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Beverley Whitrick - Trust in the Future of Music

by Music Tech Fest | MTF Podcast

Beverley Whitrick is Strategic Director of the Music Venue Trust, a UK-based charity which acts to protect, secure and improve UK Grassroots Music Venues for the benefit of venues, communities and upcoming artists.

These are difficult times for the grassroots live music scene, and particularly for managers and operators of small local venues. Beverley’s work is to make things a little more sustainable, to support live, local music and to provide a real future for “the future of music” - and while she may be up against some huge challenges, whether they are economic, political or, as the case now may be, health related, she also has some tremendous successes to report.

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Music:

Straight to the Bar by Yuvi Gerstein, used under licence from Artlist.io

reCreation by airtone (c) copyright 2019
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

 

AI Transcription

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

venues, music venue, grassroots, people, uk, music, money, absolutely, places, music industry, running, artists, bit, beverley, develop, charity, happen, trust, smaller towns, question

SPEAKERS

Beverley Whitrick, Andrew Dubber

 

Andrew Dubber 

Hi, I’m Andrew Dubber. I’m the director of Music Tech Fest. And this is the MTF podcast. That spare a thought for the grassroots independent music venues this week. It’s tough enough to survive at the best of times what were residential developments triggering noise abatement orders, increased competition and high business rates. Landlords that sell off the premises underneath your feet, and the incredibly low margins. music venues everywhere are shutting down, but with increased restrictions on public gatherings right now, and legitimate concerns about the health implications of a night out in an enclosed space. It’s an even tougher domain than ever to keep your head above the water. And yet music venues are arguably the lifeblood and the r&d department of the music industry. And at a time when new ideas and fresh energy are probably needed most. Beverley Whitrick runs the UK music venue trust and she’s doing what she can to make running a grassroots music venue, if not actually profitable, then at the very least sustainable to talk about some of the challenges and some of the successes. Here’s Beverley Whitrick, enjoy. Beverley Whitrick, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. Thank you, you are strategic director for the music venues trust. Okay, let’s start with what some music venues trust.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Okay, the music venue trust is a charity, which covers the whole of the UK. And it was specifically created in 2014 to protect secure and improve the grassroots music venues of the UK.

 

Andrew Dubber 

So what happened?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Well, largely because grassroots music venues historically, have had a certain amount of churn, you know, venues would close new ones would open. And it became very obvious over a period of years that more venues were closing, and new ones were not really opening anymore. And that really creates quite substantial problems for the music industry as a whole as well as leaving real holes in provision for people to access live music in the local area. So the reason the charity was specifically created was that it was the idea of Mark Davyd, he’s our CEO who co owns a venue in a small town. And he and his business partner, Jason, were talking about what would happen to the venue if they decided they didn’t want to run it anymore. And they became very aware that the answer was it would be sold and turned into a restaurant or it would be knocked down and redeveloped as flats. Because you can’t really sell a music venue as a going concern anymore, because you can’t make any money running a grassroots music venue. And being quite unhappy with that. Because basically, the venue is kind of their retirement fund, okay. And they have children, they decided that something really needed to be done, and nobody else was going to do it. So maybe they should do it. So it was Mark’s idea to set up an organisation that could work on behalf of grassroots music venues tackle some of the problems that will lead into the closures try and lobby for better conditions for them. And at the time, I thought was really interesting concept. So I helped him research it. And that led to an organisation being formed. And then we apply for some money from the Arts Council to host a meeting to bring people together to talk about whether they liked the idea or whether it was just you know, a small group of us. And I’ve been running the charity ever since.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Right. Okay, so I’m gonna start with the obviously the dumb question, why is it good that there are local grassroots music venues.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Okay, that one’s quite easily explained. A grassroots music venue is a social, cultural and economic hub, within a town, or a city or sometimes even a village. They are the places that creative people will naturally gravitate towards. They are the places that if somebody is an aspiring musician that they can aim to play there. It’s a place that musicians can hone their craft that they can first connect with audiences, and that they can meet other people that either are going to influence their lives creatively, socially, sometimes professionally. And obviously, an awful lot of musicians that play in venues are not going to end up as professional musicians. But the idea of grassroots music venues being in smaller towns and cities, as well as the big cities means that you don’t have to think or when I grow up, I’ll move to Manchester or move to London or whatever. If you dream of doing something in music, the way that the UK has flourished for decades, rather Oregon And very fortuitously is that we’ve always been really good at providing opportunities across the country. And although there is a kind of fairly natural gravitation as people’s aspirations and careers develop towards larger cities where there are more resources, a lot of successful musicians come from quite small towns or, you know, places that you wouldn’t necessarily go or that’s a hub for music. And a lot of that is courtesy of the grassroots music venues in which they first played.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Is that getting harder? I mean, things like University circuit case, the court they asked the question, but only things like University circuits are less prominent now, I guess. And, you know, that sort of touring between smaller towns, I guess, as listening is prominent. But I mean, to what extent to the venue’s disappearing?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

It’s quite a complex picture. Because there quite a lot of reasons why venues close. But yes, there have been major changes, both in terms of what impacts directly on the venues themselves in local areas, and particularly with people moving into town and city centres. So you know, what, what used to be an area where everybody finished work at 5:30, or six, so the venue is pretty safe to do its thing now is having flats built in it, and so there are neighbours touching at any noise that might disturb their sleep, even though they weren’t there before. So there’s lots of kind of social factors like that. But yeah, absolutely, the industry has changed as well. So in the past, there was a lot of label support for fledgling artists to tour extensively quite often to these smaller towns and these small venues, and really build audiences and you know, build their craft on the way that tour support is more or less disappeared. And that has definitely impacted on the available money to both artists and then used to be honest, to sustain the circuit. So one of the things we say at music venue trust quite a lot is nobody set out to close the nation’s grassroots music venues. But it’s kind of been a coincidence of lots of other policies that have impacted. And for quite a long time, nobody really took any notice of the pattern. or thought it was a problem,

 

Andrew Dubber 

right. And as soon

 

Beverley Whitrick 

as two or three sort of initiatives projects, started talking about it and started to build awareness of it, people sort of went well, of course, this is a problem. So actually, a few artists were sounding alarms. But really what I would say is what happened in quite close proximity is in early 2014, independent venue week first started, which is a project specifically designed to shine a light on the brilliant things that grassroots music venues do. And it’s a one week focus on these are the venues, they’re great, you can go and have an amazing time there, connect with people socially see great artists, and you might see somebody who in the future will be huge. And you saw them in a room with 30 other people. So that started and also then music venue trust came along very soon after that, and started talking about, yes, venues are great. But these are the challenges. So I think between those two projects, we started to build some media awareness. And the conversation started to be had that which obviously, then we’ve built on. And people have started to see that these little changes in these things that were happening, were adding up to something that actually ultimately would have an impact on the whole music industry. Because if you take out the grass roots, you’ve got no place for the artists of the feature to develop

 

Andrew Dubber 

is the distinction between independent grassroots music venues. And I guess big music venues the same as the distinction between, say independent cinemas and multiplexes, or is it kind of more complex, really, I mean, really draw the line.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

It is a complex relationship, because we certainly music venue trust, don’t say you have to be this capacity to be a grassroots music venue. So it take for example, Roundhouse in London, is a grassroots music venue, because they actually very focused on artists development and a lot of work they do. But of course, it’s also a world class bigger concert hall where they get quite big artists. I guess

 

Andrew Dubber 

the question is more who would you say no to?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

That’s a good question. And we have had some people apply to join our music venues alliance that will look to them gone. You really are not a grassroots music venue. And to be honest, they tend to be well, we did have one the other week who they were called something something arena, right. And I’m afraid I said if you choose to call yourself an arena, you really should look at joining the National Arenas Association, not the music venue trust because you haven’t called yourself venue you’ve called yourself arena. Yeah. So you’ve kind of self designated as not being a grassroots music venue.

 

Andrew Dubber 

And presumably, you’ve got a large corporate and the title as well.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

No, they didn’t funnily enough, I’m not quite You know, it was one of those. But I do think is self identification does come into it. And the other one that we’ve had is places that are obviously like, function venues, we host weddings and bands play. That’s lovely. But you’re not nurturing artists and you know, your focus is not on the music. Your focus is on making money in music as part of that. That’s not a grassroots music venue,

 

Andrew Dubber 

right? And by, I guess extension of that is the focus on not making money by supporting artists, that’s what makes you aggressor.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Well, it would be lovely if they made money, but we are absolutely not against people trying to make money, obviously. But our number crunching suggest it’s pretty much impossible to make money if your venue is less than 400 capacity through putting on music alone. How do you tell the story at a policy level that these things are incredibly value? And yes, they make no money at all. It’s actually by drawing the parallels with other creative spaces. A big part of why this project really spoke to me is I have a background in arts and culture, I worked in arts development. And one of the things that really started to bother me quite early on in that was when I went to work somewhere in the arts development field, I’d be told, you know, this is the theatre, this is the Art Centre, this is the art gallery. And I’d say okay, and what what other creative spaces are there? You know, where does where does music happen? Where does film happen? and be like, well, this cinema, about your music and oh, you know, there’s this venue down the bottom of the town, but you know, and a shrug of the shoulders and it be like, Okay, so what do they do? Well, you know, upon noisy bands, and it was talked about in such a dismissively different way. It wasn’t like a proper arts venue. But actually, a lot of the time, there’s more art going on, in what are quite often viewed as commercial venues than the subsidised art central theatres. So seeking cultural parity is a big part of what’s at the heart of music venue, trust work, we want the grassroots music venues to be recognised as being just as culturally important. And that’s where the argument then comes in. The reason they don’t make any money is a bit like the Art Centre, or the theatre. You’re not expecting those places to make money, you’re going to subsidise them. Because you see what they do is culturally and socially important. So why is the music menu different? And a lot of the time, certainly in the UK, not always in other European countries, but certainly in the UK, grassroots music venues are largely seen as bars with a bit of music. Right? And my argument is, have you ever been in a theatre or an Art Centre that didn’t have a bar?

 

Andrew Dubber 

Okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And is the perception shared? Is that perception shared amongst the owners of venues?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

The learners? Well, I suppose that’s an interesting one, because they’re an interesting bunch. I would say that a typical grassroots music venue, owner or manager would be best typified by the word Maverick. Okay. Because if you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be running one. And so some of them would not like to be seen as being like, art spaces that, you know, the council had an interest in or, you know, that kind of thing. whereas others of them are absolutely, yes, we’re equal to that Art Centre, but they don’t treat us like that. And so it varies wildly. You know, we have over 640 members across the UK. And so within that, you’re going to get all types of styles of different venues. Some of them are more commercially minded. However, what doesn’t really change as if it’s a grassroots venue, even if they’re commercially or business minded. It’s not the music that’s making them their money. It’s the other things they do, right. So they’ve constructed a model to float their venue that allows them to put on developing artists. And they may be paying that out of club nights, they may be putting on tribute artists or, you know, the occasional much bigger artists that they can put a higher ticket price on. They might show films, they may well do food. They almost certainly got a great bar, but then people are drinking less alcohol, particularly young people, right? So it is no longer possible to subsidise all your music off your bar takings because we are not in the 70s and 80s anymore,

 

Andrew Dubber 

right. But to a certain extent, it sounds like they’re making money because of the music rather than from the music.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

That goes back to the business model idea. And one of the things about our definition of grassroots music venues about intent. What do the people running the venue believes they’re doing it for? We would say a grassroots music venues run by people who do it because of the music and then find ways to make that happen. Sure. If you look at their socials, if you look at their online presence, and it’s all about how great their burgers are, they’re probably not a grassroots music venue. Right. And so if it’s an eatery or a pub, that also has music in the hope it might bring a few more punches. To buy more burgers or buy more pints, it’s not a grocery to music venue, it’s a pub with some music.

 

Andrew Dubber 

To what extent do you think of this as part of the music industry?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Oh, it’s definitely part of music industry what what we think is it’s the research and development unit of the music industry. And that also raises the question of, why are they not investing in it? Because in most other industries, the takings from the top subsidise the research and development of the bottom. And so we actually launched a year and a bit ago, something called the pipeline investment fund to try and persuade the more money bits of the music industry that it’s really about time they started investing in grassroots music venues.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Getting on

 

Beverley Whitrick 

it’s had some traction. I think all I would say is many people agree with the concept, monetizing the concept is more challenging. We have definitely had some movement on that. And not only did Arts Council England launch the grassroots venues and promoters fund last year. But at the same time, as we announced that to the public, we were able to announce that we were having financial support from AEG and from Ticketmaster. And that Live Nation have pledged to donate to music venue trust for grassroots music venues, some of their apprenticeship Levy, which is about training up music professionals of the future. So that is tantamount to another support mechanism, even though it’s not nice cash. But it is you know that there are lots of initiatives being looked at ways that this might function. And obviously, we need much more money. But it’s a start the dialogue is definitely there. And the conversation has been through lots of permutations about you know, a percentage from every ticket in arena level or more possibly going down to the grassroots. But that’s the tricky bit because then the argument is will out of whose cut of the ticket does that percentage come? Sure, sure.

 

Andrew Dubber 

You’ve got the charity status. Is that correct? I do.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Yes, we set up as a charity right from the start. And that was for a very particular reason, which I haven’t even mentioned yet. Which is that the reason we called music when you trust is the long term goal is actually to be like the National Trust for music venues. What we would really like to do is we would like to buy some of the venues and hold them in the charity and charge a peppercorn rent so that they stayed as music venues in perpetuity. Because one of the major challenges for grassroots music venues is most of them are not owned by the operators. They’re almost all owned by landlords. And so

 

Andrew Dubber 

they’re rented

 

Beverley Whitrick 

and they’re rented. And so the rents and rates go up and up and up, subject to market forces. And of course, the takings don’t go up at all. No market forces also mean that when the places gentrified and there are new flats there.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Yeah, it’s it’s that’s an interesting approach to it. And quite farsighted, I think,

 

Beverley Whitrick 

well, and increasingly, we’re also seeing venues being sold out from under the tenants, because the person who owns the building absolutely has the right to sell it for something else. Right. And so that has happened a few times recently, where the venue has disappeared, because the landlords just said, this building’s worth a lot to me as bricks and mortar. And, yeah, I’m sorry, you’re the one in it. But that’s not my interest.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Right? You said before that the closure of all these venues has been in large part to sort of sort of an accident of a series of policies. But it’s also been an accident of a lack of policies, like for instance, things like sound proofing within residential areas, there are other things that are affecting this as well. It should have been thought of,

 

Beverley Whitrick 

well, any sort of cultural recognition would have made life so much better. I’m a net as I say, the the very fact that I think all our towns and city centres in the UK is basically just been seen as free market economy, actually now is being evidence has not been very farsighted. In that the idea that we would always have vibrant towns and cities just because right is absolutely not true in 2020. And you know, now, people are starting to panic about shops closing and you know, cafes closing and the venues have possibly already closed and you know, who can afford to be in a town and city centre now, right? And yet, if there’s nothing there, and it just becomes residential, how is that not a suburb? And so we’re in a kind of really bizarre moment in time, where all the things that are towns and city centres, historically have been are actually quite endangered and at the same time, people Supposedly moving there because everything’s convenient on your doorstep and you know, vibrant. And yet everything, you’re moving there for maybe disappearing,

 

Andrew Dubber 

because you moved there, because you moved

 

Beverley Whitrick 

there. But But I mean, you know, I’m talking UK. But of course, it’s not special to the UK, this is happening all over the world and music venue trust actually has relationships in an awful lot of other countries where we share resources and stories and you know, well, who’s done it? Well, um, different things have worked well in different places. I mean, interestingly, the first place where they talked about agent of change, and the fact that the person creating the change that can impact on the venue should be responsible for that that was actually in Australia,

 

Andrew Dubber 

right? Tell me about agent of change as a phrase because you say it like it’s a concept that needs to be established?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Yeah, well, it’s a really interesting one, because we very much brought the phrase over from Australia, where we’ve been big part of music campaigning. And to a certain extent, it’s kind of been hijacked and taken to mean various different things. Now, but but our definition of agent of change is very much to do with town and city planning. And the agent of change is usually a developer, in the context of planning, so it’s somebody that comes in and builds a new building nearby to something that already exists. And in doing so, changes the conditions by which the existing thing should operate. Right.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Whose fault is that this changed this the

 

Beverley Whitrick 

we don’t necessarily like to say it’s anyone’s fault, because music venue trust is absolutely not against residential development in town or city centres. No,

 

Andrew Dubber 

but you’re against it affecting negatively the venues

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Yes, because we are against bad development, right. And what happened over quite a long period of time was there was absolutely no legislation or even policy to say that a developer had any responsibility for anything in the area in which they were building. So a developer could basically build a block of flats, anywhere, and the buyers or the tenants would move in and then say, this flight is not livable, because the noise coming from x means that I can’t sleep at night, and x could then be served a noise abatement notice and potentially shut down. Sure. And our argument is, you should be able to build good quality residential accommodation pretty much anywhere because the technology exists. So what you need to do is you need to look very carefully at what’s around you and analyse what is needed in order to make that suitable for habitation. And if you’re near a venue, you need to soundproof the flats. Because if that venue has been there before, and someone chooses to build next to it, it is the developer’s responsibility to make it fit to live in. And also,

 

Andrew Dubber 

I guess, I mean, to a large extent, if you think of the city itself, that will spend a lot of money on greening spaces and on making things look good. Should policymakers and City Council’s and so on be thinking about what city should sound like?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Yes, they absolutely shouldn’t. And in fact, really interestingly, the Welsh government’s planning policies talks about sound scapes. I think it’s the first part of the UK that starts to, to look at that, and they’re developing further work on that. So I do believe that good planning should take in all those elements of life in the modern world. It’s very much at different points of development in different places. You know, you said earlier, who’s got good examples of things? Well, we’re still kind of working on that, because there’s a lot of sharing of information going on, but nobody’s hit on the right formula yet. So there, there are a lot of discussions about you know, what makes the music city which is a music, positive, friendly city, I’m in in planning terms, there are examples like in Montreal, for example, when they developed what would be the entertainment district, the residential accommodation they put in, there was a stipulation that you could only live there if you sign something saying you accepted that this was the entertainment area, right? So there might be noise. So basically, a load of creatives moved into that area because they could live with the idea that it was a procreative area. And sometimes that means some noise. Sure. So you know that there are interesting examples. But yes, in an ideal world planning policy would take in all these things, but we don’t live in an ideal world. So it’s not just music venues that get impacted. So for example, we are good friends with the theatres trust, and I do know that a recent development behind one of the West End theatres did involve residents complaining that there was loading out from the stage doors at the end of the night. Now, wouldn’t you just hope if you’re going to live behind a fairly famous theatre that you might realise that those big stage doors are for a reason.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Yeah, I mean, residents are renowned for complaining about things. I lived in a building once where people complained there was a tree next to them and the birds was very noisy in the morning in the middle of the cities. And so I guess they’re, you know, you’re going to get people are going to complain about anything, but like about places doing it well as Britain particularly notable for its closure of music venues.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

I think Britain’s been notable for the closure, because it has so many,

 

Andrew Dubber 

right, so it started with a lot. So it’s closed.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

I think what’s become really obvious particularly through the conversations, we’re part of the Live DMA European network of other venue bodies, has to be said, music venue, trust is both the smallest organisation and has the largest membership well, so that kind of already tells you something about the UK and the fact we only represent grassroots music venues, whereas most of the other members of live DMA represent a range of venue and festival sizes. But they have fewer members than we do. So that kind of tells you about how prevalent music has been in the UK, which is both a blessing and a curse. Because I do firmly believe that part of the problem here has been historically the UK has been a world leader in music. And I think that leads a lot of people, typically politicians to believe that if you just leave it alone, it will carry on flourishing, right. And actually, we’ve really reached the point now where a lot of things are stacking up against it. But in addition, other countries are actually investing in their grassroots and their music development where

 

Andrew Dubber 

the creative industries as a whole.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

And therefore, if the UK does not do that, it’s disadvantaged in two ways, one by the laissez faire attitude, and to buy the fact that in contrast, everyone around us is proactively supporting the development. And yes, I’d absolutely agree. It is the creative industries, film has had a slightly special position in that there’s been government support for film across the whole of the UK, because for some reason, they’ve understood film in a way they haven’t understood the rest of the creative industries. But yeah, it’s quite alarming to watch the kind of support and subsidy that is developing in most of the rest of Europe and contrast that with what just isn’t here.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Is there anything going on in the realm of technological development to support small independent venues as I mean, as it’s still, you know, a paper ticket at the door? Or is it still, you know, queues at the bar? Or, or has it kind of moved on from there, and people are kind of actually trying to disrupt

 

Beverley Whitrick 

venues. There are many, many, many things in development, we are approached weekly by app developers and technology developers, most of whom think they’ve got the thing that will save venues, and we have to actually say, sounds like a great product, but it’s probably not going to save all the venues because it doesn’t actually tackle the problems we know about. That said, there are obviously some great things coming in. So yeah, on ticketing, it’s completely changing. You know, there are still venues that you’re going to go in and get your hand stamped, and you are going to have a paper ticket. But increasingly, you know, there there are tickets on phones or, you know, whatever else. And that’s very much developed. It’s a very competitive field, actually ticketing at any level in the UK. So there’s lots of exciting stuff happening there. Yeah, bars and tills, that’s changed quite a lot as well. Obviously, the fact that money handling has decreased substantially, has changed a great deal. And I think there’s still more change to come there. The queuing is an interesting one. I think most venues would like to see more queues at the bar. I think actually, one of the changes that has been to the detriment of venues is that increasingly, people meet somewhere else for a drink before they come to the venue. They come and see the gig. And then they go somewhere else for a drink after the gig, right. And so actually, the bar taking the venue is quite small compared to where someone used to go for a whole night out there. And that’s actually to do with changes in licencing law. And the fact that there are many places that have late licences now. So people will go to a grassroots music venue for the gig, but their evening will involve a range of venues. And that’s a bit of a problem to try and tackle. Particularly when there are you know, pub chains that offer very cheap drinks.

 

Andrew Dubber 

sure

 

Beverley Whitrick 

that a small venue can absolutely not because it can’t get that kind of brewery deal.

 

Andrew Dubber 

I can’t think of a nicer way to ask this. So just is venue owner. to ship an ageing population?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Yes, it is absolutely in succession is something that we also are examining and looking at. I mean, you know, to be honest, said this, this came from Mark and Jason at Tunbridge Wells Forum, who are both in their 50s now, and I don’t think ever imagined they would be running the venue in their 50s. You know, when, when they in a couple of nights decided to open a venue in their 20s they definitely thought that was a young person’s game. So I would say that, yes, the the management of venues is ageing. However, what’s very encouraging is that there’s an awful lot of mentoring and training going on within venues, you know, there’s there’s a real infrastructure there and a pathway, I guess, yeah, there’s a pathway. I guess the potential pitfall within that is quite often young people come in very enthusiastic, work in venues and then go off and do something else in the industry, because there’s more money in doing that bit than there isn’t staying in the venue. So we see a lot of bright young people come up and they work in the venues for a while, and then they go off and they’re an agent or a promoter.

 

Andrew Dubber 

They do the social media and PR

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Can be, yeah. So that’s definitely a challenge. And, you know, it’s an understandable challenge when it’s hard to make a good living out of running a venue.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Is that affecting also the curation and and programming of these venues?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

I don’t think it’s necessarily affecting that. Because it quite often is the younger team that will do that, you know, that the person running the venue is probably not the major booker. Okay. That it’s a really tricky question. I mean, we talk often about the fact that lots of venues are run by one or two people. But then they quite often have a, you know, a team of part timers or volunteers, they’re actually facilitating that venue happening. What’s a bit like music in your trust? I mean, we’ve only got two full time staff, and two part time, but we also have a whole bunch of consultants and gurus and, you know, other people that helped run the charity, but as, as an actual core, we’re teeny tiny. Sure. Because it’s, you know, that’s the money, we’ve got to run it. So I think then the venues kind of mirror the charity itself.

 

Andrew Dubber 

So how did it end up at your feet? To be doing this? I mean, I know you said that, that you identified it as a good idea. So you got involved, but there’s a backstory to that that led you there. What What was that?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Probably is that it was the the best project to get my teeth into that come for a while.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Right? You were looking for a project?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Yeah, well, no, no, I was because I kind of took a bit of a break to raise children and move to another country. And you know,

 

Andrew Dubber 

Yeah, I was gonna ask you about? Because you’re not you’re not based in the UK?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

I’m not personally No,

 

Andrew Dubber 

no, but you’re invested in the UK, you have links to the UK?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

Oh, well, very much. You know, I get into the most fascinating conversations about the fact that I live in Barcelona, but I haven’t entirely left. I just happened to be living somewhere else at the moment. You know, it. I think there are an awful lot of people like me, you don’t leave everything behind and never come back.

 

Andrew Dubber 

In fact, you probably come back quite a lot.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

I Well, yes, obviously. Because, you know, having a physical presence that events is quite important advocacy for what we do is more effective in person. Sure.

 

Andrew Dubber 

So I have to ask the B word. You know, how’s Brexit affected? Things like bands performing in small venues? Is it? I mean, is it a is a space for international touring bands? Or are we not at that level?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

We’re it’s a really interesting question, because the immediate response to that is that it should affect the grassroots venues, less than bigger venues. However, there is a certain proportion of the programming or grassroots music venues that that would be bands from Europe. And you know, in some of our venues, bands from America, or Canada, or Australia or anywhere else. So there absolutely is an international element to the programming. There are certainly a lot of Europeans working in venues in the UK, right? Because the creative industries here are very attractive to non British people. So of course, why wouldn’t you want to come here where so much internationally important music has started for sure. So yeah, there’s definitely a concern about staff. And more than that, the impact is likely to be on the very talent that we have a core of our venues, whose ability to play beyond the UK to develop their craft is absolutely going to be impacted. Sure, I mean, you know, this year where we’re pretty much okay. There are a few narky border guards that you know, are holding people up. But technically, you can still do everything up until the end of December that you’ve previously been able to do. However, after that, it’s going to be completely different. And if you are a small band from Leicester, who dreams of touring France, and Germany and the Netherlands, and, you know, why wouldn’t you? Yeah, that is going to become a whole lot more challenging unless you have money behind you. And I think, for a lot of us, the concern for the whole of the creative industries having been very much overlooked in all the discussions about the impact of Brexit is, it will become even more the preserve of people with moneyed backgrounds. And that will completely change the UK contribution to the world culture scene, you know, part of UK, his contribution has always been that it’s, it’s people from all parts of the UK, from all levels of society. And that’s what’s made our our cultural contribution, so rich, and to see that narrowed down to you know, if you’re fortunate enough that your parents got some money to back you, you might be able to do

 

Andrew Dubber 

  1. Yeah, with the tragedy. On the flip side, there’s a sort of a received wisdom that the British music scene in the late 70s and early 80s was so fertile simply because it was so tough. And people just had to kick against, you know, what was going on the establishment. And, you know, we get punk and we get, you know, all these all these movements. Are we in that sort of same phase again, do you think No, because you can no longer sign on the dole, right.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

And a huge amount of the fertility of the creativity in the 70s. And 80s came from people that were technically unemployed, that actually were developing their craft that no longer exists. If you sign on as looking for work, you have to prove you’re looking for work, you do not have that window of opportunity to act or write or play, or it just doesn’t exist. And a whole generation of artists of every art form, had that cushion, that has just completely disappeared. So that’s why we’re so fearful for the future, because that kind of tough, but also golden age of creativity doesn’t exist now.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Does that also make us nostalgic, and in a large way, like for instance, with music venues, I know that people would go well, this is this furniture shop is where this where the Beatles played in Birmingham or this, you know, betting facility is where Duran Duran had their practice rooms is that kind of, you know, the sort of music tourism another reason to keep venues around so that people can go and see them as they were.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

That is a really interesting question. And from music venue trust’s point of view, the answer for me would be we are not a heritage organisation.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Okay. Even though you want to be a National Trust for music venue,

 

Beverley Whitrick 

the National Trust for music venues is about retaining venues to be the venues of now in the future, it’s about their workability and their use. We don’t want to retain music venues as museums, because that’s a whole different sector. And although I absolutely can understand why people might be interested in that, we are focused on the places that artists continue to develop, and continue to have opportunities. So this question has actually come up several times over the last few years. We have little sympathy for a venue that has a wonderful history, but isn’t fit for purpose. And it’s also actually why we fought so hard for funding for the venues and why the Arts Council England fund was such a triumph, because it was the first time that public funding became available to actually invest in the physical infrastructure of a building. Although to get that funding, you have to absolutely show how artists and audiences will benefit from the investment. You can apply for funding to upgrade your sound and lighting, or make your building more accessible or putting in a gender neutral toilet or paint the walls or you know, all those things that are venues have been drastically under invested for decades now. And while people of my generation might find a certain romance and that my daughters don’t see it that way, they think they’re a bit yucky. Yeah. And the other challenge there is very much that many venues now are not able to be open to young audiences because of licencing conditions. So if young people grow up going to see big pop artists, for example, in an arena or a high grade, big venue, when they’re old enough to then go into a grassroots music venue and they go there and it’s a bit grimy and a bit smelly and bit sticky and the sound and lighting is not so good. They don’t see that as romantic. They just see it as a bit shit.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Yeah, that’s just disappointing. Yes, that’s part of your role to go around these venues and say do better.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

And no, because I think most of the venues already know that they could do a lot better, were they able to get the ducks in a row, most of them aspire to do better, and they’re just being thwarted by the lack of money or by external pressures being put on them. I can’t think of a single venue within our network that will sit there and go. Now I’m really happy with my venue being a bit shit,

 

Andrew Dubber 

right. But things like accessibility, like, you know, gender inclusion, like all the things that you would like to be able to say that you know, all of your members are really keen advocates on and supporters on are working on towards, I suspect, that’s not true all of them.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

It’s not true of all of them, because some of them don’t really know about it yet. And I think a big part of why music venue trust was absolutely needed was that venues very much operate in isolation or small clusters until we came along until we had our first venues day in December 2014. Most venues went to no music industry events, they weren’t networking, they were doing their own thing in their own locality. And we’re fairly apart from obviously iconic venues like night and day in Manchester or the hundred club in London, they weren’t really that aware of what other venues they were or what they were like, or because they were getting on doing their own thing, right. What something like music venue trust is enabled is discussions about different ways of doing things, different models. So we have venues who now community share offers or cooperatives, a lot of our venues have managed to go over to being community interest companies. So they’ve got the bit the puts on the music now registered as a not for profit. And the bar is the profit making business side by side. And what that means is they can actually operate in a different way because it enables them to apply for funding or rebates on various things and stuff. So that’s all started with looking at other venues that are doing it and going well, hang on, I could do that. Right. So um, things like women’s safety or accessibility, or how welcoming you are to diverse communities. Obviously, those issues are more important to some venues than others. But that’s sometimes just because venue, a may never have thought about it until they have a conversation with a newbie, right? Do you have

 

Andrew Dubber 

a sort of a best practice guide that you can point people to or

 

Beverley Whitrick 

we don’t have best practice guide at the moment is something that we’re working on. What we do have are two open source books, which were launched last summer. And they’re books that were commissioned and funded by the Mayor of London and Ticketmaster. And that enabled music venue trust to employ a proper writer, and a fantastic photographer. And two books were created, which are how to open a grassroots music venue. So obviously aimed at aspiring venue owners. And then the the sister publication to that is how to run a grassroots music venue, which is aimed at those people who already have a venue who might want to re examine what they do and see if there are things they could do better. And those two guides are peppered with interviews of people that do run venues and wonderful photos of their quirky and individualistic venues. And the books also refer to a plethora of online resources, which we update as we go along. So things change all the time. But what we now have a sort of two template documents that can refer to other things. And what we would hope is that most people interested in already running a venue could glean some things from that that either they haven’t thought of, or that they could do better. And that gives them a place to go. And then if they don’t find what they like there, they just ask us, you know, we have a good ongoing dialogue with a lot of the members of our music, venues lines, not necessarily all of them. But you know, a lot of them, we have a venue Support Manager, Clara, who runs our emergency response service. And, you know, is the first port of call if a venue is in trouble or needs advice or something, they contact Clara and she can put them in touch with one of our gurus who can give them expert advice about something. So, you know, we’re very much at the heart of a community. And we’re working on more resources,

 

Andrew Dubber 

right? It sounds like you’re dealing in an area that has an awful lot of challenges. But in order to do that, you would need to be somebody who’s at least a little bit optimistic. What are you optimistic about

 

Beverley Whitrick 

the people it’s the most fantastic sector in terms of just fascinating people that you may and you know, there’s an element of some days you just think well, who in their right mind would run a groceries music venue? And then you think, do I want to talk to people in their right mind?

 

Andrew Dubber 

You know, that’s a fair question.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

I’m somebody that realised quite early on that one of the main things that makes me tick is being around creative people. I don’t necessarily need to be creating myself, but I need to be with creative people and facilitating what they do. Because I’m naturally quite an organised person. But I absolutely understand why creatives are essential to life. So I think if I can fulfil that role, then that’s a useful thing for me to do. And I honestly think that some of the best people are involved in the grassroots of the music industry, right? And so how you could be around those people, even when times are challenging and not feel optimistic? Well, I don’t understand that. I’m sure other people might. But you know, to me, there’s such a wealth of greatness. They’re all in the musicians as well, obviously, people only run grassroots music venues because they want to nurture musicians. So, you know, that passion for music and for people of music and about music? is absolutely at the centre of the whole sector. Are you slowly winning? We’re certainly having some successes. Yeah. Yeah, it’s, it’s good when we win some things. And we always like to take a moment to say, we’ve done something. And that’s a step forward. And actually, one of the, the central tenants of what we’ve done is always to try and be a very practical organisation. So to pick campaigns that we could create movement on, so that there’s a forward movement of things, even though still many, many fights to have Sure, you know, the fact that we changed Scottish planning law. We only change change policy in Wales and England, but it’s something you know, it’s some people don’t really understand the difference. So we often say, in Scotland, you must now take into account the music venue, if you build an error, whereas in England, Wales, you should. So obviously, Scotland’s better, right, but you know, we can we like to play the countries off against each other. So now Scotland have done that, we can come back to England and Wales and say, Look what they did. We’ve just had news, in the last few weeks of business rates cuts for grassroots venues in England. So now we need to go to the Welsh Assembly in Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland assembly and say, Okay, look, what England is doing, do you really want your venues to be disadvantaged by not giving them the same concessions? And actually, in the same week as that announcement, really, something that a few people said would never happen actually did. Westminster Council, which is not necessarily the most pro music council that you would imagine in the UK, declared that they would zero business rate the hundred club in perpetuity, which basically has protected the future of this iconic venue, that’s at the moment on its third generation of the same family that are running it.

 

Andrew Dubber 

That’s amazing.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

And I think Jeff quite hopes that Ruby might take over one day his daughter, so you know, it’s it’s a really fantastic venue. And the rates were crippling, right, he genuinely thought he was going to close so many times. So the fact that Westminster have said, right, we’re not going to charge your business rates now has saved the hundred club, which we think might be the longest operating grassroots venue in Europe.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Wow. If true, that’s quite a success.

 

Beverley Whitrick 

There are older venues, but they’ve had breaks. We think that the the hundred club is the one that’s operated consistently for the longest continuously,

 

Andrew Dubber 

right, so how will you know when you’ve won?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

That’s a really good question. Um, I mean, if you go on the original intention for the charity, I guess it will be when we do actually get investment in in order to buy the the freeholds of some of the venues and we can firmly say that we have safeguarded a proportion of the venues. But that looks like that still some way away. So yeah, don’t ask me in another five years.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Yeah, absolutely. Let’s return and reevaluate them. In the meantime, is there anything anybody listening could do?

 

Beverley Whitrick 

If you are in well say for in the UK, again, speaking as music venue trust, if you are anywhere and you love music, the best way to sport grassroots music venue is to go to it. We often see petitions or hear people say how much they love a venue. If you don’t actually set foot in if you don’t actually buy tickets to go there. Buy a drink when you go take your friends with you. Saying you like it isn’t actually that practical and helpful. So yeah, if you if you have venues that you love, please visit them, please do appreciate them with your presence and your money, rather than just your words because that’s the best way to sustain them.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Fantastic. Beverley, thanks so much for your time today. My pleasure. That’s Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of the UK music venue trust, and that’s the MTF podcast. Unsurprisingly, perhaps we’ve had to make a couple of postponements to some upcoming MTF, Labs events in Frankfurt and in Mannheim, but the most important thing is that you stay safe and healthy, will do the same. And in the meantime, stay up to date through the newsletter, website, Music Tech Fest on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And make sure you subscribe to the podcast wherever you get yours. These will keep coming to you each week, and we’ll make sure we keep it interesting. That’s it for now. We’ll talk soon and you have a great week. Cheers.