The Kazimier’s closure took the headlines locally in 2015, but the problem of music venues shutting down has been a national epidemic for a long time. Sure, the game has changed and records don’t sell anymore… but live music has never been healthier. Right?
Wrong. The fact remains that while the toilet dwellers of yesteryear – such as Noel Gallagher (Le Bateau and The Lomax: both gone), U2 (Eric’s: gone) and Madonna (The Haçienda: gone) – tour the world’s stadia, those who are supposed to follow in their footsteps are finding it increasingly hard to get going properly.
Yes, there has never been more live music… but I’ve also never stood in as many unsuitable pubs, cafes and performance spaces to watch music as I have in the past decade. And therein lies the rub: that meatpacking district-esque warehouse may be a great night out – and look fantastic under the lights of the latest art installation – but the sound often sucks. The ale runs out. The room is cold. And the evening is relying on bands and punters way more than it should. In short, even Russ Abbot couldn’t get an atmosphere going.
Great music venues are worth their weight in gold and when a place gets it right, so many bands can bask in their glory. Here in Liverpool, with the domination of our skinny white boys and their guitars, we can point to times when the the likes of The Coral, The La’s and The Beatles rocked The Zanzibar, The Picket and The Cavern respectively. But all that seems a long time ago today.
Right now, artists have everything but the gig easy. Music is easy to record, distribute and tell the world about. But performing it live? That’s becoming increasingly difficult to do properly. An open mic evening can set-up anywhere and scratch an itch – but where are the next lifers coming from? Most scenes come and go in a matter of months, the transient nature of their existence contributing to their downfall. Promoters have to vary their gigs widely – meaning artist, venue and brand – to even come close to breaking even as a going concern and all this has contributed to the death of tribalism in music. And, if it’s not quite dead, then it’s got about as much life in it as a Tuesday evening gig on the middle floor of Seel Street’s Arts Club.
There is good news, however, as help maybe at hand from the most unlikeliest of sources: the Government. New legislation passed this week, and coming into effect on April 6 2016, says local planning authorities will have to consider noise impacts on new residents, from existing businesses, under an amended permitted development right. Let us explain…
New regulations mean developers are now required to seek prior approval on noise impacts before a change of use – let’s say, from an office to a residential building, for example – can be carried out.
So, offices can’t be changed to flats any more if a music venue is nearby? Maybe… certainly developers will need to work with the council and the existing nearby music venue to ensure that live music is protected.
The Music Venue Trust, a body set up to defend the UK’s live music scene, estimated late last year that the number of live music venues in London had fallen from 430 to 245 since 2007. The trust’s founder, Mark Davyd, presented his case to Boris Johnson and the campaign snowballed.
Would this have saved The Kazimier?
No… but it’s legislation that can and will affect change. Music venues have now got an official path to follow if a developer decides, say, Seel Street needs luxury flats. The Zanzibar, for example, will now have massive protection to enable them to put forth a case. And this will snowball if social media repeats its ‘Corbyn Effect’ and helps highlight the cases that will undoubtedly crop up in the next twelve months or so.
A level playing field, then?
Perhaps. It’s certainly going to mean a fairer fight at first. In a statement, the Music Venue Trust says: “Permitted development rights have been extended in recent years and allow certain developments to take place without the need to go through the full planning system. The new regulations mean developers are now required to seek prior approval on noise impacts before a change of use from an office to a residential building can be carried out.” Score draw, then.
Can grassroots venues fight back?
It’s not a full Agent of Change law for our favourite venues, but it has to be seen as a step in the right direction and another feather in the cap of online campaigners finding tangible change achievable with digital diligence. “It’s a huge breakthrough and has been achieved with a lot of support,” said Davyd. “This common sense move by the Government provides an opportunity for local authorities to use their powers to ensure that live music continues to play a vital economic, cultural and social role in our towns and cities.”
You mean we’re back in the hands of Liverpool City Council?
Don’t spoil it! It’s a genuine breakthrough. Ultimately, yes, a developer will still have the opportunity to convince the council of the value of converting an office block, close to a venue, into accommodation (and contributing to its eventual closure, as has so often been the case). But, there is now a process in which the venue, its existence and its purpose get to sit around the table. In short, this legislation is a boon that live music should pack in its instrument case, strap to its back and add to its latest melody.
The spaces artists bare their souls in have just been given a pass to remain in the building. We should all celebrate that, for now.
– Pic by John Johnson