The hot topic: should venues stop sharing stage times for the sake of support bands?

The 100 Club sparked debate today after it suggested that holding back on dishing out stage times would boost crowds for support bands. But who should get to choose how we enjoy live music - the punters or the venue?

If you go to gigs, there’s a good chance that you’ve found a beloved new band by rocking up in time to see the support.

Whether you first watched now-festival-headliners Alt-J supporting Toro Y Moi at The Garage, discovered Glass Animals when they opened for St Vincent, or fell in love with No Rome’s music after watching him support The 1975, taking a punt and getting down to the venue early can often pay off.

The fact is, even the biggest bands in the world started out as a support act; it’s a rite of passage. And it’s also true that when these very same bands find monumental success and head out on their own headline arena tours, they’re often paying it forward by taking lesser-known bands out on tour. It’s all part of the cycle, and by showing love for opening acts, we help to boost up the the big artists of tomorrow.

It’s the argument that Slaves put forward towards the end of last year, when they decided not to share stage times for their upcoming shows. “We don’t post set times to our shows,” they tweeted, explaining. “We were the support once. We wouldn’t be here if nobody turned up to watch us. So turn up when your ticket says and you’ll be fine”.

Making a similar point, iconic London venue The 100 Club also made the decision to stop circulating timings this week. “The 100 Club is no longer giving out stage times to any gig we put on,” they posted in a since-deleted tweet. “We want to support all bands that play here and so would like people to watch the support acts too. It’s a great way to discover new music.”

Though loads of music fans praised the move, many also shared concerns that the venue would inadvertently push out fans who rely on stage times to ensure they catch the support act in the first place. There’s no doubt that The 100 Club has genuinely good intentions when it comes to supporting new music, and the venue tweeted later on to add that it is working on a compromise having listened to feedback. “The sole intention was to support the supports. Nothing else. Middle ground will be sought,” they tweeted.

It’s of common opinion that supporting new music is A Very Good Thing To Do.

On the other hand, there’s the argument that – as with the entirely separate debate about banning phones at live shows – the choice of how to enjoy a show should ultimately lie with the paying customer.  A fan who has already shelled out £25 on tickets might not look so kindly on the prospect of nursing endless six-quid pints at the venue because they turned up at doors. And sometimes people might already know that they dislike the support band. Taste is subjective after all, and they’re entitled to give it a miss.

Nathan Clark, who runs the well-loved Leeds live venue Brudenell Social Club, is squarely in favour of publicising stage times for this reason. “I can see the argument for saying, ‘Oh, you should get in and support them,’ but it’s like, that’s just the choice of the person. We can’t know exactly what somebody has to do on a certain day.”

“We’ve moved on a little bit from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. We’ve got the ability to give people information online so why not utilise it and harness it?” – Nathan Clark, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

“People have got their own mind,” he says. “People will either go at a time, or they will not. I don’t think not posting times will make any difference. Why not provide the support [times]? It’s not going to change the amount of people who bought tickets, so therefore the amount of cash income to the show is not reference-able. I can’t question the motivation from other venues, because I support them wholeheartedly – we need more venues like The 100 Club – but I just don’t get it, on this occasion.”

“We’ve moved on a little bit from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s,” he points out, “we’ve got the ability to give people information online. Why not utilise it and harness it?”

And for some gig-goers, meanwhile, not knowing concrete stage times ahead of a gig isn’t just a mild annoyance. Fans working evening shifts understandably don’t want to give up a night’s paid work only to find that an act isn’t playing until after well their shift ends. Punters with kids at home need to know how long to book a babysitter for. And for fans with accessibility requirements, stage times are crucial information. “An idea of start times for the main act are key, especially if I’m coming from work,” Alex tells me. “It often takes me longer to get to venues given the lack of wheelchair access on the underground.”

Though Alex adds that he does try to catch support bands when possible – especially if he’s already a fan, or if he follows their genre or record label – it’s not always practical given how long travelling across London can take after work.

“Not having an idea of timings would be even worse,” he states. “It’s stressful enough not really knowing how long things will take, and whether bus ramps or station lifts will work. Let alone being unsure whether it’ll actually be worth the effort when I get there.”

“Stage times are helpful,” Alex concludes. “Not giving them out is going to generate publicity, and a day or two of buzz, but feels short-sighted in the long-run. Forcing people to watch acts defeats the point of building a fanbase. People will come to the support acts who know about the music, as will headline fans to get a good space and, even, (unfortunately) people who only know the chorus to one song and want to Instagram it from the front to look cool.”

“The only thing with posting times is that gives more information to a person to do their research, actually,” adds Nathan Clark. “Some people in this debate have talked about mental health, and I understand some people might certain conditions where they don’t want to be out the house for so long, or they don’t want to stand in a certain room for a length of time.”

“In my experience, people do actually turn up for support slots”
– artist Brooke Bentham

Brooke Bentham – a London-based musician who opened for Soccer Mommy last year on her UK tour – has found that, far from skipping openers, a good portion of fans are keen to get down to shows to watch support bands when they can. She’s not sure whether venues and bands choosing not to share timings will make any difference at all; releasing details ahead of a show just eliminates any last-minute guesswork around whether there’s time for one more pint at ‘Spoons.

“People think they’re making a statement by saying they won’t release the times but it’s kinda just common sense most of the time,“ she says. “Most people know the headline act is gonna go on around 9 to 9.30pm anyway. In my experience, people do actually turn up for support slots.”

Brooke is undecided if releasing set times actually makes much overall difference to how full a room is for the opening acts. Instead, she suggests that venues and headliners shouting loudly about their support ahead of the show plays a far bigger role in getting punters down for the opener, stage times or not. 

Take the cult following around record label Dirty Hit as one prime example: ahead of The 1975 headline shows, the band’s frontman Matt Healy regularly bigs up his support bands on Twitter, and spotlights label-mates like No Rome and The Japanese House in the earlier slots.

At Years & Years’ recent show at London’s O2 Arena, Olly Alexander curated a whole range of opening acts to create an inclusive mini-festival, ranging from Rina Sawayama and Astrid S to vogue troupe Kiki’s House of Tea. 

And in the case of other high-profile artists like Florence and The Machine – who toured with Perfume Genius, Christine and The Queens, Blood Orange and Nathaniel Rateliff – it’s clear there’s been a concerted effort behind the scenes to champion a diverse range of acts. “I know she’ll have picked the support,” Brooke says.

“I think there’s way more of a chance of gig-goers coming down early if they’ve listened to the music beforehand,” she adds. “It’s nice to know something before you see it, isn’t it?”

Similarly, The Brudenell Social Club’s Nathan is all for making as much noise as possible about support acts. On a practical level, he points out the usefulness of stage times posted online; for example if somebody arrives half-way through a support act, they can easily find out their name after the show. It also opens up new music to fans who couldn’t make it to a particular show. 

“The Lemon Twigs are playing for us, and Matt Maltese is the support. Well, say somebody can’t get to that show, say they’re on holiday that week, but they’re like, Oh, I wonder who’s supporting on that tour, they might be a similar crowd, and I’m into that music. You miss out on the association immediately unless you’re at the show. You miss out on the link to that artist. For me, posting that, people can then listen to the artist beforehand. They can also make their own decision.”

Regardless of whether you’re down to watch the support act or not, Brooke Bentham’s got one piece of pertinent advice for the chatterboxes lining the bar. “Do not come and see the fucking support band and then just catch up with your mate the whole way through,” Brooke says. “Do us a favour and go to the pub.”