Birmingham venues including The Sunflower Lounge facing threat of imminent closure
As a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, a number of grassroots music venues in and around Birmingham could be just ‘weeks away from closure’ – according to industry professionals
Event cancellations and enforced shutdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic have placed a host of music venues in Birmingham and the rest of the UK at serious risk of imminent closure.
The impact of such closures, which are as a result of the loss of income and pressure from landlords and property owners, as well as inaction from local and central government, could lead to thousands of job losses – likely to most affect musicians and freelance music industry professionals.
According to research by the Birmingham Live Music Project (BLMP) team, made up of academics from Aston University, Birmingham City University and Newcastle University, pre-Covid there were approximately 197 venues within the B-postcode offering capacity for an estimated 98.000 people.
In Birmingham alone, influential venues like The Sunflower Lounge, Hare & Hounds, Actress & Bishop, Castle & Falcon, The Night Owl, Mama Roux’s, The Glee Club and Suki10c have all been unable to operate for months, placing all of their futures at imminent risk. Newly opened city venues such as Dead Wax & The Grey Lantern also had short-lived opening periods due to the pandemic.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs at the Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath
In their latest post on the project website, BLMP researchers indicate that ‘Birmingham has had a variety of live music venue types, ranging from social and student clubs (around 14%) putting on occasional live performances, all the way to large and medium live music venues (~4%), like the O2 Academy (B11 DB). However, predominant are pubs, bars and small venues (56%) with capacity below 400.’
Applying mandatory social distancing measures to indoor spaces significantly reduces the capacity of most grassroots music venues, in some cases down to as little as 25%. For most new and established premises which exist by presenting and promoting live music, such a setup is disastrous in economic and artistic terms and poses a serious threat to the future of the fabric of regional music scenes.
Speaking to Counteract, Sunflower Lounge lead booker and Birmingham Promoters owner Carlo Solazzo said: “The Sunflower Lounge one of the oldest music venues in the city and home to hundreds of local musicians, freelancers and avid gig-goers. It’s also the starting point for many national and international artists that tour the UK.”
“The venue’s 20th birthday is coming up in 2022, however without the adequate financial support filtering its way down it will face almost certain closure within the coming weeks or months. I fear this may well be the situation across the UK for many live music venues.”
The Sunflower Lounge – photo by Lyle Bignon
Solazzo went on to say: “Without grassroots venues like this, the strength of the UK music industry internationally will diminish and the cultural impact that will have in cities like Birmingham will be immeasurable.”
“Now is the time to help saves venues like The Sunflower Lounge and many others.”
Singer-songwriter Namywa Jazz, who has performed as part of The Sunflower Lounge’s lockdown live-streamed performances from Birmingham musicians, repeated industry and sector concerns: “Over the last few years as a city we have lost many music venues crucial to Birmingham’s vibrant music community.
“Artists, creatives and music fans here in the Midlands have felt these losses the most. The threat of more grassroots music venues shutting their doors for good due to the pandemic is a scary and daunting thought for us all. It’s more than bricks and mortar; venues like The Sunflower Lounge are the only ways that we, as live performers, can really connect with our homegrown fan base. It’s crucial that government and councils take action immediately.”
Despite the UK music industry coming together with its #letthemusicplay campaign to call for immediate financial support from the government, a number of venue operators across the UK have already began to announce immediate closures, including Manchester’s Deaf Institute and Gorilla, plus Hull venues The Welly and Polar Bear, as well as York’s Fibbers.
Lyle Bignon, founder of industry body Birmingham Music Coalition, says it’s time for political and business leaders to support music venues before it’s too late.
“The live music sector in Birmingham and Midlands has been failed by local and central government to date,” said Bignon. “It is crucial that much more of a collective value is placed on contemporary, popular and commercial music by the city and region if it is to survive this unprecedented challenge.”
“We are calling for unprecedented support from political and business leaders more urgently than ever – particularly with major showcase projects such as HS2 and Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games on the horizon. We must start a dialogue with all parties concerned, and now.”
For more information on the Birmingham Live Music Project (BLMP) please visit livemusicresearch.org.
25 July update: Up to 150 small music venues in England to receive £2.2m emergency government funding – BBC News
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Founding editor of Counteract. Freelance travel and music journalist.