Arts, Entertainment & Media

Fading Away? London’s cult live music venues on the brink

Joe Fleming of the Easy Stride Band performs at the Lamb Surbiton. Photo: Jarek Zaba

In November, 2016 Amy Lamé was appointed by mayor Sadiq Khan to become London’s first ‘night czar’, tasked with protecting its £26bn a year night time economy and turning the capital into a ‘24 hour city’.

However, two years later there is still great concern among musicians that not enough has been done to preserve the character of London’s live music scene – with niche and alternative venues in particular bearing the brunt of heightened business rates, development and increasingly restrictive council regulations.

Venues to have shut down in recent years include Passing Clouds in Dalston, the Mean Fiddler on Charing Cross Road, Cable Street’s Jamboree and 12 Bar in Soho.

Chris Tofu, director of Continental Drifts, a performing arts promoter based in Walthamstow, believes that it’s near impossible to become a venue owner today:

In a UK-wide music census of over 200 small venues conducted last year, one third of respondents reported that increases in business rates had an ‘extreme, strong or moderate’ impact on their existence.

However residential development within close proximity of live music, leading to noise complaints and restrictions, also represents a major concern.

Jamie O’Grady, owner of The Fighting Cocks in Kingston upon Thames for 19 years, bemoans the challenges he faces:

In July 2018 Hackney Council unanimously passed new legislation that forced all new venues in the borough to close at 11pm on weekdays and midnight on weekends, unless they were able to prove that they did not pose a ‘threat’ to the local area.

NME published a scathing op-ed regarding the office of the Night Czar as a result, asserting that Ms Lamé had been wholly ineffective in preventing the move.

In a written response Ms Lamé defended her record, pointing to a number of examples of at risk venues in which she has been able to help.

Nonetheless many musicians on the circuit express deep concern about those that have already been lost:

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