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.