The following MBW blog comes from Lohan Presencer, the Chairman of London-based nightclub and legendary dance music brand, Ministry of Sound. Relevant to the below, Presencer (pictured) – who previously also ran the Ministry Of Sound record label before it was sold to Sony in 2016 – is also a Board Member of the UK’s Music Venue Trust (MVT), a registered charity which seeks to protect, secure and improve Grassroots Music Venues. MVT’s patrons include Sir Paul McCartney, Elbow and Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice.
Just over ten years ago a letter arrived at the reception of our nightclub Ministry of Sound marked “To the Occupier, 103 Gaunt Street”, it didn’t even acknowledge our business. Fortunately, it didn’t go straight in the bin and eventually found its way to me.
At the time I had no idea what was about to ensue would take over four years, cost nearly £1.5m in legal and planning fees, and threaten the very existence of our 20 year old business. It would also change the way music venues are viewed and supported in our country, for the better.
The letter of course was the notification of a planning application to build 300 residential apartments in a giant skyscraper right next to the entrance of our club, a club which was famous as the first ever all night venue in the UK and had become the beating heart of our multimedia global entertainment business. We are also quite noisy, the clue is in the name!
When I met the developer he told me that we could not hope to stand in the way of regeneration and that “nightclubs come and go”, a statement he would rue as we repeated it often over the coming years.
“In front of the then-London Mayor, one Boris Johnson, we received a ground-breaking judgment ensuring the ongoing operation of our club.”
Four years later, following numerous planning hearings both in our local borough of Southwark and then ultimately in front of the then-London Mayor, one Boris Johnson, we received a ground-breaking judgment ensuring the ongoing operation of our club, whilst enabling the flats to be built.
Through a “Deed of Easement”, we were permitted to make “noise” as we had always done, and the new residents or owners would be obliged to sign an agreement promising not to file complaints that might threaten our licence. We have, since that day, lived in harmony with our new neighbours, many of whom love living next to the world’s greatest nightclub, partying with us often.
Following the decision, the music team at the Greater London Authority (GLA) decided, to their credit, to bring many in our sector together to endeavour to establish a joined up strategy to support music venues like ours and indeed many of the smaller live music venues who had experienced similar challenges but lacked the resource to defend themselves, sadly ultimately having to close.
It was at this meeting that I met Mark Davyd, a small venue owner himself and CEO and founder of the embryonic Music Venue Trust, an organisation created to protect, secure and improve what he termed as Grassroots Music Venues (GMVs). At this stage MVT was just attempting to reach GMVs across the UK to offer advice and pool resources. Mark was assembling a board of sympathetic advisers which I was honoured to be asked to join.
“Last week, following four years of campaigning by MVT, the new government, led by that same former London Mayor, issued landmark legislation granting a 50% reduction in UK business rates for Grassroots Music Venues.”
Last week, following four years of campaigning by MVT, the new government, led by that same former London Mayor, issued landmark legislation granting a 50% reduction in UK business rates for Grassroots Music Venues. Westminster Council, going one step further, granted a 100% waiver of business rates to the famous 100 Club on Oxford Street, ensuring its long-term survival.
This equates to real savings to music venues of over £1.7m per year. We have also heard that Arts Council England have agreed to continue their Supporting Grassroots Live Music Fund into 2020/21. The fund was launched last year following years of lobbying by MVT, and provides £1.5m in annual grants to music venues to help repair and improve their businesses.
Since May 2019 MVT has helped 127 venues engage with the application process, 70 awards have been made and further applications are being assessed. Venues that have so far received funding include The Sound Lounge (London), The Louisiana (Bristol), District (Liverpool), Ramsgate Music Hall, The Old Market (Brighton), The Brook (Southampton), Independent (Sunderland), The Hope and Ruin (Brighton), The 100 Club (London), Chapel Arts Centre (Bath), The Macbeth (London), Fiery Bird (Woking), Paper Dress Vintage (London).
MVT also provide a vital 24 hour emergency response service for venues who, for whatever reason, find themselves in need of urgent advice with regards to planning, licensing, policing or indeed just a help sounding board.
This is the service which would have been so helpful to us at Ministry of Sound when that first letter arrived. Last year it helped 96 venues to fend off external threats that could have otherwise seen them closed down. Ensuring that service remains freely available is central to the effort to keep these vital spaces open.
Rate cuts, grants, expert support and guidance. These are the essential elements in the fight to keep these venues open. MVT has created the tools we need and we have got to ensure the charity is able to continue its work, delivering these opportunities for grassroots music venues.
I’m not going to repeat the already well-worn arguments about which famous artists cut their teeth in Grassroots Music Venues, it’s obvious – talent needs a stage.
“I call on you all now, Warner, Sony, Universal, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, YouTube and all the rest of you who rely on this vital pipeline, to dig deep and help us.”
What I am going to say is how disappointing we have found the response from the wider music industry to our cause. With the exception of a small handful of music companies, particularly Ticketmaster who have given exceptional support to MVT from the outset, we have had little engagement from the wider music industry.
A dialogue is taking place within the live sector but the whole industry benefits from the work done by these Grassroots Music Venues.
I call on you all now, Warner, Sony, Universal, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, YouTube and all the rest of you who rely on this vital pipeline, to dig deep and help us. As little as £1,000 a month from each of you will help us continue to deliver the essential support and lobbying services we provide to the hundreds of small venue owners and operators around the UK.
Please help.Music Business Worldwide