Thursday, November 09, 2017

Keep the boat afloat

Another day, another much-loved music venue under threat. This time it's the Thekla, the legendary boat moored at Bristol's Floating Harbour, not somewhere I've ever been to personally but somewhere evidently close to a lot of people's hearts. Those behind new development proposals stand accused of failing to undertake adequate noise assessment, with the management of the venue fearing that insufficient soundproofing and a deluge of noise complaints from new residents will be the inevitable result.

There is certainly hope, though. Thus far, those to have proclaimed their support for the Thekla's cause include musicians of the stature of Roni Size, Fourtet, Portishead's Geoff Barrow and Charlatans' Tim Burgess, while decisive victories recently won in both Cardiff (in the case of Womanby Street) and Oxford (in the case of the Cellar) are ample proof that petitions and people power can work.

Nevertheless, the bigger picture looks bleak. The Music Venue Trust must be one of the most overworked organisations in the country at the moment, given the sheer array of challenges that small independent venues face. This article by Drowned In Sound's Dave Brooks doesn't even explicitly mention aggressive developers and planning issues, though it does refer in passing to gentrification in relation to the exorbitant hike in business rates faced by some venues that now find themselves in areas where prices have soared. He underlines the negative impact of the Tories' Late Night Levy and points out that venues are often forced to charge inflated bar prices because that's the only way they make money.

And then, of course, there's Brexit, no less of a shitstorm in this context than it is in any other. As Brooks observes grimly, with access to EU funding about to be cut off and Arts Council England allocating an obscenely small amount of their overall budget for the next four years (just 0.06 per cent) to popular live music venues, more places like the Thekla will inevitably go to the wall.

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