No More Encores: The London Live Music Crisis


London is undoubtedly one of the world’s most vibrant cities for live music. Whether it’s 100,000 people packing out a show at Wembley Stadium or three blokes and a sound tech watching a band at a pub in New Cross, there’s always something remarkable going on across the capital any night of the week. 

The story that isn’t told, however, is the current crisis affecting grassroots venues, and how the cost of living crisis has put the entire London venue landscape on a dangerous precipice.

The Pandemic Aftermath

The capital’s live music venues have faced enormous headwind since the pandemic gripped the UK in March 2020. Downing tools (and sound equipment) for two years put huge pressure on venues trying to stay afloat – and then came business rate increases, and electricity, staffing, and cost of living crisis.

There’s no denying that the live music sector helps define culture in London and beyond, with the grassroots music venues sector estimated to make £500.3m last year, with these venues employing more than 30,700 people across the board, according to Music Venue’s Trust’s latest annual report. 

The MVT found that the 177k events staged by those venues attracted nearly 22 million people, but that this was down 16.7% on 2019 – the last full year before the Covid-19 pandemic exploded. A recent crowdfunding campaign by the Music Venue Trust has raised nearly £4.5m for 270 projects across the country.

The Rental Crisis

One of the main issues that live music venues in London face is the rising cost of rent. As property values continue to increase in the city, many venues are struggling to keep up with the costs of their leases. 

This is especially true for smaller, independent venues that rely on ticket sales and bar revenue to stay afloat. In the latest Cultural Infrastructure Plan conducted by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, it stated that business rates — set by central government — are now almost as expensive as rent. 

After the April 2017 rate revaluation some of London’s businesses, principally in central and inner London, faced rises in their rates bills of 45 per cent overnight.

Diversification of Live Music Venues

But it’s not all doom and gloom as many venues have diversified their output over the last two years, in turn bringing in new audiences to counter the economic downturn. Amazing Grace in London Bridge is a prime example of this. 

Set in the shadow of The Shard in an 17th-century church, AG puts on live music 5 days a week – from live funk to emerging new talent, even the hugely popular Hip Hop Karaoke.

Having celebrated its first birthday in October 2022, Amazing Grace has hit its stride, welcoming a wide variety of acts and customers. 

Diversification has been vital to its success with the venue home to a bar and restaurant knocking out Thai food alongside a rotating roster of live music, seamlessly taking the venue from early evening to the early hours.

London stalwart Ronnie Scott’s has stood the test of time, partly due to both its heritage and food and drink offering alongside its nightly jazz. 

The bar/pub-cum-restaurant with live music model has proved effective with other London venues such as The Blues Kitchen, Old Street Records, and Brasserie Zedel, with Pizza Express also getting in on the action with its very own restaurant with a subterranean jazz club in Soho.

Supporting Grassroots Venues

But it’s not just venues that are facing setbacks. The decline of live music venues in London is a problem that affects everyone in the music industry. 

Musicians need these venues to perform and connect with fans, while fans rely on them to discover new artists and enjoy live music experiences. Fortunately, there are some efforts being made to address this issue.

One such effort is the Agent of Change principle, which puts the onus on property developers to ensure that new developments take into account existing venues and their impact on the local area. 

This means that new residential or commercial buildings cannot be built near existing music venues without soundproofing or other measures to prevent noise complaints.

Another effort is the Save Our Venues campaign, which was launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support grassroots music venues that were struggling financially. The campaign has raised over £3 million to help keep these venues open and support musicians and staff.

It’s clear to see that the hardship facing venues in London and around the country aren’t going to subside anytime soon, however with so many businesses making exciting changes to stay afloat, we have no doubt they’ll weather the storm.

If you’re interested in coming down to Amazing Grace – check out What’s On or visit our reservations page to book a table.

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