It’s estimated that 35% of grassroots music venues have closed between 2007 and 2015 and after recent news of yet another live music locale under threat of being shut down, it’s time to take a look at how the UK’s gig scene is being endangered and to explore how new bands can get a break in 2017. Here are the stories of some legendary spots and their struggles to survive.
This one still tugs at my heart strings to this day. Another iconic venue, another site of many a legendary gig, including Ginger Wildheart’s stunning show a couple of years back, now sits derelict.
The Roadhouse played host to a number of massive bands over the years and in a “before they were famous” roll-call, Elbow, Coldplay, The White Stripes and Muse have all trodden these particular boards. But in 2015, the 200-capacity basement venue closed its doors, allegedly to make way for a restaurant run by Aumbry’s Mary-Ellen McTague. This never materialised, and despite other bars such as Jimmy’s and Sugar Rays springing up along Newton Street and increasing footfall, the venue remains boarded up and padlocked. The Roadhouse’s closure differs from the others on this list as it’s not necessarily down to development (owner Kate Mountain simply wanted to pursue new ventures), but it’s an absolute travesty that this venue hasn’t been snapped up to help out Manchester’s up and coming talent, although that might have something to do with the £46,000 a year lease that the landlord has placed on it. Hopefully there’s life in this particular old dog yet.
Not yet down and out, but on its way, former music shop Sound Control is set to be flattened to make way for yet more student accommodation. The three floor venue feels like it’s been around forever but has only been hosting gigs and club nights for the past eight years. Even so, in this time The 1975, Rita Ora, Helmet, Wu-Tang Clan and Manc sweethearts du jour Blossoms have all played there, showing the variety of talent the place can attract. Located on New Wakefield Street, it’s a great place for a gig venue with plenty of pre- and post-show eating and drinking establishments nearby, and as you’d expect with its moniker, the sound in the place has always been spot on. With three different size rooms it can host all manner of events and all-day festivals and being slap bang next to Oxford Road train station and a short trot from St Peter’s Square tram stop, it’s handy too, especially compared to the Academy whose distance often creates a mad dash for the last public transport home.
Fortunately the owners of Sound Control are vowing to press on with plans to relocate to a bigger and better venue, but you can’t help feel it just won’t be quite the same.
The Star And Garter
One of the more protracted of all of these tales is that of The Star And Garter. Nestled behind Piccadilly Station in Manchester, The S&G is a traditional boozer built in the early 1800s and moved brick by brick down the road to make way for the expansion of the train station a few years after opening. The Grade II listed building has been the venue for the iconic Smiths Disco for a quarter of a century but recent plans to expand the station even further have seen Network Rail bid for the pub in order to knock it down and make room for additional platforms and a new viaduct. The venue’s owner has pretty much described the offer as derisory, especially considering the pub has living quarters and its own parking. Even more importantly, the place is a very convenient venue and one stacked with history that really shouldn’t just be bulldozed.
The area that The Star And Garter sits in isn’t exactly salubrious but recent events have seen the nearby Mayfield Depot re-open and proves the area has potential. If redevelopment could happen around the pub, it’d certainly suit travellers, boozers, foodies and gig goers and make the district a lot more up-market than it is currently, which can only be a good thing for that part of the City Centre.
Proving that struggles to keep live music venues open aren’t just isolated to the North West, Bristol has seen similar issues in recent years. The Fleece (formerly The Fleece & Firkin when I was much, much younger) has been in operation for 35 years and has seen bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead, Ash, Erasure and even Oasis set foot on its stage over the years. It’s another decent-sized venue (capacity is around the 450 mark) that gives young bands a decent shot at playing to a sizable crowd, but in 2014 it was threatened with closure due to the submission of plans to build flats opposite which would no doubt bring noise abatement orders shortly thereafter. After gaining support from Bristol’s mayor, as well as 30,000 signatures through an online petition, a compromise was reached; the flats would still be built but permission was only granted subject to noise insulation being installed on the apartments to ensure any threats to The Fleece are minimised.
An important test case, it’s good to see that sanity can prevail in these situations. After all, what use is a massive surge in accommodation without a decent amount of amenities such as pubs, shops and venues nearby to encourage people to move there?
Most recently, HMS Thekla, again in Bristol has come under threat of extinction. As a kid growing up in the South West, there was little more exciting than going to a gig, but what was more exciting was going to a gig on a boat. Yes, that’s right, The Thekla is a floating funhouse originally brought to Bristol in 1983 to showcase music, comedy, plays and poetry.
The former cargo ship helped put Portishead, Roni Size and Massive Attack on the map and features artwork from Banksy over its bulkheads, but this month it’s seen its future threatened, again by property development with nearby Redcliffe Wharf set to be turned into “affordable housing, offices and leisure space”.
Hopefully Bristol City Council will take the same stance as with The Fleece and save this unique venue from closure, because if it doesn’t it would be a sad, sad day for the West Country’s music scene.
So, what can we do about this issue? I’m not naïve enough to think that progress doesn’t need to happen, otherwise we wouldn’t have moved from wooden clubs to fire to the wheel, to skyscrapers and back down again to Donald Trump. But progress should mean that there is something better for all of us as a result and quite simply that’s not the case with many of these venues that have now gone or are under threat. Instead, we’re left with more students in cities with less to entertain them, bands with nowhere to play and eyesore derelict buildings that encourage graffiti and public urination against their doors.
Night & Day Café in Manchester, no stranger to noise complaints previously could soon be challenged by its next door neighbour Dry Bar being converted to a hotel, and as much as the odd new venue does open to pick up some of the slack, they’re not large enough in number to offer a stage to everyone who needs a creative outlet. Time will tell, especially for The Thekla, but hopefully we won’t be left in a decade’s time with only a slew of faceless sports halls and bland world-renowned acts churning out the same old turgid nonsense.
Don’t Stop Loving The Music.
You can follow The Thekla on Twitter to hear the latest on their case, or search for the hashtag #savethekla