“It’s great that Record Store Day occurs, but no one was doing [the same] for independent venues.”
So says Chloe Ward, the Director of Independent Venue Week, an ambitious project which takes place in venues around the UK each January. The brainchild of former band manager, label boss, tour manager plus venue and recording studio owner, Sybil Bell, IVW came about after Bell did a period of consultancy work in partnership with Record Store Day. Bell’s realisation that the same model could work to revive a beloved but flagging live music sector, is what Ward believes was the birth of the IVW project. “Knowing what it is to own and run and work in them, day in, day out, she wanted to create something that shone a spotlight on venues and the people in them.”
Now in its fifth year, Independent Venue Week has grown massively in stature, and has support from brands such as Fred Perry Subculture, Marshall Records and Vevo. 157 venues are already signed up for 2018, and organisers hope an eventual 160-plus sites will participate in a range of gigs and shows between 29th January and 4th February.
IVW is at the end of January because it’s a traditionally very quiet time for live music. “After Christmas people are bored, clawing at the walls to get out and do something,” explains Ward. “We run then to give a boost to the venues, launch them, put them on the map and into the minds of people for the rest of the year.” The week has been moved slightly later for 2018; “It’s after payday and we’ve since found out that’s when student loans come in!”
Venues taking part can be any size. The smallest IWV has is the Grayson Unity in Halifax, boasting a capacity of 18. “They joined last year and I emailed them back and said, ‘I think there’s been a bit of a typo on your form. It says your capacity is 18’. And he said ‘No, it’s 18 and actually that’s for a singer-songwriter. If we get a band in, we have to reduce it to 13.’ It’s an old electrical shop he’s converted into this tiny but incredible little venue.”
IVW is supported by a number of organisations including Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales, and PRS for Music. Vauxhall donate a Vivaro van (part of their Vivaro On Tour project), which is given to artists all year round to use for their tours. “It’s becoming more and more expensive now for bands to go out on tour. They enable bands to save a load of money and that van can go anywhere in the UK and Europe,” says Ward. “It’s out at the moment with Sunflower Bean [on tour with Wolf Alice], Slaves have used it, Yak have used it, there’s quite a mighty list [of names].”
Let’s hope they give the van a good scrub clean before they hand it back.
“They do! But Vauxhall do have a team who make sure it’s all in working order and clean ready for the next artist. The bands are respectful of it, they’re very grateful.”
IVW split the UK into 12 different regions: Liverpool is included in the North West bloc, along with Altrincham, Manchester, Carlisle, Morecambe, Northwich, Warrington and Wigan. I put it to Ward that last year’s Liverpool line-up didn’t exactly send pulses racing.
“We’re such a small team, there’s Sybil and I, and then we work with freelancers… We wouldn’t have the time to book all the shows ourselves, it’s completely up to the venues what they book. One of the terms and conditions is the type of show you have, it must be live music, no covers or tributes, all the artists must be paid, and no battle of the bands. Aside from that, it’s completely up to the venues what they programme.”
Is there any initiative within IVW to boost the patronage of independent venues amongst young people?
“The venues all have different things on their licences – I think the youngest you can be is 14 to go to a show – but it’s entirely up to the venues whether they are 14+, 16+ or 18+ shows. We certainly encourage them to market their shows to young people. But it’s their licence at the end of the day.”
IVW nationally is a mix of new and emerging artists, and bigger names. Last year, both Richard Hawley and Martha Wainwright played shows, and 2017’s IVW ambassador Tim Burgess curated a tour as part of the Week. “He supported us a lot the year before, he was vocal on Twitter encouraging his followers to get involved and go to shows. That was a natural thing, to approach him and ask him for 2017, which he very graciously said yes to. This year we’re having five ambassadors.”
Two of these are Portishead’s Adrian Utley, and Nadine Shah, her album Holiday Destination topping many a best of list for 2017. Shah is continuing the IVW ambassador tradition by curating a tour for the project.
“As a massive live music enthusiast I totally relish the opportunity to curate a tour of bands I love,” Shah says. “I was honoured to be asked and that the artists we contacted were up for getting involved.”
Shah names her favourite indie venues as The Cluny in Newcastle and The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. She has strong and affectionate memories of the first gig she saw at an indie venue, The Golden Virgins at The Barfly in Camden. (“It was sweaty!”). As an artist and a music fan, she stresses the importance of such places.
“I still play some of them and regularly go see other artists at independent venues. No matter how big my music project may get I will always ensure we make the effort to play some smaller independent venues too. They have proper individual characters, and with that comes the lasting memories.
“The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge is my show that’s part of IVW. It’s somewhere I’ve not played at yet and I get to share the stage with some great artists that we handpicked. Have heard great reports about that venue so I’m really looking forward to it.”
More established names are very much part of the IVW mix, an opportunity for the bigger artists to get back to their roots or do something a bit special. Ward reckons it gives venue owners and promoters the chance to do a bit of research and up their game: “Is there a venue that means a lot to an established artist, where they never got to play when they were coming up? A place where they had their first ever gig and do they want to go back? The venues are getting more confident because of the amount of coverage we get in, taking more of a risk, making tickets slightly more expensive to get those bigger artists back. That’s why there is a mixture.”
With many small venues facing a struggle to keep open – a struggle which is not merely the result of a lack of cash, but because of other issues such as gentrification – does Ward see IVW another way of fighting back?
“There is the gentrification issue, and people wanting to live in city centres and quite often developers have blocks of flats near venues and from that you’re going to get a string of noise complaints; and I know in London there are issues over rents and rates going up and things like that that venues have struggled with,” she acknowledges, adding “but we try to stay clear of [that]. IVW is very much a celebratory thing. We’re here to say, ‘Here’s a venue in your local area. Go to a gig. It’s the best night out you’ll have’.”
Independent Venue Week runs from 29th January until 4th February. Bido Lito! are hosting a closing party for IVW at The Jacaranda on Saturday 3rd February.
Participating venues in Liverpool are: Buyers Club, Studio2, The 27 Club, The Jacaranda, EBGBS, The Magnet and The Zanzibar. Check out each venue for individual listings.