Fightback Plymouth Music Venue Trust 2019 | 13 - 28 SEPTEMBER 2019
ABOVE : MVT Fightback Plymouth Panel discussion about the importance of grass roots venues at The Junction 18/09/19
“Between 2007 and 2015 35% of the trading venues of the UK were lost. Nobody did anything at all. They closed down for a variety of reasons, development, noise complaints, licensing laws, the changes to the smoking ban inside, the introduction of SIA security, changing spending patterns by students, the list goes on and on, but the point that is really shocking to us as an organisation and the reason why we were formed is that nobody did anything.
And I think if you try to imagine 35% of the Theatres in the UK closing down, it probably would even make the front page of The Daily Mail (and that is not a recommendation for anything) but the point is,that I think it is stunning to me personally, and I am sure it is probably stunning for most people in this room. How is that possible that is allowed to happen, and what does it say about the value that we put on this culture, that is literally how we represent ourselves to the rest of the world, that we permitted it to happen and nobody did anything?”
MARK DAVYD MUSIC VENUE TRUST
ABOVE : L to R Mark Davyd of MVT, Simon Dobson and Elani Evangelou at The Junction
This startling fact by the founder of the Music Venue Trust illustrates perfectly the problem Music Venues face not just here in Plymouth, but across the country. They are seen as the poor relation. When in reality just like the old Italian proverb 'Bed is the poor man's opera' the reality is that a passion for live music, is not reserved for venues with a higher door fee and an orchestra in a pit.
Music does not stop being art or making an important cultural contribution, just because it happens on a smaller stage in front of a smaller audience. In fact I know from covering community and art shows, that often smaller venues have more regular and committed audiences. They are the attendees who attend almost religiously, becasue it is those small and mid sized venues that provide them, not just with the kind of hymns that challenge them, in the variety of their non denominational offerings, but a sense of connection that is lost when scaled up.
ABOVE : Plymouth College of Art showing a still of a soon to be demolished Bretonside home of Tramps and White Rabbit for Matt Stokes multi screen film 'More than a Pony Show' . Part of the 2017 Plymouth Art Weekender
Plymouth has both a Visual Art Plan and a Public Art Plan and there is no denying how these have helped transform the city, making it a bouyant cultural destination. This weekend for the Plymouth Art Weekender, thousands of visitors will descend onto our streets and yet there is still no Music plan, no Sound or Entertainment plan .Nothing that acknowledges the key part sound and music played in transforming Plymouth. The role Plymouth has now as an arts and cultural destination,did not happen by accident.
ABOVE : The shoreline from which the HMS Beagle departed with Darwin on board
In 2007 the Sonic Arts Network held in association with i-dat at the University, a four day Expo here that reminded whose who had stopped listening, of exactly where Plymouth was on the map. I exhibited there with some students and another Plymouth artist/musician, creating the interactive sound sculpture 'Darwin's Walk'. It won the Media Innovation award that year and demonstrated on the grass of the Royal William Yard what the evolutionary timeline sounded like, as you walked down it. Triggering a cacophony of animal classification as you traveled from single cell to primate, it ended with a moving steam hissing cyborg, pointing to our potential technically enhanced or compromised human futures. It all happened not far from where Darwin had left on the HMS Beagle himself many years earlier.
Much like the Plymouth Punx Picnic ( now in it's 23rd Year) that Sonic Picnic brought together a disparate and enthusiastic group of people from all over the country , experimental sound artists, composers, musical luminaries like Even Parker and many sonic artists from Plymouth and the west country. It transformed in that it revealed potential and unlocked the permission to believe that Plymouth mattered. There was no reason to be adrift with so many connections simply waiting to be reached out to.
ABOVE : Plymouth Athenaeum venue for Cafe Concrete, an experimental music and sound art event at The Plymouth Art Weekender in 2017. Cafe Concrete is the brain child of two Sonic artists who exhibited at the 2007 Sonic Arts Expo
Expo 07 planted the seeds for the British Art Show 7 in 2011. A five year surveying exhibition that had previously been held in Glasgow and Manchester , Gateshead and Bristol. A show that in 1995 had featured the YBA's. It was the choice of Plymouth to feature in the BA& show that softened the blow of this city failing in it's attempt to secure the City of Culture bid in 2009. (It will be back in 2021.)
Much can be done with strategic planning and support, and the desire to put live music at the heart of the city ,right next to and in amongst the art and culture (of which it is of course a vital component) must be twinned with the same positive vibrant and engaging approach that has helped art flourish in Plymouth. We need a plan.
ABOVE : 'The Native' played the Junction for the Fightback Plymouth launch show
The two week Fightback Festival here in the city, featuring over a hundred shows in over twenty venues kicking off on 13 September 2019 with The Native at the Junction, and running up to and including 28 September 2019, will hopefully help kick-start and build on the original work done by Music Matters in 2016.
The Music Venues Trust under Mark Davyd have made an impressive mark in cities around the country, most notably with their campaign to get their Agent of Change white paper into law. So that the principle, and now legal precedent, that music is not magically transformed into noise and disturbance when developers convert properties around existing venues, and that planning applications should take into account the cultural rights of a population to access this pre-existing live music, is recognised.
ABOVE : Mark Davyd founder and CEO of Music Venue Trust a charity that represents over 550 medium and small sized music venues in the UK
Working as grass roots music venue champions they have helped create funding from the arts council with the Supporting Grass Roots Live Music Fund and have pushed the music industry to help small venues by starting up their own Pipeline Development Fund .
Following the showing of Billy Abbots short film 'Our Growing Silence' a documentary about the closure of the Random Arms at Maker, and the threat felt by grass roots music venues all around this country, Mark Davyd was here in Plymouth on 18 September for a round table discussion at The Junction.
ABOVE : Lyvinia Elleschild speaking in Plymouth at the Junction in 2019
After an introduction by the film's producer Lyvinia Elleschild, in which she adroitly pointed out how Maker more than just providing a home for musicians, also nurtured a far bigger community providing “a strong sense of social identity, confidence building and a place of belonging.” the panel then discussed concerns and solutions to the problems face by Plymouth venue owners, promoters, musicians and fans.
This theme of communities , spanning generations feeling bereft at the loss of spaces in which they felt supported, valued and a part of something bigger than the individual, is something that I have witnessed and written about first hand far too many times.
I am too young to remember legendary Plymouth venues like the Van Dike club ( represented here on the panel by Peter Vandike's grand daughter Elani Evangelou) and Woods etc but even in the 30+ years I have been going to gigs, The Breakwater ( the first venue I ever visited as a 14 yr old sneaking in to watch The Back Door Men) The Cooperage (whose stage I was lucky to play on several times) Tramps, White Rabbit ( Dan James was here on the panel) , The Voodoo Lounge, The Nowhere Inn, The Hub ( where I worked in the daytime with music students and wrote about The Selecter and Bad Manners for the newspaper at night) have all closed their doors, and are boarded up, demolished or not being used as music venues anymore.
ABOVE : Veteran promoter, White Rabbit Venue owner, Bass player with Quiet Man and Crazy Arm. Dan James at The Junction in 2016.
The loss of these spaces is even more keenly felt now, because in the same way that art is now acting as an ambassador for Plymouth as a national and international cultural destination, music too can help boost that reputation for creativity. It has the potential to be an incredibly potent partnership, but that ambition will not be realised, if the strategies to develop, grow and sustain the venues, are forgotten in a rush to develop, or drowned in a wave of negativity that will prematurely signal it's demise.
ABOVE : Elani Evangelou performing at Freedom Fields Festival
Elani Evangelou remarked as much when talking about the upsides of the fightback to keep venues open
“ If we try to look for positives, that would be good. One of the things that we can take out of all of this, because there is a lot of tragedy going on,.. is that most of the people that I gig with and I spend time with, they don't have a huge amount of money, they don't have a lot of time, because like we said they are working for minimum wage or living wage, just so you can afford to survive and sustain your music career... and we don't even have the time for most of our lives, to do to anything about what is going on, but we are actually still doing it. That is the thing. We are going to places on a Tuesday and Wednesday night, even though a lot of the people in this room have to be up for work tomorrow, .. but something positive I have to take from it, is the fact we are rallying together, musicians are producers are, radio presenters, promoters are..we are like 'this is hard and this is sh*t, we are all playing in small venues and we don't know how to get to the next stage, but we are going to try and figure it out together', there is a solidarity there to be commended”
Positivity is not always a natural bedfellow for musicians, many of whom are on low incomes and often reach for an instrument in an effort to communicate, despite the same mental and physical health problems that beset some of the greatest of visual artists. It is a key though, and one that will keep opening doors. Just as some of the most glorious and life changing expressions of joy are expressed in music, that same attitude can be channelled into slowing down and stopping the tsunami of small venue closures that end up isolating communities and stopping cities celebrating what it means to be human.
ABOVE : Simon Dobson performing at the 2015 Looe Music Festival
It will be challenging, but there is already much to celebrate and build on. Simon Dobson, himself a beacon of positivity and proof of the power of challenging and trusting your audience, in a journey that has taken him from Launceston to The Royal Albert Hall, and stages big and small all over the country (and further afield), put it brilliantly when asked how the Council and the Culture board could help
“ ...I feel like that a lot of this comes down to, trusting people to consume creatively. I think the biggest problem is that, it's assumed, just for some reason by default, that Plymouth people just can't handle, new music, and new literature and new art. When anything gets thrown up in town like that F***ing brilliant sculpture outside the Theatre Royal and then you know we have these big musical things that happen in the middle of town, and over half the bands are cover bands or tribute bands. I think that is the problem there, is that the Plymouth Culture board needs someone on it that knows what f***ing culture is..
“I think it's about trusting people. Program weird stuff, show them weird stuff, because people will go for it. We are being drip fed ... when people want to make things happen”
ABOVE : Cornish Sculptor Joseph Hillier's 'Messenger' outside of Plymouth's Theatre Royal
I do not feel especially optimistic that the Visual Art Plans commitment to 'Nurturing the critical writing scene in the city' in a place where both on screen and in print on paper, has vanished like an unwanted bad smell, will be made any more likely by hurling rocks at them. It does though make it harder to talk up the city as a cultural hotspot, or maximise connectivity with the cultural arena and other potential partners, without it. Where has Plymouth Culture/Made In Plymouth gone? The same can be said about music writing and the lack of anything to replace Scene Magazine. If people do not go out, sometimes you need to literally show them what is happening.
It is clarity and a plan that will make things happen. You can have as many good intentions as you want and display an attitude of equity and fairness with things like rates, and access to advertising spaces , marketing opportunities and releasing national funding into the city, but the recommendations from this collaboration between the venues, promoters, musicians and MVT Fightback will need to be embraced by the council and implemented methodically as a Live Music Plan for the city, if we truly want to realise it's full potential.
ABOVE :Dan James at The Junction in Plymouth for the 2019 Fightback discussion
Dan James at the Junction on the 18th
'”...Nationally that way we look at the live music industry considering it is our second biggest export as a country. And , not only culturally but also in the community how valuable it is to us all. Making people meet each other in venues and how it is ...stopping people committing suicide because of the support that It provides, but the fact that the cold hard cash and the economy that we have in this country based of our national export of live music across the world. These venues these grass roots venues are the bedrock...and the foundation of how that is held up, and the fact that we are left to do this DIY style.. and people that owns these Pubs and Buildings, for whatever reason, for the landlord who owns this Pub here he has got a sentimentality toward the live music, and the venue side of it, he likes watching bands, a lot of his friends ,have played in bands here before, he just likes it so he kind of stands up for it.. you struggles to make money here, just like a lot of other venues nationally will do. But if you look at it differently, Plymouth the size of the city that it is deserves to have a thriving set of venues from the top down, a big venue, a mid size venue and then a host of other venues, trickle down. Support the grass roots is important, the council should be providing that, because it is invaluable to the culture, to the economy to the outside visitors that visit Plymouth, the national visitors that come in...
ABOVE : Louise Parker performning with her band at the Freedom Fields Festival
Louise Parker from the Bread and Roses adds
..Can I interrupt though..talking about national visitors ,my partner is German, and he says that he is astonished every time at the breadth and the amazingness of grass roots musicians, ..he can't believe how much talent there is ..he says you just wouldn't see it, he said you wouldn't go to a boozer in Germany and see the kind of acts that you can get just in the small town of Plymouth, and I have to say ...that I wasn't a performer until recently and I am just astonished at the talent that comes through my door, it's amazing ...and I really mean that. It is a cultural export, but you are right it starts at the bottom. I remember how terrified I was when I first performed, and it is that support from a small venue , people you know, that is really really important for the music industry and performers...and I think it's ..what you are doing is special, I hope you can change things
It has been said that nature abhors a vacuum but the cities derelict spaces like The Cooperage and The Academy and The Warehouse are not dead, they are spaces filled, in fact brimming with potential. They have a rich cultural past that can be built upon just like the ABC/Odeon/Royal which is already being talked about as a potential reimagined vintage cinema and multi-purpose live venue by The Royal Cinema Trust.
ABOVE : The Sex Pistols Experience performing at The Hub before it's demolition
If we want the city to build on it's growing reputation as a major cultural destination, then being holistic in our approach as a city must include provision for live music. Look to examples that already work and have worked before. Not every venue has to be a community interest company that opens during the day and provides exhibition space and opportunities for learning and cultural engagement, but it will benefit those that do not to connect with those that do. Commerce and Community are not incompatible. Coming together to trade goods, ideas, and education is a community enterprise too.
Remember also that the same education system that provides employment for so many musicians, is also a resource in itself. Students have a right to be made aware of the huge range of live musical options in the city. Many right on the doorsteps of the institutions that they are studying at during the day. In a city with such a huge student population it is unthinkable that among them are not students who would enjoy a night out at a rock venue like The Junction just down the road from the main campus, or the Pit and the Pendulum just behind Plymouth College of Art. Do we really believe there are no Punk, Math-Rock, Hip Hop and Indie fans from campus who would not venture onto Mutley and drop into Underground if they were not more aware of it? I have seen everything from cutting edge dubstep to bluegrass, funk and soul at the Bread and Roses , again, near to both the University and the Art College.
On the few occasions when promoters have been allowed to use the Uni main hall it has been packed out, whether it is vintage Punk legends like the Damned or local funk/soul acts like Anti-Matador, the place was packed and jumping. No more ring fencing of the University away from local live music venues, and no more barriers to promoters who have so much to offer students.
ABOVE : Spouky Kids at The Junction in Plymouth
From The Hutong Cafe just outside the Royal William Yard, to the Barbican Theatre's B-Bar ,Hanging Gardens on Notte Street, The Rock Bottom Bar on North , Union Corner on Union Street, there is massive array of choice here, of every kind of venue.
In the last year alone I have had the privilege of watching and filming a one off improvised jazz rock fusion band with a mercury music prize wining pianist , jazz trumpeter, abstract painting double bass player and a Latin American drummer, in a community venue on summer solstice. I have watched and photographed a Somerset indie band as they took the roof off a boiling Underground, with a performance that redefined epic, sensual and enigmatic within the space of one song.I have stood trance like as an old local punk band hit the ground running with a set of new songs so strong you could have sworn members Dinosaur JR, Crass and REM had been hiding away incognito in the same Plymouth band for years. Just this Saturday I stood in The Junction not really realising how many good tunes Marilyn Manson had, and being blown away by Spouky Kids a tribute with a performance so committed that it would not have felt out of place on a stadium stage, stilts, lectern and most important realness ,presence and drama being there in absolutely black spades full. I had forgot just how many metal fans were here along with the Punks, The Ska fans, The Techno Massive, The Hip-Hop crews, The Experimental and Performance Art fans, The Dub and Reggae fans, the Goths, the list is endless.
Ben Turner from Underground summed it up nicely in the public round table discussion
“You know what every single person who lives in the Plymouth area is from a different scene of doing things. Me and Dan, closer, but we still do different stuff. We all know each other, we all hang , we all know each other by name. When I moved here I could not believe how much the sense of community, even bands just being like 'Whose Guitar cab is that? I don't even remember who loaned me that?' and then you would be ringing people up saying 'have you got my stuff?..I don't know maybe'
There is like, a really amazing, way over and above than where I am from,with like bitchiness between bands,and stuff like that. It doesn't exist here, different scenes, you got like Simon doing crazy...Drum and Brass..you got a new genre mate, playing with Punk bands. We all, everybody just does just hang out, pretty much, at different times. That I think the entire city should be proud of”
ABOVE : Ben Turner at The Junction in Plymouth
The MVT Fightback Plymouth Festival is still on, so go and catch some shows. Cherish the venues and the sense of community they provide. Support local music and help Plymouth and MVT Fightback strike a blow for the others , the silenced, the unheard potential, the unrealised noise and the sheer joy of being immersed in music.
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Greenbeanz for Event Photography in Plymouth
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