The Fiddler's Elbow, an iconic music venue in Camden.

Music venue charity calls for business rate relief extension

Scrapping the business rate relief for grassroots music venues would force more to close, the Music Venue Trust (MVT) has warned.

In an open letter MVT, a charity supporting grassroots music venues, called on chancellor Jeremy Hunt to extend the existing 75% rate relief beyond April 2024.

16% of grassroots spaces have been lost over the last year, representing 125 venues across the UK.

In 2022 the average profit margin of grassroots venues surveyed by MVT was 0.2%, and MVT’s emergency response team, which helps venues in cash flow crisis, saw an uptake of 187% from 2021.

Venues have struggled with accrued debts from covid-era business loans, as well as soaring rents and energy costs.

Sophie Asquith, an MVT Coordinator, said: “It’s a really knife-edge climate, and removing the rate relief would be catastrophic.”

Dan Maiden, owner of The Fiddler’s Elbow in Camden, said: “It’s a really tough time to be in this business – definitely the worst I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been here 27 years.”

He said rising energy costs are a particular strain.

Maiden added: “The rent’s killing us; the energy’s killing us, and no one is coming up to gigs, that’s killing us.”

He explained the cost of living crisis has reduced the amount of gigs people are able to attend, as has the spate of tube and train strikes.

He said: “You’ve gotta respect the reasons why they’re doing it, however the effect on businesses is huge.”

MVT helped The Fiddler’s negotiate their bills, and gave them £5,000 to replace their stage lights.

The charity also raised over £2.3m over the last year to buy the freeholds of venues across the UK; the first purchase, of The Snug in Atherton, was announced this month.

Maiden said: “They’re just an amazing team of people.

“There’s 940 odd venues in the country at grassroot level; most of them would have gone without MVT fighting our corner.”

The removal of the rate relief would still threaten The Fiddler’s finances.

Maiden said: “It’s another nail in the coffin, without a doubt, because you just can’t function. 

“How often can you keep opening this place up and not be making a profit? You’re on the breadline and you’re losing your own savings – you just can’t keep doing that.”

“REAL PEOPLE DOING REAL MUSIC”: The Fiddler’s Elbow is an iconic Camden venue. Credit: The Fiddler’s Elbow.

For artists, the risk of more grassroots venues closing also has an impact on their careers.

Errol Linton, a blues musician gearing up for a Union Chapel gig on 6 November, said: “Small venues helped me perform my music, make money and meet people.

Linton said: “Thumbs up to small venues – keep them going!”

Erin Johnson, lead singer of Bloodmemory, said: “Once you’re put on the bill for a gig, the potential for exposure is huge, and that’s where small and grassroots venues are worth their weight in gold.”

Bloodmemory are playing at The Fiddler’s for Camden Rocks Festival’s Halloween All Dayer on 28 October.

Singer-songwriter Ellie Bleach is supporting Girl Ray on tour in November; her opening slot for The Last Dinner Party at Camden Assembly in April demonstrated the potential of these bookings.

She said: “That gig directly opened doors for me, because people who saw me liked me enough to book me for a festival, which probably wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t seen me there.”

Bleach added: “In the UK one of the biggest cultural exports is music, but stars that dominate and act as tent poles for the industry don’t come from nowhere.”

Asquith said: “It’s simply a sustainability question: if the grassroots dies out, and those artists of the future don’t have an ability to try out new material, to hone their stagecraft, they’re simply not going to have a space in which they can evolve as an artist.

“People don’t just walk out of their bedroom and are able to pull off a live show; it’s something that takes an enormous amount of work.”

Grace Marsh, a London gig-goer, believes the closure of grassroots venues would impact music’s accessibility.

She said: “So many people are already being priced out of concerts, even though art shouldn’t be something with a class or wealth barrier.

“London’s already lost so many iconic smaller venues and places where music history was made.”

Louie Cameron, bassist of In Waves, agrees the decline of grassroots venues would harm music history.

He said: “Every band now that’s getting somewhere, whether they’re as big as The 1975 or The Vaccines, can walk around the city and say ‘oh, we played there once, we played there’.

“It would be either straight in at O2 level or just playing the same two or three places forever.”

Hunt will decide the future of the relief in his statement on 22 November.

Feature image credit: Google Street View.

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