UK Music CEO Michael Dugher issued a rallying call to the grassroots circuit after unveiling plans for a new law to protect music venues threatened with closure.
Unveiling the planned new legislation in a speech at Venues Day 2017 at London’s Ministry Of Sound, Dugher (pictured) said UK Music’s plan to enshrine the “agent of change” principle in law could safeguard the future of hundreds of venues.
Agent of change would require a developer to take account of pre-existing businesses like music venues before proceeding with a project. At present, it is already included in planning guidance in England, but can be easily ignored because it is not compulsory.
"We need to change the law at a national level and achieve a statutory agent of change principle," Dugher told yesterday's gathering. "I think this will make a real difference to under threat venues."
Former Government Minister and Labour MP John Spellar will spearhead UK Music’s campaign in Parliament to get the proposed new law on to the statute book. Spellar will outline the measures in a backbench Bill – called a Ten Minute Rule Bill – later this year and hopes to win Government support for the legislation.
Dugher urged Venues Day delegates to lobby their local MPs. "The government's position is that the existing planning guidance is good enough. I disagree," added Dugher. "And that's not the experience of those of you who are facing that day-to-day battle to keep your venues alive and well. We need to make sure that we've got those protections on a solid legislative footing."
Across the UK, an estimated 35% of grassroots music venues closed down between 2007 and 2015, while London has lost more than a third of its grassroots music venues in the last 10 years.
"In the last year, the number of venue closures has dropped dramatically thanks to an industry-wide effort led by the Music Venue Trust," said Sarah Thirtle, a member of the board of trustees. "Our emergency response team have supported more than 40 venues directly with problems with noise, licensing and developers.
"We want to make it impossible to close a grassroots music venue without looking at all the other options - because venues matter."
BBC Radio presenter Steve Lamacq had earlier issued a rousing speech to kick off proceedings. "I believe this to be true: no venues, no bands forming; if you've got nowhere to play, no scene; no scene, no regional identity," he said. "Venues are about community."
The DJ recalled seeing a host of bands in small venues before they made it big: Blur at Oval Cricketers, Manic Street Preachers at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town, Radiohead at Islington Powerhouse and Coldplay and Elastica at Camden Falcon. "You know what connects all those gigs?," he said. "All of those venues are now shut. All those opportunities are gone."
On a lighter note, Lamacq spoke of the one and only time he attempted to promote a gig. "We had a choice of headline bands," he said. "One of them had been all over the NME, the other [band's] album got an OK review but it was building up momentum, there was definitely something going to happen and they were possibly the coolest of the two bands. But they were £100 more - a lot of money in those days.
"So I said, 'let's go for the one that's all over the NME, that seems obvious and they're the cheaper one'. Which is how I ended up booking Birdland and turning down The Stone Roses..."