I’ve been on tour in mainland Europe twice now and it’s like a whole different world of gigging, particularly from a band perspective. You can arrive at a random bar in France or Germany that you know nothing about and receive the most amazing hospitality, whatever size your band is. You’ll likely get more than your fair share of free booze, a proper dinner, and there will be dedicated sleeping space for you in the venue so you can spend the night, this is on top of actually being paid a proper amount bands should get. Basically, it makes the UK live scene look really shit, at least in terms of how bands get treated – if anything it’s an embarrassment to UK venues. There are many reasons why Europe is better; often to do with funding and a bigger respect for community led venues. This isn’t to say there aren’t venues like this in the UK, and with the up rise of DIY venues gaining support in this country there are certainly exceptions to the rule. There places bands can play and be treated rightly, even though these venues have to go through the same shit as all venues, rubbish licensing laws, less Government support than more commercial venues, noise complaints, etc, but the passion of some individuals and venues make the UK DIY scene a great place. A passionate DIY venue really makes the difference for bands, promoters and gig goers.
If you’re reading this I’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard to very sad news about the beloved Owl Sanctuary in Norwich. Sadly, I’ve never been to the Owl Sanctuary but I do know one of their team and as well as that, I have an uncountable number of friends in bands, and people I know from all over the country – and the rest of Europe have given me good words and high praise for The Owl Sanctuary, I feel like almost every band I know and have put on myself have played there in the two years in which it’s operated. I don’t think I’ve heard a bad word about the place with many bands describing it as their favourite venue, and it’s clear that it had the right spirit and was representative much more like the venues you expect in mainland Europe rather than the UK. They have never been one to ignore a band, especially one doing a DIY tour. I once suggested The Owl Sanctuary to one band I often give a hand or suggestions to when they are planning a UK tour, and if I recall correctly in less than 10 minutes they had a show there confirmed. There are only a handful of venues like this in the UK; I couldn’t say that the number even reaches double digits, so every time one is lost it’s terrible for the DIY scene nationwide.
There’s many reasons for a venue to shut down but as a what appears to be a thriving community around The Owl Sanctuary you can’t even suggest the overall dying live music scene of the country would have affected this venue – instead it appears to be the shifty greed of one person – think that one person and their money appears to mean more than an entire community when it comes to property – whether purposefully or not this has ended up an attack on a clearly strongly working class venue and community. It actually feels a little worse than music venues that close down due to noise complaints from housing irresponsibly built in close proximity to an already existing music venue. In fact, signs suggest that The Owl Sanctuary is likely to become flats or even worse, torn down for parking for new flats.
Closer to my home, here in Bristol there have been a few problems recently with venues I particularly use to put on shows and love spending my time at. The best DIY space in the city is Roll for the Soul, a bike community café that supports the DIY music scene by allowing it’s space to be taken over in the evenings with gigs, they do this through their own personal love for DIY music rather than any selfish reasons for money, yet plenty of new flats have opened up near the venue and for this it has suffered noise complaints and is often under pressure because of this, although fortunately is going strong with a load of great DIY shows planned by many different local promoters of the next few months.
I could go on with how many venues in the UK have either shut down or have been constantly threatened due to these things, but I don’t really need to with how often another story comes up where a venue is on the constant brink of closure or forced to close. It shouldn’t be this way and venues should be able to survive much easier, much more like in mainland Europe, local funds should be donated to local endeavours that improve culture in communities.
It’s sad to see that the only venues that appear to be able to survive easily in this country are the ones with an extreme lack of personality, vibe and atmosphere. Corporations such as o2 rule the live music scene in this country, which is not how it should be and if you’re only idea of going to gigs in this country is somewhere that texts you adverts once you’re inside I feel very sad for what you’re missing out on, from bigger independent venues to the smaller DIY ran spaces, this is what makes the music scene truly special in this country, not somewhere selling you a warm pint of Tuborg for £4.50.
Take care and comfort in DIY venues while you can, get to JT Soar, Nerd Hutch and DIY Space for London, while they are still here. As traumatic as it is to see your hard work over the years torn down by a inevitable venue closure you have at least supported and created memories of something great and fought the idea that live music can be ran and controlled by passionate music fans and gig goers, rather than faceless corporations. Until the end of the month if you are in Norwich make sure you go and support The Owl Sanctuary and we can only hope that the community fights for its survival.
Check out this facebook page to help save the Owl Sanctuary.