After the depressing closure of the Masque, the slump of the CUC, and the recent news that Mojo is to suspend its live music programme, there’s been the assumption that Liverpool’s live music scene is staring into the abyss.

But is it all bad? This weekend we bumped into to one Manchester music bod, who wished to remain nameless, who has worked with the larger Liverpool venues and promoters over the past decade. He suggests that it could actually be better for the city’s scene in the long run.

“I’ve seen it happen before in other cities, including Manchester, and it’s just a case of a scene finding its feet” they said. “With Liverpool, people seem to forget it’s a relatively small city, especially in terms of the amount of gig-goers. It’s all very well opening up new venues, but does it add anything to the place? Of course, it’s a shame when any place closes, but there’s just not enough demand for 5 key live shows a night, for instance. There’s simply not enough people to make a large amount of venues feasible, unlike London”.

It’s an interesting outlook. Is it simply just that the city’s restoring back to its comfortable equilibrium? Were there too many venues? Too much choice?

He goes on to suggest that, in fact, it could galvanise the existing spaces. “Fewer venues means the existing ones will have to settle into their own niche – from the Arena doing huge stars to Academy doing populist pop and rock down to Mello Mello doing DIY stuff, venues as a whole will realise the level at which they’re working and thus make their bookings more sustainable”.

It makes sense in a way – the more select number of venues there are, the more people through the doors of the existing ones, surely? But it’s a difficult thing to admit that maybe, just maybe, the city’s better off with fewer places to watch live music. That’s just no fun.

Live music attendances in Liverpool are unpredictable at best, and always have been. We’re always surprised at how big-name bands can sometimes fail to pull a crowd, or how a relative unknown can pack a place out. But nowadays, with a national slump and people being picky with their cash, venues need to work together.

“There’s a natural competitiveness between live music spaces”, says the promoter. “But to survive, especially nowadays, it’s actually much better to work together, and to understand and pinpoint an audience. Recognising a crowd and working with it, and realising where the venue sits within the context of the city, is so important. It means spaces aren’t really battling against each other either, because they all work at different capacities and for different demographics. Venues will thrive that way. It’s better to make things a lot more explicit and streamlined for consumers. An example is Leaf on Bold Street, which has taken the majority of bookings from promoters Harvest Sun, meaning it’s getting a positive reputation as a place for intimate folk music and Americana”.

For a city that needs to ‘think big’ and push forward to continue its growth, it’s a bitter pill to swallow to admit that we might need to, y’know, reign it in a bit. Gulp. It lessens the chances for younger bands starting out and, of course, has a big impact on jobs and the city centre’s economy. And sometimes it’s actually a relief not to be going to the same venue every week – to have a larger choice as a gig-goer. But in the current Tough Economic Climate™, it’s crucial Liverpool needs to take a few deep breaths and understand where and how we position ourselves. If that means a temporary squeeze on the number of live music outlets, then we might just need to grin and bear it for the time being. One thing’s for sure: the venues that are left need us now more than ever.

22 Responses to “Could the city’s live music shake-up be a good thing?”

  1. Nice bit of analysis that ackowledges the success of the better venues in Liverpool and the relative size of the actual audience for live ‘alternative’ music in the city.

  2. Great article, I totally agree with Mr Manchesters comments, providing Ropewalks has 4 or so key spaces each can take more bookings, increasing their revenue, keeping them more sustainable and putting them on the map. Long live Wolstenholme Sq.

  3. Agree with this to an extent, but where does all the mid range touring rock music go now? The O2 Academy is pricing people out and Barfly/The Masque was the go-to venue for alternative music – something which is often left out of ANY conversations about the Liverpool music scene, even though there is a thriving community and several very successful specialist club nights. Not everyone reads the NME and Vice Mag, some of us like to rock.

  4. Absolutely – the Masque in particular had a really thriving metal and rock programme. It seems like some of it’s transferred to the (new/old) Lomax, though we’re not sure where it’ll settle. It’s a little bit too specialist for somewhere like the Kazimier.

  5. Percy Street

    Interesting article but haven’t nearly all the recent closures been as a result of poor management rather than poor demand, or in the case of CUC, an inability to sweat any more money from local councils for its services?

  6. @SevenStreets Agreed, I’d love to see some of these shows in the Kazimier but I have a feeling they wouldn’t really work and would also be frowned upon a bit – the Lomax unfortunately isn’t cutting the mustard.

  7. @Percy Street Well, the piece was about the city as it stands now, rather than the whys and hows of the places that’ve closed. It’s not for us to comment on that sort of stuff. But it’s ultimately sad to see any venue have to shut its doors.

  8. Doc_Daneeka

    I’m not sure the problem is as much with the number of venues as it is with the lack of decent publicity of listings for live music. I see reviews of plenty of things I would have gone to on blogs and sites like this but what use is it finding out afterwards. I still try to go to gigs as frequently as I can but I don’t work or live in the city centre anymore and so am out of the flyer / poster loop so am stuck with gigs at the bigger venues that are little better publicised or the odd occasion I catch wind of something through a friend. Its not like I’m not trying I spend an hour or two online each week trying to find things to go to. Or maybe I’m being naive and those that are organising gigs and club nights are trying to self select their own little cliques of wannabe city centre hipsters, if not then I’d suggest getting new promoters.

  9. @Percy Street We spoke to a number of music people about this over the weekend and they all agreed, in the most part, with the idea that less might be more. But ultimately he gave the strongest quotes to base the feature around. Ellis (below) promotes gigs under Samizdat, for example, and agrees with it.

  10. Joe Forrest

    Good points! I think it can only be a good thing, before all the venues were not just fightin for the same audience but the same type of bands as well! Some people see Kazimer as being a bit clicky and not accepting some types of music, but that is exactly what it should be doing! If venues can become a bit more specialised and niche to a particular type of music then bands and music fans will know where to go to see the the stuff they like or play!

  11. Doc_Daneeka

    God don’t want an add in the Echo I would n’t read it if you the alternative was that or a desperate scousewives marathon. The web is a great place and I do try and check Outlar and Songkick fairly frequently and againts great for reasonably large bands. However the listings for club nights, DJs and smaller acts are often woeful sparce. The name of a night and a list of 4 bands I’ve not heard of or a farily meaningless set of dance generes isn’t good enough and it doesn’t cost more to type a few lines.
    Its not that I don’t want to or in fact that I don’t go out and try and support local acts/ promoters but it is right pain in the arse sometimes. Take a look at your own Directory section, now I really like your site but thats a fairly unusable section and as far as I can see you yourselves don’t even link to the sites you’ve just reccomended. I found seven streets and I like do I then have to go right back out into the cold white harshness of a google search page to try and find music/culture sites that you think are great rather than go through a local site that I now like and trust?

  12. Percy Street

    @SevenStreets My experience is that communication is bad. I have managed this by being on a number of e-mail lists and when I can be arsed actively seeking info from venues that appeal to me. I have learnt the hard way and missed much of interest along the way.

  13. Percy Street

    @SevenStreets But we’re talking vested interests here. Rather like hotel owners bleating about more hotels in the city! As far as I know, most of the recent close-downs have been through bad management and in at least one case (a very famous brand name) allegations about criminal behaviour. Far be it from me to judge the veracity of such claims.

  14. @Percy Street@SevenStreets I think you’ll find the interests of almost every Liverpool promoter is in the arts, not comparable to commercial hotel owners, Percy. Why the given venues shut down is irrelevant, the fact that the remaining decent venues will now get more custom and can become the ‘go-to’ spaces for particular genres is a positive thing. You bloody love an argument don’t you?

  15. @SevenStreets Once Bido Lito’s gig guide comes online that’ll be pretty much the comprehensive guide for Liverpool music. Also if you’re not in town then signing up to most venue and promotion mailing lists should do the trick.

  16. Percy Street

    @Percy Street@SevenStreets Business is business. Less does not mean more except for the people who own the business and are running it on a commercial basis rather than love! Why a premises closes down is relevant if the same mistakes are to be avoided again. Finally, I’m not interested in ‘go-to’ places for the sake of it – they come and go and leaving little behind them.

    BTW I thought we were having a discussion not an argument.

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