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Going down the pan – why we need to do more to protect our small music venues

Posted on 13 July 2017

The country’s network of small, independent music venues need greater recognition and protection or we risk leaving the UK worse off culturally, socially and economically, according to a leading cultural heritage academic.


The Cockpit in Leeds has since closed. Pic Credit: Rob Ellis

The so called ‘Toilet Circuit’ is the lifeblood of the music industry and should be afforded the same recognition and status as theatres and opera houses, Professor John Schofield says.

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.

Noise

But Professor Schofield, whose study of the Toilet Circuit is published in the journal Heritage & Society, says 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.

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.

The venues are also important economically, helping to support a network of businesses, such as restaurants, bars and taxi firms.

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.

Heritage

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

“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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