Taking a look back at the venues that launched legends
Mark Davyd, chief executive of the Music Venue Trust, examines the history of our grassroots music venues
There are estimated to be around 900 remaining grassroots music venues in the UK.
This is a quirky, eccentric, sector, with many unusual personal and family stories of how they were created and have survived.
The venue with the claim to be the longest-running venue in a single space, operating without any interruption, is considered to be London’s 100 Club.
The venue has gone through various incarnations in its 75-year uninterrupted history of music, acting as an early home for jazz, blues and punk, and survives to the present day thanks to the Horton family, who have operated live music in the venue on Oxford Street since 1964.
Manchester’s Band on the Wall is another space with a claim to longevity. Occupying a space that hosted live music as long ago as the 1800s, the name of the venue refers, literally, to the original stage halfway up the wall of the George & Dragon which sat at the site until the mid 20th century.
Many of the current venues emerged from previous uses. Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff, Brudenell Social Club in Leeds and Hebden Bridge Trades Club are former homes of workers’ societies, while other former uses include factories, barges, cellars, ships and dressmakers.
Most notoriously, Tunbridge Wells Forum is housed in a former public toilet built in 1933 to be the largest public toilet in Europe.
Many people believe the conversion of the premises into a grassroots music venue gave rise to the term ‘toilet circuit’ as an affectionate, if derogatory, term for the network that was in popular usage right up until the mid 2010s.
Nowadays they are recognised as grassroots music venues, a term which more accurately describes their connection to emerging artists and creative communities.
The range of music has also shifted substantially; perhaps most famously associated with guitar-based acts such as The Beatles (Cavern Club), The Who (Marquee), Duran Duran (Barbarella’s), Oasis (King Tuts) or Ed Sheeran (Steamboat Tavern), these days in a grassroots music venue you are as likely to run into the next Adele (12 Bar), Dua Lipa (Louisiana) or Ellie Goulding (Portland Arms) taking the first faltering steps of their career.
For all the people that run and work at them, grassroots music venues sit at the very heart of a local creative community that makes an extraordinary contribution to the identity of the nation.
People like Paul Jackson at The New Adelphi Club in Hull, who has single-handedly kept the venue going through thick and thin, good times and bad, for 35 years and was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Grassroots Music Award in 2019.
For hundreds of people like Paul, their venue is not just another place where artists can rock up, turn on the amps, and play to whoever will listen.
It is their home.
* This article is part of The Show Must Go On, JPIMedia's campaign to support live arts venues