“The government must act now to protect grassroots music venues”: An open letter from Jeremy Corbyn

For Independent Venue Week, former Labour leader and founder of Peace & Justice Project, Jeremy Corbyn, exclusively explains why it’s so vital to support our grassroots venues...

“The government must act now to protect grassroots music venues”: An open letter from Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn
Live photos:
Esmé Surfleet and Nat Wood

The threat to the future of British music is severe and imminent.

The latest annual report by the Music Venue Trust revealed that 2023 was the worst year for grassroots music venues yet, with as many as one a week shutting its doors permanently.

It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that, without urgent action, we face the real risk of losing an entire generation of talent and artistry to cuts and austerity. Without grassroots music venues, up-and-coming performers, bands and musicians will not be granted the necessary space to harness and develop their craft, or build enough of a following to move on to bigger things such as record deals or the chance to play at larger concert venues.

With that in mind, it is not unreasonable to say that the massive corporations, many of whom have reported massive profits in recent years, should pay their fair share into the delicate ecosystem of British live music.

That is exactly what the Music For The Many campaign, set up by the Peace & Justice Project, demands. Those companies putting their own name in lights on Britain’s music venues should pay a small levy on ticket sales that can be directly re-invested into a specific Grassroots Music Venue Fund to ensure the long-term security of grassroots music venues.

For example, a levy of just 50p per ticket on a sold-out show at London’s O2 Arena could raise £10,000 in one night. With many grassroots music venues operating on profit margins smaller than 0.5 per cent, this money could be a lifeline and support vital repairs, accessibility upgrades and new equipment.

For far too many grassroots music venues, any shock to their delicate operating costs can be the difference between staying open or shutting down for good.

The end of last year saw the permanent closure of the iconic Moles music venue in Bath which, after 45 years of hosting some of the biggest names in world music, fell from economic viability due to soaring costs, utilities and the devastating impact of the cost of living on customers.

Whilst a looming cloud of uncertainty hangs over many venues, the choice for those in power is clear: act now to save our grassroots music venues, or allow things to continue as they are and face an irreparable loss to the future of British live music.

Grassroots music venues are responsible for 30,000 jobs and over £500m to the live music sector – and with adequate investment these figures could be significantly boosted in both local and national economies, allowing existing venues to thrive and the prospect of new spaces more likely.

The economic and cultural case is strong enough, but the significance of grassroots music venues doesn’t end there.

These creative spaces also offer a vital escape from an occasionally harsh and misunderstanding reality faced by too many in our society.

The Music For The Many campaign has sought to champion these spaces as an absolute essential to building solidarity networks and battling underrepresentation of marginalised groups. Walk into any grassroots music venue in any town or city and, amongst promotions for upcoming shows and memorabilia from past concerts, you will see posters for LGBTQ+ advocacy, opportunities for BAME creators and vital mental health support for people of all ages.

These creative spaces allow for so much more than simply expression.

If they can save a life, or bring a person back from the brink during unimaginable personal strain, be it a performer or a gig-goer, these creative spaces must not only be given a leg up during tough times, but invested in wholesale and cherished as an invaluable cornerstone of every community.

These spaces allow us to come together, learn and express. In November, the ‘Music For A Ceasefire’ open letter united over 1300 artists, including Sam Fender, Declan McKenna, The Last Dinner Party, IDLES, in a call for an end to the bombardment of Gaza. Peace & Justice Project hosted a sold-out fundraiser at The Dome in my constituency to raise funds for Medical Aid For Palestinians, which featured breathtaking performances from the excellent Lambrini Girls and Enola Gay.

Our political establishment generally only knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. This cannot be allowed to continue if we are to secure the future of British music.

In this election year, this government or the next, must simply commit to securing the long-term, sustainable future of grassroots music venues.

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