More vital live music venues will be lost unless we take swift action

Published 18/12/2020   |   Last Updated 11/01/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

Live music venues are facing an existential threat and we must act now or face losing grassroots venues for good. 

Welsh Government need to provide practical and financial support to venues and give a clear indication as to when live events can restart, says the Senedd’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.

In a report published by the Committee today, Friday 18 December, it calls on Welsh Government to publish a timeline for reopening live music venues in a safe, responsible way. It urges the Welsh Government to look imaginatively at options such as socially distanced and outdoor gigs, which are unlikely to be profitable for venues but would give fans much-needed cultural activity and provide some income for artists, industry workers and freelancers whose livelihoods have been hit hard. The plan should include other cultural events, such as theatre and dance, as well as live music.

The report provides a range of actions to help businesses meet challenges they faced even before Coronavirus brought them to a standstill. The report was ready in March 2020 but the Committee delayed publication until the impact of the pandemic became clearer, before gathering more evidence.

Pandemic has accelerated problems 

Before the pandemic, the industry was facing several challenges, illustrated by the loss of  influential venues such as Parrot in Carmarthen, TJs in Newport, Gwdihŵ and the Point in Cardiff. The Committee discovered that venues were struggling with increasing rent and business rates and some faced threats from noise or planning disputes. The high-profile and successful ‘Save Womanby Street’ campaign is an example, when one of Cardiff’s busiest live music spots came under threat from a planned residential development. 

Many of the report’s recommendations address issues  which pre-date the pandemic, and the Committee urges the Welsh Government to better understand the reasons why venues were closing to tackle the common causes.

Vital spaces for creativity and community 

Small venues are important places where artists can hone their skills and express themselves creatively. They are also a place to meet new people, create lifelong bonds and build a community.

Sam Dabb from Newport’s Le Public Space said, “I’ve watched people meet at gigs, fall in love and have children who now turn up for gigs in the pub to potentially meet the person they’ll fall in love with”.

Dilwyn Llwyd, manager of Neuadd Ogwen, described how his venue was embedded in the local area: “I think economically music can have an impact, but also it has an impact in terms of people’s well-being, and we create jobs for people in the community, we help other businesses in the community.”

Music venues breathe life into communities. This, along with live music’s contribution to the night-time economy, should not be dismissed when planning for the country’s recovery post-pandemic. 

Digital activity as short-term support 

Unlike other living habits - such as work, leisure or shopping – online events are no replacement for live gigs. But until venues can reopen, digital streamed events can support artists in the meantime and provide audiences with a much-needed dose of live music.

The Committee calls on the Welsh Government to explore whether the industry needs support to create more digital activity, and to provide a central hub of Welsh digital cultural content. But this should not be relied upon as a long-term solution.

“Must take action before it is too late” 

Helen Mary Jones MS, Acting Chair of the Senedd’s Culture Welsh Language and Communication Committee says:

“During our inquiry, we heard about the importance of live music venues to the country’s creative heart, to people’s wellbeing and the local economy. In order to sustain this, Welsh Government need to  give a clear indication as to when live venues can start holding events again.

“The Committee is sympathetic to the challenge the Welsh Government has in controlling the virus whilst enabling as much of normal life as possible to continue. But it is increasingly hard to justify why, for example, pubs and cinemas were able open, but live music performances, subject to the same social-distancing measures as these other venues, could not take place. Although socially distanced events are unlikely to be profitable to the venues, it will provide some support to artists and industry workers who have suffered from a lack of income.

“In this report we also recommend a range of actions to help these businesses meet challenges they faced even before Coronavirus brought them to a standstill. The recommendations provide a framework within which we hope the live music industry can recover from the pandemic, and flourish.

“If venues close and cannot move somewhere else, they will be closed forever. The public sector – including the Welsh Government and local authorities – needs to recognise the existential threat to live music and take action before it is too late.”