Support Live Music
To the resident who moved into an apartment over Night & Day Café in Manchester city centre expecting peace and quiet at night, when the venue has been hosting live music into the early hours from the same location on Oldham Street for 27 years, get a life! The issue has of course become more complex than that as developers seem to acquire prime city centre land. There is a multiplicity of forces that currently seem to be railing against the continuing provision of live music in our town and cities.
The Night & Day complaint was not a one-off, but thankfully failed. Venues around the country have been hit by similar, ill-informed and selfish challenges to their opening hours, their music hours, and their very existence with the implications of that for employment and the sustenance of a local business and arts community. Some have already bitten the dust. The Clash’s first live gig was at Sheffield’s Black Swan Club, but in spite of its more recent manifestation as the Boardwalk, the venue has gone. The famous Hacienda nightclub in Manchester was closed in 1996 and is now an unappealing apartment block of the same name. The list goes on.
Of course when clubs and bars go, it is mainly only those who frequented them who tend to covet their return. Those who never knew them, and never experienced their energy, have no connection with them and probably wonder what all the fuss is about: “it was only a nightclub”. To those people I would retort that these venues are the beating heart of a city’s nightlife. they are vital in developing local talent and in welcoming musicians from around the country and internationally. These venues are not only loved by gig goers, many of the bands love them too. We all have our favourites.
The sterility of the concert experience in our arenas and stadia, the grossly overpriced tickets and merchandise, the excessive booking fees and postal charges, their tepid and tasteless gassy version of beer, and the poor acoustics are a turn-off to many music fans. We need our smaller venues to thrive, and for their traditions to span the generations.
However, this isn’t just a story of inner city development. Punters seem to have deserted gig venues in their droves. Many get their ‘live’ music experience through phones and tablets, with Facebook Live and Periscope spewing out myriad performances by independent artists in their bid to get noticed, somewhere, somehow. YouTube has created a back catalogue of live performances both of established and new bands, and has enabled us to watch recorded live gigs (plus a plethora of badly recorded and shot video clips) in the comfort of our own homes.
It used to be the case that you would arrive at a gig with some knowledge of the studio recordings of the performer you were going to see, and that you would hear some ‘never before played live’ songs or brand new songs during their live performances. These days, for those who like to have an idea of the quality of what they are spending their money on, that element of surprise has been taken away. Part of going to see a live gig is to be able to experience the unexpected, to be overawed by an astonishing performance or underwhelmed by something that doesn’t hit the mark. That magic is gone.
Live venues are also closing because they cannot sustain themselves financially. Just like the rest of us they need to pay the rent or their mortgage. What they make from ticket sales is supplemented by bar and food receipts, but all this relies on bums on seats or punters through the door. A popular music venue is much less easy to close than one that is on its knees. So get out into town and watch music live, experience the unknown, something new, something that may challenge you, excite you or stir your emotions.
Independent musicians rely on their local venues to give them a profile. Open mic nights are great for honing skills but they don’t make money for the musicians. When venues are full every week there is a better chance that they will pay the more established performers an appearance fee. Musicians pay out for instruments, for recording, for CD printing, for promotional material and merchandise, for transport to gigs, sometimes for airplay and reviews, for online promotion…and I could go on.
The quality of some of the independent artistes out there is astonishing. Me and The Folded Arms performed several gigs at Chorley Live last October, and we were staggered by some of the other performances: independent musicians having the courage to get up and play their own creations to audiences who don’t know them from Adam, and most went away better for the experience.
So if you do nothing else in 2018, please get out from behind your televisions, your computers, tablets and phones, and go and support live music locally. I find it staggering that people are prepared to pay £40+ a month to watch live football on TV, yet you can see a number of top musicians in an evening for a tenner!