'Small venues are put at the bottom of the barrel and treated like we're not important'
Iconic gig haven The Joiners in Southampton is under threat, and the venue’s bosses have called upon music fans for their support – arguing that the government does not value small and independent music venues.
Earlier this week, it emerged that The Joiners was in need of funds for emergency repairs. The building is over 100-years-old, and has been a beloved music venue for nearly 50 years – with the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, Oasis, Coldplay, Muse, Franz Ferdinand, Wolf Alice, The 1975 and more playing formative gigs their over the years.
As well as being crowned as NME’s Best Small Venue in 2015, the venue also provides essential services to the local music community and universities.
Visit here to donate to The Joiners Arms GoFundMe page, and read our full interview with head of booking and promotions Ricky Bates about what’s at stake, and the problems facing them and music venues across the country.
So you need the money for serious repairs, right?
“There are several repairs that we’ve needed for a while, and now we’re at a turning point. Unfortunately it’s come at a point in the middle of the summer, when festival season means that there are no touring bands. The building is over 100-years-old, and we should really have a restoration levy on the ticket price but I’ve always been against it – some of the older O2 venues and Hammersmith Apollo have that.”
But you’ve avoided the levy to keep ticket prices affordable for fans?
“Yeah, it’s hard enough as it is to get people through the door without adding a £1.50 restoration levy on every ticket. We have the lease so we’re responsible for the building and any repairs. Obviously we do that throughout the year without issue generally, but when it comes to between June and September when we go from having seven shows to three, there’s no money in the venue at all to make it work. If we don’t sort it out now, it will just get worse. It could become a lot more expensive.”
So there’s a very real danger of closure?
“Yes, if we don’t fix this in the next six months then we’re in trouble. We’ve never done crowdfunding before. We’ve always found a way to get the money to fix it. We reached out to the Arts Council because we’re 50-years-old next year*, then three weeks ago they backed out – claiming that independent venues aren’t ‘culturally important enough’ to the community. That’s ridiculous. In 36 hours we’ve raised nearly £7,000. The Arts Council only want to help theatres and classical music. They’re very biased towards certain areas of the community. They don’t want to help music venues. In Southampton they’ve given £2.5million to art spaces that haven’t even opened up. We’ve been here for years, we have 300 gigs per year.
“You know how many gigantic acts have passed through these doors in their early days. How can we not be deemed important? Even if we had the tax breaks that the government gives to theatres and classical music, that would be absolutely fine – we wouldn’t be in this position. Small venues are put at the bottom of the barrel and treated like we’re not important.”
What would you say about The Joiners, in terms of what it provides to the local community and its standing on the national gig circuit?
“The Joiners has been here for over 50 years. A lot of people don’t know what we do. We also work through the day with local universities, like the 900 music students at Solent University. They come here during the day and learn skills, how to do lighting, live engineering, live camerawork, broadcasting, the skills to work at Glastonbury. We do lectures as well. That’s just the vital educational side of things.
“We also have a database of over 150 bands who have played their first show here. We invest our time and money in them and eventually they come back and sell out the venue. We implore them to go out and become a proper touring band, by having their play and talk with touring bands here. All of that is invaluable to small bands just starting up. Without it, it just disappears from the city completely.
“The 1975, Wolf Alice, Circa Waves – these are just a few of the bands that come play here then go on to amazing things recently. They only learn their trade through venues like The Joiners. Enter Shikari played here two or three times before they got huge, they’ve been very supportive. Frank Turner too, and Creeper who have from Southampton.”
So you’re very much there for the people?
“I feel guilty asking for it. I’m a volunteer here half the time. We don’t make profit from the venue, this is our last resort. People love the venue so much. A lot of students tell us they only come here because of the venue and the music scene that revolves around it. Remove that from the equation and you kill a complete demographic of culture.
“Also, we’re 50 next year. All I’ve had in my head for the last four years is to get to that milestone – then this happens. It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth. We’ve all been massively overwhelmed by the love and generosity people have shown. We really couldn’t have anticipated it. If people can’t see that these venues are important, then look at what’s happening and how people are reaching out. People have met their husbands, wives and best friends here. They’ve seen the best shows and had the best nights of their lives here. You can’t take that for granted. We’re a family. You can’t let it die.”
*In response to NME, the Arts Council say that the Joiners Arms did not directly apply to them for funding.