Top image: The Britanys / photography by Sarah Midkiff
In the past year or so the UK has seen many of its iconic and seminal springboard music venues sold-off to be flattened of cultural significance and transformed into beige, personality-free residencies. And with that, the country’s musical heritage is bring turned to rubble and platforms for emerging musicians are slimming.
Bristol’s beloved Bierkeller venue was forced to suddenly close in February this year, having previously seen the likes of Arctic Monkeys, The Fall, The Stone Roses and The Pixies all play it’s stage – plus it’s where Nirvana famously kicked off their debut UK tour for Nevermind. While The Montague Arms in South London sadly shut its doors last month, a place famed for hosting the likes of Gang of Four, King Krule, as well as famously being the meeting spot for iconic musical trifecta, Mark E Smith, Nick Cave, and Shane MacGowan, and The Macbeth – a staple of the East London music scene – is needing urgent support in its own fight to stay open (donate to its GoFundMe here).
Places of incredible cultural value and history, these grassroots clubs are where the Rolling Stones first plugged in, where The Libertines’ guerrilla gigs ushered in a new era and where today’s music fans are free to socialise and listen to great music all for a very reasonable price tag. Unless something changes quickly, these sonic sanctuaries will be lost forever, and away we go into a future of large, cold, joyless homogeneous O2 style music venues with Carling sponsorship, curfews and large plastic glasses for £5.50 a pint. Scandalous is an understatement.
To celebrate and champion these brilliant haunts where music thrives and beer flows cheaply, we’ve asked musicians up and down the country to tell us their favourite independent venue – or, in the case of the mighty Edwyn Collins, write an epic letter in homage to the importance of these spaces.
Edwyn Collins – A letter to Independent Venues
“I’ve been doing this for 120,000 years and if there were no independent venues in the UK I wouldn’t bother touring again.
I’ve never risen to the heights of playing in huge venues and now I don’t want to. £75 a ticket? Fuck that, I didn’t fight the punk wars so I could treat people like mugs.
The proper indie venues are gorgeous to visit again and again because there is always the same person or small team who work so hard to make your gig a happening. They just do everything right. Proper promotion – they know their crowd and it’s always packed. Hospitality – it feels like going to visit old friends. It’s usually the same person – there to meet you and there to wave you goodbye. It’s just more fun. You connect with your audience. You go away happy and satisfied. It’s brilliant.
There are many venues and smaller promoters I love, but I’m focussing on Yorkshire (last time we called it our world tour of Yorkshire – three different venues):
I could go on, but let’s just hope they do, for a long, long time.
Edwyn Collins, February, 2018.”
Kid Wave – Westgarth Social Club, Middlesbrough
“I love playing cities up north, Hull is one of my faves and Middlesbrough another. I think Westgarth Social has a special vibe. It reminds me a lot of where I grew up, and it’s not like London where people have a zillion options on the doorstep. Everyone comes down and hangs out when something’s on. We played one of our first headline shows outside London there, and also played a really intense game of football in the parking lot across the road. Someone cooked an actual meal for us in an actual kitchen and they have lots of pool tables and cool stuff lying around. Big fan.”
“Last year we were fortunate enough to take two trips over to London to perform. Although each venue we played was a memorable experience, our most special would have to be at The Sebright Arms. It was our second time going out of the US, and our first headline show in England. We went in thinking we’d be playing to a mostly empty room, but it was full. There were a few groups of people who made trips down from other parts of the UK, and pockets of people singing along with us and chanting in between songs. I think we got a “lads on tour” chant??
It was really touching to see people in another country be genuine fans of our music and to have people committed enough to travel two hours or more to come see us in person. We got asked to play a surprise encore, so we had to pull a song we hadn’t performed in months out of our ass. Jake got picked up by the crowd and lost his guitar, Lucas tossed his in solidarity, and other Lucas had to hold down a ‘melody’ he had absolutely no memory of. It was pretty tight. Shout outs to the loyal Jamie Byrne, who trekked out from Wales to see us.”
On Saturday my band Lazy Day played The Louisiana in Bristol for the first time. We loaded our gear up these back-door stairs with a funny looking carpet pattern. The room was nice and cosy, but the stage was spacious and I felt excited for us to move around and get our groove on. The sound engineer told us to take our time during soundcheck, so that we could, “Get the right feng shui.” The Louisiana is full of this kind of nice atmosphere. In the audience we had someone who just moved to Bristol two days before, we had a group of university students, and we had Big Jeff right at the front. It’s amazing to play shows full of people dedicated to supporting live music and the venues that put on the shows. The Louisiana was exactly that kind of place.”
“One of our favourite venues in the UK is Mono in Glasgow. Although we have only had the chance to play there once, it certainly felt very special for us and has a great vibe as a venue. It’s rare nowadays to go to a venue that has consistently great gigs, great vegan food AND a record store inside too, which is partially ran by Stephen of The Pastels. The staff at the venue are amazing and it has a great tight-knit community vibe, with a lot of the staff being involved in other bands or projects across the city. Every time we pass through Glasgow, we make a conscious effort to go grab some food in Mono or have a browse through the records. Amazing place!”
“It’s been killed now, perhaps like all beautiful things eventually, but The Montague Arms in New Cross was a sacred place for a lot of people. I saw so many special shows there, put on some of my first nights there two years ago, and played my first sold out headline show there just before my first release last year. Seeing friends grow in that room year to year made it feel like the home-venue. For such an intimate space the sound was always crazy, and with the surreal mixture of ceiling fans, taxidermy and neon signs it felt like some forgotten Tarantino flick. It will be missed.”