Ben Lovett, pianist and keyboard player in Mumford & Sons, has opened a new venue in Southwark, central London. Omeara is a live music venue, bar and exhibition space and legendary British rock band The Pretenders will play the first gig there (October 20), while smaller acts such as The Carnabys and Nathan Ball are lined up to play in coming months. We chatted to Ben about Omeara, nightlife in the UK and, of course, the future of Mumford & Sons.
What’s the idea behind Omeara’s look?
I’ve always loved Mexico, Cuba, and South America; all of the textures and the depth of the culture. I like run down and abandoned buildings, so I started digging out old pictures of falling down houses in Havana. I wanted there to be a sense of rediscovery about Omeara. I hope people stumble upon it in London and say: ‘Wow! What is this place?’
Have you been sad to see small venues closing in London?
They were so important to me starting out. I think we probably played 50 different London clubs – places like the Mean Fiddler – that just aren’t there any more. I don’t know what new bands are going to do without without that stepping stone. It’s not the Hammersmiths and the Shepherds Bushes that are closing. It’s the ones where bands cut their teeth.
With Omeara, are you trying to reverse the ailing fortunes of nightlife in London – and in the UK in general?
There’s a bit of trying to stop the demise of London venues. It’s exciting to try and come up with something that’s at that club level where a band potentially has their defining moment like, ‘Smash that gig and then you’re on your way!’ Culturally, London’s been falling slightly behind places like Manchester, Leeds, and Brighton. When I was a teenager growing up in London, it had an element of trashy edginess that let you be a bit more expressive and rebellious.
Do you reckon the city can pull it back round, though?
On a global scale, it’s definitely having a bit of a dip, but it’s gonna come back around because it’s London and bands will always come out of this place. So many of the nominees at the Mercury Prize this year were from London. This is the beginning of that next wave of talent. Hopefully the sort of bands that will come and play at Omeara will be in the public eye in three to five years.
– Inside Omeara
Is it true that you’ve been working with Sadiq Khan on the project?
Yeah. He’s got a guy called Paul Broadhurst who’s his Head of Music, and Paul’s been so encouraging. They’ve been trying to figure out how to encourage entrepreneurs to take [a similar] leap of faith. I showed them around three months ago and they’ve been giving us a bit of insight as to what causes places to close down, and what mistakes not to make. We’re gonna see a big change in London. There’s a small, dedicated team whose number one goal – enforced by Sadiq Khan – is to try and make London culturally progressive again. It’s really exciting.
Cameron Leslie, the co-founder Fabric [which was recently closed by the council], has said that he wouldn’t open a new venue in London in the current climate. What makes you more optimistic?
There’s something inevitable about music. Music’s never gonna go anywhere. And actually more people are going to gigs now than ever before in history. So the difference between us and Fabric is that we focus on live music. It’s about the gig experience. People will come and I think that bands will play. Also: you can’t stress about failure. That’s the surest way to manifest failure.
As a co-founder of Communion Records, how did you feel when you saw Viola Beach posthumously reach number one in the album charts?
It was bittersweet. Our team had really poured a lot of heart and soul into that and were very close with the families. It was pretty amazing just for the families to have that music, it’s just great that the band got some recognition.
What’s the immediate future for Mumford & Sons?
Writing songs. We’ve been playing a couple of new songs on the road – ‘Forever’ and ‘Blind Leading The Blind’ – and they’ve been going down really well. There’s a lot of inspired positivity in the band at the moment, so we’re gonna try and take some time to [keep writing]. We’ll be writing together in London during the day and coming [to Omeara] in the evenings.
Can we expect a new album next year?
We’ve made the mistake before of thinking we can tell ourselves when albums will be ready. But the reality is you just write and write and, when there’s enough of a collection of cohesive material, that’s when you know.