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New Law Will Protect UK Music Venues From Closure

Jimi Hendrix reading backstage at the Astoria in Finsbury Park, London in 1967. The venue is now a church. © Colin N. Purvor

It’s no secret that over the last 10 years or so London’s cherished, and more moderate-sized, music venues have been closing to make way for various infrastructure plans and new developments. Venues like the London Astoria (and it’s smaller nightclub sister Astoria 2 or LA2, located a few doors away from it) have now gone. The Astoria, located on Charing Cross Road, was demolished to make way for the new Crossrail transport service.

With its closure so too goes a part of London’s musical heritage. Bands that have played there include many of the greatest musicians of the last few decades. Like Nirvana, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Blur, Radiohead, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse, Prince, U2, and The White Stripes. It also saw many recordings take place including a 1994 Radiohead concert, released on DVD as Live at the Astoria and videos shot there by the Smashing Pumpkins.

The Who (Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon) photographed at The Marquee Club in March 1967. After numerous iterations and address changes the venue closed for good in 2008. © Ray Stevenson

But this is just one venue, a relatively large one too, and one with a central London location which means its closure in 2009 (it had been used as a live music venue since the 1980s) made national headlines. Still, it’s a story that has not only been happening across many of the London boroughs, but the entire of the UK too. And the venues that have closed are smaller, but by no means less important, probably more, for local people when it comes to not only local music scenes, but seeing touring bands too.

According to UK Music, a lobby and campaigning group representing the UK recorded and live music industry, nearly 35% of music venues have closed across the UK in the last decade. Another figure, from the Music Venue Trust, states that in the same period of time small venues specifically have fallen in the UK from 700 to 450.

Michael Dugher, CEO of UK Music, says that much of that is because of new housing developments being built near the venues. Which causes residents to complain about the noise and ultimately results in closure.

The Specials playing Hammersmith Palais, London in 1979. The venue was demolished in 2012 and replaced with luxury student flats. © Gerard McNamara

But help is at hand. And it comes in the form of something called Agent of Change. It’s a bill that the aforementioned organisations have been lobbying for for the last few years. And it would mean that landlords building new homes close to existing music venues would need to pay for, say, soundproofing—be that in the new homes or in the venues themselves to stop noise complaints from shutting down the venues.

It’s an idea that has already been instigated in London thanks to a petition and numerous campaigners including the Music Venue Trust, UK Music, the Musicians’ Union, Jeff Horton, owner of Oxford Street’s legendary The 100 Club ,and Auro Foxcroft, founder of Village Underground, among many others. Because of their actions, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has included in his London Plan 2018 the Agent of Change bill, listed as policy D12.

Sex Pistols performing at The 100 club on Oxford Street, London in 1976. © Ray Stevenson

“This is the culmination of nearly three years of work by Music Venue Trust and our partners to bring proper protection for Grassroots Music Venues to the capital.” note the Music Venue Trust. “It has been fought for hard on our behalf by Frank Turner, Save Soho, and a host of others. Thank you to everyone that signed the petition, that wrote to the Mayor, that fought so hard to protect our Grassroots Music Venues.”

But the campaigning didn’t stop there, because those behind it not only wanted London to benefit from the bill, but the entire country too. And so just recently, after MPs, peers, organisations and musicians—including Sir Paul McCartney, Brian Eno, Chrissie Hynde, Nick Mason, Feargal Sharkey and Billy Bragg—backed the bill and held an event at Westminster to raise awareness of the campaign, Agent of Change will now be enshrined in UK law.

Paul Weller and the Jam play the Rainbow Theatre (aka Finsbury Park Astoria), London in 1979. The venue still stands but is now a church. © Jill Furmanovsky

On 18 January 2018 Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, announced that the UK promised major changes to the nationwide planning policies that the Government expects planning authorities to legally comply with.”

UK Music note that this means “developers [have] to take account of the impact of any new plans on pre-existing businesses like music venues before going ahead with their plans. That could mean, for example, the developer of new flats takes responsibility for soundproofing to avoid the risk of new neighbours complaining about noise from a music venue.” They also note that Agent of Change “will be a distinct new part of the amended National Planning Policy Framework” aimed at “protect[ing] existing businesses, such as music venues, when areas are being considered for redevelopment.”

“This is a seismic victory for all those who fought so hard to safeguard the future of music venues across the UK - from grassroots community activists to Britain’s global music stars who have spent years calling for Agent of Change.” said Dugher. “It’s a tremendous boost for the live music industry. It’s great that Ministers have listened and are prepared to work with UK Music and others from the industry, including the Music Venue Trust, to make sure grassroots venues get the support and protections they need.”

Dr Feelgood play the Marquee Club, London in 1975. © Mick Gold

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer many more iconic images of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Specials, the Sex Pistols, Paul Weller and Dr Feelgood as limited edition photographic prints.

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