#Saveourvenues campaign launches – how fans, artists and communities can support the independent music venues of Bristol and beyond

Did you know that at least 556 grassroots music venues in the UK are at imminent risk of permanent closure, according to the Music Venue Trust? Now the Covid-19 pandemic guidance has led to all closing their doors temporarily – resulting in a huge loss of income, and meaning that even more may face never opening again.

Yet these grassroots venues mean so much to so many… as Bristol knows all too well. Before the lockdown, it was not an unfamiliar sight to pass crowds of excited gig-goers heading out in their band t-shirts, places thriving with a huge variety of live music – from classical concerts to gutsy guitar shows in pubs and cafes. A typical evening out for many would involve seeing live music. Independent music venues are places that have brought people together, connected communities, supported up-and-coming artists, nurtured an underground and made lasting memories. They often double-up as spaces for other activities too, such as gatherings, fairs, exhibitions and functions; highlighting their role as vital creative spaces that has often made a lasting impression on the community. The impact of losing them would be devastating and here at Haunt we are passionate about independent music venues and their crucial role in sustaining alternative culture.

That is why the Music Venue Trust, a charity striving to protect the country’s grassroots music venues, has recently launched its #saveourvenues campaign. This offers a platform for venues nation-wide to sign up and highlight the ways people can support them individually (i.e. individual venue Crowdfunders) and there is also a national GMV Crisis Fund people can donate to. Furthermore, the website provides a range of means so that artists, music fans, local communities and the wider industry can come together to protect venues.

Remember, venues themselves can still sign up, with full information on the website – so it really is worthwhile spreading the word. At the time of writing, three in Bristol are part (with many more expected to sign up)– and across them highlight the wonderful range of musical styles and approaches Bristol is known for – The Old England, Exchange and The Louisiana.

The Old England

The Old England is somewhat of a local music legend, an atmospheric backstreet live music venue in the Montpelier area complete with a beer garden, pool tables and great music as standard! It is especially known for its atmospheric DIY gigs, evenings of experimental music, a popular place for grassroots artists to play to an eager audience… and has provided a warm welcome for a number of years. The Old England has served as a crucial platform for Bristol’s busy underground music scene, putting on the likes of Bristol Psych Fest in the past, with local promoters also using it for nights and gigs ranging from rock and metal to electronic, dance and more!

The Old England commented:

"Independent venues are a VITAL part of any city, they're the lifeblood of the music industry and create spaces for all kinds of different crowds to meet and create shared experiences. If the Old E were to go, multiple communities would be losing their base." - Harry Newland (they/them), The Old England, Bookings + Venue Ops Manager​

Exchange

Exchange in Old Market meanwhile holds two event spaces (one at 250 capacity and the other at 60 capacity) meaning that it has seen a wide range of gigs take place, spanning multiple genres and featuring artists including The 1975, Four Tet, Sleaford Mods and many more. Outside lockdown, the venue is known for its busy programme, hosting live music up to 7 nights a week!  It also provides a much-loved space for a variety of other activities, home to a coffee shop and kitchen as well as various creative facilities. These include a recording studio, a record shop and even office space, highlighting the multi-purpose nature of the place and its offering of an array of opportunities. Founded in 2012, it went on to become a Community Benefit Society in 2019, running as a not-for-profit social enterprise operated and owned by its members. Working for the public good has been a key factor in the development of Exchange, as well as supporting creative endeavour of all kinds… resulting in a diverse and vibrant schedule that stands out. This has even included a Love SUX Art Market run by alternative Bristol-based arts collective Ghoul Gang!

Exchange gave this reflection:

Exchange joined the #saveourvenues campaign in solidarity and support of other music venues across the country and the Music Venue Trust itself. The venue itself is currently secure following our successful Community ownership campaign in 2018, but we realise we are only a small cog in the grassroots music industry - If other venues fall by the way side then we are all going the suffer, bands, fans and other venues alike. 

Exchange Credit Jonathan Minto

Photo: Exchange Credit Jonathan Minto

The Louisiana

The Louisiana is another legendary location, attracting a variety of local and touring artists over the years - from the Scissor Sisters to the Chemical Brothers and everything in-between! Proudly family-run and known for putting the artists and the audience at the forefront of the experience, doubling up as an art gallery and student-friendly bar, The Louisiana also has a fascinating history. According to their website, following a fire at another Bristol venue The Fleece back in 1996, two local promoters asked if they could relocate to put on gigs in a room upstairs at The Louisiana. With bands such as Placebo and Super Furry Animals playing in the very first week, before they even had chance to set a stage up(!), this clearly underlined that the venue had something special. Self-described as being seen as somewhat of a ‘barometer for new bands’, The Louisiana has cemented itself as a place where a number of now-iconic artists such as Florence and the Machine and The National have played some of their earliest gigs. The place where people even seen some of their favourite musicians, in an intimate setting. In turn, aspiring artists are often intent on playing the Louisiana and it certainly is much-loved, having been running for over 25 years.

The Louisiana have said this:

"The importance of Grassroots Venues in the UK music scene is vital. Artists like Idles, Sia, Muse, Super Furry Animals, Kings of Leon, Scissor Sisters, they've all played on our stage, have made mistakes, became better, improved their set, gained audience. You don't become Ed Sheeran in a day! Furthermore, small venues create a sense of community that is becoming harder to find. Our gig-goers are often friends, or become friends after seeing each other in the crowd ! This is the magic and beauty of grassroots venues, and they need to be supported like they were museums or art galleries. Except the art is happening right here, right now. The link to the fundraiser is online here. "

Louisiana_©Ania_Shrimpton

Photo: Louisiana credit Ania Shrimpton

Even if you are not in a position to donate, there are other ways you can support independent music venues – following them on social media and spreading awareness can all add to the effort. For more information visit the #saveourvenues website.

Please do spread the word!

By Emily Oldfield

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