Monday, January 20, 2020

Support act

The annual Independent Venue Week (IVW) kicks off next Monday, its message as important as ever: grassroots music venues are vital and in the current climate need all the help they can get. Such support should come not only from music fans, whose footfall is essential on a day-to-day basis, but also from those with the power or capacity to make the environment in which the venues operate more conducive to long-term viability.

That's why one of IVW's ambassador, Anna Calvi, is absolutely right to argue that live music is undeservedly neglected in comparison with art forms perceived to be more high-brow, such as ballet and opera. That much was evident a couple of years ago, when Arts Council England decided to reject an application for just £500,000 from the Music Venue Trust but happily approved awarding a mind-boggling £96 million to the Royal Opera House. Time and again popular music is treated as an afterthought or overlooked by the powers that be - most recently, in my experience, at a Learned Society of Wales event where the panel featured representatives from the worlds of literature and TV and it was left to audience member Huw Stephens to argue that musicians are often more significant cultural ambassadors than authors and actors.

In a sorry coincidence, the value of continuing to fight for grassroots venues has been underlined close to home today. Cardiff lost BuffaloGwdihw and the Transport Club in 2019, so the news that 10 Feet Tall and Undertone also look doomed made for grim reading. Expressing their disgust that a planning application was submitted without any communication or consultation from the landlords or directors, the venue's "entire team ... including the management, bar staff and sound technicians" have decided to resign in protest.

That declaration was subsequently removed from the venue's website and an "official statement" has since been issued insisting on "business as usual" and criticising those who have resigned for not helping "this current crisis situation". But it's hard to see how it can come back from this - all of which makes a mockery of Cardiff's status as a "Music City" and the council's stated aim to "incorporate music into its city structure" in response to the Sound Diplomacy report. If they're genuinely serious about those ambitions, then 10 Feet Tall and Undertone should be protected and promoted rather than turned into yet another city-centre restaurant.

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