Over the past few years, the UK has seen many of its much cherished and most important music venues go under. Grassroots music and underground scenes are slowly becoming harder to find, and working class bands are struggling more than ever. Josh Nicol looks at some of the great lost venues in the UK.
Living in Manchester as a promoter and a writer, I’m very familiar with the ‘toilet circuit’ in the UK. I can go to a gig more than seven times a week if I so inclined, but that doesn’t mean to say there isn’t a serious problem here, much like the rest of the country.
Manchester’s gig circuit is just about getting out of the ‘pay to play’ ethos, where a promoter says to a band, “Of course you can play our night. Here’s 50 tickets for you to sell.” Then when the band come back with ten tickets left (because, let’s be honest, 50 is really difficult to get rid of on your own), they charge the band for the price of the tickets, leaving the band effectively paying to play the gig.
Now, it’s easy to jump straight in and blame the greedy evil promoters, which I don’t doubt there are a lot of, but in reality there was probably a number of factors forcing many of them to use this system. I’m not excusing how truly awful and immoral it is, but if your venue is about to close, it may be your only option.
Obviously this system was born out of a truly desperate situation – “Listen, if we don’t start securing an audience, we’re going to have to start charging the bands, otherwise we close.” I’d like to believe the person who initially came up with the concept didn’t set out to fleece bands, and their actions resulted from concern that their venue really was going to close. However, when venues like Manchester Academy started using this system for unsigned nights, there seemed to be a blatant exploitation of smaller bands and severely stunted the growth of the city’s grassroots music scene.
The rot isn’t confined to Manchester. Venues up and down the UK are struggling, with many looking at a desperate future where supply exceeds demand. Most recently, legendary London venues Madam Jojo’s, the 12 Bar and Enterprise are also on the list to be axed, despite the best efforts of petitions opposing their closure.
Fortunately, organisations such as the Music Venue Trust are making a massive effort to raise awareness of the importance of iconic music venues. Their ethos focusses on “securing the long term future of the iconic venues which make up the ‘toilet circuit’, venues which have played a crucial role in the development of British music over the last 40 years, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and their performance skills.”
For more information on the Music Venue Trust go to www.musicvenues.org.uk.
Gone, but not forgotten…
Jilly’s Rockworld – Manchester
This Manchester venue, formerly known as Fagin’s, closed in 2010. The iconic nightclub saw early performances from Joy Division and Depeche Mode, and featured in 24-Hour Party People and the Ian Curtis biopic Control. The Oxford Road building housed Jilly’s Rockworld upstairs, a 1,300 capacity rock venue, and the Music Box downstairs, before its rebirth as a school of music in August 2014.
The Charlotte – Leicester
Leicester’s iconic music venue closed in January 2009, leaving behind a legacy that housed the likes of Oasis, Arctic Monkeys and Coldplay (who the promoter famously paid £30 in petrol money to travel up from London). The Charlotte is sorely missed, but opened as a pub in December 2013 with one last gig to celebrate its past, though it failed to scale the heights of its former glory.
The Cockpit – Leeds
This place wasn’t just one of the best venues in the city; it was one of the best small venues in the North of England. Hosting the likes of Amy Winehouse, Kaiser Chiefs and The Fall, The Cockpit was not only a student venue, but an important focal-point in the city’s cultural heritage. When the venue closed its door for the final time last year, promoter Colin Oliver blamed a changed industry: “We should have done this two years ago.”
Earls Court – London
It goes without saying that Earls Court is a truly iconic building in the UK’s musical heritage. Far away from the ‘toilet circuit’, the historical building saw the likes of David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson and a number of pop and rock icons over the years. Controversially, the venue was set to be demolished last December, though not before an emotional performance of ‘Wish You Were Here’ by David Gilmour (joining Bombay Bicycle Club) at its last ever gig. The £8bn redevelopment will see one of the UK’s most important music venues turned into luxury flats.
Riverside – Newcastle
Known for an infamous incident involving a drunken Geordie attacking Noel Gallagher during an Oasis gig (which caused the BBC broadcast to be cut short), Newcastle’s Riverside was renowned as a popular haunt for local music fans. A number of famous artists graced the stage of the venue, including The Smiths, Nirvana, the Stone Roses and Faithless. One of the key venues in the city from 1985 until it closed in 1999.