Sunbird Records in Blackburn with Darwen is shutting its doors for good.
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The venue had been open for seven years and several factors had been cited for its closure, primarily the cost of living crisis, but also falling profits and a recent flood that had caused the venue to close temporarily last month.
General manager Ramsay Lohan told the Lancashire Telegraph that although the venue had its best Halloween and Christmas ever in terms of profit and attendance, the time in between had not been quite so successful.
“We noticed the lack of support for live music was waning leading to reduced profits,” he said. “Our dance nights even started to drop in attendance, eventually even DJs and bands were cancelling gigs for a myriad of reasons, including the resurgence of Covid and train strikes, which impacted us greatly.”
On the cost of living crisis, he added that the wider night-time economy in Darwen had felt the impact of the cost of living crisis, noting that the area’s music scene “seems to have dwindled”.
“Two or three years ago bands were desperate for bookings and now they all seem to have given up and there’s been no up and comers to replace them,” he said.
Elsewhere, the flooding had led the venue to have to rip out much of its recording studio, which “greatly [reduced] the ability to create and support local artists”.
In a statement posted to their Facebook page, Sunbird Records said that they hoped to eventually carry on in some form. “We will carry on, in what capacity we’ll have to see but unfortunately with the building issues and current climate it didn’t make sense to have a physical location currently,” they wrote.
“For now we will carry on wrapping things up at the venue then focus on online content for a while. With all three music venues in Blackburn with Darwen shutting their doors within a month of each other we need to carry on supporting grassroots music and we will carry on the best way we can. Feel free to get in touch if you would like to help.”
The Music Venue Trust also released a statement in response to the closure. Sunbird Records had been selected to be part of their Own Our Venues campaign, in which they are campaigning to raise money for the venue operators to buy their buildings and secure themselves a long-term future.
“The economic conditions are just too hard. The cost of keeping this venue alive simply cannot be met from the activities it stages,” the MVT said. “Sunbird Records is a classic example of what the MVT Annual Report lays out; a Grassroots Music Venue that is absolutely essential to its local community, does everything that the music industry desperately needs it to do, but simply cannot make ends meet.”
The charity said that the Own Our Venues project had raised 50 per cent of the capital it needs to start buying spaces. “Maybe we can find a way to buy this building and support the local community to create a new operating organisation that can bring music back to Darwen. It’s incredibly hard to bring a venue back when it closes, it’s one of the reasons we fight as hard as we can to stop it happening. We honestly don’t know. We know that the will among the local community is there and we will do everything we can to try to make it happen.”
It continued: “It is painfully ridiculous that Sunbird Records is closing, unable to afford to pay the bill to keep the lights on, in an industry that is turning over more than £5 billion a year. An industry that is planning to open 8 new arenas, but cannot find a way to raise the £10,000 to £20,000 a year it needs to keep a vital space like Sunbird open.
“An industry that is paying its top executives multi-million pound sums while the absolutely essential building blocks it needs to keep bringing that money in simply evaporates beneath it, uncared for and ignored. It’s not good enough and it has to change. If our music industry cannot find a way to keep the lights on at Sunbird Records then it isn’t fit for purpose.”
The MVT 2022 Annual Report was published last week laying out the value of the sector to both the UK economy and the music industry as well as the grave danger that venues in the UK face without urgent action. It was presented at the Houses of Parliament last week, laying out action required from the government to support the sector.
Venues have also recently told NME about the “perfect storm” they face from the cost of living crisis, Brexit, cancelled shows and music fans’ last minute decisions on showing up
Sunbird Records isn’t the only venue to have closed its doors recently – just last weekend Ironworks in Inverness shut down at the weekend in preparation to be demolished, in order to make way for a new hotel.