Photography: Michael Kirkham / michaelkirkhamphotography.co.uk

So, it’s official. Worth Matravers – a sleepy Dorset village which encompasses little more than a collection of converted farm buildings huddled around a picturesque lake – is the capital of UK music. Yes, you heard it here first. With a stonking 36.1 gigs per thousand of the population, this little-known nook sits atop a recent global survey conducted by Expedia UK and Songkick, which seeks to find the world’s live music capital. Liverpool, by comparison, scored a paltry 2.67 gigs per thousand.

Now, before you pack your bags and flock en masse to this new live mecca it is worth bearing in mind that, at the last census, Worth Matravers sported a population of 638. Upon closer inspection it seems the village’s chart-topping position is essentially down to the folkie scene based around the village’s Square And Compass pub, at which Sarah McQuaid and Lindsay Lou tread the boards this month. A high number of shows in a place where nobody lives does great guns for the ‘gigs per thousand’ stat. Of equal interest to Bido Lito! is the pub’s annual week-long stone carving festival and in-house fossil museum. Sign us up.

Statistical quirks aside, Expedia’s research draws from a huge Songkick dataset – 370,000 concerts worldwide – and paints an interesting picture of global live music trends. Clearly such data comes with its limitations: principally, not all live events are listed by Songkick, especially outside major western cities – for example, the data would lead us to believe that only 419 live concerts happened in Rio de Janeiro in 2017; and certain genres are underrepresented on Songkick as a platform. But, as a broad stroke, the project provides some valuable insight.

At the top of the pile, with 11,923 live performances, London is positioned as the global live music capital. New York and Los Angeles arrive in second and third place with 11,089 and 11,079 respectively. Given that in 2016 London sat in third place behind LA and NY, this is an interesting flip. Perhaps this can be read as the early green shoots of progress following London’s Live Music Rescue Plan, the establishment of the London Music Board and the city’s overarching re-prioritising of music.

The UK leads the way in Europe in terms of the total number of live gigs; 46,176 in comparison to Germany’s 34,932 and France with 15,926. But this only tells part of the story. We often talk about the UK’s unique relationship with music and the huge contribution music makes to our national economy, particularly when it comes to export. But, how central is live music to the British psyche? Are we, as a nation, a gig-going people?

The data in relation to total gigs presents an argument that this could be so. Following London, Paris (5,737) and Berlin (4,679) are unsurprisingly the leading hotspots. These are followed by Hamburg (2,546), Manchester (2,258) and Glasgow (2,070). Three other UK cities are featured in the top 15; Brighton (1,785), Bristol (1,686) and Leeds (1,626).

Liverpool, however, is nowhere close. With 1,293 concerts in 2017 we sit below London, Manchester, Glasgow, Brighton, Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham and Edinburgh in terms of total live gigs. Having said that, Liverpool is a much smaller city than many of these, so this trend isn’t too surprising. So, what picture do the figures paint in relation to number of gigs per thousand of the population?

"How central is live music to the British psyche? Are we, as a nation, a gig-going people?" Craig G Pennington

Places such as the aforementioned Worth Matravers – with active music venues in tiny communities – ensure the need for some common-sense sifting of the data, but places such as Kinross (13.3 gigs per thousand), Canterbury (6.06), Norwich (4.19) and St. Ives (4.19) show well, as smaller towns with vibrant live scenes. Manchester, given its large population, still scores highly with 4.17 gigs per thousand of the population, evidence of the buoyant and healthy live scene we’re all familiar with. Newcastle (3.96), Oxford (3.75), Glasgow (3.37), Nottingham (2.92) and Exeter (3.57) all emerge ahead of Liverpool’s 2.67 live gigs per thousand people in 2017 (neck-and-neck with Cheltenham).

Leeds, Sheffield, Cardiff and Birmingham all fall in below Liverpool by the measure, which is surprising, especially in relation to Leeds with its large live music community. The fact that London languishes with a statistic of 1.22 gigs per thousand says more about its over-population than anything else.

Beyond casual analysis, what does this all mean? Clearly the fact the research is purely based on Songkick data has its limitations if you’re expecting to distill a complete picture. Yet, any metrics for accurately measuring live music are pretty much universally compromised. Using PRS data is an established technique – all venues should be PRS registered and report back all performances within their venue to ensure artist royalties are calculated correctly – though, when you move below the established touring venues and into the DIY space, this is in reality rarely the case.

WHERE IS THE UK’S LIVE MUSIC CAPITAL? Image 2

Taking the data at face value, I would offer two readings of the findings in relation to Liverpool:

 

  • Maybe, Liverpool doesn’t love live music as much as we tell the world we do? When you profess to be the UK’s Capital of Music, yet you’re comparable to Cheltenham when it comes to the concentration of live shows in the city, perhaps the whole idea is fundamentally flawed?
  • Or, given the perilous state of live music in the city, the stream of venue closures in recent years, the lack of sector support and the absence of any kind of strategy, these figures are symptomatic of the slow strangulation of city’s live music culture (as highlighted by our Liverpool, Music City report, published at the end of 2017 with LJMU). The fact Liverpool plays host to more gigs per thousand of the population than cities such as Leeds, Sheffield, Cardiff and Birmingham shows a fighting, vibrant music spirit, in spite of the pressures and challenges.

 

Personally, I subscribe to the latter reading.

Returning to the Songkick data in relation to European cities with the busiest live calendars, Hamburg comes in fourth behind London, Paris and Berlin. It has a population roughly the same as the Liverpool City Region. We don’t need to re-dredge the shared musical and social histories between the two cities, but, they offer a fascinating insight. Hamburg has managed to combine its unique history and tourist offer with a structured support of new music across a broad range of genres which has resulted in the live music metropolis we see today; a live gig calendar boasting double the number of concerts per annum compared to Liverpool’s.

That is the opportunity.

That being said, perhaps it would be better all-round to just douse ourselves in wholesome folk and search for Dracoraptor fossils while whittling glum-looking liver birds at Worth Matravers’ stone-carving festival. My chisel is at the ready.

 

Read the full report at expedia.co.uk. And browse the full data set in the embedded section above.

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