10 Things That Need To Change To Save Independent Venues

To mark Independent Venue Week, former gig venue manager Andy Inglis offers a straightforward and occasionally sweary list of ten things that need to change in order to make them survive. Photo by Seb Heseltine

Let me state for the record: I’ve co-owned and run a live music venue (The Luminaire in Kilburn) and promoted shows for 26 years, so I see things from a venue / promoter’s perspective. I’ve managed bands for 26 years so I see things from an artist’s perspective. I’ve tour managed professionally, worldwide, and been of no fixed abode for two years so I know how it is to live on the road, and that it’s not always easy to get the food you like, or need. With that in mind, let us begin with something guaranteed to get my blood pumping.

Artist Hospitality Riders

A list of requests / demands supplied by the artist / management / booking agent to the promoter. Twenty-four bottles of still water, three ripe avocados, a litter of puppies, that kind of thing. Imagine this happened in other industries: your toilet is blocked and you call a plumber. He arrives, gives you a quote, says he’ll be back tomorrow at four. Before he arrives he emails a list of food and drink he’d like you to have waiting. He’s busy and he’ll not have time to eat, so he wants a late lunch, a bottle of Rosé, dark chocolate, a bowl of fruit, two cans of Dr. Pepper, a bag of salted Kettle Chips and a £10 buyout for dinner. On top of his £300 fee. You would rightly tell him off and to go on about his business without further delay. 

Band, you’re getting paid for the show (I’m assuming shows where the band’s on a guarantee in this case). The promoter isn’t your mum. He’s not got time to push a trolley around Sainsbury’s for an hour, or pop along to the butcher for “Fourteen slices of finely-cut Parma ham” then haul it all back to the venue. Do your own fucking shopping. £200 worth of food and drink AND eight £15 buyouts? Fuck off. You can get a hot meal, some water, and two drinks each. If you want anything else, pay for it yourself. It shouldn’t be the promoter’s job to get you drunk because you haven’t got the moxie to walk on stage sober. Hospitality riders have got completely out of hand.

More visits from Health & Safety Officers

To be blunt, we need to close a load of small venues down in the UK. I’d give them a chance to sort themselves out first, but ultimately, if they can’t operate safely as close to 100% of the time as is possible, we should put them out of business. Any dark room containing a load of drunk people needs to be very, very safe and the staff who work there need to be reminded, daily, that the lives of a room full of drunk people might be at risk because they couldn’t be bothered to check the fire extinguishers work, or that the emergency lighting comes on when its supposed to, or that the promoter hasn’t covered up the smoke detector because the band wants to use a fog machine on stage. People die when Health & Safety is set aside in the name of “rock & roll”. A hundred people died in the Station Nightclub in Rhode Island in 2003, 242 people died in Santa Maria, Brazil, last year. I wrote about it here ). It’s absolutely fucking terrifying. Don’t ever, ever oversell your show, you fucking greedy bastard. A over-capacity room isn’t “vibey”; it’s idiotic.

Guest lists need to be universally banned

Thor Harris of Swans famously said “Guest list is for friends, family and people you might want to fuck. Everyone else can pay. They have day-jobs.” Thor Harris is wrong. If your friends, family and people you might want to fuck have day-jobs, they can pay too. If those closest to you won’t support you, how can you expect anyone else to? One day, while bored on a bus, I worked out that in six years we gave away somewhere in the region of £250,000 worth of guest list at The Luminaire, give or take a few tens-of-thousands-of-pounds. That money could have gone into the pockets of bands, and into our tills which would have helped support us. Small venues are pretty much bars with stages. No alcohol sales = death. Guest list is a malignant tumour on the lactating breast of live music. I’ve lost count of the number of arguments I’ve had with promoters who’ve booked a band I’ve managed and they’ve found out I’ve bought a ticket. “But you’re the manager!” they exclaim. Aye. That’s why I bought a ticket.

Promoters, venues and venue staff: lose the attitude

Son of Dave says “Generally speaking, touring all over Europe involves fine food and wine, being met at the train station by beautiful hostesses, playing to enthusiastic, mixed crowds in well-organised, creative festivals and venues with great backstage and technical staff. Generally speaking, touring in the U.K. means all the tins of Red Stripe you need to kill the pain.” Britain, you once had huge political, economic and military influence, and the largest Empire since the Mongols in the 13th Century. Now you have Gibraltar and The Falklands. You’re just a broke island off the coast of Europe. Stop swaggering around like your shite tastes like Ben & Jerry’s. The Dutch make good music too and they’ve got far better venues and production staff than you. So do Norway. And France, Germany, Iceland, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and every other country on the mainland and the Nordic Region. You sell alcohol and tickets. That means you’re in customer service. Start acting like it.

Bands: lose the attitude

See that guy / girl behind the sound desk? That’s your front of house engineer. You’ll spend the next eight hours working together. Learn their name. See that big rectangular receptacle in the corner? That’s the bin. That’s where your litter goes, not on the floor. See that towel you’ve just put in your bag? Put it back. It’s not yours. It belongs to the venue and every time you steal one they need to replace it. I once spent £200 pounds on towels in 18 months. That’s two SM58 microphones that I really needed. In fact, I’d rather you stole a microphone. At least I’d understand why you did it. Bands should behave like they’re a guest in someone’s home when they arrive at a venue, because someone owns it and, in the case of small venues, has probably dedicated their life to it for the past however-many years. Setting off fire extinguishers isn’t on (like The View did, the only band I banned from The Luminaire) or vomiting into a box backstage and not disposing of it yourself (like Carl Barat did, though I suppose I’m to blame for giving the talent-vacuum a show in the first place).

Small venues need money, and lots of it

The UK has one of the world’s worst small venue circuits, in terms of production, customer service and conditions for artists and audiences. We’re a global laughing stock, with a few exceptions. This is partly due to an almost complete lack of funding at the grassroots level. While The Arts Council dishes out £20,000,000 a year to London’s Southbank Centre, almost every other non-charity venue gets not a penny. This has to change and we can’t wait, and we can’t we rely on Government. It is now time for the music industry itself to step up. Some of our labels, promoters, booking agents, artists and bigger live venues are – comparatively speaking – staggering wealthy. They need to step up and shell out. Colin Greenwood’s an ambassador for Independent Venue Week but what I want to see Colin Greenwood do is give a huge sum of money to a few live venues. And if we can’t get money from these people, then let’s…

… redistribute the wealth we have

Arts Council England gives London’s Southbank Centre £20,000,000 in block funding each year (which means they can spend it on what they like without much in the way of detailed accountability). Some of ACE’s funding comes from you, the tax-payer, which makes it quite likely that, when you last visited Royal Festival Hall and took a shit, you wiped your arse with toilet roll that you helped pay for. And The Barbican? Only £583,000 in funding in 2013, but that’s topped up by £19,800,000 from the City of London. Forty million for two arts centres. What do Le Pub in Newport or Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff get? Fuck-all. Why can’t we take a million each off Southbank and Barbican, stick it in a fund which small venues could apply to, up to a maximum of twenty grand per venue, then we could transform one hundred small UK venues in one move. We could create a world-class small venue circuit. We could be the best. The Southbank is a charity too. Perhaps it could start being a bit more fucking charitable.

The nine major booking agents need to lighten the fuck up

Here I am again, putting the boot into booking agents, the biggest, most powerful gang of unaccountable thugs in the music business, with some exceptions. Nothing moves in the live industry without them. They can threaten to blacklist sixteen-year-old, first-time promoters if they don’t get their way, they can threaten to sue you personally if the festival you were hired to book is declared bankrupt, and they can demand to speak to your male partner on the phone because you’re a woman. All these happened to me, or those close to me. They need to calm the fuck down, recognise the worth of small venues and promoters, stop asking them to put their shitty bands on as openers when no-one wants anything to do with them, and generally stop using their frightening power and influence to get their own way. And they’re rich. If they had an ounce of morality they would start funding small venues, in exchange for absolutely nothing

Everyone needs to shut up

No-one paid to listen to you chat to your pals. If you want to chat to your pals when the band is on, go stand in the bar downstairs. What’s that? You paid to get in so you can do what you like? You’re a moron. Get out. What’s that? You’re in the opening band and now you want to chat to your pals at the bar while the main support is on, despite telling me, during soundcheck, how much you hate people talking while you’re playing? Oh so it’s not a library you’re in? I know it’s not a fucking library but you’re talking and I’m trying to listen to the band. And what’s that, member of bar staff? You’re bored and you just want to stand back there and throw glass bottles into the bin from a few feet away? How about I throw bottles at your head instead? You’re in a public place. Keep your damn voice down you selfish prick.

Repeal the Live Music Act of 2013

The Live Music Act is a spectacularly irresponsibly thought-out piece of legislative bullshit, which (mostly, but not exclusively) serves to compound the misery of existing venues struggling to make ends meet. It potentially opens the door to countless pub landlords – who aren’t collectively known to care much about production and hospitality standards for audiences and artists – and their five-band-bill gigs where the bands get a case of fizzy lager between them. I shouted at UK Music about it, and the Live Music Forum, and Fergal Sharkey, but it was circle- jerked through Parliament anyway. Ask any live venue operator in England & Wales who operated under the old rules what they think of the Live Music Act. You’ll maybe learn some new swear words. I’ve not got space to explain why it’s so bad here, so read this article, and learn why I have doubts that anyone involved in lobbying for the new Act had the first fucking idea about what the grassroots live industry actually needs to enable it to prosper.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today