Bristol has been a crucible for music acts that are respected the world over: from Massive Attack to Portishead; from Roni Size & Reprazent to Kosheen. And key to that success are the live music venues – of all sizes – catering to all genres of music acting as a proving ground for talented and creative musicians to learn their trade and entertain generations of Bristolians. This in turn has made Bristol a destination for music fans, and our thriving nightlife attracts thousands of new people to the city every year.
But with this popularity comes challenges. As more people move to the city, there’s more pressure on housing – which can lead to music venues being made unviable due to the density of surrounding developments. Factor in rising business rates, and difficulties attracting funding and subsidies to support grassroots music, and music venues face a touch future in an area of rising costs and uncertain demand.
That’s why Kerry McCarthy MP and I convened a meeting today to bring together music venue owners in Bristol, campaigners looking to secure the future of the city’s night time economy, and key music industry bodies to discuss how we could help live music in Bristol to thrive. We were joined by owners of venues across Bristol and had Annie McGann from Save Bristol Nightlife, Mark Davyd from the Music Venue Trust, Paul Gray and Dave Webster from the Musicians Union, and Tom Kiehl from UK Music on our panel.
The debate we had was wide-ranging. We celebrated the fact the government have accepted the Agent of Change principle for planning (ensuring responsibility for soundproofing is placed on any developers who build homes near new properties). But it was acknowledged that government guidance has to make the responsibilities on planning authorities to uphold this principle unambiguous. It was also suggested that similar principles need to be applied in licensing and enforcement. We also heard many people testifying for the need for state funding for the arts to go to popular music venues and not just those who cater for classical audiences.
But one of the key themes that emerged from the discussion was how to ensure Bristol’s live music venues have a voice and representation in discussions surrounding the city’s evolution. Many venue owners commented that keeping their business afloat was more than a full-time effort, and there simply isn’t enough time in the day to keep on top of nearby planning applications, and attend meetings about Bristol’s future development plans. We identified the need for an independent representative who could be a voice for Bristol’s live music scene (in all its variety and diversity!) who could also inform venues of concerns or proposals that affect their future.
There's lots we can all do to support live music in Bristol. Like Save Bristol Nightlife on Facebook. Join your local resident's association and stand up for venues near you that you support. Let your local councillors know you value live music in our city. And make sure you visit and support the many venues we have across the city!
If you're a music venue owner in Bristol, make sure you contribute to the consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that the Agent of Change principle is enshrined in government guidance. In particular question 35 of the consultation is your opportunity to comment on the government's proposals to incorporate the principle into planning guidelines for local authorities.
Kerry and I will also be following up on what we learned from the discussion. We will be contacting PRS to encourage them to develop a system for royalties and fees that works for performers, writers and music venues. We'll continue to support the Agent of Change bill in Parliament. We will apply parliamentary pressure to the government to encourage them to support music education, the rights of musicians and the future of music venues. And we will be talking to organisations that could fund a post to represent live music venues in the city, and we will work with the Music Venues Trust to set this up.
I extend my thanks to all the panellists who took the time to join us, and I especially pay tribute to the venue owners who made it for 10:30am for a Friday morning after clearing up after last night’s gigs!