Music venues: what exactly is the fuss all about? Well, almost 2 years ago, I launched a thing called Save Soho because there are plenty of good reasons to make a lot of fuss about music venues. At the time, it was as simple as someone closing a venue that I have frequently performed in and neither the community nor myself thought the closure was justified. So we made a fuss about it and 3 months later, the new plans for that venue that resembled a posh bistro were suddenly replaced with plans for a performing arts space once again.
Madame Jojo's - saved.
Evidently, Save Soho has ended up crossing into more areas than just the music sector. But it was the music sector and it's uncertain future in our cities that made me begin Save Soho. That's the passion at the centre of my life. Music. And since I lived in Soho for over 20 years making music there, Save Soho was a calling I couldn't ignore.
A week after my letter to the Mayor of London was published, I received thousands of emails and almost as many phone calls. The global wave of affection for Soho was inspiring and overwhelming, and it still is. But one phone call in particular wasn't from somebody interested in shaming landlords, complaining or asking me when the next series of Sherlock was going to start.
No. One person had been thinking and saying the same thing I had been thinking and saying: "Would a band like The Who ever have touched, inspired and ultimately reached the rest of the planet if they hadn't have had a few tiny grass roots music venues to start their career in?"
That phone call was from Mark Davyd, CEO of the then, newly formed Music Venue Trust. I remember the call very well. We mentioned Pete Townshend repeatedly, and every other artist that has brought millions of pounds into the UK economy over the last half a century by honing their craft and starting a career in music from a very small room. Not to mention, the 'passing of the baton' as subsequent generations of musicians and songwriters continued to be inspired by their musical heroes who once upon a time, also carried their own guitars in and out of grass roots music venues.
The Beatles, David Bowie, Ronnie Scott, Oasis, Adele, Spandau Ballet, Paul Weller, Pink Floyd, Paloma Faith, The Clash, Jimi Hendrix. Artists who have shaped part of our humanity by providing a soundtrack to our own lives.
Mark and the Music Venue Trust have come a long way in two years. Their work is indefatigable, and we are about to witness another defining moment in their quest to secure and nuture the future of music venues in the UK (The first moment being to implement the Agent of Change).
Many of us who are considered to be campaigners or activists when it comes to music venues can get carried away with the idea that there is a big bad wolf huffing and puffing all our glorious temples of pop culture to the ground. Yes, maybe sometimes, but on the whole, it just isn't true. If you ask a developer, a landlord or a council planner "Do you like music?" 9 times out of 10, they are going to say yes. And they mean it. They are human beings too and if you talk to them, one realizes that the destructive decisions they can make are not their fault. It's paperwork. It's legislation and it's double Dutch to musicians, but more importantly, it really is a foreign language to most owners of music venues. And that is'nt their fault. Running a venue is demanding enough without being an expert on planning applications and laws.
If we don't understand a language and we don't have time to learn it, what do we do? Hire a translator. That is what the Music Venue Trust's Emergency Response Team is.
Closures of small venues have frequently occurred over the last decade because the people running those venues could not afford legal advice and/or had little to no knowledge about their rights or the rights of developers. Understanding the national planning framework is a total mind-bust. I know because I had my head stuck in that mind-bust for the first 9 months of running Save Soho. It's heavy. And I really did pray for an organization to be established in order to tackle that mind-bust.
So it's admirable that people like Mark have taken it upon themselves to have their minds busted in order to understand how finally it is going to be possible to fight back.
But here's the thing. It's our culture. It's our music. And it's our responsibility. If we want music to effect change again, we're going to have to effect change in the ecosystem where music lives.
The Music Venue Trust's Emergency Response Team can empower that ecosystem and make sure live music at a grassroots level will survive and hopefully thrive. Emergency is a dramatic word isn't it? But it is an emergency when your music venue has been told to close and you don't know how to overturn that decision. The Emergency Response Team will know how, and they may be able to keep the venue open.
How's it going to be funded? By you and me. Because it's our music isn't it?
And the first way we can all help is by getting a ticket to Fightback at The Roundhouse on Tuesday 18th October. A one-off evening of music to raise vital funds to create a new service to stop the venue closures. I'm very proud to be performing alongside an incredible group of extraordinary artists at this concert, but what thrills me most is the butterfly effect.
Yes, Fightback a fundraiser. But more importantly, it's bringing our community together under one roof. When communities stand together with a united belief, whether it's in a church, a Buddhist temple, a theatre or a football stadium - the energy increases when we all put our hopes next to each other in the same space.
The energy multiplies and becomes a force to be reckoned with. Just all of us being there makes a difference in the universe. With all our help, the Music Venue Trust will keep making the difference. You've all seen the hashtag a millions times, but this time, really, I truly mean it when I say: #BeThere Get Tickets to Fightback at The Roundhouse
Musician and founder of Save Soho