We’re closed: Gigs decline as smaller venues shut

Small live music venues are closing their doors. Leeds Hacks news takes a look at why this is the case, and how people are actively trying to prevent them dying out altogether. 

In September 2014, ‘The Cockpit’ in Leeds locked its doors for the last time after twenty years in business. The venue, which had a capacity of 500 had hosted acts such as Amy Winehouse, Kaiser Chiefs and Fall Out Boy, and became the sixth local gig to shut in Leeds over the last ten years.

The founder of The Cockpit, Colin Oliver, also managing director of independent music promoters Futuresound Events, said it was sad to see it go. He blamed a “changed” industry for the closing of the venue. He said there had been no money spent on The Cockpit for over two decades, and refurbishments wouldn’t have worked “as a model.” Oliver further stated that the company could not afford to become “emotionally attached”.

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Leeds venue The Cockpit hosted many bands that went on to become well-renowned artists including The 1975 – photo by Braden Fletcher

Also, Fab Cafe, an indie night located in Leeds, became another casualty in 2015, and many local fans took to Twitter to voice their sadness and disappointment.

The venue, which was situated on Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, shut last year due to plans of massive redevelopment in the area. The good news for fans of the so-called ‘cafe’ is that it plans to relocate in the future, but there has been no announcement as to where or when.

Other notable names include The Duchess, Joseph’s Well, Kirkstall Rolarena and the Town and Country Club.

And although the Town and Country Club is still open, now in the shape of the O2 Academy, it has become evident that large investments into bigger venues are affecting the way in which smaller establishments run.

Speaking to the BBC, Ricky Bates, promoter at The Joiners in Southampton said how many venues pay up to and in excess of “£4000 before paying a single band.”

With no smaller places to play, it may be harder for new bands to break out and fulfill their potential.

Leeds Hacks spoke to Lew Currie, drummer in Sheffield pop-rock duo Nai Harvest, who claims that these sorts of establishments have been key in the development of the band’s success.

“Every band I’ve been part of has started off playing in smaller venues, so they’ve helped me a lot. It’s good to be able to put on or take part in shows which cost near to nothing to run.”

But Currie has also seen the adverse effects of smaller venues no longer being used for music.

He said “We had a place called ‘The Great Gatsby’ in Sheffield, where we would put on shows and that became the hub for our music scene, but now they don’t do shows as they turned the space into a restaurant.”

Lew Currie of band Nai Harvest believes smaller venues are essential for the development of new bands

Lew Currie of band Nai Harvest believes smaller venues are essential for the development of new bands

He also believes that these types of places close down due to financial troubles, but recommends a DIY-attitude if there ever comes a time where it becomes difficult to play gigs in smaller venues.

“They often shut down because its usually to do with money. Sometimes places can’t afford to run anymore or sometimes it’s being bought out by a bigger organisation. For bands just starting out, I think it is an issue, but there will always be somewhere to play. If you can’t find a venue to put a show on, do it at your house!”

“These spaces allow people to meet new friends, network and collaborate on exciting creative projects whether they be bands, exhibitions or whatever.”

But it’s not just Leeds that has been affected. According to The Independent, it is estimated that 40% of small venues in London alone have closed in the last seven years. This is a worrying statistic when you consider that it is the nation’s capital city. Venues such as the 100 Club and the Tunbridge Wells Forum have been put at risk in recent years despite receiving critical acclaim, with the latter achieving the award for ‘Britain’s Best Small Venue’ at the NME awards in 2012.

The 100 Club was to shut it’s doors for good due to increasing losses on the venue. But protests and campaigns backed by brands such as Nike and Converse, as well as high profile musician Paul McCartney led to the club remaining open.

The 100 Club was close to shutting its doors for good, but remains open thanks to investment from the likes of Nike and Paul McCartney

The 100 Club was close to shutting its doors for good, but remains open thanks to investment from the likes of Nike and Paul McCartney

But similar small music venues may not be so lucky. Without the backing global giants like Nike or Converse, many clubs around the country could not be around for much longer.

Campaigners for the future of live music venues have sat down with three major politicians for the first time.
Mark Davyd, founder and CEO of the charity Music Venue Trust, spoke to the ministers from planning, housing and culture departments. He attempts to keep smaller venues open to promote grassroots establishments, and help new artists to build a following and a reputation. And with no smaller places to play, it may be harder for new bands to break out and fulfill their potential.

In an interview with NME, Davyd said, “For music venues, this has never been about stopping development or preventing the creation of much needed new housing. It’s always been about ensuring that new development recognises the culture, economy and vibrancy of city centres by building great housing, enabling existing music venues and new residents to live in harmony.”

But it is not just London which has been affected by closures.

And whilst smaller, more intimate gigs help to develop artists, many will be aware that they are a dying breed. With more being shut down every year, it is evident that, without not only finances, but external support as well, they will cease to exist for much longer.

By Josh Shafei and Oliver Dixon

About the Author

student
This article was produced by a student or students on the BA in Journalism at Leeds Beckett University.

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