‘War of attrition’: Music venues chief urges Manchester to learn from threats to London gig scene

Venues in Manchester and the North West are concerned about new developments threatening their existence in years to come, according to Music Venue Trust (MVT) CEO Mark Davyd.

The Music Venue Trust, a charity set up to protect grassroots music venues, has been holding regional ‘networking’ meetings around the country kicking off in Manchester earlier this month for members of the Music Venues Alliance based in the North West.

MVT estimated last year that 35% of grassroots music venues had closed in the last 10 years.  

Davyd, who founded MVT in 2014, said that developments in London had a “dramatic impact” on music venues in the capital and wants to stop that from happening in Manchester.

According to Davyd new developments often make a noise complaint and venues end up with conditions put on their license which they can’t afford to deal with – part of the challenge for the industry.

Speaking to MM, he said: “It’s kind of a war of attrition. 

“Manchester needs development, don’t get me wrong. It’s great to see new residential spaces opening up. But that doesn’t have to mean the closure of the venues and it can be done sensitively.”

As well as speaking to Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham about these concerns, Davyd wants Manchester City Council to introduce policies specifically set out to protect music venues.

He said: “Manchester identifies itself with music so much it really should be taking a look at its cultural policy, its planning policy, its licensing policy and making sure that it’s written down how much it cares about music rather than just have it as a feeling.”

A major development for the future of music venues took place earlier this year when the Agent of Change bill, tabled by Labour MP John Spellar, received cross-party support leading to a government promise to include the principle in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Introducing the ‘Agent of Change’ principle into planning law would require new developments to take responsibility for the impact they have on the area they seek to build in, shifting the onus away from music venues.

Davyd described the Agent of Change principle as ‘absolutely essential’ to protect venues in Manchester.

He said: “You can stand in the middle of the city and look around. You can see all the cranes. Music venues are very soft to this kind of development and are frequently lost unless there’s a really good cultural policy in place and that Agent of Change could be that in Manchester.”

MVT are not fighting alone. They have the support of industry giant Ticketmaster who are helping put on these regional meetings as well as sponsoring the charity’s 4th annual Venues Day later this year.


Ticketmaster’s managing director Andrew Parsons told MM: “Mark and I had a coming together a couple of years ago where he came over frankly wanting to have a bit of a fight saying ‘you should do more with the position you have in the industry’.

“I think it’s fair to say that he was pushing a bit at an open door because for us the venues are a really important part of our business and the artists that go through them will be our lifeblood over time.”

Parsons said that there’s an obvious commercial interest for Ticketmaster’s support of grassroots music venues now more than ever with the recent release of Backline, the latest version of the TicketWeb software designed specifically for smaller venues.

TicketWeb, which is currently used in the Northern Quarter’s Night and Day cafe, is a self-service ticketing platform owned by Ticketmaster that was originally set up to serve smaller venues and was first operated from a room above London’s Brixton Academy early on in the internet age.

Parsons said: “We’re always very conscious of the fact that bigger venues will have large teams looking after lots of different elements.

“At a smaller music club [one] person is going to be in charge of ticketing, marketing, building relationships with the acts, probably even booking the acts, cleaning up the toilets, everything.

“So the system has got to be super easy to be able to use and it’s got to be able to easily dip into all these pieces.

“We don’t do toilet cleaning but it does cover all of the facets that a venue manager will need to be running their business.”

Parsons identified touting as a concern for the company saying that identity based ticketing will be a ‘game changer’ to tackle extortionate resale prices, but noted that smaller venues wish that touting would be an issue for them.

He said: “They are much more focused about how you actually sell out a show.

“Often you can disappear down the rabbit hole of resale when, certainly at this level, the absolute priority is how can you fill it every day of the week.”

Image courtesy of Man Alive! via Flickr, with thanks.

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