Smaller music venues seem to be struggling now more than ever at the hands of increased business rates, property (re)development and noise complaints (as evidenced in the first UK Live Music Census carried out in 2017). As a result, the sad risk of closure looms ominously for these venues and, as a result, threatens our communities, socially, culturally and economically.
But what, if anything, can we do about it?
Independent Venue Week, now in its fifth year, aims to make a positive impact by celebrating the importance of these venues and acknowledging the owners, workers and promoters for their significant contribution to the culture and independence of live music. The week is supported by the Arts Council England in the UK and brings together these kind of venues with both up-and-coming and established artists, plus the wider music industry, to create a series of events across the nation.
I recently met up with Eddie Griffiths, a promoter operating in London with extensive experience across small, large and festival venues alike, to learn more about the importance of these smaller spaces and of Independent Venue Week.
Sophie Porter: Eddie - can you start by telling us a little about what you get up to?
Eddie Griffiths: So, I’m a music promoter, originally from Norwich, and have put on artists such as Nothing but Thieves, Slaves, The Hold Steady, PVRIS, Turnstile, The Menzingers and Turnover, before moving to London. I’m now currently promoting here [at the New Cross Inn] as well as running Upsurge Festival, which was nominated for the best UK festival under 15,000 capacity, and its sister festival, Downsurge, which is our heavier, darker, winter edition.
SP: You said that you’re promoting at the New Cross Inn, a venue that is taking part in Independent Venue Week. Can you tell us a little about it?
EG: It’s a 350-capacity venue based in South East London with a DIY punk-y edge. Artists we’ve had play there include Earth Crisis, Counterparts, The Dirty Nil [take a listen to our interview with The Dirty Nil here], Harm’s Way, Fiddlehead and Vein. We’ve also got a show for Basement coming up as part of Independent Venue Week. It’s really well known for its punk, ska and hardcore. There’s not many venues in London that specialise in those genres - I guess it’s becoming almost like London’s answer to CBGBs* [laughing] obviously not as reputable, but there’s not another venue in London that’s doing just those kind of shows
SP: As a promoter, why do you think something like Independent Venue Week is important?
EG: It supports those venues where bands cut their teeth.
I get artists come through New Cross Inn, or who I meet through my other work [working for national promoters, as well as an artist liaison for festivals such as Slam Dunk] but every artist that I speak to, or at least most of the artists, still talk about smaller venues.
When I put artists on who are doing a warm up show or an intimate underplay, they always emphasise on stage that that’s where they came from and how they’d much rather play shows like that. I think Counterparts explained it quite well; their last London show, before they played Upsurge [festival] in the summer, was supporting Architects at Alexandra Palace and the singer [Brendan Murphy] came up to me and said that those bigger shows are the shows that you show off to your parents and your family, but the intimate shows are what they’re all about and the ones they want their mates to come to.
SP: I suppose they’re more accessible, more intimate for everyone
EG: Yeah, yeah, yeah! Definitely the emphasis on intimacy.
SP: You’ve worked in a wide variety of genres, but you come from more of a punk and hardcore background where there is an emphasis on those small and DIY spaces as being really important...
EG: Yeah, I would never have gotten into promoting if it wasn’t for going to [smaller venues]. Basically, when I was younger, I thought that shows were just 700 cap., 1500 cap., like, just at the Waterfront and the UEA [in Norwich] - they were the first venues where I started going to shows and then, in 2005, I went to my first hardcore show to see a band called Throw Down at the Ferry Boat in Norwich - it was a 150 cap pub; it was tiny, proper DIY - and yeah, from that experience I was like “all the other bigger shows - I couldn’t give a shit about them”.
There was way more energy and there’s more of a community at smaller venues - I started noticing, from an early age, that you start to see the same people at the same shows, but when you go to those bigger venues, you don’t get that, do you? That’s how you get a scene - you chat with other like-minded people. You might then start bands to play on them sort of shows, or you might start promoting to replicate shows like that.
SP: Is Independent Venue Week is a good opportunity for you to highlight the importance of those kind of venues for those reasons?
EG: So, I think...well, [big] tours are in the spotlight and promoted in magazines mainly. You might get the odd page article about up-and-coming bands playing small venues, or you might get the odd underplay feature, but most of the emphasis is on bigger venues and bigger shows and massive production. I guess it [Independent Venue Week] is an opportunity to celebrate all these small venues where all these bigger artists cut their teeth, like, very few acts blow up overnight over Soundcloud, which can happen, or over the Internet, but most bands, especially in punk and hardcore - the music scene where I came from - you have to cut your teeth in smaller venues.
SP: ...and that’s why they’re so important! They’re like the backbone of live music, the home of bands-in-the-making
EG: Yeah! I think it’s good.
So, I’ve got Basement playing a very intimate underplay at the New Cross Inn. They sold out the Forum in November which I think is a 2300 cap. venue. A band like that, by doing a show at somewhere like the New Cross Inn, it’s exposing their fans, like me back in the day, who don’t know that shows happened at venues that small. You just assumed that bands would just play at those big venues, so it kind of highlights that “this is where we came from” and we should go to places like this and support venues like this.
I reckon that if you’re a fan of Basement and you went to that Forum show and then you go to the New Cross Inn show, you’re not going to be able to compare them. That experience [at the New Cross Inn] - you’re probably going to remember that for a long time. You’re probably going to want to re-experience that kind of feeling, so you’re going to be looking at more shows, not just at the New Cross Inn, but at more small and DIY venues.
SP: So, what has been your favourite show that you’ve put on?
EG: My two favourite shows at New Cross Inn have been Fiddlehead. Going back to that energy - I’ve not experienced that much energy and passion in a show for so long. It sold out and, with New Cross Inn, it’s a really intimate space. So when you go to a show there, there’s no “I’m just going to chill at the back with a beer”; you are in it. Literally in it. It was just after Christmas, so I was a bit like ‘is everyone just going to be a bit hungover or flat?’, but everyone was just on it. Not to mention that it was the first time that they’d been over in the UK. It was just mad energy. Indescribable.
I’d say that and a band called Earth Crisis who are this old school, straight edge, hardcore band that are just legends of the scene. They were doing Boomtown festival, and I managed to persuade them to play a show at New Cross Inn and, in exchange, I would tour manage them at Boomtown. So many people were excited about that show and it was cool to see people who probably don’t go to shows that often anymore come out for it and just properly go for it.
Also, I want to throw in Counterparts at Upsurge [festival] on the Saturday. The fact that they kept emphasising that this is where they belong; I think when the band is genuinely loving it as much as the audience, and it’s not false, then as a promoter, that’s probably - well, obviously I want the audience to have an amazing time - but when you can help the band or the artist to have just as good a time as the audience, they’re the best shows.
SP: So a kind of recurring theme in what we’ve just spoken about with smaller venues is that you ultimately get a different experience that you don’t get with the bigger ones - one where everyone can get involved?
EG: Yeah! As a customer or attendee of shows at these bigger venues you’re not going to get to interact with the band in the same way. At the New Cross Inn, for example, and not just the New Cross Inn, but with smaller venues, when the band goes on stage and comes off stage there’s not usually a massive corridor which they can just lose themselves in and hide in their dressing room. They have to walk through the crowd or they’ll walk over to their merch table or, I don’t know, it’s just ... it’s intimate.
Bigger venues have to exist as well and you have to support them, but the experience is incomparable to a smaller show.
*CBGBs was an iconic music club which opened in New York in 1973, and was famed as a venue for punk, hardcore-punk and new wave bands.
Eddie Griffiths is the inhouse promoter for the New Cross Inn and founder of Upsurge Promotions/festival. Find out more here:
New Cross Inn
Header photo credit: Anna Swiechowska
Sophie Porter is a musician and artist living in Norwich, UK, and publishes, writes and interviews for Gorilla