner for example) and showing support for the efforts made by local venues to put something on for Independent Venue Week.

Future Yard, for example, have lined up a couple of cracking live streamed shows – on Friday 29th and Saturday 30 January 2021 – to bring a bit of light to these dark winter nights. Initially the Birkenhead based venue had planned a series of limited capacity, socially-distanced shows; due to the current UK lockdown, the shows have been re-purposed as a live streamed performances which will be broadcast for free on YouTube, still as part of a digital programme for Independent Venue Week 2021.

  • Friday 29th January (7.30pm) – live streamed performance from singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Natalie McCool
  • Saturday 30th January (7.30pm) – Live streamed performance from singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Pixey

Check the Future Yard website for details of their streamed gigs and all the other exciting stuff they are involved in.

Prior to the pandemic I’d argue that locally we had a pretty healthy live music ecology with a great community of venue owners/operators providing a diverse programme of live music and club nights in what were generally safe and welcoming environments. Of course there are always pressures for venues and running a small venue is never going to make anyone rich and it certainly isn’t ever easy. The pandemic has just added another layer of hardship on top of the everyday struggles.