Fresh fears over future of live music venues

The Barrowlands. Picture: Robert Perry
The Barrowlands. Picture: Robert Perry
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NEW research has revealed that live music is now worth almost £80 million a year to Glasgow’s economy – as it emerged that growing numbers of venues across the country are under growing threat of closure.

The impact of property developments, complaints over noise disruption, and rising business rates were all cited in the Edinburgh University study.

Venues competing for dwindling audiences and a growing number of music festivals being launched around the country were among the other main concerns reported in Glasgow and replicated around the UK from the first nationwide “live music census”.

The findings emerged weeks after venue owners across Scotland urged music fans to lobby politicians to provide greater protection for music venues “from the threat of closure at the hands of developers”.

Under existing legislation, property developers do not have to provide sound-proofing in new homes even if they are built right next to an existing venue. This could potentially threaten celebrated Glasgow venues like King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and the Barrowland Ballroom.

The new study has been published less than 18 months after previous Edinburgh University research found that nearly half of the city’s musicians had been affected by noise restrictions over gigs.

It also found that Edinburgh’s live music scene was worth around £40m to the city’s economy. However, the researchers said at the time that noise restrictions in the capital were having a “chilling effect” on venues, promoters and musicians and had put on “handbrake” on its music scene.

A number of notable Edinburgh venues have closed in the face of new developments and complaints to the city council over noise leakage, including the Venue, the Picture House, Electric Circus, the Bongo Club and Studio 24.

The latest research focused on Glasgow, Newcastle-Gateshead, Oxford, Brighton, Leeds, Liverpool and Southampton.

One in three owners of small venues said noise-related complaints had had a negative impact on their business over the last 12 months. A similar number said they had experienced problems due to planning issues and neighbouring property developments over the same period. One in five musicians who took part in the new survey said they had been “negatively affected” by noise-related complaints.

The study found that Glasgow’s music scene supports around 2,450 jobs and the city currently has more than 240 different venues hosting live music events. However, the study also warned that many venue owners are concerned about the impact of rising business rates, intense competition and big music festivals stealing audiences.

Dr Matt Brennan, from Edinburgh Universitys Reid School of Music, said: “A lot of audiences for live music are maybe saving up for one big festival, and that means they may not go out as often to support smaller music venues.”

Chris Cusack, manager of BLOC+ on Glasgow’s Bath Street, said: “Most big promotion agencies now have their own small venue and there are a number of venues in the city which are really just branches of much bigger companies.”

Separate research published last summer showed that “music tourism” is now worth around £334m for Scotland’s economy – £212m linked to concerts, with the remainder generated by festivals.

Dr Brennan added: “Festival and concert attendance continues to grow. This report not only shows the cultural and economic value of live music but also the challenges it faces.

“This survey is the largest of its kind in the UK. We hope it can influence the valuable contribution live music makes to wider society and help support the protection of the live music ecology.”