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Park Hill Graffiti – The importance of music on heritage.

On the 9th February 2021, news broke that the infamous graffiti ‘I Love You Will You Marry Me’ had been removed from the Park Hill estate in Sheffield, to the uproar of the local community. The influence behind Yungblud’s early song of the same name. The story of the Park Hill graffiti is one of two halves. The remarkable beauty of neon lit graffiti on a brutalist housing estate, and the poignant story of how it came to be. It’s impact felt within the historic nature of the site and its cultural influence across the city.

Park Hill is intrinsic to Sheffield’s culture. Full of eclectic meanings. The largest grade 2* listed building in Europe, listed for social developments and a futuristic vision; moving the slum estates of Sheffield into modern housing for its citizens. However, the estate ultimately turning into a hotbed for crime where famously police wouldn’t go near the area due to gang culture. The site is built into Sheffield’s culture, a filming site for This is England, the backdrop for the Arctic Monkeys ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ music video and within the Pulp documentary ‘Life, Death and Supermarkets’.

Jason Lowe’s public display of affection to ‘Clare’ was spray-painted on a bridge at Park Hill, Sheffield, in 2001. He planned to take her to the Roxy on the facing hill, to show her. It was his two-fingers-up at the social services office opposite. The story differs over time, but Jason speaking to the Guardian in 2016 explained, “even though she was a loving person she was not one for accepting love. Just asking her face to face wouldn’t have been enough. And she said yes. But things went downhill from there.” Social services had advised Clare to pay attention to her children, not Jason. The graffiti has become an image of working class culture and has been shared across the globe. It was shown at the Venice Biennale of Architecture; Urban Splash, the Park Hill developers had replicated the proposal on T-shirts for their launch party and Alex Turner wore one on stage in America.

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Alex Turner wearing the ‘I Love You Will You Marry Me’ t-shirt

With a quirky act of romance
A version of Romeo and Juliet
This time with Adidas sneakers and cigarettes
A couple of kids trying to cut down the safety net
They twisted the story so they could bring glory to it

(Yungblud, I Love You Will You Marry Me)

Clare died aged only 30, the site holds strong personal attachment for Clare’s family and to Jason. Despite the huge exploitation of this graffiti, the heartbreaking story, goes further. Jason is homeless and hasn’t received a penny from the marketing that the Park Hill estate has produced. He’s tracked his father down, only to be rejected. One of his sons has been sent to prison for life, for murder. He heard the sentence announced on the radio while at work. Soon he left that job, near breakdown. He struggles to get work because of an unspent conviction. Speaking to the Guardian he was on the phone in the car, he pleaded to a Universal Credit helpline, in rising despair and tears.

When they wrote on the
T-shirts, cool merch, postcards
And lighting it up like a piece of art
They kicked him to the side and left him to starve
On the memory that’s re-breaking his broken heart
(Yungblud, I Love You Will You Marry Me)

Despite the graffiti having huge personal significance and evolving through modern culture, the role of music has been dismissed on the graffiti’s influence and its preservation.

Music and heritage have a symbiotic relationship. Places influence music and music influences places. Locations across the world have become tourism rich unofficial heritage sites, drawing on a personal connection to the band, and as we move into a streaming only world, a place of tangibility to the bands they adore. Salford Lads Club, Manchester (The Smiths), Strawberry Fields, Liverpool (The Beatles), Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France (The Doors), Grove Passage, London (The Libertines).

Its hard to imagine the music of Oasis without a Manchester rooftop scene, the music of Fontaines DC without a Dublin street and the work of Gerry Cinnamon without a packed Glaswegian crowd. Influenced by lyrics, music videos and culture of the band.

Sheffield itself, has been the backdrop for starting some of the greatest bands; Arctic Monkeys, Bring Me The Horizon, Pulp, The Human League to name just a few. The raw, post-industrialism of the ‘steel city’ spawning angst and escapism.

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Park Hill Estate, Sheffield

Should the wider debate centre around musical influence playing a role in choosing what to conserve and to what extent? When heritage is so intrinsically linked to a culture, and to a song should we be taking further steps to ensure its survival? Does music form a further medium in heritage preservation? Gentrification can take the heart out of a place along with the roots of its culture and its cultural production.

To some, the notorious Park Hill graffiti was a small part of the wider estate, not essential to protect. But the human expression on a brutalist landscape and the music it inspired stands out clearer than the neon lights that adorned it.

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5 Alt. Christmas Songs

Black Midi – Jingle Bell Rock

Haim – Christmas Wrapping 2020

Bombay Bicycle Club – In The Bleak Midwinter

The Wombats – Is This Christmas

My Chemical Romance – All I Want For Christmas

Belle and Sebastian – Christmas Wrapping

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5 songs by artists who should win the mercury prize 2020

Charli XCX – Anthems (how i’m feeling now)

Moses Boyd – Stranger Than Fiction (Dark Matter)

Lanterns on the Lake – When It All Comes True (Spook the Herd)

Anna Meredith – Inhale Exhale (FIBS)

Kano – Pan Fried (Hoodies All Summer)

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Interview: Field Music

We spoke to North East legends Field Music around Newcastle’s hubs of live music, and why they need to be saved. Long term advocates for the protection of venues, Field Music are integral to the voices of cultural survival.

When playing certain venues, are you conscious of bands that have graced its stage before? And does this affect how it feels to play at such venue?

Yes, although it wouldn’t have an affect on the performance itself. It does add something to the time spent around the venue before a show and it gives us something to chat about with the audience in between songs – a town’s audience are usually pretty knowledgeable about who has played their venues.

If you were to choose one venue, that you played at have visited to be protected. What would that venue be? What are your memories of ‘x’ venue?  And what is the most important aspect of the venue that you would protect?

The Cluny in Newcastle upon Tyne. It feels like such a central part of Tyne and Wear’s music and cultural community – indeed a good few of Newcastle’s cultural businesses moved into the Ouseburn area because of the magnetic draw of the Cluny. Some of my best memories of the place are all-day festival events which happened in the mid 00s when it really felt like the North East’s music scene was exploding with vibrancy and that there was a real sense of connection between bands and audiences. It’s been a thriving business so the way it needs to be protected really is against frivolous noise complaints from nearby residential apartments, which again were only built nearby because of the cultural capital the Cluny itself had brought there.

What are the attributes of these buildings that are significant? i.e graffiti on dressing room walls.

Most of the notable venues I can think of have their own unique arrangement between stage and viewing areas. At the Cluny, for instance, the ceiling is vaulted and the stage is quite narrow and high so the lower audience area feels tight and sweaty, whereas the raised audience area still has great views but you can view the gig with a bit of detachment. The main room at Brudenell Social Club in Leeds has a stage right in the corner and tiered viewing areas for the audience so everyone has a great view and everyone feels very close. Most of the venues I care about are not just big black box rooms.

Music scenes: Do you feel that scenes are important for towns and cities to embrace and to remember? and how do you feel the legacy of starting out in a different city would have influenced your sound?

Great bands tend to come out of a local music ecosystem which allows them, or forces them, to be innovative – either in how they sound or how they function. We had three major strands in Sunderland affecting us – 1) very little infrastructure (so we had to make our own), 2) a dominant music culture which was fixated on the laddish aspects of Britpop (which made us determined to do something completely different), 3) a small group of like-minded, awkward friends who’s skills and interests complemented ours (Barry Hyde from the Futureheads and his dad’s massive wayward record collection, This Ain’t Vegas’s links to DIY culture in Leeds and love of US-based DIY record labels etc.) That combination of things wouldn’t have happened in another town – not even in Newcastle.

How do you feel a venue supports your fans connect to one another during your shows?

I don’t think there’s anything specific beyond the atmosphere, the feel of a place. When, as a band, you find the venues which really work for you, it’s because the audience for your band is made up of just the sort of people who want to hang out in a particular venue.

Do you feel venues form communities and what venue symbolises this?

They certainly do for the reasons above. And for me The Cluny in Newcastle, The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, Nice n’ Sleazy’s in Glasgow, The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge are all great examples of venues where this happens.

What do you feel are the benefits and downsides of listing and protecting a music venue?

The obvious potential downside is that it might stop a venue from being a vibrant, contemporary thing and becomes preserved – a historical footnote rather than a focus for current cultural happenings. The benefit would be that venues might continue to exist even as they attract development to their areas which would threaten their existence.


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Interview: The Ninth Wave

On the soon to be released Happy Days! EP, Glasgow Noise-Pop band The Ninth Wave fronted by Haydn Park-Patterson and Amelia Kidd, tell us about their experiences across their hometown, their recent tours and the underlying importance of protecting venues.

When playing certain venues, are you conscious of bands that have graced its stage before? And does this affect how it feels to play at such venue?

Definitely! Sometimes it’s hard to judge how prestigious a venue is, especially if you’re playing outside your home city, so to see the type of acts that have played there before you really puts that into perspective. It almost feels like more of an achievement if you’re in a venue and you see old posters of your favourite band playing there back in the day. We were playing the Electric Ballroom in Camden with Yonaka last year and on the walls were old gig posters for bands like Joy Division / Talking Heads / The Clash, almost every inspirational band you could think of had played there at some point – that made the gig feel extra special to us because even though it’s a much smaller venue than the size they would play at the peak of their career, it’s almost like a rights of passage to play there. 

If you were to choose one venue, that you played at have visited to be protected. What would that venue be? What are your memories of ‘x’ venue?  And what is the most important aspect of the venue that you would protect?

We haven’t played there (yet!) but one venue in Glasgow to protect is The Barrowlands. I’ve seen all of my favourite gigs in there over the years, and there really isn’t a venue like it. After a fire in 1958 it was rebuilt and nothing has been changed since – the sprung dance floor makes it feel like the entire world is bouncing when the crowd goes mental for a band, and there’s such an amazing friendly atmosphere. And there’s even a tuk stall at the side of the dancefloor for all your crisp / juice needs : amazing.  

What are the attributes of these buildings that are significant? i.e graffiti on dressing room walls.

The best venues all feel like they’ve been lived in, like they’ve seen a lot of mental bands over the years. If that’s the wallpaper of band tags on the green room walls, or posters of the gig history over the years, there’s always reminders of how special the events were in the past.  

Music scenes: Do you feel that scenes are important for towns and cities to embrace and to remember? and how do you feel the legacy of starting out in a different city would have influenced your sound?

It’s definitely important to remember the city’s history of scenes, especially when listening to the music as it helps you understand it a lot better. As much as we adore Glasgow, it is pretty bleak at points and that certainly has an impact on the music we make. Maybe we would be making happy guitar music about how nice the sun is if we didn’t live in Glasgow – but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. The difference with Glasgow is, it has numerous different scenes that all seem to interlink one way or another. There’s this contagious drive to be the best version of yourself, and being surrounded by that really helps push a band forward.

Do you feel venues form communities and what venue symbolises this?

After a lot of larger gigs by Glasgow bands, the band will usually play a DJ set in The Priory afterwards – this gives the opportunity to really form a community between fans and the band as it is such a compact space. It’s where a lot of my friendships in the music scene were formed, as everybody there is a like minded individual all there for the same reasons.

What do you feel are the benefits and downsides of listing and protecting a music venue?

Listing a music venue would ultimately mean that big corporations wouldn’t be able to storm in and make it into a hotel / student flats, which I think is the most important factor. Without these venues, a city has no community and no culture, so would you even be able to call it a city at all?  

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Interview: lostboy

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Playing a string of intimate dates over the last year, emerging Sheffield artist lostboy speaks around his experiences so far and the meaning of independent venues for the city and beyond.

When playing certain venues, are you conscious of bands that have graced its stage before? And does this affect how it feels to play at such a venue?
We are usually conscious about other artists who have played a venue, if big bands have played the stage it often adds more personal value to our performance.

If you were to choose one venue in which you have played to be protected, what would that venue be? What are your memories of said venue?  And what is the most important aspect of the venue that you would protect?
The venue I’d choose would be The Louisiana in Bristol. I have really great memories of the venue and the last show we played there sold out and was our best tour date yet!


What are the attributes of these buildings that are significant? i.e graffiti on dressing room walls.
A whole bunch; band stickers in toilets, band names in green rooms, posters around the bar area of previous sold out shows.

Music scenes: Do you feel that scenes are important for towns and cities to embrace and to remember? and how do you feel the legacy of starting out in a different city would have influenced your sound?
Music scenes are a massive part of local areas. They provide places and events for young people to spend time and get together. Grass roots venues are integral to supporting togetherness in towns and cities. Starting out in another area would have meant we’d have grown up around different bands, probably influencing our sound. This certainly had an effect on us when we branched out to Sheffield, a city with a rich musical heritage, particularly in indie.


How do you feel a venue helps your fans connect to one another during your shows?
The size of a room makes a big difference to crowd experience, particularly at the start. Smaller venues that allow 14+ / 16+ enable younger people to go to gigs with their friends, but quite often small venues don’t have these licenses, so people miss out on shows by their favourite bands, meaning the bands miss out as well.

Do you feel venues form communities and what venue symbolises this?Venues do support communities. An example of this would be Tramshed in Cardiff, which offers community events as well as a hugely varied roster of love music from jazz to metal. Another example is Cafe Totem in Sheffield – unfortunately now set to be demolished. They lead the Sheffield Music Scene, along with the Leadmill, by being vocal on local matters as well as setting up online communities for musicians, promoters and other venues to converse about anything.

What do you feel are the benefits and downsides of listing and protecting a music venue?
The benefits are clear – we get to keep our venues that are a vital platform for young bands to progress through their careers. Without these venues, we are at risk of destroying this pathway. I don’t think there are any downsides to listing music venues. They need saving and should receive more support in general from central and local government.

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Interview: The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable, Twen play the Doug Fir on Dec. 18 / Preview

Welsh alternative-rock band the Joy Formidable share their thoughts and four albums worth of experiences on the significance of venues, the impact of Covid-19.

1. When playing certain venues, are you conscious of bands that have graced its stage before? And does this affect how it feels to play at such venue? 

Always conscious, yes. It’s fun to know and imagine who has played at the venue before you. It doesn’t always enhance the gig ; that’s down to a lot of factors, but if the venue has character and has been well maintained for a great artist & audience experience, it’s usually a lot more memorable to play somewhere with history, age and a musical legacy. 

2. If you were to choose one venue, that you played at have visited to be protected. What would that venue be? What are your memories of ‘x’ venue? And what is the most important aspect of the venue that you would protect? 

It would have to be the Tivoli in North Wales & I would love to see it attracting original new music again like it did in the 90’s. It would be a wonderful addition to North Wales to have an inspirational venue back in motion again, somewhere that young people from Buckley/Mold and surrounding areas can go & enjoy the arts without having to travel to Manchester or Liverpool. It’s hosted so many bands ; Nirvana, Oasis, SFA, Jeff Buckley – now it’s more tribute based acts or weekend club nights. 

What are the attributes of these buildings that are significant? i.e graffiti on dressing room walls. 

Architecture and layout – Was a cinema in the 1920’s. 

3. Music scenes: Do you feel that scenes are important for towns and cities to embrace and to remember? and how do you feel the legacy of starting out in a different city would have influenced your sound? 

I think every area should have a hub for the arts and live music. A way of involving the community, catering to lots of age groups and tastes. I was inspired to become an artist because of the shows I saw at Buckley Tivoli and the influx of music that visited our tiny Welsh town. Without that, it’s very easy, especially in rural areas to feel culturally isolated and that can lead to great art in itself, as long as there’s a drive/tendency for people to support local talent and a place to play. 

4. How do you feel a venue supports your fans connect to one another during your shows? 

We have so many fans that have befriended other fans at shows. Love stories, engagements, friendships. I am very worried that post Covid that will decline or cease to happen even when shows resume. We are potentially entering into a more fearful, disconnected time. 

5. Do you feel venues form communities and what venue symbolises this? 

I think Clwb Ifor Bach is a large vertebrae in the backbone of the Cardiff music scene. They absolutely do, when they are managed by passionate, inclusive, thoughtful people. 

6. What do you feel are the benefits and downsides of listing and protecting a music venue. 

I can’t think of any downsides. We have lost so many iconic venues over the years to bad planning, lack of money, changes in recreational trends and shitty councils. We would love to see more of them protected and cherished. 

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emo: cultural identity in modern music heritage

An alternate youth culture, emo transcended music beyond the iPod Nano into the lifestyles of many adolescents. Coined through an embracement of emotional and sentimental lyrics, in an age of diminishing expectations and consumerism, emo flourised to define an era. Whilst the scene is often seen as a detrimental term, closely linked to acts of self-harm, the subsequent media backlash around its spreading influence, only fueled the movement further.

History

Emerging as an american punk movement in the mid-80s, with bands such as Embrace, the movement developed into the 90s with the merging of alternate rock and pop-punk. Jawbreaker and Jimmy Eat World championing this scene. By the mid-90s the midwest emo scene had developed and the advent of screamo merged and diversified a movement in its infancy. The screamo movement would go on to develop synonymously with emo with such bands as Bring Me The Horizon.

As the 00’s went on, new bands characterised by sensitivity, introversion and angst; My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, the Used and AFI led the way in the spike of popularity, with strong pop-punk influences, centered around the Fuelled By Ramen label.

Beyond the 00s, emo-rap from artists such as Lil Peep paved way for a new sub-genre and contemporary artists such as Yungblud and Stand Atlantic bring new fans and audiences to this ongoing movement.

Beyond music: a lifestyle

What really differentiates ’emo’ beyond just another genre is the way it encapsulates music, fashion and broadly identity. Only in certain periods of time can you identify what someone is listening to by how they dress. Similarly to the acknowledged Punk movement, emo was based on similar tendencies of rebellion and angst. Against mainstream fashion, mainstream music and mainstream livelihoods.

Emo style | Scene outfits, Punk outfits, Alternative outfits

Highly influenced by gothic fashion, emo brought a contemporary twist, sparks of neon and a closer affiliation with brand loyalty. Skinny jeans, band tees, studded belts, lip piercings, jet black straightened hair. Notable labels; Criminal Damage, LowLife, Macbeth, DropDead, Atticus became benchmarks over identity. With outlets Blue Banana and Hot Topic, the catwalks of the emo world. Identity through fashion inspired competitiveness; the tightness of drainpipe jeans, quantity of piercings, the amount of belts became symbolised trophies. Emo fashion was inspired by its roots, band’s became postered icons, similar to religious saints. Emo’s embodied their heros, emulating their fashion, hairstyle and characteristics.

They said all teenagers scare the living shit out of me, They could care less as long as someone’ll bleed, So darken your clothes or strike a violent pose, Maybe they’ll leave you alone, but not me. ‘My Chemical Romance – Teenagers

Alongside other modern movements, identity now existed in an online world. At the height of emo culture, MSN, Bebo and Myspace dominated the digital world. With added levels of personalistion, ’emos’ MSN names emblazoned lyrics, their Bebo featured their emo anthems and Myspace allowed for a music-centred platform to transcend into everyday identity.

21 Things You'll Only Remember If You Grew Up With MSN Messenger

Further transcending into livelihoods, TV channels such as Scuzz and magazines such as Kerrang and RockSound brought a further depth to identity with a continuous need for latest news and blending further mediums such as TV shows and movies.

Hanging out behind the club on the weekend, Acting stupid, getting drunk with my best friends, I couldn’t wait for the summer and the warped tour, I remember it’s the first time that I saw her there. Blink 182 – Rock Show

The plethora of bands at this time enabled the emergence of joint tours, notably the Kerrang Tour and Vans Warped Tour. These tours were a turning point for musical discovery but in America, the Warped Tour became entwined with a lifestyle and further cementation of culture.

Why it matters?

Linking music alongside identity is a key pillar for its heritage recognition. The impact of a defining moment in music should not be dismissed on its subsequent influences. One way we can read this heritage is through the music itself, bands such as Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy have taken their emo origins and transformed themselves over time, is this enough of a recognition or easily lost in time. The movement is entangled with tangible artefacts, whether that be fashion, logos scrawled on textbooks or decaying posters on a bedroom wall.

The affiliation to emo culture added context to other locations within towns and cities. Meeting groups of emo culture became destinations and communal spaces, where individuals form different backgrounds could bond over music and culture. Breathing life and identity into urban cityscapes.

In relation to venues and gigs, emo fanbases are arguably some of the most loyal. Communities in this instance are made not just in the venue, but outside, bonding with fellow fans, queuing for hours. Whereas this culture originally stemmed from music, it’s sometime forgotten the breeding ground is in the venues themselves. Grassroots venues lifted emo bands from a niche scene to a wider audience through establishing the link of merch, spreading the bands influence and cultural identity further.

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Whilst the majority of emo bands aren’t synonymous with a particular venue, the circuit of the late 00’s remains key. Thinking about the emo scene, the same reliance isn’t on grassroot venues but on those slightly larger due to the international touring of many american emo bands. However the important consideration is that these styles of venues became the next step in the ladder, achievable through a bit of hard graft.

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5 emo songs that cemented the UK cultural scene

The first of a series of posts identifying and explaining two notable UK scenes. Teenage emo culture, stemming from a variety of genres, mainly emo, pop-punk and pop-rock, the 00’s culture still has a legacy and a presence today. We explore through 5 songs that were biblical to identity within the scene.

Cute Is What We Aim For: The Curse of Curves

Fall Out Boy: A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More Touch Me

Forever The Sickest Kids – Bipolar Baby!

Boys Like Girls: Heels over Head

Panic At The Disco!: Time To Dance (This Version)

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Nostalgia: the foundation of venue heritage

With many of us spending quarantine at home, and the most spare time since our school days it is no wonder that nostalgia is rife. Spotify recently reported a 54% increase in searches for ‘oldies’ or ‘throwback’ since the lockdown, with a surge in nostalgic playlists.

Music from the ’60s,’ 70s and ’80s have all seen a spike on the streaming platform, and websites such as ‘Nostalgia Machine‘ aid in sparking these memories. This trend even goes beyond music, the BBC will show the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony this summer for example.

But why do we embrace nostalgia? Put simply, in psychological studies nostalgia is seen as comforting in times of distress. We associate music with memories, the majority of those positive. The same way we look back at a photo, music is a transporter and what strengthens this connection to the past is individuality, with every song having a different meaning to each person. Thus embracing nostalgia, is re-living a segment of a personalized timeline surrounded by the culture at the time.

Whether that be through fashion or lifestyle, recent bands are embracing nostalgia within their scene. Take Yungblud for example, growing up in the peak of the emo-scene. His sound and style is a true throwback that he has re-woven and taught a new generation of this era.

Memories constructed through music or visual take us back to a place. Songs take us back to gigs, memories are made within a show. There is always a sense of history not repeating itself twice, songs may never be performed in that way again. Take sporadic cover versions for example. It’s up to chance. Now, when venues are closed for the foreseeable, we look back, at those unique experiences.

Nostaligia is not necessarily a bad thing, if viewed constructively. The basis of living somewhat in the past helps us to protect what was important and what built contemporary society. When we apply this to music venues, we could look back when a generation truly changes, but as identified in the last few years, this would be too late and the cultural fabric would long be gone.

Luckily, streaming platforms and archival content on Youtube, aides nostalgia. In no other time in history have we been able to re-live to such an extent. You can re-live an entire set and even share memories within comment sections, layering and layering the experience. The problem seems to be though, that history starts at a certain point and with certain characteristics attached. Plaque’s exist when the artist has deceased or has achieved ‘x’ amount of sales. Protecting in this manner ignores the many, and the ongoing lo-key beat of the music scene.

Arctic Monkeys early tour poster, nearly all of these venues are at risk of closure.

As part of Music Venue Trust’s #SaveOurVenues campaign, venues have been sharing content linked to nostalgic shows, early Arctic Monkeys content have made a regular appearance, to highlight the venue’s importance in history, but also to the present. This is a time to embrace nostalgia, the recent history and heritage of venues are the foundations for their survival.

Dan’s Gig Nostalgia: I’d say Foals are a band who are so tied to their live performance, seeing them countless times last year really cemented that. Prince, who I was lucky to see before he died in Leeds is a very powerful memory. The rest take me back to school days, waiting for hours outside the Carling Academy in Birmingham or meeting Hayley Williams in HMV Leicester, all felt like colossal moments in time.

Will’s Gig Nostalgia: Ska Wars – Capdown. Always takes me back to the first Slamdunk festival in Leeds Millennium square. The line up generally consisted of the Fuelled by Ramen label movement (Fall out Boy, Hello Goodbye, Hush Sound etc), so Capdown really stood out. Rage Against the Machine – Testify at Pinkpop 2008, I think it was the first European show of their reunion, so people had descended on the festival site from around the world. I thought my ears were going to explode, the anticipation and atmosphere was incredible! The War on Drugs – Red Eyes, Manchester Apollo. The song takes me right back to when I first heard it, travelling down the I5 road in the Pacific North West, Mt Rainier in the distance at sunset. When they played this in Manchester it took me right back and it was our first gig with a large bump (now my daughter) so great memories, you could say it was her first show!

In the coming weeks we will be sharing content from some of the last true scenes, 00’s Indie and Emo. Key touch points for nostalgia. Understanding a movement that spread across music, fashion, film and most importantly, characterizing venues.

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Duchess of York, Leeds

Capacity: 250;

Established: 1985 (date not confirmed); Closed: 26 March 2000

Notable acts: Nirvana (25 October 1989), Pixies, Pulp, Oasis, Coldplay, Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers, Blur

Sticky carpets. Awful lager. (Hann 2014)

Situated at 71 Vicar Lane, passers-by would now be completely unaware of the building’s vibrant musical past. Currently a Hugo Boss shop, the venue closed on 26 March 2000 and was subsequently replaced by the current retail premises.

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Green Day, 1993

Described as the “hallowed pop shrine” (Simpson 2000) of the North, the venue was much loved for its patronage of emerging bands with Oasis infamously playing there in 1994 to no audience whatsoever (Simpson 2009). The venue still holds a strong communal resonance, with a dedicated Facebook page, “I Miss The Duchess of York Leeds” with over 1200 members.

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Outside of the Duchess of York

Upon entering the building, the bar was on the right, in front of the kitchen and stairs. On the immediate left was a small open section facilitating conversation, with another small snug on the opposite right-hand side. Opposite the bar were the toilets and the main stage at the far end of the building, obstructed by internal structural walls. The venue was, “hot and sweaty, but with great energy” (Miranda McMullen, Band Manager), a factor of the internal layout, where the band was only visible from a section of the room. The building was not designed for live music, being an adaptation of an existing pub layout. Upstairs, the interior was open plan with walls adorned with archival tour posters and graffiti.

Known as the “Robin Hood Pub” from the Second World War, the venue was allegedly blacklisted by the US military because of prostitution and drug trafficking. Toward the end of 1985, the name changed to the “Marquee.” However after the threat of a lawsuit from the Marquee in London the venue became known as “The Pub With No Name” for the majority of 1986. Renamed as The Duchess of York, the venue started hosting music from the mid to late 1980s and was at its height between 1988 and the late 1990s when dance/rave culture was at the height of popularity. The venue held strictly to its pub opening hours, with bands performing at 7:30pm and headliners from 10pm. Bands played almost every night. The Duchess of York offered variety, regularity and quality of performers, as well as being a place where bands learned their trade.

The ‘Kurt Cobain’ sofa

Nirvana’s performance at the venue has gained legendary status when singer Kurt Cobain crashed out in the upstairs dressing room after the gig and spent the night on the sofa. The setlist somehow survives. The tatty sofa gained a prolonged life as it became customary for bands to sign it when playing the venue. Originally purchased for £6 the sofa was included in Sheffield’s National Centre for Popular Music. Although the venue’s capacity is reported to be 250, memories of the venue state as many as 500 being present on occasion. However, toward its closure, the venue was mainly hosting tribute acts and Battle of the Bands competitions. The final gig at the Duchess of York was Chumbawumba, a band who had played the venue multiple times.

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Oasis performing at the Duchess of York, with reportedly 2 paying customers in 1993

I’m really saddened that the Duchess is closing, because we couldn’t get gigs anywhere else when we started out.We actually got signed by playing at the Duchess because it was one of the few venues where record companies would be prepared to come and see you. (Embrace singer Danny McNamara — Simpson 2000)

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No Means No + Snuff + Dog Faced Hermans – Duchess of York – 24 May 1989

The Green Day gig was so full kids were trying to climb through the skylights at the front to get in….I even think one got stuck. (Miranda McMullen, Band Manager)

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The venue itself was like a creaking old ship, sometimes it would be like the Marie Celeste, other times we would be throwing people over the side. (John Keenan, Owner of Duchess of York)

I saw nights when we actually ran out of beer! It was lunacy. 7 rows deep at the bar…we were ROCK-N-ROLL. (Commenter — SecretLeeds.Com 2007)

Discover some iconic tracks performed at the Duchess of York on our Spotify playlist.

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Bandcamp day: 5 purchases to support artists

On the first Friday of the month throughout June and July, Bandcamp are waiving their fees to ensure more money goes to the artists themselves. Over $4.3 million was spent via the site during the last fee-free event so we’re hoping this one is even bigger. Below is 5 key purchases to diversify your music selection and support some fantastic artists during this time.

Black Midi: Live in the USA

Always an eccentric set, Black Midi combine live footage across their recent american tour including a cover of Tequila.

Love Claire, Love Claire

90s slowcore band Love Claire, were from Portland, Oregon. This release was the band’s demo tape. The label is offering a pay-what-you-feel for this download.

Lynks Afrikka – Pandemic!

Bristol based, Lynks Afrikka returns with a series of Covid-19 related tracks, Pandemic! is a lively and timely addition.

Juvenile Juvenile – Don’t Tell Your Friends

Asian Shoegaze band Juvenile Juvenile formed in 2011, after a the release of their album in 2014. This is an EP released in July 2012.

Yufi, Yufi

Mathrock (ish) DIY Band Yufi, Yufi released their latest EP in March. Final track remixed by 100 gecs.

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The 1975: How punk is evolving.

“Theres so much to see and so much to do, but I somehow still find myself doing nothing at all” – Matt Healy

I’ll admit it, there was a time when I just didn’t get The 1975. I once said the same about My Chemical Romance and come 2005 I would be watching them live and my perspective quickly changing. The 1975 are an English pop-rock band formed in 2002 in Wilmslow, Cheshire. The bands third studio album “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It”, released in 2016 was the first real push the band experienced and projected them into the global picture. The trajectory into the big time continued with the release of ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’ in 2018 on Polydor records and 2020 will see the release of ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’. “It was just down the road where we played our first official show as The 1975, at the Leeds Cockpit” Healy announced to the packed Leeds arena earlier this year. Indeed, The 1975 are one of a handful of bands that played their first Leeds show at the Cockpit and have gone on to also headline the Bramham Park, Leeds Festival and its sister Reading in 2019.

The band presents a mix of influences and this eclectic mix has been well documented. Brian Eno compositions, A$AP Rocky Hip-Hop, Horn Laden Jazz, soaring Indie rock with The Pixies / Radiohead-esque anthems and it’s hard to ignore how Healys beat poetry resembles some kind of love letter to The Streets. Healy himself has put on record his passion for artists such as Converge, Glassjaw, Minor Threat, Refused and Gorilla Biscuits to name but a few. Critics frequently turn to Prince, Fleetwood Mac and Talking Heads as points of reference. Watching the band live I recall Blondie, Queens of the Stone Age, Bowie, The Clash, Sigur Ros and Michael Jackson were just a sprinkling of names that ran through my own head – as the group thrashed, grooved and jived through their mammoth set.

Beyond the busy production, no substance is lost within the style. It is the subject matter that remains one of the most endearing aspects of the band. Having spent three years touring nonstop while frontman Matty Healy coped with severe depression, eroding relationships, and drug issues, it is no surprise that these darker topics run in tandem with observational social and political commentary. Yet, both personal experience and contentious themes are effectively molded, packaged and presented in a form that doesn’t alienate anyone in the fanbase. Healy himself recounts one description he heard in that “The 1975 is kind of a Pixar movie where it’s for younger people and it’s exciting and pretty, but there’s so much there for the older generation too…”.

The punk connotations of The 1975 experience has left the most striking impression on me. Punks origins, of course, can be identified as rooted within the economic and social strife of Britain through the mid-1970s. It was a period of the past in which unemployment was high and a lack of jobs impacted upon communities and the younger generations. Artists such as Debbie Harry have explained how the British punk movement in its formative years responded to such social strife in that “everybody was very outwardly driven and politically minded and it was all in the music”. Harry expands on this in that “it was really all about their economy because their economy had turned to shit. A great percentage of people were on the dole, and there really was no future for these kids. People forget what a wreck the place was in the early 70s” (Debbie Harry quoted in Blake, 2008). Punk, in particular became a counter-cultural rallying call as Neoliberal policies inspired an intimidating mix of hatred and contempt, which fanned the flames of the American and British punk scene for years to come.

Punk and hip-hop are often viewed as the only genres to be given the label political and both genres were rooted in place while providing a culture which always seeks to define itself against the mainstream and hegemonic elite. As more of our lives become consumed by the online world, I have often wondered where mainstream punk, or punk as a concept is left. I was reminded of O’Hara (1999) who writes in that one major problem in trying to explain punk – is that it does not fit neatly into a box or category. Of course, post-punk and new wave are viewed as what came next, but where do the ephemeral core principles of Punk, which O’Hara refers to above – progress to in the digital world?

On arriving in the arena quarter of Leeds, the usual buzz and atmosphere of thousands of people descending upon the arena for The 1975 was met by ticket touts, buskers, activists, and the now standard airport style arena security. “Extinction Rebellion” flyers were distributed and news had recently spread of Greta Thunberg’s inclusion on a new track.

The 1975 have become very outspoken on many topics within the music industry itself – stating the need for strong gender-balanced participation in festival line ups going as far as to say the band will now only sign up for festivals offering equal line ups. At the time of their greatest popularity, presenting a message of gender equality and lobbying for a higher proportion of women participating as creative artists on major festival bills both in rock and mainstream pop culture is a striking commitment.

The band are not afraid of controversy. In August 2019 the band protested strict anti-LGBTQ laws in Dubai, as they made their first appearance in the United Arab Emirates. Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and comfortable in this knowledge Healy took the decision to kiss a male in front of the tens of thousands in attendance. Shortly after the concert Healy told his twitter followers “I don’t think we’ll be allowed back”.

Healy has hinted towards the bands new found empowerment and the artistic license such prominence has afforded them in that “we knew that […] we could do whatever we wanted and write whatever record we wanted [discussing Love it if we Made it]“, and consequently decided to make a song similar to Princes “Sign ‘O’ the Times” inspired by the political events and social commentary from 2016 to 2018… I love being played on the radio next to Ariana Grande, but my lyrics being the way they are is because I could do that in punk music”. Healy extrapolated on this topic “We could have been a punk band. We could have been one of these bands, but I wanna actually be punk, but you can’t actually be punk in punk anymore, I wanna be punk”. Punk is something which made the explicit aim of trying to destroy such boxes. As O’Hara notes “punk cannot be pigeonholed into some spiky-haired male [sic] wearing a leather jacket with a thousand metal spikes listening to music really loud”. Surely, punk and / or subculture merely responds to what is put in front of it be it the online world riddled with pop-culture, politics and influencers or the isolation of the 1980s Pacific North West.

“And hey, would you

Like to look outside sometimes? (No)

I’m just with my friends online”

Love Me – The 1975

As music scenes are less rooted in place, music has an increasing tendency to revolve around digital communication, infrastructure, and distribution and through this, essentially digital scenes emerge (Bennett 2002). One must ponder where punk goes in such a world and how punk and such countercultural art will manifest itself.

For the 2019 tour The 1975 announced that the band would not be manufacturing any new merchandise following the release of the album, ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ because the band had recognized that it was “not sustainable”. Instead, the band utilised earlier tour merch and invited fans to bring their old music t-shirts (from any band) to the merchandise stalls to get them reprinted with ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ designs. The 1975s move was praised by many, including punk icon Frank Carter who wrote: “This is genius. Well played. Time to get in the loft and dig out my old ones”.

I have often been fascinated by the role of material culture, iconography and art in Punk. There is something striking about other artists t shirts, old t shirts been pasted over like an old poster on a wall, being superseded, disposable or lost to time. Merchandise is materially integral in how people identify with a group, a fanbase. Of course, marketing is a key part of any band’s decision making, especially in the online world. However, I could not help but re-visit points put forward by scholars such as Hebdige (1979) in considering how through punk, the meanings attached to commodities are intentionally distorted and personalized another discussion for another day, but an interesting point none-the-less.

A fascinating band, to some. Not to others, and that’s part of the fun of music. As the band themselves noted at their recent Leeds Arena show, many dislike them, and as with many great punk bands, they appear perfectly happy with that. In fact, they embrace this confrontational trait so much so, that they utilize some of the commentary they receive within the digital back drop of their show. Healy’s presence on social media is also an interesting musical gateway for his core fan base. Those who gravitate towards more youthful pop-culture are frequently introduced to his eclectic tastes and fondness of Job For a Cowboy, Refused, My Bloody Valentine, Converge and such.

But ultimately, they are a band that are having fun and living a dream simply making music that they like. A desire to challenge the status quo, to embrace and utilise societal frustration and challenge the increasingly hopeless norm. In art such as The 1975 music takes its required leap forward into the digital age while continuing to formulate a confrontational and tactical assault on culture. And, it is in considering culture that Healy himself has said, “culture is politics” and his actions speak just as loud as his words.

The 1975 live at The O2, London. Credit: Jenn Five/NME (Trendell 2020)

Thanks for reading,
Will

  • O’Hara C. (1999). The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise! AK
  • Bennett, A. and Hodkinson, P. (2012). Ageing and youth cultures: Music, style and identity. Oxford: Berg.
  • Bennett, A. (2015). ‘Popular music and the “problem of heritage”’. In S. Cohen, R. Knifton, M. Leonard, and L. Roberts (Eds) Sites of popular music heritage: Memories, Histories, Places. London: Routledge, pp. 15-27
  • Bennett, A. and Hodkinson, P. (2012). Ageing and youth cultures: Music, style and identity. Oxford: Berg.
  • Bennett, A. (2002). ‘Music, media and urban mythscapes: A study of the Canterbury Sound’. Media, Culture & Society 24(1). 87-100.Trendell Andrew (2020), The 1975 live in London: their epic residency at The O2 – in dazzling photos. https://www.nme.com/photos/music-photos/the-1975-the-o2-london-photos-review-setlist-2613370
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Immersive digital shows in a covid-19 era.

*note: I am not a gamer.

Despite countless Instagram Live videos, there is a huge problem within the music industry. Apart from a rolling stream of comments, the performance is one way, musicians have limited resources at their disposal but most of all, there is little to no income being generated for the artist.

This raises the question, what is required for audiences to pay for a replicate concert experience? Two way- interaction, uniqueness, quality of performance, a sense of community, or more? It’s fair to say, with economic conditions uncertain for the future, audiences are not paying for content unless it offers something different.

Recently, there has been a series of live performances embedded within computer games, which have gone some way to replicate some of these elements:

Marshmello – Fortnite (Feb 2020)

Back in February 2020, Marshmello performed within the Fortnite game, at the same time as Maroon 5’s Superbowl half time show. At a time before lockdown, this was seen as a novel and innovative way to engage with a huge audience. 11 million have watched back the performance, featuring Marshmello on a virtual stage with full festival style architecture. Little did we know that this platform would be seriously considered in the coming months.

Travis Scott – Fortnight (April 2020)

Streamed on Thursday the 23rd April, players moved around a pyrotechnic themed arena under a skyscraper sized avatar of Travis Scott. The event was full of awe, with the pre-recorded performance matched with a changing environment synonymous with tempo. The event was watched by more than 12 million, aided by Travis’ popularity, the event allowed for multiple fans, sometimes groups of friends, to engage together in this event. However, the event was limited in its engagement, essentially watching a pre-recorded hologram.

100 Gecs – Minecraft (April 2020)

On Friday the 24th April, 100 gecs hosted ‘Square Garden’ a festival within Minecraft featuring performances such as Charli XCX and Kero Kero Bonito. The band created a whole festival world matching their unique style, featuring a virtual bar, stage and separate hang out rooms. The experience was strongly engaging, fans explored the world with hidden content and 100 gecs references. The performances encouraged crowd participation, asking users to jump in sync and replicating mosh pits; a factor not felt in other formats.

What differs further with this approach, is that the musicians were live within the game, with some audience members getting a ‘screenshot’ with their idols. Furthermore, 100 gecs have created merchandise linked to the event, creating further funding for Feeding America. Although, the concept of offering merchandise is a great idea, they can be produced to exact quantities on pre-order and allow for a reminder of this unique time.

Player with 100 Gec’s Dylan Brady

Whilst all of these formats offer different approaches, the event by 100 gecs can be seen to replicate more the experience of a concert and paves the way for the future of the new normal.

Generating Income

The format being trialed does go some way to establishing a stream of income for bands. Immersive spaces created, similar to festivals, offer a unique experience that I can see audiences paying to be a part of. With bands releasing exclusive music via these channels, this could warrant their worth even further.

The problem would still be access, I for one, am not a gamer, and a platform that can accessed by the general public to offer a similar experience does not exist.

What might the future look like?

As the pandemic develops and rules on social isolation begin to ease, the biggest opportunity is in new live performance content. There are talks around having a limited circle of close contacts within social distancing. If bands can get to a venue or performance space, and record a live-streamed concert, with full acoustics. Potentially playing exclusive set-lists or albums in their entirety. I feel fans would truly pay for this, to a similar degree of a concert ticket, and this may be the answer before venues open again.

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10 songs for earth day 2020

The Lark Ascending‘ by Richard King, is a book based on the 1881 poem by English poet George Meredith, inspired by the song of the skylark. The book details the many ways nature has influenced musical production over the years, however, the full concept warrants a further blog post for another time.

The beauty, tranquility and often turbulent reality of nature has inspired music for generations, from cave-dwelling ancestors to the acid-house movement. Below is a selection of songs that feature, reflect and are inspired by nature.

Foals – Sunday


Maribou State – Larks Rise

Crystal Fighters – Yellow Sun

Alt J – Bloodflood

War on Drugs – Ocean Between The Waves

The xx – Sunset

Jon Hopkins – Feel First Life

Beach House – Zebra

Ben Howard – Old Pine

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’

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5 bands you were going to discover at summer 2020 festivals

Creeper (Download Festival)

Following their surprise comeback at the end of 2019, Creeper returned with singles Cyanide and Annabelle. With a string of UK shows for 2020, Creeper are back with a vengeance.

Black Country, New Road (Wide Awake Festival)

With only two songs released, Sunglasses and Athens France; Black Country, New Road have received a lot of attention. This is a band who blend distorted Post-Punk and contemporary lyricism.

Boniface (This is Tomorrow)

Following numerous solo shows and some outstanding support slots on White Lies latest tour, Boniface were due to perform at a number of UK festivals this summer.

100 Gecs (Primavera Sound)

Perfection.

SONS (Oberkampf Music Festival, Paris)

With no UK dates announced, for this season, SONS were due to bring their chaotic live performance to a number of European festivals.


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The Charlotte, Leicester

Capacity: 390

Status: Closed (2010)

Notable Artists: Radiohead, The Cranberries, Pulp, The Stone Roses, The Killers, Bloc Party, The Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, Blur, The Libertines, The Buzzcocks, Primal Scream, Muse and Kasabian.

Iconic music venue The Charlotte reincarnated as Oriental ...

The venue of my first proper gig, aged 15 years old. Elliot Minor, February 2008. The Charlotte was a pinnacle of Leicester’s new music scene. The Charlotte was a perfect, rotten venue, hosting bands who would regularly miss the city for larger Midlands towns. Below is an extract outlining the venue under heritage listing principles, citing academic articles.

Aesthetic Value: The Charlotte was never particularly regal. “It was a boozer on a grimy ring road, which put on bands” (Leicester Mercury 2009). Externally, the building shows elements of artistic merit, resemblant of 18th century architecture somewhat unique in its surroundings. The Charlotte’s interior however may not be of decorative eloquence. “Its dark, oily walls seemed to have been marinated in stale sweat. A concrete pillar blocked your view, and the evening’s entertainment, usually floppy-fringed indie kids still battling problem skin could leave your ears ringing for days afterwards” (Leicester Mercury 2009a). Regardless, the stylistic tone of the building is representative of the culture that thrived here and provides an illustrative connection to the buildings past. “Heritage is imagined as something old and beautiful” (Smith and Waterton 2009, 29) but there are many interpretations of beauty (Mason 2002, 12) which have long been among the most important criteria for labeling things and places as heritage (Mason 2002, 12). “If it was sanitised like a Swiss discotheque it wouldn’t be rock and roll any more,” argues John Butler, frontman of Leicester band Diesel Park West (cited in Leicester Mercury 2009a).

Social Value: People may value the Charlotte for many reasons. Harrison & Schofield (2009) have criticised the way heritage doesn’t “reflect social diversity” (Harrison & Schofield 2009, 4), supported by the documents People and Places (Department of Culture, Media and Sport 2001) and Power of Place (English Heritage 2000). More specifically youth culture is something rarely considered within Heritage (Schofield 2000, 135).

Certain bands and music genres epitomise adolescent subcultures and lifestyles therefore The Charlotte became a tangible ‘stage’ to portray this subculture identity. Local memories of The Charlotte reflect the youths involvement in its success “school outings to the Charlotte have been a teenage rites of passage for countless Leicestershire kids (Leicester Mercury 2009a). And it was this youth culture which characterised the ‘toilet circuit’ as “vibrant, exciting sites that represent a rejuvenated inner-city culture” (Homan 2008, 244). Attending gigs is something of a symbolic activity, ritualistic and performative (Roberts & Cohen 2014, 252) where intrinsic value is determined by an “individuals experience of heritage intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.” (Hewison & Holden 2006, 16).

Copy picture from The Leicester Mercury, Tuesday February 15th 2000. Caption : TUNEFUL: Saracuse perform at the Charlotte Showcase. Photographer : Chris Gordon Features Reporter :
An early version of Kasabian at The Charlotte.

Communal value: The Charlotte is a site where ritual performances were held creating “a sense of belonging to a specific music community” (Cohen 2005, 27). For fans and musicians, venues are a “storehouse for social memories in an urban landscape” (Hayden 1997, 9). These collective experiences and memories provide reference points to sense of time and place (English Heritage 2008, 32). Music venues are not just locations of sociable gathering but these are places where “communities are formed, performance skills tested, and reputations earned” (Homan 2008, 243). Music venues emerged through post industrial decline, sparking a rise in social interaction and escapism. These buildings became an integral part of “social cohesion and community identity” (Mason 2002, 12) and formed part of recent cultural memory.

Remains of the Stage

The upstairs dressing room at The Charlotte. Inside the cupboard there was an ace drawing by Mystikal from Goldie Lookin Chain.
Upstairs dressing room, The Charlotte.
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5 essential live sets for covid-19 escapism.

With the return of live music in the unforeseeable future, live sets are the greatest way to re-live and discover some fantastic artists. Below are 5 key sets from a whole range of genres.

Idles, KEXP

One of the greatest ever KEXP performances, and knowing this was broadcast live on the morning commute adds to the depth and raw nature of this explosive set.

Beach House, Kings Theatre

Beach House transform the Kings Theatre into a dream-pop hub. Their 4am set at Primavera the previous year, was one of the defining moments of the festival.

Bon Iver, Primavera Sound 2017

Justin Vernon brings his ambient sounds to the Parc Del Forum. Alongside a very strong 2017 lineup, Bon Iver bring a calming tone to current times.

Arcade Fire, Lollapolooza 2017

At the height of their Everything Now tour, Arcade Fire bring an eccentric mix of their back catalogue to Lollapolooza. Always a huge show, filling the stage with musicians and atmosphere.

Squid, 6 Music Festival

A short clip of Squid’s recent 6 Music show with Bombay Bicycle Club, I was lucky enough to check these guys out at DIY Space for London pre-lockdown. Nothing but success is coming for this band.

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Danny Nedelko, Heavy Lungs.

Bristol punk band Heavy Lungs have certainly learned how to craft a grassroots revenue. Following successive nationwide tours, Danny Nedelko, the bands lead singer, offers his views on the circuit and its importance to him.

When playing certain venues, are you conscious of bands that have graced its stage before? And does this affect how it feels to play at such venue?

Of course, as it always interesting to find out the history behind the place and an honour to become part of it. It inspires to better and provide a performance worthy of the walls that housing it.

If you were to choose one venue, that you played at have visited to be protected. What would that venue be? What are your memories of ‘x’ venue?  And what is the most important aspect of the venue that you would protect?

I believe The Lousiana in Bristol, alongside few other have been protected in recent past.  But hey, its such a fantastic spot so maybe protecting twice woudn’t hurt. On our first headline tour we finished at the Louis and it was truly a beautiful and emotional night that I will forever cherish. Giovani.

What are the attributes of these buildings that are significant? i.e graffiti on dressing room walls.

Their imperfections, their tiny idiosyncrasies and the community they birth.

Music scenes: Do you feel that scenes are important for towns and cities to embrace and to remember? and how do you feel the legacy of starting out in a different city would have influenced your sound?

Yes absolutely. They are document of a specific time and atmosphere within the creative culture of the city.  We probably would have ended up being a Doobie Brothers cover band.

How do you feel a venue supports your fans connect to one another during your shows?

It grants people space to experience music they love, live, and make new friends. These are some of life’s greatest pleasures if you ask me.

Do you feel venues form communities and what venue symbolises this?

Answered this by accident in one of the previous answers aha

What do you feel are the benefits and downsides of listing and protecting a music venue?

It’s important as it celebrates the venues impact on the city and secures an opportunity for future history to be made. Just make sure you pick the right venue. Just kidding. 

Danny Nedelko

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Covid-19: Future of Grassroots Venues

The recent news of the venue ‘Plan B’ still operating in the Swedish town of Malmö has presented an interesting thought in the current music economy. Whilst Instagram live is proving a vital form of connectivity with fans, this has been an inefficient way to generate financial support. On the back of a huge effort from the music community to support each other, the reality is, the pandemic has and continues to hit the music industry hard.

In recent news, Belgium and France have stated large social gatherings such as festivals are cancelled until the end of August and health officials have warned that festivals may not be up and running until Autumn 2021. Whilst this seems bleak, Angela Merkel has revealed plans to exit-lockdown, opening smaller stores and schools soon, it seems a strategy to not just operate by nature of business but also by size, is being considered. This poses the question, what does this mean to the industry, could grassroots venues have an opportunity here?

People across the country are adapting to a new world, re-discovering their communities; local greengrocers are busier than ever and neighbourhood communal spaces are having the love injected back into them.

Credit: Gianluca La Bruna

Theoretically, we could see a state where grassroots venues are the first to open in the sector, and much sooner than expected. Venues with limited capacities could be deemed in a different bracket, for limiting the potential spread of the virus further whilst balancing the economy. Larger venues and organisations have a surplus of funds and alternate streams to balance their finances such as the O2 circuit, if the projected timeframes are blanketed across all venues, we could see a circuit solely operated through larger venues with no stepping stone for future talent. Opening venues in a staggered approach could be the answer.

Whilst these venues would still need to rely on a wider infrastructure operating, the opportunity to plant these connections to audiences and develop them is huge, and if tailored correctly this could change the musical landscape forever. Larger bands could re-discover and support their roots by still performing tangible shows thus generating much more money than existing channels. Audiences who never knew of their local musical hub could be inspired and local independent bands would have a platform to connect with a new and wider audience.

The focus still needs to be on survival, for these venues that are most at need of support and the independent bands that perform there. Whist these venues continue to struggle, organisations and venues are doing a great job raising money to survive. Please check out and donate, via Music Venue Trust, Crowdfunder, Jimmys, The Cluny, The Joiners to name just a few.

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Alt-J and the integration of contemporary music at heritage sites.

music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy” – Ludwig Van Beethoven

Somewhat overshadowed by the launch of U2’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ invasive marketing campaign. In early September 2014, alt-indie band Alt-J launched a mobile application on iOS and Android to stream their latest album ‘This Is All Yours’ before its official release. Using BLAST technology (a geolocation software tool), the app allowed the user to stream the album when in a particular location.

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UK Locations for Streaming

Sites across the globe were chosen by Alt-J, “that are perfect for experiencing the album for the first time” (AltJ Blog). These sites were characterised by their natural beauty or historic significance. More often than not, these sites encompassed traditional heritage criteria, some were even nationally listed Heritage sites.

Music is a powerful source. We form connections with it, associate it with our memories and it can even have the potential to modify our feelings and emotions. The ‘This Is All Yours’ App presents an alternative new era in heritage engagement, by adding a further dimension to the heritage ‘experience’. Whenever we watch historical movies or TV shows, shots of heritage locations are accompanied by a musical score. Is this ‘cinematic experience’ what the public are expecting from heritage sites? but more importantly are the public demanding it? Audio/Visual technology at Heritage sites is an already existent use of technology, however in this age of modernity using contemporary media at heritage sites seems like a unique way to connect with a contemporary audience.

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This Is All Yours App – ‘Stonehenge Location’

This new use of technology shows significant potential to increase visitor numbers and revenue at heritage ‘sites’. Most importantly this is a way to engage with an often isolated demographic, the youth of today. Through using this technology dedicated fans of the band would be encouraged to visit these sites, and in many instances this could be the first time that someone has a visited a heritage ‘site’ becoming somewhat of a marketing strategy to attract a wider audience.

As previously mentioned music is a powerful resource. Heritage locations both natural and historical tend to evoke a sense of emotion which music can alter and enhance. A band of atmospheric tone such as Alt-J has the potential to ‘enhance’ the natural beauty of these heritage locations. However it could be argued that this is de-contextualising the site, taking away its ‘true’ meaning by not engaging in traditionalist approaches. On the other hand heritage is a subjective experience, with the use of this application, the user can interact on a personally relatable level. Furthermore the app offers a way to engage with intangible heritage, at a location where no tangible elements need exist. Alternatively the potential of this app could allow for a degree of connection and association to to be had with a tangible location. In contemporary heritage sites the value of music is arguably a contributing factor in the associated value, being able to stream an associated song would promote the understanding of the social situation at the time.

To conclude, the French novelist and poet Victor Hugo once said  “music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”. Contemporary music can help to engage with audiences through personal expressionism and more importantly it can help challenge a lot of the issues that heritage sites are experiencing, surrounding audience demographics and relevance in modern society.

– Dan

*First published November 2014*

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Interview: Callum Pitt

Following his nationwide tour in late 2019, I spoke to Callum around the importance of local venues such as Little Buildings and The Cluny and what they mean to him and his home town of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

When playing venues in the last few years, are you conscious of the bands that have graced the stage before?

In terms of particular venues I’ve played, I would say there’s not too much celebrated about those who have played here before. But I would say for somewhere like Leeds Brudenell Social Club, that’s one that is acknowledged even up here.

In terms of the North East, there are bench marks, so all the bands that have come through and have been succesfull, they seem to follow the same route. You’d start out at somewhere called Little Buildings, then Think Tank, then onto the Cluny, then Riverside. Whenever I play any of those venues across the North East, I’m so aware of the bands that have played there and that I am on this track, in particularly the Cluny, which is where so many bands that I have loved, I have seen there before.

Who in particular has paved that way with you?

I look up to bands who were on the seen when I started, so i’d say The Pale White, Sam Fender. These symbolize climbing up the venues and establishing themselves to be successful.

If you were to choose one venue, either you have played or visited to be recognized, what would that be?

I would say The Cluny, because I think most bands from my region have really used this as a stepping stone and some of my earliest memories of gigs were here. I think it’s got massive cultural significance to the region. What makes it great is that it has two rooms, one at 180 capacity and another at 300 capacity, so it provides two stepping stones in itself to move up in their career.

I feel there is a couple of venues, like Little Buildings, that have their own audience no matter what the gig. There is a core audience that know each other who always check out new music. There is a massive inner circle to these sort of venues, when you get to the Cluny, it brings in a much wider audience who are equally as dedicated.

Do you feel music scenes are important for towns to remember and embrace? and how do you feel this has impacted your sound?

As an artist, you aspire to a high amount of individualism. Definitely you look up to other bands in your area and have formed that local sound and have become succesfull. Consciously or subconsciously you incorporate this music into yours. My sound would be slightly different, there is definitely an identity to bands that come from Newcastle, but probably because every city has different communities, different experiences and is molded by their surroundings.

Do you feel this is something that should be recognized and protected? or do scenes work better when they are fluid and in the moment?

I think each city or town’s musical culture should be protected, through having staple music venues in each city protected. That’s where I feel this project will be really important.

What do you feel symbolizes an intimate and grassroots venue of this nature?

I suppose buildings in their original state, that show signs of decay and have maintained signs of their wear. The way Little Buildings was, you could tell all the events that happened there. There was graffiti everywhere, a huge blackboard plaque outside where people would write their names on. Literally, in the backrooms there is writings on every wall, things which bands have left behind.

A band had taken a massive piece of metal fencing from a construction site and that was left permanently behind the stage.

That’s one of the most unique venues I’ve played, everywhere you look there’s memorabilia of bands who have played there.

Image result for little buildings newcastle
St Buryan, Little Buildings (2018)

From your last tour, do you feel these venues are a key life-line to reach out beyond your local area?

Absolutely, having venues that size across the country, formative venues where bands can come and go with minimal risk and you can easily get all around the country. Lets say you know you’ve got 20 fans in Birmingham, a venue with intimacy and a tiny capacity you can easily fill and spread your music. It’s essential for these venues to exist and build their community and get into other communities across the country.

What do you feel venues have provided to grow your fan base, and is there other channels which have helped to establish this further?

Definitely, building a digital community, replying to fans and building that connection. It’s what most artists strive to do these days. Alongside getting out in public you can build this connection nationwide much easier. They are a massive tool in gaining an audience in places it would take you a long time to get to outside of your community.

What do you feel would be the benefits of listing a venue, and how do you feel this would be responded to by the local community?

I’d say it would give a solid identity to the area, it would be something that as a resident you know is a stable part of the community and knowing that it would be secure for a long time. I personally see this as really strongly regarded in the music community, really progressive in the local area and people would really see the cultural significance as music is such a staple part of daily life.

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Interview: Matt Hall, Little Comets

Little Comets (Source Wfpk)

Ending 2019 with a huge run of tour dates, Little Comets have toured five albums and keen to start work on their sixth. They are a band notorious for their live performances, and unique shows in the past such as performing in lecture halls. After forming their own label, ‘The Smallest Label’ Little Comets have stuck to their roots and kept their shows small and connected. I spoke to Matt Hall to understand why these venues are so important to Little Comets.

When playing venues over the years as Little Comets, are you conscious of bands that have graced these venues before?

Yeah, for me personally there’s plenty of times when you walk through the dressing room to the stage, there’s a venue in Ireland called the Olympia. This is the first one off my head but there’s pictures of Bowie, pictures of absolute legends, bands like The Cure, bands who you expect to headline arenas or Glastonbury, they’ve all played there. It does hit you, and it feels a spiritual sense about it, when you look at more recent places like The Leadmill in Sheffield, the Arctic Monkeys used to ram this place, its shit but like, it’s brilliant shit. It sounds weird, but you get a sense of this place has seen some things.

The PRS for Music plaque is outside the Leadmill now for Pulp?

Yeah there’s quite a few places stating ‘this band started here’, mainly british bands. I remember in Newcastle, they kept remembering when the Arctic Monkeys played the Head of Steam. Its a downstairs venue, very low ceiling. It’s a proper, toilet tour venue, you would go in and go ‘aye, its a bit of dump, but you’ve gotta play it’.

I remember the stories that came out of it, it didn’t have any security staff, it was a cheap and cheerful kind of place. I think some of the audience members had to form a linked barrier in front of the stage as there was no barrier there. Cus people were going bat crackers for the monkeys, when they were like no-one. Like practice room-style records, before any record deal. It was like, this is mental, this is crackers, what is going on in here.

If it wasn’t for these venues, then they wouldn’t have these touchpoint to build this.

Yes completely, these venues are so accessible to people. They are not high ticket prices which is great, to get into that it was probably 5/6 quid, thats a couple of pints.

The amount of incredible bands you discover by going to cheap or free shows is incredible.

Yeah you would never see a gig, say at the Academy venues under £15, because the overheads are so high. To have smaller venues, to cut your teeth, I know its a bit of a cliché, but if you’ve never played a gig in front of someone who can literally touch you, you’ve missed something. To grow as a musician. That sounds awfully deep, but one of the things we started with, was crashing house parties. We’d make sure we’d play a houseparty near a tour by searching Facebook. We must have played where someone was holding onto the mic stand, hanging off of the PA that we rocked up with. It all helps with your craft as a musician and your connection to an audience. It’s when you play your bigger gigs like Brixton, you’ve formed that connection.

Are there any venues that stood out for you as benchmarks for Little Comets?

Its a strange one that, we did so many tours early doors, playing like Fibbers in York, it wasn’t a benchmark, some bands probably think like that cus they’re up their own arses, but for us we were more bothered about how many people were in the room. Like if that room was completely rammed, its the best venue in the world. I think when we first headlined Scala, because we had supported bands there. When we headlined it 6/7 years ago, it was like ‘this is pretty cool’. Some of the best gigs we’ve ever had, were never monumental, there was a venue in Hull called the Lamp. I will never forget that night, that would beat a Leeds or Reading playing a packed out tent any day. There were queues along, no barriers, the audience were at our peddle board, you had to walk through the crowd to get to the venue, I love that sort of craic.

Rob used to use the analogy of Football players back in the day used to go for pints in random pubs, have a bit of craic, that’s what we love in a venue. It felt like the ceiling was dripping with sweat. There was so much energy, from the audience and the room of everyone on top of eachother.

The Cluny in Newcastle, its not the sound system it’s the building that’s amazing, its one you think who’ve played there. The Futureheads, Maximo Park. Sam Fender played the Surf Café in Tynemouth and busked.

Every city has its own venue, Leeds has The Brudenell for example, its insane, the bands who have come through that. It’s the larger venues who rip off the success of ‘this band played this city’ But its the smaller venues that have built this and don’t have the voice or money to shout about it.

‘Shit tip of a venue, shit tip of a PA but the nights that have been on in there were tremendous.

Jumpin’ Jacks above the Dog and Parrot, that used to be bangin’. That was the place to see bands. Shit tip of a venue, shit tip of a PA but the nights that have been on in there were tremendous. There was a massive sense of community. We would have played that venue if we weren’t from Newcastle.

Throughout Little Comets’ history, you’ve played notorious gigs such as storming lecture theatres and playing the M&S in Newcastle, how do you feel this formed fan connections?

There are still people now who say ‘I was in that Durham lecture’ i’m like ‘that was 11 years ago man, cheers for sticking with us!’ We still have these connections to those fans. It’s weird when we go for drinks afterwards, we have a beer with someone who was dancing in your face an hour ago. One of the things that stopped was when you couldn’t smoke inside that was minging, but everyone was outside having a tab in their own world.

In terms of Music scenes, do you think Little Comets are reminiscent of your era of music, and the surroundings when recording?

Definitely, in the van we found an old local magazine, NARC, that takes us back to our old mates, we were like ‘do you remember playing the Cluny, getting ready to play with these’. There was always little scenes within the city. It was all being influenced by each other and the music out at the time. There was practice rooms opposite, something like 40 bands rehearsed here at any one time, and I remember walking the corridor, hearing every genre of music. Then there’s so many venues that take you back to an era, to a time.

Do you feel Newcastle influenced how Little Comets sound, if you were part of a wider scene would you have been influenced differently?

Definitely, you can hear Northumbrian folk music, Dire Straights and Sting in our work. You can hear regional musicalities. If we formed in Manchester, we’d be much louder. I remember, when in Jumpin Jacks, there was these metal nights, all packing it out, doing gig swaps. I don’t think any of this would happened if not for the spaces that were there.

People these days, have a certain amount of money to go to gigs, they can go and see a band at the arena for like £60, and see 5/6 gigs at smaller venues and discover new music. People spend all their money on one ticket, through rising costs of arena and academy gigs. That’s one of the reasons why try and keep our tickets cheap, so people don’t miss out.

In terms of the loyalty of your fan base, would you put this down to playing intimate venues, or more modern connections such as social media?

Our fan base grew out of playing lots of gigs in lots of towns, we didn’t have the extent of social media, we had the opportunity to put things in NME, but we tried to play as many shows as possible. The small shows with the connection to the audience, those fans are still there now. Since we started our own label we put things out on social media to boost knowledge we have new material. I think social media can build a fan base, but without the venues it’s meaningless. Without playing and connecting to that audience in the first base. If I put out a tweet now and asked our fans opinion, they’d always say the best gig they saw of us, was at a small and dingy venue. People remember that stuff, it creates memories. The energy, the feel, the people, you’re not getting charged £8 for a pint, people are having a great time.

What part do you feel merchandise has in people’s memories of the show?

We’ve always done our own merch, it’s all personal, we are always at the merch stand and try and sell it ourselves. We’ve never put tours on the back of t-shirts but I say people buy the shirt with the date to build that memory.

If you were to walk into an empty venue, what would you see as signifiers of the energy that these shows had?

I’d say the Cockpit in Leeds, with the tickets pasted over the walls, there’s always venues where there’s holes in the ceiling or smashed bar stalls. There are so many venues, where bands have got lary and they’ve been like ‘wye-aye, smash something up’. If that happens its because its been a great gig, its not them being dickheads, its because they’ve got too excited. All the writing in the dressing rooms, there’s always a dick on the wall, but the scrawlings, the sharpies, it’s something that bands do and mark their history.

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Interview: Alex Rice, Sports Team.

Fresh off their riotous show at the Nags Head, Camberwell, where drummer Al Greenwood required a first aid kid mid set. Sports Team are on a non-stop road to success, after years of hard graft touring the UK, notoriously filling the Forum with more fans than they have on social media. They have built a fan-base like no other, who have annual coach trips to Margate, and communicate with the band via a WhatsApp group. The anticipation now lies in there debut ‘Deep Down Happy’ released on April 3rd. I chatted to Alex Rice, lead singer of Sports Team around the importance of these venues, the fan base and the sense of community involved in a Sports Team show.

When playing certain values over the last few years, have you been conscious of the bands that have graced its stage before you? and is there any venues that hit home?

Yes for sure! I’d say King Tuts in Glasgow, with all the names going up the staircase. I feel this is where Oasis is meant to be signed. We have just been put on the stairs there, which we are quiet excited about that! There is a lot of energy going round when looking at the people that have played there and its more curiosity in that sense. I feel its about seeing your peers one generation before, so the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, is always one, we remember seeing some great bands there. The Portland Arms in Cambridge has given us significance to our career. Like it was only three years ago we were seeing Wolf Alice here, it feels like we are on the right track.

If there was one venue, that you have either visited or played at, that you would love to protect, what would that be?

I’d say it was The Portland Arms, Cambridge as it has that significance to us as a band where we met, but i’d also say the Forum, Tunbridge Wells which we never went to that many gigs at, but we always knew it from lyrics and legend, I think there’s an Arctic Monkeys lyric about it. As it used to be an old public toilet. I’d say ones where we went to as kids and formed that personal history.

Mark Davyd, the owner of the Forum is also the CEO of the Music Venue Trust, along with some voices from Jeremy Pritchard from Everything Everything, it’s great to see that many voices stand out about that one venue and that it means so much to so many people.

For us i’d say it was Slaves who we’ve seen at the Forum, one of the other ones we saw as kids.

You’ve talked in previous interviews about wanting to play Knebworth at some point. What is symbolic to you about Knebworth? Is it the bands in the 90s or Oasis? and would you consider this is a site to be protected and recognized?

I’d say it represents the ambition of guitar music in the 1990s. Oasis, Stone Roses and even the Robbie Williams show there, for me more than anything else, it’s more of a joyousness. The Oasis show was something like 10% of the population applied for tickets, its more about joining that movement to get guitar music back to that scale is very inspiring for us.

It’s very easy to pat yourself on the back when you sell out a Scala, and everyone declares the return of indie rock, but you’ve not touched the charts and you’ve sold around 600 tickets to just your mates. But Knebworth, to sell tickets to 10% of the population is a benchmark.

You’ve talked in a previous interviews about Cambridge not having a scene, and when you played at the Sports and Social Club and made a scene for yourself. Do you feel that scenes are important for towns and cities to embrace and to remember? and how do you feel the legacy of forming within a scene would have shaped Sports Team in a different way?

I’d say it helps to have the infrastruture there, in Cambridge this was mainly around the Pink Floyd connection. The college we were at, when it was an arts college, Pink Floyd had all gone there and we were amazed that these bizarre people had been there and we’d missed that in our generation. When you get to a place like Cambridge with the connections of London you see music in a different way. You get that London drain so spending time in different cities definitely makes you think differently.

Do you feel that certain scenes isolate or encourage bands forming in those areas?

You need these points of reference, we get sent demos from kids who are taking inspiration from us in those areas and it’s the best thing in the world. You do realise there is a lack of self awareness of what else is out there, as you are not meeting 10 other bands when they are playing more varied venues.

Your fan base is a community in itself, the dedicated base and the notorious ‘Margate coach trip’. How do you feel your fan base has been established?

That was always something that was born out of gigs being very expensive for some people, as our fans are usually pretty young, they can’t necessarily get to some venues so we built a tour around our fan base locations.

We then did a coach trip for our release of the single ‘Margate’ in 2018, which is growing year on year on its anniversary. This was all around us putting on a coach, turn up and we’ll sort you a day out and also make a night of it. It’s a great place we also have a strong connection to, we wrote there, played there and it feels like an event. It just gets bigger and bigger, we’ve got a double decker this year, we played a record store called Elsewhere in Margate, that really added to it. The venues linked to the record stores build this wider connection.

You guys also have a WhatsApp group where you all speak to your fans, so the memories made at gigs and the way these are remembered and communicated, do you feel this group is a form of a memory archive?

We try and link fan connections to physical things, like vinyl releases or impromptu shows, like the Electric Ballroom. Having markers, making sure we have an afterparty, to link the whole experience.

If it wasn’t for the intimacy of your shows in the last few years, do you feel your fan base will be as loyal as it is?

Completely, a lot of their identity now is drawn on being a fan of Sports Team and meet like minded people like us, slightly odd kids who like guitar music. It’s not super cool to like guitar music at the moment, and to form those connections really means something. I remember going to see Wu Lyf at the Village Underground which is a similar memory for me.

To summarize, what are the reasons why these venues need listing?

I’d say the whole experience needs looking at, coming together around a shared love for artists and it gives people a sense of identity, the outfits people wear and its about how this one experience fits it much more broadly around their life.

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Venue Heritage

The Cockpit, Leeds

Capacity: 500

Notable Acts: Libertines, Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age, Muse, Korn, Arctic Monkeys.

Live at Leeds, Cockpit (BBC)

Despite closing in 2014, The Cockpit remains a focal point of any discussion surrounding the rich musical heritage of Leeds and its diverse culture.

Opening in 1994, The Leeds Cockpit was formerly known as the Cock of the North pub. Located on Swinegate, the venue was just a stones throw away from the Leeds City centre train station.

Tucked away beneath the 19th century Dark Arches, the setting of Leeds Cockpit was often a major part of its appeal. The striking architectural space it occupied was complimented by a domineering metal doorway adorned with the bald, iconic Cockpit signage – an appearance which created what could be considered a quintessential industrial aesthetic.

One of the last shows at Leeds Cockpit (Facebook)

Waiting in line at the Cockpit was almost a sensory experience. Gig-goers excitement was met by the consistent noise of traffic which echoed throughout the arches. Rumbles of trains would pass overhead, and pigeons circled and sheltered on the narrow ledges above. As the waiting line brought attendees closer to the doors, graffiti scrawled across the adjacent brickwork – band logos, signatures, memories of experiences of the past and today “RIP Cockpit”.

Queue to The Cockpit

Entering the venue, the walls were adorned with posters, ticket stubs, stickers, flyers and other various other ephemera. Indeed, before the advent of the internet, such flyers and posters as well as the attendees memories were the only link to trace back the history of what had happened there. The nostalgia around the closure of Leeds Cockpit extends its reach into the memories of this place and the intangible. However, the littered walls functioned as a sign post to the venues’ long and illustrious history. Both established and fledgling artists would note the rich and varied artists who had passed through the venues doors before. For some within the Leeds and local scene, it was right of passage.

The venue’s main room held a modest 500 people, although, it would often feel like significantly more, especially by the time a prominent artist reached their encore, and the audience was dripping with sweat. Upon entering the venue a set of stairs would lead to a smaller venue in the loft and a balcony which accommodated the sound desk and engineer above the main room. Two ground floor rooms provided a bar and stage. The venue would often use a second entrance for gigs in the second ground floor room, on occasion this would also provide access to the well frequented smoking area.

The venues adaptability was a big part of its success. Such an ability to shape-shift with the requirements of an audience, promoter or artist could also be attributed to the unique space this post-industrial maize could offer. Indeed, at the time of closing, 3 established rooms of varying size would be used frequently. Artists from the Menzingers to the Wonder Years graced the cozy loft above, long before the international success they enjoy today. Although the Cockpit became renowned as a central pillar within the Punk scene, the venue would successfully cater to all styles and scenes, from Indie to Grime and everything in between. The Cockpit hosted The Garage and a number of prominent club nights, showcasing the cities interest in all variants of punk from pop to ska as well as established rock and metal.

Deez Nuts, Leeds Cockpit

Following its closure, the Leeds scene has continued to thrive. Despite new venues such as Leeds Arena, the juggernaught of the O2 Academy and the growing fondness and continued success of the Brudenell, not to forget the valuable additions of the Temple of Boom and Key Club; the Cockpit has left a lasting impression. Of course, a number of Leeds Festival headliners can trace their first appearances within the city to the Cockpit stage.

The neighboring Slam dunk festival has also come a long way. The festival has grown and popularity. In 2020 the festival will once again take over Temple Newsam park and as Ben Ray (Slam Dunk director) himself simply notes, “it [Slam-Dunk] was just a club night and a series of concerts in Leeds, mainly at The Cockpit” (Ben Ray, Yorkshire Evening Post 2017). Slam Dunk is now renowned as one of the flagship punk festivals, boasting a number of awards. However, its humble beginnings hark back to the importance of the provision of alternative spaces that facilitate and allow music scenes to organically grow. Such spaces also plant the seeds of ideas, and offer an endorsement and gravity built around heritage which empowers and validates subculture, art and place.

As Joseph Sheerin (2014) noted, following the announcement of the Cockpit’s closure;

“We all have our memories of The Cockpit. It smelt particularly bad, you had to peel your feet from the floor, the toilets were straight out of Trainspotting and to get any phone signal in the arches, you had to stand on your head”.

More posts will follow on Leeds Cockpit and the surrounding Leeds City scene.

William Smith

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Bull & Gate, Kentish Town.

Capacity: 150;

Established: Early 1980s; Closed: 4 May 2013.

Notable acts: Coldplay, Manic Street Preachers, Keane, Nirvana, Blur, Bloc Party, Muse, The Libertines 

“Anyone could get a gig at the Bull & Gate. Even my band played there. We were shit.” (Goldhanger 2013) 

Bull & Gate Kentish Town, Façade.

The Bull & Gate was a sectioned off area of a pub. Upon entering through the separate venue doors, there was a long corridor on the right hand side of which were the toilets, accessible also through the main pub. At the end of this walkway was the ticket booth. Past this was an open drinking area, with chairs and tables. An archway led into the venue. The main auditorium was a long dark car- peted room, open plan with no internal structural barriers, with the mixing desk in the far back corner. The backstage area was cramped, only a small square room with toilets. The venue was enclosed, with little ventilation, aiding the sweaty and energetic gigs and meaning that prior to the smoking ban the room frequently had a “wall of smoke.” The venue has since been cleared. The toilets are no longer on the west side of the building, the bar has been opened up and the venue room is now a separate dining area for the Bull & Gate gastropub. 

Razorlight in the backrooms of the Bull & Gate. 25/05/2004

The North-East London bastion of alternative rock and indie-pop for over 30 years and one of London’s totemic venues (Hann 2011), the Bull & Gate closed its doors on Saturday 4 May 2013. As was said at the time, “Since 1980 a small, slightly smelly, part of the Kentish Town Road has been a home-from-home for hundreds of young hopefuls seeking to make their way in the musical world” (ClubFandango 2013). In 1544, the “Boulogne Gate Inn” opened in Kentish Town, being the first inn for visitors arriving into London from the North. During the Victorian era the building was a notable gin palace. The venue carried on as a public house until the early 1980s when it started hosting live music performances, with the venue thriving during the Britpop days of the 1990s (NME 2013). On 1 June 2010, pro- moters Club Fandango took over the Bull & Gate while in 2013 long-term landlords Pat and Margaret Lynskey sold the venue to the Young’s chain and it was fully refur- bished. The Bull & Gate hosted many significant gigs, with the venue renowned as a hub for labels looking for new talent. Coldplay performed a number of gigs there in 1999, including the five-song set that got them signed to a major label. 

“I went in there once during the afternoon, and it really does smell of the gorillas cage at London zoo. It’s great and its kind of weird how venues create their own culture and there’s something about the Bull and Gate means that its constantly creating new bands.” Simon Williams, Panda Records. (ColdplayChronology 2008) 

And, in a way, just as important as the bands were the punters. At its very best the Bull and Gate [sic] was a meeting point for the fraggle rockers, the indie shysters, the gothic dreamers, the popstarship troopers; it gave the loners a home and the hopeless a cause, because these people were part of Generation Vexed. (MacLeod 2013) 

On the doors at the Bull & Gate 1990.

You could never tell what was coming, that was what made it so enjoyable at times. Muse played to a dozen people one night, The Libertines to forty on another. Some local group ripping off Pink Floyd would then pull in over 100 mates at the weekend. (Andy Clarke, Promoter) 

I’ll miss its excellent PA system (for a pub, it has powerful and crystalline sound). I’ll miss the oddity that you can get to the live music room from the main bar by going through the gents’ toilets. And, of course, I’ll miss the chance to see bands in a venue that, however scrotty, has history. (Hann 2011) 

SNUFF, Bull & Gate, Kentish Town 05/06/1990

Simon Williams of label Panda Records described the Bull & Gate as the “absolute definition of the Toilet Circuit” (ColdplayChronology 2008). Other commenters reminisced of the ritualistic elements a visit to the Bull & Gate entailed, elements such as going to the shop next door and “sneaking in cans of Red Stripe.” The building was Grade II listed in August 2005, being described as, “[A] fine Victorian pub in the Gin Palace tradition.” However, the contribution of the music venue to the build- ing’s significance is not recognized in the listing documentation. 

“One of the few …old toilets to have a big stage, good sound, a cool heritage, wise promoters and still function as a decent pub. That said, I missed all the really good gigs, and only went on the occasions that my own set of no-hopers trod the boards.” 

“The Bull and Gate [sic] offered the chance for no-hopers like us to play with a great sound system. It was dark and grimey, so proper indie rock venue.”

Dan Miller.

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5 best gigs of 2020

A packed start to 2020 ended up a struggling year for the live music industry. With the return of innovative socially distanced shows, 2020 still managed to deliver some outstanding performances.

Below are a selection of the best shows and a reason why they were so great.

Mura Masa – Pryzm, Kingston

Getting fucked for a 6pm club show… full of guest performances

Sports Team – Nags Head, Camberwell

Chaos from start to finish

King Krule – Pryzm, Kingston

A phenomenal set, intimate and passionate performance.

Blossoms, Lafayette

A stunning new, B&Q smelling venue. Topped off by a pretty much greatest hits set list and incredible support from Cabbage

Sam Fender, Newcastle

The first show since the beginning of lockdown. Geordie crowd as per. Proper class

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Outdoor Gigs: What options do grassroots venues and artists have to survive.

The recent news of the Live At The Drive In shows being cancelled due to fears of local outbreaks, highlights the realism of routes out of lockdown for live music performance. After the government announced outdoor shows could go ahead, a string of (already announced) outdoor events had started to sell tickets. With a lineup featuring The Streets, Kaiser Chiefs and Tom Grennan the shows were not to everyones taste, but economically, large scale bands are needed to secure enough sales, at a high enough price point, with such limited capacity. Although a great concept, the nature of the lineup and the ongoing risks of operating within a pandemic have distracted the community still at risk.

The government announced a four stage plan. At stage one and stage two, venues can open for rehearsals, training and recording performances for broadcast without an audience. Next, outdoor shows are allowed, plus ‘pilots’ for indoor gigs with a seated, limited and distanced audience; it’s uncertain yet whether that will involve a two-metre rule or a capacity limit at around 30 per cent. At stage four, limited, distanced indoor gigs can go ahead and at stage five they can increase audience capacity to something that maybe isn’t bankruptcy.

Amidst the praise of live music ‘returning’, the most at-risk venues and artists continue to be affected by the outbreak and that stage four, seems very far away. On the 16th July, The Welly in Hull, Gorilla in Manchester and Deaf Institute all closed. Grassroots organisations and small-medium artists still do not know their future. They both have limited cash reserves and limited exposure are unable to sustain themselves due to their popularity, through donations, merch and spotify streams.

Lets look at some of the places that have done it successfully. In Barcelona, Primavera music festival have launched ‘Nits del Forum’ a series of open-air shows, in Parc Del Forum with an attendance capped to enable social distancing. These events are selling out, proving success whilst also allowing bars to operate in the space, to further support.

Primavera ‘Nits del Forum’ from Instagram

In Oslo, a city fortunate to have many open spaces, have been hosting outside gigs in car parks, and unique locations such as SALT by the Oslo fyord, with a gig every night of the weekend, open mic nights and dj events. With limited capacity and enough space to distance between one and other, similarly these events are selling out.

These international examples show a fascinating incite, but it is difficult to see how these can be replicated in the UK music industry. The UK has very limited outside space to host an economically stable outside performance of this nature. Furthermore, The majority of UK gig-goes tend to be from a lifestyle without cars and the UK focus has such been on large scale, remote events. Although if a city attempted one of these concepts, London, for example, where space is a premium, seems impossible to host in socially distanced spaces like Barcelona and Oslo. There are many variables to be considered for those who would potentially host, the popularity of the act, the style of location, risk of further lockdowns without insurance to name just a few. Ultimately, grassroots venues are nervous at spending money and to host such an event that could be a further huge financial risk if then cancelled.

What has been seen from the decline in popularity of live streams, is that the ambiance of a show is integral to its success, the characterization of some of the UK’s best grassroots venues are through their intimacy, and grunge-like aesthetics, these can’t be replicated in these circumstances but admittedly, outdoor shows are a step in the right direction and need to be supported.

What this means for venues

Whilst all of this is ongoing, its key to remember what venues are still going through, The Lexington in Islington ran a very successful Crowdfunder project, but it revealed the stark reality of each venue. The Lexington has costs of over £25,000 each month, to survive with the doors closed, this cost is not going away and initial crowdfunding drives are drying out. Most venues have opened to sell alcohol but that is just a drop in the ocean of their overall costs and business model.

What this means for artists

But most importantly, what does this mean for the artists who play the venues, a venue cannot exist without the type of bands who would inhabit its space. And without co-survival, one will not exist without the other.

Ultimately, there are not enough avenues that provide income for musicians, venue staff and touring crew. Streaming, merchandise and streamed shows operate with very minimal profit to the artist. Even incredibly successful bands, if they were to remove their savings, wouldn’t be financially secure with current financial infrastructure.

Streaming has been a great success in the past at opening up new artists to listeners, however an ongoing debate is the amount artists recieve per stream, and in this current climate, this needs to be a further avenue of income. Tom Gray, Director of PRS for Music recently tweeted a case study of the Beatles, if they were to start out in today’s climate.

He goes on to detail, in 1965, 1.8 million copies of Rubber Soul sold in the USA. 11 songs. That’s 19.8 million confirmed song sales. That’s about £80k for Parlophone in streaming terms and £16k for The Beatles.

The band recorded for one month in Abbey Road Studio 2. Renting that room, a rough guess, £3k per day. So that’s £90k for the room. A producer of George Martin’s stature today, no less than £15k. So the band are already endebted to the label for £105k. With a band as popular at the time as the Beatles, what hope does that give emerging musicians without touring.

When you consider how little the money from each stream (approx £0.005 per play) goes to the artists, you need a lot of plays to earn any kind of money. In fact, the whole system is fucked, many labels still pay to artists based on 90% earnings because they hold back 10% for ‘breakages’ (when they used to pack vans with vinyl and there were inevitable casualties).

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One of the hard hitting and unspoken facts from all of this, is that there is a sense of survival, not just for venues, the musicians but for the audiences themselves. The majority of gig-goers are young, who do not have an abundance of disposable income, facing an unprecedented recession. In times of uncertainty, a changing mindset of saving is having a huge impact on donations and supporting to the extent we would all want to do. Whereas the extent of government support is yet to be divided out, the arts have been left to be supported by its audience, who need a sense of normality to return.

In times of economic turmoil, the meaning of arts is vastly more significant beyond just its economic impact. Expressions in hardship characterize some of musics greatest movements, from Swing-Jazz, Punk and Grime. The country needs the arts move than ever. The government has stepped in with a £1.57bn grant package, though what is yet to be seen is how long this can last, who is supported and what this means once the grant package has been split across the arts in its entirety.

The Music Venue Trust have calculated that staying closed for a further three months will cost a combined £46 million, and 93 per cent won’t be able to reopen at all. A car crash waiting to happen. But opening with such restrictions in ‘phase four’ would cost £85 million (or £52 million with a one-metre restriction) and risk further closures that we are already seeing. Instead the MVT, propose that the government provides the funds of around £50 million to survive until October, and then fucks off.

What needs to happen is some level of ongoing government support for venues to begin operating at a reduced capacity, now. Or inject enough cash into the grassroots venues that support the whole industry. If venues can only operate at 70% capacity, the government should support the remaining costs of ticket sales to get live music back ‘on the road’.