Updated: Apr 9, 2019
It’s 2018. Independent music venues are dying. Surely it’s time for a change?
Rooms oozing with character, small stages packed with instruments, walls lined with amplifiers, sticky floors swilled with cheap beer. To some, this may sound unappealing, yet millions revel in the blissful chaos that erupts inside many intimate music venues.
There’s nothing quite like that euphoric feeling of standing shoulder to shoulder with your pals, perspiring 90% of your body fluids and baring your soul to the musical Gods, all for the sake of a few quid.
Sadly, these precious moments could soon be a thing of the past. In the last decade, around 40% of the UK’s independent music venues have closed their doors for good. No more sound checks, no more memories to be made, just an empty building, haunted by the ghosts of music’s past.
Without these precious venues, where are upcoming artists expected to showcase their talent and build a following? I’m sure the likes of the Arctic Monkeys didn’t leave their cluttered Sheffield garage and head straight for the colossal arena, did they? Or let’s not forget Glasgow’s illustrious King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. After all, it was this tiny venue in which Alan McGee took interest in four lads from a council estate in Manchester – cue the birth of Oasis. Let’s hope these venues can ‘Live Forever’ too.
But there’s hope. The UK has an army of musicians, promoters and venue owners, all fighting to reclaim the countries cultural musical assets. Much of this beloved community has fallen victim to property developers, with many residents moving next door to pre-existing music venues and complaining of the noise.
Now, UK Music, which represents the British music industry, is pushing a new law based on the ‘Agent of Change’ principle. Agent of Change would mean that developers have to pay for soundproofing – either in the homes being built near venues, or in the venues themselves.
But what better way to fight this fear than with the medium of music itself?
“Independent music venues for me are like bread and butter. It’s the way I got to performing and learning the ropes. I’m all for supporting them.”
Events such as ‘Stockton Calling’ are prime examples of supporting the growth of independent music venues. The North East recently celebrated the ninth instalment of the ever-growing music festival, with tickets selling out in record time. A glimmer of hope. For one glorious day, the popular event sees the town of Stockton immersed in a wealth of live music across intimate, charismatic venues. With performances from over 70 eclectic artists, what’s not to love?
Stockton has firmly cemented its place on the musical map, with the town becoming a hot-spot for presenting an array of musical talent each day of the week; from open-mic nights to sell-out gigs. As with previous years, organizers at ARC, Tees Music Alliance and Ku Bar are to thank for another magnificent chapter in the North East’s musical bible. Their passion for showcasing both local and mainstream talent saw nine venues across Teesside filled to the brim with thrilled festival-goers and an electrical atmosphere.
Paul Burns, CEO of Tees Music Alliance, shared his thoughts on what makes the event so special:
“When members of the public spend their hard earned cash on a ticket; it shows artists that they are valued and appreciated. It’s great to see everything coming together for one day of the year where local people step up, buy tickets and fill each venue to the brim – enjoying established and emerging artists side by side.”
And special it was. The English weather may have beat down on festival-goers mercilessly, yet it failed to dampen their spirits. Many ticket holders spilled out of the venues and onto the streets, hoping to beat the crowds and soak up some of the most ground-breaking talent the event had to offer.
With headline acts including US rockers ‘We Are Scientists’ and Billingham’s ‘Mouses’, the biggest hardship of the day was getting served at the bar and choosing who to watch. In times like these, it’s easy to forget that our beloved music industry is under such severe threat.
North East music and culture magazine, NE Volume, has also played a vital role in supporting local artists and independent venues. Editor Lee Allcock expressed his passion for supporting local bands and venues.
“There’s so many bands across the North East that don’t get the recognition they deserve, so I decided it was time to set up a magazine for the Teesside music scene, that’s how NE Volume was born.
“Stockton Calling is growing, there’s an increasing number of bands and venues involved. The way to make it even better would be to add an extra day and get more independent venues and artists on board.
"One of my favourite local venues is Ku Bar, they support local talent and bands from out of town. It’s great to see a venue so easily accessible supporting up and coming musicians.”
One of those artists is Teesside’s own Tom Joshua. The young songsmith has the magical ability to spin absolute gold from the most ordinary seeming of observations. It’s not every day that an artist can take a memory of his local McDonald’s restaurant and transform it into an emotive piece of music – a story, laced with an air of poetic sensitivity. Local venues have supported Tom wholeheartedly on his musical adventure.
“In the past 5 years I’ve played lots around Teesside. It’s the way I got to performing and learning the ropes. Independent venues are brilliant and I’m all for supporting them.”
With the help of Tom and thousands of other musical magicians out there, perhaps it’s not too late to make a change.
Are we all singing from the same page?