Music Venue Trust's CEO Mark Davyd reacts to the closure of London venue Nambucca, and says it's more urgent than ever to press ahead with the Own Our Venues initiative...
Nambucca closed in May. It didn’t need to and I’m furious about it.
Whatever your role in the music industry, you should be angry too. A legendary small venue on Holloway Road
in North London, Nambucca was a cultural space that provided a home and a place to start, to grow, and to develop for such bands and artists as The Libertines, Wolf Alice, Florence + The Machine, The Kooks, Kaiser Chiefs and Laura Marling.
Nambucca was a community space for Londoners who want to invest their time, money and energy in their passion for live music, and who need a place to express their love for the new, the alternative, the cutting edge.
Nambucca was a place where our sound engineers, lighting technicians, crew, door staff, promoters and operators learned first-hand the skills they need to run our industry. All that opportunity, community and spirit, washed away.
Former Music Week cover star Frank Turner wrote a song (The Ballad of Me And My Friends) about his nights at Nambucca trying to build his career, hassling anyone he could think of to come out and see him. At a time when the music industry wasn’t interested in him at all, when it wouldn’t give him the time of day, when he wasn’t on the cover of Music Week, Frank found a home at Nambucca. So too did thousands of other grassroots artists who rely on their local music venue as a space to begin.
The industry relies on places like Nambucca, just as much as Frank did. Without buildings like that, without those opportunities, we are literally stripping chances away from hundreds of potential future stars every year. They’re the bedrock on which every artist with any meaningful, long-term, sustainable career has built their life for the last 70 years. They won’t be replaced by TikTok or outmoded by YouTube. They’re the very foundations of our entire industry. And we should all feel incredibly angry and concerned when we lose any single one of them.
Without venues like Nambucca, we are stripping chances away from hundreds of potential future stars every year?
Letting them simply close shouldn’t be an option. As an industry, we are multi-billion pound generators of economic activity, paying huge sums out to sports clubs in branding deals, paying our top executives bonuses the size of small cities’ GDPs, and registering extraordinary growth, year-on-year. And yet we don’t seem to be able to work collectively to stop the closure of absolutely vital venues like Nambucca. Because we, apparently, cannot find the comparatively paltry sums of money required to keep them open, keep them in business, and keep them offering the work we all rely on, as well as the incredible riches and careers which they facilitate. If we can’t keep Nambucca open, there is something fundamentally very wrong with our industry.
It does not have to be this way. At the end of May, Music Venue Trust launched the Own Our Venues project. This is a simple investment programme that will buy venues like Nambucca across the country and place them into permanent protected ownership. Own Our Venues is the method by which we can stop there being any more venues closing when they could be kept open. 93% of our grassroots music venues are tenants. They have an average of 19 months left on their short term leaseholds. And then that’s it. Another venue closes, another vital bedrock of our industry is lost.
There’s a joke that’s been doing the rounds in the grassroots sector for the last 25 years. It goes, ‘How do you make a million pounds running a grassroots music venue? Start with two million.’ Hilarious. But not so funny for the communities, artists and workers finding it increasingly hard to access live music as venues shut across the country and we do nothing.
Everyone who genuinely believes in a future for our industry needs to stop being angry about how our grassroots sector is being ripped apart, and get organised behind Own Our Venues. Together, we can make a radical change to the ownership model of our venues and thereby secure a resilient and sustainable grassroots sector that is constantly improving. Not just for this week, this month, or this year. For decades to come. Producing the thousands of new artists on which our industry depends.
Frank Turner’s homage to Nambucca concludes with the lyric that he and his friends ‘will have the best stories to tell.’ Come with us as we try and write a brand new story for the UK’s grassroots music venues. A story we can all be proud to tell.
It’s time to stop being merely angry as more and more venues close, and it’s time to take action. It’s time to Own Our Venues.
PHOTO: Ewan Munro