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Head of Department calls for greater recognition and protection of small, independent music venues

Posted on 14 July 2017

Professor John Schofield says we risk leaving the UK worse off culturally, socially and economically

The Cockpit in Leeds, now closed. Photo Credit: Rob Ellis

The UK's collection of small, independent live music venues should be afforded the same recognition and status as theatres and opera houses, says the Head of Department of Archaeology, Professor John Schofield, in a new paper.

Collectively known as the "Toilet Circuit",  the venues are now closing at an alarming rate across the country as local authorities and landlords face pressure to comply with strict noise regulations. Many of today’s biggest selling bands such as Radiohead and the Arctic Monkeys owe much of their success to the Toilet Circuit, where they were able to hone their craft and build up a fan base.

Venues such as the Cockpit in Leeds, the Bull & Gate in London and the Adelphi in Hull have long since closed down, but others such as Fibbers in York and the Leadmill in Sheffield remain open—albeit in the case of Fibbers, at a new location.

These smaller venues peaked in the 1990s and 2000s, coinciding with the rise of Britpop and Indie genres, but now they are in decline. Of the 430 music venues that traded in London between 2007 and 2015, less than 250 are still open. It is a similar picture across the rest of the UK.

Publishing in the journal Heritage & Society, Professor Schofield's research seeks to explore the significance of these venues and their future. While some venues are iconic, it is not the buildings themselves that matter so much, as the fact that venues survive at all within town and city centres, or suburban areas.

“The cultural value of the music venues generally lies in what they do, rather than in the buildings themselves,” said Professor Schofield.

“Bands are still emerging through the Toilet Circuit and without them musical ingenuity will perish. Essentially the Circuit’s value is maintained through its heritage which needs to be sustained by venues.

“Toilet venues are indispensable, a unique cultural form whose loss would leave the UK worse off culturally, socially and economically.”

Professor Schofield, who co-authored the study with Dan Miller, said a pragmatic approach is needed to help protect the survival of venues.

“The first step is to recognise the cultural significance of these places and the fact that they really matter.  

“It is unlikely that we are going to get a policy or legislation which protects these places; it is much more a question of relaxing the restrictions, which is much more feasible.”

“Either way, a recognition of the cultural significance of these places for society as a whole is an important first step.”


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