You stop and give a homeless man a fiver. Does he: a). thank you kindly. b). appreciate it but ask if you could run to a tenner. c). say it’s way too little and anyhow he could have really done with it last month. Music venues have a similar dilemma over the Government’s £1.57bn support package for the Arts. Who will get a slice? How much will they get? And the all-important when? The devil, as ever, is in the detail and, alike with most Government announcements during the crisis, it’s the bit that seems to be thought through last.
Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, stated that institutions would have to apply through industry bodies and be asked to prove how they contribute to wider economic growth. As anyone who has ever applied for a Heritage Lottery grant will know, this is the downside of such macro solutions. You almost have to employ a consultant to find the right box-ticking language and master the paperwork hurdles. Right now, the key issue is public safety and confidence. What’s the point of a reduced ticket price, following the VAT cut announced this week, if there are no indoor shows till 2021? It seems odd that drinkers can block a Soho street or that people can fill a beach or sit confined on a plane yet not be allowed to sit or stand in their bubbles for a couple of hours in a fair-sized gig room, a metre or so apart.
While the go-ahead has now been given for outdoor shows such as socially distanced drive-ins, this is likely to benefit acts higher up the food chain rather than bands who would usually play a small venue. I have always felt that problems are not solved by governments and businesses imposing macro solutions on everything. These simply do not work in my opinion. The only things that have real effect are micro interventions. What I would really like to see is those who have made their fortune through music, and are sitting on far more money than they need or can even use, to devote some of it to supporting a venue. There is a lot of accumulated wealth in music, and indeed in the arts generally, that could be invested meaningfully in grassroots enterprises. Now that would be a micro solution.
This would give a lead and provide greater impetus to #Saveourvenues, the national initiative led by the Music Venue Trust to prevent the closure of hundreds of independent music venues. It’s not without precedence. Against a trend that saw similar venues closing at a rate of knots, Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett opened Omeara in 2016. In February he added a second London venue, Lafayette, to the stable only to have to close temporarily less than a month later due to Covid-19. These venues though are there to demonstrate that investment at the grassroots level is possible and should ultimately be sustainable. Crowdfunding is all well and good but sometimes a lead from the top is necessary.
Photo of Este Haim by Nathan Dainty - Glastonbury 2017
Last week we featured live streaming and Zoom events hosted by Banquet Records which try to bridge some of the chasm left by the absence of live music with real crowds. The Glastonbury coverage on BBC iPlayer which is still available online is a great reminder of this. The Haim event promoted by Banquet was terrific, even though Este was sadly absent. If you missed her raucous stage persona and her red boots, the Haim set at Glastonbury 2017 is well worth catching while it's still available.
Live debates aside, there are still plenty of new records coming out. It’s been a particularly busy time for independent record label, Bella Union. Recent releases include excellent albums by A.A. Williams, highlighted last week in this column, Ren Harvieu and Drab City while the Bella Union debut of Mr Ben & The Bens drops today and the second solo LP by Liela Moss, Who The Power, is slated for 7th August.
A solo project of Sheffield via Lancaster auteur, Ben Hall, Mr Ben & The Bens is now a tour-ready quartet with indie quirk running through its veins. Life Drawing is an especially fine collection of character-driven songs packed with whimsy and idiosyncrasy and set to welcoming, embracing tunes. The record opens brightly with “On the Beach” (featured below); the soft warmth of its instrumentation lulls and scarcely prepares you for the abrupt ending. The complete album is an absolute gem. Might I also commend Ben Hall’s madcap TV show that ‘nobody asked for’: Beans on Toast which is well worth stopping by.
To wrap up today’s digest, it’s just two weeks to the release of Hopefuls, the brilliant debut LP from The Harriets. As a special treat you can preview the entire album on The Harriets YouTube channel on SUNDAY 12 JULY at 19:00 GMT. Set your reminder HERE. The link will be live at 7pm for a few hours only. There’s also a superb interview with The Harriets keyboard player Jess Womack on Atomic Vox, a fine new music site that aims to support all women working in the music industry.
Photo of Jess Womack/The Harriets by Kevin England