We want you:

Let's talk local live music venues and how much they mean to us

11/09/2014

After the announcement of Frank Turner's excellent and much-needed petition and call to action encouraging Sajid Javid, Culture Secretary, to adopt the Agent of Change principle - poignant after the sad closure of The Cockpit in Leeds (after 20 years in operation) this week - we need music fan support more than ever. You can watch the video petition Frank has recorded below, and then go and sign the petition if it's a cause you think is definitely worth adding your voice to. Xtra Mile Recordings certainly does.

Musicians, and by extension anyone involved in live music from sound engineers and guitar techs to tour bus/van drivers and promoters pretty much rely on “the road”. Live venues are the cornerstone of music. It's where a band learns its chops, finds an audience, gains life experience, and begins to craft an identity, a sound, and a connection with people. Most of your favourite bands, whoever they might be, have spent years visiting as many independent and local venues that they can, throughout the country, to reach more curious music fans.

After that road-testing, songs are often recorded and then released as singles, EPs or albums. But the crux, the apex of those songs are being played live. Not everyone can start ready-made, plucked from obscurity to play main stage at Reading Festival. There's hundreds of stages scuffed and beleaguered under the weight of many feet, holding these groups up just so you (and they) can have an amazing evening of dancing and singing and laughing and being goddamn human beings, the social creatures we're meant to be. There's NOTHING like being at a gig in a small local venue, suddenly being caught in awe by the noise being thrust from on stage, the camaraderie of the people around you, your friends' arms around your shoulders as you bellow the words back ecstatically. Together you've all created an unforgettable evening.

Inside The Cockpit, Leeds by Scott Howarth

Inside The Cockpit, Leeds by Scott Howarth

But that's being denied some of good people of Leeds with the closure of The Cockpit. And it could be that you're next with 12 venues threatened with closure in the UK because of noise nuisance complaints, among other things. In Sydney, Australia, the incredible Hopetoun closed for undisclosed reasons but could very well have been council pressure for development reasons, or noise complaints. And frequently being brought back from the brink of death – amid their genius “Buy a Brick” campaign – is The Annandale Hotel. Losing that venue would be devastating for bands and fans alike, as well as for the suburb of Annandale. It's now been bought by new owners, apparently keen to keep to its roots, but the threats it faced, causing monetary problems and forcing the original owners to hand the keys to someone else, will now be a thing of the past.

Australia is implementing the Agent of Change principle we desperately need in the UK. It would mean an end to mean-spirited new tenants pissed off that their overpriced new flat has a noisy music venue preventing them accumulating ridiculous extra value on their property, and then trying to get the venue closed. It would mean developers would have to pay for soundproofing for the venue so that everyone's happy and the venue isn't forced to close due to the cost of doing that.

It's very much a good thing, and precisely why Frank Turner – a veteran of almost every independent venue in the country – is in favour of and actively calling for this law.

Inside the Tunbridge Wells Forum. It's intimate.

Inside the Tunbridge Wells Forum. It's intimate.

With that in mind, we want you to make a noise. Be heard. Stand up. Be counted. Help your community – both the one you live in and the musical community at large, the one we're all part of – by talking about, discussing and praising those music venues that aren't part of a corporate chain or purchased by sponsors.

For me,so important during my time living in bloody Kent, The Forum in Tunbridge Wells is legendary. Facing its own problems in the last decade - including being sued by a punter for years before the case was dropped, and struggling in the face of falling numbers of music fans - the venue would be a sore loss not just the county of Kent but to the South East. Bands like Muse, Oasis (when they were called Rain), Biffy Clyro, Green Day, Mumford & Sons, Keane, The Vaccines and Coldplay have all played there in the past. Personally I've seen Frank Turner (3 times) and Million Dead, Jamie T, Mystery Jets, Propagandhi (who chose it as the one venue outside London and Manchester in the UK on a three date tour!), Minus, The Libertines, and a heap of other bands, including their excellent showcases of local talent. In 2012 it won Britain's Best Small Venue according to NME. Deserved.

So, where's the smallest place you've seen some of your favourite bands?
Some that spring to mind for me are: Propagandhi at The Forum, Tunbridge Wells; Frank Turner at Monkey Chews in Camden; Pixies in Shoreditch Underground; Queens of the Stone Age at the 100 Club on Oxford Street; Million Dead at The Underworld, Camden, and the list goes on.

What local venue do you find yourselves gracing again and again?
Where do you see your friend's bands? Hell, where do YOU play?
What's so good about these venues for you?
What would you do if your favourite venue closed? 

Let us know. We want your stories, your opinions and your love of small live music venues and how we wouldn't be half the people we are without them.

Get at us on Facebook, Twitter (@Xtra_Mile) and on email too at contributions(@)xtramilerecordings.com.

We'll publish your love right here and together we can bolster Frank's campaign to get this potentially venue-saving law considered and maybe even passed.


Ben Marwood, Reading

The recent closure of The Cockpit in Leeds is not something I was expecting. It was the first venue I visited in Leeds many years ago and was the site of many an excellent post-gig clubnight. I can't say I was a regular – I live 200 miles to the South, for a start – but I was definitely a fan.

Rising Sun Arts Centre

Rising Sun Arts Centre

The Cockpit joins a list of venues recently lost, and it wasn't even one I'd had earmarked as particularly under threat. There are plenty of venues in the UK currently fighting for their existence, from Le Pub in Newport to Manchester's Night & Day and Star and Garter. These names might not mean much to your average large venue gig-goer, but they're important to those performers on what is (probably quite accurately) known as the toilet circuit, myself included, as well as those of us who have come through the ranks on our way to bigger things, and a dedicated army of gig-goers. One of the most common threats these venues face is complaints on the noise, but there is a common sense solution in the Agent of Change principle, something highlighted recently by Frank Turner's petition to Sajid Javid and something so obvious you'd think it would exist already.

My favourite venue in my home town of Reading faces a block of flats over the road, has housing at the rear and further houses and flats at either side, plus nearby wasteland which could see development in the future. A listed building once abandoned, claimed by squatters and eventually transformed, the Rising Sun Arts Centre in Reading is staffed by a group of volunteers and has a capacity of, wait for it, fifty. It's never been looking for a profit, it just wants to serve the community whether that's through gigs, art shows, workshops or teaching people like me how to dance. For the most part its neighbours are understanding, and the venue has enforced changes where necessary when suggested, but this is one such venue which would benefit from that little extra protection, because all it takes is one incident.

So, if you haven't already and you value live music, why not join the push for change? It might be a long road, but it's only a signature, and it could help preserve music venues nationwide.


The Crazy Donkey, Long Island, NY

The Crazy Donkey, Long Island, NY

Valerie Gritsch, New York City, NY

Sadly, my favorite local venue is now closed. It was a spot out on Route 110 in Long Island, NY called The Crazy Donkey, where many local acts performed and touring bands would play for a more intimate setting. I went to some of my first ever local shows there, made so many friends, and have countless memories of waiting in line for hours, being on barricade or somewhere in the happiest of circle pits, singing my heart out with strangers who loved that music as much as I did. Unfortunately for me, it seemed there was nothing I could do to help save my favorite place. The Donkey announced it was closing, and a month or so later, it did. If you have a special spot in your city that you adore half as much as I adored this place, please do something to help protect it! Sign the petition, and lend your voice.

Dani Cotter, London

Dani's favourite little, local venues in a top five format go:

Leadmill - Sheffield
Night & Day - Manchester
Joiners - Southampton
Bull & Gate (RIP) - London
Monarch - London

I’m a big fan of small venues and have spent a large portion of my adult life frequenting them. There really isn’t anything like seeing a favourite band in a sweaty, close, environment – its loud, exhilarating and life affirming. I’ve also seen some absolute dross at these venues but that’s not the point. The point is that ALL musicians that want to play music, want and need to play to an audience and when you’re just starting out, the only audiences you’ll find are in these small local indie venues. They are vital to the continuation of music everywhere.

One of my favourite local indie venues in Night and Day in Manchester – unfortunately currently facing its own threat of closure. If you have a favourite or even if you just like live music – please share with us. Join the petition. Do what you can.

How we miss thee, beloved Astoria Theatre.

How we miss thee, beloved Astoria Theatre.


Carla, London

"A favourite local venue – what just one? All venues are local."

I saw the tweet on Twitter asking for memories of your favourite local venue and suddenly there is that panic of how do you choose? There are always requests for lists in a bid to make you a dynamic person in an electric world (too true Carla, too true - XMR)

I will leave local out of this for the first part, a lot of favourites are decided upon what mood you are in at the time of writing or deciding. For instance do I pick the underground punk venue or the bright lights of the polished corporate venue? Do I go for the buzz venue of the moment or the venue I first went to? There are too many options and possibilities and when I start going through all the wonderful memories I have of gig going, there isn’t just one venue that these life affirming memories are tied up in. Do I go for Astoria (</3 How we miss thee, Astoria - XMR), which is now sadly bulldozed along with Mean Fiddler and Metro? I had my first barrier experience there, I first met a band after in its piss soaked alley and I met friends who changed my life in the queue beforehand. I went to 20 gigs there before the GAY sign was brought down for the last time, seeing all manner of bands there and discovering long lasting favourites. It makes it an obvious choice in some ways but it’s no longer standing so surely it can no longer count (it definitely still counts - XMR). And what about Mean Fiddler whose dank cellar venue underneath Astoria held my first real experience of a favourite band, which at the time felt dangerous and daring. Thank God The Borderline wasn’t sent to rest alongside them, a venue I continue to see some of the greatest bands I have ever discovered. There is the venue I first left the city I live in and travelled to, would that be my favourite venue? Norwich Waterfront is definitely up there as one of my all time favourites, along with UEA. That first gig at The Waterfront was a wild one where blood and champagne mixed into sweat and fell to the stage floor in an incredible mess of loud punk, sibling differences and pure wild excitement. I had never seen anything like it and in equal measures I was terrified and thrilled. I wondered if I would survive the whirlwind and then found myself in the picture taken by the NME for their review of the gig. I stayed in University Halls on a floor of a friend I had made at the Astoria gig. I can still feel the excitement of both of those first gigs.

We can move onto the first venue I went on a group excursion to which was The Cockpit (RIP) in Leeds. This kicked off the first of very many gigs meeting up with various friends I had and would meet online. The gig itself was hot sweaty and I left destroyed. My tee had to be thrown away and I wore most of the paint from the stage on my belly as we danced, sang and jumped like our lives would end at midnight. Sweat fell from the ceiling which then leads me onto The Garage in London where similar nights led to more sweat falling from its ceiling. The Garage saw the night I made two shows in one with the first starting at the wonderful, if swirling, Scala in Kings Cross. Another trippy venue is Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, whose lights give you the optical illusion of the floor moving under your feet. I have seen all time favourite artists at all three of these. I have been moved in all ways in these venues.

We could move on to the first venue I went abroad to, L'Areonef Lille. Again a start to similar trips, taking in Countries like Netherlands, Germany, Spain and as far as South Africa. To Razzmattazz, Paradiso, Tivoli, Melkweg, Bar M and Columbia Club. All these venues have amazing adventures attached to them. There are venues I first flew to, or took an overnight coach home from or hung out at a shit hotel bar with a band at. There are venues I nearly died getting to and venues I have had the most spine-tingling gigs at. Each of them with each experience and each gig become ingrained into my being. They all become favourites for both the good times and the bad. They are all part of my history.

There are the large venues like Wembley, Manchester and Newcastle arenas, the mid size venues like Barrowlands, The Forum, Hammersmith and Manchester Apollo’s and Kasbah. There are the small venues like Barfly, 100 Club and Buffalo Bar. There are the pub venues like The Monarch Dublin Castle and Lexington, Brudenell Leeds, Winchester Railway and Roisin Dubh. There are the venues which stand alone like Plymouth Pavilions and Villa Marina, Isle of Man. There are characterful venues like Union Chapel, Koko and Folk in a Box. There are venues with gravestones like Norwich Arts Centre and St Pancras Old Church. There are venues on beach fronts like Brighton Concorde and Southend Chinnerys. There are the legendary venues like Rock City, Electric Ballroom, Brixton Academy, York Fibbers and Royal Albert Hall. All venues in buildings of different shapes and sizes, in Brutalist buildings and in listed buildings. In buildings you are scared to use the loo at and buildings which awe you. They all come back to the one thing that unites them: They are a venue which holds live music within.

We then lead into local. Could I then narrow it down to local? What is local? What I class as my local pub is the one near my work and certainly not a comfortable walk home. So would I say local is something I can take a bus to? In that case pretty much any venue in the UK and Europe becomes local. The thing which makes my local pub local is not the vicinity but the people I go with, the wonderful eclectic mix of people I work with. All the venues I have listed above come back to this idea. My gig going is a part of a community. A community of people who share that ideal and idea that live music is one of the best things on Earth. That we are always on an incredible shared journey hoping to be at that next gig which blows our mind. That next wonderful gig where all things fall into place and something magical happens. With that in mind, all venues become local to me. All the wonderful venues facing closure whether I have been to them or not sadden me. That could be the place I find another best friend or that was the place I have once in a lifetime memories tied up with. They are where the people of my community hang out and escape the mundane or the stresses of their lives. These are the places the people I relate to most make lifelong relationships. They are all, potentially, my favourite venue and they all have a memory or the potential to make a memory tied within them. There could never be just one. The most important thing of all, they need to be protected, to be saved, for all the people out there like me that understand music is a valuable art form - and live music is this art form at its most natural and rewarding.