Saturday, November 24, 2018

Down on the upside

It's with depressing frequency that I find myself reflecting on the challenges (both specific and general) facing live music venues the length and breadth of the country. So to be able to report a very positive development is a rare pleasure.

Yesterday, Oxford institution the Cellar reached its crowdfunding target of £80,000 with days to spare. Substantial building work is required to create a new exit that meets fire regulations and allows the venue to operate at full capacity, and without the cash it would have had to close its doors. There are precious few live music spaces in the centre of the city as it is, so it was heartening to see the concerted fundraising campaign pay off.

Supporters included Radiohead's Phil Selway, who auctioned off one of his drums, and local ticket agency WeGotTickets, who pledged a whopping £5,000, as well as Steve Lamacq, Jarvis Cocker, Judge Jules, the Music Venue Trust and countless artists local, national and international who have fond memories of performing there. Thanks to their generosity, future generations of Oxford musicians will reap the benefits.

Hopefully, the success of the campaign will serve to inspire those fighting to protect other venues and, as Cellar manager Tim Hopkins said, communicate "to people out there just how crucial small venues are to our music and arts community".

In fact, for the Cellar, some of those venues are very close to home. The Wheatsheaf, a short walk away down Cornmarket and equally integral to the Oxford music scene, has had to stop live music in its downstairs bar and brought its upstairs curfew forwards due to a noise complaint from a single local resident who moved in while the venue was being refurbished in the summer. There's no imminent threat of closure, but it just goes to show the injustices and difficulties that such establishments have to endure - and how important and urgent it is that the the agent of change principle, still yet to be green-lighted by parliament, is adopted.

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