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The Tuppenny Lock-Out Diary #02

The Music Venue Trust, Live Music & Us!

Hey all, Ed again! When we set up The Tuppenny, in many people’s eyes we probably had the worlds worst business plan and went about everything arse-about-face. But, for us, the idea was to create a place that we wanted to be. It was that simple. We were fed up with the proliferation of carbon copy plastic bars serving the same obvious drinks to people that we quite frankly did not want to hang around with. Big companies selling even bigger companies’ products to people who could not care what they were drinking. People who went along with the crowd and had no independent thought. Your basic sheep, essentially. We wanted to serve drinks from independent producers who cared more about quality than cost, drinks that were properly handled and served by people who cared what they were selling you and knew their stuff. We really did not want to deal with all the problems and hassle that comes from running a mainstream bar and all the dickheads and menacing atmosphere that cheap booze brings.

Alongside this, there was always going to be music. With backgrounds like ours, that was a given. Linda had spent over 9 years managing the bar at music venues The Victoria and 12 Bar and I had been putting gigs on and running festivals for years as well as writing about and releasing music. Then, there is Jamie, who has had a life immersed in music, playing in local bands, touring the country in those bands, sound engineering, touring even further afield as a professional session player for bigger musicians and of course, a long stint at Holmes Music equipping the areas musicians and repairing their instruments. It is fair to say we couldn’t not have some form of live music in our new place.

What kind of music that was got partly determined by the space we had. The Tuppenny is not big, is pretty much one room, with low ceilings and residential flats directly above. Anything that was too loud would not have worked – we would have had a litany of noise complaints, deaf customers and staff and besides, a five-piece band with full drums takes up a fair amount of space, leaving little room for customers. So, smaller acoustic based set ups it was then. We all liked a wide variety of music so this was no issue and I had plenty of contacts on the circuit built up over the years. We picked Thursdays initially as a music night, as Fridays and Saturdays we had no need to attract custom, it was already coming and we consequently didn’t have the space available for music. We went with just 2 sessions a month, both to keep costs down as we found our way and built an audience, and so as to ensure we kept the quality levels high and people interested. Of course, in keeping with our desire to be a little different and more artisan, we only book artists who perform their own material, not covers acts. Again, the sort of music we would go and see ourselves.

We have found ourselves part of a wider music circuit, attracting artists not just from the local talent pool, but artists who tour the country, people making a living from playing their own songs. We eventually got brave and have had bands with drummers (small set ups, admittedly) and widened our musical scope as best we can within our physical limitations – some of our favourite shows have been when we have encouraged bands to strip back their sound, reinterpret what they do and tailor it to suit our space and our audience. We have hosted folk, americana, blues, soul, indie, dream-pop, roots, afrobeat, drone, punk, electronica, rock, all in way that suited our vibe. We even extended music to include a monthly Sunday afternoon chilled session and host several sessions of local festival The Swindon Shuffle every July. There are not many places in town that you would find the kind of artists we host (hello to our friends at The Beehive!) and that is perfect for us.

Of course, since the Covid-19 enforced lockdown, all our lovingly curated live music events have been cancelled (many to be rearranged when possible). This is not ideal of course, but can’t be helped. As I noted in an earlier blog, we quickly converted ourselves to an online store with home delivery (and now click-and-collect), so we are not reliant on any income generated by the live events. However, the artists themselves are and so are a lot of our peers on the circuit. Which is why, because we see ourselves as having a wider responsibility within this live music community, we have been following but not getting involved with the current #saveourvenues campaign from the Music Venues Trust (MVT). Whilst we do not yet need this kind of support, others do, which is why I wanted to highlight it and bring it to your attention.

The MVT is a UK registered charity which acts to protect, secure and improve Grassroots Music Venues. These venues have played a crucial role in the development of British music over the last 60 years, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and their performance skills. In a nutshell – if bands like Muse, Arctic Monkey’s, Radiohead or even Ed Sheeran hadn’t cut their teeth and honed their craft at these venues, then they wouldn’t be where they are today, selling millions of records and tickets worldwide and bringing millions of pounds into the economy. These issues are not new however, the MVT was founded back in 2014, way before Covid -19 was a thing, because existing pressures on these venues such as noise abatement issues, building developments, and financial stresses on audiences have meant that many have already closed, or were at extreme risk of closure way before the current, government ordered, closedown. They have been sorting out legal representation for venues, providing experts in acoustics to help with cases and were instrumental in pushing through parliament the “Agent of Change” legislation that now requires any developer building in the vicinity of a music venue to bear responsibility for soundproofing their development or improving the venues existing soundproofing.

Since the closedown they have upped the ante somewhat as there are now over 500 venues at imminent risk of closure and organised the large scale #saveourvenues crowdfunder (which at time of writing was sitting at well over £1 million raised). Additionally, they are helping link artists with venues to put on and promote to a wider audience fundraising live streams (including some higher profile artists – big props to Frank Turner who has been instrumental in all this). It is hoped all of this will ensure these venues can survive the shutdown and last through until the live music machine grinds back into gear again, something that is looking less and less likely to happen this year.

I am sure many people wonder what all the fuss is about. So what if some grubby little music venues close down? However, just a small amount of forward thinking would reveal that were these venues to close, there would be no next generation of bands and artists coming through. No fresh new Coldplay (not the worst thing ever suggested), Foals or Royal Blood. Hell, even the Beatles and the Stones cut their teeth in small dingy venues back in the day. Just imagine a world without any of this music in it. Who would be headlining festivals? We would be stuck in a world full of anodyne, written-to-order pappy pop nonsense. The result would be no different to removing the foundations of a building. Soon enough the whole thing will collapse, even the exclusive penthouses on the top floor.

So, whilst you wait for the great re-opening of pubs, bars and venues, spend a little of your time looking at what the MVT are doing, and if you really care about live music, at any level, even if you only ever go to big corporate festivals and gigs, do something to help save the grassroots venues as they are the lifeblood of the industry and without them there would eventually be no Glastonbury, or O2 Arena shows. Chuck a few quid into the crowdfunder, or into the pot at one of the excellent online gigs that are going on at the moment. It all counts.

The Music Venue Trust are found here: http://musicvenuetrust.com/

More on #saveourvenues campaign is here: https://saveourvenues.co.uk/#/

 

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