The Save London Music Campaign is committed to preserving the cultural heritage of London. There are many great pubs and clubs in London doing great things with Live music. If properly managed and run, music can have a massive positive impact on the economic viability of a pub. We have seen dozens of great examples of new management transforming clapped out pubs into thriving and vibrant hubs of local communities.
One of our favourites is the Chandos Arms in Colindale. Emily and Ara Kollviet have totally transformed the pub with regular music. This has bought them recognition from the brewery industry, winning the Best Newcomer in national pub awards. It is not only awards, the pub is making a healthy profit and in two years has been transformed from a run down pub on life support to a friendly, welcoming and thriving business. This did not happen by magic. Emily and Ara have put hard work into the proposition and worked with local musicians and music promoters to build their success. I mention this at the start of this article, as it is important to rebut the myth that live music is dead. Through the campaign, I’ve seen dozens of pubs where music is a key part of the proposition and helps build the pub into a thriving business.
The problem for those of us committed to keeping London as the world centre of live music, is that the dynamics of how music can help build a pub business is not understood by most in the pub and brewery industry. Emily and Ara come from a background of running live venues, so they were able to hit the ground running. they also understood what works and what doesn’t. For every pub, depending on the location and the dynamics of an area, a different mix of music will work. I am on the organising committee of the Mill Hill Music Festival. We put a lot of effort into choosing the right events for the venue. The same is true if you put music on at a pub. If you take over a pub with no music heritage, you can’t simply put live music on seven nights a week and expect to succeed. The first thing to do is to identify local promoters who know the local music scene. They will advise on genres and a plan to build up the venue. A successful music landlord will usually have a whole host of promoters who run nights at the pub. The local clientelle will know that, for example that funk is on the first Saturday, Jazz is on the first and third Sunday of the month and folk is on a Monday night at the Chandos Arms. In each case local music lovers organise the nights. It works for the pub, the promoters and the locals. The pub gets more customers, the protomers get a venue and the locals get some great music.
Sadly, the pub industry in the seems to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the benefits of live music. You would think that a billion pound business would invest money in ensuring that the entertainment it puts on is working for the pub. One of the saddest articles I’ve recently read is how Fullers & Co, who are one of the better brewers in London (I’ve done their brewery tour and enjoy their beers) are determined to take music off the menu at the Half Moon in Herne Hill. Fullers claim “we are not experts in late-night entertainment. We are, however, experts in running fantastic, well-run pubs that cater for a broad section of the community with an excellent drinks range, delicious, fresh food and outstanding service.” This betrays a real lack of understanding as to what a good live music pub in the year 2016 really is. For a pub such as the Half Moon, Fullers beer and good food is more than compatible with a decent music pub. If they want to run a pseudo restaurant which is like dozens of other gastro pubs, then that is a different proposition. But The Half Moon is an iconic venue. If Fullers choose the right landlords, they can have all of the things they want and have an iconic venue as a jewel in the crown of their pub portfolio. Fullers & Co have a great brand. Their beers are iconic and their pubs are well run. But it has to be said that there is more to a successful company than simply imposing your model on your customers. Running pubs is not like selling cornflakes. Whilst if we buy a box of Kellogs cornflakes, we want the same taste and the same experience every time, when we go to a pub we want something different. Pubgoers want each pub to have local character and to cater for the local people. In the case of the Half Moon, which has been shut for two years, Fullers could tap into a huge well of good will, simply by engaging with good local promoters to build the pub back into what it used to be in the glory days. That does not mean having heavy metal blasting out until 3am every day of the week. The Half Moon is a decent sized establishment and a bit of sensible design/planning and running could ensure that live music and Fullers other aspirations are met. A sensible compromise would give local promoters an opportunity to put on music which works within the format. The Chandos Arms is proof that this works. They have revamped the catering and this is another string to their bow. A venue does not need to run music into the early hours either, so the aspiration for hotel rooms should not be a problem.
An even more worrying development has seen a pub which we have recently used as a Save London Music venue put on the market. This is The Alliance in Mill Lane, West Hampstead. We found out this week that the owners of The Alliance have put it up for sale. Lyn Boorer, who has been putting on gigs at the pub for many years alerted us to the situation. Lyn and other concerned locals have organised an on line Survey for locals to state how the pub is a key part of the local community. They are highly concerned that they will lose their local and a great venue. It is essential for music lovers to participate in such surveys, sign petitions etc. It all helps to make the case to council planning committees.
What is hard for me to understand is how the pub industry has not moved on from the 1970’s in how it views entertainment in pubs. Brewerys and pubco’s spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on refurbishing pubs, but next to nothing on educating the people who they then get to run those pubs on how to run them. I’ve organised gigs at over 40 pubs/clubs in my career in music as a part time music promoter. Sadly, the number of landlords/managers who actually understood how to make music work in their establishments, I can count on one hand. I’ve seen dozens of pubs where the landlord has had a great promoter, filling their pub only to get greedy and sack them and try and run the venue themselves. This invariably ends in tears. There is far more to promoting live music than simply booking bands and opening the doors. If I was running a brewery/pubco, I’d run courses for new managers/landlords and educate them in how to do the job properly. If I was on the board of a brewery such as Heineken that owns the Chandos, I’d get Emily and Ara to run courses for new landlords (and old ones who want to learn) in the arts of successfully putting on live music. This should always be done with the aim of increasing the profitability of the establishment. Establishments that put on music (typically their mates) purely for the sake of it or with no plan are doomed to failure. Sadly whilst this would seem like common sense, as a community of music lovers, there is little we can do to influence the industry to leave the 1970’s practices behind.
As a community of musicians an music lovers, what can we do? Well there are many things we can do. A good first step is to sign up as a member of the Save London Music Campaign and to like our Facebook page! We will keep you in touch with all of the latest developments. The bottom line though, is that if you want to see live music thriving in grassroots venues, you need to go to the gigs and spend money in the venue. The reason why Fullers don’t want live music and the owner of the Alliance want to sell up is because they see other ventures as more lucrative. The only way we can persuade them that they are wrong is to do what the customers of the Chandos Arms are doing and voting with their wallets. As someone who went to over 100 gigs last year, I’ve seen the good and the bad in venues, but the bottom line is that if music lovers are not prepared to go out and support the pubs and promoters that are putting live music on, then there will be no live music in a few years.