In my previous entry I touched upon the practice of people travelling cross-country to attend gigs in local grassroots venues. This is something I witnessed again on this past weekend. The Crescent in York is the epitome of a grassroots venue serving its local community. On Saturday night The Crescent hosted an act synonymous with the York live music scene, Boss Caine launching their latest album by performing it in full. I would estimate if you were to go top any 10 gigs in York chances are you would encounter Dan Lucas, the brain behind Boss Caine at 6 of them either as a performer, hosting events such as the Sundown Sessions or simply as a member of the audience. Despite this appearing to be a gig as rooted in York as its possible to get there were people in attendance from all over the country who had taken the time to travel to York to be at this gig (Side note: I will never get bored with seeing Londoners joyful/shocked reactions to northern beer prices). What really struck me was how many of these people already knew each other from meeting at previous shows in other areas of the country. They were not just mere acquaintances, they had brought gifts for each other. I could pull out several examples of the community spirit I encounter at gigs every week but I think the sharing of homemade scones between people who live hundreds of miles apart says everything you need to know.
Another gig last night (Monday), this time it was Ginger Wildheart at The Fulford Arms. I am a huge Wildhearts fan and it was my Wildheart fandom that first lead me into the “gig family” community that I have previously written about. I know I can walk into a Wildheart gig and I see people who I know well without having to make any advance plans to meet up with them. This was the case last night and unsurprisingly most of the people I knew had travelled a not insignificant distance to be there. During the show Ginger (himself currently in the process of becoming a York local) asked how many people in attendance were from York and it was maybe a 50/50 split of local fans and those who had travelled.
You may by now be sensing a trend that fans are generally willing to travel to see their favourite bands and to meet up with people who share their musical tastes. If that’s the case you may ask whether it really matters if a few venues close down, surely the fans will just travel elsewhere to see bands? Maybe so, but I would like you to think back to your first gig. How old were you? How far did you travel? For me it was Iron Maiden, Manchester MEN arena, Dec 9th 2003. I was 16. I travelled an hour on the train from Chester with my friends we were only able to attend thanks to the willingness of my dad to pick us up at nearly midnight (the last train back to Chester left from the other side of Manchester at the same time the concert finished). For years as a youth living in Chester this became the normal way to attend a concert. Until the opening of the Live Rooms in 2013 Chester did not have a venue regularly hosting touring bands. Occasional acts at Telfords Warehouse that could draw a crowd such as Frank Turner in 2011 but generally we were restricted to DJs, open mic nights, cover bands and local part-time folk musicians. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with any of those things (I saw some cracking cover bands at the Flookersbrook back in the day), but a lack of variety, badly promoted gigs and venues that were simply not set up for hosting live music meant people simply were not engaging with the local music scene. Go to any local club night and you would meet people who loved their music but rarely if ever went to gigs. Even I, who now regularly travels up and down the country for live music, rarely travelled more than about an hour to attend a gig despite not having a local venue to attend. As I mentioned in an earlier post it was only when I moved to a town with a handful of grassroots venues that I started to feel part of the live music community that gave me that extra motivation to start travelling to gigs I admit this is an anecdotal account of being a music fan in a small town but I expect that if I were to speak to fans up and down the country I would hear about similar experiences. And that is exactly what I intend to do, as part of the survey I am designing for my dissertation I will be asking fans about their early live music experiences particularly when they attended their first gig and how far they travelled (please feel free to share any first gig anecdotes in the comments section). It is my hope that I will be able to demonstrate some correlations between fans having easy access to local grassroots venues and feeling a part of a wider community within live music fandom. This is why we need grassroots venues, they not only give so many people their first taste of live music, they also nurture that sense of community that larger corporate venues don’t (please don’t read that as a dig at large venues, I have enjoyed many gigs at bigger venues to its just a different form of enjoyment). Yes people will travel for gigs but if we want a thriving live music scene that spans the country we need to ensure that we maintain and protect our network of grassroots music venues.
Finally I just want to thank those of you who have taken the time to read and support my first forays into blog writing. Seeing the visit counter slowly tick upwards and getting notifications when people follow me has re-assured me that this could turn into a worthwhile endeavour.
In yesterdays entry I spoke about how live music fans form their own communities with their own intangible cultural heritage. Today I am going to talk about my own experiences as part of a live music community.
Throughout my teens and early twenties my attendance at gigs was dictated by my impoverished financial status and which gigs I could convince my equally impoverished friends to attend with me. Being young and kinda socially awkward my interaction with strangers at gigs was generally limited to bashing into them in a mosh pit. Then in 2014 I moved to York to start a new job. The income allowed me to be able to afford to attend far more gigs than ever before and my new location was far better connected to get to gigs all over the country with relative ease. However, being new to York meant I didn’t really know anyone who I could drag along to a gig. As such I began to attend more and more gigs on my own. As I am the kind of fan who will see his favourite bands on every tour and on multiple legs of the same tour I began to recognise familiar faces of people who also did this. Another factor of my newfound financial status was the ability to afford to buy alcohol at gigs in large enough to act as a social lubricant and chat more with total strangers. I began to match faces to the names I recognised from various bands message boards and Facebook fan pages and over time I found I was not just going to gigs to see the band but to catch up with people who I had grown to know through following the same bands. These people became genuine friends, I would show up to gigs hours early not to be at the front of the queue but to meet friends in a bar nearby for a drink or even to sit down for a meal together, sometimes the gig felt like the secondary reason to travel over to Leeds, Manchester or down to London or wherever. Rather then legging it off to get the last train home after a gig I began booking a hotel in order than I may hang around after the gig and continue partying with my gig friends. We began to refer to funny little group as our “gig family” in an increasingly un-ironic manner. We formed our own traditions (such as “Spragg-tagging” and the drinking of “Green shit”), we became a genuine community with shared memories and values that were inherently tied to the places we congregated. Certain venues took on an almost mythical status for us (The Parish in Huddersfield I am looking at you!) with members of the group travelling across the country to attend a gig with the “family” rather than seeing the same band playing closer to home. As with any community we supported each other through tough times, celebrated good times. We worked together on projects such as arranging a private gig exclusively for ourselves. Couples have been formed, members who have passed have been mourned, birthdays celebrated, gifts shared. We have had a Christmas meal together. To an outside observer we may appear as little more than a loosely familiar bunch of music fans who like the same bands and enjoy drinking together, but scratch below the surface and you will find communal bonds equal to those you will find in small communities around the world.
It was seeing the similarities between my gig-family and importance that communities and their shared associations with place that hold in heritage studies that first inspired my choice of dissertation topic. The challenge I face with my dissertation is to demonstrate to the academic community that the intangible heritage of gig-families like my own are as present and valid as any other more “traditional” community.
Ok, enough of me introducing myself and my blog, let’s get down to business!
I am currently studying for a masters degree in Cultural Heritage Management at the University of York. The course itself covers a fairly broad spectrum covering subjects such as archaeology, architecture, museum studies and town planning amongst others. The final stage of my studies is to complete a dissertation on a heritage topic of my choosing.
As a music fan who spends most of my free time attending gigs it seemed only natural to focus my dissertation on live music. Some people may see this as a shallow attempt to appear cool and youthful or simply an effort to avoid a more academically dense topic such as the ongoing planning debate surrounding English Heritage plans to develop Clifford’s Tower and on some level they would be absolutely right in that assumption. However, the regular threats of closure faced by UK music venues is something that I passionately feel needs to be addressed.
That is not to say this issue has been entirely overlooked, groups like the Music Venues Trust do some fantastic work in supporting the needs of independent venues and the newly introduced agent of change bill has been adopted primarily to protect music venues from development enforced closure (although it only protects against very specific threats and is by no means a fix all solution). The vast majority of this work to protect venues has been built on two key arguments. The first being that small venues are essential to the development of new talent that can grow and develop into the UKs next major international musical export act like Muse, Ed Sheeran, Adele or Coldplay (Please note these examples are not indicative of my personal music taste, they just a few of the most regularly cited examples). The second argument focuses on the economic value that venues bring to their local areas. These points are completely valid and a great deal of serious research has gone into supporting them such as the UK Live Music Census. However one area that, whilst not entirely overlooked, hasn’t received the same degree of focus is that of the importance that of the fans that turn out to watch bands perform at these venues. Without an audience both the bands and the venues become redundant. Despite this, nearly all the discourse regarding the relationships between fans and venues offers little more than anecdotal evidence from individual fans. What is needed is a systematic study to truly asses the role music venues play in enabling genuine communities with their own cultural identities to form and grow and the impact of what happens to these communities when they lose a venue.
What I intend to do for my dissertation is to conduct a survey of my own in which I will ask music fans about their experiences and relationships with the venues they frequent. My hope is that I will be able to demonstrate how live music communities fit within UNESCOs definition of intangible cultural heritage and as such the places in which they congregate should be subject to many of the same safeguards we apply to our historic cultural sites and the preservation of shared memories.
Thanks for reading, if you have any thoughts or ideas regarding this subject please leave a comment of drop me a message. Any contributions that make it into my dissertation will be fully referenced and credited. In my next entry I plan to talk about how I first developed the idea behind my dissertation topic and possibly share some entertaining anecdotes about my own little gig community