The Hunt For Britain’s Best Small Venue

With many of the UK’s sweatboxes under threat, we’re launching our campaign to highlight the importance of small venues to bands and music scenes. Now you can help us choose the best…

Ever cascaded across a sweat-soaked boxroom dancefloor on the first tour of your favourite new guitar-botherers? Ever revelled in paying less than a tenner to crowdsurf towards Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines or Biffy Clyro before they were filling bigger stages? We’d imagine you have – which is why we’re looking to you to help us pick Britain’s Best Small Venue. We’re asking you to celebrate the tiny yet brilliant venues where legends are born and great bands are made even better by considering their plight and nominating the nation’s best via NME.COM/smallvenues.


We’ve spoken to bands, fans, promoters and venue owners from across the country, and the message is clear: while it’s obvious that the raw thrill of seeing live music is booming, it’s also evident that many of our best venues are facing a serious crisis.There’s no single reason why, but the last few years have seen an alarming number of these legendary toilet circuit venues close – from Brighton’s Freebutt (noise pollution) to The Charlotte in Leicester (to make way for student flats); The Point in Cardiff and Newport’s TJ’s (both due to financial constraints) to Aberdeen’s Warehouse (again thanks to adverse noise).

London’s 100 Club almost went, only to be saved in December after a grassroots campaign drew worldwide support from everyone from Mick Jagger to Liam Gallagher and saw it receive enough funding to survive a rent increase. But The Luminaire – a staple on the capital’s live circuit for much of the last decade – was less lucky, closing its doors for good in March. Ditto Camden’s Flowerpot (which relocated), Jilly’s Rockworld and The Music Box in Manchester, and many others. We’re launching this campaign now to help, but also because we want to celebrate these types of venues. They deserve it. They’re the places where Oasis got discovered, where The Libertines plied their trade for years before getting signed, where The White Stripes played their first UK gigs and where the next Arctic Monkeys are kicking their mardy bums into shape.


So, we want you to give your verdicts on the best small venues in the UK. This can be more than just choosing a room with a few amps on a stage – we want to hear from you about which venues put the most back into your town’s music scene. About which places have atmosphere literally dripping from the walls. And about what makes your favourite venue so jaw-droppingly unique. You can nominate your favourite by heading to NME.COM/smallvenues from Wednesday (May 4). We’ve got a host of bands on board for the campaign, including last week’s cover stars Friendly Fires, who officially kicked things off on Tuesday by playing an intimate hometown gig at their favourite small venue in St Albans, The Horn.


The band’s Jack Savidge said: “Without small venues like The Horn, where we played back in the day, I don’t think we’d be the band we are today. Not only can you see the whites of people’s eyes at those gigs, but as a band you also really learn how to play together. There’s nothing else like it. Small venues like those are absolutely essential for new bands to cut their teeth, which is why we want to add our support to the campaign.”

Meanwhile, Feargal Sharkey – the former Undertones singer who now heads up the umbrella music industry organisation UK Music – is also lending his support. “Standing in a little room for 20 minutes on a little stage will teach you more about yourself as an artist or musician than you could ever possible imagine,” he explained. “The talent of the UK’s future depends on these little places. Somewhere out there right now, somebody is contemplating their first gig in the local pub or club down the street from them. And, potentially, they are the ones who will go on to headline Glastonbury in 10 years’ time.”


Although Sharkey pointed out that “around 50 community pubs are being closed down each week” in the UK (aka 50 potential venues), it’s not all doom and gloom. Old favourites like King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow are still going strong (21 years old and counting), and promoters like Manchester’s Now Wave and London’s Eat Your Own Ears are pushing the creative boundaries by ensuring that their respective cities’ scenes are not only successful, but also forward-thinking and genuinely exciting.


“There aren’t many venues that have been going as long as us, so we are very fortunate,” says Dave McGeachan, the promoter at King Tut’s. “But the industry is undoubtedly getting harder, which is why we need to keep these venues open, keep clubnights going and keep getting people through the doors. Local venues are so important to local bands – a prime example for us is Biffy Clyro, who played here really early on. They sent a cassette tape in and they got put on a local band bill. Then they topped that bill and eventually went on to sell out the venue. And it grew from there – look at where they are now.”


Speaking of the campaign, NME Editor Krissi Murison said: “We’re not sounding the death-knell for small venues. We’re showing them some love, and we’re encouraging people – whether they be local fans or local councillors – to support these places as much as possible. We can’t continue to see them being closed down.”

This article originally appeared in the May 7th issue of NME

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