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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Shaad D'Souza

Music venues threatened by energy crisis as well as slow pandemic recovery, say campaigners

Suede perform secret gig at the Moth club in east London last September.
Suede perform secret gig at the Moth club in east London last September. Photograph: Paul Khera/Dawbell/PA

Grassroots live music venues are operating on a knife-edge, a new report by the Music Venue Trust (MVT) suggests. In its 2022 annual report, the live music venue charity reveals that live music still has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, with an average of 16.7% fewer shows per year compared with 2019.

While audience numbers are down 11%, average expenditure by grassroots venues was up 40% – a contribution to the economy totalling £500m – meaning that venues are operating at a profit margin of 0.2%, with the average yearly profit for grassroots venues amounting to only £1,297.

In the report, the MVT suggests that a variety of factors have led to this increased precarity for grassroots venues, including skyrocketing inflation. Average ticket prices have risen 24.7% since 2019, the largest increase in more than 25 years.

Launching the annual report at the Houses of Parliament last week, MVT CEO Mark Davyd said that “the sector is seriously in trouble”, suggesting that the energy crisis would “close more venues than Covid”.

As NME reports, Davyd described Jeremy Hunt’s slimmed-down energy relief package as “nonsense”: “We have venues with a 0.2% profit margin, facing a 7% increase in their energy costs on April 1.

“There is a package of support for industries that might fail if they can’t afford their energy, and the grassroots music venues need to be in it – now. We can’t wait until April 1 to find out whether Ofgem are in a good mood. We need change on this right now.”

Elsewhere in his speech, Davyd called for a reduction in the VAT applied to live music ticket sales, describing the 20% tax as “crushing the economic viability of this sector and reducing the ability of the grassroots to create new British talent.”

“Grassroots venues are the research and development wing of the music industry. Why the hell are we taxing people for doing that?” he said. “If you want people to create new products, new British intellectual property rights … then what are you taxing them at source for? That makes no sense.”

Davyd also criticised the eight new arenas currently being planned for the UK, including Manchester’s Co-Op Arena and London’s controversial MSG Sphere, saying that “not a single one of those arenas should open unless it has a policy where every ticket sold is investing back into grassroots music venues and grassroots artists”.

“The distribution of wealth in this industry has got to change and be sustainable for grassroots or we all heading down over the cliff,” he said. “You’re coming with us, you’re chained to us, don’t leave us dangling, come and support us.”

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